Dave Shapiro-Strano wants to teach people to help themselves

See also: For those living off the grid, the world is full of free stuff — and freedom

Anarchism stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals for the purpose of producing real social wealth; an order that will guarantee to every human being free access to the earth and full enjoyment of the necessities of life, according to individual desires, tastes, and inclinations.

— Emma Goldman, Anarchism and Other Essays

"I want to see the whole system that props up the IRS fall," says Dave Shapiro-Strano, co-founder of Denver Anarchist Black Cross. "But I am part of a worker collective where we pay our sales taxes and we file yearly tax reports. You have to pick and choose your battles, and my battles go further than not paying my taxes."

Compared to others in these communities, Shapiro-Strano expresses the most extreme distaste for governmental authority and capitalism, and has the most radical ideas for bringing down the system and forming an anarchist utopia. But he also wears a tie. He owns a van, has a wife and three kids, and runs a business. On the surface, his day-to-day lifestyle is not that different from that of your average American. Yet nothing would bring him greater pleasure than to see the system he is a part of crumble into a distant memory.

"I've never believed you can live as an anarchist inside a capitalist society," he explains. "Anarchism, to me, seeks to destroy capitalism and the state — and doesn't really exist until those two things are gone. If you're a communist living in the United States, you're not participating in communism, so it's weird to me that people ask how I participate in anarchism. To me, the goal is to build a revolutionary struggle that can see anarchism as an alternative to the current world that we live in. But I'm not really into counterculture or alternative lifestyles."

Formed in 1900 to aid political prisoners in czarist Russia, the Anarchist Black Cross has continued as an international organization with branches around the world. In addition to organizing protests, media campaigns and legal defense for those it feels have been wrongly imprisoned (and since anarchists don't believe in prisons, that list is fairly large), Denver's ABC also provides community services like child care and economic relief. It's also been investigated by the FBI.

"The thing that makes Anarchist Black Cross different from other forms of philanthropy is that we are supporting people that are — or at least [are] accused of being — terrorists. These are people who have been classified as enemies of the state," Shapiro-Strano says. "Some projects are an easier sell; I think most people would agree that feeding poor people is a good thing. I don't know if you can make the same case for supporting a bank robber or an accused cop killer."

But ABC isn't simply performing these tasks for other people; it wants to teach people how to help themselves. "We're not here to provide charity to prisoners; we're here to provide a mutual relationship with prisoners," Strano says. "We want to avoid paternalism; we're not a church or the Red Cross. The difference between anarchist-organized projects and other forms of philanthropy is that we are looking for leadership from the folks who are most affected by the problem — not fix it for them."

This teach-to-fish-as-opposed-to-give-a-fish philosophy is at the heart of many alternative communities. While their politics may vary, they are unified in the idea that it is better to have the skills to educate yourself, fix your bike or provide your own legal defense than pay someone else to do it for you.

"I used to be one of those kids that was like, 'You're not buying fair-trade coffee. How could you?!' Or, 'What do you mean you're not dumpstering all of your food?' But now that I'm getting older and I'm raising children, I'm trying to be more pragmatic about it," Strano says. "I wholly respect people who live that way; I just don't see it as bringing about the revolution. It comes through building communities of resistance. Though if for some people that means having chickens in your back yard, only riding a bike and dumpstering food, then that's awesome. All of those tactics are a part of liberating yourself."

 
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16 comments
mightaswellretire
mightaswellretire

the anarchist movement in this town has been completely neutralized by [seriously] overblown accusations made by people that never actually talk to each other regarding  "abuse" and "trauma" over people having arguments over slights, personal disagreements, and communicative problems and turning them into examples of replicating the "institutional social conditions perpetuated by white supremacy, patriarchy, and homophobia/etc" instead of actually working the fuck through it. That goes for the shields that go up in regards to feeling unjustly persecuted as well.

I mean, I was never one to throw kneejerking buzzwords around (or even involve myself in people's personal bullshit) as cheap "debate" tactics to come out on top,  but it seems to me that in North America, IDENTITY POLITICS are tyrant (the gender neutral for king/queen, imo.) and that whomever wields that deck of cards the quickest can annihilate the credibility and effectiveness of anyone that they don't like.

So instead of solving disagreements or interpersonal problems, even those rooted in legitimate concerns of oppression, people just tear each other down and alienate everyone until the insulation takes hold, cliques form roots, and factions remain more or less ineffective due to a constant circular firing squad rendering all parties a desperate vandal at best, a useless, bitter critic at worst. Discourse is hopeless, and husks of projects move forward for the sake of proving frienemies wrong, to try and do things correctly as best people can or PERHAPS because there are people who need those flawed but dedicated personalities pulling something together for them, whatever that little bit of help might be.

My butt hurts all the time. I don't fucking go after the people that made it that way in public. I'd rather scream it out with someone in my own driveway than air that shit out on the internet. If you're so vindictive, so hungry for the satisfaction of being out of the game while being able to simultaneously get your shots in from afar... Fuck. hey man, I thought you were a little bit better person than that. 

