Calling the Meeting to . . . Order
"Is this the Anarchist Soccer League?" asks the girl with the pierced lip and eyebrow. She catches the eye of a guy whose black T-shirt identifies him as "Poor, Ugly, Happy."
He informs her that, yes, this is the regular pickup game of the Anarchist Soccer League, held on Sunday afternoons amid the minivan-and-merlot enclaves of upper Northwest Washington.
She surveys the dusty field near Woodrow Wilson High School, where 30 players have amassed to kick a ball around to promote physical fitness, camaraderie and the defeat of global capitalism. They're mainly college-age men and women--energetic, fairly decent players. They know how to cross and dribble. They wear cleats and shin guards.
"It looks too organized to be the Anarchist Soccer League," the pierced girl says dismissively. She adjusts the black bra under her white tank top, wondering whether to join in.
"I need a cigarette," she decides, and roller-blades off to find one.
But soon she'll return to get into the game. She's a punk rocker, a supporter of an activist group called Refuse & Resist. She wants to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, the convicted cop killer.
Her name is Barucha Peller. She wears Abercrombie & Fitch pants and carries a Nine West wallet. She's not entirely sure that she's an anarchist--"I'm 17, too young to pick any ideology"--but she definitely doesn't like The System.
It's a sunny afternoon. So, sure, she'll play some soccer.
The Track Record
Anarchy, like adolescent rebellion, never goes totally out of style. Anarchy has been a catalyst in American history and culture for more than a century: since the Haymarket Riot in 1886, when dynamite was lobbed into a crowd of Chicago police, and the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. Anybody remember Emma Goldman, the so-called "Queen of the Anarchists," who supported McKinley's killer? Remember Sacco and Vanzetti?
Maybe not, but anarchy has become a household word again after last fall's "Battle in Seattle" against the World Trade Organization. The hooded, masked and seemingly sinister Black Bloc anarchists grabbed the media moment, smashing up Starbucks and the storefront of NikeTown.
This month, various anti-globalist, anti-corporate, anti-authoritarian, anti-whatever demonstrators are descending on Washington to march against the alleged evils of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. On April 16, you're likely to see people risk arrest by sitting in traffic, hear chants of "the whole world's watching," and maybe even catch a whiff of tear gas.
Some anarchists will turn out, too, energized by the attention they got in Seattle. How many? Who can say? It's a movement that appoints no leaders, distrusts the corporate media and doesn't anoint spokesmen.
The vast majority of the activists who plan to participate in this month's events say they oppose property destruction as juvenile and counterproductive. But a recent manifesto from the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc--posted on the Internet, distributed by e-mail and handed out at planning sessions--is emphatic:
"We can not work with people who dictate what tactics are and are not appropriate. No one should be pretending to own this movement or this demo. . . . If aggressive self-defense or property destruction is unacceptable to some, then they shouldn't engage in it. . . .
"Do not let the blows against this capitalist system cease! From the streets of Seattle to Washington, DC, may our resistance be as transnational as capital!"
Just who are these people? What exactly do they want? And how, if they're really anarchists, did they come to organize a weekly soccer game?
Calling the Meeting to . . . Order
Chuck Munson has a pleasant, honest face. He wears a style of aviator glasses that started going out of fashion a decade ago. He's a stocky fellow with a potbelly.
Munson, who turns 35 this month, does computer work for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He's an avid builder of Web pages and a big fan of "Babylon 5."
He also has a record for inciting "mob action." He was arrested in May '86 in Chicago for disturbing the peace and failing to heed traffic laws during the centennial observance of the Haymarket Riot. He's proud of it.
He also is proud to hold a master's degree in library science. That's right: He is an anarchist librarian. And on weekends, he is a player and unofficial social director for the Anarchist Soccer League.
Tonight Munson is sitting at a table in a law school classroom at the University of the District of Columbia. We're at an organizing session for the April 16 Mobilization for Global Justice, which everybody shorthands as "A16." Munson opens his briefcase and hands his friends copies of the Revolutionary Anti-Capitalist Bloc manifesto.
His friends are wiry, young and pierced: punk rock types, bike messengers and skateboarders. "Go vegan," says the patch on one's rucksack.
A man in his late forties, with a shaved head and Leninesque beard, commands the front of the room, speechifying. "We are going to make history on the streets of this city," he proclaims. He uses phrases like "Dig it!" and "the ruling class" and "That's what building a revolution is."
