Earlier this summer, the FBI led a series of raids of the houses of self-identified anarchists across the Pacific Northwest.
In some cases, they used battering rams and stun grenades to enter the homes of these activists. They confiscated computers, artwork, black clothing, flags and flag-making material, cell phones, hard drives. Their warrants listed “anarchist” or “anti-government” literature as evidence. Police later revealed that the raids were in conjunction with their investigation of the violence and vandalism surrounding the Seattle May Day protests.
Since then, three activists—Matt Duran, Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik, and Leah-Lynn Plante—have been brought in front of a grand jury and questioned about their possible knowledge of other persons’ whereabouts and actions on May Day, and were jailed when they did not cooperate by providing the information they were purported to have. (Plante has since been released.)
If you think this sounds like something out of George Orwell’s 1984, you wouldn’t be wrong.
But moreover, this incident and the targeting of anarchists smacks of McCarthy-era hysteria—wherein a group with certain political affiliations and ideals is targeted because their ideals conflict with the interests of the government.
Generally speaking, grand juries are meetings during which a group of jurors will decide if a case is solid enough to go to trial. They are held in secret, and have been used in the past to investigate politically subversive groups. Duran, Olejnik, and Plante were subpoenaed to appear in front of a grand jury that formed months before the May Day protests. They were granted immunity, which means that if they testify, they cannot incriminate themselves;
it also means that they can no longer exercise their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
Duran, Olejnik, and Plante have all pledged not to cooperate with the federal grand jury, and as such, were sent to prison in contempt of court. They were kept for some time in solitary confinement, which means no visitors, very limited telephone access, no socialization with other prisoners, no fresh air and no sunlight.
They face a year and a half in prison for their silence. That is their only crime.
So a group of young people has been rounded up, and their artwork, literature, clothing confiscated, to be put in front of a secret jury where they are presumably asked not only about their own criminal activities but about what they may know about their neighbors. Doesn’t that sound weird to you? (And by weird I mean corrupt and terrible.)
Of course, the mainstream image of anarchy and anarchists is largely founded on an inaccurate narrative, in which anarchy is synonymous with chaos, and anarchists are punks who want to break things.
If your definition of order relies directly on the presence of various hierarchal power structures, then yes, I suppose anarchy would be disorder.
And yet we have tangible evidence where leaderless groups have outperformed top-down government agencies and NGOs. When Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of the east coast, Occupy Wall Street mobilized quickly, calling for any and all help, and reaching areas of New York City that have yet to receive much aid from the Red Cross or from government agencies. They are functioning as a group, with no leader, with no boss, and they are doing more good because of it.
These images of people helping each other seldom get paired with the idea of anarchy.
The dominant image of anarchists is people dressed in black, breaking windows—the images that came out of May Day in Seattle. It is convenient for the establishment that we subscribe to this idea of anarchy as a destructive force. When the federal government subpoenas a bunch of anarchists to testify in front of a secret jury, no one bats an eyelash because this is the only part of anarchy they believe they know.
One of the allowances I’ve heard for treating anarchists like this is that they are violent and so they need to be contained.
But, as famed anarchist Emma Goldman wrote, “compared with the wholesale violence of capital and government, political acts of violence are but a drop in the ocean. That so few resist is the strongest proof how terrible must be the conflict between their souls and unbearable social iniquities.” We are ignoring pervasive violence around us, on the environment, on animals, on each other. People died making our clothes.
Anarchy is more than a black mask and a red “A.” Anarchy is more than a political philosophy. Anarchy is a way to thrive in our communities, it is a way for us to love and respect each other. It is a pathway to true equality and democracy.
I know this because I see it in my community. It’s there, if you know what to look for.