|Guilt, Disempowerment, and Other Mistakes of an Anti-Oppression practice Many folks who were learning how to be good anarchists between 2000-2005 on the East Coast were influenced by what I'm going to call an “anti-oppression practice.” The phenomenon is broader than this; I'm simply speaking from experience. The term is not precise, and I want to keep it that way, so no one feels pigeon-holed, and so everyone can consider whether these criticisms apply to them or not; and at the same time so no one can ignore these criticisms if they do not fit within the precisely defined target. |
An anti-oppression practice posits a list of different forms of oppression at work in society on a macro and micro level, that reproduce themselves through socialization at the micro level and through continuing political and economic restructuration carried out by elite institutions at the macro level. This practice has cultivated a number of strengths in the anarchists who passed through it—an awareness of one's socialization, a sensitivity to situations and group power dynamics, the challenging of traditional identities, an abandonment of the monolithic politics of the now extinct revolutionary Left, which could not fathom forms of oppression that were not primarily economic.
GuiltThe second lesson new acolytes learn in an anti-oppression practice is that feeling guilty for privilege is also “fucked up.” The Calvinists couldn't have done it better. Guilt is intentionally built into anti-oppression politics, firmly rooted in its syllabus. Anyone who has a heart is going to feel guilty when they are assigned the label of “privileged,” when they are pressured to acknowledge that “all white people are racist” or “all men are sexist” (both of these statements are tenets of anti-oppression politics). Dogmatically insisting that guilt on the part of privileged people is unhelpful and burdensome for oppressed people only ensures that their guilt is permanent and self-perpetuating, because there are no tools in this toolbox for righting the wrongs that are the source of the guilt; only for acknowledging them. It is an original sin practitioners are powerless to change.
Quickly, a division becomes apparent in the mobilization of guilt within an anti-oppression practice. Because of the laundry list of oppressions that require equal consideration, nearly every individual is privileged in some way, and oppressed in others. However, anti-oppression activists refuse to use “privilege” and “oppress” as situational verbs, with the obvious connotation that these are things imposed by a larger social structure. Instead, the commonly upheld norm is to use these terms as labels that inhere to individuals and qualify who they are. This means that most individuals can choose what is, according to the theory, not something we have an ability to choose: which category we belong to. Theoretically this comes with an awareness of an intersectionality of different oppressions, but in practice people end up identifying and being identified with one camp or the other. Skin color tends to be the prime determinant in whether someone can get away with identifying as privileged or oppressed.
Because revolution or “social change” is reformulated as working against oppression, and because “those most directly affected by an oppression must lead their own struggle” (another common tenet), people in the oppressed category become the primary agents of social change. A system of rewards develops to encourage compliance with this practice. Privileged people gain power and legitimacy by being allies to oppressed people. It is conceded that privileged people are also negatively affected by the system, but the appropriate response to their privilege is to educate themselves and call one another out on all the ways they are tied to and benefit from the system at the expense of others. (A friend of mine aptly calls this a zero sum economy of power). Privileged people who forcefully struggle against oppressive institutions are frequently called back into line for trying to lead other people's struggles, or endangering those who are more oppressed. In other words, their major opportunity for struggle as something other than self-improvement is as an ally in the struggles of others.
Here we see another contradiction; tokenization and paternalism are on any list of “fucked up” behaviors in an anti-oppression practice, thus the practice protects itself from open complicity with the very problems it creates. Human agency is a fundamental component of freedom, perhaps the most important one; therefore if someone is denied agency in their own struggle because the most legit thing they can do is be an ally to someone else's struggle, it is inevitable that they will exercise their agency in the course of supporting a struggle they view as someone else's. To do so, they will either look for any oppressed person who supports a form of struggle they feel inclined towards, and use them as a legitimating façade, or they will try to participate fully and affect the course of a broader campaign or coalition in which they are pretending to be mere allies. In other words, by presenting privilege as a good thing, anti-oppression politics creates privileged people who have nothing to fight for and inevitably tokenize or paternalize those whose struggles are deemed (more) legitimate.
