This past Saturday, I went to the “1st Annual Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair.” Last year they had it too at this time of year, and just called it an “anarchist conference.” The event was definitely bigger this year and there were a lot more distros and publishers there, and as usual, lots of great speakers and workshops.
Below I’ll go through and convey some of my notes and thoughts on the presentations at the bookfair. Overall, I think it was excellent, and from a planning perspective, these really ought to be organized on a much more local level, such as having neighborhood and city wide anarchist bookfairs and conferences to talk about things locally and create stronger local networks and common knowledge bases.
The first workshop I attended was listed as a sustainable architecture class. The presenter’s focus was talking about the techniques and vision of Nader Khalili, the founder of Cal Earth, and developer of the Ceramic House and the Earthbag Construction technique called Super Adobe. It was a very good, but the speaker was so enthused about Khalili’s work that other types of sustainable architecture were not covered in really any detail at all. But Khalili’s work is intreguing and offers anarchists and planners a different, more sustainable way of building than wood and steel-framed structures.
With Super Adobe, the idea it to take sandbags, especially tubular sandbags, stuff them with sand, build up almost igloo-looking domed structures with such bags, all the while laying in barbed wire between the bags for added strength, and then setting up an enormous fire inside to turn the sand in those bags into ceramic-glass. The end result is a fireproof, weather proof, earthquake proof, structure for you to live in.
All of that sounded great to me, but the primitivist in me thought, okay, what if I don’t have access to sand or to sandbags (though you could make them from fabric), or access to barbed wire – Then what? I brought up that to the presenter and the possibility of building with other more local materials such as cobb and it met by being brushed off literally as if Khalili’s work was the be all and end all of sustainable architecture. (Techniques such as strawbale and super adobe are not completely do-able from a luddite perspective, since to some degree they rely on industries and technologies, though adaptions possibly could possibly be made in a more primitivist setting.) After the presentation I got talking with someone else who had a similar sentiment, that we really need to look at the other more primitivist options.
Also, these dome structures do need coverings for them on the outside to help seal them. The presenter suggested lime, tar, sap, ox blood, and cow dung. I am familiar with similar sealing methods used in strawbale construction.
Also, sometimes in some areas these structures are so small that they do not require a building permit, as if it were merely a backyard tool shed or something similar (that is if one is choosing to abide by statutory law). And of course, they can be built much larger than just a shed.
Along these lines, at the bookfair, I picked up a copy of the zine Survival Without Rent. It looks pretty interesting and I’ll try to get a review of it posted here eventually. I looked it up at zinelibrary.info and its not there, but several distros had copies of it, so it is clearly available. It’s all about squatting techniques in cities. Squatting is definitely the kind of way we have to start thinking about the world – if there is a built physical structure, there should be no boundary about ownership and possession concerning it. If you need a place to sleep or exist, any space should be available for use, especially if it nobody is making any use of it!
Creating Your Own Media/Open Source Software
The next workshop I went to was on open source software and media. This was exteremly informative. This topic presents us with a mountain of possibilities regarding creating a world without economic exchange. It’s like being a pot maker and putting your pots out along the wayside for anyone to take them. There are no ownership boundaries.
Particularly they discussed the GPL license and Creative Commons licenses as alternatives to copywriting, and talked a lot about the Linux operating system called Dynebolic which is an operating system you can run off of a CD or a flash/thumb drive. Dynebolic they said is a very lean operating system, particularly good if you’ve got a really old computer that you want to run Linux on and you want to run graphics and multimedia programs on it too.
These types of projects are so important to the anarchist movement because they help transform the world to exist without ownership or property of any kind – which truly is anarchism. As a luddite, I see immense value in giving up all forms of computer and other technologies, but as technology is the facilitator of contemporary media I cannot ignore that using it to bring and spread the word is invaluable.
The also discussed Indymedia and Indymedia L.A. and that anyone can become be a reporter of the news through Indymedia or other avenues (they mentioned pbwiki). With Indymedia, anyone can post reports, especially anonymously, about virtually anything from Copwatch to Transgender vigils, to art shows and concerts. They also talked about the value of the Indymedia calendar section and that if you’ve got friends who always seem to be in the know about events and you don’t know why, its probably because check the Indymedia calendar section for upcoming events.
The reporting of the corporate media are ever increasingly narrow and Indymedia offers a very real alternative in the form of self media.
Another zine I came across at the fair was a beautiful, well put together publication called Communicating Vessels, which is regularly published, but has no website or digital form. This is the way that we must eventually return to as the machine dies before our eyes. As well, as the world transforms to function almost exclusively on a local level, the media in such settlements and cities, if we even call them that, must be local too. It must be home grown, everything locally made and freely available.
