“We’re Brokenhearted: Understanding Fierce Love in Anarchist Organizing” by Katherine
- My name is Katherine, and I am the host of the podcast Friendly Anarchism (friendly as in the Religious Society of Friends, which is the full name of the Quakers) where I talk to community members and activists to work through questions about the movement and spirituality. The project has been going for over a year now and I’ve gained a lot of insight through that work as well as personal study and experience. As a practicing Quaker mystic and anarchist I am challenged by my very existence to examine the intersections and cross pollinations between the two.
- I often have a hard time with self care. I’m in the struggle with y’all and looking for answers! I also see an overall need in the community. Many others are seeing the same need, and it’s a conversation happening all over if not necessarily from a spiritual angle. Seeing a need for better self and community care and stronger solidarity are hot topics, and I believe the two are indelibly connected. A spiritual framework has been somewhat neglected and may be helpful in this regard.
- I’m going to talk mostly about christian traditions & personal experience with anarchist organizing for a few different reasons, which include the wisdom of speaking from your own personal experience, and I also want to avoid any orientalism. There’s a wealth of knowledge we can pull from concerning radical christianity and as a white person from my own ancestral traditions. I’ll speak about the notion of christian anarchism shortly.
- Heartbreak is more than just disappointment or sadness, it’s an existential crisis that throws everything into doubt, yourself, your relationship to the world, and larger truths such as justice. As anarchists we’re walking existential crises, putting everything we have on this line, even risking our freedom and our lives for a world we suspect may be irrevocably broken. Especially as a black-on-black/black flag anarchist there is a real nihilist-individualist streak to the work that can lend itself to despair and hedonism.
- We do hard emotional work to save a world against overwhelming odds.
- Heartbreak is only possible from fierce love. We love the world, why else would we fight for it? And the world keeps letting us down
- We love each other, and we keep letting each other down. We’re still struggling with radical solidarity
- We push ourselves so hard and we let ourselves down
- There’s something missing from our conversations, which is the idea of spiritual health. Existential questions are more spiritual in nature than simply questions of self-care or solidarity, because heartbreak is larger than any single action or situation and we are living in that state perpetually due to the very nature of the work. I’m going to attempt to reframe the conversation in this way so we possibly gain some insight from the practices of past spirit-led revolutionaries.
- Need to talk about the elephant in the room, the very idea of christian anarchism
- Quote from Radical Christian Writings: “Throughout Christian history – and particularly at times of crisis and social upheaval – there have emerged writings which, reflecting the values of the Kingdom, have engaged in searching critiques of the political order and promoted change in social and economic relations, most commonly by advocating or enacting equality of wealth, power, gender, or status.”
- As anarchists reject the marxist elitist notions that christianity itself is useless and all those that adhere to it are simply unenlightened. Christianity has been and remains a comfort and source of revolutionary power to a lot of people, myself included. Examples include Sojourner Truth, Ernesto Cardenal, and Dorothy Day, among many others
- If we truly believe in the strength of diversity we need to make space for spiritual and theological discussions in the movement, and not always, but there can be a racist and ableist underbelly to the unexamined rejection of christianity as christian traditions are often especially important to communities of color and the disabled.
- Anarchism is itself a kind of faith. To quote David Graeber on anarchism, “We are talking less about a body of theory than about an attitude, or perhaps one might even say a faith: the rejection of certain types of social relations, the confidence that certain others would be much better ones on which to build a livable society, the belief that such a society could actually exist.”
How does a personal spiritual practice help with a larger revolutionary movement?
- A quote from Quaker writer Howard Brinton: “For Friends the most important consideration is not the right action in itself but a right inward state out of which right action will arise. Given the right inward state right action is inevitable. Inward state and outward action are component parts of a single whole.”
- Everything we do is affected by how we’re feeling. Another Quaker maxim, “you cannot bring peace to the world without bringing peace to yourself” Spiritual health is not secondary to our struggle but is in fact the struggle itself because when we are at peace it shows in all of our actions, in the work we do, and in the strength and durability of our relations with others.
