The term “anarchy” may conjure up images of chaotic revolution or the occasional punk song, but last Saturday, six University students strove to challenge those stereotypes and reveal anarchism as a multifaceted political philosophy. Gathered at Russell Library in Middletown, the six students presented their research from Professor of American Studies and Anthropology, J. Kehaulani Kauanui’s American Studies course last spring, “Anarchy in America: From Haymarket to Occupy Wall Street.”
The class, which Kauanui has taught since 2013, seeks to explore how anarchism has been mobilized, both positively and negatively, throughout U.S. history. According to the course description, it also sheds light on lesser-known traditions within anarchism. The students’ presentations, split into two panels, were based on their final research projects, which included creating political pamphlets that were on display during the talks.
Kauanui specifically chose to have the forum take place outside the University campus, in an effort to open it up to other community members in the greater Middletown area.
“My aim was to reach out to audiences beyond campus for students to present their work (to engender broad dialogue) and to increase the visibility of anarchist political thought and activism,” she wrote in an email to The Argus. “Anarchy as a philosophy and practice is an important, but little known aspect of American history, culture, and contemporary society.”
The first panel, “Historical Genealogies & Radical Analysis,” delved into anarchist philosophy on a personal level, discussing the overlap between anarchism and identity politics and exploring the ways in which anarchist politics can play a role in everyday lives. Iryelis López ’17 began by presenting her research on the writings of Luisa Capetillo, a Puerto Rican labor organizer who fought in the early 1900s for workers’ and women’s rights. She divided her lecture into three sections based on themes throughout Capetillo’s writings, including free love, motherhood, and spirituality.
“In analyzing Capetillo’s writings, I looked at these three sections, and traced how they were used to universalize anarchist thought in everyday life of working class people in Puerto Rico,” López said.
She argued that Capetillo used her multiple identities—as an author, a mother, and a Christian—to appeal to and spread anarchist thought to a large audience of working-class women in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, which in turn mobilized them to fight for their rights.
Sarah Lurie ’17 presented a lecture titled “Love as Prefigurative Politics: A Critical Examination of the Revolutionary Potentials of Non-Monogamy,” which evaluated the ways in which anarchist politics are interwoven into non-monogamous relationships.
“Love has an inherent revolutionary potential,” Lurie said. “When our relationships are constrained by hierarchy and domination, love fails to reach its abundant potential for freedom and joy. Polyamory and other non-monogamous relationships are potential strategies for resisting constraints on love.”
Lurie also addressed the critiques against non-monogamy as an anarchist practice, saying that having a non-monogamous relationship does not automatically prevent coercion and domination from entering that relationship.
In her lecture “Black Feminist Resonances: The Overlaps and Intersections With Anarchist Principles,” Kaiyana Cervera ’19 talked about the history of black women as leaders of political and social uprisings, such as the Civil Rights Movement, even though these women are not remembered nearly as much as their male counterparts. She stressed the importance of having black feminists amidst the dominant white male narrative that is often associated with anarchist thought.
The second half of presentations were titled “Community Resistance and Diverse Forms of Direct Action,” and concerned the ways in which communities could apply anarchist principles to mobilize and promote change.
Kate Pappas ’18 presented a detailed outline of online surveillance in the U.S., and in the pamphlet included an entire how-to guide of how to best encrypt and resist government surveillance online.
In an analysis of the water crisis in Flint, Mich., Aura Ochoa ’17 brought up the grassroots activism that was helping to make a lasting positive impact in the community.
“Had [Flint] been a predominantly white, rich community, it would have been evacuated immediately,” she said. “By mobilizing and relying on themselves, the residents and activists of Flint were able to garner national attention.”
Finally, Joshua Nodiff ’19, in his lecture “Power to the People! Energy Democracy and the Socialization of our Energy Infrastructure,” discussed the United States’ dependence on oil and how anarchist philosophy can be applied to the deprivatization of oil manufacturing.
“Public ownership of our electrical infrastructure will push the United States to switch to renewable energy sources, since the fossil fuel sector will no longer have political authority over energy production,” Nodiff said. “As a result, we protect our environment, dismantle imperialism, abolish corporate influence within our democracy, and restore power to the people in every sense.”
Assistant Professor of American Studies at Trinity College Christina Heatherton, who attended the panels, was impressed by the breadth and scope of knowledge of the presenters.
“These students exemplify the kind of thoughtful and engaged scholarship that we value in American Studies,” she said. “I was so inspired by the event, I have invited some of the students to Trinity College to present their work later this semester.”
Heatherton is hoping the students will get to present in early November.