Ideally we would abandon our higher technologies in favor of only things that can be made locally. Still, in regard to open source software in the planning and architecture fields. One of the most common programs for planners to use is ESRI’s GIS program Arcview. In considering an open source alternative, a strong potential alternative is the program GRASS.
North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office
I did not attend this workshop, but attended it at last year’s conference and it was very informative and I thought I ought to give a brief summary here of last year’s presentation since it was so good. The founder of the North American Animal Liberation Front Press Office spoke about that organization ze founded and what it does. The founder is a medical doctor who is also a vegan.
The exploitation of non-human animals around the world is very real. They are used for animal experimentation, they live in horrible conditions as they are raised for slaughter, we enslave them to harvest their secretions and other bodily expulsions. Such reasoning is based primarily on the premise of the existence of animal rights.
Whatever the reason, some feel that it is necessary or extremely important to stop such things from occurring and they take action under the name of ALF to bring freedom to these animals. Mink farms are liberated, people break into animal testing labs and free the animals there, known animal experimenters’ cars and homes are damaged through arson and the like - but never is harm brought to any human beings.
He spoke a great deal about the trouble that ALF activists go to to not leave a trace of who they are both when they liberate animals and when they report their actions to the Press Office. When actions are taken, people must make sure that there are no fingerprints and no DNA to be traced anywhere, and afterwards that all clothing, gloves and equiptment such as bolt cutters are disposed of in a random dumpster so that it will never be traced back to them. The founder also said that actions are usually reported to their office by someone going anonymously to an internet cafe, opening a new email account, sending an email to the Press Office about the action taken, logging off of that email account, and never again logging on to it anywhere again.
When one considers this kind of advocacy from an urban planning perspective, if you are involved in guiding the zoning codes for your city, you ought to consider molding the codes to keep such land uses out of your city. Also, if or when actions are taken in your city, it can be an excellent opportunity to introduce ordinances which will be prohibitive of such future land uses.
If one is an planner or architect and wishes to take a slightly more radical position, one might consider participation in Architects, Designers, and Planners for Social Responsibility’s (ADPSR) prison design boycott campaign, or in organizing similar organizations as this medical doctor organized to raise awareness of ALF actions.
ABCs of Anarchism/Anarchist Tendencies Panel
This was a really interesting panel discussion with folks representing the entire anarchist spectrum. The most well known on the panel, at least to myself, was probably John Zerzan, an editor of the publication Green Anarchy and host of Anarchy Radio out of Eugene. He is a green anarchist and primitivist. Among others on the panel there were two representing the anarcho-syndicalist/communist perspective (historically classical anarchist), one from the anarcho-punk perspective, an anarcho-feminist, one representing autonomous collectives, and the last I think represented native and indigenous struggles.
To the non-anarchist reader, to help them understand all of this, it may be helpful to think of anarchism within the ownership spectrum/construct:
The Circle of Ownership and Anarchy
Returning now to panel discussion, I have admittedly not been involved in the anarcho-punk scene, but was very encouraged by the individual representing that perspective on the panel. Ze said that among people in the punk scene, that that environment is usually the first time people are exposed to anarchism and that they try to help people understand that anarchism is much more than just being punk and to carry anarchism to be a part of the rest of their lives, introducing them to broader anarchist projects such as D.I.Y. (Do it yourself), spontaneous projects, gardening and permaculture (ze was very into permaculture), and real community building (not capitalist community building – which is totally bogus, and sickly drenching the urban planning field).
I actually know a fellow anarchist who came out of the anarcho-punk scene who is now hugely into permaculture and community organizing around permaculture projects.
Of the syndicalists, they expressed that they work with employees of businesses and shops to help people understand their own exploitation by bosses and owners and to help organize them in more equal ways through worker unions and the like. They build connections and help people’s existing anarchist ideas to come forward. I had not thought about this before, but, even though they may be pro-technology, really, they help workers to also be exposed for the first time to anarchist-type thoughts. They also explained that they seek to help people organize themselves in every aspect of life.
As mentioned, John Zerzan represented the primitivist perspective. Ze spoke of how there is no replacement for community. The goal is “a world that doesn’t need running.” There will be no end to war without the end of civilization, and face-to-face community cannot be replaced by something else (like technology or economic relationships). Today the struggle in anarchist circles itself is “Red anarchism [anarcho-communism] vs. anarchy.” Civilization’s goal is to turn indigenous people into citizens – that’s the real insidious goal. “Reality is pounding on the door pretty loudly.” We’re destroying the planet, mass killings, parents murdering children, suicide rates are all way up, chronic pain proliferating among the population — its endless, the whole civilization must die, and it is. We must find the paradigm that will break us from the past.
