This essay originally appeared as Building a RAAN Presence in Your Area in the first issue of Praxis, journal of the Red & Anarchist Action Network (Summer, 2003)
No sooner had our network decided to form then we had begun wondering about the practical forms of organization that RAAN would be using. The absolute primacy of uniting revolutionary communists and anarchists is a task that demands organizational forms and attitudes that act in congruence with our post-political anti-capitalist view of society. More immediately, we have to recognize the true variety of ideological tendencies comprising RAAN, and remain constantly adaptable to new involvement and situations.
What we know for sure is that RAAN is capable of more than just organizing black blocs, and that our revolutionary union of anti-state communists and anarchists can and should be capable of organizing long-term regional projects, and greatly strengthening the anti-authoritarian movement through our involvement. The first step in this process is to recognize and adapt our mentalities in relation to the network. Thus far we have seen it as a set of shared principles that can be associated with under the banner of RAAN - a series of committed revolutionaries who are willing to act together under those principles for the mutual benefit of all. This conception is not incorrect, only incomplete - what remains is for us to start treating the RAAN tendency as something around which we can organize practically, a foundation for tangible action in our communities.
The basic RAAN Principles of Organization are as follows:
1. RAAN is not something you can "join" (formally or informally). Although in the past we have described ourselves as being "members" of RAAN, it is in fact more accurate to use the term "participants". As there is no membership of RAAN - save for those who are presently working under its name - the network is not something to join, but rather something you become involved in. This semantic detail may seem cumbersome, but it is in fact essential to the way in which we see ourselves as an "organization".
2. Although RAAN itself does not have any requirements for membership (other than adherence to our shared principles), individual RAAN groups (collectives, collaboratives, affinities, etc.) may wish to put into place certain organizational procedures or requirements to more specifically define membership. This will be especially true of direct action affinities, which would need to operate alongside a large degree of security culture.
3. RAAN is committed to a fluidity of organizational forms. We want our groups to be not only flexible, but also open and inviting to a variety of potential comrades. The exclusive use of collectives, and especially those which operate off of Platformist principles, is alienating to entire sections of the anti-authoritarian movement. Likewise, an affinity may not be the most effective type of group when it comes to organizing a conference or other event. Ideally, a RAAN presence would be capable of shifting in and out of several organizational forms in order to meet different challenges and organize new involvement. We also generally discourage people from naming their group an "anarchist collective", as RAAN is a network comprised of anti-authoritarian anti-capitalists who identify with a number of tendencies, and not all of us are comfortable with the label of "anarchist" (or alternatively, "communist").
4. Within this general acceptance of all organizational (and anti-organizational) forms, we expect only that all groups remain non-hierarchal in their functions, and present egalitarian relations within themselves that are consistent with our vision of a future society. An important way of attaining this is the development of Safe Spaces and Inclusionary Mechanisms (discussed below).
5. In keeping with the needs of a network based simultaneously in autonomy and collective responsibility, we encourage local groups to produce literature under their name and the name of RAAN, but with the shared understanding that no single group can present the definitive position of the network. Only a collectively-written piece that has been approved by all of RAAN through consensus can represent the entirety of our organization.
6. The communications hub of the network has been and in the foreseeable future will continue to be the Internet. Through the various hub and region-specific online communities, local groups and individual activists can learn about the activities of other RAAN members, and more easily collaborate on network-wide projects such as the publication of new journals or position papers. It will be important to develop other means of communication, and regional groups are encouraged to set up individual mailing lists and pursue unique and mutually beneficial relationships with other RAAN groups/members.
7. As stated in our Principles & Direction, the network "embraces at its core a true diversity and freedom of tactics. The absence of a 'Revolutionary Programme' leaves the question of accepted strategy and action to the membership itself", and all members are "encouraged to involve themselves in a variety of activities that they feel to be fulfilling towards their political consciousness (and more importantly, their immediate lives)".
