Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The "I's" in Activism: A Chat with Nate C (Part 1)

Hello my people,

Welcome back.

Haven't had a chance to catch up here in awhile, so I thought it would be a good time to do something special.

In the early spring I found myself at a birthday party for a friend of mine at Nashville's Little Hamilton space. "Little Hamilton" is the name most of us use for the Firebrand Anarchist Collective located on Little Hamilton street in a warehouse/small industry district in Nashville.

The group has worked - in various forms - for years to make the space a reality and over the last year they finally did. They have become a lighthouse of sorts for Nashville's activist community, attracting punks, hippies, bike kids, Greens, anti-war and Food-Not-Bombs groups with their resources and activities.

At the party, I met a guy named Nate C just a few days before he was to be married on the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Cumberland River downtown. He was also a few weeks away from a trip to Athens, Greece where he intended to document the civil unrest that stemmed from the shooting of a young Anarchist in December of 2008 by filming footage for a short documentary.

Nate and I had a chance to touch base when he got back to The South, but he has recently departed for The Western Lands. His story, his insights and his commitment have fueled an ongoing discussion that we are continuing online and sharing via this illuminated document.

This discussion will be presented in a series of posts as our discussion continues. Please click on the "Anarchism" label at the end of this post to access the entire series.


The "I's" in Activism: A Chat with Nate C (Part 1)

Joe Nolan: Hey, Nate! Why don't you start by filling us in on your story and lead us up to your trip to Athens and the situation in Greece.

Nate Cougill: I'm an activist in my mid-20's. I've been active in establishing Little Hamilton Collective and the Firebrand Infoshop in Nashville for the past two years. I think there are better ways to organize a society than a representative democracy, and I see my work as a manifestation of that belief. Rather than engaging the government and seeking to change it, I disregard the government whenever possible and work at creating a parallel society by building self-directed community projects. I believe in everyone's right to live as the please, harming noone. This is the greatest degree of freedom is the kind where nobody's exercise of freedom infringes on the freedom of others. With LHC, I've been lucky enough to find other people in this backwards Southern town that think about things in a similar way, and try to make a physical space that expresses these beliefs.

Now, you might be wondering where Greece falls into all this. Last December, a teenager was shot in cold blood by a police officer. The kid was being harrassed by two officers abusing their authority, and he didn't back down. News of what happened spread like wildfire. The kid was a professed Anarchist and was involved in organizing around Athens. Rather than considering the cost of expressing dissent, then holding signs in front of state buildings until their permits expired, Athenians took to the streets and set everything in sight on fire, including police officers and squad cars. The movement spread to other cities on the European continent. Absolut Vodka put out an ad with a picture of an Absolut bottle with a burning rag stuffed into it bearing the phrase, "Absolut Athens." There were solidarity demonstrations in the United States, but the wildfires were extinguished in the Atlantic. Aside from those who watch fringe political news on the internet, the story was a passing headline on CNN presented without an appropriate amount context.

As things stand currently in this country, police brutality is nothing out of the ordinary. We imprison a larger portion of our population than any other country in the world. The constitution has become a punchline at political fundraisers. What makes Greeks take to the streets over a single injustice, and why are people in the U.S. still sitting on their hands as they watch their country being destroyed and their birthright stolen by madmen? I went to Greece to seek out some answers and bring them back to share with anti-authoritarians in the States.

JN: Lets get a little more into Greece and the conversation we had at Little Hamilton. Tell me about your original plans to document your visit.

NC: When I was headed to Greece originally, I had planned to make a documentary about Athenian politics. There's been enough said already about the rioting last December, but nobody was talking about why there were riots in Athens over one teen's unjust death, and here in the States such an act is usually met with apathy. More important than studying the events in Greece is the study of why they happened in Greece.

Despite my best efforts, fine video camera was pretty far out of my reach, and I ended up arriving in Athens during a lull in the commotion. This was before the kidnappings and bombings started and about a month before police began shooting immigrants in Platia Omonia-- a block away from where I was staying. I thought it best to write an article about my findings.

It's still in progress, but it goes into the tactical advantages of staging political events in a place like Athens, versus a U.S. city.

JN: One thing that I find interesting is the way that this kind of unrest occurs in places like Greece, but we see it less here. There were a lot of under-covered protests leading up to the Iraq war and many large protests during the first four years of Bush, but the recent months call to mind the perfect example: Iran.

You don't see this point of view represented in our media, and - of course - the cultural context is very different, but the people of Iran are essentially risking their lives because they believe an election was stolen, just like many people in the U.S. believed after the 2000 election. However, things never reached that fever pitch here in the states.

In Che Guevara's book "Guerilla Warfare", he spends a lot of time talking about the pre-conditions for revolution. Suffice to say that its easier to revolt when you are hungry. The logic follows that Americans - even most low income Americans - don't miss enough meals to take real chances and demand fundamental changes.

Tell me more about the differences that exist between a place like Athens and a place like New York or Chicago regarding civil disobedience and revolutionary consciousness. Are the differences primarily economic or is it more complicated than that in your opinion?

(To be continued)

Check out this Wikipedia entry to brush up on the history of Anarchism in Greece.

Here is the entry's blurb regarding the riots that occurred last December:

December 2008

On December 6, 2008, a 15-year old youth was shot dead by a policeman after a verbal exchange in the libertarian stronghold of Exarchia, Athens. Within an hour, anarchists, leftists and sympathisers rioted and attacked banks, police vehicles and government offices in the area.The police refusal to apologise brought thousands to the streets for daily clashes and demonstrations. The parliament building was besieged for weeks by angry crowds. Major violence erupted during one of the marches, with rioters attacking and setting on fire many public buildings, banks and shops. Thousands of young people staged angry protests across Greece, attacking police stations in every town. Almost in every neighbourhood of Athens and Pireus police stations, banks and big businesses were firebombed. The "December Unrest", as it became known, gave a new impetus to the Anarchists, who were in the forefront of the movement.


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