Anarchists try to gain a foothold

Signs fill Chapel Hill-Carrboro

CorrespondentFebruary 10, 2011 

— Pass any papered utility pole from Carrboro to downtown Chapel Hill, and you'll see traces of their presence: The anarchists are everywhere.

"You cannot avoid us. Even if you don't like us, you know we're there because our posters are [expletive] everywhere," said self-proclaimed anarchist and Carrboro resident Neal Richards.

Flip through a Merriam-Webster's dictionary for the term "anarchist," and you'll find a person who rebels against authority. Delve deeper into the history of Anarchism and you'll find a political philosophy far more complex than the fringe group today's anarchists are often dismissed as being.

Anarchism grew out of the 19th-century French revolt against the bourgeoisie. Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin, a 19th-century Russian revolutionary, coined the term that describes the local community's philosophy: collectivist anarchism.

"Today, increasingly, anarchism provides people with tools to critique the current practices of politics and offers a vision for an alternative form of politics that is more locally-based, more horizontal," said Michal Osterweil, an anthropologist who graduated from UNC and based her thesis on social movements.

Richards concurred. "Because we want a society where people solve problems collectively on a grassroots, community level, we take action in ways that reflect that desire," he said.

Free market

The Really, Really Free Market held on the Carrboro Town Commons the first Saturday of every month is an energetic protest against capitalism and an example of an alternative known as a "Gift economy."

A hybrid of a flea market, yard sale and community center, the Really, Really Free Market is just that - free. The community comes together to provide mutual aid through food, clothes, items, or skill-shares. Town government initially resisted the event because free food was being served without insurance but relented after an anonymous donor covered insurance costs. It also dropped a permit fee for holding the market on town property. Last year, the RRFM celebrated its fifth anniversary.

Richards calls the market a "big victory" for the anarchist community.

"That was hundreds of people taking a conscious form of direct action, occupying a piece of land to say, 'We are not going to have to pay to use this piece of land to share with each other,'" he said. "In a town like Carrboro, you can really have a big affect. It's a town where people are willing to take risks and be smart about it."

Anarchism recently made international headlines when an underground, Italian anarchist movement took credit for a slew of embassy bombings in Italy last month. But locally, the anarchists of Chapel Hill and Carrboro walk openly among politicians, students, and educators. That, however, does not exempt the community from criticism.

"Anarchists have a long and proud history, that we do not deny, of fostering criminal activity," Richards said. "We are not pacifists. We believe in self-defense and going on the offensive to attack the institutions that are trying to oppress us. That's anarchism."

Last April, the group held its first state conference, dubbed "NC Rising," on UNC's campus. It featured workshops and panels on subjects such as independent media to radical cartography. In November, anarchists organized the inaugural Carrboro Anarchist Book fair.

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