2020 going into 2021 – weird times for activists!

Dave – the editor

A fair chunk of what we do as activists involves the production and distribution of printed propaganda either out on the streets or from a stall at an event. As you can imagine, the start of the COVID-19 crisis and the subsequent and ongoing lockdowns and tiered restrictions have made it pretty much impossible to do this. As a consequence, we’ve had to conduct a lot more of our propaganda activity online. After ten months of doing this, we can safely say that from our experience, online propagandising is a poor substitute for real life distribution of printed items and the face to face conversations that result from that.

At the Heckler and also with D.i.Y.CULTURE, we spent a lot of time this year experimenting with various forms of online publishing other than run of the mill blog posts to try and compensate for the lack of real life physical distributions. Suffice to say that after a while of doing this for the Heckler, we concluded that producing online versions of our papers was not a productive use of our time so they were scrapped and we’re just sticking to blogging. However, as regular readers of the Heckler may have noticed, we are being more ‘visual’ with our posts with a greater use of graphics to not just illustrate our points but to actively get them across.

D.i.Y.CULTURE was set up by a few London based comrades with the aim of getting people interested in anarchism by the use of highly visual, accessible content. The mode of operation was producing papers and ‘zines to hand out on the streets and also to be distributed via social centres, pubs and any other venue happy to have a pile of ‘zines on the shelf. Which was fine until the lockdown and tiered restrictions came along to pretty much wreck the distribution model we were developing. The response was to produce online versions of the ‘zines. The thing about online ‘zines is that because there are no print cost constraints on the number of pages we could have, they very soon ballooned from eight pages to thirty pages and (a lot) more!

The plus side about the online versions of D.i.Y.CULTURE is that they have been well received by a good number of anarchists and other radicals. Contributions have been offered from around the world. The readership is global. It has brought a number of anarchists together who would never have had the chance to meet each other face to face in real life. However, there is a minus side in that we felt that we were anarchists producing and publishing content for and by other anarchists. With all due respect to the anarchist community, that’s not what D.i.Y.CULTURE was set up to do.

For both the Heckler and D.i.Y.CULTURE, regardless of the obstacles that will inevitably get thrown our way, it’s been decided that come what may, we need to get back out onto the streets. It’s not like there’s a dearth of street protests where we can hand out our stuff. The anti-lockdown protests are an interesting new development which if we’re being honest, we should have been attending to hand our stuff out and talk to people. I addressed why I think this is a development we should be paying more attention to here: 2020, a lot has happened – 2021, a lot more will happen. I realise that expressing a desire to attend an anti-lockdown protest will not be to the taste of a fair few anarchists we know – I’ll deal with that later on in this piece.

How did other anarchists deal with the constraints placed upon them by lockdown? As we’ve noted in previous posts, one admirable response was a ramping up of community based mutual aid and solidarity projects. Admirable because it’s a practical expression of our politics and it’s real life, face to face interaction. Also, when the state is perceived to be failing and/or behaving with bad intent, it’s a demonstration that there’s a positive alternative that empowers people at the grassroots. With all that 2020 threw at us, running any grassroots based mutual aid project was always going to be a challenge and suffice to say, a lot of valuable lessons have and are continuing to be learnt by these experiences. This is something we’ll be dealing with in our sister project, Alternative Estuary.

Away from from grassroots mutual aid and solidarity projects, protests, actions and distributing propaganda on the streets, one thing anarchists love is a bookfair. Obviously the lockdowns and tiered restrictions scuppered the plans of anyone who was planning to hold a real life, physical bookfair in 2020. With ‘three weeks to flatten the curve’ having morphed into a seemingly endless stream of lockdowns and restrictions, planning a physical bookfair for 2021 is increasingly fraught with doubt.

In response to the constraints of 2020, what was going to be the physical, real life, face to face Anarchist Bookfair in London ended up migrating entirely online in a bid to keep the show on the road. It was either do this or not have a bookfair at all. To be honest, this was a bit of an experimental leap into the dark to see what would happen. The organisers would be the first to admit that pulling this off was a bit of a learning curve and this is reflected in their closing statement. It may be that we’re old school and possibly a bit Luddite but, as much as we appreciate the graft that went into pulling this event off, it’s never going to match a physical event and the face to face interactions that come with that.

Onto the issue of differences within the movement and how they’re dealt with. Hands up, I’ve been guilty of pitching into heated rows in the past that I really should have stayed right out of. Hopefully, I’m learning to express our differences in a more mediated way although with everything that has gone on in 2020, that hasn’t always been easy!

