Cultivate the Karass

I came away from CtK.Campfire thinking about how anarchists might be aligned with Republicans in more ways than expected… and possibly more so than to Democrats.1

I was invited to Cultivate the Karass: Campfire based on two previous friendships and a workshop at Personal Democracy Forum. After seeing Lori talk at PDF about her son, Jake, and about carrying his work forward in cultivating relationships between “loyal antagonists,” I had to go to their workshop session later in the conference. One of the few truly interactive sessions (and that includes the one I was a part of called “Apocalyptic Civics”), I loved the use of spectrograms and deeper political discourse. Also, Seamus and Clarence were there! My friendship with both of them has been forged out of somewhat oppositional circumstances (one documented here). So when they suggested I attend the CtK.Campfire event, I listened.
5 people prioritize breakout session topics by applying stickers to post-it notes with topics listed.22 people – Republicans, Libertarians, Democrats, and one Anarchist (hey that’s me!) – gathered over three days to bond, to engage in facilitated civil discourse, and to learn to see each other as humans.

It worked.

After we had built trust over our life stories, and Not Talking About Politics, and some amount of beverages, we were able to move into more in-depth conversations. “Is our Democracy broken?” “Race relations and white people” “Equipping institutions for a VUCA world.” We did a spectrogram around whether or not statues of Confederate leaders should be removed. After much discussion, we came to a shared view – we should have to face our terrible history2, and that ideally some sort of process would be available to remove or relocate to museums the current glorification of those who wished to continue dehumanizing others. There was acknowledgement that democratic processes exist for this but has been ignored.

I want to tell you about one conversation in particular. Of all these conversations, the one that I both gave and received the most from was “What if it all goes wrong?” As in, what if we do put removal of statues to a vote, and the vote is to leave them where they are? What if Trump gets a second term? What if…

The conversation was posited by Cameron (Republican) and attended by Kyla (Democrat), Sarah (Republican), and me (Anarchist). We agreed that we shared a concern about a consolidation of power, and that respecting the systems we’ve built when power is imbalanced would lead to greater and greater oscillations of “now it’s my turn” from one party to the next. We agreed that a polarization in civil society could lead to increasing violences, and with diminishing ability to recover from imbalance. We had an interesting conversation around the vacuum of power currently occurring in leadership positions meaning a loss of infrastructure maintenance (let alone creation). We agreed government had been bulky, but that the current rate of displacement was dangerous.
7 people sit around a campfire in the sun. The image is taken through some trees from above.We even agreed about what “what if it all goes wrong?” might look like – our leaders becoming more radical, a continued shift in the Overton Window towards less and less civil/human-rights behavior, a validation of lack of leadership also leading to a lack of social cohesion, an increasing lack of faith in our electoral process and the census. I brought up that the world had already gone wrong for many people. I talked about cops not intervening in fights at protests in Berkeley. This was considered too specific by some folk in the group, but it did lead into a conversation about what “antifa” was.

“‘Antifa’ means ‘anti-fascist,’” I said. “I’m anti-fascist, but I don’t agree with destroying things.” “Ah. That is the ‘black bloc.’ They also identify as anti-fascist, but view meeting violence with violence and occasional destruction of property as a necessary component of fighting fascism. There was ‘civil discourse’ in pre-Nazi Germany, but the movement was still successful. As much as we’ve talked about how well Germany has done about monuments honoring the dead rather than the killers, there are still many Neo-Nazi groups there, which are often kept at bay by antifa/black bloc folk who are willing to literally fight them back. Some folk in the US think this is also necessary.” “So I’m antifa but not black bloc.”3

Then we got into problem solving. “Oh no,” I thought to myself, “this is where it will all go wrong.” But I was wrong. We agreed that America’s strength is in its plurality4. We agreed that Obama had normalized the use of executive orders which Trump is now running with even more. “Obama built the weapon that Trump is using,” as Cameron said. Since Republicans are invested in diminishing the size of big government, did they have a plan to reduce the run-away power of the executive branch that Democrats might be able to sign onto? Why yes, yes they do. It’s called the REINS Act and it limits what an executive order can do. It would be a huge step if Democrats were to pick this up (it’s already passed the House, but needs the Senate) as an act of good faith and self-awareness that it’s the amount of power someone has, not just how they use it which is at the core of the problem. Of course I need to read more – here’s a writeup from a “liberal” source, and one from a “conservative” source5.
We also talked about having open primaries, if the American people are smart enough to handle ranked voting (I think we are), and the problems of gerrymandering.
The Cultivate the Karass cohort stands and sits around a fire at night.But here’s what I walked away with: a new knowledge that my new conservative friends have been fighting for the same thing I’ve been fighting for as an anarchist in crisis response – getting more decision-making power into the hands of local populations. That although I align more with the rhetoric of liberals and radicals… the people doing the work within government to actually devolve power are those I never considered myself to be aligned with. I still think there are more responsible ways to care take the newest and most vulnerable in that process, but now I know I have some loyal antagonists with whom to debate the best path forward.

Footnotes

  1. *cough* Horseshoe Theory */cough*
  2. Facing History And Ourselves, anyone?
  3. I recognize I didn’t get into the more blurry lines of how Antifa is a movement which is often more comfortable with violence as a tool than explicitly nonviolent groups. But that was not the topic of the session, so I didn’t want to detract too much. For more information, start here.
  4. I’d of course argue that the human race’s strength is in its plurality, but America is currently considered a subset of that, so sure.
  5. Which has me thinking about anarchist reviews of policy as a useful project, as if I didn’t have enough projects on my plate…Anyone want to adopt this one?