SAFE SPACES & INCLUSIONARY MECHANISMS
Together and in our revolutionary organizations especially, we have to come to terms with and combat the totality of oppression in modern life, and in particular how we ourselves have been influenced by this society. Sexism, racism (white privilege especially), homophobia, abuse, ageism, ableism, and other social forces like these are not abstract concepts, completely subjective and without a firm basis in reality. There are thousands of ways in which these prejudices and attitudes manifest themselves in our everyday lives and relationships, and we have to realize that not only are we not immune to them in libertarian organizations, but that those organizations will become utterly useless if they fail to confront these tendencies.
A "Safe Space" does not necessarily have to be comprised of a physical location; rather it is a blanket concept and series of ideals that should be put into place by RAAN groups in an effort to make themselves more effective. The influence of oppression and control in our lives is so total that there does not currently exist a significantly developed dialogue of resistance to it, much less a system of support for such a development. The principal goal of any safe space should be to encourage - without censorship or groupthink - the emergence of revolutionary culture in the form of interactions and relationships where forces like racism do not exist or (more realistically) are recognized and dealt with in mature and respectful ways that can be beneficial to everyone in the group.
Wherever possible, RAAN groups should augment this overall attitude (which is vague and pointless unless developed practically) with what we call Inclusionary Mechanisms (IMs) - the application of Safe Spaces into the actual organizational forms taken by the group. Obviously, the availability of IMs will depend on several factors, not least of which is the actual size of the group. In communities where RAAN activists have organized into more regimented collectives, it may be easier to establish IMs then it would be in informal or clandestine RAAN affinities. Regardless, we maintain that Inclusionary Mechanisms are absolutely vital to the functioning of the network on a local level and as a whole. RAAN groups need to be actively involved in deconstructing oppression in their own domains, and so should set up circles within themselves exclusively for women, people of color, males seeking to identify their subconscious perpetuation of patriarchy, etc. These circles should serve as more than just independent clubs, but as a series of mechanisms that, working together within the network, can greatly improve it.
To provide an example of a series of functioning safe spaces, let us imagine that there has been a sexual assault in a leftist community, and that it was perpetrated by a male member of that community against a female member. Such a situation is all too common, and more often than not there are no preexisting mechanisms within the group to deal directly with the issue. In a situation where safe spaces had already been set up for women, there is already a base of support in the event of such an attack. Voluntary women's only circles can meet periodically (once a week, for instance) and freely communicate any feelings of oppression that are present in the RAAN community (such circles should also be available for people of color, various sexual identifications/orientations, etc). Additionally, these circles should not be limited to groups that are "traditionally recognized" as being oppressed - men's only circles can be incredibly useful, especially as a collective force to tackle subconscious patriarchy. The various circles should also meet together at regular intervals to discuss issues relevant to their particular concentrations (meetings between men's and women's circles to discuss gender bias and sexism, for instance). So in a functioning RAAN community with established safe spaces and inclusionary mechanisms, a survivor of assault could take the issue to the women's circle, which could then arrange not only for direct support from outside the community as may be needed, but could also collectively bring the issue to the attention of the entire group and begin a discussion related to the punishment and/or explusion of the offender.
The building of these dual power functions should be seen as essential to the functioning of a RAAN presence.
The first step to getting involved in the network is to see if there are any other members already in your area. Getting in touch with network membership that's even outside of your immediate geographic location is also good because it gets you plugged in to some of the larger network-wide projects, and builds the experience of what it's like to work with RAAN. Even individually, there is a lot that can be done with the network, and we hope that this will take our message deeper into communities that may have a smaller or more isolated anti-authoritarian presence. If there isn't a RAAN project already in your town, you may want to start organizing with the established activist community.
Most areas already have some sort of anti-capitalist presence, and it is within these circles that one is most likely to find others who would be interested in forming a RAAN group. At the same time, RAAN can be most effective by building its reputation in direct involvement with these groups. If your area sees frequent protests and black blocs, organize directly on the street to make the bloc more cohesive and effective. Make RAAN banners and flags to increase visibility and interest. Draw from the experiences of RAAN groups already in existence, and ask them for resources that can help to organize the network in new places.
