Aug. 23, 2013

Iowa City

My stop in Iowa City was organized by the good folks over at the Wild Rose Collective. It was great to reconnect with a sister organization in the project of developing a nationwide organization. The Wild Rose Collective have been instrumental in helping to coordinate much of the national dialogue between groups. So, being able to spend a little time with some of their members talking about the process of regroupment has been very helpful.

I was surprised immediately at how small Iowa City really is. I had thought I was headed to a city about the size of Rochester. But it's actually a small fraction of that size, which the local college making up much of the local population.

The talk however, had just over 20 people at it, making it larger than some others. There was local media there from the Daily Iowan. It was generally well organized and went really smoothly. It was good to be able to direct people to join the local organization if they agreed with the perspectives being shared, rather than advocating the creation of something totally new. And, in a great surprise the audience included by half-brother and his sister who both work with Ajax, a long-time anarchist internet personality that I've known via MYSPACE! (yea, I'm that old!)

Of course an O'Malley family reunion meant staying out late and up until around 5am partying. This didn't mean good things for the drive to Milwaukee the next day!

Aug. 22, 2013

St. Louis

Today begins my rapid fire end of the tour. The next few days will be right on top of each other! Today I'm in St. Louis, tomorrow Iowa City, the next day Milwaukee, the next Chicago. I'm getting ready to pass out in my bed though.

In St. Louis the stop was coordinated by another comrade from the Worker Solidarity Alliance, who had actually attended the stop in El Paso as well. The talk was in a space called the World Community Center that seemed like a catch-all space for various social justice organizations in the city. 

There were just under 20 people at this talk. The talk went very smoothly, and didn't really get much push back. It seemed like a few people there were looking for more of an introduction to anarchism than to especifismo. 

There was a brief question about "especifismo's critique of industrial civilization". This was confusing to me for a couple of reasons. First, the language sounded like it was coming from a primitivist perspective, but when I said that was told that I was misunderstanding. Second, I think the question seems to come from the notion that especifismo is like a new suffix to anarcho-. It's as if we are advocating for an anarcho-especifismo rather than especifismo as it's own theory of the role of revolutionary anarchist organizing, which is definitely not the intention. 

I'm not actually sure if there are especifista groups that would call themselves anything other than anarchist communists. But, if there are, I've never seen them. 

Aug. 18, 2013

Salt Lake City

Being in Salt Lake City was surreal. I grew up here for much of my childhood. The city has developed a ton since last I was there. There is now an above-ground light rail line running down one of the streets I used to live on. The neighborhood I grew up in has turned into a sort of hip neighborhood rather than the fairly sketchy place it was when I was there.

This talk was at the public library (which was a beautiful space!). It was put on by a new, platformist-influence group calling themselves the Wasatch Anarchist Organization. The talk was pretty small. As it turned out many people that would have otherwise been there were downstate involved in an anti-tar sands pipeline action.

Small conversations though, allow for such a more participatory presentation. Being able to really engage in conversation with people rather than just present was a great switch. The folks there seemed really solid, and I hope that we'll stay connected through the process of creating our national organization.

I didn't get as much of a chance to connect with the organizers of this talk though, as I spent much of the time there exploring neighborhoods that I remembered as a child.

Aug. 15, 2013

Seattle

After Portland, I think I ran into Seattle a little cocky. The event went so well in Portland that I didn't really prepare for many of the specifics that may come up in Seattle, didn't have some of the conversations about the local context that I had in other cities, and didn't really reflect on the anarchist history of those cities as I knew them. So, it doesn't surprise me that this talk didn't go quite as well. Well, that and it seems there were some people there with a preconceived notion of who I am and what I stand for.

The talk was organized by an old friend of mine who had been involved in Common Action and is now a member of the Seattle Solidarity Network. The talk was held at the Black Coffee Co-op and had about 30 people in attendance.

This more than any other talk was one that I was intimidated by the audience. Not because of the many people there that disagreed with my perspectives, but because of the presence of my friend Marie Trigona, whose writing and video work during a decade of involvement with the anarchist media project Grupo Alavio has informed much of my own understanding of the movements of Argentina.

One major conversation that was raised during the discussion was about the revolutionary potential of some of the major mainstream unions in the US versus the Industrial Workers of the World. In their current form I don't think either are likely to bring us closer to revolution. But, one statement of mine was certainly taken out of context there and spread around a bit. I had said that given their size that if there was a serious shift in internal ideology that the 2 million member Service Employees International Union would obviously have greater revolutionary potential given it's size. This was then quoted as "the SEIU is more revolutionary than the IWW."

Here is what I think we need: massive workers movements and their self-managed, self-directed, sustainable worker organizations that understands themselves as a tool of class struggle for all working people, including their members, and engage in militant industrial strategy (note: not simply workplace action). The SEIU is obviously a long ways off here. They've got sustainable. They've even got massive. Work self-directed? Not really. Engaged in class struggle? Not as the basis of their work and not militantly. Large scale industrial strategy? Inconsistently, although I'm more excited by the fast food organizing than my more purist friends.

What about the IWW? Worker self-managed? Maybe. They are certainly internally democratic. But so many of the members are activists disconnected from workplaces that it's hard to say it's worker self-managed. Massive? Clearly not. Has a class struggle orientation and readiness for militant organizing. Absolutely. Sustainable? Not really. In fact sometimes there are ideological stances taken to maintain a purity of revolutionary thought rather than allow for serious sustained growth. I'd rather see the IWW act as a union than an anarchist and socialist history club. The decisions that I see tell me that in some places that transition is happening and in most places, it remains a social club for revolutionaries.

