The Emergency Heart of Anarchism

“I want us to build grassroots power. I want to take the longest, hardest path that we can find to figure out what it’s going to be,” crow says in the reader. “I don’t want an easy answer because easy answers end up with dictators and fascists.”

By Gabriel San Roman

Ten years ago, Austin anarchist scott crow’s ‘emergency heart’ sped at the sight of a flooded New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At the invitation of Malik Rahim, a former Black Panther residing in the most devastated area, crow helped form the Common Ground Collective to provide relief aid. No charitable effort, the group’s actions screamed solidarity instead. The government proved to be a failure, stranding Black people, especially in the lower ninth ward, while the body count piled up with the levees breached. The chaos allowed for Common Ground to become what crow described as the “largest anarchist-inspired organization in modern U.S. history.”

The experience is recounted in full by crow’s Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective, considered a contemporary classic of anarchist literature. He follows it up with a new book just out this year that surveys his updated radical thought through a series of documented interviews and conversations between 2010 – 2015. Published and beautifully bounded by GTK Press, a Cleveland-based cooperative, Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams: A scott crow Reader speaks on everything from worker cooperatives, alternatives to police, media, and, of course, reflections on the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans.

Anyone who’s seen crow speak knows that his presence is an energetic one. The tone of his reader reflects that with its ingrained sense of urgency. He is a man of action who says in one selected interview that, with a background of being a high school dropout, ideas “have to make sense to the brother and sister on the block or someone like my mom.” Crow’s anarchism is an accessible one where ideas are explored, imperfections acknowledged and “1-2-3 steps to revolution” are outdated formulas.

Looking back at the aftermath of Katrina, the revolutionary speaks about horizontalism in times of crisis. Where it concerned matters of life and death, emergency hearts in the Common Ground Collective had to act quicker at times in New Orleans than a democratic decision-making process could allow for. With an organization that boomed with 28,000 volunteers over nearly 4 years, crow questions the democratic nature, functionality and horizontalism of giving the voice of “people who just walked off the streets” equal value as entrenched activists. This line of thought informed by practice got called into question as ‘unanarchist’ by some ideologues, but crow stands by the experiences that he later took with him into the general assemblies of the more than 22 Occupy encampments he visited in 2011.

The personal becomes political as Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams presses forward with the exploration of ideas through the form of collected interviews. Crow notes as he did in Black Flags and Windmills that the Black Panther Party’s ‘survival programs pending revolution’ influenced his upbringing. (He actually attended a school in Texas founded by ex-Panthers) Like many others involved in social justice movements during and after the 90s, the Zapatista uprising marked a profound paradigm shift. It comes as no surprise then, that the non-profit industrial complex comes under an anarchist critique for although the often accomplish good deeds, the funding that compels them stands in the way of true community change more often than not.

For someone who had been under wasteful and intrusive FBI domestic terrorism surveillance for a decade, crow is not a media shy anarchist as one might expect. He expands on the opportunity to educate people above ground through communication channels not immediately, or ever, friendly to anarchism. The notion played out when The New York Times expressed an interest in telling crow’s story of being investigated for animal and environmental rights activism. He tried to work the The Grey Lady’s pages into presenting himself as an anarchist and anarchism itself as reasonable and rational while making the FBI look stupid in light of their actions. It was a give and take that resulted in a worthwhile front page article that furthered a discussion on anarchism in the mainstream much more than abstaining from its pages could hope for. “A lot of anarchists are very combative to corporate or big media unless they are creating their own media,” crow says in another featured interview. “It’s never going to be what we want, but we can shape it.”

Anarchists can also shape society with a new politics of possibilities. Crow delves into his twenty years of activist experience in offering lessons and reflections. If non-profits compromises social movements, one way through that is to have co-operatives focus people’s economic lives as political work itself, one that can benefit activism around them. “Co-ops aren’t going to revolutionize civil society, but they be part of better transitions and building counter power,” he says in the book. “They haven’t always been perfect, but they have allowed us to challenge the dominant ideas of how economies and power sharing intersect.” Crow helped established Treasure City Thrift, a co-operative antique store in Austin for years, and worked with Ecology Action, a recycling center in the city.

Anarchist economics provides an alternative in crow’s vision to the union paradigm where contracts are hammered out in effort-intensive attempts to democratize corporate workplaces that are fundamentally hierarchical. Unlike other small businesses, Ecology Action helped local homeless people and sex workers who around it rather than calling the police, a standard practice until its closing earlier this year.

The eulogy for anarchism has been written in haste. Murray Bookchin’s ideas are alive and breathing in the democratic confederalism of Kurdish resistance fighters. The looming ecocatastrophe promised by climate change beckons for another way. The emergency hearts of anarchism will be activated time and time again as the 21st century progresses. Crow has proven himself on the front line, but the urgency of the world in his view doesn’t cry out for acts of expediency.

“I want us to build grassroots power. I want to take the longest, hardest path that we can find to figure out what it’s going to be,” crow says in the reader. “I don’t want an easy answer because easy answers end up with dictators and fascists.”