If anarchist Emma Goldman made it into my high school history texts, she probably found it hostile territory. In those days, criticizing capitalist values and fomenting dissent was more dangerous than admitting you thought about sex. Anarchistic principles were linked to communism, and communism was the scariest monster under your bed.
Until last week’s Second Annual Victoria Anarchists Book Fair, I had not revisited the beliefs I formed about anarchism way back when. But there I was, among mostly younger folks, many bearing multiple bodily piercings and t-shirts with defiant or satiric messages. We participated in workshops about conditioned obedience vs. free will, pirate radio, the poetic tactics of shock and surprise, challenging colonial mentalities, non-violence and eco-defense. The printed program cautioned against taking photographs without explicit permission. It's still not safe to be openly anti-authoritarian. Terrorism, not communism, is now hiding under that bed and in the closet, as well.
As only fitting for a book fair, literature was available for sale or barter in one huge room at the event site. Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy and Howard Zinn were three author names I recognized.
My primary motivation for attending was to gather research for a story I’m writing. (Is there ever another reason? I’m pathetic.) But as I took notes, some of the concepts started to make sense. I am loath to even jaywalk yet I began to see the logic in more rebellious positions. Why should media conglomerates decide who gets to speak or perform on radio? There’s plenty of room on the airwaves. Why should large corporations have the right to damage our environment while those who try to stop them are branded criminals?
An intense discussion ensued during the workshop on non-violence. “Violence is not effective in achieving anarchist goals,” the facilitator stated. When he made a grudging exception for self-defense, one woman spoke emotionally about her belief that fighting what the “system” does to us is self-defense. A man who had been imprisoned said violence inflicted by the government against him had been quite effective in limiting his resistance. Others were similarly passionate, and I recalled a younger self who railed against injustice and experienced genuine grief at the suffering of others. Exactly when did those ideals transmogrify into don’t make waves...work within the system…get along...keep your nose clean...mind your own business?
I like to think of myself as a defender of the defenseless, but what do I actually do besides pontificate in privileged comfort? How bad would injustice and oppression have to get for me to risk imprisonment or death by defiant action? Would I have stood before that tank at
I don’t want to answer those questions.
Photo: A determined looking 21-year-old Emma Goldman in