Filed under: Interviews, US
In the past year, the CrimethInc. Collective launched the ‘To Change Everything’ tour following the release of a text by the same name which was translated into multiple languages and published and distributed from Brazil to Korea. Hitting the road with a group of international anarchists who discussed a variety of struggles happening in their home countries, the tour hit large cities and smaller regions. The tour was in many ways a testament to the staying power and popularity of CrimethInc., as events were organized in many smaller areas without established radical groups and spaces. The tour also showed that even in places where you might not expect it, there is a growing interest in revolutionary anarchist ideas. However, the tour also made clear that in many places, there is little for those that are interested in these ideas to plug into. In a report following the tour, CrimethInc. wrote:
The good news is that plenty of people around the United States are newly interested in anarchism. Most of our events were better attended than anyone anticipated, drawing crowds of more than a hundred in a few cases. In the Midwest, for example, not known for being a hotbed of radicalism, we were surprised how many people wanted to talk revolution, especially in cities within a day’s drive of St. Louis, Missouri. This is the generation radicalized by the Ferguson protests. Even as state repression intensifies and survival gets more difficult, that creates windows of opportunity.
At the same time, it seems that the forms of infrastructure and organization that would enable people to follow through on this interest are largely missing. In Washington, DC, once an epicenter of anarchist activity, after we spoke to a full room, many people asked how they could get involved with local in anarchist groups—and none of the longtime locals in attendance knew what to tell them. Over and over, in perhaps a dozen cities, we heard that our event was perhaps the largest gathering of anarchists their community had seen for years. This is not good news. Rather than waxing nostalgic about the structures of the past, we urge our comrades across the US to experiment with new ways to bring people together.
Following the TCE tour, anarchists in Denver also organized ‘The Spaces Between’ tour, which discussed the experiences of anarchists organizing, agitating, and building infrastructure in non-coastal and smaller cities. In preparing for the tour, organizers also produced a publication where various anarchists were interviewed and shared their experiences. The proceeding tour hit large cities and smaller towns, bridging gaps and making connections between crews and organizations. From the callout for the tour:
This tour features friends from Denver, Colorado and Richmond, Virginia coming to your town to discuss what it looks like for anarchists outside those spaces with longstanding institutional left bases. We think there is a lot to learn from the less “glamorous,” towns and small cities where anarchists continue fighting in spite of it all.
Sharing our experiences of building, failing, rebuilding, fucking it up and sometimes winning, we hope to strike up conversations in your towns with your friends. Let’s talk community defense work, anti-police struggles, combating gentrification warfare, how not to let the liberals get us down and more.
Wanting to know more about the motivations and the goals of both of these tours, as well as the implications of their experiences while on the road, we caught up with participants in both TCE and SB to find out.
It’s Going Down: Before we talk about the tours themselves, can you all talk about tours put on by anarchist and radical groups in the past that inspired you? Either groups, collectives, or organizations, or even musical acts? How did this influence you?
Spaces Between: Over the years there have been a lot of tours that we’ve found to be inspiring in putting together our tour for The Spaces Between. Back in 2012 folks from Sacramento Prisoner Support put on the ‘Never Alone’ tour in support of Marius Mason and Eric McDavid. In their tour write up they said:
Our friends remind us of what is possible. They remind us that we don’t have to wait for permission to do what we know is right. They remind us that we are not powerless. Like Marie and Eric, we are tired of watching all that we love be destroyed by all that we hate. We know what needs to happen.
We are in it for the long haul.
While the Never Alone tour focused on prisoner support, those words certainly resonate in regards to what we are trying to build towards with The Spaces Between. A lot of our experiences as anarchists are rooted in opposition and a deep longing for ways out of the alienation that we experience in our daily lives, not just our “political” lives. Being in a room of folks where there is even some semblance of shared language for those experiences is worthwhile in and of itself.
The 2010 RNC 8 Conspiracy tour was also an inspiration to us. We still love their tour write up six years later:
We say organizing resistance to state repression isn’t conspiracy. It’s survival. We say living our lives according to our principles isn’t terrorism. It’s our right. We say we’ll continue organizing no matter how much the state tries to destroy us and our communities.
