I feel like so far my posts on here have been slagging stuff off, without any positive suggestions. So now I’m going to be positive (going to have to slag some stuff off first, though..)!
To avoid confusion, it should be stated that I don’t use counterculture and subculture interchangeably. An example that I’ve heard (I think it might be on an A//Political record, but I’m not sure) is ‘Punk is a subculture, anarcho-punk is a counterculture’. I don’t really agree, if only because different definitions of both mean it’s nowhere near as black and white as that. Broadly speaking, a subculture is different to the dominant culture, but has no ambition beyond coexisting with it, whereas a counterculture is at least partly defined by its opposition to the dominant culture.
Often in radical circles an emphasis is put on trying to distance ourselves from subcultures as they’re alienating to ‘normal’ working class people. However, often this ends up being based on slightly archaic ideas of what the working class are like, and creates an equally irrelevant and subcultural identity. I can understand that this is in reaction to the idea that to be an ‘anarchist’ one has to adopt a series of lifestyle choices (veganism/freeganism, squatting, punk) that, realistically, are never going to appeal to the majority of the population (and in the case of freeganism, wouldn’t work if they did), and also that those choices are activism, in and of themselves.
However, this doesn’t mean that we should reject the idea of creating an inclusive radical counterculture. The best way of describing what I have in mind is actually ‘folk culture’, but without the geographical confines implied by that. There are numerous struggles that have made use of culture as a means for not only spreading the message, but passing on knowledge and memories to a new generation. One notable example here (no matter what your opinion of the politics) is clearly the use of music by the Irish Republican movement, especially when relating to historical events. The existence of shared culture brings movements closer and keeps significant historical events relevant. The only criticism in the case of Irish republicanism is the fact that, although the music when it was first being created was representative of the wider culture at the time, it has stylistically not changed much for over 100 years. Traditional folk music, and the identity that goes along with that, definitely has a place in the culture and should be preserved, but for music to continue to be a relevant tool, it also has to evolve with the times. On a positive note – Irish republican folk-hiphop anyone? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beltaine%27s_Fire
Now, to bring this back to where we are now. Personally, I think that in a limited capacity, the anti-globalisation movement has been relatively successful at chronicling itself culturally. The only time when this really struck me was when I realised how much I knew about the anti-FTAA protests in Miami in 2003. I’m not talking about the issues here, I’m talking about purely the events that took place. I’d never read any reports of the protests, or seen anything on the news. I don’t know anyone who was there. Everything I know about those protests comes from songs. From them, I know a bit about the tactics used on the day (by protestors and police), who the chief of police was at the time (John Timoney), which are important in terms of knowledge. But, in some ways more importantly, they convey the emotion of the days. Listened to as a whole, the songs* come across as an expression of collective grief and trauma, but also hope. For US activists, I’d assume that there’s enough people who remember those days, or know people who do, that the incentive to learn from them is significant. But in terms of an international radical movement, one of the best ways to spread the message is through music (as well as action reports, poetry, art, etc). I’m not arguing that these things are revolutionary in and of themselves, but the space they provide for us to express ourselves and learn I strongly believe can bring us closer together. This doesn’t mean we have to alienate ourselves from mainstream culture, you can listen to Lady Gaga if you want to. Rather, it’s a recognition of the fact that, although we’re ‘normal’ people, we’re also part of a wider resistance movement, and sometimes alternative culture can facilitate that. It only becomes an issue when there’s an exclusive culture created where you have to like punk, and can’t listen to anything on the radio. The message is what’s important, how it’s expressed has infinite possibilities, so let’s embrace that, have fun, and hopefully learn something too!
“Here we are a movement, suffering from the stains
of Genoa and Miami, and the question that remains is
When will we be ready, to surge once more,
Armed with visions of tomorrow, and the knowledge from before?”
Global Justice – Ryan Harvey
*I realise this list is probably not exhaustive, I’m pretty sure I’ve even missed out some out that I like, but for a general picture :
- A Day In Miami, Talkin’ FTAA Preparations, South Florida and Global Justice by Ryan Harvey
- Butcher For Hire and Miami by David Rovics
- The Fence by Evan Greer