Sunday, October 28, 2007

Beginning the discussion on Goals and Strategy -- SCAF (LA)

My personal vision is of a world that is organized based on autonomous regions, where those regions are organized around their own specific conditions. Regions are connected to other regions through general goals and they share resources. Within those regions there are community/workplace councils, elected delegates, mass assemblies that allow for them to organize themselves but in the end they choose how they organize themselves on the basis of free association and horizontalism. Regions would be connected through a federation, which would be a permanent non-hierarchical structure that allows for people to organize themselves and take control of their resources, and take part in decision making – without the need of state apparatus, national bureaucracy, or a vanguard party.

A region does not mean set borders in place it constitutes geographic conditions. For example, the Central Valley of California produces the most food and most variety of fruits and vegetables in the nation (because of its concrete conditions), and Los Angeles /Southern California has different conditions. The importance of mutual aid, cooperation, and support between region and region is the life of the federation.

Another important aspect of regionally based organization is building autonomy. Autonomy means building independence among people where they reclaim their resources, that also means that historically colonized people reclaiming their way of life, their language, and culture. Anti-colonialism, and national liberation is part of the process of human liberation, we have to support them whether they be in Bolivia, Ecuador, or in the South/New Afrika, Puerto Rico, among Chicanos, in Chiapas, Mexico, Ireland, Africa, Palestine and so on. Autonomy means self-determination in the final analysis, and people as a people having their own space to create and reclaim their own way of life. Women within autonomous regions, and all genders and sexual identities, will need their own space as well.

As anarchists and anti-authoritarians, is not just supporting these struggles, but learning from them, and fighting in solidarity with all oppressed people -- but also giving them their space to develop and grow (and supporting that).

So how do we connect this lofty idea to what we’re doing today, without becoming arm chair/ivory tower revolutionaries and without getting too focused on our immediate work – but finding the right balance and dialectical relationship between the two?

I think in Los Angeles we’ve gotten off to a good start so far, and have a lot of potential, yet we haven’t (to quote my friends from the chapter) we haven’t gotten our hands dirty yet.

The Southern California Anarchist Federation as an organization is new in general and has only three chapters in So-Cal, one in Orange County, one in Los Angeles, and one in the Antelope Valley. In a general sense a federation now is the process of building self-management, autonomy, and organization regionally and is united on common goals and principles. Each chapter empowers the members to become active participants in the decision-making, and builds accountability amongst its members. The chapters coordinate all the issues that affect the particular communities in the regions so therefore it develops organization and long-term projects around our conditions and our general principles as anarchists or anti-authoritarian socialists/libertarian socialists.

In Los Angeles we have collectives that organize around particular struggles and specific issues. Each collective is autonomous as well, and can organize independently, and choose its own membership, and can exist without the chapter. The chapter allows for coordination between different issues in the region, and builds long-term vision and organization projects for individuals and collectives who want to be part of that.

In Los Angeles the collectives we’ve begin to organize around and we hope to get off the ground (which became part of the federation through consensus or because members of SCAF wanted to build a collective project connect it to our chapter) are so far:

-Mujeres Libres – a collective of women and men building projects that empower women and fight patriarchy

-The Mutual Aid Collective – connecting neighbors to share resources, in a step to build community based action and collectivity

-Si Se Puede – a labor collective, empowering workers, building collectivity, solidarity and projects that challenge hierarchy in the labor union and focuses on those who are forgotten by organized labor

-Youth Liberation Collective – High School youth organizing in their schools and connecting other youth with each other who want to organize and challenge illegitimate authority

- Cop Watch – organized communities observing police as they go about their business as usual: harassing people in our communities – and take direct action to stop the brutality and murders that have become an every day occurrence in Los Angeles.

-Propaganda and Media Work Group/Collective (I consider this a work group because all the members of chapter will approve or support in some way the work of the Propaganda and Media Collective)

Our chapter is also seeking to build relationships with other organizations and enter in coalitions with other organizations that we feel, collectively, that they have similar goals that we do, which they don’t necessarily have to be anarchist in name but in a broader sense we agree in the short term or in the long term.

There are many benefits of organizing in a federation, which is a structured non-hierarchical organization. We set in place checks and balances from the beginning so that we don’t develop power relationships, and if they do develop they are ways to check them. All our positions are rotated, and no position is permanent – if a delegate or any other person abuses the temporary leadership they are given – they can be instantly recalled or even suspended or expelled from our organization. Also as mentioned, each collective can function autonomously, and there is no centralized power, so it makes it hard for the state to destroy the organization. We are conscious that we’re working in a repressive atmosphere – so developing ways to combat state repression is important. We don’t isolate ourselves from communities, which make it easier for the state to come down on us, but we seek to build strong roots broadly in the communities, the left, and society in general. Also we seek to support other federations in other regions, and support similar movements here and around the world – and learn from each other.

All that mentioned, I think that developing mid-term demands and aims is something that time will tell. I would personally like to see, along with other folks, SCAF helping develop community infrastructures that allow for particular communities to organize themselves. This relates to the idea of building Dual Power, where people again break dependencies from the state and the city and organize their own communities, their work places ant their schools – and build mutual aid programs, education, and organization that is capable of defending itself if the state comes down on them. Focusing on our projects is important, because that will enable us to actually outreach and build strong ties to our communities and our organization won’t become stagnant where the membership is exclusively anarchist (especially people who don’t do the groundwork but romanticize the anarchist identity).

How that would look:

In the communities of Watts, Pasadena, South Central, Compton, Pico Union, and so on, the infrastructure can be a community council, where they organize around specific issues that affect them and their neighbors as in Police Brutality, Rent control and Land Lords kicking people out into the streets, people not having food, single mothers having No Child Care and having to Work and Go to School. The infrastructures will allow people to organize on their own who actually live there and build their own vision and plan – along with that people will be welcome to join the organization, but our the role of the councils will not be to "develop the forces of the federation" in a vanguardist sense – we’re not organizing to recruit but to develop self-organization.

In our workplaces, it means "Firing the Boss", and organizing on the jobs for better living conditions, and empowering people who are targeted by the state or ignored by organized labor for example: domestic workers, women, day laborers, immigrants – this can mean building work centers that are run co-operatively by workers themselves, where they support each other, get work, organize themselves, and work the broader community projects

In our schools, it means student councils fighting the administration and student governments and building democracy and collectivity on the campuses where students even run their own co-operatives and community programs.

All that is the foundation of a movement that is capable of challenging the system of power, and building collective ownership of our communities. I think any revolutionary organization, that is serious and direct-democratic should seek to play a role in building that and not just waiting for the "Big Revolutionary Crisis" to happen while "Leading the Masses" – we seek to connect people with each other, empower them, learn from them, and educate each other to actually build the world we want to live in right now.

We don’t want to turn things upside down, where we’re at the top, we want to turn things sideways where there are horizontal relationships between all people.

Until then, always in struggle,

Joaquin Cienfuegos

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