Anarchist Sabbath

IssueOctober 2012
Feature by Cath

ImageEvery time I tell someone about 'anarchist sabbath', they're intrigued, curious, sometimes envious – the conversations start exploring lifestyle, family, personal decisions, community, spirituality, emotional support, political strategy.

This is rather gratifying. So what is it?

Most Sundays, my friend, whom let's call 'Jack', and I meet up in my kitchen and pour ourselves a cup of tea. We take our tea down to the garden pond and sit next to each other without talking for anything up to an hour.

We think, we contemplate the pond and the trees and the squirrels, we sip tea. Sometimes we have a thought so interesting that we might write it down in our 'book of profound thoughts'. Sometimes we use the book of profound thoughts to help us. Sometimes we are guided by the series of 'thinking points' we wrote down when we first invented it – Who's done something worth celebrating recently? Are we happy with the directions our lives are taking? What's cool about the garden today? If it's raining, we sit in the polytunnel. If it's cold, we wrap up in blankets with hot water bottles.

When we reach the agreed end, we talk – we explore those things in our lives that are challenging us, we think about how our aims and ambitions (growing peas, supporting family, being proud of our work, world peace) are progressing. We think about whether we're putting our energies in the right places.

When we're done, we clear pond weed.

This wasn't meant to be the whole thing – it's a very satisfying starting point, but it's missing a wider function which, for me, catalysed the idea in the first place.

Being an anarchist

For the purposes of this article, I'll say I'm an eco-anarchist. By this I mean:

I believe in non-hierarchy, liberation, supportive community, self-sufficiency, self-determination, self-responsibility, mutual aid, solidarity, love, creativity, collective action, inter-connectedness of all things, bio-centrism (rather than anthropo-centrism),

I will combat the forces of inequality, greed, money as power/freedom/security, exploitation of 'resources', eco-destruction, consumerism, wanton aggression, apathy and limiting people's potential.

Being an eco-anarchist is a constant struggle against all norms, all the time. From the everyday fight against convenience culture and one's own socially-constructed consumerist desires (pretty things, escapist culture, chocolate) to the background hum of social benchmarks and expectations ('Still living like a student? Still on benefits at your age?').

There are too many temptations and distractions to keep up the everyday struggle of sticking to one's principles without some positive feedback, some joy in living them.

I've got myself into an OK life situation – living in a co-operative community, getting a lot of food from a variety of 'acceptable' sources, not having to work full-time and thoroughly engaged in various activisms.

But it feels like a ghetto. Everyone here is (pretty much) the same as me – not many older people, kids, different skin colours, socio-economic backgrounds, beliefs. Many people I talk to outside my ghetto are either weirded out by it, find it hilarious or dislike it. Also, people leave – they drift away into nuclear families, mortgages, full-time jobs, careers or just disillusion or distraction or religion. 

They go for the positive feedback where they can find it, or are unable to find enough space within a scene where they've had social conflict. 

What's missing?

I see my 'scene' as being transient and as wearing people out. I identify it as hard to access if you're not socially similar. I identify a lack of celebration of anarchist success, a lack of reflective praxis. I identify a lack of support for people within 'my community' who are struggling. 

I identify a lack of collective and personal strategic thinking.

And I find inspiration in other experiences: Friday night dinner within a Jewish family – no excuses, no other possible commitments, waifs & strays welcome; meditative practice in Buddhist and some Christian traditions; Christmas, Passover – ritual, togetherness, re-telling the collective story; Quaker advices & queries, holy books, sermons – documenting the history & teachings, being challenged to live by your principles; regular, open time together, which is accessible to all-comers.

The big idea

My vision is of a movement-wide anarchist sabbath – a time in the week when no collective work or meetings are planned, a time for rest, reflection, community-building, celebration, challenge, learning, solidarity and sharing.

Those who choose to observe it together create their own sabbath – each sabbath meeting is an access point for friends and strangers and it embodies the politics of those who set it up. Jack and I have chosen to be outside with the weather and the non-human world, but others might choose always to write a letter to a comrade in prison at the end, or to be a reading group or always to spend some time visualising anarchist workplaces or ritually start with yoga. Children and others could have anarchist learning time (like Sunday School). 

It seems to me that longevity of political communities is increased by creating institutions, as contrary as that sounds to a superficial understanding of anarchism.

A new trend?

It's not surprising that my thinking has led me down paths that have been created by religion (especially the Quakers):

I have a set of beliefs that I wish to live by and that I wish others to share, because I believe the world would be better if more people thought and acted according to these beliefs. 

I need to keep checking in with other people to support myself in this and to reassure me that they too still wish to see those beliefs made real.

I want the stories and the thoughts of my antecedents remembered and built on (with fresh thinking and creativity), so that history is not doomed to repeat itself and wheels need not be endlessly reinvented.

I'm happy to grab good ideas from anywhere, and religious communities have got a bunch of them, which I feel have been the baby thrown out with the religious bathwater by many secular anarchists.

This morning, after meeting for over five months, we got a third member of our anarchist sabbath crew – someone who decided it was worth seeing what 8.30am on a Sunday morning looks like and liked it. 

It may not be spreading very fast, but the roots are getting deeper.