Shrinking Community To Grow It


Much of our organizing today is oriented towards mobilizations of the “community” at large. We do that for good reason, if we want to see lasting structural change, or even reforms on a local level for that matter, it’s gunna take people in the community showing up and keeping the pressure on the powers that be. I’ve struggled in my mind on how to pair that orientation in community organizing with the practical matter of armed community defense.  When we aim ourselves at changing structural mechanisms of both the State and capitalism much of our activity turns to the realm of politics and the symbolic, the spectacle. The rub here is that I thoroughly believe firearms should not be part of spectacle and should only be engaged in as a matter of material need and defense. Using the gun as a symbol, IMO, is dangerous posturing and gives way to a bunch of stupid adventurists who want to LARP as the tip of the “militant” spear. That’s bullshit and you put other people at risk by engaging with guns in such a way.  That’s not to say that guns don’t have some sort of symbolic power of sorts when they are utilized or carried. I’m just saying don’t approach or use them primarily as a symbol.

Their is obviously tension with firearms and mass orgainzing. The issue of firearms is a polarizing one in the US, and can work to alienate you from the so called “movement” base. This is especially true when our efforts are co-opted by liberals, which we unfortunately find ourselves rubbing shoulders with quite often, though it be in very different capacities, with very different goals. Having to deal with liberals bullshit actually gets at the fact that when we mobilize the “Community,” we are in fact mobilizing several different enclaves and groupings of folks with different priorities, different allegiances, and different capacities, who may happen to have common goals at that moment, who may otherwise work against each other. This is a reality that I believe a lot of people in the world of community organizing, armed praxis or not, have a blind spot in. Their work is primarily aimed to get as many people as possible involved within the organization or campaign itself, and eventually the maintenance of that organization or even a coalition of organizations with similar goals, becomes the primary task at the expense of direct action. This isn’t a knock against coalitions or organization, so much as it is recognizing that when you mobilize a community or cobble together a coalition for a campaign, you are not in fact creating “community,” you’re facilitating disparate groups towards a common interest.

Some of my own political involvement in the not so distant past has conflated coalition building or “Community” mobilization with actual community. They aren’t the same. Coalitions and mobilizations of disparate groups can certainly bare fruit- they could ultimately be successful in their primary goal such as ousting a certain politician or implementing a governmental program, or stopping a particular policy, or even galvanizing widespread change by changing power structures. That is still not building community, it’s simply facilitating structure and opening possibilities. The task afterwards is that you and the folks you are in relationship with will have to build those ties of mutual trust and cooperation to actually decrease alienation and increase both personal as well as collective autonomy. Structural change without strongly interlocked groups of people taking care of one another will fail to  maintain itself or produce the kind of deep relational ties and trust most of us are looking for. In fact, I even think that the internals of a single group often fail at making mutually supportive interpersonal relationships within itself, let alone on a larger scale. At some point we have to admit that we miss the mark with aiming to change structure without first finding a way to make inroads in overcoming the alienation that defines our lives today. Perhaps this is a contributing root cause to so much burn out in our circles. Despite having supportive and wholly awesome people all around us, we still can’t manage to create long term relationships that can sustain us in a material way.

Perhaps that’s not a goal of yours and you aim yourself at just tearing down the structure and putting up a different formulation. That’s cool, I would suggest you stop reading here. The ultimate goal, I believe, of any societal change is not just the obliteration of oppression, but also the secured well-being and happiness of its people. That can’t happen without community, and it might come as a surprise, but I think the second half is something we can start to create and enjoy now before the “revolution.”