White men within the anti-oppression practice gain legitimacy and influence by appearing hyper-sensitive and self-flagellating, and by visibly acknowledging their privilege. Because this inevitably creates guilt, and guilt is a crippling emotion, those white men who will be most effective as anti-oppression activists will be those who are least affected by their shows of guilt, in other words, the least sincere. White women, or others who generally have to identify as privileged but also visibly belong to some oppressed category, remain effective by shifting guilt up the pyramid. A frequent formulation is to acknowledge white privilege, but consistently talk about “white men” as the creators of patriarchy and white supremacy, as though men of color or white women were powerless and uncompliant in these respective processes.
Those fully in the oppressed category face another power dynamic within the political space of anti-oppression activism. They either have to put up with allies like these, and, frustrated by the constant hypocrisy that they help perpetuate by ascribing to the political values of anti-oppression activism, face the choice of walling themselves off from those who are supposed to be their comrades or wasting all their time educating them out of contradictions that aren't going away.
Or, they are there because they specifically want allies like these, and want the forms of political power that accumulate to those who are categorized as oppressed within this practice. While I think most people who choose anti-oppression politics are sincere and do a lot of good, there can be no doubt that that political space attracts politicians who thrive on the power plays and office politics that infest anti-oppression groupings, organizations, and affiliated NGOs. Friends of mine who chose to work with respected organizations led by oppressed people have experienced such an extreme degree of manipulation and mindfucking that I find it completely fair to say that the leaders of those particular organizations, which I won't name, were not revolutionaries, but careerists.
AgencyAs a generalization, anti-oppression politics primarily sees individuals as a node of intersecting oppressions, each of which generate common experiences among their subjects. The result is the sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit assumption that one's place in the hierarchy (differently abled queer female-bodied latina) can tell you more about them and their history than any individual differences. Some anti-oppression activists are more gung-ho than others in this minimization of personal experience, but I would argue that those who are less gung-ho and more sensitive are in fact more hypocritical or inconsistent, as such a minimization of the individual is an inevitable product of an analysis that foregrounds one's position in hierarchies of privilege and oppression.
I think this fact is not unrelated to the embarrassing, one might even say harmful, delay before anti-oppression activists acknowledged how frequently people socialized as men have experienced sexual violence. In fact, the denial of trauma with which men are socialized proved to be quite at home in anti-oppression politics precisely because those politics reinforced that socialization by encouraging men who have been intimately harmed by our society to view themselves as extraordinarily privileged by it and complicit in it.
In other words, by emphasizing how certain people are privileged, this practice has in some ways perpetuated rather than undermined a personal identification with the system, and prevented struggle against it, in the rubric of self-improvement or taking personal responsibility, an ethic that has already proven its counterrevolutionary effectiveness when in the hands of the Christians.
I think awareness of history and socialization is critically important. But the set of nuances and emphases that anti-oppression activists choose encourages personal identification with systems of oppression rather than mutiny, in the case of those in the privileged box, and victimization by systems of oppression that are perpetuated by allies as much as by enemies, in the case of those in the oppressed box.
By putting interpersonal or micro power-dynamics on par with structural or macro power-dynamics, these activists may be training themselves in weakness and victimization. I think it is necessary to understand how these behaviours filter upwards and downwards, but without making any facile equivalence between above and below. An individual who echoes oppressive behaviours he has been trained in shares very little in common with an institution that can both generate, model, and evolve those behaviours. Emphasizing that commonality can be useful, with an indispensable caveat, in understanding how the system works, but if we place our new understanding in a revolutionary framework—with the desire to actually abolish these institutions—then this knowledge points directly to the strategic necessity to undermine and sever this commonality or identification with power, not to reinforce it.
The caveat is this: I think an honest, critical look at how power and socialization work in this society makes it undeniable that, except in the case of armed colonization or chattel slavery, oppressed people and privileged people are equally tied into and socialized to identify with the functioning of the system, even though their median experiences as groups are vastly different. Oppressed people are not more outside of or less complicit in the present system—they simply face a different, more frequently violent set of inducements to participate. In other words, as an accurate generalization lesbians, gays, and women help perpetuate and identify with patriarchy; and people of color (with the possible exception of peoples still fighting against colonization) help perpetuate white supremacist capitalism. I hope this statement does not come off as insensitive to people whose struggles I respect. I could quote the many radical women or people of color who have argued the exact same thing, but this time I want to say it with my own voice, because it is a truth that is evident to my own eyes, too.
