What does an anarchist look like — or stand for?
BY MARK KONKOL | firstname.lastname@example.org May 19, 2012 12:08AM
Anarchist protestor Joan Black, 29 of Cascadia Bio Region also known as Portland Ore. Black formerly of Chicago's NW subs. Pass out fliers outside Chase on Dearborn w Jeffrey Bradley, 29, of Portland. Photo by Mark Konkol.
Updated: May 19, 2012 4:57PM
What does an anarchist look like?
I know what you’re thinking: Unwashed skinny guys wearing dirty black jeans, dirty black shirts and dirty black bandanas covering their dirty white faces.
And over the last few days, folks who meet that description have been marching all over Chicago. They typically don’t submit to interviews with “evil mass media” types, so finding out exactly what they’re protesting isn’t always easy.
Is it soap? Is it corporate greed? Bright colors? The politics of war?
Ironically enough, as it turns out, some anarchists also don’t conform to dress codes.
On the corner of Madison and Dearborn, a couple distributed flyers promoting Sunday’s Anti-NATO rally in Grant Park.
Joan Black stopped strangers with a smile and an intriguing question, “Do you agree with war and poverty?”
Dressed in an olive cotton top, gray clam diggers and a seashell necklace it would have been easy to mistake the 29-year-old Occupy Portland activist for an ordinary, bleeding heart liberal.
But the straw hat decorated by a Sharpie sketch of an Evergreen tree growing from roots shaped like an anarchist “A” pulled tight over her brow said otherwise.
Black, who grew up in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, rode a bus here to join the protest along with Jeffrey Bradley, a skinny fellow wearing a dirty black shirt and jeans with an Oak leaf dangling behind his ear.
“My message is, community not commodity,” Black said, a slogan handwritten on the back of her hat. “We need to recognize the value of our relationships and not the dollar signs that we put on things and people. … The problem is we don’t put any value into the relationships with our neighbors and friends. We see each other as walking dollars.”
Back in Portland, which Black prefers to call the “Cascadia Bio Region,” she lives in an eco village with a collective of folks who share space in two houses made of straw bails and cob, an eco-friendly material made of straw, clay and sand that looks like mud.
They raise chickens, tend to vegetable gardens, collect rainwater and their own feces — which they compost into “humanure” to fertilize the gardens. It’s an “intentional community,” sort of like a commune, only in the city.
The way Black lives — and even her humanure — coincides to her anti-establishment stance against NATO.
Take humanure as an example. “After the oil wars, we’ll have water wars for fresh water, and to save the little fresh water we have on the planet it’s important to stop p------ and s------- in it,” she says. “Specifically in Cascadia, we’re going to have an earthquake soon. So, when the water and sewer lines break I’m not sure where people are planning on going to the bathroom, but we do. But we know how we’re going to do it in a sanitary fashion.”
But how does that relate to her anti-NATO and pro-anarchy tendencies?
“The way our economy functions it’s not about creating sustainable, healthy communities. It’s about extending war and poverty into every country we can to use their resources to continue to build the empire,” she said. “The country must grow. The empire must get bigger. People who are coming to protest are done playing pawn to the empire.”
And that’s reason enough to protest the “evils” of NATO, Black said.
But it is it enough to wreak havoc in the streets and risk arrest?
“I think the real violence is being done by NATO and anything that we do will be seen as act of justice, not violence,” Black said.
When she looks at Chicago, Black says she sees a place where “people are far too comfortable in the violence they live in everyday, because they are so distracted by television, their debts, keeping up with the rat race and are unable, even for a moment, to evaluate what really matters. Community.”
That’s why she came to Chicago.
Black and Bradley, who said he isn’t defined by an “anarchist label,” both said they didn’t come to wreak havoc or get arrested.
“People who do that don’t represent all of us, but that’s what the media focuses on and that spectacle makes a better story than getting communities together,” Bradley said.
Black chimed in: “It’s unfortunate our message of community is overshadowed by someone breaking a window.”
I asked if I could take their portrait — something that might keep their message from being overshadowed by broken windows.
“Not me,” Bradley said. “I just don’t want to be …”
“Can he wear a mask?” Black said.
After a moment, they decided to stand together in shadows under Chase Tower so you could see them — and maybe hear what they’re saying.