Overthrowing capitalism? Smashing the state? These phrases may inspire true believers, but to just about anyone else, they sound silly, sinister or even insane. Most people in the United States see industrial capitalist civilization as a basic fact of life and as absolutely necessary for their survival. If revolutionaries in this country ever hope to expand our resistance beyond a tiny fringe, then we must do more than campaign against socially irresponsible corporations and governments while spouting revolutionary rhetoric. We must demonstrate that our lives do not depend on playing by “the rules” as obedient and passive workers and consumers by demonstrating new and better ways to survive and thrive.
In this regard, we have one real advantage: many people in the US aren’t very happy. In 2004, the unemployment rate was over 8 million, roughly the population of New York City. Middle and working class families are sinking into debt, while the richest one percent continually grows richer, aided by corporate welfare, tax cuts to the rich, pro-corporate trade policies, government-supported union busting, and rollbacks of vital environmental legislation.
Even those who manage to stay employed in a society where working is deemed necessary for survival toil constantly just to make ends meet. They are too stressed out and exhausted to enjoy their free time as a result, and are limited in the time they can devote to their families and communities.
Nor are we healthy: a polluted environment, work-related stress, sedentary lifestyles from using TV and video games as recreation and jobs behind a desk or steering wheel, and a poisonous diet pushed by corporations and their government shills have compromised the health of the nation. Health care costs are spiraling out of control, with no realistic expectation of meaningful healthcare reform in the foreseeable future.
At a time when getting a decent paying job without a college education is becoming ever harder, access to education is becoming more limited. Cuts to funding for public universities and college loan programs, and attacks on affirmative action programs, have forced thousands of low-income students to drop out of college or never even start. This has allowed the military, which continues to absorb roughly 50% of the federal tax base as social programs are slashed, to institute an “economic draft” by dangling the carrot of job training and tuition assistance in the face of teenagers with few other options.
Even many of those who do manage to achieve some economic success often find that this provides no real happiness. In a society where our sense of community has severely eroded, and where we are profoundly disconnected from the nonhuman world, multitudes of even the materially-comfortable experience a profound loneliness and alienation. Corporations offer a consumerist “fix” for this by selling the idea that people can find happiness and fulfillment in purchasing, ownership, and consumption- a house in the suburbs, trendy sneakers, a fur coat, the fastest laptop, or a sexy sportsca. Television, drugs, religious dogma, and jingoistic, and patriotic notions pollute minds searching for substance in an empty culture.
But what if we could build an alternative culture that allowed us to embrace the values that matter to us most in all aspects of our daily lives, one that promoted mutual aid over competition, adventure over monotony, conservation over consumptive excess, sharing over private property, joy over toil, egalitarianism over hierarchy, social concern over self-centeredness, simplicity and freedom over desire for material acquisition, and self-acceptance over social status-seeking? What if we could illustrate the spiritual bankruptcy of capitalist-industrialist society by creating a counterculture that is practical, ethical, truly cares about people’s real needs, and offers people the opportunity to feel a true sense of community rooted in a commitment to building a better world for all?
Known as dumpster diving, curb crawling, trash trolling urban scavenging , or just plain old garbage picking, practitioners of the art of recovering useable resources from the waste of a hyperconsumptive society are able to dramatically curtail or altogether eliminate their need to purchase commodities. Whether finding couches on the curbside, recovering fresh, clean food from the dumpsters of food retailers, building libraries from discarded books, supplying kitchens with appliances, plates and silverware, creating wardrobes out of discarded clothing, or recovering computer equipment, foragers find that they rarely have to use money to acquire the items they need. They also reduce waste, limit their personal environmental impact, curtail their economic complicity with the socially and ecologically destructive multinational corporations responsible for the creation of most consumer goods, relieve the pressure to work two or three jobs to make ends meet, and limit their contribution to a corrupt government by limiting their contribution to sales and income taxes. In rural areas, gleaners harvest fruits and vegetables spilled and left behind by inefficient industrial farming practices.
Urban scavenging is more than individualistic, self-righteous lifestyle puritanism—-it is a key component in renewing community around the principle of mutual aid. Many urban foragers recover goods in groups. Some use recovered food for communal meals, sometimes in communal living spaces. Scavengers frequently point each other to reliable sites to recover useable goods. The website http://freegan.info offers an online directory of favorite scavenging sites in different areas and similar guides are distributed in print form. The creators of Freegan.info run tours where groups are introduced to reliable trash-picking sites. Directory creators and tour organizers hope that their readers and tour participants will then be inspired to seek out other promising locations on their own, which can be added to the future tours and directories.
