By JACOB RICHARDS
If someone had told me in February that I would be doing community organizing again after eight years off, I wouldn’t have believed them.
In my youth, I was a loud and active organizer on numerous social justice issues in the Grand Valley. I spent my twenties organizing against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, basic human rights for homeless folks, running for local office, and fighting for a better environment. I cut my teeth fighting uphill battles in this seemingly politically hopeless town. I have traveled nationally: New Orleans post-Katrina, Tuscon as a guest editor of the Earth First! Journal, and I have been pepper-sprayed in numerous cities, in police riots, where the cops just simply attack peacefully assembled protesters.
When I left the Grand Valley in the beginning of 2012, the chief of police called to see if the rumors of me leaving town were true. Grand Junction was rid of its anarchist.
While I reinvented myself as a wilderness fishing and hunting guide, Grand Junction continued to ignore the march of progress. All the same problems that existed in 2010, when I got three police officers fired for vandalizing a homeless encampment, still exist today in 2020, just worse for the wear from another decade of inaction and neglect.
I am sure it turned heads when I got second place in a five-way City Council race in 2011, as an avowed anarchist and ex-con, but people then craved what they crave today. People want liberty and justice, and they want it straight, no BS.
Anarchist is a scary word, especially in the wake of the national uprising following the murder of George Floyd. The media and the billionaires have always feared the ideas presented by anarchism. For well over 100 years they have used their wealth and power to demonize an ideology that most free humans readily subscribe to.
Anarchism has three basic tenets: mutual aid, solidarity, direct action.
The first of those, mutual aid, might ring a bell to some of you all. Around 10% of the Grand Valley has joined Grand Junction Mutual Aid (GJMA), or one of its many active subgroups, or one of the regional mutual aid groups which I helped start in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. These groups are thriving in the mainstream population from Delta to the upper Roaring Fork Valley.
It’s simple, really: Help your fellow human. Ask a 5-year-old if a hungry man deserves to eat, and without fail they say yes. It takes a lifetime of state education, corporate media, and social stigma to unlearn our basic humanity.
I have seen our community rise up to help one another, and many everyday heroes live here. If I were to try to name them I would only do a disservice to those I was unable to mention. Our GJMA mask team has sewn tens of thousands of masks for essential workers and health care workers here and regionally. Our distributiom team and community partners make the most organic redistribution of needed supplies every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 536 Ouray Ave. The main GJMA Facebook page continues to be a place for people to place offers and needs to the community at large. I have not seen a single realistic need not be met by the generosity of the people of the Grand Valley. The people of Grand Junction responded to COVID-19 far better than our local governments did.
Solidarity is the idea of standing with others in their fights for justice. Solidarity is not crossing a picket line. Solidarity is recognizing the truth of MLK when he said “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Solidarity is watching our mostly white community come out in force to support the national uprising, and stand behind local people of color making real changes here and now. Solidarity is standing with those without power, with those who struggle everyday, those who have gotten the short end of the stick. Solidarity is siding with the people, not the powerful.
The organic organizing that has come to form a united front to combat injustice in our town is now an organization called Right and Wrong (RAW). This group shows me — along with the diverse attendance at their events — that solidarity is alive and well.
To understand direct action, we must first understand indirect action. Our representative-based democracy is a perfect example of indirect action. We vote for someone to “represent” us in Congress, but do they? This is why close to half of all eligible voters don’t vote. Indirect action is disempowering to the individual and their liberties. It’s placing a bet on red or black, and spinning the wheel. House wins. Signing petitions, peaceful protest, and lobbying your representatives are all forms of indirect action.
Anarchists prefer direct action: See a problem, fix a problem. So do the American people. The burning of the third precinct in Minneapolis polled recently at 54% approval. Some perspective: Biden was polling at 48% and Trump at 41% approval. Direct action can mean riots and violence, but also means feeding the homeless in the parks, which Solidarity Not Charity has done for 12 years in this community, or sewing thousands of masks while the local, state and federal governments bungled PPE. Both certainly have their place, and I encourage everyone to vote, but I also encourage everyone to use the 364 days a year we are not voting to build a world we want to live in.
These are strange days. Our future is more uncertain than maybe any time in living memory. I am not the ideologue of my youth. I don’t think the world could possibly run along anarchist tenets, but I know that if more of us incorporated these three ideals into our daily lives and struggles, we would live in a better world.
I gotta go fishing and hunting now. Play nice Grand Junction and I’ll see ya for Thanksgiving.
Jacob Richards is an activist, founder of Grand Junction Mutual Aid and a fishing and hunting guide on the Western Slope.