Go Broncos. 

Patrick
Patrick

Yes, I did go to college.  Yes, I am sitting in an armchair (ok, it's actually a couch) instead playing revolutionary in a warehouse.  I guess that means 7 out of 98 is as make believe as the idea that DABC "takes leadership from" all 98 of those people.

OppressionOlympics
OppressionOlympics

Wait, can someone clear a path through all these tumblr college kids in armchairs real quick? I can't even get to the bar.

Patrick
Patrick

And it is incorrect to say that the current DABC has been investigated by the FBI.  The FBI investigated some flyers about an ABC starting Denver years before the current DABC was active.

Patrick
Patrick

Dave is a straight, white business owner whose only connection to prison is a shallow political affinity with a couple of people in prison.  Despite maybe some emotions of pity which are confused as "solidarity," he is not affected whatsoever by whether or not those people make it out of prison or the affect that prisons and police have in the communities those political prisoners come from. Its a moral choice Dave is making to do the work he is doing, that is privilege.  And just because Dave uses a lot of romantic rhetoric of being " in solidarity with the oppressed other," doesn't give him a pass to be abusive.  There is a long history of white men using their "anti-racism" to protect and reproduce their patriarchy, which in turn reinforces their racism.  Just look at DABC's "prisoners DABC supports" list: 7 women of around a hundred people listed.  Plus I know for a fact as a former member and co-founder of DABC that only a handful of all those prisoners listed are actually in contact with DABC. This article and DABC in general are both a joke.

45brokenteeth
45brokenteeth

Don't mistake my words. My problem isn't with the headline, or the editorial remarks. My problem is with men that create abusive spaces that look like the prison industrial complex they claim to oppose in the name of "anarchist activism."

nomorewhitepeople
nomorewhitepeople

@45brokenteeth you must have a lot of privilege to equate local anarchist organizing to prison.  sounds like someone grew up in highlands ranch...

DiMare
DiMare

I take it "redandblackneck" is Mr. Shapiro-Strano?  If you feel so strongly about preserving a certain image that you have to explain yourself on the comment section of an article about you, than you shouldn't agree to something like this in the first place.  You give yourself to the writer's interpretation and have to live with it.  Also, please don't tell me how to read and deduce an opinion from the article. No, neither the article nor your quotes "obviously state" that you don't teach but rather "take leadership from."  By the way, what does that even mean anyways? How does your anarchist charity group do that? Please provide concrete examples, something lacking in your quotes and the whole article, and not just rhetoric.  It also seems like from the comments that you have a reputation of being abusive towards women, I hope you hold yourself, your anarchist ideals, and your charity to higher standards.

plostern
plostern

So if "building communities of resistance" doesn't include lifestyle changes, and obviously doesn't include acting out your ideology (since you run one of the most oppressive and abusive organizations in the state), what does it include? You're so pretentious that you believe having white cis men who abuse women send some money off to prisons will end capitalism?

Redandblackneck
Redandblackneck

I'll just keep it simple: There is not a single quote in this article that at all supports the choice of headline. I never said that I wanted to teach anyone anything. The quotes in this article actually clearly state the obvious. That I take leadership from the prisoners I support, and have much more to learn from them than I could ever begin to teach them. I would appreciate it if only the words that are actually taken from quotes from the article are attributed to me as my ideas, because the headline and the author's editorial comments made in the article do not come from me or anything I believe in.

DiMare
DiMare

I don't get it.  How is his black cross chapter any different than a red cross chapter, other than the color? Just looking at his black cross blog...it looks like he just sends money to prisoners he thinks are cool because they did sexy revolutionary things.  So he sends money to people in need but he doesn't run a charity because the name has the word "anarchist" in it?  Who is he teaching?  Mumia Abu-Jamal?  So he owns his own business and is teaching poor people and prisoners that they don't need him...but they do need him so he can teach them they don't need him.  This doesn't make any sense.  And he enables and protects abusers? I'll take the red cross please.

45brokenteeth
45brokenteeth

Yes please, white dude. Come and teach me how to help myself, because everyone knows that oppressed communities have never helped themselves unless they learned how to do it from white men.

Just say no to abusive anarchist cults.

plostern
plostern

How are you teaching people to help themselves when you run an organization of white cisgender male abusers? Leading a patriarchal gang of abusers that dismiss and assault women isn't going to bring about a revolution, no matter how much money you throw at prisoners.

XcheckyrprivilegeX
XcheckyrprivilegeX

@plostern that's quite an accusation to throw around. also, thanks for erasing the work of the women and poc members of abc.

plostern
plostern

@XcheckyrprivilegeX @plostern There have been multiple women who have called out multiple members of DABC for abusive behavior, and all of them have been shut down. As a survivor myself, I wouldn't make that accusation unless I knew it was based in reality. Having a handful of oppressed people in your group doesn't erase the fact that the majority of the members of DABC are white cis-men who have been accused of abusing women. What matters is the overall presence of DABC and the space it takes up, and that can't be negated by the few "token" members you all love to put on display when accused of oppressive behavior.

 
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