- Conversely, when we are not at peace the same thing happens. It ripples out. We don’t do spiritual work just for ourselves, it’s for the people around us, and for our communities. Spiritual health has largely been a conversation about an individual, but there are important conversations about communal spiritual health and strength. There’s a reason organized religion exists, and as we know, organization does not have to denote hierarchical even if that has been the prevailing paradigm.
What is the connection between anarchism and mysticism?
- Both anarchists and mystics believe everyone has or should have equal access to power. Anarchists are speaking primarily of political power, while mystics are speaking primarily of spiritual power, but it’s the same core belief out of which arises similar dedication to the equalization of that power by uplifting the oppressed. This is the definition of social justice, and some things never change. Mystics have faced the same state and systemic oppression that anarchists face today and so have throughout history tried many different ways of coping, evading, and confronting that reality.
- I believe that white anarchism is in many ways a subconscious continuation of christian mystic traditions. It would take more than a couple generations to shed the societal accoutrement associated with a way of life, and that’s okay, there’s a lot of good stuff there that got thrown out with the rejection of the institutions of the church at the advent of modern anarchist theory in the 1800’s. While Christianity has been a source of genocide, colonialism, and patriarchy, there has also always been a fun lesser known rebellious side which wasn’t the dominant strain. Mark Van Steenwyk, from the Center for Prophetic Imagination wrote a text called “That Holy Anarchist: Reflections on Christianity and Anarchism” in which he says “We would be wise to ground our anarchism in a real mysticism-one that embraces a sort of divine wildness that can empower us to love in an unloving world. One that gives us a glimpse of a reality that we can’t yet see. That mysticism can be linked to anarchism makes sense: mystics often reject the notion that access to God is mediated.”
- Unlike other strains of radicalism such as communism, anarchists tend to work in the shadows, both literally and figuratively. A lot of what we do never sees the light of day, even large above ground projects have a tendency to be largely ignored by society as a whole. We often are actively hiding our work from the population at large to avoid the gaze of the state. A lot of our work isn’t even necessarily materially tangible but in changing processes, redefining ethics, and changing the way we think about the world. I found an interesting parallel in David Graeber “Fragments Of An Anarchist Anthropology” speaking about indigenous mystic societies that went through large scale social change toward egalitarianism, “A lot of the ideological work, in fact, of making a revolution was conducted precisely in the spectral night world of sorcerers and witches; in redefinitions of the moral implications of different forms of magical power. But this only underlines how these spectral zones are always the fulcrum of the moral imagination, a kind of creative reservoir, too, of potential revolutionary change. It’s precisely from these invisible spaces – invisible most of all, to power – whence the potential for insurrection, and the extraordinary social creativity that seems to emerge out of nowhere in revolutionary moments actually comes.” This goes back to the spiritual mystic belief in the importance of inward state in the creation of outward action, we’re just talking about a change in scale from individual to societal hidden inward state.
- Here are some ideas gleaned from past Christian movements. Many (if not all) of these are also connected to some very problematic and oppressive histories, but I’m bringing them forward to consider where they stem from and if there is revolutionary potential there, maybe we can adapt or revamp some of these strategies in our own work moving forward.
- Faith in our vision, faith in each other, also living in the mindset of what Richard Rohr, a Franciscan monk calls “trustful surrender”.
- ‘Falling upwards’, Accepting uncertainty, the more that you let go of the false notion of control the more you open yourself up to gain
- This makes us very vulnerable. But, this brings us back to solidarity because truly strong and durable connections with each other are created through radical vulnerability with each other. Sociologist Brene Brown talks about this.
- Faith is another way to say Trust, I have faith in you, I trust you, I have faith in God, I trust the universe. From ‘Joyful Militancy’ – “A crucial component of joyful militancy is a collective capacity to build, maintain, and repair trust.” Kelsey Cham C.: “Probably one of the best ways to break down the walls of the system is to break down the walls around each other first, and I think the only way we can break down those walls is with trust.” A leap into the dark like that is Faith.
Keeping Sabbath – Going to Church
- Need to slow down to speed up
- Going to church is about taking dedicated time for individual and communal spiritual health, and it is revolutionary work.
- It was seen as so important to the functioning of society that it was given an entire day out of the week. That’s a lot of time. Is one out of every seven things we do dedicated to our spiritual and emotional health? Maybe it should be. Maybe we should strive to take a day of reflection and rest every week to help make our work sustainable.
