If we believe in the concepts of harm reduction and restorative and transformative justice, then we need to get involved in 12 step advocacy. 12 step programs began with the birth of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) when it was founded in 1935 out of a conversation between Bill Wilson aka Bill W. and Bob Smith. They both found spirituality to be a useful tool for recovery, with Bill W. diving into spiritualism and communication with spirits via seances and Ouija boards. Both also agreed that support networks helped as well, with Bill W. taking inspiration from anarchist Peter Kropotkin’s theories on mutual aid. Bill W. believed that these two aspects, the spiritual and mental, were balanced by a third, the physical, in the form of the vitamin supplement niacin. He later became a huge proponent of LSD and psychedelic therapy as a potential means to cure addiction.
Together they built a recovery model based on the principles of transformative justice, where one admits to their wrongdoings, genuinely works to change their behavior, and attempts to make amends where possible; autonomy, where no individual AA group or participant holds power over another; mutual aid, where the group is one’s support network and vice versa; and of course, anonymity.
This has since proven to be such a popular method for recovery that not only has AA spawned a number of similar groups based on the model, but even the court system in many areas has taken to promoting it as a transformative justice alternative to prison time.
Since the days of Bob Smith and Bill W. there have been many other recovery groups which have adopted AA’s 12 step program as their guide, including Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Neurotics Anonymous, Racists Anonymous, and Survivors of Incest Anonymous, among many others. Anyone can take the 12 step model with its original anarchistic intentions and apply it as a model for anarchist support groups dealing with any form of addiction.
Of course some people will be turned off by the religious element of the group, but it’s worth noting that the second of the Twelve Traditions states, “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority – a loving God as He may express Himself in our Group conscience.” That last part is key. The “Group conscience” or the whole of the support group itself, can be the higher power that one relies on. It is a recognition that sometimes we can accomplish more collectively than individually.
Now I’m not saying that 12 step programs help everyone. No model can promise that. There are alternative models for addiction recovery that are far more effective for some people. But the 12 step model is one that we can easily replicate alongside our other harm reduction and transformative justice organizing efforts. It’s a model that can be every bit as decentralized and easy to replicate as Food Not Bombs and we should normalize it in anarchist circles so radical 12 step programs become as abundant as Food Not Bombs. We should host AA and NA groups at every infoshop, community center, library, and church that’ll let us and rejuvenate the anarchist spirit it was founded upon so that we may spread our politics via example while providing an invaluable resource for those in need.