Review: Genesee River Rebellion
[Black Rose Anarchist Federation logo]
From stalking the earth
Your friendly neighbourhood anarchists
The Genesee River Rebellion(GRR) is a new quarterly publication from the Rochester Black Rose Anarchist Federation. It's a large 4-page newspaper with 6 articles of varying length that we picked up for free from the distribution bin inside a local Rochester restaurant. There was a stack full of copies placed in the distro and it appears that there are stacks of this paper around a handful of local establishments for the curious reader to find. There also appears to be a subscription based model along with some other perks for those that signed up via the GoFundMe page, which accordingly raised around $1,500 of a $2,000 goal for printing costs, etc. Aesthetically, the local publication looks nice and it was exciting to find an anarchist newspaper circulating around in hand on our way to get some food. On the other hand, there are also some gripes about the publication and the ideas behind it. Below is a brief review of the new publication, along with some shared experiences from the Black Rose Anarchist Federation.
[Genesee River Rebellion]
The front page main article is titled "The Shit List: Dregs of Our City" which is a recap of the the top nine worst people in the Rochester area. Certainly a clever idea and one that holds a lot of potential (especially for making powerful enemies), but after reading the article what stuck with me the most was amount of poor language used to convey their otherwise critical message. The audience is getting these (almost) beautiful ideas and papers into peoples hands, unfortunately it also seems that the language used is quite poor and specifically poignant as a group. The school-yard insults, remarks about peoples appearances all seem distasteful and out of touch with the possible audience (building a mass movement?). Perhaps in the next issue, we can hear less name-calling and more from GRR about what it means to be an anarchist (especially in Black Rose) in Upstate, New York, their projects, and thoughts on the Federation. How is it to be done? One answer from GRR appears to be that "the world is bad, and here is how to fix it" possibly by subscribing to our quarterly newspaper and donating money to the organization.
[Genesee River looking towards downtown Rochester]
Some of the noteworthy "radical" lexicon used from the article follows:
To begin lightly, by describing Danny Wegman, CEO of Wegmans, a popular grocery store, as a "poverty pimp" and calling him "our own coked-up, Ferrari-driving, billionaire savior of Rochester's poor!". Then following up with Joel Seligman, President of The University of Rochester (U of R) who is described as an "over-sized fetus" and "1st among people who look like a Q-tip in human form." It goes on to say that "Though it may be difficult to discern exactly where Seligman's neck ends and his head begins" and finally finishes up by stating "It should come as no surprise that in order to pay for the vast quantities of warm milk he drinks before bed each night". Bob Lonsberry, who is a radio talk-show host on WHAM 1180 AM is called out for his penis size, "Sources close to Lonsberry confirm that he is indeed compensating for something" and later described as "a man who looks like a human butt plug." Howie Nielsen, who is the owner of Sticky Lips BBQ is told "fuck your boats! Oh, and the ribs at Sticky Lips suck." Sande Macaluso, City of Rochester Marshal is described as having a "Hitler-esque mustache and sporting a big cigar" who is also a "living Garbage Pail Kid". Maggie Brooks, the Monroe County Executive is called "a turtle-faced charlatan". It goes on with Lyjha Wilton, a developer in Rochester by saying "If you still don't want to hold him down and take a giant shit in his mouth". And lastly, Bob Duffy, former Police Chief and Mayor of Rochester, etc is described as having a "jerk-off muppet face".
This is an intriguing list of the rich and powerful in Rochester - and, aside from the "you're an idiot" writing, there are solid points to be made about each individual. But, is this the kind of writing that is appealing to their audience and other anarchists? What is the common denominator between the anarchist audience and their non-anarchist friends? Is the general sentiment towards this "turned off" or "on"? For us, we're out of lulz and unimpressed; reading and digesting abusive and insulting language masked up as anarchist critique is not something we like to spend time doing. Alas, the review must live on, so we read.
To others, this may seem funny and not an important aspect to focus on, but it makes their overall idea appear unsexy, immature, and a sad reflection of GRR. On a larger scale, this seems to be the trend of not only the local GRR group, but of the federation as well. While the bad-faith arguments, poor critiques, and lack of ability to have and build relationships among the terrible community has been a point of contention forever, it seems to be amplified by certain hanger-ons. It's no wonder platformists in North America have such a bad reputation internationally as being some of the most reactionary, sectarian, and partisan "anarchists". The common phrase from them sounds something like "they have absolutely nothing in common with us, they're not real anarchists, so fuck 'em." Too bad, so sad - as the pot signals the kettle, time for a coffee break.
