This article appeared on Konbini. See it HERE
Since time immemorial, anarchism has had a PR problem. Its many ideological strands have never truly controlled their respective images and terms of debate in the public consciousness. Instead, for over a century this ground has been ceded to politicians, mainstream media and big business, who have separately and collectively framed anarchism as — to borrow the term once leveled against Throbbing Gristle — “wreckers of civilization”.
This, however, might change now that anarchism has a PR collective. Founded by Jen Angel and Ryan Only last October, the fittingly named “Agency” aims to insert the anarchist perspective into mainstream news and public dialogue, and more effectively communicate its ideas to the masses.
An Occupy Sandy poster. Occupy Sandy is seen as a prime example of the anarchist response to disaster situations.
Giving anarchism effective public relations will be a herculean effort. But, in the anarchist opinion, it is a vital ambition given capitalism’s (and western civilization’s) near constant economic and socio-political spasms.
Quietly, anarchism has explored alternative types of living, economy and social organization, with successes and failures like any ideology. (Look at Common Ground Collective‘s efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, and Occupy Sandy‘s work in New York in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.) But most would never know of the successes since violent anarchist rioters tend to make the news.
We want more people exposed to anarchist ideas and one way of doing that… is to use the mainstream media.
Angel recently spoke to Konbini about the Agency’s PR effort. Unlike the slick world of capitalist public relations, Agency’s method is restrained and modest, which is quite unlike the snake oil sales pitches of traditional public relations efforts. In conversation, Angel went into Agency’s inception and where it plans to go in the near future.
“Ryan and I have been anarchists for a long time, and we both do PR professionally, and so around Occupy [in 2011] Ryan and I had very serious conversations about how to use our public relations skills to influence the way the mainstream media and the public were talking about anarchism,” Angel said. “The media would talk about anarchism and just not get it right, and one of the reasons is because people aren’t giving them better information, or they interview the same people
Angel believes that part of the reason the media so often interviews David Graeber — author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years and The Utopia of Rules – is that they don’t know who else to interview. So, Angel and Only wondered if they could be more proactive and give the media more people to interview. The two had no illusions that the media would always get it right, but they thought it worth trying to influence the media toward a “more accurate representation of anarchism”.
From these discussions Angel and Only began strategizing under the umbrella of Agency. They then brought on an advisory board that includes noted anarchist and community organizer scott crow.
“We want more people exposed to anarchist ideas and one way of doing that that’s not just preaching to the converted is to use the mainstream media,” Angel said. “There are different ways to get the mainstream media’s attention, and that’s where our strategies come up. We’ve just started, so we don’t have any huge successes, but Ryan and I both have experience in getting the media to pay attention to various causes and campaigns.”
Angel said that one of their strategies is reactive, where a member of the media — whether in print, radio, television or online — says something inaccurate about anarchism, and Agency calls them to talk about it. They also send letters to the editor about any reporting inaccuracies. Agency also pursues a proactive strategy, where they contact media with information about what anarchists think about topics, both domestic and global.
Our goal isn’t to sanitize anarchism and make it palatable. Our goal is to make all the different ideas within anarchism more accessible.
But with all of anarchism’s strands — from individualist anarchism to mutual aid — will Agency’s approach require various tactics? Angel certainly thinks so.
“Our goal isn’t to sanitize anarchism and make it palatable,” Angel said, “our goal is to make all the different ideas within anarchism more accessible. That means sometimes there will be contradictions: some anarchists think one thing, and some anarchists do not.”
Agency, for instance, published a reader on what anarchists think about gay marriage. Angel said that some anarchists totally oppose even talking about state involvement in intimate relationships. Other anarchists, however, acknowledge that there are real material gains wrapped up in the political process, and that it might be worth working towards.
“So, within the anarchist community there is some dissension about gay marriage, but there are a lot of real critiques about marriage from the anarchist perspective even with the contradictions,” Angel said. “Having healthcare or immigration tied to marital status is a critique that is widely shared, so I feel comfortable with promoting a diversity of [anarchist] perspectives.”
Agency also wrote an editorial on the ebola crisis, using it as a platform to talk about how a public health crisis would be dealt with in a world without states. Agency also has an “Anarchists In The News” section, which is an “ongoing list of anarchism and anarchists discussed or mentioned in mainstream media outlets”, where they encourage anarchists to respond to pieces with comments and letters to editors.
The Agency site also features a “Critical Voices” section, which offers analysis on news and perspectives. And, perhaps most importantly, Agency offers up press briefs to give mainstream media a repository for anarchist sources, quotes and interviews.
Will this all be enough to influence mainstream media and the public consciousness? Anarchism certainly faces an uphill battle and maybe even an impossible task. But Agency believes it’s a battle worth waging. If they don’t control the message, then mainstream media, which isn’t always an adversary of government and business, will do it for them.