The movement does a lot of truly amazing stuff, particularly for squatted community centres like the Red and Black Umbrella in Cardiff, but it has a long way to go. The community needs to evolve.
A couple of months ago I attended an anarchist bookfair. It was welcoming, everyone was friendly, I found myself furiously nodding and agreeing and excitedly flicking through zines. Several people took the time to explain things to me I wanted to understand better – like fracking.
But some stuff didn’t sit well with me.
Searching for the loos, I came across a gender-friendly toilet. I didn’t think a toilet could make me so happy. But then I overheard conversations where several people were ridiculing the whole idea of it, and some weren’t even sure what the purpose of it was.
Also, 2 out of 3 talk venues weren’t wheelchair accessible, which is basically unacceptable and speaks for itself.
It seems the majority of people having a hard time with these changes coming about are the older anarchists. Particularly in their use of casual transphobic language, not remotely in a vicious way, but because of ignorance or the feeling that correct pronouns aren’t really all that important. I found that the younger anarchists were far more insistent that we put things in place to make people more able to access the movement. For instance, when someone said ‘both’ genders, I bristled. The young woman sitting next to me spoke up. I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t speak up too, but I hope she saw my smile and my enthusiastic nodding.
How can you champion the marginalised if you’re, if not actively, then accidentally excluding them? The marginalised should be at the centre of the movement, not included as an afterthought. I’m aware that cost and access to suitable venues are an issue, so maybe this is the best the organisers could do. But putting the marginalised at the front of decisions will mean mistakes like this don’t happen again.
Feminism and anarchism are so closely connected there’s even a sub-section: anarcha-feminism. But when things like this happen, the movements don’t seem to be communicating as much as I previously thought. Unbelievably there are a ton of anarchists who are anti-feminist. It doesn’t make sense at all.
Anarchism should look to intersectional feminism for some pointers. At a recent NUS women’s conference, audience members were asked to use ‘jazz hands’ instead of clapping, as it was triggering someone with anxiety. This was met with a ton of ridicule from people on Twitter – people who, by the way, didn’t even attend the event. This group decision was made to make one person comfortable, and able to access the event, and it would be great to see anarchist groups taking more steps like this for marginalised people, too.
This is in no way denigrating the core ethos of anarchy itself and certainly my experience isn’t necessarily representative of the movement as a whole. I just think it’s a real shame that what’s supposed to be an inclusive environment is alienating the people it should be supporting.