[Graham's Hierarchy of Disagreement]
Here is a quick rundown of the other articles: The Editorial: Tragedy in Orlando: An Anarchist Queer's Response is a welcoming quick read about the the state, police, society, guns, violence, justice and LGBTQ. What if Pride Were Run by Anarchists? concludes that "an anarchist-run Pride event would be an anti-capitalist celebration of the struggles of all LGBTQ people. It would be designed to challenge the status quo of mainstream LGBTQ "rights" while calling forth the true history of Pride." In First Edition: Storming the Bastille it sums up why they decided to release the newspaper on July 14th (national holiday in France much?). The Old World is Dying is a text about the prefigurative politics of building "a new world from the shell of the old." It goes on to touch upon the strikes in France surrounding the new laws about the 35-hour work week, the Rojava Revolution, and the 2012 student strikes in Quebec. They also share some ideas regarding the overall practice of GRR - work call ins, tenant unions, rent strikes, and the Fight for $15. It was also mentioned that "we're not just planning to relentlessly mock those power - as fun as that is - we're going to share a vision for the world with all of you", which does somewhat respond to our earlier question regarding the audience and future direction. And the last article Pigs in Shit is a very brief report-back from a recent Black Lives Matter demonstration in the City of Rochester that saw 70+ people arrested and a lot of attention from the community.
One last area to look at is the Online Anarchist Resources sidebar provided in the newspaper. Overall, it lists 13 websites and here are a few of the more polemical: AK Press who seem to be the mainstay "anarchist" publisher; while AK doesn't have the best track record working alongside other anarchists over the years, they seemingly have improved a bit. Recently, they found themselves under fire during Schmidt-gate. Another link, Zabalaza Books whose mothership, Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) of South Africa have also found themselves caught up in the same controversy re: Michael Schmidt and the two AK Press authors who wrote the exposé. Thought Crime Ink is an anarchist non-profit that provides ephemera. Libertarian Communism A website that continues to have controversy surrounding it for being run / supported by cop-collaborators (see On Why Dr John Drury Is A Collaborationist Asshole & cop-out – the significance of Aufhebengate (2013)). Anarkismo of course. Anarchist Platform A WordPress site that hasn't been updated since 2012. And finally, Common Cause, an organization that dissolved itself this past Spring (2016). A rather eye-opening list of links for the curious audience - especially those with little or no prior reference to anarchist ideas.
Anarchist media needs to exist and the GRR is a welcome addition to a sparse North America anarchist newspaper lineup, even if the "you're an idiot" and overall party approach to anarchy-ism seems more grumpy and unattractive than revolutionary. One recent anarchist newspaper (+online) project particularly stands out for aiming above all of the ridiculousness, called The Blast. In the about us, they write: "For those new to the struggle we present some of the rich stories of what has come before us - tales of our gains and losses, of what is possible in the future and in our daily lives today. For those who have been here a while, we’d like to reimagine familiar issues with a critical eye while maintaining no (or at least shifting) sacred cows."
How will the GRR respond to this review? Disastrously we imagine, as unfortunate it becomes when one looks at the GRR website "About us":
Odds are, we’re just going to read your complaints aloud at a meeting and laugh at you.
Real Anarchists Have Day Jobs
A brief visit with the Black Rose Anarchist Federation
Whilst I know there are many decent but mistaken individuals who pride themselves on their party membership I consider that the best job pro-revolutionary organisations do is to contain all the idiots in one place, permitting to everybody else the luxury of avoiding them. - Nihilist Communism
Around a year or so ago, I decided to attend a General Interest Meeting (GIM) of the locale Black Rose Anarchist Federation. I went because I was curious to meet and see what other anarchists in the area were working on. The meeting was very well attended for a city that isn't known for having a bunch of wild-eyed anarchists. People were interested and the anarchist outreach game was on point as the meeting began in an old church, whose member(s) had invited the anarchists to use the space.
The presentation was dry, awkward at times, and not one that seemed to be overly appealing to the packed room of listeners, although many faces did continue on into the first part of the "integrating process." This overall bland tone carried on into future meetings, discussions, and direction of the group, with at times showing life, but mostly seeming basic and at times even hostile to anarchist ideas. Since (or before) 1999, the platform in North America has gained a reputation of being the sectarian comrades you never wanted and unwelcoming to other anarchists. At the time of the GIM, Black Rose was around 1 year old, as it had previously combined various anarchist organizations throughout the USA into one group to rule them all. The north-east of the USA and North America, with the exception perhaps being Montreal, seem to really favour this platformist, syndicalist, and especifismo approach to anarchism (class / work). Why is that?
The most intriguing part of the GIM was their explanation and discussion of the platform vs. especifismo. A basic summary would be that the platform after the Russian Revolution (ATR) is like "hey, we lost" - how do we change our specific anarchist organization, tactics, and strategies to ensure we stop losing (A: federalism?). Especifismo has a huge overlap with the platform and appear quite similar - although over our short stay; it was explained to that Rochester Black Rose "isn't actually a specific platformist or especifismo group, or even how the group describes itself", but the alternatives and exacts were never quite clear enough. Organizationalism, social insertion, and other trademarks on the platform / especifismo always seemed to be the most stressed.
Previously, the group had started as Rochester Red and Black and then changed their name to Rochester Black Rose when they joined the new federation. Rochester Red and Black had been around a few years prior, mainly focusing on housing issues, education, and "political work." They've since continued in other areas with some of the main projects being the Fight for $15, the IWW Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), and the new publication mentioned above called the Genesee River Rebellion.