So if this is conspiracy, we say to you…Join the Conspiracy!
Clearly the To Change Everything tour from last year was a recent source of inspiration in organizing our own tour just a few months later. We continue to be inspired by the conversations that tour sparked in our own town and the rumblings we heard while on the road this winter.
CrimethInc.: For my part, as one of the organizers of the “To Change Everything” tour in the US, my work ethic was originally inspired by reading Henry Rollins’ tour diaries from Black Flag. Several of us on the tour had some background experience in punk rock, which helped equip us to do a lot with little resources. More recently, the “We Are an Image from the Future” tour that comrades from Void Network did in 2010 was a point of reference.
IGD: What led you to put together the ‘To Change Everything Tour’ and the ‘Spaces In Between?’
SB: While we were on tour and presenting in towns we talked about this; what lead us to touring with what is essentially a zine project. The first tour was meant to kick off the larger project of The Spaces Between and act as a means of further informing the direction of the project. We wanted to visit some of these “spaces between,” as well as take the stories from those spaces to some of the bigger cities.
Those of us who are involved in the project have long felt like there is a consistent gaze across “anarchy land” to the coasts, especially to the Bay Area. One of our goals with The Spaces Between is to shift, even if just for a moment or two, the gaze to those of us in other contexts. We want to hold up the examples of tactics, strategies and beautiful conspiring of friends that don’t often get talked about in the larger conversation. So our tour was, in part, a means of doing that as well as continuing to gather stories and build connections.
CI: The basic idea for the “To Change Everything” tour was to foster dialogue between anarchists in different parts of the world. Following a few years of momentum, when the limits of those uprisings were becoming clear, we wanted to create a space of transcontinental strategizing to prepare for the next round. To that end, we invited participants in several of the groups that had produced versions of To Change Everything overseas to come tour the USA. The interactions between the participants in the tour were just as central to the project as the presentations and discussions, and the connections we forged continue today in new collaborations following the tour.
IGD: Both tours visited big cities and smaller towns. Let’s talk about the big cities first. What problems did you see arising in these larger places? Did they seem connected to the smaller spaces out around it?
SB: The biggest city we visited was New York. We held an event at The Base in Bushwick, which is a great space and we highly suggest that folks check it out. Because of the nature of our project we ended up “speaking from the pulpit,” in NYC a bit more than we did in other places. We shared our own experiences coming from Denver and Richmond, but we also shared from the interviews collected thus far for the zine.
In speaking we touched on gentrification as it manifests in Denver or the Western U.S. in general. We received some momentary push back on the assertion that the process of gentrification is extremely different where we’re at and where many of our friends are at out West. What we came to more fully realize through that discourse at the Base was that many people in bigger cities have a wicked case of geographical myopia. The struggle is real in New York, no doubt. But, it is not the only struggle and the tools one may use in NYC may never work in Denver or beyond.
On the topic of connection, we saw some stronger connections and some weaker ones. Out in Chicago it does appear that there is a solid connection between anarchists in the city and smaller crews far outside the city. This was exciting for us to see due to the nature of our project. We want to see more of that building! Hubs and nodes of activity. Conspiracies of friends that may be separated by geographical distance or even political distance, but that come together in spite of that.
CI: My chief critique of anarchist milieu in larger cities is that they tend to be myopic: being in a hotspot, one tends to focus on what is going on locally, losing perspective on what is happening in the rest of the country and how to contribute to it. And yet many of the people who flock to these hotspots come from the smaller towns: so even if all you are concerned with is what happens in the big city scenes, you still have good reason to focus on the rest of the country. It might be a good idea for anarchists in places like Oakland to think more about what they can do to better fulfill their de facto function of serving as hubs for anarchism on a continental scale. They didn’t choose this position, but it’s a position of responsibility, like it or not.
“It might be a good idea for anarchists in places like Oakland to think more about what they can do to better fulfill their de facto function of serving as hubs for anarchism on a continental scale. They didn’t choose this position, but it’s a position of responsibility, like it or not.”