To return to the question of micro power-dynamics, by equating them to macro power-dynamics we acknowledge their prevalence but exaggerate their strength. If we view oppressive/privileged socialization as determinant, as extremely powerful over who we are, we risk making a mountain out of a mole hill. True, a person who enacts oppressive behaviours is perpetuating the same power dynamics as institutions like the media or the police, but by creating an equivalence we blind ourselves to the fact that we are strong enough to confront this person; in fact this should be relatively easy. We are currently not strong enough to overcome the media or the police in the day to day, except for a few fortuitous engagements, and it is this fact, this real—not imagined—weakness, that must illuminate the path of struggle ahead: how to build the collective force we need to attack and defeat these power structures. This struggle does not come at the expense of understanding interpersonal dynamics and relationships. In fact, fuck that dichotomy entirely. There is no inside and outside. There is building healthy, caring relationships, solid alliances, and networks of complicity and mutiny as we wage war against a social system we could not identify with in the least, because it is impossibly far away from who we want to be.
Looking at socialization with the old set of nuances, as a privileged person, the conclusion is that the system privileges us, it has trained us, and this will be the case for the rest of our natural lives. Someone who says she doesn't want to be privileged anymore is simply smiled at and told to read the next few books on the reading list. I personally have no use for any theory or practice that leaves out human agency, because powerlessness is always a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Allies like theseI admire those who work with non-anarchists and participate in non-homogenous campaigns and struggles even though they don't agree with everyone else participating. But I think we all need to fiercely reject the Ally as a primary identity of struggle. You cannot give solidarity if you are not struggling first and foremost for your own reasons. To be only or primarily an ally is to be a parasite on others' struggles, with no hope greater than to be a benign parasite; it is to refuse to acknowledge our interests and place in the world out of a dogmatic insistence on identifying ourselves with the system we are supposed to be fighting. Being aware of relative oppression and privilege is vital, but emphasizing those differences over the fact that all of us have common enemies and all of us have reasons to destroy the entire system is deliberately missing opportunities to make ourselves stronger in this fight.
Many partisans of an anti-oppression practice, including people I respect, have simply stopped talking about revolution, and frequently no longer identify as anarchists, at least “not openly.” They often characterize those who do as naïve, privileged, isolated, sheltered from the consequences of “real” revolutionary struggle. So talking about privilege has come, in many cases, into direct conflict with talking about revolution. What are the implications of this? Would this be an appropriate time to bring up that Nietzsche quote about staring into the abyss?
A frequent justification I have heard is that anarchism has no currency in their broader communities, and that so many anarchists they know are privileged and empty-headed. This reasoning baffles me. If you come to believe in total freedom, why would you abandon one of the only theoretical and practical frameworks that espouses total freedom, just because so many others don't live up to the ideal?
If you're for real, you don't abandon the ideal to the hypocrites, you call out the hypocrisy. (Speaking of hypocrisy, in my experience most of the people who back off from anarchy for this reason still use the term “democracy” in a good way, even though way more proponents of democracy are bastards than anarchists who are bastards. Evidently they're more comfortable associating themselves with good politicians than with bad revolutionaries.)
I think in many cases the true reason for this disavowal is fear of failure, lack of confidence in one's own ideas, the need for affirmation through working with those who are more oppressed and whose experiences thus seem more real. The feeling of sophistication built into anti-oppression politics is an effective shield against self-criticism. One can give up hope in the struggle, which is a painful thing to carry around, without having to admit to personal weakness or failure, by clinging on to and supporting struggles carried out by people who one sees, in a hyper-alienated way, as more real.
