I’ve never before written a letter to an author that I did not already know. I’m not telling you this because I want this letter to seem particularly special. It’s more to allow me to introduce a small amount of context about where I’m at as I started to read Experiments in Imagining Otherwise.
I’m in Berlin right now and the idea that I came to Europe for a long, hot summer is already feeling distant as the days become shorter and cocooned in the grey, chill of autumn. I return to my home in Naarm (otherwise known by it’s colonised name of Melbourne, in so-called Australia) in less than two weeks. The mood is definitely one of contemplation and deep thought about the next stage of life, how I hold onto a revolutionary imagination filled with rebellious desires as I get older and how I incorporate the experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned while I’ve been here.
I write to try to make sense of such considerations. There’s been a small amount of writing I’ve been doing on this trip – some postcards and letters to loved ones, a couple of ‘travel story’ type pieces and one long(ish) piece of feedback to a friend about a draft of an excellent article that they wrote. But I have no more postcards to send now.
Disclaimer: This was mostly written before the anti-lockdown/ anti vaccine mandate protests that broke out in Narrm on Monday, September 20th, 2021. While those protests added extra layers of complexity, I am still comfortable putting the ideas contained in this piece forward as being relevant to the whole mess we’re in.
Another lockdown drags its weight through the winter and into spring, embellishing hours into days and days into weeks. I endure time by going for runs, strumming my bass, reading, writing, cooking. Materially comfortable enough for now. Missing those I love. Staying close to the few I love that I’m able to. Sometimes bored, sometimes worried. Just passing time.
There’s another post saying not to complain about lockdowns because there’s people in jail or in detention centers or dying. I half nod, caught out by the instinctive call and response posture. Then I shrug. There’s always the guilt of someone worse off. These words are emptied of meaning precisely because of their transcendent righteousness.
Their emptiness is a mirror of the baffling mess that they critique – the anti-lockdown demonstrations. Whereas the righteous words sit in a hollowness of their own creation, of being so correct that they (seek to) leave no space for any other feeling, the protests are all feeling at their core with little interest in the sense they make or in being able to grasp something that holds true. And so we have a constellation of narratives seeking to unearth the greatest conspiracies, possibly entertaining if not for the darker endpoints they often lurch towards.
(An uncomprehensive look back on the era of the counter summit, anti-capitalist movement inspired by the recent 20th anniversary of the G8 protests in Genoa. Not going into detail about specific events or the content of debates, just a general reflection on lessons learned and some of the tactics, ideas and cultural markers that circulated during that time.)
The size, force and fury of the protests that confronted the G8 when it met in Genoa marked the peak of what was being called the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement. This naming never sat right with many of us who were around at the time for numerous reasons including that, to whatever extent it was a coherent ‘movement’, it tied together a series of disparate rebellious moments and ongoing struggles that occurred across the globe. The common affect of that time could most precisely be described as a sense of connection that we were part of the same thing happening in so many parts of the world. So instead of ‘anti-globalisation’, I’m going to refer to this as the ‘anti-capitalist’ movement, even though that isn’t perfect too.
Building anti-capitalist knowledges from disparate sources
One of the defining aspects of an upsurge in social struggle are the forms of knowledge that are generated and how these circulate, seeping into a broader societal consciousness. At the level of analysis, of creating a generalised understanding of the systemic conditions which shape our lives and the world we inhabit, the era of the summit protests made popular a wide-ranging discourse around its core idea: anti-capitalism. This wasn’t one central theory but a series of divergent, and sometimes conflicting, ideas and experiences.
marshals cannot protect us from police – marshals end up policing the protest, restraining rebellious energy – the authority imbued in the role of marshal makes people suspicious of other participants within a protest – the role of marshals exacerbates two negative tendencies of solidarity; laziness and distrust – an imposed, rigid structure to ensure ‘safety’ cannot be flexible enough to account for variables in danger – instead, organise with friends to look out for each other and then communicate with other groups across the protest – safety can’t be the only factor in determining what action looks like, we have to take risks beyond the pre-determined boundaries of a formal protest – conclusion.