The bald dude is Kevin Danaher, co-founder of the human rights group Global Exchange in San Francisco, part of the A16 mainstream. More than a hundred activists fill the room: union organizers, Naderites, Greens, folks who want to cancel Third World debt, shut down sweatshops, prevent nukes in space.
Just a few are anarchists, but the rhetoric sounds much the same. The A16ers oppose hierarchy. They act by consensus. They demand individual empowerment. They support the oppressed, whoever and wherever they may be.
Of course anarchists like Munson are welcome here, because everyone is welcome. But the mainstreamers are defensive about questions regarding potential "trashing." The official A16 guidelines oppose property destruction.
Munson says that "nobody should be surprised" if some people decide to break a few windows here. "It's political theater in a way." It all depends on how the police react to the demonstrations, he says. Many who attended the Seattle protest insist it was the tear-gassing, pepper-spraying and other "police violence" that provoked the anarchist melee.
Munson is so mild-mannered you can't imagine him toppling a dumpster or heaving a newspaper box through a plate-glass window. Personally, he expects to be doing media logistical work on A16, not rioting. "I can't even break dishes," he says. But he can't speak for anyone else, except to say, "There is an ongoing discussion in the movement about tactics."
Munson is one of the most public anarchists in the area. He has been posting on the Internet for many years as "ChuckO." He offers the world his opinions on everything from the need for an "Anarchist Guide to Raising Kids" (though he's single), his diet as "an ovo-lacto vegetarian," and the deficiencies of The Washington Post:
"It's a crappy paper," he complained on the hacker Web site Slashdot.org. "Its standards for accuracy are no better than any other paper. . . . In fact, it can be demonstrated that the Post is simply the official organ of the U.S. State Department."
Naturally, we felt compelled to invite ChuckO to a fancy lunch at our expense, with no intention whatsoever of co-opting him to our corporate media globalist agenda. We simply wanted to know more about soccer as a revolutionary tool.
He arrives wearing a dark purple dress shirt and a heavy, black leather motorcycle jacket. It is tastefully festooned with a circled "A" pin and a purple-and-black star. That denotes solidarity with "anarcho-feminism," he says.
Munson surveys the gilded decor of D.C. Coast restaurant. In his recollection, this used to be a worn-down corner of downtown. Perhaps capitalism isn't all bad.
He orders the only veggie platter on the menu--a delicately composed and seasoned array--and pronounces it satisfactory. And he is happy to share the Thai lime cheesecake with ginger cookie crust, mango relish and blackberry pepper coulis.
Myth No. 1, exploded. Who says anarchists aren't gourmets?
So tell us more about The Movement. How many anarchists live here?
More than 100, he estimates, based on e-mail lists. That number surprised him, given D.C.'s buttoned-down, careerist bent. To unify the locals, Munson and several others are working to establish an anarchist "infoshop," a library and meeting hall in the Shaw area.
Myth No. 2, exploded. Who says anarchists are disorganized?
This is a biggie. Anarchists do not embrace chaos, as commonly believed. They do not consider themselves free to ignore all rules. Munson, for one, says he is not out to smash the Dewey Decimal System.
"Anarchy means 'without ruler,' " he explains. So nobody is in charge. But things still get done. Anarchists endorse "self-management of personal affairs." They share decision-making. They support egalitarianism.
One wing rejects all trappings of modern civilization, including technology. The hard-liners--notably led by John Zerzan of the Eugene, Ore., anarchist colony--want to return to a "hunter-gatherer" society. They don't mind using the Internet to spread their message: "We want no partnership at all with the discredited institutions--unions, governments, the Left," one Web manifesto declares. "They are part of the glue holding a rotting order together."
Munson doesn't go that far. He grew up Lutheran in the suburbs of Kansas City, Kan., playing with Matchbox cars in the back yard. He has three sisters, one of whom is married to a millionaire. He doesn't speak ill of his parents. He wasn't particularly rebellious. He recalls hating the structure of gym class.
He became radicalized in the mid-1980s at the University of Kansas, joining protests against investment in South Africa. He and 37 others were arrested on misdemeanor charges during the Haymarket centennial protest. He was 21. He ended up with three months' supervised probation.