The individual representing anarcho-feminists explained how an anti-capitalist class analysis is central to their perspective. Ze frequently spoke of how women are not represented equally enough in anarchist circles and that we ought to somehow make them more comfortable to join the movement. Ze expressed the need for more affinity groups to talk about the situation. And when things, especially discriminatory language is used, people need to be proactive and speak up about it. We need to insist on an end to oppressive situations and inequality.
For autonomous collectives, I don’t know if they would necessarily be considered a branch of anarchist thought, though perhaps collectives could be seen as the lifestyle anarchist’s approach to social organizing. The person representing them spoke about how anarchism has often been a white phenomenon – when the people who are minorities in society also need to learn about it.
The one representing native and indigenous struggles, their comments were all in I believe Spanish. They had a translator, but I must admit to my attention span lapsing while they spoke. Their comments were quite long and at the end of each of their diatribes the translator stated all of it in a rather short summary, which after the diatribe I had to refocus on the event after being lost in my own thoughts for a couple of minutes, so I don’t have any notes on their comments. Though I wholly agree with supporting indigenous, anti-colonial struggles everywhere.
As a side note, to all of this, while listening to this panel discussion, there was someone standing next to me in the back, breast feeding out in the open among everyone standing crowded together. It was great to see this taboo concerning nakedness being broken by hir there. Nakedness is a social “rule” like so many things that we need to abandon. I wanted to thank hir, but once I thought to and turned to hir, ze had moved spots and was gone. You may not be reading this, but thank you.
Queer Communities of Color
I seem to have misplaced my notes from this workshop, but I’ll do my best to recall them. This was a very thought provoking workshop. As a GLBT person myself (ethnically a fair skinned British and Norwegian), I quite personally understand the inequalities of gender, but, honestly, after hearing a lot of comments from this group discussion workshop, I came away feeling that I still had a quite inadequate understanding of being both in the GLBT community and being a person of color.
From my own experiences in the queer community, I know how oppressive gender is and work at every opportunity to dismantle this construct. I know that there are many times when I am in conversation with people who are not gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgender, and by their language and how they treat others, the power of gender prevails and the males dominate, and actively and passively insult and degrade the people whose gender is female.
How this can be remedied, I do not know, except to speak up when language is used which perpetuates inequality. In regard to race in such an equation, one comment in this discussion group was about how in the gay community, someone said concerning the Proposition 8 passing in California that ‘gays are the new black.’ This is a reveals a shocking and great divide in society. The inadequacies, the inequalities in all of our thinking need to be addressed and when people see them, they need to look past fear of judgment and believe that greater awareness will be a mending thread.
More mending than that is certainly the end of all power structures and property ownership in society. No more haves and have nots. No more inequalities of any kind. No more boundaries of power and possession. Honestly, in the end, I think gender and race and class are all the same and breathe together. Awareness and spreading it is important, but attacking and bringing awareness of the heart of it all is the most important.
Stencil and Collage
The final workshop I attended was one on creating collages and stencils that raise social awareness among people. The presenter displayed numerous slides of collages made from magazine clippings and ze had brought a bunch of scissors, paper cutting knives, and old magazines for us to make our own collages and stencils. It was a very hands on workshop. The one thing to remember when making a stencil is to make sure that you leave open connections to the portions that normally float – like the middle of an “o”.
The use of such self created media and art is that they do not rely on many advanced technologies, they help to raise social awareness of injustice, and they are extremely home-grown forms of media.
At this time in the bookfair, I had to leave early as I had two housewarming parties to go to that night. On my way out though, I caught some of the words from the Anarcha-Feminist / Women’s Health / Riot Grrl workshop and they were talking about using new words in our language, especially words for human genitals — that we need to come up with new words for the parts of our bodies, words that do not sound scientific or degrading, and as such do not alienate us from our own bodies. Vagina and penis, cunt and cock, menstruation and ejaculation. We need new words that do not carry stigmas and scientific alienation.
From an urban planning and architecture perspective, as we embrace an anarchist world and help it to thrive, new signs and symbols will evolve, and new languages come out of the old. Self-media is an essential part of that social evolution. As well, new words will have to be developed. Words like family, tribe, community, city and neighborhood which drip so heavy with capitalist exploits may become irrelevant and meaningless because other things have replaced them which express the new relations we all have with each other.
When we meet there is no more alienation due to race, economic class, and gender. We greet each other in totally new ways which express our boundless affection and care. The word “equality” no longer exists because there is no more of its opposite.
We should all sit down with others we know or are close to and begin to develop our own new words.
Overall, of the portions I attended, I think this year’s bookfair was a great success in sharing information that is out there and helping each other to help re-mold the world into the one we really want.
Dec. 16, 2008