Getting personal with the anarchist community
It’s a beautiful Saturday in May, what more to say? Well, the anarchists are in town, that’s what.
I’d seen the flier posted about a week earlier at the Green Bean, and when I got back to the office I pulled up the website for NC Rising, a threeday statewide anarchist conference.
In spite of the feeling that Greensboro is coming apart at the seams with a bitter fight over the reopening of a landfill in a predominantly black part of the city, along with periodic skirmishes over police professionalism, redistricting and the status of an energy-efficiency grant, this is not a particularly insurrectionary gathering, from what I can tell.
Sure, there are serious-minded workshops such as “Histories of State Repression” and “Labor History & Struggle in NC,” and fashionable concepts such as “Crime & Community” (description: “Crime can be pretty sexy. On top of that, it often times shows ways of life that are not only antagonistic to the state, but struggle to exist outside its control.” But the one that catches my eye is “Dishwashing 101 for Manarchists: Moving from Theory to Practice in Revolutionary Anti-Patriarchal Solidarity.”
In the spirit of the conference, I decide I should walk to Elsewhere, the artist collective where the workshop is taking place, rather than drive. But I wait until 20 minutes before the appointed hour, and in a moment of anxiety wonder whether I’ll make it on time if I go on foot. So I break down and use the car.
Not to worry, as nothing is happening at 1 p.m. How foolish I feel, having forgotten that punctuality is not exactly a hallmark of the anarchist mode.
About 15 minutes later workshop facilitator Nick and a handful of guys troop in with two plastic tubs of dirty dishes. The dishes come from Lyndon St. Artworks, where lunch had been served about an hour earlier. Yes, this reflects another area of sensitivity: You won’t find Styrofoam and paper at this conference.
Nick is wearing a white T-shirt with a silkscreened image of a woman masked with a bandanna over her mouth that is inscribed with the words “Cops can’t see my poker face,” cut-off jeans, leather work boots and two large hoop earrings. He lives in Chapel Hill. It turns out that we know each other from my time living in the Triangle.
“The idea behind the workshop is at anarchist and radical gatherings, there’s discussions about gender oppression and sexuality that are on a verbal level, but on a practical level women are still doing the grunt labor, the childcare,” Nick says. “So I thought that I could poke fun at it, but at the same time contribute to the conference by taking care of the dishes.”
In case there were any confusion, “manarchist” is not a term of flattery.
“It’s often used to describe men in anarchist scenes who are macho and self-important, but in their personal interactions are not that different than mainstream, sexist males,” Nick says.
Brian, a Greensboro friend whom I run across from time to time, is here with his 1-year-old child, Maeve. His wife, Renee, is at work, so Brian told me he figured he would have some fun while he was tasked with childcare because he can’t get much work done anyway.
It seems that everyone is trying to figure out what’s going on.
A small group of women has gathered around to find out what the men will do with this workshop. For Brian in particular, the topic has a real and practical significance. Although he had planned to be a stay-at-home dad when Maeve was born, he explains that he earns more and so he ended up being the breadwinner while the domestic duties of the household fall almost exclusively to Renee.
He asks Dan what the plan is.
Dan says that he had really just planned to get some guys together to take care of the dishes.
This being an anarchist gathering where decision-making is done by consensus rather than individual dictate, some discussion is had about whether the session should be dedicated to actual dishwashing or discussion. Dan is flexible. Eventually, the dilemma is sorted out with Dan and two other guys knock ing out the dishes and Brian discussing his family dynamics with the women.
For those who are more inclined towards education than action, Dan has helpfully set out lists of books (I Want a 24-Hour Truce In Which There Is No Rape by Andrea Dworkin), zines (Let’s Talk About Consent, Baby) and websites. A questionnaire provides a checklist to determine if you are a manarchist.
A typical question asks whether you ascribe to “passive-aggressive patriarchy,” which is defined as coming “across as a victim/helpless/in need/ dependent” and getting “women in your life to be your physical and emotional caretakers? To buy you things? To take care of your responsibilities? Pick up your slack? Use guilt or manipulation to get out of your responsibilities and equal share of work? Do you treat your female partner like a mom or your secretary?” Another question asks, “Do you suffer from or contribute to macho bravado or subpoena envy? (i.e. defining a true or cool and respectable activist as someone who has been arrested, done lockdowns, scaled walls, hung banners, done time for their actions, argued or fought with police, done property alterations, beat up Nazi boneheads, etc.)?” “I’m always interested in knowing what my faults are, whether it’s racism or sexism,” Brian tells me while feeding Maeve spoonfuls of smashed avocado. “Any failings that I have, I want to know.”
The workshop is winding down, so I head back home. My wife has gone down to Charlotte to shop for curtains, and I’m expecting her to be back soon.
The cat has kicked litter over the kitchen floor and the dishes are starting to pile up. Taking a page from the manarchist cookbook, I commit to action.