SO, I’ve come at this a little sideways and could potentially  get into the weeds here. Lets get to the point – what the fuck does this have to do with shrinking our community to grow it? Here is the pitch – IF we want to engage in firearms and community defense in a practical and material way, which de-prioritizes the symbolic, and IF we want to build real community, full of trust, and love, and deep relationships bent towards mutual assistance and everyone’s needs being met on a large structural level, THEN we have go to stop primarily orientating ourselves and our programs towards to community writ large. In my opinion, we NEED to focus on building our internal network, crews, bands, tribe, non-blood kin, you could say an affinity group if you wanted. Whatever term works for you. The point is, I want us to get at something deeper than people with few common interests that are brought together temporarily for a concerted effort in a time of crisis or action. I’m talking about developing day to day maintenance of life with each-other as a form of revolutionary direct action. And no I’m not talking lifestylism that posits if you eat from a trashcan voluntarily instead of buying from a store you are a revolutionary.  Lol, not that shit at all. I’m talking about intertwining our lives with a small group of people in proximity to us and building something we can live into and actually defend. Something which reclaims territory from the status quo and destabilizes its functioning when the tow come into contact or conflict with one another.

For almost the entirety of human existence humans lived in tribes or septs of varying sizes in which peoples lives where very much bound up within one another.  There was no “society”  or any semblance of mass civilization. Its only since the Neolithic Revolution that we see humans settling and creating mass societies. Humans didn’t evolve living in mass societies, and since its creation we have been plunged into continual and ever expanding war and scaled violence which was fairly uncommon before the Neolithic… (Before you jump to a conclusion- no I am not going to argue anarcho-primitivism or suggest that its possible, or even desirable, for society to transition back into hunter-gatherer bands.) Being that we are deeply social creatures who primarily lived within tight-nit groups of people mutually dependent on one-another, I’d argue that creating modern iterations of that social formation is imperative and deeply desirable for our struggle to overcome alienation. Further still, I’d argue that it is a strategic contribution to overcoming, or at lease defending against, oppressive super structures. Especially so when its connected to an ecosystem of different social formations in whatever new mass societies are birthed out of revolution. (I want to note here that I’m not arguing that shrinking our social organization to the size of small bands is a one size fits all global solution that will work for everyone everywhere and solve all our problems, so don’t put those words in my mouth.)

Through interconnected and regular mutual assistance folks can actually begin to build networks that are resilient to significant disruption by establishing a social ecosystem of small scale infrastructure. For example: perhaps your group has a person like me in it. I focus on firearms, growing food, and raising kids.  Then other folks in the band have skills in vehicle mechanics. Yet another is great at hunting and canning. Another is skilled in social work and mental health. Each of us have access to different resources as well. There is a pool of tools, funds, equipment, land and housing within the group. I got land, you got tools, they have time, and so on in whatever combination. Together with all our participating partners, who have a whole slew of other skills,  we have a robust network to take care of one another with and skill share over the long term. By way of building your community with 3 to 8 or whatever amount of people in close enough proximity to you, you have effectively increased your autonomy.  I wont spell out what benefits increased autonomy has to both personal and collective freedom, but suffice it to say, you can take on more risk to challenge the status quo, as well as build something new in the ashes of the old. Or rather, you can distance yourself from the status quo by building autonomy and grow in its increasing absence until there is a significant break. In other words, by increasing your autonomy through building local infrastructure you create space where the dominant paradigms which govern life have less and less effect on your daily living over time. By making yourself less dependent on the macro structure and more dependent on one another, you shift the status quo. I think this is possible on a small enough scale before some revolution that overthrows the US government is possible.  Perhaps you think that is only possible post revolution. I think you are wrong. In fact, I don’t really think that overthrowing the US is a realistic possibility and that its more likely that territories will break away from control, and after defending itself, if it can actually do so, it will be left to its own devices to figure out how to restructure shit.

This was the case for the Maroons of the Dismal Swamp in SE Virginia and NE North Carolina. In short, this swampy plot of land about the size of Rhode Island, had THOUSANDS of runaway slaves, indigenous folks, and indentured Europeans, grouped in networks of small communities between 20 – 60 people, over more than TWO CENTURIES (just about as long as America has existed as a nation) during antebellum slavery up through the civil war. Daniel Sayers, the archaeologist who has done some foundational work on the Dismal Swamp Maroons, stated in our interview with him, that this place lived as a rejection, not just of the slaving south, but of the larger american society. Folks who made their way into the Dismal were opting OUT of the promise of a better life in the North, and the promise of better treatment as freed men and women becoming full citizens. Instead they opted to establish and create, and importantly to my point, DEFEND the community they carved out. They effectively separated from the overarching capitalistic paradigm for a great deal of time. That is some significant shit.

