It’s been two days since armed insurrectionists were all but escorted into our nation’s Capitol, and media personalities across the cable news spectrum continue to avoid calling these actors what they are: white supremacist fascists emboldened by our President and the highest levels of government.
Instead, the term of the moment, used by pundits and lawmakers alike is “anarchists.” This usage is the continuation of an alarming though unsurprising trend of referring to any and all protestors as anarchists. At best, it’s a lazy rhetorical mistake — at worst it’s an intentional obfuscation of the truth, which ultimately results in the targeting of antifascists for what is obviously a fascist attack. This conflation is not a new tactic of the media but was popularized and brought to the forefront of political narrative discussions this summer during the George Floyd protests. In LA specifically, it is important to refute this misnaming and remind ourselves that in the face of state violence, it is often anarchists and anarchist practices that protect our neighbors and communities.
“Just fyi it’s anarchists that have been providing mutual aid to keep people safe and fed and housed during a pandemic. it’s fascists who are doing whatever the fuck is happening today.” — Kendall Mayhew, Organizer, Ground Game LA
B* is an organizer and medic in LA who underscores the importance of anarchist praxis on the local level, noting that anarchists have been responsible for “collecting and redistributing PPE, medicines, administering medical treatment, and resources” in local communities all over the city. B*, alongside organizations like POWER, About Face: Veterans Against the War, and Ground Game LA, recently spearheaded a PPE drive that raised over $5,000 and purchased $15,000 in PPE to ensure healthcare workers and people in COVID-19 hotspots — which consist largely of women and poor people of color — had protection and information in what has recently become the current coronavirus global capital.
“The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not represent who we are. What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness,” said President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday. But as some on social media rightly noted, if every few weeks someone in power must go on television to say “This Isn’t Who We Are,” perhaps it’s time to accept the fact that yes, this IS who we are.
Decades of fear mongering about the rise of socialism and communism — combined with Republican elected officials stoking constituents’ illegitimate claims of election fraud — is at the center of this escalation of violence, but it didn’t start there. Our larger societal problems, like the government’s disastrous COVID-19 response, were preceded and intensified by wage stagnation, the student debt crisis, massive housing insecurity, and climate catastrophes met with little to no government assistance. These state-sanctioned crises create vacuums in communities where, in the best cases, anarchists step in to provide mutual aid and support, and in the worst, are filled with conspiracy theories like those espoused by Qanon.
When both Biden and Vice President Mike Pence must say versions of “This is not who we are,” it begs the question: who are we then? Who are the 74 million people who voted for Donald Trump in this election, 10.1 million more people than in 2016? The rioters yesterday wore MAGA hats, waved Trump flags, and were decked out in “Don’t Tread on Me” merchandise. What other sign do we need to underscore the fact that these are not “outside agitators,” but Americans embodying threads of fascist ideology that have been woven together inside our own house? What does it mean when Biden says “the work of the next four years is to restore decency?” What policies will ensure this goal? Ironically, it would be a good moment to look to the anarchist organizers the media and lawmakers are so quick to denigrate to plant the seeds of healing and justice.
The more the media uses words like anarchy to categorize protesters, the more it reveals we have no plan to actually prevent instances of right-wing violence from happening in the future. Anarchism centers on abolishing an oppressive government and unjust systems of power, but it doesn’t end there. It advocates for a society organized around communal, voluntary participation and hyperlocal political advocacy. The colloquial use of anarchy that the media espouses simply refers to the first part of its definition, revolving around dismantling oppressive structures. But absent this second part of the definition, about what anarchism aims to build instead, is not only an obfuscation of meaning, but a tactic that ensures power remains in the hands of capitalist interests.
“This reference [by the media about anarchism] is by design,”Community medic B. says, “It’s meant to demonize something already poorly understood, and keep it mislabeled as ‘bad’…[But] maybe if people looked seriously and critically at the praxis of anarchism, they would find something they like.” The lack of clarity around this term has severe consequences for the left, as it has already become the buzzword of the moment in justifying increased state violence against anarchist organizers and activists in LA. We must refute this media narrative at all costs: not just for those of us on the left, but for the future of our nation as a whole.