IGD: What about the anarchists in the smaller areas? Do you feel they felt disconnected from the larger anarchist movement, either regionally, nationally, or internationally? If yes, how so, and how do you think this could be changed?
SB: One thing that we noticed both in the initial interview process of this project as well as while on tour is that a lot of smaller towns and cities are very connected regionally as well as nationally. The Midwest region is a fantastic example of this. While in Bloomington we saw the connection across the region clearly. However, it seems there is a lack of international connection in both the big cities and smaller places. This is something that the To Change Everything tour highlighted for many of us across the country.
Media projects hold a huge potential in building international relationships and solidarity. With It’s Going Down it is exciting to see the growing coverage on and report backs from Mexico and Canada. It seems that CrimethInc’s strength lies in a similar place, in their ability to transfer ideas and information across borders through various strains of media projects. How people can localize this in their own communities is an unanswered question, but we met so many inspiring people across the eastern and Midwestern parts of the country that it feels like the potential for expanding connections across borders is certainly there.
As far as bridging the divide that exists between bigger and smaller places, from our experiences in anarchy land generally as well as things we have heard while on tour, not only is there a sort of myopia in bigger places, there is also a sort of small town defeatism that exists, sometimes in a suffocating way. Concretely we see tours like these as an attempt not only to alleviate that, but hopefully give a platform to folks that actually says “I want to hear what you’re doing!” Small towns often suffer from an insecurity that what they do isn’t “big enough” to matter. But we know from historical small town hotspots like Eugene in the 90s, Chapel Hill/Carrborro more recently, or Modesto that this doesn’t have to be the case, and small places can have a huge effect if they are connected and their story gets told.
“Small towns often suffer from an insecurity that what they do isn’t “big enough” to matter. But we know from historical small town hotspots…that this doesn’t have to be the case, and small places can have a huge effect if they are connected and their story gets told.”
CI: I guess anarchists in the really small towns we visited like Pendleton and Pensacola felt disconnected from anarchism in the rest of the country, but that’s not surprising. Honestly, I think comrades from such contexts—who don’t have the option of immersing themselves in a subculture—are often more in touch with the rest of the population and have a clearer idea of what speaks to them. Even in the biggest cities, where we got to speak with anarchists from overseas or who had contacts in other parts of the world, there’s so much world out there to be connected… just because you come from Mexico City or Athens, Greece doesn’t mean you know what is going on in Brazil or Sweden. I think that tours like this—that aim not just at “informing” people, but at sculpting common reference points for strategic dialogue—can be a good way to keep tactics and critiques circulating so that they are accessible wherever they are needed.
IGD: We heard talk of the effect of the Ferguson insurrection on the surrounding areas. Can you speak to this? How has this rebellion impacted the areas that these tours visited? What lessons can be learned from this?
SB: Well, not to sound to romantic, but in a lot of ways Ferguson changed almost everything.
This isn’t to say that we are any closer to a new, freer world, but it certainly drastically shifted the terrain that we all operate on. Even in Richmond, after an armed suspect was shot, fairly liberal “radicals” were saying things like, “it doesn’t matter if he shot back.” Without blowing this out of proportion, this would probably have been unimaginable 3 years ago.
We also have a far-right kicking it up hard, especially in these smaller places. This was definitely partially catalyzed by events in Ferguson and the rise of anti-police struggles, playing on white fears of an angry, black and brown populous. Anarchists have made huge strides in discussing the ways we engage with these ruptures when they happen, and while Occupy taught us the pitfalls of democracy, Black Lives Matter has forced us to grapple with the efficacy of our street tactics, our engagement with identity politics, and our connections to other communities of struggle that some of us were pretty slow to catch up to once shit took off. All of these things were huge parts of discussion no matter where we went, and it seems the results are varied, some places clearly having made more rooted connections with combative elements in various neighborhoods, while others are left floored with the speed at which struggles were recuperated into liberal reform. But everywhere went people seemed more determined than ever to make things work and keep pressing forward.
“[T]he lesson is simple: our ideas and practices—and we ourselves—come to life when we enter into contact with other people in creation and resistance. Anarchism is not a hobby for anarchists, but a proposition involving everyone.”