- (Quote from Cindy Milstein “Solidarity, as Weapon and Practice, versus Killer Cops and White Supremacy”, which is actually from an older version than the one on her website which I found in a zine called “Revolutionary Solidarity: A Critical Reader for Accomplices”, but I think it’s a great quote and I’m curious why it was removed) “Yes, maybe we need to “stop” to better self-organize. So that we can do deeper, sustained jail and court support as follow-up to arrests. So that we can strategize on how to really shut down this system, in myriad ways, and practice, at the same time, new ways of being and living, a new society that makes this old one truly look as brutal as it is and ultimately makes it history…Most important, though, we need to “stop” to better enact revolutionary solidarity as a verb, our best weapon, a living practice as we struggle toward better having each other’s backs when our backs all look quite different from each other – as they should.”
- Sabbath was about building and sustaining community. Whatever disagreements there are between people, everyone comes together to refocus on something bigger than themselves and solidify the values held by everyone in the group. Everyone takes a breath.
Monasticism and separated communities
- As a movement I think we are good at creating communities and understanding their strengths in care and basic necessities-holding goods in common, prefigurative living & workshopping new ways of moving through the world. Monasteries and intentional communities are examples of this.
- “In the monasteries, they still live as in the early Church. And who dies of hunger there? Who has not found enough to eat there? Yet the men of our times fear living that way more than they fear falling into the sea! Why have we not tried it? We would fear it less. What a good act that would be! If a few of the faithful, hardly eight thousand dared in the face of a whole world, where they have nothing but enemies, to make a courageous attempt to live in common, without any outside help, how much more could we do it today, now that there are Christians throughout the whole world? Would there remain one single Gentile? Not one. I believe. We would attract them all and win them to us.” – Rosa Luxemburg, Socialism And The Churches 1905
- The Beguines and Beghards – The Beguines were a movement starting in the 14th century Europe were christian women who felt led to lead a life of service and contemplation. Some of them lived together in Beguinages but didn’t take vows like monks, and association with the movement was voluntary. They lived societally in a space difficult for many to understand, neither necessarily religious or lay. They worked non-hierarchically and had no leaders. They deserve their own talk because they were an incredibly successful movement we could learn a lot from. They were distinct without necessarily being physically isolated from the rest of the world.
- Many new societal experiments during the reformation, including Quakers
Celibacy/separation by gender
- It doesn’t have to mean taking vows in can just be living with a very intentional relationship to sex. Can be temporary like the Beguines
- Separating by gender can subvert gender dynamics and power structures. Men: I’m not going to define myself by my virility or ability to dominate women, and for women: I’m not going to give up my life and bodily autonomy to a man
- Relationships, in one, getting in one, breakups, other people’s drama, all takes a lot of time and energy that could be spent on the revolution. Can you imagine how much we would get done if we weren’t dealing with romantic entanglements?
- There are already some projects separating by gender/nongender and I’d love to learn more about how those are going
- The mystic traditions actually don’t generally have any kind of baptism rites, but other strands of radical faith movements do and I think it is worth looking at.
- Maybe not specific rites, but there is an intentionality to joining these radical communities and learning how to live a different kind of life. From Radical Christian Writings: “Conversion involved a different style of life with values at odds with mainstream culture. It meant belonging to a group where elite values and goods were widely shared and were the hallmark of the community: wisdom, religiosity, wealth and power, which had been the preserve of the few, were now available to all through the divine spirit.”
- I think this is an area that could use some development in our movement. Right now there are signifiers of those that have been adopted into the movement, such as language, security culture, ways of dressing, ways of eating, but they are not explicit or widely understood, which makes the movement largely inaccessible to those interested in joining. The process and rites of baptism was a way to introduce and train newcomers, although there is the danger of becoming a way of excluding people from what was originally supposed to be a democratic access to all. But again, I think we are already doing this without recognizing it as such. How does this translate to the wider “community” of anarchist organizing as opposed to smaller physical intentional communities? Possibly seeing our affinity groups as communities?