So what does anarchism actually look like in practice? LA community medic and organizer, Bushido Squirrel* — who largely aligns with anarcho-syndicalist ideals — tells me, “Anarchism is the radical idea that we know how to take care of our community better than the state does.” Bushido continues, “People reject this idea, that we don’t need the state, but the truth is, we’re not going to survive the climate crisis by the state and billionaires building mega cities. We have to build small, resilient food and education systems and move away from the larger institutions we are dependents on. And anarchism is how we get there.”
What does that look like on a day-to-day basis in LA? It requires sustainable community organizing, talking to our neighbors, and yes, advocating for programs like a universal Homes Guarantee, Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.
“We don’t need a central politburo for food distribution, we need hyperlocal community farms and clinics to get to the next step.” Bushido continues, “But anarchism means doing away with unjust hierarchies, not all hierarchies and central committees. We still need things like universal health care and a Green New Deal, but anarchism opens the framework of how we talk about all of this and ultimately get there.” The point is not that hospitals and innovative, centralized healthcare is not important, it’s that community medics on every block are just as necessary.
It’s a matter of survival, yes, but also a rewarding way of life. Bushido notes that “food gardens, basic first aid training, and learning how to have a conversation with your neighbor” are all anarchist practices. “We’re already taking steps like this in orgs like Ground Game LA, but it can be dangerous — so many people are misguided, misaligned by the powers-that-be that have a vested interest in keeping people angry and afraid.” One of the biggest perpetrators of that vested interest is the media.
A nefarious result of the media’s lackadaisical use of “anarchy” that could have tremendous effects on our collective wellbeing is that a likely response to Wednesday’s events will be increased funding and support for law enforcement. As demands for an investigation into the Capitol Police resound, many lawmakers on the Left and Right are espousing rhetoric that makes an eventual call for more funding likely.
This is missing the exact point of what Wednesday’s’s violence meant: the problem is not the lack of police on the scene, it is their complicity. There was plenty of warning leading up to the loosely attempted coup. Yesterday’s “marchers” wore sweatshirts commemorating the exact date and channels across social media platforms openly advertised the event I myself got a text last weekend that read, “Calling all patriots! We Hope to see you in Washington DC on January 6th 2021!” The lack of police response was an intentional, pointed decision not to implement our nation’s billion dollar defense spending in the Earth’s most armed and secure geographic location. By refusing to acknowledge this complicity, and going so far as to give the Capitol Police a standing ovation once the Senate reconvened late Wednesday night, the media and lawmakers are setting the stage for further militarization of our nation’s police force, which is inherently antithetical to Anarchist principles.
“I go out of my way to describe it as anarchism and not anarchy,” Bushido says. “The connotation of ‘anarchy’ is a lack of civilized order — but this isn’t what we are looking for! Communes are welcoming places, in fact, the exact opposite of corporate office buildings, where you’re met by armed security to protect certain things, and keep certain things out.” And anarchism is not the easy way out, as many lawmakers and media personalities would have us believe. “Anarchism is not the lazy way: the lazy way is having a boss and manager and then shareholders who tell you to do stuff from behind the scenes. [Our way is the hard way] because we all have to be intimately involved in the way this works.”
As the news cycle moves on, and Republicans and Democrats hug each other in the halls of Congress and applaud our oppressors, it is on us to take up the mantle of responsibility in using our words carefully. It’s up to us to educate our friends, family, and neighbors about the realities of right-wing violence, and how the true nature of anarchist practices were created to combat those very tendencies. The world we can build with those practices, centered in love and community, relies on our ability to forcibly refute media narratives that muddy the root of societal violence in America. The only way to prevent this violence from escalating further is to center our local community, read critically, ask questions, interrogate, and challenge what the top-down, capitalist media ecosphere tells us. And that, my friends, is anarchism in practice.
Please consider donating to one of the following; while not all of them designate themselves “anarchist,” these individuals and affinity groups organize around anarchist principles and are excellent places to redistribute wealth:
South Bay Community Care — Venmo / Cashapp @/$ sbcommunitycare. Additionally, this year SBCC is setting up a mutual aid subscription that will help people donate more consistently. Sign-up link
People Organized for Westside Renewal (P.O.W.E.R.) — funds for continuing PPE community distribution here.
*Many individuals who are anarchist and antifascist organizers must live with the consequences of our government and media’s attacks on them ranging from doxxing to travel bans. Out of caution and in order to continue their crucial work, they wish to remain anonymous.