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A Call for Solidarity

September 4, 2012

Editor’s note: The following article should be viewed as an opinion piece, and the views expressed in it belong to the solely to the author, and do not necessarily represent GRIID as a whole. The purpose of this publishing is to encourage local community members to come together and work for their collective liberation, nothing more or less. Interested parties may contact the author at shawn.g.ferguson@gmail.com

I moved to Grand Rapids completely politically unaware in 2002, the midst of the second Bush administration. The kickoff to the Iraq war which soon followed brought me out of the slumber which many Americans continue to find themselves in. I knew next to nothing about the world (or even my community), but I knew I didn’t support what was happening and what my tax dollars were going towards. I quickly found myself marching with hundreds of others down Fulton Avenue, carrying a sign and being told to “get a job!”.  I met people on the streets then that I still organize with today. I had no idea at the time, but it was the beginning of my new life.

In those “early years” the protests were very diverse. Even my untrained eye could see the difference between the middle-aged, “peace loving”, capital “D” Democrats, and the adolescent, crust-punk, “black-bloc”, circle “A” Anarchists. While the two were marching together and chanting some of the same slogans, I could tell neither would be seen in public with the other under different circumstances. It appears “preemptive” war was a force strong enough to bring us all together, at least while Bush was still president. We don’t even see anti-war demonstrations in Grand Rapids anymore, let alone this type of solidarity. As a matter of fact, in recent years horizontal hostility has been on the rise among the already insufficient radical community in Grand Rapids.

One wiki states horizontal hostility is when “individuals direct the resentment and anger they have about their situation onto those who are of equal or lesser status”. If I were to ascribe my personal definition to the term (though I think the one above is pretty good), it would be something like, “when those who could most benefit from working together against a common enemy or foe instead work against one another, or otherwise obstruct the work of those that have common aims”. Essentially, horizontal hostility is the opposite of solidarity.

This parasitic phenomenon is particularly common among nurses. Studies have been done on the subject (also equated with bullying) and have shown that “HH” contributes to “diminished productivity and increased absenteeism”. It doesn’t take long to see how horizontal hostility could be devastating to an already repressed and fatigued political community working for such lofty goals as ending oppression, instituting equality, and perhaps even “smashing the state”. I struggle to think of anything more damaging the radical community could do to itself, except maybe mass suicide.

My political journey has been a long one since those early protests, moving quickly from “independent”, to capital “D” Democrat, to Marxist (and almost a card-carrying socialist), to what most of my former comrades would refer to as an “anarchist”[1], but I tend to refer to as a “radical”. Connecting the dots between war, oppression, capitalism, and civilization has been a sharp, though liberating, philosophical plummet. I can only assume that this process has been equally as difficult, and alienating at times, for others as it has for me. It is not uncommon for those with such experiences to galvanize together as a result. This is not what I have experienced since becoming a radical in Grand Rapids.

Anarchists have a reputation for being exclusive and judgmental is this town. Thus, before anyone even considers moving beyond the left/right paradigm they have to contend with the idea that they will be judged for not being hardcore enough. This is not a abstract concept for me, as it was my experience, and it has been for many of my contemporaries as well. While I did not allow such a petty thing to discourage me from realizing my own political expression, it certainly has the potential to close the door for others (and may have already).

After breaching that initial barrier, I discovered deep rifts within the radical community in this otherwise conservative town. Those with the same enemies (war, oppression, the two party system, hierarchy) and nearly identical philosophies (“anarchism”) were not on speaking terms. And as far as all those on the “left” working together, Democrats and anarchists marching together in solidarity against a single issue, forget about it. I found that radicals regularly participated in horizontal hostility against one another, typically under the guise of “loving” criticism of actions or statements not radical enough, however at times much more devastating. I have seen projects sabotaged, radical institutions and actions boycotted, confrontations during public discussions, anonymous comments on blogs and websites, scathing editorials published in local zines (one about “building community” in a great twist of double-think), and (of course) good old fashioned word of mouth back biting.

What I’ve not seen a lot of is anarchists being supportive of each others projects (unless they’re just right), positive or motivating internet comments, or anything constituting the “love” the above hostility is supposedly coming from.  I, like many others, was raised around twisted and damaging ideas of love, and to be rediscovering them in an environment which prides itself on it’s “safe spaces” and claims to be a thorn in the side of abusers and the powerful, was dismaying to say the least. While this dynamic has certainly done irreparable harm to personal relationships, more significantly it has driven a wedge between would be political allies.

Those of us fighting for equality and justice (“anarchist” or not) have a long history of losing battles to power. We often cite all the dirty tricks they like to use to keep us down, not the least of which is “divide and conquer”, the masterful technique of turning the underlings against one another, thus enabling the elite to simply sit back and enjoy the chaos and infighting they’ve created amongst all their would-be enemies. By utilizing the tactic of horizontal hostility, the radicals and anarchists in Grand Rapids have been doing much of the elite’s oppressive work for them. The powerful here on the West Side don’t even have to bother with sabotaging the opposition, we doing it to ourselves.

If seeing the horizontal hostility in action hasn’t been proof enough, I’ve seen the evidence of it’s destructiveness as well (aside from broken relationships and hurt feelings). There are no more events that utilize the energy of both liberals and radicals. The only anarchist institution in town, an infoshop, has teetered on the edge of closure. Radical organizations were feared by local police in years past, even infiltrated (a sure sign that you’re doing something right as an opposition group); white supremacists groups targeted them. Such reactions are now unheard of, laughable even. In short, they’ve won.

Grand Rapids certainly needs to build a much stronger radical community if local power is going to be overturned or even threatened, there is absolutely no doubt of that. The first step is to rediscover what solidarity means; we must put an end to the hostility among allies. We have already seen “diminished productivity and increased absenteeism” in our groups and meetings, and we can afford no more. We must grow our numbers, build upon our existing relationships, and give the authorities something to really be worried about, something to fear, again.


[1] I hesitate in using that label not because I have found any inconsistencies in what I have read and understood to be anarchism and my own beliefs, but because of the flak I have seen others receive after using the label in ways that other anarchists more devoted (or dare I say more “pure”) have deemed unfit.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. SitYiNNvert'er permalink
    September 4, 2012 6:58 pm

    http://brotherali.com/

    theres alot to win.

  2. SitYiNNvert'er permalink
    September 4, 2012 7:02 pm

    watch the very first video explaining “Letter To My Countrymen” feat. Dr. Cornel West.

    I dont know who these people are but theyr inspiring:)

  3. September 5, 2012 5:18 am

    Cool video… Care to elaborate?

  4. SitInnverter permalink
    September 6, 2012 6:50 pm

    No, my wifi aint all that wheather mans outLoojkn, rain’n like motherfukcer, disruptn my reception…odd bright as hell out though, liquid sunshine whatever. “If it aint rad” as wise man once said. Peace

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