When I left home I made a huge effort to find community. My family isn’t evil or bad, and they actually come through for me in a pinch every time, but it wasn’t enough. They tend to be loners and isolated. If there was one thing through my childhood that I knew I needed to change it was that. I needed more people.
How one falls in with their social group isn’t determined by any one factor of course. But I’m sure the communal nature of the anarcho-punk scene in the ‘80s contributed to my desire to belong to it. That and Reagan, of course. But while many of us resisted the word "family" to describe our social networks, (because of the mistakes of the hippies, because of an analysis of patriarchy, because it can be really creepy) it was clear that we were creating both political action bases and networks of mutual aid that could give us what most of us didn’t get from our nuclear families.
That kind of political organizing has obvious limits that I’m not going to address in this entry. But one of the things it did was give you a connection in every city in the country (and often elsewhere). It provided social connection and mobility in ways that none of us had individually. To be sure it wasn’t quite the same as family, you had to be able to do-you-know and observe certain local customs and rites that were sometimes annoying or challenging (seeing later-era MDC for instance), but it wasn’t that far off either. In some ways one’s anarcho-resume was like a letter of introduction, you level of acceptance was dependent on who would vouch for you. You also could fuck things up on your own but it got you in the door.
The days are over long ago when just a small punk freak flag would get you invited into a scene. And they were gone long before Nirvana hit it big, though that certainly killed it forever. Any subculture has its ways of determining who is a member, of course. My membership was ensured by working with a group of folks, college kids mostly, in Ithaca NY. We had a zine and a collective house and often ventured out as an affinity group to actions and protests throughout the country. The work of one of us was the work of all of us in some ways. That a year before I met those folks they helped blockade the Rock Island nuclear arsenal, meant that I, who wasn’t even there, was trustworthy, on a provisional basis at least.
What was being created during the ‘80s, through shared zines, mailing lists, political actions, squats, and music was a large-scale network of mutual aid. I make no claim that it worked perfectly or even very well. There were rip-offs, betrayals, assaults and even rapes, like every other community. Still it was an undertaking that is notable for its optimism and scale.
Our movement tried to mimic and improve what I would view now as failed counter-cultural politics of the ‘60s. The goal of (cultural) revolution, which was certainly not a goal for all involved, obviously didn’t happen, but the intermediary step of creating support and community in a country overtly moving towards social Darwinism and isolation did. ( I wrote about some of this in my Reagan Obituary
.) The fact that its existence is not well known doesn’t mean it wasn’t important to many people.
There are many definitions of ‘community". I urge you again to go visit anarqueso
’s entry from Saturday including the comments to see a wide varieties of definitions. I agree with jette
that subculture is not the same as community. But I would add that it can be
Communities are created by some kind of shared experience (including geography) that allows people to acknowledge the world beyond themselves. Obviously through most of history that concept would be taken for granted because there was no other way to survive. In this post-industrial, post traditionally-tied, post conscience society we live in however, one can have, and is even encouraged to have, the illusion of complete personal autonomy and independence.
Anarchists love the phrase "mutual aid" but they didn’t invent the concept. Yes, Kropotkin proposed that mutual aid was a more correct evolutionary concept than survival of the fittest, that species who cooperated with each other prospered better, as a whole, than those that didn’t. But I’m not here to clean out the dustbins of history and rehash that argument. My point is that mutual aid is not historically a countercultural concept but one that our world is partially based on.
Burial societies are probably some of the oldest organizations of not-necessarily-related people around. While for cultural reasons they are often based in a common religion, the were decentralized groups based on the concept that if you pitch in for others, they will pitch in for you. Though my workplace has certain revolutionary organizational concepts of financial support, one of the most basic concepts is informal and traditional: the collection taken for a worker in need. No one is in charge of it, but if it is known that someone needs help, someone will take up a collection and deliver it.
I don’t know if the concept of community was simpler in the olden days, I suspect it was but maybe that’s just romanticization. I feel tied to many different communities: my family, my neighborhood, my workplace, my friends etc. Some of these one can opt out of and some one cannot. Some were simply a matter of being in the same place and time when something intense happened. Even if anarqueso
wasn’t the amazingly supportive person she has been over a long period of time, she became part of my not-optional community the night she took me to the hospital when I needed it.
The ‘80s anarchists are still in that category for me also. If someone can rattle off references and experiences from that time period, they become my people even if we never become close. unemployia
and I have never met for example, we might not even like each other in real life (though I think we would), but we have a bond. There are moments when what you do defines your place in a community forever, even if one is later banished from, or leaves, that community. For me, those folks, even the ones I didn’t know, who dared to stand out that much in a time of obvious hostility combined
with their dedication to creating networks of mutual support for me and others forever cemented a place for them in my life.
Like I said, it’s not my only community and one can certainly have different levels of commitment even within the communities they belong to. And it feels a little odd sometimes, considering I haven’t really attended anarcho-community events much, if at all, since the early ‘90s to still have those feelings.
Maybe that’s part of community too. For all the use back in the day of a phrase I always hated, "intentional communities" , the fact is that the way community works is that it becomes a non-rational part of you. Sure, one can analyze it, and, usually painfully, cut out members when necessary. But it’s not community if you are using a bottom-line, cost-analysis to figure out who is a part.