This past weekend, I traveled to Chicago to attend the Finding Our Roots Conference at Roosevelt University. This is the third year the anarchist conference on praxis and organizing has been held. The theme of the conference this year was space:
“Why and how is space important to the theory and practice of anarchism; what is ‘anarchist space’? How are anarchists involved in struggles around space, both within and beyond our community? How is space central to the struggles of oppressed and marginalized groups? How does space operate within the social landscape and machinations of capitalism, as well as within resistance to capitalism?”
Obviously, this is an extremely broad category, and therefore a variety of topics were covered over the weekend. A schedule, including descriptions of each workshop, can be found on the website linked above. There were typically about four workshops during each time slot, so I was only able to attend a fraction of the total workshops offered. What follows are brief overviews of some of what was covered.
Gentrification: Containment, Displacement, Yuppie Infestations, and the Resistance to Come
This workshop, facilitated by Fancy and Ezra, began with a brief history of gentrification, going back to the 1930s when racist government policy equated a nonwhite person living in a house to the same “damage” as a tree falling. The group agreed that the definition of gentrification involves displacement of a group of (nonwhite) people in cities. Fancy noted that many people falsely equate white flight to gentrification, and therefore it is viewed by the public as a natural result of the market, when in fact realtors and city officials tend to target certain neighborhoods.
The discussion turned toward resistance. One attendee brought up the importance of providing services for community members when the city cuts them off – access to food, health care, or whatever is needed. A DuPaul professor talked about his work in the Pilson neighborhood, where his students go and talk to the residents, helping those who do not speak English to develop well reasoned arguments against gentrification and its effects.
Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid will result in gentrification of the Washington Park neighborhood. It was brought up that even if Chicago does not win the bid, the neighborhood will be still be gentrified due to Tax Increment Finance Money.
Mad Liberation and Safe Space
Facilitated by the Mad Tea Party group of Chicago, this workshop was about creating safe spaces where those who struggle with mental illness can have autonomy over their own recovery.
It was noted that “madness” cannot be separated from our culture. One person shared his experience in the mental health system, in which he worked a menial job six days a week that made him depressed and exacerbated his struggles. Upon seeking help, he found himself in an institution where the end goal was to get him back into a job – he recognized this as a form of oppression.
Several people expressed concern that the issue of mental health is one that gets pushed to the side in anarchist organizing. In response to this, groups have been formed in Chicago (and, I’m sure, in many other cities) to provide peer support, such as The Icarus Project).
Collective Living Spaces: A Roundtable Discussion
Much of this discussion was based around common problems and issues that arise in collective housing and how to deal with these, either preemptively or after the fact.
The goals for many who choose to live in collective houses are to find an alternative to patriarchy in their living space (as opposed to traditional family structures), and to live out a microcosm of what one wants to see in the world.
Security was the biggest issue for many. Several houses had protocol for how to deal with cops, took batteries out their cell phones during meetings, did not allow pictures of the space to appear on the internet, did not allow drugs or alcohol, and had a zero tolerance policy for any perpetrators of sexual and/or violent assault. People had differing opinions on the question of whether it is ever acceptable to call the police.
The Seizure of Space and the Public Sphere: Enduring Lessons from the Zapatistas
Facilitated by Richard Gilman-Opalsky, author of Unbounded Publics: Transgressive Public Spheres, Zapatismo, and Political Theory, we examined the example of the Zapatistas in Mexico, who, rather than seize the state, chose to live in an autonomous communities, taking public space and making visible an alternative way to live. Opalsky critiqued the recent actions in Greece, viewing the Zapatista model as a more effect tool for change.
The discussion turned to indigenous struggles in the U.S., such as the Lakota Indians in South Dakota, who continue to struggle in the Black Hills.
Creating Safe Space in an Unsafe World: Supporting Survivors Whilst Respecting Their Autonomy
The discussion in this workshop, facilitated by Bash Back Chicago, began with a talk about community, and learning to create a community where it becomes OK to call people out on inappropriate behavior, to create accountability for people’s actions – particularly for male bodied people to call out other male bodied people. There was extensive discussion of whether community needs can ever trump a survivor’s expressed desires – for example, if the survivor did not want the perpetrator to be dealt with, but community members feared for their safety.
People shared stories about their own experiences, as survivors, support givers, etc. The workshop concluded by talking about the importance of connecting dominant power structures to sexual violence, and reclamation of power.
Sobriety Within The Struggle
Attended by people from a variety of viewpoints (straight edge, those who do drink, etc.), there was a lot of productive discussion in this workshop. Many who abstain from substances spoke about their concerns: that it was hard to organize when people attended meetings hung over and stoned, that it was alienating and detracted from community. There was expressed frustration at peoples’ interpretations of “sober spaces” – that people would just drink or do drugs beforehand, and show up intoxicated. Others were frustrated that self identified anarchists, who hate capitalism and avoid it in every other way, support huge alcohol and tobacco companies when they party.
There was also a discussion of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which most everyone agreed was a destructive group, in which a certain set of morals was forced on its participants, who were told they would never be sober without belief in a higher power.
Overall, the conference was a great chance for discussion and to meet other like-minded folks living in the Midwest.