It's true enough that outside of certain cultural groups, not many people in struggle identify as anarchists. However, those who insist on being allies tend overwhelmingly to ally only with a certain portion of those others who struggle: the portion that is most recognizable to an activist practice. Gangs and prison rebels are usually ignored, while leftist organizations and NGOs need never go wanting for volunteers. In other words, while justifying this disavowal of or distancing from anarchy on the grounds of leaving comfort zones, this is exactly what many anti-oppression activists refuse to do. After all, visible activist organizations are the easiest form of resistance in oppressed communities for activists with college degreees to find.
The fact that the job of these reformist allies is to recuperate resistance leads to interesting contradictions. When black youth in Oakland rioted a few days after the killing of Oscar Grant, aided and encouraged by an embarrassingly small number of anarchists (black and white), the professional activists in the black community working explicitly for the forces of order denounced the uprising as the work of outside white anarchists. It was these black leaders who were being racist, by silencing and erasing the black anarchists who helped kick things off, and portraying the black youth as misguided sheep manipulated by white people. By extension, the anti-oppression activists who took up this rallying call for retreat were complicit in this racist operation. Concerned with appearances and lacking confidence in their own political analysis, they latched on to the most visible figureheads from the black community (who, considering we live in a media-driven society, were the most reformist) and parroted their line. The media, perceptive to the effectiveness of this tactic, adopted it to preempt riots when the verdict of Oscar Grant's killer was announced, using guilt-laden language to portray all the potential rioters as anarchists, and all the anarchists as white outsiders. It worked. In order to be good allies, many white anarchists in the Bay stayed home during the riots.
By privileging someone's skin color over an affinity with their political analysis when choosing alliances, anarchists are more likely to defend racism rather than to challenge it, because at this point most people, regardless of their color, have been trained to behave in a way that perpetuates the system.
Trauma and VictimizationI am not heading towards the insulting and insensitive conclusion some proponents of social war have made when I say that American anarchists are those who talk most about trauma, and are also the most traumatized. Let's not go back to the days of stoic, emotionless revolutionary sacrifice. But let's also not ignore the massive failure represented by our trauma. Talking about it, in the way we've been talking about it, just isn't working.
A friend of mine hit the nail on the head when she said, “to heal from trauma, you need to feel empowered.” The US anarchist movement exists within one of the most disempowered political cultures in the world. It would be nothing less than a narcissistic vanity of that very political culture to suggest the all-too-common explanation that the State, the Spectacle, is simply stronger in this country, and society simply weaker. In fact, the forces of order are only stronger here because we've been losing for so long, and that losing streak has long since manifested as analysis, as practice.
Seeing our socialization as more powerful than our wills leads to a number of errors. The first is the belief in a pure body that exists before socialization and has been irrevocably imprinted. In fact there is no body without history, without relationships, with imprints from society. Because the body is not and cannot be on a trajectory ideally towards, and therefore practically away from, perfection, but is already imperfected, oppressive socialization becomes just one stain among many, and we as persons become mosaics of scars that, in sum, are really quite beautiful, and hella tough.
My privileged position in society notwithstanding, I've had more than theoretical encounters with trauma, and I've found that I healed best when I did not identify with the trauma or make an identity out of it. The most dramatic reversal of a traumatic event came when I used violence against someone who had successfully victimized me. This experience helped me to see that it is not blaming the victim, but rather, good therapy, to focus on how disempowerment is something we choose or reject, and how it can be reversed through our own personal agency in a traumatic situation. Friends of mine who have also healed from traumatic experiences have had similar observations.
Fragile FreedomOne aspect of anti-oppression politics I find hardest to forgive is the idea it has implicitly promoted that freedom is a fragile thing that we create first in our own internal spaces. At a recent talk on identity politics at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair, one of the presenters told of a consent workshop at an activist or anarchist space. He said it was a good, important workshop, but he was struck by how limited that safe space was after they left, when a female-bodied friend was harassed and threatened by a passing motorist as they walked away.
