What Do Anarchists Do

When people fear the government, there is tyranny. When government fears the people, there is liberty.
-Thomas Paine

The media is fond of mischaracterizing anarchists, turning us into all sorts of boogeymen -- nihilistic terrorists, anti-technology dimwits, chaos-mongering hooligans, maniacal vandals -- to the extent that, at least in the American media, "anarchist" is a dirty word, representing an unreasonable "extremist" point-of-view.

But is this true? Are we really all of those bad things? To understand what anarchists are really about -- that is, to escape the trap of media hype, you have to look beyond that caricature and see what anarchists really do.

You'll find that anarchists are a lot like you -- everyday working people, almost uniformly poor (I've yet to meet a rich radical). The difference between anarchists and the rest of society is not our firm commitment to ideas like liberty, equality, solidarity, decentralization, environmentalism, direct democracy, cooperation, community, and federalism. Because anarchists recognize that a majority of Americans value these things, too.

Rather, what distinguishes anarchists from the rest of society is our emphasis on direct action to achieve our goals. We feel that direct action is the most effective means of social protest, in that it puts power into the hands of everyday people, instead of in the hands of those who claim to represent their interests.

This is a key component of the anarchist method, and is the most frightening thing to the elites that run our society. See, they're comfortable with the majority of society in a passive, bystander role to what goes on. They believe firmly in the "silence = consent" principle of running a society, and are typically brutal in dealing with those who will not keep silent.

The worst nightmare of those who run American society is for the majority of Americans to rise up and begin dealing with what troubles them directly -- whatever those may be. American leaders venerate democracy in the abstract, while shunning it in practice. Simply put, American government fears direct democracy, whereas American citizens value the idea.

Direct action is ultimately direct democracy -- it is the direct expression of popular will, in the absence of intermediaries, who have their own agendas.

So, returning to the question, what do anarchists do? The more appropriate question is what issues are important to you? Odds are, an anarchist somewhere is working on those issues as I write this. That's the simple beauty of the idea: it empowers everyday people to pursue social justice in their own communities, without relying on leaders or representatives" to decide what should or should not be done.

But to give you a sense of what areas are of particular concern to anarchists, below are some of the things anarchists are doing right now. A couple other points: this list is by no means exhaustive; if you're undertaking something not on this list, let me know and I'll add it! And secondly, many anarchists devote time to several of these issues.


Anarchists oppose the status quo with energy production in the US. Dominated by nonrenewable fossil fuels and toxic nuclear power, we value instead clean alternative energy sources -- things like solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. Another reason we value these power sources is they offer decentralized energy to people -- which empowers everyday people normally dependent on a centralized power grid.


Anarchists oppose cruelty to animals, particularly in the agriculture industry, but not limited to there (as in the case of furs). We oppose encroachment on the last remaining wildernesses due to capitalist development and ranching. We favor organic farming instead of the wholesale slaughter factories that are typical of modern agribusiness.

Some anarchists are vegans, some vegetarians, and some still eat meat, while others further narrow their consumption to only fish, for example. Anarchists recognize that we share this planet with the other species of the world -- we do not rule this world, but cohabitate with the other species. Further, we recognize that biological diversity is a key component to our own survival, and the capitalist extinction-o-rama is going to come back and hurt us in the long run.


Anarchists favor do-it-yourself media in its various forms as a way of weaning ourselves from corporate, capitalist media. This includes zines and pamphlets, but also includes independent broadcast media (the Direct Action Media Network being a good example of this). Anything that challenges the monopoly of the capitalist media is step in the right direction.


Anarchists are naturally pro-environmental, and our direct action approach is the bane of corporations everywhere. We bring attention to the abuse of the environment at the hands of polluters and developers, and keep pressure on them to ensure that their environmental misdeeds do not go unnoticed. This is a tough, but vital battle, because corporations employ a variety of hardball tactics to fight anarchists on this one.


Anarchists serve free food in Seattle

Anarchists recognize that it is unequal distribution of food, rather than an actual shortage of food, which brings about world hunger. We understand that so long as capitalist food companies control distribution, millions will go hungry. Further, we oppose the use of biotechnology to engineer "better" food products, seeing this as a particularly nefarious extension of corporate values in claiming the very food we eat as personal property.


Anarchists recognize that human beings are one species, and are all ultimately brothers and sisters. We oppose all forms of discrimination and work actively to raise awareness of it when it occurs and to deal with it directly. We are tireless foes of all hate groups, working to bring about solidarity instead of division.


Anarchists value the Internet as the largest anarchistic institution in existence to date. We value the free expression of ideas and the absence (so far) of a central authority. We want more people to have access to the Internet to further democratize the medium. We also value the Net as a genuine competitor to the monopoly of the corporate media.


Anarchists support micropower radio as a community-based, local medium that serves many of the functions of traditional radio without being corporate. Local media need more encouragement than ever in the face of continuing corporate media conglomeration.


Anarchists are strong supporters of local organizing -- we recognize that anarchism is only possible amid thriving communities, and put our energies into creating decentralized networks of anarchists. We recognize that no (inter)national platform can possibly embrace all possible situations, so we keep our attention on our own communities, and how larger issues can affect our communities.


Anarchists recognize that students are among the most oppressed people in our society, viewed alternately as mindless automatons or private property, not worthy of the rights enjoyed by adults. We try to help students organize themselves to pursue their own interests and to stake out their rights as human beings, and to give them a genuine understanding of their own personal empowerment by way of direct action.


Anarchists support public and alternative transportation as ways of dealing with a host of issues, including pollution and urban sprawl. We support rethinking the city under more people-friendly lines, and try to call attention to transportation issues as they arise.


Anarchists are strong advocates of unionism, recognizing that corporate America is not the friend of the working person. We favor initiative at the rank-and-file level, instead of at the hands of union hierarchies. We favor putting bosses out of work. We recognize that the American workplace is the least democratic institution in American society, and want to radically change that situation.

This should give you something of a sense of what anarchists are actually about. Many of these issues are given lip service by so-called progressives and liberals, you may notice. What sets anarchists apart is that where others advocate for these issues in your stead, anarchists pursue them directly. Simply put, we don't trust someone to advocate on our behalf -- we'd much rather do it ourselves.

An example of this would be with the environment: where the liberal Sierra Club or Greenpeace will sit down with corporate polluters and cut deals with them in secret -- typically to the detriment of the environment -- Earth First! will actively fight the corporations in the field, bringing much-needed attention to the issue at hand.

We hope you'll join us, although keep in mind that we're not like any other political organization -- there is no Anarchist Party or anything like that. We are a popular movement, representing many different people with many different views and ideas. There is no uniform doctrine, except our commitment to social justice and direct action. We feel that's a source of strength for us -- strength through diversity.