by Stephan Georgiou
The police come in formation – two suits deep – under the banner of the university and the state and armed with sticks and shields. In riot uniform, they march between farmers and farm at the corner of San Pablo and Marin. Rows of squash and pumpkin wait to be watered, while we are told to clear the sidewalk or risk arrest. At this juncture – the ‘point where structural violence takes tangible shape’1 – the crops and farmers and the border drawn between them offer an idea of who the police exist to protect. On this reclaimed plot of land in Albany, CA, the police are here to serve the interests of capital.
Two weeks before the borders were raised around the Gill Tract Farm, I was at a Radical Faerie sanctuary in rural Tennessee. There, my mind and body had been free for a moment. The area of Short Mountain Sanctuary – though not without borders of its own – allowed for the temporary disappearance of many structural borders imposed on us in the everyday. Instead, we had space to float through, experiment with our bodies and explore levels of connection to each other and the earth.
When I stepped onto the farm in Albany the day after I returned from Tennessee, I felt a bit of the lightness I’d felt on the mountain. These two spaces – one a seized community farm in northern California, the other a Faerie sanctuary in rural Tennessee – provide contemporary examples of challenging the capitalist paradigm. They offer alternatives to capitalist alienation in the form of autonomous zones where humans can move freely, connect to all forms of life and create community-centered models of existence.
The contemporary history of the Gill Tract Farm is not without more traditional attempts to transform the land for the public good. Since 1997, community members and food justice advocates have presented proposals to the university for the opening of the land – one of the last remaining plots of class I soil in the East Bay – for urban agriculture. They have been met with silence. On Earth Day, April 22, 2012, 200 people seized and rototilled the land, planted thousands of seeds, created a youth educational garden, and placed the university administration in a terribly uncomfortable position. When the police descended last week to evict us, the real occupation – of the seeds and the life they sustain – continued; the community created – though temporary – will live on.
The faerie commune in Tennessee – when examined as a challenge to capitalism and hierarchical rule – is an example of ‘engaged withdrawal.’ The mountain and its residents are not confrontational with the state, but rather offer alternative communal ways of living and reconnecting to the earth. A friend recently reminded me that many of the residents and visitors receive AIDS drug assistance; this connection to the state, and the larger issue of access to life-saving medicine, would need to be reconfigured under alternative forms of living like anarchism. The hope – at least mine – however, would be that people visiting Short Mountain find inspiration to create similar communities of their own, or at least bring some of its principles – sharing, mutual aid – back to already existing communities.
The history of direct action – tea dumps in Boston harbor, the Salt March in India, lunch counter sit-ins in Nashville, and the current Occupy Wall Street movement – is a catalogue of transformational social change. In 1989, seven ACT UP members chained themselves to the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street to protest the high prices of AZT. Within a few days, the pharmaceutical sponsor of AZT, Burroughs Wellcome, lowered the price by 20%. Direct action’s only border is the limit of the imagination.
Rob Sparrow provides a helpful foundation for defining direct action:
“Direct Action aims to achieve our goals through our own activity rather than through the actions of others. It is distinguished from most other forms of political action such as voting, lobbying…[that] concede our power to existing institutions which work to prevent us from acting ourselves to change the status quo. Direct action repudiates such acceptance of the existing order and suggests that we have both the right and the power to change the world. It demonstrates this by doing it.” 2
When the borders rise, direct action gives us freedom to challenge them, to dissolve them into dust. It acknowledges that the problems we face are immediate, and that – as with the AIDS crisis – they are matters of life or death. By challenging borders – physical and structural – it reclaims our power from institutions that continually seek to stifle us, divert our attentions, or worse, pit us against each other. In the rigid lines of riot police – where there is little room for queer bodies or freedom of any kind – direct action allows us to breathe.
We are told here in America – the ‘belly of the beast’ – not only that capitalism coexists with ideals of democracy and freedom, but that it fosters them. Other ways of living – particularly communal ones like anarchism or socialism – are assaults on freedom. The tragic irony is that capitalism – and its constituents the ‘free market’ and globalization – work in the only way they know how: for the sake of profit, the privatization of land, resources, space, education, and anything else they can get their mechanical claws on, and the eradication of democracy. Direct action offers imaginative resistance.
At a time when our president is hurled millions of dollars for vocalizing support for same-sex rights to the cage of marriage, while he continues to deport hundreds of thousands of immigrants, lock up thousands of minor drug offenders and assassinate humans thousands of miles away in passionless drone strikes, how can we build a queer resistance that demands health care not in the form of marriage, but as a universal imperative that all peoples – queer, trans, people of color, the undocumented, and all oppressed communities – must have access to?
Direct action offers hope. We must accept no borders but the one we can’t control – the border of the individual. Because however bountiful my own experience, I have only this body, this mind; I can only see so far or get so close to the ones I love.
We need each other to survive; the farmers on the Gill Tract and the faeries on the mountain understand this. Let us draw on their examples, and the examples before them. Let us die breaking through borders, trying to get closer to each other.
1 Graeber, David. Direct Action: An Ethnography. Oakland: AK Press, 2009.
2 Sparrow, Rob. ‘Anarchist Politics and Direct Action.’ Spunk Library, <http://www.