Food Not Bombs
Food Not Bombs is a global grassroots movement founded to challenge the waste of massive military spending in a world where millions go without the basic necessity of food. Over 200 FNB chapters in cities on six continents recover food that would otherwise go to waste- either foraged or donated by retailers who would otherwise discard it- and prepare hot, wholesome, vegetarian meals to share on streets and in parks. Rather than “serving the poor,” FNB shares food with ANYONE who wants to eat, shucking the paternalistic notion of charity for the unfortunate, and instead promoting the idea that we can share and help one another as equals without a profit incentive. While our society for the most part accepts that giving to the destitute and desperate is admirable, challenging the assumption that we should expect payment from those who can afford to pay for that which we give them is nothing short of subversive. Visit FNB’s webste at http://foodnotbombs.net/
Humans began as a species of plant foragers. In anthropological terms, we have only recently adopting hunting and agriculture as means to provide food. Seeking to recapture this ancient and sustainable means of sustenance, some are rediscovering traditional wild foods and medicinal herbs. In the New York City area, naturalist Steve Brill leads tours in local parks introducing urbanites and suburbanites to edible and medicinal wild plants and mushrooms. Books like Brill’s The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook, his “Foraging with the ‘Wildman’,” video series, and zines like Wildroots’ Feral Forager: A Guide to Living off of Nature’s Bounty are helping to widely disseminate this information, germinating a new culture of wild foraging, even in heavily urbanized areas. For more information on foraging, check out http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com.
While some practice wild foraging in the contexts of fairly urbanized lives, others go further, adopting a primal, wilderness-based existence—living in birch bark lodges, building stone tools, cooking on an open fire, and living in an interdependent community, healing with traditional medicine and wild herbs. Many rewilders are anarcho-primitivists, believing that civilization and “progress” have been disasters for the earth and its human and nonhuman inhabitants, and that the most egalitarian and ecologically sustainable human lifestyle can be found in primitive cultures. Anarcho-primitivists seek to return humanity to a way of living closer to a primitive existence, and view rewilders as pioneers. Sadly, many rewilders have embraced the killing of animals for food and clothing through hunting fishing and trapping.” Advocates of this position would do well to read Jim Mason’s An Unnatural Order, which offers a devastating critique of hunting as the social institution that began the culture of domination that grew into our current global malaise. Mason draws sharp distinction between hunter-gatherers and the non-hunter gathers that preceded them.
Freecycle, Freemarkets and Free Stores.
Freecycle is a network of regional email lists where people who would rather share than waste post items they wish to give away, and individuals seeking to acquire items without purchasing post the items they are looking for. Giver and receiver make contact over email and arrange to meet to transfer the item with no expectation of reciprocity beyond gratitude. Freecycle.org’s Freemeets resemble flea markets where all available items are offered free of charge. People donate items they wish to share and acquire items they can use.
This is also the concept behind Really, Really Freemarkets. People happily share books, magazines, clothing, records, food and artwork. Freemarkets complement free goods with services, performance, and activitities—massage, dance, comedy, music, tarot readings—anything that can be shared freely.
Projects such as Freecycle and Freemarkets foster community, prevent useable goods from becoming waste, provide a practical venue for an ethic of sharing, and break down the idea that the distribution and acquisition of goods must be accompanied by the exchange of money.
A smaller but more permanent version of this concept is the Free Store. At Free Stores, people can donate or freely take a plethora of useful goods any day of the year. By attaching cooperative values to a permanent community institution, freestores allow this ethic to become a part of everyday life. Sharing becomes second nature, while looking to fulfill needs in the competitive capitalist marketplaces ceases to be a necessity.
These approaches provide a realistic alternative to purchasing, foster a spirit of mutual aid, prevent the waste of useable items, and bring people together in a community that helps meet their practical needs.
For more information on Freecycle, see http://freecycle.org/.
For more information on Freemarkets, see http://freegan.info/?page_id=255.
And for more information on Free Stores, check out http://freegan.info/?page_id=85.
