Thursday, July 7, 2011

Making Money, Making Change (Impossible)

I want to draw everyone's attention to a very useful essay over at Chaparral Respects No Borders, an always interesting blog analyzing the border, the migrant struggle and various other related elements within that fight. The essay, "Beware the Funders of Immigrants’ Rights", tackles something that bedeviled many of us last year during the whole SB1070 buildup and aftermath: the funding of the mainstream movement and the way it changes the terrain of struggle in Arizona and limits outcomes. And as such, it is a good opportunity to look back at some of the troublesome dynamics that came into play that summer.

This research provided in the essay puts weapons in our hands as we continue to maintain our autonomous position apart from both left and right, i.e., against both recuperation and reaction, in the struggle surrounding migration and freedom of movement. While anarchists should not be surprised by the recuperative and disruptive motivations of large capitalist funding sources like the Ford Foundation, knowing about it (since it is often hidden from view) allows us to point out the way it is messing up the movements we participate in, especially with the rise of the profession non-profiteer activist, so often recruited from radical circles.

Many of us here will remember two of the interesting and at first baffling contradictions of last summer. The first was the failure of many radicals outside of Arizona to support radical initiatives against SB1070. In this I would also include radical bands (and a certain radical frontman), some of whom signed onto the Soundstrike pledge of artists dedicated to boycotting Arizona and that thus helped to further isolate Arizona radicals through denying us opportunities for gathering, fund-raising and sharing strategies at the same time that the mainstream money funnel was in full effect for movement liberals. Fund-raising even by anarchists was often targeted towards liberal groups that had de facto or openly professed anti-radical agendas, even to the point of having collaborated in police attacks on anarchists.

At the very least, those organizations to whom the money was sent were not proposing anarchist or even radical analysis or solutions to the problem. While, the essay at CRNB is clear that the "Revolution Will Not Be Funded", it is important to separate foundation funding from the solidarity that anarchists and radicals engage in. While foundation funding is obviously top down and with strings attached, solidarity is free, supportive and egalitarian. It is important not to confuse the two, which is part of why it was so frustrating to see so much of anarchist and radical support paralleling the general trend of foundation funding, traveling the same channels created by the flows of capital, in essence. I know several anarchist projects centered around the migrant and indigenous struggle that could have used some solidarity and instead that money and materiel went to liberal groups. That's too bad and worth reflecting on by everyone involved, including those of us who were not able to make that distinction and need clear enough.

The second frustration was the constant tendency of out of state radicals who parachuted into Arizona to marginalize and ignore radical voices and actions, especially those of longtime in-state militants. Professional radicals flocked to Arizona by the hundreds, with their plans and pre-fabricated analysis. The worst of these organizers were the non-profiteer white "allies" who, dropping all pretense of sticking to their supposed radical politics, steadfastly defended liberal groups over anarchist ones, even though their information was limited in the extreme, having just dropped into a fight that had been ongoing for several years. Rather than turning to anarchist and radical comrades for analysis and advice on where to plug in and who needed support so that anarchist and other anti-authoritarian radical voices and projects could be heard and advanced, these organizers instantly tried to turn the tables on us, lecturing us in their own naive way about the conditions of our own struggle and informing us in often patronizing ways that our analysis of the groups composing the landscape of struggle was incorrect, despite our long experience.

In retrospect, these particular liberal-radicals served a very important function for movement leaders in terms of hemming in militants and inoculating the broader movement from potential infection by anarchist ideas. At times, when movement leaders were forced to make certain concessions in terms of the form of organization (for instance, when leaders reluctantly permitted mini-assemblies to be set up at one rally so that people could discuss face to face about their problems and solutions) or actions (when it became inevitable that direct action of some sort, in this case civil disobedience, would have to take place on the day SB1070 went into effect), these out of state white liberal-radical "allies" served important spoiler and management roles, sanitizing actions and debate. In the case of the assemblies, for example, white liberal-radical "allies" joined other mainstream leftist reformers in deliberately injecting themselves into discussions among those composing the base of the movement, making sure the conversation was limited and redirected in the movement leadership's overall electoral strategy.

That created quite a few problems for anarchist organizing when the out of state tendency combined with a liberal protest establishment that elevated the maintenance of respectability in its donors' eyes and the lens of the capitalist media above all else, was mired in an ethic of sacrifice and moral suasion, and remained determined to keep an iron grip on a movement that had threatened (and had indeed managed) to get out of its control on several occasions, from the huelga general to the student walkouts. Rather than viewing such outbreaks as promising new avenues of struggle and sources of energy for a movement in bad need of it, instead such explosions were treated by movement heavies as threats to be controlled.

When considering these supposed white "allies", it's worth pointing out that since they brought with them resources badly needed in the fight, they were actually serving as the choosers of winners and losers among the various groups and individuals of color that would get support or be rejected. They were the deciders. In many ways, this white "ally" relationship, in its liberal form, looks a lot like the white patriarchalism one sees in many white activists in general, especially when it serves to discipline those militants and radicals who stand against the liberal movement leadership that these "allies" have anointed with their blessed non-profit dinero. Indeed, if we can psychoanalyze for a moment, there appears to be something in the mindset of this kind of white "ally" that seems to believe that their ally-ship is a necessary component of successful struggle when it comes to people of color. It's an interesting kind of alliance that retains the white "ally"'s central and privileged role in struggle at the same time chastising those militants who do not toe the mainstream line.

