Becoming “A Thing Apart” is the Story of Government

Voltairine de Cleyre, the 19th and 20th century anarchist without adjectives, stated in her essay, “Anarchism and American Traditions” that, “…the nature of government is to become a thing apart, an institution existing for its own sake, preying upon the people, and teaching whatever will tend to keep it secure in its seat.”

If the time of political governance has reached its apex in the 21st century, then someone should tell me what this apex actually looks like. Because one might figure that transparency would be involved with any good liberal democracy. Unfortunately for such dreamers, Obama has had other plans in mind.

According to Roisin Davis of Truthdig, “The White House announced March 16 that it is officially ending the Freedom of Information Act obligations of its Office of Administration. The office is responsible for various record-keeping duties, including the archiving of email.”

To put the knife in the back of the American people a bit deeper, this announcement came during the annual Sunshine Week. A week that (wait for it) highlights how governments can be more open and transparent.

To make matters worse, Obama has also threatened prosecution against any members of congress who decide to speak about the contents of a controversial trade deal.

By now, this lack of transparency is nothing if not typical for the Obama administration. All of that so-called “hope and change” may have sounded nice in 2008 but as times passes more and more people realize how much of a sham that rhetoric really was. The wars are still continuing, people are still being spied on en masse and the US government is still far away from being an ideal institution for transparency.

The Obama administration has, if you can believe it, set records for withholding information from the press and watchdog organizations. According to a detailed study done by AP Press, the Obama administration beat the record they set last year for denying or reducing access to files.  AP reports that, “The new figures showed the government responded to 647,142 requests, a 4 percent decrease over the previous year.”

So if you have an institution that is largely unaccountable, is able to spy on you and even kill you, what is the best way forward?

The best way is not as some commentators would like to think: advocating political reform. The government has you play by their rules so they do not have to. There is no point in trying to get a historically unaccountable system to suddenly switch gears and act more “democratic”.

Instead, we should try to build our own accountable organizations that help us deal with matters of economy and justice. We should use the liberating forces of anti-capitalist markets, mixed with radical leftist insights about  solidarity, direct action and mutual aid.

Good examples of community based and accountable institutions are democratic schools. These are schools where the children hold a great degree of power over themselves and what they want to learn. The process also sometimes involves teaching them about participatory systems where their actions actually matter. Such learning processes are invaluable to helping cultivate anti-authoritarianism even if just indirectly.

We need to not only help strengthen such alternative institutions but also build new and betters one. So that we may we may one day have as de Cleyre says, “…thousands of small communities stretching along the lines of transportation, each producing very largely for its own needs, able to rely upon itself, and therefore able to be independent.”

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory