Together, We Can Get Free: A Review of Towards Collective Liberation, by Chris Crass

From Earth First News - by Sasha

Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy, by Chris Crass (PM Press 2013), is a challenging collection of essays and interviews. The concept of collective liberation, gleaned initially from radical scholar bell hooks, connotes a struggle lodged deep in the tradition of liberation movements—black liberation, GLBQTTI liberation, women’s liberation, and so on. CC insists, “we need liberation movements of millions of people, from all backgrounds, from all walks of life, with a wide range of experience, playing many different roles… everyone reading this book is needed in the process of building the powerful and successful movements we need to make the changes crucial for our future.” For liberation movements to connect at crucial strategic and ideological intersections, activists must overcome the problem by which “processes of inclusions and exclusions are reproduced in our organizing.” For collective movement organization to succeed, we need “a commitment to use different strategies and approaches.” The message of Towards Collective Liberation is that love, openness, and patient determination will prevail. It is an imperative lesson for everyone.

Chris Crass begins the book with essays steeped in the anarchist tradition: “there has never been a monolithic anarchist theory, tendency, or movement throughout history;” he explains, “there is not one anarchism, but many.” Towards Collective Liberation tells a history of non-hierarchical organizing throughout the world, leading to the modern notions of dual power and prefigurative politics exhibited by CC’s autobiographical discussion of the emergence of the San Francisco Food Not Bombs. The analysis of Food Not Bombs in San Francisco feels forthright and sensitive, mixing anti-oppression theory with a systematic conceptualization of major problems into an easy-to-digest text with stimulating tastes that travel to the untrammeled recesses of the heart. Perhaps the decisive declaration of CC’s proposal is to “imagine and create prefigurative organizing practices that work for people of different ages, cultures, capabilities, economic classes, responsibilities, and capacities.” While he does not delve into the more overarching, systemic critiques of Food Not Bombs, CC’s detailing of his personal experiences with the difficulties of patriarchy and white supremacy opens space for “new theorizing and practice.”

Reading Towards Collective Liberation is a lesson in patience, accountability, and praxis more than a lesson in Food Not Bombs. “A group can choose to also have anti-racism shape its politics and practice,” says CC, “but that must be a conscious decision with a plan for moving it forward… The point is not to become ‘perfect’ but to become praxis-oriented and understand change as a long-term process.” Chris Crass’s ideation of praxis adapts decision-making to objectives and experiences within a non-hierarchical framework, and superbly deployed in several examples and models. Practical gems, such as the twenty careful steps towards anti-sexist action, make Towards Collective Liberation a book to pass around amongst friends as well as a greater organizing and educational tool. Its simplicity of style, which indicates the diligence of CC’s writing as well as organizing with the Catalyst Project, will benefit radical collectives as much as any work place.

The last section of Towards Collective Liberation is comprised of several interviews with anti-oppression activists operating in extraordinarily difficult environments. Several members of the Heads Up Collective discuss the founding labors of collective organizing. The Rural Organizing Project in Oregon answers questions on broaching political issues with tact and confidence, while maintaining the radical patience that it takes to communicate with people on their level. The thrust of these interviews leads to a kind of acknowledgment of generalized oppression, and a willingness to transform the social relations by any (non-violent) means necessary. Kentucky-based organization, Fairness, puts forward an incredibly interesting example of equalizing antiracism and anti-homophobia over and against of the problems that activists face of “divide and conquer,” where a person of color’s voice is marginalized in the GLBT movement or visa versa. These interviews provide extraordinarily interesting insights into radical organizing on a personal level, and Chris Crass is to be commended for stepping back and allowing other voices to emerge, making the book a real experience in collective liberation.

Though Earth First! is acknowledged several times throughout Towards Collective Liberation, the arc of the book avoids the politics of animal and earth liberation. Because the book focuses directly on liberation movements, themselves, we do not have stories of the radical ecology movement working towards earth liberation with an antiracist analysis. If Towards Collective Liberation keeps biocentric analysis at the periphery, the question remains: are animal and earth liberation movements peripheral, or should the very problem of their marginalization within collective liberation struggles motivate us towards strengthening our absolute commitment towards the collective liberation of all species. The marginalization of animal and earth liberation movements is not simply a symptom of a Popular Front style of organizing; it is a serious problem within the movements themselves (ie, self-marginalization) that must be openly discussed in order to ensure that our movements stand unequivocally with other movements for collective liberation.

I caught up with Chris Crass by email, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about non-anthropocentric liberation.

Towards Collective Liberation (of all species): An interview with Chris Crass

“There is no doubt that environmentalists need more training on antioppression, but do you think that earth and animal liberation thought have a place in collective liberation as well?”

Absolutely. Earth and animal liberation both bring critically important insights, visions, strategies and ethics for the world we want to live in, the way we live in harmony with all life, and how we can take steps here and now to get there. Animal liberation was actually really important to my early activism. Going vegetarian was a concrete way I could practice my politics and animal liberation was an important gateway for tens of thousands of young people to come into radical politics.

I moved away from animal liberation as a central part of my politics as I focused more on systemic inequality in capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism. I did that because I found that many with a central focus on animal liberation regularly ignored or trivialized struggles in working class communities and communities of color. Nevertheless, I do think that animal liberation is important in an overall collective liberation vision, and when we talk about a socialist and cooperative economy and society, ethics of animal liberation should be part of that vision.

“What can animal and earth liberation groups do in their own hermetic (protesting HLS, for instance) to gain recognition within the broader CL analysis as more than a marginal opinion-oriented ideology—as part of the general movement for collective liberation?”

I worked closely in the 1990s with many who had a strong animal liberation and earth liberation politics. A significant split happened at the time of the global justice movement following Seattle in 1999. There were those who held an animal and earth liberation politics that largely dismissed and trivialized systemic inequality and struggles in working class communities and communities of color. Then there were many who united animal and earth liberation with a larger vision, analysis and strategy of working for justice for all people, and the need to build broad-based mass movements of everyday people.

Many animal and earth liberation activists who went towards a broader movement orientation to work for collective liberation joined with the environmental justice movement rooted in working class communities and communities of color. There are so many incredible examples of animal and earth liberation activists bringing their experience with direct action organizing into their community organizing efforts. The Ruckus Society that trains hundreds of people in direct action is a great example of this. They went from an almost exclusive focus on direct action-based environmental struggles and expanded into a direct action justice struggles-based group that supports communities of color, Indigenous communities, and working class communities to use creative and courageous direct action tactics. I believe this is what is needed.

We need the militant direct action orientation of the animal and earth liberation movement, but grounded in a larger strategy and practice of community organizing that is working to build up popular people’s power to win and create systemic change. Another good example of the kind of union of earth liberation and liberation for all people politics is Movement Generation. They are a political education and movement building group that is putting forward cutting edge analysis and strategies on how to work for the world we want in the face of ecological and economic crisis. A good resource on this analysis and approach is the booklet “Organizing Cools the Planet: tools and resources to navigate the climate crisis” by Hilary Moore and Joshua Kahn Russell.

“What is the difference between revolution and collective liberation, and is a popular front-style mass movement the apparatus of collective liberation (as the cover art seems to suggest)?”

I believe in the need for revolutionary change. I believe that revolution will include periods of mass popular uprising and change, but it also needs to be rooted in everyday struggles to transform conditions and consciousness in all our communities.

I do not believe that there will be a mass insurrection that will change everything. We cannot focus only on demolishing existing institutions of exploitation and oppression and expect that new liberating institutions capable of long lasting self-governance will simply emerge. Many anarchists and socialists have believed and some continue to believe this will happen. But history has shown, over and over again, that this is not the case.

I believe in the power of everyday people’s movements as the primary force for moving our societies towards collective liberation, and revolutionary politics, vision, and strategy are an important part of that. I don’t think that revolution is something that will just happen, and revolution will take care of all our problems. With that thinking we get into ends justifying the means, because if revolution will take care of all our problems, then whatever we do to speed up the process of revolution us justified. A good essay that explores this in more depth, that is really worth studying is “You Can’t Blow Up a Social Relationship: The Anarchist Case Against Terrorism”. If we see revolutionary change as an on-going process, one marked by periods of mass uprising and popular resistance, then the means of working towards liberation are actually helping us create the ends we want. Therefore the values of a liberated society are values we work to live in the here and now.

Yes we need popular mass movements. Yes we need revolutionary politics and strategy to help us win and create collective liberation. Yes, out of everyday people’s struggles, new forms of social organization will emerge. And yes, we need to actively incorporate anti-racist, feminist, queer liberationist, socialist values and politics into our education, organization and institution building, and our work in our families, communities, and lives as part of an on-going process of social and personal revolution.

Reviewer Conclusion: If Towards Collective Liberation challenges people in the movement to face the problems of patriarchy and white supremacy, EF!ers will accept and welcome this challenge, while upping the ante not only by insisting on a safe(r) space to talk about animal liberation and earth, but by actively working on campaigns for economic, food, and environmental justice with our allies. The Earth First! Journal has an antioppression policy, and Earth First! is serious about accountability and antioppression organizing. Towards Collective Liberation will help EF!ers take the next step in working in rural and urban environments, and it is time to move forward with the analysis to help realize collective liberation against anthropocentrism with a biocentric analysis.

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Comments

Hey Chris, you're a tool.

Earth First, so are you. The tool of tools like DGR and CC.

Just cuz one Earth Firster hasn't lost friends to Catalyst Guilt Project (they go to California, come back and drop out, no new projects, just confusion. Confusion and guilt) doesn't mean we're all that new to the game. Fuck that white messiah bastard. While we're here, When I read it a couple years ago, the DGR book seemed like an exciting articulation of strategy. The group itself is whole 'nother beast. Boring, reactionary, transphobic, horizontally hostile. I get the vibe folks from this site don't make it over to the Earth First News wire too often but I'd say the 2 groups broke up over the 2nd wave feminism (see voina article) and we said they couldn't even sleep on the couch while they look for another place. I'm sorry if I in any way promoted their organization in the process of promoting the book, which many of you probably saw me do.

i thought the book was pretty fucking weak. reading lierre kieth preaching against horizontal hostility and then proceeding to engage in just that for page after page combined with her hardcore posturing when she can't even take a pie attack is hard to take seriously. there really needs to be an organized radical environmental resistance movement(s), but DGR ain't it.

Nobody cares. "transhorizontal" blah-blah. You spend too much time on the internet. Nobody with ears outside of your little scene knows what the fuck you are talking about.

I might even sympathize with you but you mother fuckers talk like a bunch of anarcho trekkies.

absolutely , focus on creating a political milieu and enforcing identity politics ideas within it, forget destroying society, we will be tomorrow's focus groups and corporate diversity trainers

Will benefit radical collectives as much as any work place!

As an EF!er this review is embarrassing.

Being an EF!er should also be embarrassing for you.

EF! is one of the more important radical/anarchist groups to have ever existed, the Sierra club has open membership, you and other anti-EF! liberals might do well to join it.

"radical/anarchist"

Yeah....radical and anarchist are interchangeable terms. They mean the "exact same thing."....fucking idiots.

^^^^^^^ Cool job using semantics to aggressively miss the point.

On top of the "radical/anarchist" idiocy, you then refer to someone critical of EF! as a liberal. Talk of semantics, when you think anyone critical of EF! must be a liberal...ha.

EF! is a generic organization started by anti-immigrant, beer-guzzling deep ecologist men warriors and then taken over by deep ecologist IWW types and is run today by far left liberals who think highly of anti-trans groups like DGR and lame recycled liberal activism. They categorically reject anarchist ideas in favor of a Green Party and Deep Ecology mish mash.

no, they are saying the liberal who wrote the review doesn't represent all of EF!. Calm down tiger.

Earth First! is not an Anarchist group, so this review definitely matches up with their philosophy. It is also why Earth First! has pushed Deep Green Resistance (DGR bashed Anarchism and Anarchists in their Revolutionary Manifesto(trademarked)

Vague radical liberal politics mixed with quasi-anarchistic language about liberation (but focused on identities rather than on individuals.)

Whoa there buddy, EF! is not so hegemonic. Some dipshit on the westcoast publishes a review does not mean everyone in EF! thinks it. OK?

making generalizations about EF! is stupid, anybody can join if they identify with the core principles, so it's not like much writing goes ideologically for all EF!ers, this review only goes for the liberal ones.

Many of the people who started Earth First! were/are anti-immigrant...racist, nationalist, white supremacist assholes.

Also, fuck Ed Abbey, that stupid piece of shit...blaming the mexicans...stupid fucking wanker.

IGTT 3/10 for topical relevance

Sounds like that troll has been to Chris Crass's workshop. Ha!

topical relevance...you stupid fucking wanker

Origins are of interest to some of us. I have very few people in real life (outside your internet bubble) that know anything about Earth First!'s history. When I tell people about their right-wing deep ecology roots, people laugh and act like I'm confused....its because they ignorant pieces of shit who love either Bill McKibben or think Jill Stein should be President of the United States (these are the type of people who are interested in Earth First! in my parts.) They might have heard about Judi Bari, the wobblie leftist but very few know of Dave Foreman and his ideology or Ed Abbey and his disgusting pro-civilization viewpoints (he held nationalistic views like Foreman.) Its so easy to be a white man and blame immigrants for their supposed "environmental problems."

People read about Earth First!'s history and stop being a hipster.

IGTT 4/10 for passion

fuck passion!

fuck salmon!

-Derrick Jensen

Fuck pigs!

All penetrative sex is rape. Remember, porn is the theory, rape is the practice.

Fascism is the theory, anti-sex feminism is the practice.

Don't you mean the other way around?

Yes, sorry. Anti-sex feminism is the theory, fascism is the practice.

anti-sex feminism is the theory, Dworkin is the robot, and Gail Dines is Stalin who has made the robot with lasers and shit. and Ted Kaczinski is the last man alive!

Hipster 9/10 for people overusing the IGTT thing on this website. Your PBR is getting warm, get off this website, hipster.

NO MORE (HIPSTER) INSURRECTIONARY COMMUNISTS !

I'm almost positive that way more people know about Ed Abbey and (to a lesser extent) Dave Foreman than Judi Bari. I meet liberals all the time who fucking love Ed Abbey, I've never met anybody who knew anything about Judi Bari who wasn't either a wobbly or a radical environmentalist. not that it really matters I suppose.

You do know that you can be anti-immigrant without being racist, right? EF! was concerned about numbers of people, not races of people.

in a country stolen from indigenous people? fuck you

"EF! was concerned about numbers of people, not races of people."

fuck you and fuck Earth First!

I appreciate the drama but this dumbass represents an incredibly low number of people who identify with EF!

Too many people; too few salmon to fuck.

Does immigration somehow make more people? Beyond the obviously bullshit malthusianism of population control, how does immigration have anything to do with the number of people on the planet. The only reason to be hostile towards immigrants is because of nationalism and there should be no place for that bullshit.

WTF are you talking about? how is what Abbey said about immigration racist anyhow? What is it that you disagree with in his ideas anyhow?

"It might be wise for us, as American citizens, to consider calling a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically, impoverished people...Why not [support immigration]? Because we prefer democratic government, for one thing; because we still hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful--yes beautiful!--society, for another. The alternative, in the squalor, cruelty and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see."

Plus the fact that an ecological anti-immigration position only makes any sense if "earth first" actually only means "earth (within the borders of the US) first" to you. Do you really need somebody to explain why this is stupid to you?

Does anyone know whether its true (and can provide a link?) whether or not it's true that the catalyst project (that chris crass invented and works for) provided their white guilt foot soldiers to help put down the Oscar Grant rebellions in the name of anti-racism?

It is discussed in Unfinished Acts.

Thanks!

I just finished reading unfinished acts. It doesn't mention the catalyst project by name. I'm looking for something a little more concrete. If anybody knows where to point me that would be great.

who attempted to peace policed the oscar grant event, it was members of - specifically chris crass himself. he was the only one who people knew for sure was a catalyst member.

i only read the title and well this article seems dumb.

Isn't this that guy who stood between the kids and the cops as a peacemaker during the Oscar Grant riots?

yes, it is. and fuck him for that seriously.

slay the liberals

Funny, in years of working with EF, I never got the sense that it was anything but an anarchist group. Perhaps not officially or universally, but the vast majority of people I knew who associated themselves with it were anarchists, or at least sympathetic. Not true everywhere, I'm sure, but a few outspoken liberals waving a flag aren't a reason to write off all the people who actually held blockades over the years. As for Ed Abbey and that nonsense, it was called out back in the 90s and is something EF has been actively trying to get away from ever since.

There's plenty of people like me who love Ed Abbey's work. He made important points about the overflow of immigrants into this country. We need strong restrictions on immigration before the population bomb goes off and we sink Mother Earth. There's plenty of Earth First! people who believe that being anti-immigration doesn't mean being racist or some politically correct anarchist stuff. The leftists and liberals have tried to take over Earth First! but there's plenty of us that recognize the immigrant problem in the United States.

you're a fucking fascists. i hope you run into the wrong anarchists one day. "overflow of immigrant into this country" because if they stayed wherever it would totally make the environment aok I guess. you're a fucking pathetic vermin. and I have no compunction in telling you that you are my enemy.

What are you,oh a white guy from a upper middle class background who has zero identity so he has to be uber liberal? Look the fuck around, do you believe Mexicans are racist for heavily restricting access to Mexico?

Let me just skip to Lenin. I can't tolerate this bullshit. But, I mean, Lenin. Period. That's why. Bullshit like this. Lenin. Lenin. Lenin. Fuck you.

Remind me again how anarchists are not really part of the political left? How are anarchists not liberals? Is that the same as when Mao said that he was really a reactionary? Or is it kinda like when Libertarians say that they are not on the political right?

hmmmmm....

IGTT only 1/10 for being too confused to troll properly in 2013.

No one says shit like how's a white dude who's protected police and property against us supposed to write some shit about anti-racism, women's liberation, and the working class?

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