But somehow we all managed to make it through those long months, emerging a little beaten up physically and mentally, but still determined to move forward. Eventually, most of those out of state struggle touristas made their way home after the spotlight faded and the glory diminished, leaving us locals to deal with the aftermath, naturally. So it was with more than a little cynicism that we laughed our asses off when we at PCWC were tipped off that one of the groups behind the money pipeline, previously unknown to us, was an organization called (and you can't make this up) "Making Money Making Change". No, seriously. Say it out loud and try not to laugh.

What is MMMC? According to its website (emphasis mine),
Making Money Make Change (MMMC) is Resource Generation's annual 100-person gathering for young people with wealth (ages 18-35) who believe in social change. MMMC is a confidential space to explore issues related to wealth, privilege, philanthropy, and participation in grassroots movements for justice and equality. Through workshops, discussions, and community-building activities, participants support, challenge, and inspire each other to align their resources with their values and work for personal and societal transformation. While participants are young people with wealth, social movement leaders and nonprofit practitioners from other class backgrounds are invited to speak, facilitate sessions, and attend the entire retreat.
PCWC has learned that this group came to town some months ago and met with those local leaders who met the group's seal of approval, scouted out as they were by some of the liberal-radicals who had parachuted into town last summer. These local projects and leaders then had the "just and equal" opportunity to go hat in hand to the rich people begging for money. Sounds like a real reversal of the typical relationship under capitalism, doesn't it? I tell you, in my just and equal society I'm not forced to go begging to any rich person for money.

MMMC would have you, and maybe their donors, believe that they are merely facilitating the benevolent hand of the class traitor who seeks to help us out in our quest for that ever-vaguely worded "more just and equitable society" (note, not "a just and equitable society", just moreso) -- secretly and anonymously behind the scenes, of course. In reality, as we've seen from the sorts of projects they support, in fact they are the hand of the state and capital reaching into our movements, supporting projects that they are comfortable with, and that do not upset their class privilege. Which is not to say that anarchist groups ought to demand access to the money either. It's that the groups with the money, and the donors themselves, serve as goalkeepers, saying this far and no further. After all, a revolutionary movement that expropriated the rich would deny the sons and daughters of the rich (because, who earns that kind of money by the age of 35 and has a revolutionary perspective?) the very money they intend to help us with, not to mention eliminate all those non-profiteering jobs to boot!

I believe that Jon Riley is planning on going into this particular group a lot more in a future essay, so I won't say too much about it. But I wanted to point it out because it doesn't appear in the essay at Chaparral Respects No Borders but still represents yet another facet of the attack on anarchist and radical movements in Arizona. In many ways, the lesson we ought to take from this is that we should be even less compromising with our defiance of the left in the future. The gut feeling we all had last summer was right. It felt like a two front war and it was.

For instance, when we organized that summer's neighborhood actions, it often seemed like we had to beat off the attempts of the out of staters to impose themselves on our actions, scared as they were of autonomous activity, even as they were allying themselves with groups that they knew had attacked, subverted and vilified anarchists in the past. The leadership wanted us out of the movement, and that was facilitated by the liberal-radicals. And then when we turned to our own autonomous projects, along came those same professional managers of struggle to keep an eye on us, and to attempt to disrupt our organizing. The professional activist sees everything as part of her domain and expertise: everyone needs his help.

So, moving forward, a hefty refresher of the friends/enemies fanatical analysis probably wouldn't hurt. While we fought hard for a politics separate and autonomous from the mainstream movement, calling out movement leaders and their strategies several times, we ought to have taken the fight to the liberal-radical white "allies" harder, putting them on the spot, making them choose sides. We did a good job driving the Revolutionary Communist Party out of Phoenix using similar tactics. The liberal-radical identity, and the funding it brings with it, is the mechanism for recuperation and marginalization and needs to be recognized as such the next time it shows its ugly head around here. What side are you on? An old mantra that never loses its power.

1 comment:

Nola Anarcha said...

"After all, a revolutionary movement that expropriated the rich would deny the sons and daughters of the rich (because, who earns that kind of money by the age of 35 and has a revolutionary perspective?) the very money they intend to help us with, not to mention eliminate all those non-profiteering jobs to boot!"
And in denying that money, it would deny them the undue influence and control they have over radical movements.

Anti-capitalist movements are supposed to be working for a society in which wealth does not determine one's power to decide what happens in society, right? So, we should never allow that to happen within radical movements. Unfortunately, the liberal-radicals have a blind spot to this form of inequality, and defend it from attacks by anarchists.

I'm glad anarchists are recognizing that this is the role of liberal-radicals so we don't get duped into trying to hold back on our initiatives to make them feel more comfortable. Because they are comfortable when the rich get to decide how a movement should happen!