Inside Liberate RVA’s Anarchy Garden

Categories events, interviews, non fiction

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by Amelia Heymann

When I first thought about an Anarchist-run event, certain images came to my mind. One was a group of teenagers pushing over trashcans while shouting “Fuck the system!” Another, a group of angry punk kids ranting about how the man is keeping them down, as some obscure band screams in the background.  What I actually saw when I attended an Anarchist gathering was a group of adults sipping on craft brewed beer while discussing how to run the world without a government (also a pleasant lack of fedora bros). It didn’t seem, and wasn’t violent; a gathering of soccer moms would seem like a blood bath in comparison.

I was walking through VCU’s compass, as I do everyday. My ears were filled with the buzz of people handing out flyers, and asking for a moment of time to explain their organization’s philosophy. Earlier that morning, there had been a Christian organization, and by the afternoon they had been replaced by a group of Anarchists.  I didn’t think much of them until I heard the words “Anarchy potluck.” I thought I’d imagined it; the idea seemed laughable to me. An Anarchy potluck? What does a group of hardcore Anarchists getting together to share potato salad and pita chips look like?

While I usually find initiating conversation with strangers terrifying, my curiosity outweighed my shyness.  Between the enthusiastic and strange man wearing formal attire much too hot for the current weather, and a fellow female who was talking in a calmer tone, the choice of who to approach was obvious. Trying not to laugh, I asked her, “Why an Anarchy potluck?” The response was surprisingly rational.

“Because we like to eat while we discuss our philosophies on the subject,” said Bugatti Veyron. I would later find she became a believer of Anarchy after eight months of intense deliberation. I was handed a flyer and invited to attend the event, with a smile.

The decision to go was almost immediate. When would I ever get the chance to go to an Anarchy potluck again? After meeting up with a couple friends and making a trip to the dollar store to prevent showing up empty handed, we set off.

We took the long way (thanks to Google maps), and finally arrived at our destination:  the Anarchy Garden.  From the instant the door opened, we were welcomed in with open arms, and immediately offered food by Rachel, the owner of the home. The home we entered was one of two Anarchy gardens in Richmond, the Nevermore Anarchy Garden. Rachel explained, “I had always wanted a little patch of green for myself, and I really like the movie Little Shop of Horrors.” I then heard someone behind us quote said movie by saying, “Feed me Seymour!” and then laughing at his own reference.

The scene in front of me was everything and nothing I had expected. I felt like I had walked into my estranged grandmother’s house, if I had an estranged grandmother. It was in one of those a small one-story houses built sometime in the 50s, when neighborhoods with identical homes were a new trend, and having a small bit of land with a white picket fence was the American dream. In the living room, the walls and shelves were covered in knick-knacks that seemed to originate from all over the world. There were figurines, decorative weapons, and a couple Invader Zim costume heads on top of a bookshelf. I focused on the artwork of picturesque nature scenes; looking closer, I found odd details in the scenery–a sasquatch behind some bushes and a flying saucer above a field. The furniture was old and worn, and rested on carpeted floors adorned with bits of hair from the resident felines. The place had an oddly homey feel, despite the vase of cicada shells behind me. I felt more at ease in this room than at a majority of my actual relatives’ houses.

My friends and I were ushered quickly from the living room into the kitchen, to be social and meet all of the other attendants. In the kitchen, a bunch of people were standing around talking, while attempting to balance drinks and plates of food at the same time. Greeting everyone included the usual exchange of handshakes and hello, my name is-es. My friends and I noticed the table where the food was set up, and exchanged worried glances. Bringing dollar store chips and cookies didn’t really fit in with the home-cooked vegetarian options offered. Feeling embarrassed, we quickly filled our plates with food before retreating into the living room to snack on pizza and beer bread in shame. We were followed by Kal Molinet, who took a seat in front of us.

To me Kal was just some guy I saw passing out flyers on campus. His presence is very casual and down-to-earth. Other than his slightly formal attire, nothing about him demanded my attention. He asked us the usual required small talk questions, such as, “Is this your first time here?” But once the almost forced pleasantries were out of the way, he became more serious. I thought he was going begin a long rant, but instead he asked us a question. As if on cue, the kitchen-dwellers filed into the room, placing themselves on pieces of furniture and the floor as he spoke.