I can hear some people saying in their minds, how privileged it must be to be able to afford separation. Isn’t that the massive failure of the communes established in the 60’s and 70’s? A whole bunch of hippies went back to the land and left the rest of us out here to be brutalized until their projects failed. Nice vacation assholes. I have the same thoughts and criticism towards modern communes. What gives me comfort is that the Dismal Swamps acted as a hub of resistance. It’s existence was a constant point of anxiety and fear for the surrounding southern society. Communities in the dismal often raided the surrounding plantation society for supplies.  In fact, other swamps throughout the US that were utilized in much of the same manner and became strong focal points of resistance to the confederacy during the Civil War.

With the example of the Dismal Swamp maroon colony fresh in our minds we can see that areas which have pulled away from the larger society, by rejecting its reforms and asserting its own autonomy, still have the ability to strike out and strike against the larger superstructure. To what extent is up for debate, and Ill leave that for later, (Dutty Boukman and maroons role in the Haitian Revolution for example) but the point is the inside/outside play between members of that conglomeration of communities and members of the larger oppressed community still contributed to each others struggles in direct and indirect forms. Modern formulations inspired by this approach can have the same type of inside/outside dynamic as well. We may practically struggle to have a common land to live on, but we can still share skills and be intentional about making ourselves, our resources, and our capacities available to the larger mobilizations aimed at structural change.  I’m thinking here of a your crews ability to operate as a fire team or provide security at a political event, or to step in during a food crisis or natural disaster.

That is something I have learned through experience. Firearm praxis isn’t something that everyone wants to do or has the capacity for. As a crew you also don’t want to keep incorporating all kinds of folks into your inner group for a variety of reasons, principally security concerns and group cohesion. As our crew did more events and security for demos, we meshed better and our abilities to control space increased. We were materially useful to the efforts others pushed forward because we had taken the time to look inward and shrink the amount of people we concentrated on. We then faced outward at a given time to make ourselves available for the aims of larger efforts. I realized through being part of larger efforts that “mobilizations” are principally  a temporary smattering of different groups that pushed for a common goal. I began to connect with other small crews or networks of people with similar or complementary capacities. At that point I realized I was plugging into a network of resistance and I began to stop thinking about “the masses” and getting people to join our small group, but rather to develop capacity and  grow in numbers from a more laissez faire avenue after the core group was rooted with one another. Unfortunately for me that perspective came a little late and the composition of the group I wanted to embed myself with was spread out over a large geographical area which made its sustainability untenable, especially after I moved my primary energies in life closer to home. Others in the group have continued to deepen and develop these types networks of resistance elsewhere and it’s super cool to see. It’s also incredible to watch how effective these folks are when they plug in and mobilize together.

SO, I may have taken a thing a lot of you are already doing or aiming for and just complicated it. I have a habit of coming to certain conceptualizations without first knowing someone has already put words to the issue. Certainly I’m not alone in thinking this way, I’ve heard bits and pieces all around, but I wanted to condense it together in this post. Additionally, there are many other benefits to shrinking your community that haven’t been fleshed out in this post. Things like being able to take on more risk, being able to absorb more disruption, better operational security, more regular skill building and greater skill capacity on a group and individual level. And some other non-operational factors which are really significant nonetheless. Things like have people in your life you are ready to show up for and fight with at a moments notice – even if it’s not a political action, building deep and long lasting relationships, and developing social constructions/group practices which stab at or even overcome atomization and the different ‘isms” we want to abolish. I believe this approach will certainly help with the burn out that a lot of us organizers feel and how we dump our life energy into projects without having other people pouring into us. Lots of groups and orgs have a small number of people who are the engine of the program who see that dynamic as a problem but also say to themselves “we gotta get to the masses!” So we grind ourselves into a nub only to see our project become temporary at best, and defanged, even completely absolved over time, leaving us right back with our alienated self. That’s a losing equation in my opinion and this is one way I think we can overcome it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s