Hand-drawn posters, tables of pamphlets and one completely naked old man walking from booth to booth: This is the form anarchism took at the 2013 Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, held on March 16 and 17. Fitting the worn-down warehouse in which it was held, the event appeared fragmented, a gathering of groups only loosely tied together by the anarchist ideal. Speakers promoted their works in panels while vendors sold crafts and used books, among other items. Many were representing anarchist book collectives or were self-published writers looking to sell their work. Other booths had their own causes, from anti-war efforts to environmental conservation. There was something for everyone, which is appropriate for an event dedicated to the people by the people.
— Josie Yang
Anarchy Comics Revisited
Comic book editors Jay Kinney and Paul Mavrides celebrated the publication of “Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection” with a discussion on the problems of traditional political cartooning and the power of good satire.
Kinney explained that inspiration for the comic came from the authors’ desire to bring entertainment and humor to politics at a time when traditional left propaganda was caught up in tired old ideas. After being criticized for featuring a white figure in a comic, Kinney decided it was time to reinvigorate political cartooning, which had for so long been preoccupied with politically correct cliches, such as America represented by Uncle Sam, democrats as the donkey and the left as “multiracial crowds with clenched fists.”
These cartoons rarely went beyond the limited circle of anarchist publishers, and Kinney wanted to reach other audiences, so he started to sell his comics in record stores and punk boutiques. Kinney and Mavrides wanted the comic to represent the multidimensional aspects of politics, “not just a one-note polemic.” To achieve this, they resolved to stay away from the notion of “anarchism as chaos,” and even designed the logo to look ‘“fun.” They believed that pointed humor could be much more subversive than dense political discussion.
Kinney lamented that this kind of comic can usually only be found online today because modern comic fans are not looking for political stimulation. The new anthology, containing all four issues of the iconic comic series plus additional unpublished material, is published by Oakland’s PM Press.
— Meadhbh McGrath
What Does Utopia Look Like?
Putting aside for a moment the idea that there might not be a utopia, another question emerges: Can we live in it if it does? The answer, according to Cindy Milstein, is no — at least not yet.
Talking at speeds that would impress the smoothest politicians, Milstein was energetic and engaging, with a fairly straightforward point. “We can’t populate the spaces we imagine as utopia,” she said, “because we are debilitated by our social structures.”
It’s a very anarchist idea and one she emphasizes the most. Milstein’s lecture was a call to action, urging people to abandon the hierarchical constructs that are supposedly restricting our thinking. Her points were mostly anecdotal, describing for instance a man who intentionally jaywalked in Europe to open people’s eyes to the rigid structures they were so accustomed to.
Milstein then adopted a dreamy, Trelawney-esque tone in her speech. She painted an idealistic picture of friend helping friend in times of crisis without the confines of law or bureaucracy. If we were not so focused on individual property, she said, this might be possible. Her word of the day seemed to be “togetherness,” and she suggested that to become worthy of utopia humankind must break free from the hierarchical model. While her assertions might be valid, Milstein finished her talk rather vaguely, leaving open the question of how one might achieve this leveling she speaks of.
Although she did not address her titular question, Milstein presented a more perplexing idea that perhaps mankind is stopping itself from achieving utopia.
— Josie Yang
The Sex Workers’ Rights Movement
Shannon Williams has been doing sex work for almost 17 years, during which she has been heavily involved in sex work activism. She explained how local, national and international sex workers’ rights movements work to end stigmatization and violence against sex workers and create safe working conditions by campaigning for HIV prevention and safe-sex education.
Sex work is frequently conflated with trafficking, particularly in South East Asia. Williams explained how Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a self-regulatory board in Calcutta composed of 60 percent sex workers and 40 percent government representatives, helped to reduce the problem of trafficking by visiting sex workers to ensure they are of age and participating willingly.
Williams also discussed the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which requires countries benefitting from U.S. aid to sign an Anti-Prostitution Pledge. In Brazil, the group Davida convinced their government to refuse $14 million of U.S. aid, instead creating a fashion line to raise money called “Daspu,” from the Portuguese word ‘das putas’ (meaning ‘whores’), also a play on Daslu, the name of a high-end Brazilian designer.
Local activist groups St. James Infirmary and Act Up are currently working on a major campaign to ban the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution. This worldwide problem has put trans women and street-based sex workers at a much greater risk for contracting STIs, as well as sex workers in massage parlors, where the managers, fearing the severe penalties for pimping, forbid condoms.
— Meadhbh McGrath
Asia’s Unknown Uprisings: 1986-1992
George Katsiaficas sought to explain how anarchism activists can guide popular movements — but “sought” is the keyword there. While the 1990s Asian uprisings he described are comparable in nature to those he advocates, the speaker focused only on the idea of social revolution as opposed to the execution thereof.
Katsiaficas offers the “tactical use of nonviolence” as a means to instigate grassroots movements in opposition of government, describing the utility of students and minority groups to effect change. We can learn from movements in places such as the Philippines or Nepal that uprisings have a cascading effect, one the speaker hopes will be mimicked in further revolutions in the future.
Ultimately, Katsiaficas espouses typical anarchist ideas, speaking against both democratic and authoritarian regimes. At one point, for example, he compares John F. Kennedy to Saddam Hussein and asserts that they had similar programs of chemical warfare. Both, according to the speaker, were reprehensible. His view of the anarchist struggle is grounded, it would seem, in ethics and the good of the people, which governments will always oppose.
Despite the broad goals and aspirations of Asian uprisings that the speaker described, he fell short in that he did not explain their significance to us. If anything, Katsiaficas’ speech was a recap of history, and people may learn from those lessons rather than the one he did not quite articulate.
— Josie Yang