Freedom has to go armed. Our notion of freedom can't be something that falls apart if every single person involved does not follow perfected norms of consent. Such a notion, more than any of our fashions or specialized vocabulary, will imprison us in a political ghetto. By trying to banish sexism and heterosexism on the micro level, by perfecting behaviours and norms in our circles of friends, we have made ourselves incapable of actually engaging with and transforming those behaviours and norms outside of our cliques, and we make it increasingly difficult for outsiders to come in, or for allies to work with us. What we are left with are a series of fortresses, that are no less plagued by gender violence for all our emphasis on new rules and processes, in which we can either hide, fearing the days when we have to deal with outsiders who will assign us to a gender category we don't fit in, or from which we can make violent forays, a lá Bash Back, to assault the fortresses of the normal.
I want to mention that I love the theoretical and tactical developments represented by Bash Back; however one of their possible future trajectories is a detente, a war of attrition, in which the bitterness of surrender is blunted with the sweetness of vengeful attacks directed from an ideally oppression-free internal space that can never expand or explode to include all of society in a revolutionary way. A militant refusal to be assimilated, an inability to sabotage assimilation in the rest of society, an admirable dedication to the contiunation of this contradiction through attacks on church services and gay businesses. I bring up Bash Back because within it are those who are more closely aligned with a practice of social war and those more closely aligned with an anti-oppression practice, and so which future trajectory they follow is undecided. It is not a question of specific tactics so much as projectuality. If our actions can facilitate revolutionary social change only if more and more people join the in-group we have created, we will never win.
Fight Oppression, Burn the WitchI first started to seriously doubt anti-oppression politics when I witnessed what I realized was a typical response to criticism. Someone from outside the movement was respectfully questioning whether there weren't better ways to fight sexism than using gendered speakers' lists in meetings (ensuring that no more than half of those who speak are men), and a white man well versed in anti-oppression rhetoric responded dismissively and rudely, calling the skeptic a sexist and giving him a list of recommended readings to study up on so he could understand sexism better. “Read these first, then we'll talk,” was the tone of the reply. In this covertly academic framework, someone from the outside can't even properly be engaged with until they are brought up to the appropriate level.
More recently, I witnessed a disgusting exchange that struck me and other people as typical of other experiences we'd had. At the aforementioned workshop at the Seattle bookfair, the presenters explicitly stated, multiple times, that they think it is important to fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression, and that they see nothing wrong with people focusing on sexism, for example, or coming together as queer people to fight against heterosexism. However, they criticized a number of features of what they labeled “identity politics.” While they did not successfully clarify what they meant by that, they gave precise criticisms of specific analyses or paradigms during every step of their presentation.
Because they criticised the dominant paradigm for how to confront oppression, the talk was highly controversial. Anti-oppression activists who were there summarized the presentation thusly: “They said focusing on racism and sexism or things like that only gets in the way of the struggle.” This is such an inaccurate representation, if I didn't know the people responsible for it I would assume it was an intentional or malicious lie. The only other possibility I can see is that the orthodoxy of anti-oppression politics makes practitioners incapable of hearing criticism without assuming that their critic is being oppressive.
One area APOC member, capitalizing on a racist police shooting that happened around then to foreground the importance of identity, attacked the two presenters, whom he characterized as a white woman and a half-latino man (thus undermining the latter's status as a person of color and thus reducing their legitimacy within the anti-oppression paradigm, as part of the sadly common game, Darker Than Thou). It would have been much easier if the two presenters had been white males, but since they belonged to some oppressed categories (never mind their class backgrounds), they had to be linked to white males in some other way in order to ignore their actual critiques. So, these two were turned into representatives of the anarchist group to which they supposedly belonged. (Incidentally, its preference for representation was one of the criticisms the two had of identity politics.)
That anarchist group, according to the APOCer, was comprised of majority men and only one person of color (when in reality, the group doesn't exist, but the circle or scene he was confusing it with includes multiple people of color, multiple women, and no majorities). In other words, to defend the orthodox form of anti-racism, this person had to create the category half-latino, turn several people of color into white people, and turn women comrades into a sort of silenced minority. From his description, you'd think the white male majority of this non-existent anarchist group had forced the powerless, oppressed members of their group to publicly denounce identity politics so they could stop thinking about privilege and get back to ruling the movement. In the words of one of the workshop presenters, “I don't feel tokenized by the white anarchists in [my city] but I do feel it from you in this caricature you portray.”