So does this mean I give up on both of them? No, it means that I give up on neither of them. But they both have serious work to do if they intend to be organizations that move us towards a revolutionary tomorrow.

At the end of the day, this discussion has been had hundreds of times over. Rather than outing one another for strategic disagreements here, I think as anarchists we need to develop a strategy for developing labor organization and militancy that incorporates engagement in both mainstream unions and the IWW.

Beyond the talk though, Seattle was great to be able to reconnect with Marie and relax for a couple of days. Hanging out on a porch near the beach grilling food, drinking wine, and learning a ton in great conversation. That is exactly what vacation is about, and really should just be what life is.

Marie also pointed out a real problem with my presentation, which I made a point to incorporate into future talks. The analysis that I was offering about the build up to the factory occupations didn't include any mention of the piqueteros! Utter failure on my part. Go read up on the piqueteros! 

Aug. 14, 2013

Portland

The stop in Portland was a huge success. Around 80 people were packed into the Red and Black Cafe for this talk. I feel like the presentation was stronger than it had been in other stops, and was received in great ways with a pretty large grouping of people interested in joining a nationwide anarchist organization and building a local group based on especifist thought.

It's not shocking how strong this event was. The Red and Black Cafe is a space that has a long history of great talks like this and serves as an important resource for Portland's anarchist community. The Institute for Anarchist Studies co-sponsored the event and had their board coming into town for a meeting in the next few days. Two former members of Rochester Red and Black live in Portland now and helped to do the on-the-ground organizing for this event. And there were three spots on KBOO local community radio helping to pump the event - one by me, one by another member of Rochester Red and Black, and another with Jeff Shantz about anarchist organizing. The strength of the local IWW was apparent with lots of their membership in the room and participating in the conversation. There was at least one former member of the past northwest regional anarchist federation, Common Action.

The conversation here seemed to focus very much on how the process of social insertion into broader movements can help to strengthen anarchist ideals and organizing skill. The notion of building depth of connection in communities was something that I raised a handful of times and that was echoed by others in the room.

I left Portland really excited for the remainder of the talk and the possibilities that the tour has for helping us to build a stronger nationwide anarchist organization in the US.

Aug. 12, 2013

Eureka

Eureka California was a really rapid stop for me. The drive from San Jose is a long one, and I've got to be in Portland, Oregon the next day which is also a long drive.

The talk here was put on by the Humboldt Grassroots, a county-wide organization of Anarchists Communists. They're a local affiliate of the Anarkismo editorial board and have a warehouse space in Eureka with what they call the Rhizome Infoshop. They are also the key organizers of the Humboldt Anarchist Bookfair each year, which sounds like it makes some great connections in town.

The talk had around 10 people attending and was overall a very positive conversation. It seemed like an in-depth conversation on especifismo was something that few people there had attended before. But, there were a couple of Humboldt Grassroots folk that already had some understanding of the ideas and that have previously been in contact with the various Class Struggle Anarchist groups in the US. It seems like that connection has gotten a bit weaker in the time that the In Our Hearts Network has been undergoing it's rapprochment process.

Their upcoming Anarchist bookfair would be a great place to help revive this connection by sending some folks engaged in the rapprochment process to talk through what's been accomplished so far with them.

Aug. 11, 2013

San Jose

The San Jose talk was the largest yet, with over 30 people in attendance. The talk was organized by the South Bay IWW and was held at the San Jose Peace and Justice Center. As is becoming a really common occurrence at these talks, there was another member of the Worker Solidarity Alliance present, Tom Wetzel. It's been exciting to have the WSA be a common element of many of the talks! There was also a recently confirmed member of Miami Autonomy and Solidarity in the room, which is great since this tour wasn't able to go all the way to Miami. That member of MAS is the author of the article "Especifismo: The Anarchist Praxis of Building Popular Movements and Revolutionary Organization in South America." That article has really been the basis of a large chunk of the presentation, and is one that I really wish I had brought printed versions with me to each stop around the country!

It was at this conversation that I finally began feeling like I had a pretty comfortable rap down for the presentation. The presentation has been changing slightly at each stop based on the different crowds and this one was no different.

This presentation had a larger portion of people that were there out of an interest in organizing worker cooperatives. It's probably silly that I was surprised by this, given that time I spent around cooperatives in Argentina is much of the premise of the talk. But, my reflection on the form of workplace cooperatives has been one that doesn't really prioritize the creation of cooperatives as the best way to challenge capitalism - or even to establish worker democracy internal to capitalist economies.

To me, cooperatives are a tool. Without a similar degree of class consciousness and without an orientation of the cooperative as a tool to further a broad class struggle in favor of worldwide worker and community self-management, I find cooperatives can often simply be small businesses with multiple owners rather than anti-capitalist counter-economies. So, I've increasingly found myself thinking of cooperatives as something I'm excited about only when they're created as part of a larger class struggle. I can think now of two forms in which cooperatives can be just that: 1) offensive expropriation of a workplace away from capitalist ownership and 2) as part of an survival program initiated by unemployed workers movements.

There were some really friendly people here building a very new IWW branch in San Jose. I think they'll be very successful based on their ability to be good with new folks in town! On to Eureka!


Why Am I Writing?

After an inspiring year following the social and political movements of Argentina, I returned to my hometown of Buffalo, NY intent on beginning the process of actively building local movements with the lessons I had learned in Argentina.

One of those lessons was the importance of participants in our movements telling their own stories and actively analyzing their organizations. That's exactly what I plan to do here, and I hope that some people find it relevant and interesting.