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Social Justice Contrasts: Fancy Hotels & Grungy Mutual Aid November 26, 2018

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism.
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My experience at the recent American Studies Association (ASA) conference in Atlanta, GA highlights the tensions in the social-justice (SJ) scene. From the start, walking past folks sleeping on the street on my way to the conference location in a posh hotel unsettled me. Helping with a Food Not Bombs Atlanta meal further brought the contradictions into focus. Is our only choice between affluent academic professionalism & meager mutual aid? I hope not.

One of the folks at Atlanta FNB drew a clear theory-practice distinction. When I mentioned that the conference was people talking social justice in a fancy hotel, this FNBer told me they were doing it (SJ). The poverty & marginality of FNB Atlanta stood out. Like many FNBs, this one preps in a messy collective house. Its anarchist decor awed me: such an assortment of stickers & posters! The food comes from donations & includes the common array of weary veggies.

By my (petty bourgeois?) standards, the whole FNB Atlanta affair seemed a bit desperate, even as far as FNBs go. I’m impressed by how they used their limited resources, but I sure wish they had greater access to nice things.

How come society allocates so much more time & energy to SJ academic conferences than to SJ practice on the ground that serves folks in need?

I’m guessing the potential for SJ humanities disciplines like American studies to entertain & enlighten members of the professional & elite classes gives them the nod over anarchist mutual aid to unsheltered folks.

Needless to say, I’m not the only person to run in both academic & nonacademic radical circles. Various American studies scholars participate in organizing, mutual aid, etc. Some live in poverty themselves.

While I want American studies to thrive, I remain uncomfortable with conferences in high-class venues that charge to enter. These events aren’t accessible or welcoming to many poor/low-income people.

I long for vastly increased resources for mutual aid & for academic conferences that meaningfully engage with local class struggles.

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