Thursday, November 7, 2002

Local anarchists unite to build 'freer society'

The weekly meeting of Monsoon Anarchist Collective in Tempe begins a little late. Anarchist time, someone jokes. 

The perception of anarchists has long been of loners who hate government and break laws, an image fueled by protests and arrests here and around the world. 

Getting arrested for a good cause is a badge of honor, local anarchists say, and they are anti-authoritarian. But, they add, overthrowing capitalism requires organization and cooperation. So, the 25 men and women sit in a circle of chairs at Gentle Strength Cooperative's community room and run the meeting by consensus, not Robert's Rules of Order. They congenially discuss plans to distribute clothing and food to the homeless; advocate for political prisoners; protest; screen T-shirts with anarchist slogans. 

"For so long, ever since the 1920s, the general sentiment among anarchists had been this time is not our time. ... Maybe this time is our time to do something," said Terry Hughes, a Tempe resident and herbalist. 

About 70 people across the Valley are active in the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition, a group that includes the Monsoon collective and the West Valley's Anti-Power Society. 

Anarchists and organizations with an anarchist framework, such as Earth First!, Anti-Poverty Coalition and Food Not Bombs, have increased in number and are more connected than ever in Arizona. 

Across state lines, anarchists have formed the Southwest Anarchist Network. Also, a conference will be held in Arizona next spring, and in Tempe, a Phoenix Anarchist Coalition center is being planned.
They are serious about change, as serious as the union organizers rooted in anarchist ideals who were responsible for securing the eight-hour workday. Despite that, people can't get past stereotypes, the anarchists say. 

"They see protesters and they see angry, young protesters, and that translates into not a legitimate form of organization," said Kate James, 22, a Tempe resident who works in a medical office. She's a third-generation Arizonan and one of the few college students. 

The Phoenix Anarchist Coalition organized about two years ago, after some anarchists were arrested on May Day, the international workers rights day, during a protest in Phoenix

In recent years, protests against the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund in Seattle and Washington, D.C., have brought out thousands and energized the movement, said Brian Tomasi, 28, a writer and musician in Tempe. 

Everyone may come to anarchism from a different perspective, and coalition members don't agree on everything. They are finding a common goal, though, as more people connect to their ideals.
"People have realized that the tactics of the '60s and '70s have not worked to change our world for the better, so people are exploring other tactics," James said. 

Their structure mimics what they want to create: A society without hierarchy, without White supremacy, without patriarchy, without capitalism, without majority rules or minority rules, with no rule of anyone over anyone else, they say. 

"They think anarchists are a bunch of chaos freaks and that we want to go around and smash everything when really we want to get rid of corruption," said Kat Mayes, 20, of Phoenix

For Columbus Day, Tomasi, James and 19 others went to Denver, where they protested with anarchists and Native Americans against the racism of the parade, they said. They carpooled and slept in sleeping bags at a community center provided by anarchists there. The trip cost less than $50, including gas, which is why they could go. Most work in retail or office jobs and don't make a lot of money. 

"There's a tension between wanting to put food in our mouths and wanting to build a freer society, but in the end, I'm committed to a freer society," Tomasi said. 

When they distribute clothing, and sometimes food, to the homeless in downtown Phoenix, they spread out the clothes on their cars and homeless men and women stop and pick out clothes and sometimes take literature. 

Police always stop to talk to them and suggest they donate the clothes directly to the shelters. They tell the police they'd rather do it themselves. 

Detective Tony Morales of the Phoenix Police Department said that police officers have a low opinion of people who intend to break the law. Citizens have a right to protest peacefully, he said, but if they break the law, they will be arrested, he said. 

"There are people who are professional protesters, nothing better to do than travel around the United States and do that," he said. "That's their thing and they are certainly free to do that, but when they cross the line ... . 

"If they think that's a good thing, then OK, but you're the one who's going to sit behind bars in some nasty jail, not me."

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