SuppressionAn emphasis on micro dynamics can be helpful within the framework I'm about to elaborate, as an attentiveness to tactical details that can facilitate or hinder our attacks on the system. But given how they're nuanced by anti-oppression activists, micro dynamics become a laundry list of behaviours that are oppressive, or incompatible with freedom, which is to cast freedom as a pure state that is banished by impure behaviours.
Within this framework for social change, the primary activity for creating freedom is in fact suppression.
Because of this reliance on suppression and belief in the fragility of freedom, women who talk loudly and don't want to be put on a stack, don't want men to step back to make room for them, are called “manarchists.” Individual personalities disappear under categorical generalizations, and such women are told they are simply adopting masculine characteristics as a coping strategy. Not being oppressive is boiled down to adopting a certain personality type that, perhaps, is not so suited to revolutionary struggle: being soft spoken, having thin skin, learning and following group norms, and submitting to group process.
On the other hand I think building a culture of respect, solidarity, and sensitivity is vital. In some ways, freedom exists more in the details than in the abstract, and the details are different from one person to the next. This is a truth that anti-oppression activists have helped to foreground. I don't at all want talking about micro power dynamics to go out of vogue, nor discussion of our socialization and our personal experiences within social settings. But maybe we should base our idea of freedom on an expectation of constant confrontation which we are strong enough to deal with on our own and with friends, rather than on an expectation of perfected norms that must be upheld by the entire group.
Freedom is not a fragile thing. It is also not lacking in discomfort or conflict, but these unpleasantries are exactly what we need to grow stronger, and strength is what we need to create and defend freedom.
Strategic AlliancesTo talk primarily about social war rather than about privilege and oppression is to acknowledge that capitalism, the State, patriarchy—all of these interconnected systems—constitute a war against all of us, and each and every one of us have a reason to fight this system. Our reasons and capabilities are not the same, so we will never have a unified front. But we have the possibility to seek alliances with nearly everyone else around us, to undermine the consent and participation this system rests upon and shields itself with, and to attack its exposed structures and symbols.
An analysis that focuses on privilege and oppression will encourage a primary response, among oppressed people, that aims at challenging their exclusion from the system more than their exploitation by it. Among privileged people, the primary response is likely to be contemplative or educational.
An analysis that foregrounds social war will encourage a primary response of offensive or defensive action from one's unique position in society, coupled with the seeking of subversive alliances. To start with, this is a far more empowered and realistic practice, because each of us are the primary agents in our own struggles, and each of us are declaring we are strong enough to fight back. In order to be effective, we have to acquaint ourselves intimately with the social terrain on which we struggle, which will lead to a similar awareness of history, socialization, and power dynamics, but without the guilt that accompanies the anti-oppression practice.
We recognize that the system privileges some of us, but this is something that is imposed, and something we reject, rather than something we view as inhering to us for the rest of our lives. Here's an important distinction: you fight something imposed on you. You take responsibility for something that belongs to you. We did not create this system, and from now on we do not accept its claims to us. Precisely because privilege is not something voluntary, it is not something we can simply dismiss, but we recognize this as a result of historical struggles, and a tactical reality on the battlefield.
It is no coincidence that whiteness was created at a time of major social revolts in Europe and anti-colonial revolts in the Americas, at a time when the ruling class needed ever greater participation in its project of domination. Neither is it a coincidence that patriarchy experienced a qualitative leap forward in that era. Much like higher wages, privileges of gender and skin color are in fact concessions that have been won by past struggles, but like all concessions, they were designed to weaken rebellion, in this case by dividing it and encouraging greater portions of society to identify with their rulers. But also like all concessions, they offer new possibilities if we refuse to see them as a gift given to us, and instead view them as weapons we have stolen.
