Saturday, 18 October 2008

Anarchists together? Really?

Part of the squatting life, it seems, appears to embrace activism or anarchism that housemates who live this way share as a common value. Not every squatter though, I'm sure. The suggestion that squatting sits in a greater ecosystem does nudge my attention.

Today is the Anarchist Book Fair and so the ideal place to discover more. Conveniently, it's across the road from our estate. Our neighbour from the angle grinding session the other day describes the anticipated attendance as "being like Piccadilly Circus". By the time I leave for the Book Fair with SoundsNorwegian, USgal is already there. SoundsNorwegian is enthusing over her zine, that she can't wait to sell at the event.

Great quote. We can all probably agree to some extent.

If you can imagine a comic book convention or busy trade show promoting travel or food, and then replace all the people with activists, you'd be pretty close to imagining the scenes of the day. Despite the building crowd of attendees, the atmosphere feels surprisingly low key, even mellow. Nothing riotous about it.

The fact that books are the uniting hook for everyone's attendance is quite a cute thing really (as opposed to, say, attacking the police).

Relaxed is one thing, but it soon becomes clear that unless you know someone at the Book Fair and/or can speak activist/anarchistic and/or have some knowledge about campaigns/causes, you're going to be in for a tough time of it. Thrusting pamphlets at me from all camps (ie. Rising Tide, Earth First, Class War, Justice4Jean) is all very useful, but an introduction/welcome -- forget it. You're on your own.

And then, being singled out as "the only person of colour in this room is him" during a workshop where an American chap is recalling to everyone scenes of violence he'd witnessed between black and white anarchists, because the latter group claimed that anarchism is a white preoccupation only -- even more on your own.

Yes, I can't believe they're looking at me. Having the entire room go quiet is not a pleasant feeling and having no one jump in to dispute such a slur, or protect you, even less. I half expect them to point and applaud, "oh yes, there it is".

White preoccupation? Today's attendance did not disprove the American's claim. I should've been preoccupied with leaving.

Instead, taking note of the fashion sense of the day keeps me on. It seems that in order to feel "part of the scene", activists/anarchists must wear one/some of the following :
* Dreadlocks or just have scruffy unwashed hair.

* Anything militaristic -- combat boots & fatigues, torn khaki t-shirts, parkas; added mud a bonus.

* Layered clothing of luminous colour, eg. t-shirt over t-shirt over jumper with bright-pink leggings and so many bangles.

* The skinhead boy look (particularly if you want to hang about the Class War stall).

* A t-shirt that says "Fuck you pigs" (maybe they can't eat pork, who knows, I didn't ask).

* Long braided pink-purple-blue-orange dyed hair.

* Shaven haircuts of some sort (women included).

* Denim, preferably not made by Calvin Klein.

* That unwashed look again, but the whole body this time.

* A t-shirt featuring one of your anarchist heroes.

* If you can't do any of them, just have a mean-looking doberman by your side, so no one will dare ask you if you are anarchistic.

* Or wear a t-shirt with "Anarchy" across it.
Diagram Drawing Electrician, whom I bump into, accuses me of being an anthropologist with my 'activist fashion' probing. Maybe I need to dreadlock my Chinese hair in a bid for crossover and then I'll shut up. After all, I'd look the part. Except, why should I need to even look the part? Surely anarchism/activism is about ideas, not uniforms?

Heck, I'm using 'anarchist' and 'activist' as though they're interchangeable. Because again, all of this is surely about sharing ideas, not siding with labels, hiding behind unwashed hair and declaring grease as groovy.

It isn't until I stretch my legs on the grass outside that I really notice how tribal all of this is. All the various 'clothing types' are huddling in their respective groups. Even the combat fatigue smokers are sitting away from the bangle smokers. Being asked "are you a foreign student?" moments before the stretch is the last straw for me. Why am I being asked this question? Are any of the white people being asked the same thing? It's tiresome, and pathetic for a so-called 'alternative movement' that's trying to fight towards equal rights for all.

How can they ever hope to appeal to the mainstream with attitudes like that?

Eventually, the cold evening air moves me on, all the pamphlets on me chucked in the bin.

UPDATE: around 1.30am or so tonight, at a squatters benefit party at rampART, a random partygoer points out to me that I may have come to the 'wrong club'. Say again? Because I'm wearing a pin-stripe blazer. Ho hum.