After graduate work at the University of Wisconsin--where he organized a radical reading group--Munson moved to College Park in 1994. Yes, he says, anarchy provides quite a social life here. He's got a full calendar: the A16 planning sessions, the infoshop meetings, the Anarchist Librarians group. (Really: Last summer he and others picketed an American Library Association speech by "war criminal" Colin Powell.) Then there's the Beltway Anarchist Drinking and Singing Society (BADASS), which tries to meet for Guinness drafts on Monday nights.
Myth No. 3, exploded. Who says anarchists are lonely?
The players start drifting onto the field around 2 p.m., looking for an open stretch of turf between the well-drilled youth leagues and a Frisbee football group.
"We just sort of find a spot," says a tall, mop-topped man in his late thirties. His business card identifies him as "Robert Shoe, MPP."
"I've got a master's in public policy," he says. "I don't fit the mold. There are a lot of anarchists who don't fit the mold."
Somebody assembles knapsacks on the ground, spaced apart to serve as goals. "We don't have boundaries, but we do have goals," Munson likes to say.
Maybe it's a metaphor for anarchy. When the game spills over into Chesapeake Street NW, they keep right on kicking.
The pickup games began about three years ago. Players show up in light or dark shirts--that's how the teams are divided. Regulation soccer requires 11 players on a side, but the size of today's teams rises and falls. People join, drop out, cuddle and turn cartwheels on the sideline.
They appear to assume field positions randomly. Skill sets vary wildly--taking a turn as goalkeeper, Munson gives up two goals--but nobody complains. This style of soccer is utterly democratizing. All you need is a ball and feet.
Four women begin the game, and four others join in. For Stephanie Schaudel, an American University student, the egalitarianism is refreshing: "It's unique to be playing with men and not have them hog the ball."
Even though it's competitive, nobody keeps score. So everybody wins.
"The point is just to have a good time," says Kadd Stephens, a 22-year-old player sidelined this afternoon by asthma. He works for a nonprofit group, Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and volunteers for the Ruckus Society, which promotes nonviolent civil disobedience.
"Long Live Anarchy," his T-shirt says. It shows Christopher Robin holding a black flag in one hand and Winnie-the-Pooh's paw in the other.
Meanwhile, the children's teams are drilling away in their crisp uniforms. They're surrounded by fretful parents and coaches.
They're keeping score.
The Elder Statesman
Howard J. Ehrlich is a white-bearded, soft-spoken scholar of 67. He isn't in the game, but he's an important player. He's the grandfather of the area anarchists. He calls the soccer players "new recruits."
"As an older anarchist, the thing that excites me is that a lot of the younger people are studying the history," says Ehrlich, an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. For 20 years, as editor of an obscure journal, Social Anarchism, he has been footnoting in the service of revolution, wondering whether the world would ever take notice.
Now, the kids seek him out, standing in line for his wisdom. "I've spoken at a number of punk rock concerts," he says proudly.
Is the collapse of the state finally at hand?
Ehrlich earned his PhD in sociology in 1959, secured tenure and picked up the black flag in the '60s. He tends to take the long view. He characterizes today's enthusiasm for anarchy as more of a "drift" than an actual "movement" at this point.
"Levels of political alienation are at an all-time high," he notes. People feel that corporations and other "authoritarian institutions" have too much power. They fear losing what little control they have. The economy may be booming, but students are restless, hungering for deeper meaning beyond making money.
Unlike their hippie forebears, today's rebels don't have a horrid war or a civil rights struggle to rally around; they're focused on complex trade issues in remote lands. How do you make visceral the impact of World Bank policies on Mozambican cashew nut growers? Is it worth taking a rubber bullet for?
For Ehrlich, maybe. He'll be rallying on A16, though he hasn't decided whether to risk arrest by blocking traffic to shut down the IMF and World Bank meetings.
Plan to smash any windows?
No, the old man says. Such spectacles are the style of the younger radicals. The new recruits with what he calls "raging hormones."
Emma Goldman, the lusty anarchist leader of the early 1900s, is famously quoted as saying, "If I can't dance, I don't want any part of your revolution." It's true that she liked to dance, but there is no substantiation that she ever uttered those words.
