Anarchists have been hugely influential in the creation and rapid growth of Occupy Wall Street. General assemblies are using non-hierarchical consensus models, and national media outlets are talking anarchist theory with folks like David Graeber.
For most Americans, though, “anarchism” isn’t about helping each other out (without the government). Anarchism is chaos. Anarchism is destruction. Anarchism is kids with green hair playing smashy smashy.
When a group of activists were arrested for an alleged plot to blow up a bridge in Cleveland, Ohio, we saw the power of this cultural framing on display. The government came out swinging, labeling the defendants “self-proclaimed anarchists” and “terrorists” (a bit overkill, because as we’ll see the two are often interchangeable). The intention, of course, is to use the labels to skew public opinion (and distract from the unsettling role the FBI played in creating and supplying the plot).
In most of my work I’ve focused on how language is used to demonize dissent. But, as the cliche goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
So to illustrate how powerful labels can be in shaping discourse, let’s look at what the top stock photo websites have to say about anarchists. You don’t find images of community gardens or activists stopping home foreclosures. Instead, you learn:
1.) Anarchists never leave home without a good brick.
2.) No brick? A bat works.
3.) Anarchists only use turn of the (19th) century technology.
4.) Anarchists aren’t fans of subtlety.
7.) Anarchists look cooler than Tea Partiers.
11.) 95% of molotov-throwing anarchists are either 1) undercover cops or 2) Greek.
12.) Portrait of an Anarchist as Young Man.
14.) Super Anarchist’s superpowers include community building and consensus-based organizing. BAM! POW!
15.) WHY AM I JUST NOW LEARNING THAT THERE IS AN ANARCHY BUTTON?!
16.) This speaks for itself.
17.) But this one is more accurate…
*Thanks to SadAndUseless.com for the inspiration.