About 940 people were arrested at the state legislature this summer during the civil disobedience-based grassroots progressive movement called Moral Mondays. T he trials of those charged have begun this month. The first trial, which took place on Oct. 4, occasioned more than just the conviction on all charges, which has been followed since by two dismissals of the same charges last Friday.
Not only did it reveal that the police had spied on the protesters with an undercover cop infiltrating planning meetings — General Assembly Police Chief Jeff Weaver also testified that his department had “collected intelligence” about the “anarchists” among the protesters. According to a story in The News & Observer from Oct. 7, Weaver “testified that his officers had scanned the many ‘Moral Monday’ rallies with eyes trained for ‘anarchists,’” which led to “a murmur of disbelief among the many lawyers.”
On Oct. 10, the North Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the organization that led Moral Mondays, released a statement in which it addressed the anarchist issue: “Now they are suggesting that they had knowledge of so-called anarchists. This claim strikes us as strange since our staff and team were in constant talks with the capital police, and we were never informed of so-called anarchists. To say things of this nature could be construed as an attempt to mar the image of the protesters and to change the message of the movement.”
Commentators of formal and social media expressed disapproval regarding the police specifically looking to surveil alleged anarchists involved in Moral Mondays, holding that such outrageous concerns from the police were unwarranted or absurd. The outcry, though, should be regarding the NAACP’s response.
Anarchism is a political philosophy that seeks to build a society based on non-hierarchical free associations, without any forms of domination that are opposed to the well-being and inherent dignity of people and communities. Anarchists argue against the state, capitalism, racism, patriarchy, et cetera. Etymologically, “anarchism” or “anarchy” reduces to “without authority.” This does not mean “without order” — to the contrary, anarchism believes in the ability of humanity to design social systems that have organization, but do not require centralized power to maintain.
The image of anarchists as being “whiskered men with bombs,” as J.R.R. Tolkien once put it, is the result of the age-old — and apparently ongoing — perception adopted and popularized by representatives of power to delegitimize doctrines and struggles opposed to their power.
By the way, J.R.R. Tolkien identified as an anarchist, as did Kurt Vonnegut, Leo Tolstoy and M.K. Gandhi. Franz Kafka was involved in anarchist organizations. Many acclaimed philosophers, such as Henry David Thoreau and Albert Camus, were anarchists. The founder of modern linguistics and the most cited living scholar in the world, Noam Chomsky, is an outspoken and active anarchist. The renowned historian Howard Zinn was an anarchist. David Graeber, lauded as “the best anthropological theorist of [t]his generation from anywhere in the world,” is an anarchist. Woody Harrelson is also an anarchist.
Sure, there are people today who dress in black during protests and engage militantly with the police and private property—black blocs, as they are called, very much exist. But anarchists aren’t the bad guys we should be focusing on, and a small recent event in Raleigh should suffice as an example.
On Sept. 28, Raleigh hosted The Color Run, a for-profit 5K race in which the runners are doused in cornstarch dye through the race. But as The N&O reported, “Residents of the historic Oakwood neighborhood are fuming after a recent ‘color run’ left brightly colored powder on houses, and some people’s cars were towed from outside their homes.”
Mark Turner, a Raleigh resident and blogger who saw bleach mixture being used to wash the streets after the race and the “chemical-laden broth” allowed to drain into the Neuse River, said, “Raleigh Police posted ‘no parking’ notices with as little as 13 hours’ notice, leaving many residents unprepared. Tow trucks hauled off their cars and stuck them with bills upwards of $150 to get them back.”
Black blocs can destruct property. But only private sway (or the government itself) could have police — official executors and enforcers of power — disrupt people’s lives in this measure. And off icial sources of power — bearing the immunity brought by the fundamentally arbitrary status of being the official sources of power — conduct such infringements in greater frequency and magnitude than anarchists.
Black blocs did occur during the Occupy Movement, which was based on an anarchist philosophy and political process. But the first window smashed in Occupy was by a police officer banging a protester’s head into the glass.
Regardless of the amount of violence caused by anarchists, it pales in comparison to police brutality, devastating foreclosures by banks, destruction of rural, lower income, and usually unspoken-of communities and lands for corporate industrial interests, rape culture and rife racism — all forms of violence which prevail in the U.S., and which are inflicted by the institutions and structures that anarchists oppose.
Yes, NAACP, there were anarchists at Moral Mondays. Almost always, anarchists dress and talk and smile and mingle and carry around the same non-lethal objects as most people. If you’re concerned about people who do otherwise, you chose to defame the wrong folks.