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How I became an anarchist when anarchist parents raised me

It sounds obvious right? But like any belief you have to feel it for yourself or it’s not real. My parents understood this, as they were both raised Catholic and had to find their own way to something they could believe in. They realized that when it came to raising their own children they could do as generations before them have done and simply ram dictum down our throats or they could teach us to think for ourselves. They taught us to be strong in our own ideas, to respect other humans, respect and love nature, to have an interest in the world around us, to challenge authority and to never give up on what we believe in and what we want from life. They taught us to believe in equality for all, to have sympathy, and more importantly to have empathy.

I learnt that woman can be as strong or stronger than men through positive example. One of the many political posters in our home read “Real women don’t have hot flushes, they have Power Surges!” And granted this might have been there more for my Mamma than for me, it still had its power! We also grew up hearing names like Noam Chomsky (who I assumed to be one of my Papa’s friends), Emma Goldman and Bakunin. I heard stories of my Mamma’s time working in a Women’s Refuge, funny, moving and sad stories. This might sound to you like they were teaching us to be anarchists but really they were just teaching us to be decent human beings.

It took me until I was 11 or 12 years old before I realised I didn’t know what the word ‘anarchism’ meant. I was at school one day and someone had made a joke about anarchists (I went to a very alternative school) maybe something about bomb throwing or chaos. Anyway I laughed dismissively and haughtily pronounced them to be an idiot for not knowing what anarchism really was. The next thing to happen, which is quite reasonable and even obvious, was that I was asked to explain myself. Well it certainly came as a shock to realize I had no words to explain myself. None. I got as far as “Anarchism is an idea...” before petering out and making some crap up to cover my ass.

When I got home I asked my Papa to please explain what anarchism meant. I hope I sounded as humble as I felt in that moment. Having grown up under the table of Jura Books meeting1, I had assumed I had imbibed the knowledge around me in real words. I think perhaps my Papa would have been quite proud of that moment as it showed that their parenting technique had worked; I had come seeking the knowledge myself.

Even so I still went through the same stages of thinking I have seen in others, the good and the bad until I learnt that you can’t force anarchism on the world. At age 13 I went ahead with blithe ignorance and the destructive habits of teenage-hood such as shopping at Westfield’s and rebelliously drinking the devil Coke while eating some form of fast food as I tried to be like everyone else. I never went so far as to buy MacDonald’s, which had always been out of the question under a strong campaign from my Mamma. In 2003 I wanted to go to the Anti-War rallies, so did my Mamma and we went together. At 15 I formed a plan to brainwash the entire world leaving only a select and trustworthy few to teach and ‘rule’ everyone else. I am now amused and slightly ashamed that I ever thought this, which was the reaction I got from my parents when I pronounced this plan to them. For my year 12 HSC Extension History project I wrote a paper asking the question ‘Why did Anarchism fail in the Spanish Revolution?’ concluding that it did not in fact fail but was betrayed by the Communists and killed by the Fascists. I thought I was very original, until I discovered several other projects on the same subject. However I did learn wonderful amounts of anarchist history and theory in the process. At 17 I became very pessimistic about humans and their capacity to care for others after spending too much time on the Blue Mountains trains during the day as I traveled to school for late starting classes and so retreated somewhat into books. At 18 I struggled with a severe sense of impending doom of the apocalyptic kind where I wondered how it would ever be possible to fix what we have broken and thought it would be better to just let us all die so Nature could start the slow process of rebuilding the world. I think this also coincided with AL Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’.

But all these processes helped me progress and form as a person. During my apocalyptic stage I chose my line of study and future work. I felt I needed to achieve something practical within three or four years so that when the Climate Crisis hit I would have something to offer in the rebuilding of society. So I chose to become a jeweller. I know this sounds counter intuitive at first as jewellery can be such a frivolous and commercial trade but I wanted to be an artist. Artists are the keepers of culture but I also wanted practical skills. I had visited an artisan blacksmith collective in Hobart and loved everything I saw, both the work they did and they way they ran their space as they shared recourses, workshops and working in the shop. I found a course that would teach me Jewellery and Object  - meaning metal-smithing, cutlery making, and tool making, with ceramics and glass blowing as elective options. So that was everything rolled into one creative ball. And I haven’t looked back since even though I now know the crisis won’t hit all at once and like frogs in slowly heating water, we haven’t jumped out.

Honestly I still find it hard to put anarchism into words. For me it is feelings, it is a way of life, it is a all that is right in the world even if you don’t know it or name it. It is optimism and faith in humanity. I know now that the ‘technical’ words for this are ‘mutual aid’ and that equality, feminism and collectivism are the strong backbone of my beliefs but ‘isms’ don’t really cut it when anarchism is simply life to me. I feel the rage that every left-thinking person feels when I look at the world and our government, but I also feel hope because I think we can change and we can grow as individuals and a society. I learnt from my parents the art of critical thinking but more importantly they taught me to love life and to me that means anarchism.

 


 

1. Literally it’s one of my earliest and funniest memories that my siblings and I would sit under the table stamping ourselves all over with the Bookshop stamp and writing post-it notes to stick in peoples’ knees; like “stop yelling please” or “are there more biscuits?”