Monday, February 27, 2012

Swimming in the Belly of the Best (Liberty Forum 2012, AltExpo X)

I came back to New Hampshire for the weekend to participate in AltExpo. As well, my friends who are members of Alliance of the Libertarian Left were to set up a table at Liberty Forum (as they had been invited), and I was going to help them out. When I finally arrived in Boston Friday night, I was picked up by my friend Matt Cropp (from the Credit Union History blog) who had brought along my friend Nick and his girlfriend Lauren. Nick had already given his presentation in the morning and Matt was scheduled to do his as soon as we arrived back at TekArts in Milford.

Milford is a cute little town right on the edge of the Merrimack Valley where the suburb-of-Boston culture transitions into the "boonies" culture. TekArts is a hacker space hosted in an old mill building on the outskirts of town, co-run by Jack the agorist. It's been under threat of being shut down by the state recently. Soon after we arrived, Matt put on his presentation about credit unions and the cooperative economy. He showed us a lot of solid statistics which proved how credit unions function better than the big banks and have a much, much lower rate of failure. He heavily stressed the notion of an economy having social efficiency as well as what many economists call "economic efficiency". Unfortunately though, as he explained, a lot of credit unions and other cooperatives find themselves becoming less and less community-oriented as they're forced to compete with capitalist firms in a highly-monopolized market. He told us of how he's trying to work with certain credit unions in Vermont to bring them back to their roots. At the end of his talk I asked him how he thinks people's values would change if the market economy were to become entirely dominated with cooperative firms. He replied by telling me that he thinks social relations would greatly improve. For one thing, members of a cooperative become like family; you never intentionally screw over other members because you all feel as if you're in everything together.

The next day we headed over to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua to start tabling. Darian and Patrick from ALL had already had the table set up with all sorts of left-libertarian pamphlets and books, most notably Markets Not Capitalism. The first thing I noticed when arriving at this forum was, as Nick had warned me about, the presence of "suits". Nearly everyone was heavily dressed up in this very bourgie hotel. We must have looked pretty "scruffy" (for lack of a better term) in our sweaters and T-shirts. I was probably the only female in that hotel not in high heels or expensive jewelry. It should be noted that Liberty Forum costs a bit of money (over $200, thankfully neither Nick nor I paid a dime to get it) for full admission to presentations and a hotel room. I get the feeling that one of the goals of this event is to show off the more "professional" and top-down aspects of the Free State Project as a means of enticing intellectual-type right-libertarians (like the kinds of people who work for right-libertarian think tanks in DC or the people who are interested in being elected into the NH state legislature) to move to NH, hence the emphasis on libertarian politics, "big name" keynote speakers, and lots of propaganda which portrays NH as Hong Kong with trees.

Most of the other tables were from libertarian organizations with much more well-known reputations. Their messages were the same-old, same-old; "the government is bad", "the Federal Reserve is inflating the money supply so buy loads of gold and silver or else you'll be fucked", "vote Ron Paul", "privatize everything NOW", and of course "I LOVE NEW HAMPSHIRE! Move here or else the police state will eat you!". To be perfectly honest, if my ALL comrades weren't sitting beside me, I would have felt very much out-of-place at this event. Hell, our entire table looked a bit out-of-place knowing the environment and the audience. For most of the people in attendance at Liberty Forum, the definition of "market anarchist" is extremely (probably entirely) right-libertarian/propertarian centric (kind of ironic since mutualism is where market anarchism began, and, as we all know, Rothbard copied a lot of his philosophy from the old school American individualist anarchists, albeit having cut out all their libertarian socialist ideas). They've probably never heard the term "libertarian socialist" before, or still think of it as a contradiction.

It wasn't long before propertarians came up to our table. One person from our group was stuck in conversation with someone who made insulting remarks towards libertarian socialism: "Anarcho-socialists have zero understanding of basic economics...", that kind of thing. Not too long afterwards, we were approached by another

"I don't understand this," he said. I could feel the contention just waiting to come out. "What's up with all this 'class struggle', anti-bosses stuff? It sounds like marxism. Are you marxists?"

I thought to myself, no, words like "exploitation" and "struggle" are not just the words of marxism; they're the words of our current reality.

Darian, Nick, and I tried reasoning with this guy. We explained how, as anarchists, we are against economic authority like bosses and landlords for the same reason we're against the state. The propertarian, of course, tried to argue that bosses and landlords have every right to have power over others because those dominated by them have the ability to leave, which, apparently, can't be said of the state.

I told him, "Being able to leave your boss doesn't legitimize the boss's power. If we lived in a society where there were stateless territories people could escape to, would that legitimize the state?"

He used the same old arguments we're heard propertarians use to legitimize capitalism and delegitimize libertarian socialism. He asked us again to explain left-libertarianism to him in the same condescending manner he had when he first approached us. We handed him a copy of the introduction to Markets Not Capitalism (which we had been giving out for free), but he quickly put it back on the table. Nick explained that left-libertarian is an umbrella term. He pointed out that my views on private property are very much the mutualist and social anarchist notion of occupancy and use. He instantly became fired up. Once again, I told him that the reason for my views rests on anti-authoritarian principles, that private property and absentee landlordism create extremely authoritarian relationships and systems which I seek to abolish. Again, he used the whole, "it's not really authoritarian because you can leave," excuse, and again I told him that being able to leave does not legitimize anything. I decided to ask him how he would maintain his ownership of any land he didn't actively use if we lived in a stateless society. He made some remarks about "mob justice" and then openly admitted that he'd shoot squatters on-sight. Not surprising. He also admitted that he's a "minarchist" who doesn't support a stateless society for a few reasons.