Squatters and Guerrilla Gardeners
Squatters and Guerilla Gardeners are challenging the idea that the property deed of an absentee owner should prevent urban communities from making use of empty, abandoned buildings and lots. Squatters take debilitated buildings and convert them into living spaces and vital community centers. Guerrilla gardeners find abandoned, often garbage-filled lots, and rehabilitate them into beautiful green spaces, oases in deserts of asphalt and concrete where city dwellers can witness the miracle of growing plants, cultivate the food they eat, breathe fresh oxygen, and develop an appreciation for the nonhuman world. For more information on squatting http://freegan.info/?page_id=172. And for more information on guerrilla gardening, see http://moregardens.org/
Few daily activities are more complicit in the destruction of the planet than automobile use. With every mile we drive, or gallon of gas we purchase, we not only foul the air and contribute to global warming, but support some war for oil and the destruction of habitat and indigenous cultures by exploration, drilling, and pipeline projects. Car culture also promotes suburban sprawl, a major contributor to habitat loss in the United States.
Rather than seeing bicycles, skates, foot scooters and skateboards as toys, we can recognize them as practical and efficient means of personal transportation that among able-bodied people can in many cases supplant cars for local trips, and can supplement public transit for longer trips. Organizations like New York City’s Recycle-A-Bicycle trains 10 to 18 year olds to bike repair discarded bicycles, avoiding consumption of further natural resources in the production of new bicycles while eliminating waste..
In a car-dominated society, users of human-powered transportation face road conditions designed for automobiles, aggressive motorists who honk and tailgate angrily, and the ever-present threat of collision with an automobile. In response, skaters and cyclists unite for Critical Mass, a traffic-calming exercise performed in cities and towns around the world. Autonomously organized and lacking leaders or central planners, critical masses are collective rides where hundreds, sometimes thousands, take to the streets at once using human-powered transportation. In a reversal of the norm, drivers of muscle cards and behemoth SUVs are forced to adapt to the pace of skaters and bicyclists. Critical masses are suggesting of the promise of a car free society, one where pedestrians don’t risk their lives every time they cross the street, where getting from one place to another doesn’t mean generating smog or complicity in imperialist oil wars. From critcal masses, cyclists gain a sense of solidarity and validation, and even safety for those who are terrified to bike or skates on streets filled with road raging motorists.
For long distance transit, many have adopted the old hobo tradition of hopping freight trains. And the old standby of hitchhiking, while not as easy as in more trusting times, is still an effective way to travel for those with the patience to wait for a pick-up.
Learn about the trainhopping at http://www.thespoon.com/trainhop/.
For more information on bike restoration, check out http://www.recycleabicycle.org/.
To learn more about critical mass, visit http://www.critical-mass.org.
When major corporations own the mass media and corporate advertisers routinely influence and distort even “news” coverage, mainstream newspapers, magazines, television, and radio simply can’t be trusted. In response to this compromised information stream, a global independent media movement has flourished with the commitment to bring people credible information without corporate bias. Alternative media makers present news and opinions in a myriad of formats??websites, pirate radio stations, free newspapers and magazines, books on topics too dangerous for corporate publishers to publish, “zines” (small print run, often highly personal, magazines, commonly reflecting a punk visual and cultural esthetic), satellite and public access television, podcasting and streaming audio and video content, subversive videos and DVDs, independent documentary films, and public speaking and presentations.
Independent Media Centers (IMCs) have sprung up in cities a round the globe, to provide venues and resources for the creation and dissemination of news and information without the distorting filter of corporate influence. These centers are managed collectively through consensus decisionmaking and without hierarchy. Visit the global IMC website at http://indymedia.org.
Holistic healthcare providers are upending the traditional medical model by shifting the focus from expensive, often dangerous, patented pharmaceuticals designed to treat diseases as isolated phenomena to a focus on prevention, overall health, and an understanding of body energy. Alternative therapies rely more on diet, exercise, stress management, procedures like acupuncture and spine adjustment, herbs and vitamin supplementation than on patented pharmaceuticals, and often achieve far better results. They offer the promise of healthcare without dependence on monopolistic, animal testing, polluting megacorporations like Glaxo Smithkline and Merck.
Even alternative treatments can be pricey, and many are not covered by insurance providers. For patients, stress of illness is compounded by having to wrestle with a stingy, legalistic, inhuman, impenetrable corporate bureaucracy to be compensated for vital medical needs. 45.8 million Americans, or 15.7% of the population, lack health insurance altogether. Addressing the cost and availability of health care is as important as changing the type of treatment provided.
The Ithaca Health Alliance is a non-profit, non-governmental, membership based organization dedicated to providing healthcare to all, particularly the uninsured. The annual dues of members (around $100) are pooled to fund a variety of projects designed to improve health, not generate profits for doctors and pharmaceutical companies. Members can access rebates, grants, bonuses, and loans for health exams, emergencies, and dental work. A similar approach has made health care possible for 200,000 poor people in 11 countries in Western Africa.