CI: It’s true, the liveliest region that the tour passed through was the area within a day’s drive of St. Louis. Those events drew a wider range of “anarcho-curious” participants, along with the new energy, perspective, and passion that comes with people from outside the milieu. For me, the lesson is simple: our ideas and practices—and we ourselves—come to life when we enter into contact with other people in creation and resistance. Anarchism is not a hobby for anarchists, but a proposition involving everyone.
IGD: Let’s talk about the importance of space and infrastructure for a minute. What are some of the most inspiring things you saw on the tour, as far as people using space and infrastructure to reach out beyond themselves. What were some of the problems you saw coming up?
SB: We saw some incredible spaces and infrastructure projects. We think folks have finally started to let go of the idea that our immediate allies for maintaining resources have to be bleeding heart liberals, while they are still very present. We saw people far more often utilizing spaces as places of maintaining a combative relationship with Power than an isolated infrastructure project that relies on broad “community” (i.e. liberal) support for its existence. Maybe this is because more of us are getting older and staying in it longer, but more folks are ok just working hard to throw money into a space and not make an endless cycle of fundraising or some elaborate business plan the bulk of the activity around the space.
The problems are generally the same they have always been, interpersonal conflicts, money issues, maintaining a level of relevancy and participation to make it worthwhile to hold down a space in an increasingly gentrified world.
“We saw people far more often utilizing spaces as places of maintaining a combative relationship with Power than an isolated infrastructure project that relies on broad “community” (ie liberal) support for its existence. Maybe this is because more of us are getting older and staying in it longer…”
CI: Let’s take Carbondale, Illinois as a good example of the proper use of infrastructure. In Carbondale, we ate a collective meal at their lovely, spacious infoshop before the presentation, with plenty of folks from the circles around the infoshop attending. But the presentation proper was at the university, with a wide range of people (more than 100 in a town of 40,000) in attendance. Afterwards, we met back up at the infoshop for more food and discussion. This demonstrates the advantages of a multi-tiered approach to maintaining our own infrastructure while simultaneously prioritizing interfacing with the general public. Where anarchists establish echo chambers directed inward rather than outward, it becomes harder and harder to engage in dialogue with people from “outside.”
IGD: Were there reoccurring problems or frustrations that you saw in each of these towns and cities that you visited? Were people trying to work out common issues or was every place largely different?
SB: Again, in our interview process leading up to the tour we saw common themes in the seven cities featured in the first zine. We want to acknowledge that everyone we interviewed is an anarchist and have some similar ways in which they view the world around them. That being said, issues of gentrification, police terror and frustrations with liberal counter-insurgency were encountered both in the process of putting together the first round of interviews as well as on our tour. How these struggles manifest and how they are approached varies from place to place.
Other common problems we encountered were those of space, dealing with interpersonal strife, abusive people within local political milieus, exhaustion or burnout, and funding radical projects. Shits rough out there. What has been inspiring to us though is seeing that people are much less immobilized by problems like these than we have seen in the past.
CI: We encountered a wide range of different contexts and struggles. So, for example, while we could say “gentrification” was a common thread everywhere, what the effects of gentrification look like in Fort Collins, Colorado are so different from what they look like in Brooklyn and Toledo and Seattle that we might as well just say that “capitalism” is a problem in all of those cities.
IGD: In the past several decades, the anarchist movement has attempted to break out of becoming a subculture in of itself. Did you find this tension to be changing at all?
SB: Our observances should be taken with a grain of salt, as the way things can look to folks from a different town, just passing through for a day, can be very different to the tensions experienced living somewhere. That being said, generally it seems like anarchists have made strides at breaking out of some of those subcultural ruts. We saw rad folks of color, queer, gender-variant, and femme folks really holding it down as out loud anarchists in just about every place we went. It was encouraging to us to see folks be proudly flying that black flag while also struggling to be who they in other aspects of their lives. This helps to confirm for us that anarchism still has something very special to offer.
