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Book Reviews ...
Book: Getting Free: Creating an Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhood Associations by James Herod
Review by: James Generic (Posted 12.6.2007)
There's lots of different theories on how to change the world, or to make a world that's a better place. Many times, there aren't many real road maps of how to get to those places except "organize" or "be allies" or "raise awareness" and other vague terms. Too often, you have to wade through what people are saying, or ask others to translate it into speak able terms for you, like a professor or a group of peers. In "Getting Free: Creating an Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods" in very plain English terms, proposes a plan of action for people who want that better world.
The book is a very nice read, and some parts where he outlines how this future society might work, Getting Free almost reads like Peter Kropotkin's classic "Conquest of Bread". There's no abstract stuff here, only thoughts on how to achieve this world. The book is broken down into sections. He lays out what he's against, something that's always easy. He says what he's for, a direct democratic society where people run their own neighborhoods and their own work. After this, he explores what hasn't worked (which is most things, according to him, though they have brought changes, they haven't brought the whole enchilada down.) He then goes into his main thesis, which is that radical organizers and politically active people should take their fight into building new democratic organizations in neighborhoods, workplaces, and households (by which he means the places where many families will live).
Herod suggests that people set up employee associations, involving no larger unions, in the fight in the workplace. In the fight for the neighborhood, neighborhood associations should be formed to bring control back to the neighbors away from the government. In the household, several families should pool their resources together to get a larger place that they can all share. Herod then goes into many suggestions in basic things people can do to make this better world, like setting a meeting hall, organizing worker-owned businesses, try to get jobs in the neighborhoods, set up local currency, growing food locally, setting up neighborhood warehouse for goods, slowing down work at jobs, turning off television, recovering language away from academia, ending cooperation with the police, putting your money in local cooperative banks, breaking away from the school system, as well as rejecting a host of other things like recycling, marriage by church or state, suits, and voting, and saying not to be come a boss, bureaucrat, or a cop.
All of these steps sound pretty good, and the author argues them pretty well. I like most of the stuff in here and I defiantly like how he avoids abstractions whenever possible like "capitalism, the state, etc" and in general you don't need a dictionary to get exactly what he means. I do have a few small problems with the theory though. He's against involving unions in workplace struggles, instead going for just worker organizations, which sounds nice and pure because it avoids the union bureaucracy that often chokes the labor movement, however, I would be concerned about what exactly to do when facing inevitable backlash from the bosses. Sometimes you really can't beat the resources a larger union offers, in fighting the union-busting law-firms, government forces, and intimidation from management. I'm also a little hazy on what he wants to do in general once government or right-wing thugs try to roll back the gains he's talking about. You also do have to look at stuff like race and gender and sexuality in dealing with all this because it's such a deep part of our culture. Capitalists are very resourceful and do not hesitate to adapt to situations, with "speak softly and carry a big stick" tactics.
Besides those small disagreements, I really think that "Getting Free" is very well thought out. Sometimes it's a little pie-in-the-sky, but most theories are, and the best thing is to take what you can use out of theories and disregard what you can't. If you're looking for some great present-day anarchist theories on practical things on what to do, pick this one up. You'll be very glad you did, because it's wonderfully written, funny, to the point, and you get the feeling you're reading the work of a very quick-witted person.
On a side note: Another great reason to pick it up is because it's put out by the Lucy Parsons Center, one of the older infoshops on the Eastern seaboard up in Boston.