Believing in pro-active, healthy living and informed health care choices, the Alliance maintains a library of books and videos on “healing modalities, anatomy, physiology, counseling, [and] preventive care” as a resource for its members. The Alliance is opening a free health care clinic in downtown Ithaca, New York..
The Alliance’s website can be visited at http://ithacahealth.org.
Mutual First Aid
Collectives of health providers like Boston Area Liberation Medics (BALM), Medical Activists of NY (MANY) and Washington, DC Action Medical Network (DAMN) have formed to provide immediate, on-site health care to people who suffer injury or illness at rallies or demonstrations, to provide free health and safety information to activists via publications and workshops, and to run free health clinics for striking workers. These collectives are non-heirchal, all volunteer, and run by consensus decisionmaking. Members include doctors, nurses, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and other trained caregivers, as well as laypersons who monitor groups in large demonstrations for health emergencies and call over appropriately trained persons as needed. More than just a function of protest culture, these collectives show the promise of trained individuals freely helping others as part of an effort to improve the state of the world, and hints to the role health care providers could play in a post-capitalist society.
Mutual Aid Disaster Relief
Established in the immediate aftermath of the Hurricane Katrine disaster, Algiers, New Orleans’ volunteer managed Common Ground Wellness Center has provided services to poor communities that had previously received little or or assistance from the government or bureaucratic relief agencies. Common Ground is run by a volunteer staff of locals and supporters from around the contry, “medics, doctors, cooks, communications technicians, and community organizers” (http://www.indybay.org/news/2005/09/1767321.php). Projects include “community garbage pick-up program; mobile kitchens to provide free hot meals to; a first aid clinic, and a mobile first aid station; and bicycles for volunteers and residents to transport aid around the area; and a free school for children.”
Collectively Run Community Centers
In a society where town squares have been replaced by strip malls, places for people to come together are vital. Thriving communities need places for adults and children alike to come together, learn about topics local and world affairs in ways that won’t be discussed on the evening news, exchange ideas, build affinity, work collectively on community service and advocacy projects, and appreciate artistic expression.
New York City’s venerable ABC NoRio, an entire building squatted to serve as a community center bringing together activists and artists while trying to diminish the professionalization and elitism of both offers a computer lab, zine library, resources for silkscreening, hardcore rock concerts, a kitchen used by NYC Food Not Bombs, and a darkroom.
Infoshops are another community-building institution committed to creating space in communities for expression and dialogue on radical ideas. Infoshops integrate elements of libraries, bookstores, cafes, and community centers. While some infoshops are based in squatted buildings, others operate out of rented storefronts to maximize exposure to the general public. The shelves of infoshops are filled with magazines and books by radical philosophers, exposes of injustices hidden by the corporate media, and practical guides to activism and anti-capitalist living. While most infoshops do sell books, many also have lending libraries that encourage people to both donate and borrow books. Infoshops are full of free publications pamphlets, newspapers, zines, and magazines. Alternative press publications that expose corporate hegemony and preach sedition rarely find their way into chain bookstores, so infoshops provide a critical venue for these voices to share information and ideas to people in a vast array of communities. Conversely, infoshops provide information to local communities from a vast array of sources that they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. In addition to publications, infoshops also provide space for poetry readings, music events, art exhibits, lectures, workshops, discussions with authors, slide presentations, and films.
Infoshops are run not only run for communities, but by them. They are staffed not by paid employees, but by local volunteers. Decisions are made not by an owner or manager but by the volunteers themselves, who participate in nonheirarchal collectives generally based on consensus decision-making policy.
Most infoshops actually encourage people to “hang out” and many have tables and cafes for this reason. Infoshops offer meeting space to activist groups, provide bulletin boards for notices on community events, and serve as points of convergence in moments of crisis, like after a violent police attack and mass arrest on a peaceful demonstration.
The infoshop concept has been adapted to the internet at http://infoshop.org.
Efforts to build a more just and sustainable culture are a complement, not a replacement, to direct resistance to the destruction of ecosystems. Some campaigns combine both approaches, building communities of resistance that embody principles of ecological sustainability, egalitarianism, autonomy from state or corporate power, cooperative mutual aid, collective, consensus decision-making, and opposition to all forms of oppression inside and outside our movements.
