fwd c. | 09.10.2001 09:07
Subject: OPEN LETTERLondon Anarchist Bookfair banning the Catholic Worker Workshop
Date: Tue, 09 Oct 2001 06:33:37
***PLEASE CIRCULATE THIS OPEN LETTER TO ANYONE YOU THINK MAY BE INTERESTED IN THE ISSUES
QUESTIONS ARISING OUT OF THE LONDON ANARCHIST BOOKFAIR BANNING A WORKSHOP BY THE LONDON CATHOLIC WORKER
by Ciaron O'Reilly
As part of their pre-publicity for the 2001 London Anarchist Book Fair (LABF) promoted the availability of rooms for workshops to be held at the Book Fair for rental. Workshops would be promoted on the book fair web site an in their literature.
The London Catholic Worker community sent in its payment and offered the following workshop.....
'THE 70-YEAR OLD CATHOLIC WORKER AND 20-YEAR OLD PLOWSHARES MOVEMENTS AS ANARCHIST PRAXIS"
-the analysis of Jacque Ellul, Ched Meyers, Leo Tolstoy.
-the praxis of Dan & Phil Berrigan, Dorothy Day.
-Why have these movement received such diverse support from Noam Chomsky, Alex Cox, Abbie Hoffman, Utah Phillips, Martin Scorcese, Starhawk?"
The workshop was to be facilitated by myself a long time anarchist activist as recognised in
"Demanding the Impossible - A History of Anarchism", my FBI and Special Branch files. The Catholic Worker movement (140 communities, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, aids hospices) has long been a celebrated part of the North American anarchist movement.
After weeks of not hearing back from the LABF and noting our workshop had not been listed on the website I emailed them to see what was up. They emailed back indicating the Catholic Worker was blacklisted form giving a workshop at the Book Fair. They admitted to being ignorant of the movement, and acknowledged that that the basis of the censorship was the fact that we are Catholic.
I emailed back relevant web sites, literature and references. Realising how time was running out, I suggested a compromise
of launching my book "Remembering Forgetting - A Journey of Nonviolent Resistance to the War on East Timor" Otford Press, 2001 with an accompanying workshop on the issues the book raises - nonviolent resistance, 1st World/3 rd. World activist dynamics, dealng with attacks from the State - arrest, trial, prison, infiltration/surveillance etc. I then left for a book launch tour of Australia and New Zealand, where many of the meetings & launches in Sydney, Wellington, Christchurch and Brisbane were being organised by anarchists and anarchists organisations.
After an intial assurance that one or the other of these workshops would go ahead, I was eventually informed that any workshop I offered would be blacklisted.
Anarchy means little if it doesn't mean free expression and exchange of ideas. The Catholic Worker movement has long been celebrated as a significant part of the North American anarchist movement (read "Demanding the Impossible - A History of Anarchism", hear Utah Phillips and Ani Difranco track "Anarchy" on the album "The Past Did Not Go Anywhere", watch the somewhat cheesey film bio on Dorothy Day "Entertaining Angels".)
"Anarchy", like "pacifism", is a negative definition it means "without domination". Because it is a negative definnition it is a much better question than answer. An anarchist is one who is commited to the question "how do I live a life without domination or exploitation" and works for social relations and organisations that would generalise this theme. Folks arrive at the anarchist question/commitment from all sorts of cultures and spiritualities - this pluralism in the anarchist movement should be celebrated not feared. How people come to terms with their existence and death and connectedness to the whole is pretty subjective territory and their is no place for an anarchist inquisition in policing such subjective territory.
A christian-anarchist insight is that all social movements, Catholicism, CNT, punk etc. will face the temptations/co-options of the desert to power, wealth and status. In all these movements their will be radical/anarchic folks we can hook up with, work with, increase our understanding of. - we feel this valid opportunity has been denied for us and others by the banning of our workshop at the LABF. My hunch is that a lot of the anarchist groups running stalls and workshops at the LABF will not regard each other as "real anarchists", with the real anarchist answer or line.
There are a lot of unresolved issues in the anarchist movement - and this hardly suprising! There are a variety of ethical positions in regards to justifiable violence against animal life, unborn human life, severely disabled birthed life, agents of the state, death row prisoners desitng a speedy execution, folks with terminal illness etc etc. The Catholic Worker is anarchist pacifist (we traditionally have an absolutist ethical position rejecting violence in relation to human life, their are folks in our movement who do not share this position but continue to work in our communities, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and resist imperial violence together). We are willing to reflect respectfully on differences with others and defend everyones right (including folks who disagree with us) to free expression.
I was initially shocked, then depressed, then angry about being censored by people claiming to be anarchists. After taking an (adult) life time of harrassment/marginalistaion from the state, church bureaucrats and the authoritarian left for being an anarchist - being censored by the LABF was undersatndably pretty shocking/depressing.
It's guess work why this has happened in England and has never been a problem in the Australian, New Zealand and U.S. anarchist movements. One must recognise the anti-Irish Catholic and anti-colonial prejudices that remain deep in the colonial culture of England. Blacklisting Catholics occurs in a history of criminalising, imprisoning, torturing, executing them and still in recent times shooting them in the back in Northern Ireland when they denmand their rights.. Also a factor is the political culture of England where people remain subjects of the Crown rather than citizens in a liberal-democratic sense and where free speech/expression is not guranteed by a Constitution.
That England is amonocultural coloniser (rather than a multicultural one like the U.S.) may be a factor in terms of working against a spirit of pluralism and tolerance.
That the folks organinsing the Book Fair are the retailers of the movement, may also be a factor. (This is not a demonisation, I'm grateful someone is retailing and making anarchist ideas and literature available)
The activist/prison experience I was offering in both workshop proposals to other anarchist-activists entering a period of post-Genoa/post-NYC backlash/crackdown may not have been perceived as significant by folks who aren't primarily activists. More of a concern may have been the perceived threat of a workshop by Catholic anarchists to the hip, politically correct ambience and marketability of the Book Fair. Their will always be tensions betwen the activists and retail wings of the movement - just as there is always tensions bewteen paid staff and volunteers in capaigning organisations etc.
Anyway as I stated due to a lack of real explanation of why the London Catholic Worker and myself were blacklisted from giving workshops it remains guesswork. These culture and class hunches remain hunches.
I circulate this open letter hoping it contributes to a renewed commitment to free expression and appreciation of pluralism and debate within the anarchist movement. Many thanx to all (including members of the LABF) who have given me feedback to move beyond anger/shock/despair to explore the politics of this experience.
Good luck with your good work
Ciaron O'Reilly firstname.lastname@example.org Ph. UK+7947569577
Web Site www.geocities.com/londoncatholicworker
Post c/- 23 D South Villas, Camden Town, London NW1 9BT ENGLAND