There were some uncomplimentary opinions publicly expressed by a few anarchists about the aforementioned Anarchist Bookfair in London. If I’m being honest, given what I have to deal with out here in the badlands of the estuary, much of the programme on offer was a bit on the esoteric side for my tastes. However, rather than launch into a public diatribe, in the spirit of ‘live and let live’ I just got on with doing what I do and let the bookfair organisers and attendees get on with what they wanted to do.

The point is that events like bookfairs are not a service to the movement. They’re a reflection of the politics of those organising and attending them. If you and others don’t particularly fancy what’s on offer there are two options. One is to get involved in the organising to ensure there’s a space for your perspectives. If that isn’t possible or doesn’t doesn’t suit you, then given that we’re autonomous, there’s nothing stopping you from organising your own events to suit your own perspectives.

Lockdown has exposed a few more schisms – as if there weren’t enough to contend with already! Being among the small number of anarchists who have grown increasingly sceptical about the narratives used to justify the never ending cycle of lockdowns and tiered restrictions plus the way the crisis is being leveraged to bring in detrimental changes to the way we live, I have found myself very much on the fringes of the movement. Rather than re-hash all of the reasons why that is here, I’ll refer you to the previous post on this blog which has links to all of the key pieces I’ve written about this crisis: You were warned…

All I will say here at this point is that I find it a bit perplexing and sad that in the face of what is a new street movement in the form of the anti-lockdown protests, there’s a reflexive blanket condemnation from some of not just the organisers but everyone attending them. That’s alongside what appears to be a lack of curiosity about why people who have never taken to the streets before now feel they have no option but to do so in the face of a seemingly never ending cycle of lockdowns and tiered restrictions. It’s the fact that these protests are drawing in people who have never been out on the streets before that makes me want to engage with them to see what areas of mutual struggle are possible. These two posts go some way to explaining why I think we should reach out and engage: Stirrings and: Reaching out – a few thoughts.

I recognise that holding a bit of a ‘minority’ opinion on the issue of lockdowns is going to put me on the fringes of the movement. So be it… I have to accept that and operate in the way I feel is best while doing what I can to avoid getting dragged into any more time and energy sapping rows. I’ve reached that point where life really is too short to allow myself to get sidetracked by this.

What of 2021? Well, I’m not going to attempt to make any predictions as to how events are going to pan out! Who could have predicted how 2020 turned out? If right at the start of 2020, someone mapped out the scenario of where we are now, they would have been told that even for a dystopian science fiction plot, that was a bit too much…

Suffice to say, the emphasis is on being as prepared as best we can to deal with whatever 2021 throws our way. I hope the changes made to the South Essex Radical Media project, briefly explained here – This really is the last post! – play a part in that preparedness. Apart from continuing to work with D.i.Y.CULTURE, I intend to focus more on what we’re doing out here on the estuary. One aspect of that will be placing more of an emphasis on our Alternative Estuary project. The underlying ethos is to be as outward looking and open as possible and to consciously stay away from any inward looking ‘activist’ bubbles that are around.

As ever, constructive criticism and comradely debate about the points raised in this piece are always welcome. Snarky comments, trolling and abuse are not welcome – as already mentioned, for some of us, life really is too short for that!

One comment

  1. Glad to hear about you blog. Your not alone in questioning lockdown. Completely agree prob better to engage with lockdown dissent instead of ignoring, or completely marginalizing them as ‘loonies’ ‘right wing or ‘conspiracy theorists’ as elements of the left seem to be doing.

    Sometimes it feels like even some ‘forces’ around Anarchism/chy are afraid of individual and collective autonomy. ‘Weve ‘been good at mutual aid for covid but not to good at opposing state legislation over lockdown or state brutality apart and rightly supporting George Floyd protests/related demo.
    Nevermind though when general revolt finally breaks the dam…..
    It seems some comrades think we need to compromise with the ‘health’ state because of the health crisis. many working class people where I live are refusing this narrative.
    The state, capitalism and both sides of the left/right political spectrum of power are our overiding crisis. They and their system have continually displaced us throughout time, less we forget the displacement of our own collective understanding of health/knowlege due to our displacement by the state from the land and our indiviual and collective self orgainsation and autonomy. Anyway glade to read your thoughts.

    It really is a funny old time when comrades I used to know and fight alongside end up telling me ‘I shouldnt associate myself with conspiracy theorists and Qanon’ befor they even engaged in discussion with protesters, It seems here the left and even some anarchists make the mistake of tarring everybody with the same brush. Ive only seen a few right wingers on demos where I live, (and really their were fuck all) hanging about on the fringes. We may be in the minority within the ‘movement’ right now but this is no matter. What matters is our integrity/ and not subcoming to fear. If we are really revolutionary. Never fear to stand alone, as you may unexpectedly find other rebels. And even if you don’t you keep some integrity. Xx

    Like

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