Portland Anarchists Want to Fix Your Street's Potholes

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Jacques Roux's picture
Jacques Roux
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Mar 15 2017 18:41
Portland Anarchists Want to Fix Your Street's Potholes
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Anarchism: The belief in the eradication of government, growth of a utopian society defined by mutual aid, and, ultimately, a timely schedule for filling potholes.

Or so it goes in Portland, where locals recently peered out their windows to see random street-improvement workers, one dressed in a black mask wielding what looked like a post-apocalyptic cudgel. The men weren’t there for another Trump protest; rather, they were packing asphalt into deep crevices that developed after the Pacific Northwest’s brutal winter.

https://www.citylab.com/politics/2017/03/portland-anarchists-want-to-fix-your-streets-potholes/519588/

jura's picture
jura
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Mar 15 2017 18:57

Keeping Portland weird.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
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Mar 15 2017 20:28

Yeah I saw that on Facebook, kind of funny.

I appreciate the direct action element of it: just doing it yourself. However I wonder if, rather than basically try to plug the holes in the "good" bits of the state ourselves, it's more radical to fight for those agencies to perform their duties properly. Like Wanksy, for example:

http://www.boredpanda.com/wanksy-penis-pothole-graffiti-manchester-england/

I guess it's good to do either/both

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klas batalo
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Mar 16 2017 00:54

not sure about this, but heard online it happened in a pretty yuppie area too fwiw. but you know how such rumors on the internet go.

Juan Conatz's picture
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Mar 16 2017 01:05

I just find this so ridiculous that I suspect I'm being trolled.

Serge Forward's picture
Serge Forward
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Mar 16 2017 01:17

Piss poor clueless anarcho bollocks that is. Just wait till another shit load of council workers get laid off because some DIY reformists decide to do someone else's job for nowt. Pillocks. I'm with wanksy.

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Mar 16 2017 06:40

Aren't you all taking this line of reasoning to far. There's always a potential worker whose job you're doing. Helping refugees, squatting and basically all practical solidarity has it's paid equivalent.

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fingers malone
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Mar 16 2017 08:18

Yeah cooked has a point. I've done plenty of volunteering which is basically me doing my own paid job for free after work, eg I've done volunteer English teaching within unions and volunteer maths teaching in a homeless hostel. Within my own workplace there was a big argument about the issue which ended in people getting blocked from volunteering because of fears about job losses.

One issue is that the government cut services and then say they hope that the services will be done by volunteers, but they cut them anyway, whether there are volunteers available or not.

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Mar 16 2017 08:57

Double post.

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Mar 16 2017 08:56

Aye, Cooked makes a fair point and it's worth asking at what point does being a bit civic minded and volunteering to do socially useful work start to undermine workers doing the same job. I suppose teaching English to refugees who are not eligible for free English classes threatens no one because no one is paid to do that. Many types of socially useful or charitable work would not be otherwise done by the state because the state doesn't give a fuck or by private businesses because there's no money in it. However, the local state in Portland (like most local states in urban areas) would directly employ or contract-in workers to do road works. Such actions by well-intentioned but misguided anarchists could undermine those workers' jobs. In this instance, it appears to have prompted management to initiate a speed up in competition with these volunteers!

Wanksy works better of course because no local state is ever likely to employ people to go round painting penises around pot holes.

zugzwang
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Mar 16 2017 10:47

Couldn't you apply the same reasoning to migrants/refugees, increasing the supply of workers and depressing the wages of certain jobs? Isn't this the same kind of scapegoating in a way?

Maybe the Portland anarchists were inspired by that one Wingnut Dishwashers Union song,

Quote:
And the anarchists have started
Filling potholes, collecting garbage
To prove we don't need governments to do these things
Steven.'s picture
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Mar 16 2017 10:48
Serge Forward wrote:
no local state is ever likely to employ people to go round painting penises around pot holes.

Until communism, of course

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Mar 16 2017 11:40
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Couldn't you apply the same reasoning to migrants/refugees, increasing the supply of workers and depressing the wages of certain jobs? Isn't this the same kind of scapegoating in a way?

No. You're just being silly now. And talking of silly... let me be the first to volunteer for pot hole penis painting duty in advance of full communism.

petey
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Mar 16 2017 13:07

squatting has a paid equivalent?

Mike Harman
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Mar 16 2017 13:16

Whether this directly undermines jobs or not is only part of the issue I have with it (I think it probably does, but it's not as obviously bad as Brighton neighbourhood clean ups while bin workers were on strike).