People who are privileged by the system can feel guilty about this, or we can use these privileges to attack the system. Those of us with white skin don't face as much attention from the police or store security. We could say, therefore, that it's a privilege to shoplift. Or we could rob those stores blind, sell the merch, and donate the proceeds to our own struggles and the struggles of people who can't shoplift so easily. By using privilege as a weapon rather than obsessing over it, we actually undermine it, because stores that intentionally conduct racial profiling or more passively give in to the common prejudices will be hurt economically. If they shift surveillance to well dressed white shoppers, then white privilege, which helps prevent rebellion, erodes a little.
By seeing race not as essential categories or forms of socialization we have to own up to, but as counterrevolutionary alliances that never succeed in negating our own agency, the Phoenix Class War Council achieved a victory of a magnitude I've never seen come out of privilege workshops. They approached white libertarians who generally remained within right wing coalitions, and called on them to honor their own principles by joining them in a protest against neo-nazis who were capitalizing on anti-immigrant racism with a xenophobic rally. The libertarians showed up, and helped drive the nazis out of town. Subsequently, the Phoenix anarchists intervened again, and called on the white libertarians to stand true to their opposition to big government by joining them in a protest against the militarization of the borders, which was also an immigrant solidarity protest. Many of them came out, mutinying against the alliances of white supremacy. (One might argue that this momentum was largely destroyed by the leftist Boycott Arizona campaign, which had a watered down politics, was based on shaming and guilt, and gave all Arizona citizens, i.e. from the nazis to the libertarians, cause to unite).
With this different nuancing, being a good ally means fighting for your own reasons, unapologetically, and familiarizing yourself with your capabilities as compared with the capabilities of your allies, looking for ways to acknowledge these differences but make them complementary. What's required, above all, is finding allies who actually share affinity with you, while breaking up the alliances that protect the system. This means working in broader campaigns, without a haughty and insular disdain for “leftists,” but also without the dishonest and hypocritical suppression of one's own political identity, one's own reasons for struggling (which has become second nature for the hundreds of anarchists who work in other people's campaigns and parrot social democratic rhetoric rather than openly expressing their own ideas and radical critiques).
Too many anti-authoritarians serve as the supporters and shock troops for reformist campaigns that can only humanize the prison system, the borders, the War on Terror, when what we must do is speak openly about the need to abolish these things, and look for ways that our participation in these campaigns can open revolutionary paths rather than following reformist dead-ends. If we don't have our own reasons for hating the border, are we offering any more than charity by taking part in a campaign to soften it? And what are we admitting about the depth of our alliances when we don't talk openly about the need for a world with no borders? How much do we truly respect the people we are working with if we're hiding our actual dreams and motivations from them?
Experience in other places has shown that by being an uncompromising force, saying the things no one else would say, and militantly pushing the envelope, after the initial conflicts and arguments other people will come to appreciate anarchist solidarity because our presence gives strength to a struggle, much the same way that most of Martin Luther King. Jr.'s reformist victories can be chalked up to those who fought more forcefully for something more radical.
In other words, the pragmatic arguments about the immediacy of human suffering in certain struggles, and the need to approach those timidly, fall short, because by silencing our radical critique, we ensure that reformism and recuperation will maintain the problem indefinitely, and by not manifesting a threatening force we ensure that the system will have little motivation to decrease the human suffering in the short term.
It deserves to be mentioned that one of the largest amnesties for illegal immigrants in recent decades, that was not lobbied for by business interests, happened in Greece, after anarchists and others violently and uncompromisingly rose up against all aspects of the system of domination, and immigrants took part in that uprising. Despite being the most vulnerable or at risk, they were frequently the most violent and reckless, once the humanitarian, reformist leadership who generally mediated their rage was proven obsolete.
By coming out of the closet, anarchists can discover who our real allies are. Among the leftists, we can distinguish the politicians from the sincere ones, and we can set a tone of radical direct action that makes it easier for people in more precarious positions to come out in support of that approach. By speaking about the abolition of borders and prisons and the State and creating a material force in society, with its creative/supportive and negative/destructive aspects, we make those radical ideas a real possibility and create an exit from the timeless cycles of guilt, reform, recuperation, and identification with the very system that makes living impossible for all of us.