“Do you use violence on a daily basis to solve personal problems? Instead of trying to talk do you just start physically fighting with someone? This doesn’t mean ‘Have you ever gotten in a fight?’, but do you fight on a daily basis to solve issues?” he inquired. My friends and I answered no, and he posed a second question:

“With the exception of self-defense, is it okay initiate violence?” Once again, we all answered no, so he moved on to the final question:

“Would you also consider it wrong force your ideas on others, with the use of violence, if necessary? For example, someone doesn’t agree with you so you put a gun up to their head and say they have to or you’ll shoot.”  Again, my friends and I all agreed that it was wrong. Kal revealed to us that these questions related to one of Liberate RVA’s main philosophies, the Non-Aggression Principle.

Kal then spoke for about a half hour explaining to us that Liberate RVA believes people tend to solve their problems in a peaceful manner, and thinks violence is evil. Our answers, and the answers of people he’s talked to on the street show him that people generally lead peaceful lives and don’t resort to violence to solve issues.  The Non-Aggression Principle says violence is never okay, and initiating it is evil. From spanking a misbehaving child to using military action, it’s all evil.

Liberate RVA even views the act of voting as violence. I mean, Kal is known as “the ‘Ask me why voting/the government is immoral’ sign guy.” Kal explained to us, “We vote because it’s the only way to change society, but by voting we elect people who make laws, who then use the violence of the police force to enforce the laws. The government’s tendency to be more violent than individuals is evidenced by the fact that committing a peaceful ‘offense,’ like the use of cannabis, can result in the government, in the form of police, kidnapping you from your location, locking you up in a cage, and using further physical violence if you attempt to evade arrest.”  When the topic of cannabis came up many people around the room chime in with personal stories or opinions, then Kal proceeded to once again dominate the discussion.

At this point, my public school education had me wanting to yell, “But what about the social contract?!” I refrained from my sudden impluse, and chose to raise my hand and ask instead. Kal got very excited and explained that the social contract is wrong. Anarchists say that we never really agreed to the contract, that we were born into society and then forced to agree to it. The same thing goes for taxes. Since we never agreed to the laws of society, we never agreed to pay taxes, which they refer to as “forced extortion.” Bugatti then said, “The government is just stealing from us.” I nodded my head because, while I wasn’t sure I agreed, I wanted to hear what he they’d say next.

Kal went on to explain how society would run without a government. Apparently, in an Anarchist society, it is believed the private businesses can fill the role of government just as, if not more, effectively. One example offered was that of Lysander Spooner. Bugatti told us that in the mid-nineteenth century, Lysander Spooner competed with the US postal service. His rates and service were almost enough to run the postal service out of business, and probably would have, if not for the fact that the US government ran a number of lawsuits against Spooner and his business. With Spooner’s wallet running dry, the US government then created a law which allowed only US postal service to deliver mail. Liberate RVA believes that society will keep businesses from churning out horrible service or products the same way that eBay’s rating system works. Nobody purchases from eBay sellers with horrible ratings, so giving businesses a rating system would force them to continue to provide quality services and products.

The conversation then dwindled into personal topics and the mood turned social once more. At one point, partygoers watched James Square fire dance to industrial music in the backyard. The evening was filled with obscure bands and thoughtful chatter, and the sense of community was intense. I felt simultaneously a part of the group and at the same time excluded. Here, a group of strangers I had just met that day had welcomed my friends and I into their home, treating us like long lost family. It was evident to me that they approached the movement with complete sincerity toward bettering their community rather than out of anger or defiance. At the same time, I couldn’t fully put my heart into agreeing with what they were saying. I could hear my mom saying, “They were probably only being that nice to try and convert you.”

I learned that Kal was a member of the US Air Force, and after leaving the service, he came to the conclusion that the military was wrong for using violence to enforce their views. He subsequently became an Anarchist, or as the members of Liberate RVA prefer to be called, a Freedom Activist. He was one of the original members to found Liberate RVA a year ago. When leaving the party I was told by Keturah, a fellow Anarchist and mother of two, that, “All international branches were started because they came to VCU and talked to Kal.” When I stated that he seemed very passionate, she said, “Liberate RVA is like his baby.”

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