An Appeal For Community
This is an appeal to many of my friends and allies nearby, any of those wishing to live saner lives and create a better world. It will hopefully also be inspiration and resource for my friends outside of my immediate area. Spread it around as you see fit.
I'm becoming more and more aware that our culture's divisiveness and it's general hatred for real community makes many sorts of social movements fight uphill battles. Movements are nothing without communities. I think this is where a lot of movements lose effectiveness, because the people involved aren't actually bound to any stable communities, and therefore in their minds are only defending theory and not flesh and blood humans (and other animals). A lot of things, like the very setup of our lives (car culture, physical division of communities, egocentric and sociopathic levels of individualism, etc.) make it hard for us to get anything done. We've fallen into the trap of cutting ourselves off from our own lives, buying into pathological levels of individualism that drive us away from each other.
Without being grounded in a real community, being connected to flesh-and-blood people instead of just some socio-political theory, we lack a certain level of impetus to create change. This is why so many movements and campaigns just seem to all the be same, follow the same cookie-cutter formula and lifespan, and ultimately fizzle out. And this is why community-centered movements, like the American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers, the Katipunan in the Phillipines, or the EZLN in Mexico, that had/have communities that they were immediately benefiting and defending, did/do great things despite literally being attacked by government forces.
We need to form solid, real life communities that are at least partially economically self sufficient. When a group can't sustain itself, imperialists don't need guns to enslave them (hence wage slavery). When a group is self-sufficient, the imperialists need to bring in guns to enslave. When the group is self sufficient and has the guns (or knives, bows, machetes, plastique, whatever we're talking about for defense) their chances are greatly increased that they remain free (think the Lakota and their long resistance).
Part of what I'm pondering over lately has had to do with two aspects of community: one is the impetus it provides to get people to actually fight for their rights, their conditions, to make real social change to benefit all. The other is the material support, like food sharing and gift economies, added to the shared base of skills and knowledges, like medicine, repairing/making things, and general wisdom. For instance, a major reason that we have to fight so hard for a woman's right to choose and access to reliable birth control is because traditional indigenous family planning knowledge isn't passed down within communities. In the same vein, we argue and bicker over a "public option" because we lack community-centered healthcare based on age-old and proven methods, (and because so many of us have been brainwashed to believe Western medicine is the only effective one, and to ignore factors like quality of life that are directly related to economic injustices and our relationship(s) to the land) making us dependent on industrial medicine that is often quite literally poisonous to us and our environments. We keep putting more and more money into authoritarian schools that don't teach (that is, besides teaching us to submit to authority) instead of just teaching ourselves and making available knowledge to kids that want to learn. We therefore become dependent on profit-driven corporations who only care enough about your health to keep you a repeat customer, about education only enough to produce useful cogs, and about womens' rights not at all. Not being able to do these things ourselves inextricably ties us to systems controlled by parasitic politicians and destructive corporations, whereas self-sufficiency (providing these things for ourselves) at least gives us a chance to get away from "the machine" and cause real change.
We can also look at the interplay between these two factors, the follow up of the impetus to enact change being made possible and supported by the material support of the community. Having some degree of economic independence means not being forced to enact change only on the oppressors terms, and therefore being doomed to failure. After all, if your only experience is that your food comes from the market, how can you be expected to fight against factory farming and industrial agriculture? How can you effectively challenge a system that keeps you alive? This has been why I've been trying to teach people more and more lately how to do things they didn't think possible outside of the industrial infrastructure. This is why we need to do more than learn these skills, but form communities that use them to provide for each other.
This is a major reason why I do not go in for electoral politics, nor depend on parasitic politicians to "give" me rights. Although a politician will occasionally be an ally to a social movement, they've never been prime determinants in enacting change; any of them with any pull are owned by corporations and will do what corporations say (or get their head blown off when they stray too far). Rather, fundamental change has always been the result of the people taking real action towards the change they needed. It has always been the result of people exerting force on society and on government, not by voting and letter-writing. Not that I wouldn't rather have a friendly fascist over a murderous one, of course.
As much as possible, I try to take or make what I and my community need. And this is hard in many ways, because I have the support of only a small community that is not very economically self sufficient, and somewhat disparate. I have a great family and we support each other as much as possible. I also have some great friends, but the support we can give each other is limited; we have the potential for real community. But we're small, and lack economic self-sufficiency. Even with only this meager community support, I can manage a lot of great ways to support my family and friends, as long-time readers of my postings know.