We can all be very hard on ourselves as anarchists. Because our politic is oppositional to so much that surrounds us in daily life, critique becomes ingrained into the ways in which we move throughout our worlds. This works, sometimes, when applied politically. It is much trickier when applied interpersonally. We mention this culture of harsh self-critique because we ourselves struggle with it. It can be easy to focus on how we are fucking it all up. We do fuck it up. A lot. But, we are also consistently experimenting with new politics, new social structures or means of interacting. We are all learning what works for us and what doesn’t as we go. There is something to celebrate in that. The fact that so many fucking weirdos have found their ways to one another and are experimenting together is a damn fine thing. Hopefully we can have some grace for ourselves as we experiment as opposed to turning into a real life manifestation of A News comment threads.
CI: Well, we were on tour for more than two months, visiting a different city every night, so we saw both: a tendency towards homogeneity in some places, while in others—Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix—the audiences we spoke with varied more in terms of age, ethnicity, and [sub]culture. Certainly the anarchist communities we interacted with were not chiefly punk spaces in the way they might have been twenty years ago; but we still have a long way to go before anarchist ideas will be situated in enough different contexts that they cannot be associated with any one demographic.
IGD: Looking back on these tours now, do you feel better about the potentials for a broader material force than before you left, or perhaps even more disillusioned?
SB: In coming home there was a lot of inspiration to sift through and reflect upon. It is a tremendous privilege to travel the country and have strangers open their spaces and homes to you. That isn’t lost on us.
After the close of the anti-globalization era many anarchists started to more deeply root themselves in their local contexts. Not to say the days of traveling and punk mail deliveries are dead, because lord knows they continue on. But, that era of summit hopping is dead. We couldn’t be more pleased! What a lot of us who came up in that time or participated in those summits took away was a hell of a skill set though. A skill set that is now being applied to localized struggles like police terror for instance.
Does this result in potential for a broader material force? Perhaps. What is more likely to result in the potential for broader material force isn’t creating new anarchists to fill seats in a collective meeting, rather it is the dissemination of the ideas and the foundations of anarchy in ways that resonate with more folks outside of our specific political sub-genres.
As much as the tour was a source of inspiration, there still sits the question of whether our dreams are simply impossible. We’ve all seen a banner with “anything is possible,” beautifully and carefully scrawled across it, but we have also all felt the despair that maybe it simply isn’t. Maybe what matters isn’t whether we actually see the broader material force materialize and instead just keep fucking trying. If we saw anything on tour it was that there are a lot of us and we are all fucking trying.
CI: I’m not sure about this language of “material force”—I feel like it crept into anarchist parlance around the era when everyone was reading The Coming Insurrection, and it tends to correlate with a narrow idea of what it looks like to spread anarchist struggle. I don’t think our force is based in the immediate material capacity of those who identify as anarchists, but rather on how much purchase anarchistic ideas and desires have on the imagination of the general populace. We should evaluate our immediate material capacities as means to achieve leverage on the popular imagination, not as the means by which we might directly carry out revolutionary struggle on our own.
As for what we saw, on the one hand, this is a time when a lot of people are curious about anarchism. At the same time, our material capacity is at a low, so we are not doing a good job of taking advantage of these opportunities. I think the important thing is to direct our energy towards connecting with all the people who are newly curious about anarchist tactics and strategies and values, but at the same time, to find new organizational structures that are adequate to this historical moment—that are more intimate and have more staying power than the internet, but that make the best of the superficial hyper-connectivity and dynamism of the present moment.
IGD: To CrimethInc., we would agree with you. Did you see anything from the tour that points to this? Any sort of experimentation of groups? How are anarchists in other countries attempting to answer this tension, in your opinion?
CI: The question of organization is important right now, and I think it’s a question we haven’t seen good answers for yet. We’ve seen plenty of groundswells of protest activity that haven’t left our networks much stronger, which seems to disprove the insurrectionist hypothesis that we will “find each other” in moments of unrest. In St. Louis, our friends who were on the front lines of the clashes in Ferguson reported that a year later, it seemed that formal reformist or authoritarian organizations had consolidated most of the long-term social gains coming out of the uprising. This is not that surprising: we are at our best courageously taking risks upon ourselves without hope of personal or organizational gain, whereas what they do best is cash in on the others’ efforts. But we need to be sure that we can maintain and deepen our contacts with those we encounter in the course of social struggles, so they don’t end up having to join groups that have a totally different vision of social change than we do, to put it politely.