Especially in areas where most anti-authoritarians seem to already be entrenched in rigid or sectarian organizations, always maintain an awareness of those comrades who are alienated or excluded by them, and try to build an interest in forming an association that could help combat those problems. RAAN should first and foremost seek to surpass the failings of the current anti-authoritarian movement. Organize in communities traditionally ignored by the anarchist "scene". Look for the often-scattered left communists and autonomist Marxists, who many times are not made to feel welcome in anarchist groups, but are integral to the makeup of RAAN.
Get involved with preexisting anti-authoritarian groups, and present RAAN as a method through which separate collectives and affinities in the area (Platformist and non-Platformist, for instance) can come together to work on projects. You can't expect everyone to accept RAAN, but they may still help work towards achieving goals that can add to the network. Organizing these temporary affinities can be the exposure necessary to show what RAAN is all about, and may lead toward future activity. A lone individual can accomplish more if they strive to organize those they can aid in the accomplishment of their goals.
In an area where anti-authoritarians have not organized themselves, try calling a meeting to discuss the formation of an anti-capitalist group, and bring up RAAN's principles as a possible basis for that formation. The immediate goal of organization is not necessarily to create a network-affiliated group, but to make our revolutionary communities more effective.
Even alone, there is plenty that one can do as a member of RAAN. Our focus on the development and usefulness of groups should not be taken as neglect to the importance of the individual. RAAN is a shape-shifting entity, comprised of the activities of a number of independent participants with varying degrees of dedication to the concept of the overall network. We wish only to increase the effectiveness of these individuals - and therefore the network - by bringing them together wherever possible.
WHAT YOUR GROUP CAN DO ONCE IT HAS FORMED
To those wondering what they can do now that they have gotten a RAAN presence together, the answer is "whatever you want!"
The most immediately helpful function of a RAAN group is its capacity to serve as a forum for the discussion of explicitly revolutionary politics and actions. The benefit of this alone cannot be underestimated in a world where it sometimes seems like only the authoritarians are organized (or recognized). RAAN is a collective experience, and we can learn from each other to gain inspiration for our own activities. Start by thinking locally, and use RAAN as a vehicle through which to organize bike collectives, Food Not Bombs, or whatever it looks like your community could benefit from. Get involved with supporting other autonomous groups and class war prisoners, which will build involvement and recognition of the network as a force genuinely interested in providing aid. Organize speaking tours and places for people to stay if they are homeless or traveling. Provide full support to worthwhile projects in the anti-authoritarian community, and consolidate together to start your own and build the influence of uncompromising revolutionary anti-politics.
For many the obstacle isn't the lack of unity between diverse anti-authoritarians, but the lack of activists altogether. Or maybe it's worse, that there is an adequate amount of anti-authoritarians for actions, but then a lack of action. Having identified both problems, we can work on the (anti)politicization of the solution.
For example, disputes at work could lead one to form a labor union. A boring wall could lead one to put up a stencil. Living by the freeway might lead you to insights on how to erect a barricade on it, etc.
First, identify the environment to disrupt. Second, disruption.
"The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently." -Gustav Landauer
The purpose of RAAN cannot be simply to re-state the extensive work of others, but rather our purpose should be to familiarize ourselves with solutions to both conscious and unconscious problems. Subversion is everywhere and needs to be set free. The solutions are ready-made; all you have to do is to start seeing the problems.
Above all, constantly work to make sure that your RAAN group does not ossify into an exclusive clique within the local anti-authoritarian scene. Always remain open to new membership and continue to push boundaries and organize in ways that others are afraid to try. Together and under the same banner, we have the potential to build a vibrant self-supporting network that can realistically begin to fight for autonomy from the system in some very real ways.