The Resilience and Inspiration of Underground Communities


            Marble Falls      Organizers and activists can be a little bit like oil and water, a decidedly rough mix.  Organizers try to build a base, develop leaders, and, if it all comes together, build power.  Activists mainly want to take action, which is not to say they are disorganized or don’t do a lot of different kinds of organizing, but anyway you look at it, it’s not the same.   None of which is to say that respect should not be given, hats off, and big props when they show out large.  I, for one, and I can’t be alone, found myself impressed and somewhat awed reading a forever long piece in N+1 written by Grace Glass with Sasha Tycko, which in the way of these things, may or may not be their names,  about the forest protectors waging their years’ long encampment and struggle against the building of Atlanta’s Cop City.  

Glass sums up part of my pleasure in reading her essay when she reflects on her own experience in the encampment, responding only partly in humor to a question from “young strangers” about her own motivations for participation, saying, “we’re here because we love the logistics.”  Not surprisingly, given this admission, she writes best about the herculean efforts by all manner of folks coming together to build, operate, rebuild, supply, and rewind again time after time to keep the fight in the forest alive.

I was struck not only at their continued resilience, which, I guess I should add, is now subject to a RICO claim against a bunch of them by the official legal beagles of the Atlanta superstructure, but by their vast network and the community that they could call on when needed.  Rebuilding their camp kitchen after authorities’ destruction, they could summon a crack movement construction team, based in Albuquerque, to show up and get it done.  Facing the fact that a huge crowd from everywhere could show up for a mass action in the forest, their kitchen boss, a wonderment in her own right, could call on a veteran team of women from the Midwest who specialized in huge field cooking for mass mobilizations, and down they came to save the day.

When they come together on something in this way, it’s pretty amazing.  I’d like to know those folks.  It’s also paradoxical, since most of the assembled in the Cop City affair believe fervently in “autonomous” actions, which would give most organizers lifetime ulcers.  It’s “do your own thing” on steroids.  At one point, Glass even notes when it becomes “reckless” and counterproductive, yet elsewhere she approvingly shares a forest defenders’ quote that, “Just get two people together to do one thing, and you are also an organizer.”  Surely, courting chaos is a tactic, but it’s not always a winning strategy.

Glass gives a good report, but at the same time is clear about the rewards she finds as part of this menagerie:

    They call this “the unfathomable bliss of being a cog in someone else’s machine.” For all the talk about autonomy, sometimes you want to be of use. Is this what’s so enlivening about the week of action? We are happy to see our friends, of course, but it’s something more, and they sense it too, a subtle reorientation of our body to other people, to abstractions like work and time.…For a few transcendent instants this week we feel like a gnat in a swarm, a spontaneous, collaborative choreography unfolding around us. Again, we are exhilarated by the rush of—it’s not exactly solidarity, but something even stranger and more miraculous, closer to goodwill.

She’s spot on about the indescribable feeling of community that one finds doing social change and within its organizations and movements.  We win some, and we lose some, but this is part of what explains why we do this work, and how it sustains us.