If you look at teaching English, the Apollo House homeless shelter squat, the Greek refugee squat that recently got evicted, something like Food Not Bombs then while they might be taking the slack for state services that either could be there or previously were, they also require direct contact with the people using those services. Similar to the way direct action casework groups (SeaSol, Brighton Hospitality) might occasionally get drawn into actual casework - i.e. if someone needs to draft a letter first, and the letter works) which might have in isolation been provided by a mainstream union or the Citizens Advice Bureau. All of those things there's some sense of regular contact with communities you might not otherwise run into.

If you fix a pothole, unless someone comes out to chat to you, or you really are doing it all masked up as people walk past, then unless they've seen your facebook group will they even know it's you who did it? So even on its own terms I'm not sure where it fits in.

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Mar 16 2017 14:29

I, for one, think all public services should be done by unqualified, unpaid, anonymous masked up individuals for ideological reasons.

wojtek
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Mar 16 2017 14:47

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-37485461

zugzwang
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Mar 16 2017 17:23
Serge Forward wrote:
Quote:
Couldn't you apply the same reasoning to migrants/refugees, increasing the supply of workers and depressing the wages of certain jobs? Isn't this the same kind of scapegoating in a way?

No. You're just being silly now.

Quote:
Such actions by well-intentioned but misguided anarchists could undermine those workers' jobs.

Could you explain the difference? I wouldn't blame migrants/refugees for depressed wages, or taking low-skilled jobs. Why should we blame a group of anarchists for wanting to improve their communities?

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Mar 16 2017 18:26

Migrants have little or no choice and as disadvantaged workers, they will take what they can get. Incidentally, whether you blame migrants or not for depressed wages is neither here nor there as wages are actually depressed by the bosses. This group of anarchists, on the other hand, are not doing this work out of necessity but for positive political reasons... but though positive, it directly impacts on other workers' jobs in the locality (speed ups in this instance). That really doesn't sit right with me. That aside, I'm not a big fan of substitutionist actions like this - where a small group of militants do their anarcho superhero act while the rest of the class passively look on.

Mike Harman
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Mar 16 2017 19:10

Let's say you work in a library, this is a bit over-egged but I think it shows the potential differences:

1. A migrant worker gets employed by the library, but at a lower rate than you. You can potentially talk to them and try to help them organise against your shared employer etc. (For example LSE cleaners are on strike this week).

2. An anarchist starts coming into your library and putting all the books on the shelves uninvited, then make a facebook page about how the books are in piles all over the floor but they're going to fix it instead of 'the state'.

Sike
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Mar 16 2017 20:22

The Portland Pothole Uprising of 2017. smile

Sike
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Mar 16 2017 20:45

POTholes.

zugzwang
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Mar 16 2017 20:46
Serge Forward wrote:
This group of anarchists, on the other hand, are not doing this work out of necessity but for positive political reasons... but though positive, it directly impacts on other workers' jobs in the locality (speed ups in this instance). That really doesn't sit right with me. That aside, I'm not a big fan of substitutionist actions like this - where a small group of militants do their anarcho superhero act while the rest of the class passively look on.

Don't potholes pose a danger to vehicles/cyclists and increase the risk of accidents? Is it really fair to say they're just posturing politically as opposed to doing necessary work (assuming they're filling the holes properly)? Surely it's not their intention to compete against or negatively affect the actual workers whose job it is to repair roads. It just seems like if anyone's to blame, it's the government for not wanting to spend taxpayer money on roads (or not having the available funds), and not the people of the communities taking matters into their own hands.

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Khawaga
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Mar 16 2017 21:15
zugzwang wrote:
Don't potholes pose a danger to vehicles/cyclists and increase the risk of accidents? Is it really fair to say they're just posturing politically as opposed to doing necessary work (assuming they're filling the holes properly)? Surely it's not their intention to compete against or negatively affect the actual workers whose job it is to repair roads. It just seems like if anyone's to blame, it's the government for not wanting to spend taxpayer money on roads (or not having the available funds), and not the people of the communities taking matters into their own hands.

This is pretty much my reaction to that type of activism. Sure, there are issues with it, but an ethics of doing shit because it needs to be done, is not at all a bad one. It becomes weird when we start condemning actions because it is not wage labour. I mean, don't we want people to start taking control of their own lives, including when it comes to be fixing infrastructure?

Sure, I get the critiques from other posters, but it just seem a bit counter-productive to just shit on this stuff just because "some wage worker is supposed to do it". If those potholes have been around for 4-5 years and is not getting done because the city doesn't really care, then surely it is better that it gets done than nothing? Should we condemn Occupy Sandy for doing the job of FEMA and Redcross workers?

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Mar 16 2017 21:25
Quote:
Quote:
Surely it's not their intention to compete against or negatively affect the actual workers whose job it is to repair roads.