Silent Contemplation – study and meditation
- Existential crises take a lot of processing and unwinding of the mind. Staying centered and calm in the face of terrible things takes a lot of work and practice. One of the ways of doing this is to get out of negative mind loops, not by trying to shame yourself or numb yourself, but by filling your mind with other things.
- Listening – there is a lot to hear
- To silence
- To the world
- To each other, (Worship share)
- Biblical phrases or zen koans
Embracing the apocalypse
- If we’re going to talk about keeping perspective and ruminating on the world, we’re going to need to talk about the apocalypse. How do mysticism and anarchism reframe the apocalypse as a source of inspiration instead of one of a paralyzing dread?
- It’s interesting because there are two strains of apocalyptic christian theory akin to the debate between communism and anarchism: From Radical Christian Writings: “There emerges in Christian history a clear difference between those who pore over the detail of texts like Revelation in order to be able to map out the narrative of the end of the world, and those who are inspired by the apocalyptic texts to see their own visions and to offer a prophetic challenge to the communities of their day..The former group of interpreters tend to use Revelation to point forward, the latter find in its words an empowering conviction for the present moment of crisis, the Kairos. The coming reign of God is not merely an article of faith for the future but is in some sense already present, either in the life of the prophetic group, called to implement or proclaim, or as a phenomenon within the historical process which demands a response and interpretation, what is known as “reading the signs of the times.”
- There is an anarchist nihilism that I think can be healthy. I found this quote in an article called “We fight because we like it: Maintaining our morale against seemingly insurmountable odds” – which is ironically very anti-christian but it struck a very christian chord with me. “For me, accepting that my actions cannot derive their meaning from some future goal is intertwined with the process of coming to terms with my mortality. Recognizing death as inevitable, I don’t hurry any faster towards it…We may be defeated by our enemies, we are certainly doomed to become dust ourselves… In this regard, my ability to believe in the possibility of change—not as something to occur in the future, but as something I can pursue right now—is a fundamental part of my power to live fully, to maintain a healthy relationship to my own agency. This is different from believing in a millenarian vision of revolution. It is not a prediction about the future, such as a scientist might make, but rather a decision about how to relate to myself and my own capabilities.”
Remaining in the present
- Keeping perspective allows us to lay aside the worries of tomorrow and yesterday and live in this moment. Taoist saying from Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
- Matthew 6:34 “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
- Another quote from we fight because we like it: “from our lived experiences of anarchy and freedom—we can extrapolate a vision of the future that is not a reiteration of Christian eschatology but rather a dimension of how we conduct ourselves in the present. We may or may not live to experience anarchy on a scale greater than our hard-won friendships, love affairs, projects, and uprisings. But in the meantime, the vision of that possibility can anchor and orient us in the present, informing our actions, the way a mariner navigates across the sea by the stars. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, when we are able to imagine a utopia, that utopia can gain traction on reality by enabling us to take actions we would otherwise not be capable of. The reality content of a future utopia is determined by the actions it enables us to take today.”
Gratitude & Love
- Loving the world, each other, and ourselves for themselves, for them (without wanting a reward)
- Forgiveness. Forgive the world, and each other, and ourselves for our failings
- Gratitude. Live in a space of wonder at the gifts we have been given
- Franciscans thank flowers
Thank you to NAASN, thank you to everyone who came, and please check out my project at www.friendlyanarchism.org, the podcast on any app, and support my work on patreon!
“Radical Christian Writings: A Reader” edited by Andrew Bradstock and Christopher Rowland
“Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology” by David Graeber
“That Holy Anarchist: Reflections on Christianity and Anarchism” by Mark Van Steenwyk
“Joyful Militancy” by carla bergman and Nick Montgomery
“Solidarity, as Weapon and Practice, versus Killer Cops and White Supremacy” by Cindy Milstein from a zine called “Revolutionary Solidarity: A Critical Reader for Accomplices”
“The Beguines of Medieval Paris: Gender, Patronage, and Spiritual Authority” by Tanya Stabler Miller
“Socialism And The Churches” essay by Rosa Luxemburg
Christian Mysticism – Wikipedia
“We fight because we like it: Maintaining our morale against seemingly insurmountable odds” by Crimethinc