To prevent logging of the less than five percent of original old growth forests left in North America, communities of resistance have been forged in the tops of ancient trees in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. Tree villages are series of inhabitated, rudimentary treehouses on circular platforms, interconnected by networks of rope traverses, constructed largely of salvaged materials. Inhabitants of tree villages like Oregon’s Red Cloud Thunder pose an immediate impediment to logging operations. None of the trees connected by the village can be felled without putting everyone living in the tree village’s life at risk. Loggers, unwilling to risk murder charges, are thus forced to leave these trees standing.
Supporters on the ground provide critical supplies like food, mostly recovered from dumpsters or donated by stores, which are raised into the trees by pulleys, extending the sprit of solidarity and cooperation beyond the tree tops. Tree villages are truly intradependent communities where decisions are collectively and nonheirarchally for the benefit of the community and the forests they defend.
Defending Our Communities
It should come as little surprise that the capitalist system, based on an ideology that views fierce competition as a natural imperative, has attempted to crush these new approaches to living rather than co-exist or cede ground to them. Time and again, corporations, state institutions serving their interests, and corporate front groups have undermined such projects. Retail stores deliberately damage merchandise as they discard it to prevent scavenging. Sharing food is criminalized and Food Not Bombs activists are arrested on felonies. Squattersand the buildings torched. Community gardens are bulldozed. Respected alternative physicians are smeared as “quacks.”Forest service agents forcibly remove ecodefenders from tree villages. Critical mass bike riders face mass arrests.
Just as we resist the destruction of biotic communities, we must also defend the communities, institutions, and practices of the new culture that we are building.(note to self: make circular and bring back to ecosystems)
The struggles to preserve our spaces and ways of life and resist their destruction powerfully dramatizes the conflict between the real needs of people trying to live decent, ethical, sustainable lives and a government more interested in defending the economic interests of landlords, car manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, and wasteful retailers. People facing similar threats can build alliances to defend our communities. In New York City, the More Gardens! Coalition, a movement of community gardeners and supporters built a citywide campaign of resistance to the destruction of gardens, exposing the officials and private interests behind the destruction of the gardens, winning broad public sympathy. Along with education and protest, garden defenders chaining their bodies to stationary objects in gardens to blockade these cherished spaces from bulldozers. While the activists were eventually removed, these passionate defense efforts heightened public outcry against the destruction of these cherished spaces, to the point where the City was forced to agree to leave over 120 gardens unmolested.
If we are to build a revolutionary movement with the power to truly challenge the status quo, we must demonstrate that the principles we uphold offer not only planetary survival, but a better everyday life. We must recognize that for most working people, the threat of not being able to pay rent is a much more immediate than loss of biodiversity , threats to civil liberties, or nuclear war..
To build a truly revolutionary movement, we link our indictment of the horrors of the current system, things like factory farming, the Iraq war, and rainforest destruction with the sense that we offer a better way than the status quo to provide for people’s food, shelter, health, community, security, intellectual stimulation, and joy in their lives. When we build a movement that demonstrates the capacity to offer all of these things, while challenging the greed, misery, and destruction of megacorporations, their puppet government, and entire capitalist-industrialist model, then we can begin to build broad support and engagement in ecological resistance struggles, and finally have a real chance to liberate this world.
 The building has since become legal.
 http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Thomas9.html This phenomenon is not limited to the most privileged, of course; urban communities of color face additional challenges to maintaining a sense of community, such as fear of police brutality keeping people off the streets. See http://www.ntic-us.org/publications/reports/Issue_92_fall_2003/safety.html
 http://www.allanschwartz.com/mesmo/mes_0701.htm. In Australia, even government is beginning to recognize this problem. See http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/02/02/1075570358124.html?from=storyrhs
 See for example, http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=5&ItemID=1389
 Support for this position can be found in http://www.primitivism.com/primitivist-critique.htm and http://www.primitivism.com/earth-civics.htm
 Anarcho-primitivist thinking is not uncommon among those practicing the more urbanized forms of anti-capitalist living described in this article, many of whom see their lifestyles as attempts to embody elements of primitive lifestyles and values in the context of our present civilization, with hope of eventually pulling all of our society in their direction.
 Mason, Jim, “An Unnatural Order” See http://www.lanternbooks.com/detail.html?session=c126e57f9d3bc16d4a4d9ddeb50654a0&cat=16&id=1590560817 for additional details on this book.
 For an in-depth strategic analysis of how resistance and alternative institution building can complement each other, see Brian Dominick’s An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy at http://sandiego.indymedia.org/en/2002/09/2403.shtml
 Eviction of CHARAS http://www.geocities.com/zorikh/charas.html and Casa del Sol http://www.ainfos.ca/05/jan/ainfos00040.html