Near the end of her life, in a lecture, she did say this:
"When I was 15 I suffered from unrequited love, and I wanted to commit suicide in a romantic way by drinking a lot of vinegar. I thought that would make me look ethereal and interesting, very pale and poetic when in my grave, but at 16 I decided on a more exalted death. I wanted to dance myself to death."
Like many teenagers, Emma embraced a painfully passionate view of life. She had soaring ideals and a headstrong spirit. A Russian emigre who labored in American sweatshops--pedaling a machine "for 10 hours a day at two dollars fifty a week"--she became radicalized by the episode at Haymarket Square, in which police clashed violently with supporters of the eight-hour day. The eight defendants in the case were immigrants and labor activists. They were convicted on thin evidence. Four were hanged. The bomber was never identified.
"The death of those Chicago martyrs was my spiritual birth," Emma Goldman said. "Their ideal became the motive of my entire life."
Rhapsody in Brew
"If I can't play soccer, I don't want any part of your revolution" is the motto of the Anarchist Soccer League. It's on the Web site (http://infoshop.org/dc/asl.html) along with Chuck Munson's photos of black and red flags fluttering in the breeze.
There's also a link to a site on the players' "Free Mumia" road trip a year ago. They had a sleepover, then piled in vans to Philadelphia to protest the black ex-broadcaster's death sentence.
"I've got a funny joke!" announces Barucha Peller--she of multiple piercings and white tank top. The Sunday game is over, and she's milling around making new anarchist friends. The players are buzzed on endorphins, laughing as Peller shares a piece of surreal anti-cop humor involving brown bears and white rabbits.
Barucha was at Philly Freedom Summer, a protest in '98, and she marched for Abu-Jamal. She says it changed her life. To her, Abu-Jamal is a political prisoner, not the gunman who fired into a fallen police officer's forehead.
Lauren Stone, 24 years old, hair in a long braid, is totally down with Mumia. She's another supporter of Refuse & Resist, which describes itself on the Internet as "the organization for everyone who refuses to go along with today's national agenda of repression and cruelty, poverty and punishment."
Stone's a good soccer player. And like everyone else on the field today, she's white. When the suburban soccer movement took hold in the '80s, lots of these kids were drilled in its service.
Is she an anarchist?
"I guess I'm still somewhere between an anarchist and a communist, but not a syndicalist," she says.
Enough theory for now, though.
"Are we beering?" Stone wants to know. "Beer sounds more interesting."
Yes, ChuckO announces, we're all beering. He's going to get some cash. Meet you over at Babe's Billiard Cafe.
This sounds good to Puck, an art student who's in from Oberlin College. He's also newly sprung from a D.C. jail cell. He says he was arrested for blocking traffic in front of the Supreme Court, protesting the death penalty.
"This is my spring break," says Puck (actual name: Michael Kranz). Like most 21-year-old males on spring break, he doesn't mind the company of young females. He's already found a place to crash on Stone's foldout couch.
The fellow travelers head toward Wisconsin Avenue. They're chanting slogans they learned from Refuse & Resist, which was founded in the '80s by leftists like Abbie Hoffman.
"To the gay bashers and welfare slashers! To the prison builders and executioners! To the women haters! We say: THE FUTURE IS NOT YOURS."
In the bar, ChuckO is ordering pitchers and pouring. The "Poor, Ugly, Happy" guy enjoys a frosty mug. Barucha, too young to imbibe, drops $4 for a pack of Camel Lights and offers them around.
Munson will soon be heading off to another meeting--the planning group for the infoshop project--and he's craning to catch a bit of the NCAA basketball tournament on the bar's TVs. But these louder, younger rebels are more interested in revolutionary agitation. They're denouncing unfair drug laws, prison privatization, organized religion, the corporate media, the horrors of capitalism.
"Refute ideology!" somebody shouts.
Maybe, Barucha says, she is an anarchist. She refutes ideology. She refutes authority and materialism.
"I don't aspire to have money at all," she declares. "I'd rather aspire to be poor. My eyes have really been opened up."
"It's so, like, overwhelming. There's, like, this whole movement out there!"
All the while she keeps tugging at her bra. Suddenly she announces she's going to take it off because it's too damn tight--and she's just sick and tired of conforming to social convention. Just take it off right here at the table!
The group stills. Go, anarchy?
Nope. She's not disrobing. Just a burst of youthful passion.
Myth No. 4: Who says anarchists will do anything?