LA City Beat Article on the Southern California Anarchist Conference: Miracle on 61st Street
Miracle on 61st Street
Fear and Exhilaration at the Southern California Anarchist Conference
~ By RON GARMON ~
The Library for Social Sciences and Research sits just into the Sixties on South Vermont, an area few would cite in defense of President Bush's "Ownership Society." A speck of mural-rusty cheer in a uniformly bleak urban landscape, the library took on an additional layer of gaudiness last weekend, as more than 200 mostly young activists filed in for the Southern California Anarchist Conference. It was a rare taste of both unscripted politics and revolutionary affirmation.
Sponsored by several local groups, including Anarchist Black Cross, the AK Press, and the South Central branch of CopWatch L.A., the event was capped Sunday, December 16, with punk rock and polemics staged by Apex Union at Centro se Accion Popular across town in Taylor Junction. AU's Rafael Camacho, a non-anarchist who promotes movement-related music events, described the conference as having little central planning outside of asking fellow SoCal radicals what they wanted to talk about and constructing a program around that.
The result was not your father's left-wing protest gathering, not that ghosts from movements past didn't rattle a bone or two. Wan, middle-aged missionaries from oldtimey splinter parties like the Spartacists stood outside seeking to engage passersby with Cold War-era micro-Leninism. The kids swarming in and out gave even less attention to such three-card monte dialectics than I, an ex-sectarian who could've given these sadsacks pointers on technique. Such top-down midget totalitarianism is, to them, part of the problem.
Anarchy, in practice and theory, is the new mode and ideal among an increasingly radical chunk of young America. This impulse will likely grow stronger once the consequences of the most recent economic crash make themselves felt. Frank, a comrade from the Central Valley, spied my tape recorder just after I brought it out and insisted on being interviewed. He stood behind two tables of eccentric homemade leaflets skirted by a banner reading, "Cook cops not meth, rob banks not each other." Like most politicians jumping at microphones, Frank cared little for answering questions. "We're out here at the conference supporting working-class self-organization and direct action against various systems of domination that exist in society," he said forcefully. Why Modesto? I asked. "There's a great deal of poverty out there and poverty leads to crime." Frank's face tensed a bit, like a Fight Club hardcase. "Just like everywhere else."
Most others around me seemed intent on materializing an unsupervised society in miniature. Small multiracial groups of close-huddled youngsters sat outside verbally groping toward ways of talking, realizing their own part in a cooperative commonwealth. All was that special fun-with-a-purpose sense of good cheer that always surrounds youthful activism. Passengers on MTA buses hurtling past glared in hostile disbelief at the harmony and goodwill vibes flowing out of the building into a street little used to it.
Friday afternoon, many stopped to hear Comrade Lala of the Black Riders Liberation Party lead a floor debate on revolutionary violence. The BLRP, Black Panther-inspired militants active in South Central and Watts since the mid-1990s, is the target of a gang injunction, with three of its leadership being held downtown on undisclosed "weapons conspiracy" charges. One might expect agitprop defiance, but the lovely comrade instead outlined the traditional closely reasoned Panther case for neighborhood self-defense against the police in soft and honeyed tones. Finally, one brother from the floor asked, "Who's up there with King and Gandhi who ever used violence?" Others of his herbivorous kind spoke against violence in the home and streets as manifestations of a system itself based on violence and repression. Still more demanded to know what right was ever wrested by force and the matter was tabled without rancor.
Practical matters of organizing affinity groups (proven effective in staging street action during the '99 WTO protests in Seattle) and revolutionary self-defense were taken up in later sessions. The latter was well-handled by Sensei Santo, a squat, heavily inked fighter who demonstrated various self-defense methods for breaking chokeholds, pulling arms from sockets, and disabling larger attackers. Friday ended with two original Black Panthers joining an animal-rights activist and an Internet anarchist to regale the young 'uns with tales of their stints as political prisoners.
Late for the Saturday session, I was legging down South Vermont when an LAPD patrol car blocked the curb in front of me and two smiling officers emerged with news that I was, in fact, in South Central and could be very easily murdered. Since cops in my downtown 'hood regularly make the same helpful confession, I was little troubled, but thanked them for their trouble. In the main room, a brother was inaudibly droning some kind of historical lecture over a lunchroom din as conferees tucked into free vegetarian eats. Images of Bakhtin and Lucy Parsons Gonzales (widow of Haymarket anarchist Albert Parsons) flickered mysteriously on a nearby screen and I got the idea the latter was being posthumously heckled for insufficient feminism.
There followed talks on whites organizing resistance to white supremacist groups like the Minutemen and Know Your Rights training from CopWatch. In the main room, some old-school Panthers were staging a reunion, with gimlet-eyed badasses like Ronald Elder Freeman prophesying in bone-yard terms of a political near-future of post-capitalist disaster, imperial reaction, and the likely martyrdom of many there. The collegiates and street kids alike looked awed, delighted even.
Hours later at an underground party far away, I unexpectedly encountered a pretty conference attendee, looking quite out-of-context in panties and fox ears. "That guy I was with thought you was a narc!" she giggled. I suggested she tell her boyfriend to stop acting like he's in jail already and went back to packing some excellent sativa. I had to spark up where the security guard couldn't see.