Time to free ALL the political prisoners

{Immoderate thoughts on the eve of my return to the corporate retail world. . .}

Denver and the Twin Cities taught us very little we didn’t already know, I suspect, but the experiences, even for those of us who only experienced them vicariously, ought to have drawn in some big, fat exclamation points and underlines on what we already knew, but had imperfectly internalized. We can predict at this moment that the next round will be moreso, in almost every way. No matter who wins the elections, there is little chance that the climate of intolerance of dissent will change, except perhaps to grow more extreme. What message will the mainstream media take away from their brushes with teargas and arrest? Will they dare to risk their relative immunity again, to get the stories up close? It may not matter, of course. The glowing, positive message from the RNC protests and its aftermath is that the independent media networks have proven themselves extraordinarily resourceful, and the expansion of Twitter networks and live cameraphone broadcast capacity (though Qik, etc.) has no doubt only just begun.

What is different about these moments, in and just after the crises and confrontations, is us, and our awareness of our situation. We can feel the police state around us, just as we can sense the crony capitalist state behind the day’s bail-outs, and, honestly, I was already feeling like I had enough on my plate with impending economic doom, environmental degradation, world conflict, my own lack of insurance and satisfying, sufficient employment, not to mention the obvious launch into the lalasphere of all the social and political institutions that are presumably there to help.

Time to clean up the day’s messes, and prepare for tomorrow’s battles. I wonder, this time, as we’re retooling, as we’re raising bail and facing the music and trying to move ahead, if we couldn’t – and by “we” I mean more than just the usual suspects, who are probably a little overwhelmed at this moment, one way or another, but some larger force, potentially made a little more possible by the terribly clear, overtly despotic events of the last week or so – at least try to reach further than just getting wounds treated, charges dropped or fought, broken-down doors rehung. We’re learning all the time, how to organize and communicate, how to start, at least, to work beyond the sorts of barriers that so often stop our day-to-day projects dead. We have to keep at it.

It’s the sort of thing you feel stupid saying out loud, but, once the bail is raised for protestors, we need to figure out how to bail each other out, of stupid jobs we hate, that only prop up a system that feeds off us. Once the pepper spray burns have been treated, we need to figure out how to provide for one another’s daily health needs. After we feed the homeless, we have to tackle how we feed one another, globally, without being forced to take part in a food economy that depends of disrupting local agriculture and profiting while people starve. Once we reclaim the stolen pamphlets, we need to finish the work of making sure our written heritage is never “out of print” and beyond the reach of everyone. The things that stand between us and our own institutions would probably not withstand any sort of concerted assault, unlike the riot police lines guarding worthless functionaries and would-be despots, and they’ll have to come up with new offenses if they want to beat us up for trading with one another, educating one another, supporting one another.

Despite all of the constant machinations, all the so-called “intelligence” at its disposal, all the money and power behind it, the state constant reveals itself as, well, sort of stupid, committed, with all of its force, to lying, cheating, killing, stealing, and then kidding itself about the whole bizarre, self-perpetuating routine. If there’s a way off this roundabout, I would be happy to take it. I’m guessing, if you’re reading this, that you would to.

There’s very little reason, it seems to me, that we can’t have our own economies, our own schools, libraries, media, churches if we want them, our own industries, etc., etc., and that the “us” is one that could grow and grow and grow, if once we could get off the suicidal track that most aspects of our lives are on. I must have a bright idea a day, to address some aspect of all of this, but, honestly, radical circles are pretty good at nitpicking bright ideas to death, when we don’t smother them with indifference. But it’s becoming clearer to me all the time that holding this stuff in does nothing but increase my indigestion (that has, of course, also often been the result of airing the ideas.) I’m contemplating remaking my old intellectual history blog, The Very Idea!, into a place for running mad, half-mad, even relatively sane and sober libertarian schemes up the proverbial flagpole. If nothing came of it but a collection of anarchist “Rube Goldberg” institutions, that wouldn’t be the end of the world. So I guess I’ll run that up the flagpole. There’s a fine old tradition of anarchist inventors; who wants to join?

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.


  1. I think this is the most sober and realistic reaction I’ve read to the events of the past week. Well said.

    The biggest problem us anarchists have in Richmond is coming up with things to do that are constructive and actionable. This kind of brainstorming just demonstrates how much more we’re in the matrix than we think we are. Where has our creativity and curiosity gone?

    We need to stop working for other people because we’re forgetting what it feels like to be free and to have control of our impulse to create.

  2. Shawn,

    I share your frustration at current tactics. I don’t see what the RNC actions achieved at all. You’re not going to change society by blockading delegates. And the police merely have another rationale to target radicals now.

    We need to think before we act. The use of violence-intimidation will not effect philosophic transformation. The last thing I pine for is a grand conflict with the U.S. government. There are cultural-philosophical wars to be fought too. One of Ayn Rand’s better insights is the futility of political action without cultural-philosophic change that makes a populace willing to listen to new political ideas.

    More peaceful conversation and alternative institution building is in order. A militant confrontation with riot cops is, indeed, suicidal.

  3. Nick, I hope I didn’t come across as more frustrated with our tactics than with the truly suicidal tendencies of mainstream culture. I’m inclined to say that our side won whatever there was to win (even if that wasn’t much), moved forward in a number of ways. The alternative media work was frequently nothing short of brilliant, given the circumstances. The cellphone videos from The Uptake will circulate for a long time, and do a lot of good work. Tool like Qik and Twitter will be important in the next campaign, whether that is election monitoring, protection of the rights of the homeless, or more strictly constructive projects.

    All that said, I do want to move on to tackle that old business of “building the new world within the shell of the old.” Rather than downplay what all that old protesting stuff involves, I would like to see what else the skills involved can do. There are a number of things to unlearn, as Jeremy so correctly observes.

  4. “There’s very little reason, it seems to me, that we can’t have our own economies, our own schools, libraries, media, churches if we want them, our own industries, etc., etc…”

    Abso-friggin-lutely. We need to further create our own anarchist culture–our own art, literature, theater, film, music, etc. There’s a lot of that already going on, of course, but we could stand to expand, broaden and deepen it much further.

    And I’ll bet “Remember St. Paul!” will be a rallying cry we’ll be hearing for a long time to come.

  5. Shawn,

    I must have read your post incorrectly. And I must admit that you show a greater depth of knowledge on this incident than I do. I was wrong to discount the value of these protests entirely.
    I’ve just grown more than a bit jaded and worn out about radical politics lately. It would help uplift me to be able to rely on some alternative institutions that accomplish something mainstream society currently cannot for me.

    At the same time, I am more cautious about the viability of a less centralist politics these days. If only because there are some nasty decentralist forces that I’d rather not empower. A more discriminate building of alternative institutions with people of a liberal cultural bent is something I find more attractive.

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