I’d never been to bookfair before. I was very excited to be attending; had been looking forward to looking at books and collecting badges and I knew everyone I loved would be there. Not a lot of that happened though. I went home with two badges (the best two badges there in my opinion ‘my body is my business’ and ‘keep your rosaries of my ovaries’) and a stiff body and sore throat.
Within an hour of arriving we had to face the dreaded white man from down under. I’d heard there was some drama at last year’s bookfair but my memory isn’t the best so had forgotten the details apart from the fact that he was a misogynist and had upset some of our fem bloc. Well, it was clear to see and hear why this might have been. Stood on a bench he was spouting the usual Assange rape apologist bullshit about how there is “no rape without a charge” and that it simply didn’t happen. Of course we weren’t going to let that go. “Rape apologist” we shouted as his face screwed up into a grimace, a small crowd gathered round him. He started pointing at Stavvers, for some reason becoming utterly fixated with her red boots and sniping that she was an imperialist and he didn’t have to listen to her. So I stepped up and asked him what I was, surely he couldn’t excuse me in the same manner? I was wrong.
“Your culture,” he spat, “has invaded my culture for the last 800 years!” I must admit, I was a little confused by this. I might be British by birth but it certainly wasn’t my choice and my ancestors are traditionally those who have been raped and pillaged by imperialists so I couldn’t get my head around what he meant. “You’re a British imperialist!” He said this a few times but it didn’t make a difference in my comprehension. Here was this white man with an Australian accent and hefty mousey dreadlocks accusing me of racially controlling him and I wasn’t happy. This is where I got a bit sweary. I asked him what he meant by that as I made a point of looking at my skin and he replied “well, your accent is really English.” This person clearly hasn’t spent any time in this country or spoken to any people of colour living in Western societies otherwise he’d know that accents have very fucking little to do with a person’s roots. That and he’s a big fat racist. We called him that and we called him a rape apologist. A couple of his supporters really didn’t like that. One man, with his fuzzy mullet and flat cap brought his camcorder right into my face, his lips shaking, trying to intimidate me into silence. ANY anarchist worth their fucking politics knows you do not film comrades so with this in mind, we assumed he was a copper and called it as such. He didn’t like that. Dread man called us ‘hysterical’ and we all whooped. There were calls for making the most of it with a game of manarchist bingo as things went from ridiculous to brain numbingly tedious. He randomly accused two of our group of killing 11 people in Northern Ireland, accusing one of them of being Northern Irish.
The crowd around us got bigger, comrades very much on our side and the others, men who seemed utterly heartbroken (pissed off) that we were chanting “kill all men”. One well-meaning chap explained how his mum was a feminist and how he had support for women but he felt alienated by phrases such as the one we were using. Assuming he was an anarchist, I asked him if he’d ever said ‘ACAB’ or ‘eat the rich’ and then whether he said these in the absolute belief that there wasn’t a single good cop in the world or that he might actually munch on the upper classes because if he was saying it, then he obviously he meant it. There was a slight pause before he understood what I was saying but he persisted in advising that we were pushing the average man away.
Here’s the thing: we don’t give a shit about the average man. We’re not teachers, we’re not leaders, we’re not going to break it down for you in a language you understand. We are expressing ourselves, nothing more, nothing less. We say these extreme things because, powerless as we are, sometimes it is the only thing in our arsenal. Words are powerful, yes, and for those fleeting few seconds, we are in control and you can’t hurt us.
As the crowd dissipated we made our way to the foyer for the AnarchaFem conference but on the way in, we were confronted by fuzzy mullet man. His face started twitching again, he must have really been resisting the impulse to physically attack me, his whole demeanour was triggering of the men who have attacked me in the past. I felt eerily calm, pushing his finger down when he pointed it in my face and moving into his space to see how he liked it. “Do you believe in free speech?” He repeated this over and over. Comrades shouted “rape apologist cop!” at him but this didn’t change his stance. It was only when a male comrade physically put his body between us that this manz sloped off, the bulk of my male friend clearly too much of a challenge.
If we thought an AnarchaFem conference was going to leave us any more confident about the bookfair then those hopes were soon dashed. They had a safer spaces policy that I really got on board with but I couldn’t say that it made me feel any safer on the premises. I raised the point with the people facilitating the meeting. Whilst it felt safe-ish in the room, the journey to the room had left us afraid and feeling remarkably unsafe. They replied that they knew Ciaron O Reilly was back this year and were aware of the problems he had caused the previous year so we could meet at the end and discuss how we were going to tackle it. With this covered we moved on to the subject of self-defined women only safe spaces for the AnarchaFem conference. It turned out this wasn’t it but a strategy meeting for setting one up. Most of the discussion with other anarcha fems seemed progressive until one woman suggested we needed a safe space where we could “discuss divisive subjects like sex work and abortion”. This is where the meeting went downhill. As was rightly pointed out by one of our irl comrades, we come to an anarcha fem space safe in the knowledge that if you are identifying as an anarchist you have rejected the system and discussions such as the one proposed are had by anarchists every day when combatting bigotry. This should not be the starting point; we should already have come to the conclusion that our feminism is inclusive. We might have our own feelings about sex work and abortion, heck, I have my own feelings about some Muslims but I’m not about to force my feelings on others because of the twisted experiences I have personally had. From outside the room we heard shrieking and through the small glass panel I saw some of dread man’s supporters heckling and pointing at us. When they were asked to leave, they said they didn’t follow rules cos anarchy. When advised they couldn’t drink outside a room where a safe space policy was in place, they jeered at us and said “are you gonna stop calling him a rape apologist?” We told them this was room focused on survivors and they had no business being on the landing and then another man from a meeting around the corner came to have a go but not at them, as though we were the troublemakers. On speaking to other comrades, many of the workshops had similar problems; one of them even had survivors and perpetrators in the same space with someone sat at the door to ensure people couldn’t leave. There were people crying and shaking. This is not my anarchism. This is patriarchy.
Leaving the meeting we quickly became aware that dread man was stirring trouble up again. The entrance to the building was crammed with people posturing towards a centre point. Assangites in Anon masks were taking pictures and filming people again. TELL ME, HOW IS THIS ANARCHIST? I rightly got very angry and tried to push the camera out of one of the women’s hands but she was really enjoying herself. Dread man was spouting some nonsense about ‘Branning’ and I remembered hearing somewhere many anon types were struggling with the fact that Chelsea Manning is who she is. I said her name was Chelsea Manning and it affected him for all of a split second before he went on a bizarre rant about the Clintons and Chelsea being Hilary’s daughter and imperialist conspiracies yadda yadda. We started chanting “her name is Chelsea Manning” and then he pointed at me, “America and that woman over there, she is the most dangerous woman in the world!” I won’t lie, this made me sorta happy. But seriously, me, 5 foot brownie with invisible disabilities is the biggest threat that man thinks the world has to face. I agree about America but how, HOW am I on a par with that rogue state there? Obviously he’s a completely ridiculous manz with an ego the size of Australia, just like Assange.
What can be done about Anarchism? This was my first experience of anarchists outside of my close knit activist group. I am hoping we are the majority and we can eliminate the patriarchal fucks intent on maintaining power and control structures otherwise I am seriously going to have to rethink my identity.