This piece is influenced by a series of diverse and informal conversations about the entrenched role of marshals at demonstrations in this town. However, the political inflection it takes, the conclusions drawn, are mostly reflective of my own thinking. While there are common starting points, I don’t want to suggest that where I end up is necessarily representative of any greater collective intent. That is to say, I think some of you who I’ve had these conversations with will disagree with parts of this. I write this as part of the ongoing discussion, hopefully contributing to new forms of acting alongside each other at street protests that is open to taking risks and looking out for each other without always handing our power over to some higher authority.
It should be noted that there are 2 distinct layers that constitute critical conversations around marshals – one being the articulation of a variety of issues with how the current marshalling structure conducts itself, the other being a more general questioning of the very existence of formal marshals at demos. I start with the first, but quickly move to the second.
(a printable zine/ pdf version of this can be found at the end or in ‘zines’ tab).
Part I: Finding each other.
“The noise of excited voices could be heard, the streets must be full of people, the crowd shouting just three words, I can see, said those who had already recovered their eyesight and those who were just starting to see, I can see, I can see, the story in which people said, I am blind, truly appears to belong to another world.”
– Blindness by Jose Saramago
I want you to describe for me the scene when the pandemic passed and social distancing ended. The one where we poured out from the cocoons we’d harboured within over these long months and into each others arms. Homes with doors opened to the streets and into neighbouring houses, creating a chain of encounters and dancefloors – the greatest party of all. Was it the block party to end all block parties, an after-the-revolution style celebration like Run the Jewels depict? Or was it more a stunned exuberance as Saramago describes? I’m sure that, just as importantly, there were quieter moments of coming together – moments of closeness with dear friends, of sharing meals again, of enjoying the sun and outdoors in company. How did we create the necessary spaces for grieving and reflection?
Anti-authoritarian ideas to hold onto in these times of virus and crisis.
We’re all living quite a situation here. Before the virus had got near most of us, we were thrown into this necessary mode of life called social-distancing. Our lack of knowledge and the speed it has covered the globe and is transmitting within the locations we live has produced feelings of shock, confusion and fear. While these feelings make sense, we should also recognise and counter the tendency that they produce towards individualism and isolation.
Fear. Individualism. Isolation. Currently the circulation of these sentiments is exponentially bolstering the power of the state. As Crimethinc have said, “social distancing must not mean total isolation. We won’t be safer if our society is reduced to a bunch atomised of individuals”. Such an atomised society is the path to least resistance. Even as the virus spreads we must not become too isolated and disconnected from each other to be able to resist state control and the implementation of measures that fuck most of us over in a desperate attempt to save the economy.
(I’ve pushed what is chronologically the fifth ‘dispatch’ to the top of the pile because it’s probably the most important).
Dispatch #5 (January 8th- 10th): Delivering supplies to affected areas on the lands of the Gunaikurnai nation (East Gippsland)
Just spent a couple of days delivering supplies with two friends to some of the affected areas in East Gippsland. We went as far out as Orbost, but roads were closed beyond that. Yesterday we made some deliveries around Bairnsdale and Bruthen. We decided to leave the area last night, because conditions were due to get hectic again today. These were my main thoughts from being out there:
Reflections on the blockade of IMARC, police violence and how to act politically against it.
For a few days in late October, protesters attempted to shut down the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) because fuck mining and capitalist resource extraction as it murders Indigenous peoples, devastates the environment and creates the conditions for the world to burn. Numbers weren’t large enough and tactics not fluid enough* to be entirely successful but there was significant disruption.
And so the police went hard. And people were staunch. And the police went harder. I’ve been up close with plenty of scenes of police violence and even still it was distressing as I stood there unable to see – having lost my glasses in the scuffles – but hearing people wailing and being sick from the effects of copious amounts of capsicum spray used viciously at close quarters.