As explained in the GIM, membership into the Federation would come after a 3-6 month integrating process. The process included attending the monthly General Assembly (GA), paying dues to the Federation, a monthly reading group, and overall participation in Black Rose. During this period, one was assigned a "mentor" or a standing member of the group. These mentors also had bi-weekly(?) or so meetings with the locale about their thoughts on their mentees. While we have a lot of "feelings" about the whole process, it mostly felt like a popularity contest amongst a closed clique of people who were already close friends. Curiously, our adoration was not as esteemed as some and we were eventually informed around 5 months in, the vote would be a big "no" to become a member in good standing. Ouch! As individuals interested in and working on anarchist projects, it felt a bit awkward and sad to have such a hard time building lasting relationships with other anarchists that live only a few blocks away.
So, what happened? Well, a lot over the course of those months, although we've also known some of them for years prior and have attended their workshops, conferences, and meetings on a number of previous occasions. However, it was mostly over recent discussions, readings, and observations that changed our mind about working alongside this locale of the Black Rose Federation. For those so interested in building the mass movement of community, affinity, and solidarity together - life seemed far away. Discussion of this and other concerns were never really actualized or received genuine replies. The responses we did receive didn't seem to come from people who were interested in having good-faith arguments, working with other anarchists, or possibly seeing life outside the blinders. Along with their unwillingness to have us, the departure was just as much on our end. After everything, we somewhat quietly left the group and went back to doing nothing. The next time we ran into our "mentor" was at a music show after they were coming back from the local Bernie Sanders rally, where they may have also just given a speech.
Some of the forks-in-the-road we encountered and are willing to share here are as follows. Facebook was used to organize pretty much everything. Within Facebook, it's possible to have "secret" groups and this is how the majority of integrating and standing members communicated and shared information with each other. Of course, nothing is illegal and the type of anarchism that the Black Rose Federation is associated with is largely public, above ground organizing. Still, it was tough to take seriously and understand why not use other more anarchist friendly alternatives to communicating and sharing? The answer seems to lay somewhere in-between it's convenient, everyone had a Facebook account; and the naive, we don't care if our enemies can see everything we're talking about. Even after Occupy, the Arab Spring, and other uprisings greatly aided by social media - it has been tough to take seriously people who organize specifically over it. Google was also used to keep track of supporters, membership, and dues. From these Google files, which everyone could see, we can get a more personal view of members finances. How much do you make? Check the anarchist spreadsheet and do the math. Whose supporting us? It all seemed a bit intrusive, especially in an anarchist organization where things are more-often-than-not open and accountable, but especially revealing for those who are tasked with monitoring and destroying anarchist organizing. Sometimes we make other peoples jobs way too easy.
Most (repressive, dividing, and controlling) State activity works by identifying individuals and relating them through organisational structures, all membership organisations, therefore, are built with flaws present from the outset which the State is able to exploit, usually to the detriment of the whole “movement”. (Look at the film, The Battle of Algiers.) -Nihilist Communism
Another fork-in-the-garden-of-irregularities is that of the relationship between the union staffers and the Federation. The North Eastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC) was often criticized for having various union flags waving at their demonstrations, metaphorically and real, and it was often difficult to tell where the line was being drawn by the anarchist participants and their union day jobs. During our brief stay with the Federation, this issue seemed to surprisingly come up a few time as disagreements between the various locales in Black Rose. Of course, anarchists have all kinds of jobs and work just like everyone, along with a strong past and present of being involved with struggles of the syndicalist nature, however bringing your liberal-leaning union / job into an anarchist organizations practice became a point of contention. A story related to us, was that in one anarchist meeting, support papers for the local social justice organization were handed out that made it feel like you were being recruited. In other times, anarchists were being asked to do the volunteer work for the main project of the locale - the Fight for $15; while a few within the locale got paid a salary for working on it via their day job. A rather weird repulsive dichotomy and one that seems to be becoming a more acknowledged issue within the platformist struggle. If only we too had an anarchist army to do our day job! Yes, these gripes were certainly not all we encountered in our stay, but a few we felt comfortable briefly mentioning here; we could go on and perhaps down the road we can find a way to write some meaningful words towards this end.
Until then, why write this? This brief review is simply a way of looking back and can hopefully be understood as a work of care, as in we care because we're talking about you. We still live in the city and work on (different) anarchist projects and aren't interested in creating more drama or frenemies; there is already way too much of that. What we hope and aim for is extending a warm and welcoming hand to other anarchists in the region and the larger anarchist space in general. There are some lessons to be taken away about how anarchists create and maintain long-term working projects, friendships, and the world we'd like to see. Anarchists don't need a nation-wide Federation to organize and spread anarchist actions, we especially don't need groups like GRR ridiculing other anarchists and their projects for their opposing beautiful ideas. Of course, it's not possible to do what is to be (un)done with everyone in the terrible community. Our projects need to be fun and a reflection of the large, healthy, and vibrant international anarchist space we desire.