photo by SG

Monday, August 11, 2008

Following Up

So remember when I had beautiful ideas of writing a lot more in here? Well, suddenly this thing called the Ar-En-Cee showed up, and all of a sudden all I was doing was working to make it a success. But I've found a few moments (at work, typically) to write something.

Last night, around 2 am (I couldn't get to sleep, thanks to a combination of the dark liquid of the imperialist lords [Coca-Cola] and too many naps during the day) I heard a man in the street yelling profanities for about an hour. He was disturbed, or under the influence of drugs, or something, but he was definitely in need of assistance and didn't feel good.

The problem with anarchist theory is that its far too often separated from anarchist reality. I couldn't decide what to do to help this man. The logic of the state encouraged me to call the police, who could potentially give him the help he needed. But we all know the track record of the cops with mentally ill/confused people is pretty dismal and all-too-often ends with shots fired and a note on page B5.

The platitudes about "community" that we hear (and say) often in the anarchist movement would encourage me to go out and talk to the man, as part of the community. But my neighbors were clearly not doing anything and I'm a pretty small guy. Hearing stories from my father, who has worked with the mentally ill for many years, makes me pretty reluctant to simply venture out onto a dark street and jump into a potentially dangerous situation.

So what's an anarchist to do?

I've been trying to figure out what kind of social mechanisms would be most effective to deal with these kind of situations. After all, for most of the world, it is these bread-and-butter issues that matter most. Ostensibly, the practicality and common sense of anarchism is supposed to be most effective at solving these problems, in a way that Marxism or liberalism are ineffective and too conceptual to do.

My last post discussed the Provos and their penchant for the absurd. They also had a penchant for the absolutely practical. Their "White Plans" could serve as real models of utopian plans that could really work. The White Bicycle plan, which has been co-opted in a few cities and functions less effectively than if under popular direction, was for the center of Amsterdam to be closed to cars and for 20,000 white bicycles to be given out for public use.

One White Plan, the White Chicken plan, has been obsessing me in the last few weeks, as I imagine how it would work. After their happenings and gatherings began to create a police backlash with tremendous brutality, Provo suggested that the role of the police would be redesigned ("chicken" is the Dutch equivalent of our epithet "pig," with the cops being popularly known as "blue chickens") to fit the needs of an egalitarian society. The cops would be disarmed, given chocolate bars, chicken drumsticks, and condoms, and have friendly white uniforms. The police would be elected.

Obviously, the idea of suddenly switching our cops, addicted to power and violence as most of them are, to become anarcho-social workers is silly. But the model of the White Chicken is ultimately one I find quite compelling. What if, rather than tossing and turning with guilt for not assisting my fellow man, I could call up the White Chickens (or whatever we'd call them) who could come and actually help him? Rather than the liberal reaction of trusting the armed and dangerous cops to "help" people who they're trained to control, what if a society could actually help people?

All this gets me thinking, and actually returns me to James Herod's Getting Free and the idea of creating anarchist projects that transform our communities and make them democratic, anarchist communities. Where Provo failed was its inability to transcend its subculture (avant-garde hipsters and the odd angry youth) and become effective in implementing its programs. It also didn't help that they decided to run for city council in order to put their plans in motion. Anarchists certainly do a lot of programs that offer direct mutual aid to people (Food Not Bombs, etc). But maybe it's time for us to think about new programs we could implement to build anarchist communities. I feel like our ideological commitment to those projects may be blinding us to the fact that free food is not the end-all of mutual aid. Let's imagine what our ideal community would look like and start building ways to make it happen.

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