On Saturday February 18, students from across Massachusetts gathered at Encuentro 5 in Chinatown for the inaugural meeting of the Student Anarchist Federation (SAF). The SAF hopes to build on the upsurge in anarchism’s popularity in the wake of the Occupy movement. They plan to do so by helping students organize in a non-hierarchical manner to challenge capitalism, the state, and all forms of oppression – a vision that departs markedly from anarchism’s nihilistic portrayal by the political left and right alike.
Nearly 50 students were present at Saturday’s meeting. Colleges represented included Boston University, Tufts, Northeastern, Emerson, Bunker Hill, Burlington, Wentworth, Emmanuel, Simmons, and Salem State University. Many were reluctant to disclose their full names due to the possibility of state or employer reprisal. Some, such as “Malatesta” of Boston University, had been active on their campuses for a long time, but now see anarchism “spreading like wildfire,” energized in part by Occupy protests.
The SAF takes its inspiration from the Libertarian Student Front (Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios/FEL) in Chile. The FEL has roots in the struggles of Chilean students against the neoliberal reforms of (US-backed) dictator Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s regime, most famous for ordering the murder of thousands of leftists in the 1970s, also altered the country’s education system, introducing enormous inequalities between regions. The FEL was formally constituted in 2003, following initial actions in the late 1990s. It continues to provide a political space for anarchist students to promote horizontialism and the socialization of the education system. The FEL has been active in 2011-2012 Chilean student uprisings, which have seen student occupations of more than 100 universities.
Participants at the first meeting of the SAF expressed belief that their federation’s establishment would allow for more large-scale actions in Massachusetts, including outreach to students, teach-ins on anarchism, and coordinated protests. One proposal was for the development of new materials for outreach, such as magazines and pamphlets. Breakout groups discussed how to fight student T fare hikes. A motion was passed for the SAF to march together on March 1, the National Day of Action for Education.
Many of the participants reported anarchistic ideas flourishing on their campuses in the face of increasingly delegitimized college authorities. These authorities are trying to push through unpopular tuition hikes and place restrictions on student groups. As a result, students find it increasingly desirable to imagine a world without such authorities and to work toward building such a world.
SAF members also discussed how exactly their values should be put into practice through the federation. Many participants believed that an anarchist organization should not focus just on anti-capitalist or anti-state actions, but needed to address all forms of oppression, in new and creative ways. One woman spoke of the need “to create affinity groups and safe spaces for oppressed people.” Emily from Burlington described the appeal of anarchism as that of “building a society without systems of oppression, sustained by radical compassion and direct democracy, where people are taken care of.”
The meeting ended with the organizers deciding to devote most of the next meeting to a discussion of what constitutes anarchist values and strategy. The next meeting will be Sunday, Feb 26, at E5 (33 Harrison Ave, 5th floor, Boston) starting at 7 pm.
To learn more, find the Student Anarchist Federation on Facebook.