I'm not sure it's intentions that matter here - the path to hell and all that.

Rather, I think it's a reflection of an anarchism quite distanced from the class struggle. It's insane to think that we can replace the state in any meaningful way without massive appropriations. Stunts like this, on the other hand, if undertaken on any serious scale, only serve to undermine the jobs of most likely unionized, fairly well-paid public sector workers.

I mean, this is the Tories' Big Society in action. Until we're in a position to actually overthrow the state, much better to force the state itself undertake as much paid, socially beneficial work as possible.

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Mar 16 2017 21:32
Quote:
Sure, I get the critiques from other posters, but it just seem a bit counter-productive to just shit on this stuff just because "some wage worker is supposed to do it". If those potholes have been around for 4-5 years and is not getting done because the city doesn't really care, then surely it is better that it gets done than nothing? Should we condemn Occupy Sandy for doing the job of FEMA and Redcross workers?

I get the point you're making here K, as well. However, I'm not aware of these anarchists doing much to force the city to deal with these problems. To me, getting into these communities and actually trying to build links with people to pressure city bosses seems like a far better approach.

As to Sandy, fuck right the state should have stepped in - I'm just not sure that's particularly analogous. In the context of an massive emergency situation, yeah, people are going to step up just to survive - and fucking good on them for doing that, showing how solidarity can shine through in the most fucked circumstances.

But part of that should be pressuring the state to put funds and resources into emergency services so shit like Katrina or Sandy doesn't happen in the future. Do you think filling our own potholes is going to make the city more likely to undertake road repairs in the future?

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Mar 16 2017 21:40
Chilli wrote:
I get the point you're making here K, as well. However, I'm not aware of these anarchists doing much to force the city to deal with these problems. To me, getting into these communities and actually trying to build links with people to pressure city bosses seems like a far better approach.

Why not do both? The one doesn't exclude the other, although I agree that just fixing potholes without building any links with the local community doesn't do much. But again, why only pressure city bosses? Why not force them to do something? Sure, I completely get the Big Society argument you make in #25... I guess the point is that we keep doing the same shit over and over, and maybe, just maybe, we should not be too quick to condemn.

In addition, I am also thinking about how organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas got extremely popular in Egypt and Palestine. By extending social welfare to people that the state didn't give a shit about and, yes, in some cases fixing infrastructure, building community centers and so on.

Quote:
As to Sandy, fuck right the state should have stepped in - I'm just not sure that's particularly analogous. In the context of an massive emergency situation, yeah, people are going to step up just to survive - and fucking good on them for doing that, showing how solidarity can shine through in the most fucked circumstances.

But part of that should be pressuring the state to put funds and resources into emergency services so shit like Katrina or Sandy doesn't happen in the future.

Of course they should have, but they didn't (and even when they stepped in, they never went to the worst hit areas and set up shop in relative affluent places). But that they didn't was a blessing in disguise; people got exposed to actual anarchist/mutual aid practice rather than being bored to death by one of us droning on or reading some text.

I guess this discussion can become a bit catch-22.

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Mar 16 2017 21:46

FWIW, I guess where I come from is that in the last few years I've just seen too much ritualistic action and it seems like whatever it is we're doing just isn't working. I just want to be able to do something that actually works and win some fights rather than picking ones we will loose (because we just apply the same ointment to fucking anything and everything). Just a few years back, I'd be as quick to judge these types of actions we're discussing here, but I am less inclined to do so now because i frankly feel that collectively we're stuck in a rut. To make a fancier autonomist-inspired argument: we're so utterly decomposed as a class and it seems like the process of recomposing hasn't even started yet.

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Mar 16 2017 23:19

But we will continue to lose more than we win because the level of class consciousness and class resistance is possibly at an all time low. It's not about what this or that anarchist group does but what the class does and it's this that needs to change. Stunts like filling in pot holes changes nothing - admirable though it might be, as long as it's not proto-scabbing.

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Mar 16 2017 23:59

I think that a bit of a problem here is that the Tories basically have attempted to usurp collective, working class self organisation, in terms of the fact that many working class people volunteer to help people and improve their communities, and use this to slash public services.

However this doesn't mean that there is any problem with people self organising this type of thing. In fact it was only due to mutual help type organisations which led to the state taking on various additional social functions in the first place. So there is nothing wrong with doing things on a volunteer basis - quite the opposite in fact

Spikymike
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Mar 17 2017 17:12

Difficult area in practice but need to distinguish self-organisation from the alternative state in waiting as with Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood, IRA, etc and perhaps others who view their organisations as providing a service to the people?