Gold Jackets of Solidarity


My work forces me to drive more often than I would otherwise like, but one of the perks is that I get to listen to books on tape, something I enjoy and otherwise have little opportunity to do. The other day, I was listening to the book Planet Simpson by Chris Turner – before I go on, I would like to say that I don't recommend the book and turned it off at the end of the first CD. I was, however, struck by something Turner said.

He was describing the early '90s, and he discussed how rock music, once the bastion of nonconformity and resistance, had become inane and empty. He laid out a scene from his time as a disc jockey: A night was winding down and he put on Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name." A group of engineering students who chose to wear matching jackets poured onto the dance floor, and he was disgusted as they all jumped in unison with their fists in the air, wearing matching jackets and chanting, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me." For Turner, this was the epitome of conformism and hypocrisy.

Turner's observation is, in the context, understandable. Like many people in the United States, he sees a world that is divided into a spectrum with two points: At one end is pure individualism and non-conformity (which is valued), and at the other end slavish conformity (which is scorned). Both are seen most easily in clothing, but also in other forms of consumption. For him, a group of matching dancers chanting together was the opposite of the resistance conveyed by the lyrics.

As anarchists, we can sometimes fall into this pattern of thought. Nonconformity can be shown on the body in numerous ways: piercings, clothing, tattoos, printed T-shirts, hygienic habits, and so on. In turn, we often look at groups like frat brothers, characterized by their matching appearance, with scorn.

Yet Turner's description misses something: The engineering students chose those matching gold jackets themselves, to mark themselves as members of a group to which they were proud to belong. The jackets showed camaraderie, solidarity and perhaps created a festive, group-party atmosphere; they brought the group together.

In his obsession with individualist consumption, Turner misses the revolutionary power of group action. Moreover, by tying resistance to consumption, Turner aligns our primary relationships with things and, by extension, to the companies that produce them. Pure individualism may be a type of freedom, but it is one that leads to isolation and, in the end, accomplishes nothing to change the wider patterns of society. The revolution of the self is only meaningful when it can be extended outward to embrace others. True resistance – something that perhaps the engineering students had an unconscious inkling of – is accomplished through unity and solidarity. This is especially true of anarchists, who can too often become so wrapped up in embodying resistance in their consumption that they miss the truly revolutionary potential of solidarity – even solidarity in the form of gaudy matching gold jackets.

Mr. Harasta can be contacted at satchkep45 [AT] yahoo [DOT] com.

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