Collectively written by Emma Chandler, Evan Edwards, Scott Evans, Meg Hen, Daniel Lee, Sara Lynch-Thomason, Joe Rinehart, Eli Scott and Rebbecca Soup.
Note: We speak only for ourselves and not on behalf of those accused, who may or may not identify as anarchists.
As anarchists working in the Asheville area, we feel compelled to respond to the coverage of the vandalism committed May 1 and the subsequent, ill-informed portrayal of anarchism by the media.
Throughout the media coverage, no serious definition of anarchism has been offered, making it unclear if reporters are familiar with the long, rich history of the anarchist movement. Instead, anarchists have been mischaracterized as wanting "no rules, no organization, no government, no niceties of modern society" ("A Few Questions for the Anarchists in Asheville," May 4 Asheville Citizen-Times). Green anarchism, meanwhile, is "associated often with eco-terrorism" ("Asheville Now Part of Widespread May Day Violence," May 4 Asheville Citizen-Times). These media sound bites portray anarchists as alien and dangerous, shutting down any possibility of constructive dialogue by creating a culture of fear around the anarchist movement.
As anarchists, we're used to being misunderstood. It is important to remember that "democracy" once conjured up images of mob rule, just as the word "anarchy" today is used as a synonym for chaos. This is convenient for those who would have us believe that a society without centralized control would degenerate into a Darwinian nightmare. Such portrayals necessarily marginalize the complex history of anarchism, which was articulated as a philosophy in the 1860s based on observations of peasant self-organization and cooperation in nature. Lost, too, are the contributions of contemporary anarchists, among them such noteworthy individuals as linguist Noam Chomsky, novelist Ursula K. Le Guin and recently deceased historian Howard Zinn.
Anarchism advocates the liberation of the human spirit through the abolition of all forms of coercion. We believe in self-ownership, voluntary association and cooperativism, placing a high value on forms of organization that are organic and consensual. Throughout history, this has led anarchists to reject state capitalism and other authoritarian ideologies, such as fascism and state communism. We do not offer a one-size-fits-all approach to social and economic organization, recognizing the need for a diverse set of solutions in a complex world.
We are members of Firestorm Cafe & Books, a community-event space in downtown that operates along the cooperative, libertarian principles of anarchism. As a worker-owned cooperative, we strive to create a workplace that provides valuable services to the community and fulfilling work to ourselves, while treating the earth in a dignified and respectful manner.
Our organizational model avoids unnecessary and involuntary hierarchies, relying instead on team structures that maximize input from all our workers while giving everyone opportunities for creativity and entrepreneurship. As an anti-capitalist business, we oppose the creation of profit, and when we are able to compensate our labor with a livable wage, we intend to invest 100 percent of our would-be profits back into the community. We provide a space for a diverse range of events and ideas, computer and Internet access, a variety of valuable, hard-to-find titles, and a visible economic alternative to business as usual. Firestorm is an example of the creative power of anarchism in action.
Although seemingly on the fringe, anarchism plays an important role in the culture of Asheville.
Even if you don't think you know any anarchists, it is certain that you are interacting with us on a regular basis. Our kids play together at school; we make lattes at your favorite cafés; we swap gardening tips with you at the grocery store. Local anarchists are deeply engaged with the community, working to improve the lives of their neighbors. Besides Firestorm, anarchists run a community-exchange network (Asheville LETS), started an adult-education program (Freeskool Asheville), serve food to the homeless (Food Not Bombs) and maintain multiple programs assisting the incarcerated. Beyond explicitly anarchist projects, we volunteer widely in our community, involving ourselves in community gardens, The Global Report, the Asheville ReCyclery, Our VOICE and the Asheville Currency Project, to name only a few.
All of these positive contributions stand in stark contrast to local media's recent portrayal of anarchists and anarchism. Most egregious in the media hysteria has been the tabloidesque reporting of the Citizen-Times, whose May 4 edition sported the sensationalist front-page headline "Suspects' Tie? Anarchy." John Boyle's open letter, "A Few Questions for the Anarchists in Asheville," leads us to believe that he either has no knowledge of anarchism's existence outside of anti-social, criminal activity or that he embraces a philosophy of collective guilt, holding all anarchists responsible for the actions of a small group. This same impoverished reasoning could be used to blame all Christians for the recent spate of gay bashing in Asheville. Journalism of this sort is unprofessional and, when directed at more mainstream social groups, it is rightly condemned.
In the midst of crumbling mega-institutions, political and economic solutions are in short supply. Anarchism offers viable, community-based alternatives to these failing institutions, and if we're willing to look beyond the media hype, it can provide tools for building a more sustainable, just and free world.
For more information on anarchism, please consider the following sources: Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction by Colin Ward, The Voltairine de Cleyre Reader by Voltairine de Cleyre, A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn, the Alternative Media Project (http://Infoshop.org), the Center for a Stateless Society (http://C4SS.org) and Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism).
[The authors are all members of Firestorm Cafe & Books in downtown Asheville, a worker-owned cooperative.]