I decided to take a different approach. "As an anarchist, I don't see why anyone would want to own more than they use," I said. "I know we live in a society where who we are as a person is based on what we own instead of what we do, and of course, we're always going to own stuff - possession is just a fact of life - but we should focus more on what we do and our relations with others instead of what we own. I know I wouldn't care about owning that much stuff if I knew I was valued for who I am as a person."

He didn't seem to understand me, and soon enough he left. I was expecting several people like him to show up and try to delegitimize us, though no one else did to my knowledge. Not that long afterwards Nick told me that he thinks that one person did come over to our table with the intention of starting shit. He then said to me, "You know, private property is too much work," and told me I handled that guy's ramblings well. Thank god it wasn't a repeat of Milly's where the whole thing disintegrated into a yelling contest. Nick also asked me if I'd like to participate in the left-libertarian discussion panel later on that day. I told him I'd feel way too uncomfortable, especially knowing that a good number of people in the audience would probably hold the same views as the person I had just confronted.

A few hours later us lefties briefly left the hotel to have dinner. We went over to this little pizza place called Olivia's. While there,
Jack, Nick, Darian, and others gave us the scoop on a lot of things. It turns out the left-libertarian presentation went pretty well with not much contention during the Q&A. Darian, Nick, and I joked about the guy we confronted to equated individualist anarchism to state-socialism. I told them I take it that the propertarians who bash on libertarian socialism do so because they feel "threatened" in a sense, and thus get all defensive as a result of it. Turns out the joke about libertarian capitalists becoming libertarian socialists after reading a few philosophy books and spending some cold harsh time in the real world is evidently true. From there, we went on about all the little things that piss us off about certain people who were at the Forum, which later evolved right back into discussing the usual right-libertarian absurdities like the idea of putting all this faith in the market to resolve social problems or this weird notion that bosses and wage laborers have an equal amount of power in the market. I was quite surprised about how much Darian and Patrick knew about labor struggles. Patrick brought up how there are entire companies dedicated to murdering union organizers in third world countries, and Darian remarked by saying how ironic it is that pro-capitalists talk about "union thugs" but never about capitalist bosses' own private armies of thugs (for example, the private police Rockefeller used to terrorize workers out of organizing). That's actually why I am extremely skeptical of certain libertarian groups which claim to be all over police accountability, as their motives seem to have a lot more to do with replacing state police with pinkertons than actually wanting to do away with the presence of armed assholes on the street. I told everyone at our restaurant table, "I have to ask, why is it that so many 'an'-caps are so hell bent on making a new society so similar to the one we have now?" They laughed. Something else which came up was the fact that a certain free stater who serves as a NH state representative was supposedly barred from Liberty Forum this year. What my comrades told me is, this guy has an extreme hatred for anarchists/left-libertarians, and even accused them of stealing items from some other free stater event because, apparently, "they don't believe in laws". Ugh. As if our group isn't given enough dirty looks as it is.

A few hours later, Nick and I went back to TekArts. Jack had a ride already, so the two of us ended up being driven back to Milford by a father and son who live near Keene. As we left the Crowne Plaza, Nick told me that he had been approached at the ALL table by Reason TV (I was somewhere else when that meeting took place) and was briefly interviewed. It wasn't long before the car conversation started getting a bit weird. The father, who was riding shotgun, was obviously drunk and flipping out. He was going on and on about how "amusing" it would be to watch entire communities succumb to collapse. Of course, he said that Keene would be one of the few towns to survive since there's so many libertarians and survivalists there. So in response, I started repeating some anarcho-primitivist stuff I've heard about civilization being a cage and mixed with some situationist ideas about how human beings have fucked themselves over by imprisoning themselves in authoritarian systems. He was fucking crazy, I'm not going to lie!

I was able to give my speech on solidarity vs. charity at TekArts just fine. I had told Nick beforehand that I'm a much better writer than speaker. Everyone told me I did fine though. We only had a handful of people in attendance: Nick, Jack, and my friend John who lives in Milford. The talk itself was only ten minutes or so, but the discussion the four of us had lasted over an hour. The video should be on the AltExpo website by now. During our talk afterwards (which was supposed to have been an ALL roundtable if more people had made it) we discussed all sorts of things we can do to build those social relations which may in turn be a prerequisite to more revolutionary activity. We talked more about SeaSol, The Really Really Free Market, and free medics at Occupy Wall Street. Jack brought up a particular free stater who had tried starting a charity in NH with other free staters. It turns out she now feels upset about how little the charity was able to provide for the Bhutanese refugees they tried to help, and now she wants to focus on finding jobs for them. I can't help but think though, her actions might have those refugees becoming the cheap labor source of some asshole, not doubt. At least she understands why charitable handouts are usually bull, let's hope she realizes the same about capitalism soon enough. Perhaps we should work with them to create some kind of coop (as in, an act of solidarity) so that they'll have both food and autonomy?

The next day we all went back to Crowne Plaza where we finished packing up the ALL table. I said my goodbyes to everyone. Thankfully, I was able to get a ride with one of Nick's friends, who lives in the Mid-Atlantic as well. He and his girlfriend dropped me off in New York City where I was able to get a bus back to Baltimore.


  1. Here's Julia's talk on AltExpoTV:

  2. Thanks! I actually liked this post. Believe it or not, I actually agree with you on more than we might disagree. I don't necessarily want an economy ran by the big banks. I've always been an advocate of a true market economy ran by several communal banks. So many people who claim to be believers in a free marker though tend to love being screwed over for some reason though...

  3. Thanks Jack! I'm coming back to NH this weekend for spring break and I hope to see you once again.

  4. AWESOME POST!!! Absolutely loved it. Going to be great seeing you this weekend. I will email you when and if I find you a free place to crash. I am asking around. If not, then there a cheap motels around. Either way, fuck authority and up with solidarity!!!