Formal anarchist groups like the Black Rose Federation seem to be taking an old-fashioned approach that lacks dynamism; on the other hand, at many of our events, Black Rose was the only group that could offer a way for people to get involved at the end of the night. Yet I don’t anticipate them succeeding in creating a space that will be welcoming for everyone who is vaguely interested in anti-authoritarian struggle—I picture that looking more like Anonymous 2.0. I hope Black Rose will prove me wrong, or else that some other group will fill that role.
“I think the important thing is to direct our energy towards connecting with all the people who are newly curious about anarchist tactics and strategies and values, but at the same time, to find new organizational structures…”
In some ways, this is a question of critical mass. Where there is enough anarchist infrastructure, moments of conflict can create a situation in which more people are integrated into anarchist networks and social spaces. In Slovenia, for example, a tiny country right in the middle of the migration corridor running southeast through Europe, maintaining two huge squatted social centers in a city of a few hundred thousand has enabled anarchists to make contact with migrants who have been forced to pass through the country, or now, trapped there. As comrades there face new threats to their spaces (both from state evictions and from fascists), this means that they have new comrades in those struggles.
When this question came up on the tour, we argued that there are three basic categories of activity anarchists can invest ourselves in developing between high points of struggle: organization, infrastructure, and precedents. Having spent a paragraph each on organization and infrastructure, I’ll just say that, by precedents, I mean demonstrating (on however small a scale) what it might look like to enter into conflict with the authorities, so the examples will already be in place when more people are interested. The student occupation movement of 2009-2010 is an example of this leading up to Occupy; so are the small anti-austerity protests in the Bay Area summer of 2011 immediately before Occupy Oakland. In the US, we need more from all three categories—long-term organizational frameworks, spaces and resources, and new examples of what it looks like to fight. Whoever you are reading this, we’re counting on you to demonstrate your brilliant ideas that haven’t been tried yet.
IGD: For those looking to do similar tours, what advice would you give to the next crew? What big lessons did you pull out from this experience?
SB: The biggest piece of advice to be given is to just put yourself, your project or your crew out there. We continue to be incredibly humbled by the excitement around our tour and the ongoing project. In December we said “let’s do this project and take it on tour.” A couple of weeks later we were booking travel and events. We’re lucky to be fairly connected to other anarchists across the country that enabled us to set up events with some ease, but we are also happy to answer questions from anyone looking to do something similar.
Another tip is to start with what you know. This project is the culmination of discussions in hostels, on long walks, on phones during big local ruptures in Denver, Richmond, or elsewhere. We didn’t decide to set out on this project for a thought out list of reasons, it’s because it was shit we were already constantly talking about from our respective contexts, and was an important aspect to the affinity that crews in Denver and Richmond have grown over several years. It felt natural to write about it and take it on the road, and we are fairly confident there are other subjects that people in other places build on that gives them a lot to offer to folks in other towns.
Let’s see some tours about the relationships cultivated between anarchists, indigenous folks, and immigrant communities in the border towns. Let’s hear about how anarchists have engaged with infrastructure projects in towns with strong co-op movements and how that can sometimes create complacency rather than maintain conflict with Power. These are things we heard about on tour that we wish we could hear more about! More than anything, we want to meet more of you. So come through. Sit on our porch.
We’ve got plenty of coffee.
“Maybe what matters isn’t whether we actually see the broader material force materialize and instead just keep fucking trying. If we saw anything on tour it was that there are a lot of us and we are all fucking trying.”
CI: We’ve booked a lot of tours like this, at this point; if someone if doing something similar and wants our input, drop us a line and we’ll try to help.
Thanks very much for the interview! Anyone who wants to learn more about our experiences on the tour should consult our mammoth, collectively-authored reportback here.
And good luck with It’s Going Down, it’s an important and timely resource! Thank you for all you do.
Want to know more? We encourage people to listen to an interview with To Change Everything tour participants on the Final Straw here as well as an interview with The Spaces Between tour on the Final Straw here.