And I'll be clear here: this doesn't necessarily mean monetary economic self-sufficiency. This isn't some goal only available to middle and upper classes. In fact, it shouldn't include money very much at all, as basing one's wealth on money alone (or even primarily) only allows the corporate-government complex to continue controlling us, to allow them to dictate to us how we can live our lives. We need to establish a gift economy among our community. Gift economies are likely as ancient as human beings; it's a complex way of sharing. In essence, a gift economy is a non-authoritarian way to distribute wealth within a community, to insure that everyone's needs are met without some robber baron ruling class exploiting everyone else.
The urgency of this all is compounded by the fact that oil production has peaked and industrialism is crumbling. As if it weren't clear to everyone by now, we can't live a lifestyle that uses ever growing amounts of resources. Only the most insane peak oil doubters can deny this, as it requires a complete disconnect from reality to not understand that even renewable resources (e.g. wood) have a rate at which they replenish, and therefore a rate of harvesting at which they decline (“Peak Wood” of pre-Dickensian England). It will crash and it will crash hard, and oil is used for everything in the industrial economy. If we have a stable, self-sufficient community, we can benefit from this and help others to benefit from it, or at least help them survive. Even if we're not self-sufficient to the extent of growing, hunting, and gathering our own foodstuffs, just having a gift economy in place is a huge level of security.
Also, we need not own land in the legal sense to be self-sufficient in some degree. I spent a couple hours outside in the pouring rain today, preparing some of my parents' forest/yard for some forest gardening. Mostly I was clearing stuff with my new barong machete, and Wednesday I'll do more of that and some raking. Many of us know people who do "own" land, and would likely be open to mutually beneficial use of the land. This is another important part of community. In addition to my parent's couple of acres, from which I forage a lot, I've been invited several times to "clean up" acorns from my partner's parents house, and her grandmothers house. There are also "public" lands that we can access. The biggest acorns I've ever found were from a park/trail in Glocester. And as the First Ways blog I've posted links to makes clear, there's even a lot to forage in urban areas, it might just take a bit more ingenuity.
And although I've found food gathering to be a profoundly effective community and relationship building activity, it's not something that everyone in a community needs to do for it to have significant impact. I always read about the fact that an adult hunter-gatherer, working an average of two hours a day, can feed five people. I can say that having foraged for years now, that seems reasonable to me, even with nowhere near the same expertise truly indigenous people have. At the very least, a small group of dedicated part-time foragers and gardeners can greatly supplement their diets on wild plant foods. My forest gardening and guerrilla gardening projects will certainly help that.
I and a number of my friends are radicals in the truest sense of the word, meaning that we attempt to discover root causes (from Latin: radix) for social injustices in the world. And yet, we often overlook the lack of community support and community self-sufficiency and the role it plays in keeping people subjugated. Many of us decry industrial food production and its various negative effects, yet we rarely try to organize community and personal gardens, launch guerrilla gardening campaigns, or organize trips to forage our own food. We'll talk about the effects of classism and racism in industrial healthcare without encouraging traditional medicines on a community level (or again, organize community gardens).
We need not share the same views and be fighting for the exact sames causes, either. As Derrick Jensen (have you guessed that I like his writing?) is so often pointing out, we need it all. This is as much true for causes and movements as it is true for practical skills and knowledges. What is important is that we provide for one another and have the sort of open dialogue in which we can disagree over minor details while still supporting one another. It is perhaps even better that we don't all work on the same issues; we can and likely need to be the intersection between social justice, human rights, ecological restoration and protection, etc. And we need people who don't give a damn about these issues and just want to live comfortably and happily.
Healthy communities reinforce behaviors that benefit the community, making community interest the same as personal interest. Until we have communities of people that work for the good of the community, and understand the necessity of working together despite personal differences (instead of the rampant horizontal hostility I see/hear about) we'll constantly be thwarted by pettiness, bickering, and conflicting work schedules. It will take work to build and maintain a community. There is a reason why indigenous people often spend as much time socializing and building community as they do on subsistence.
I'm willing to dedicate myself to building a real community. I'm willing to put my community ahead of a job, because only one of those can give real economic independence. I'm willing to extend myself to all of you to make sure your needs are met, if you're willing to do the same for me. I'm willing to defend you if you're willing to defend me. I'm willing to grow with you if you're willing to grow with me.