Q&A with local anarchist Alex Barangan
It’s been one month since the streets of Downtown Santa Cruz turned rowdy and rambunctious in what was supposed to be a DIY May Day Dance Party. Good Times has since heard from city council members, the Santa Cruz Police Department, and two small business owners (whose businesses were vandalized). Now we sit down with Alex Barangan, a local engineer and member of the anarchist and DIY communities, to hear a different perspective. He did not participate in the May Day event, and speaks to us instead about the impact of the incident on the anarchist community, his own experience, and more.
As important as it is to tell all sides of the story, it’s been difficult to find someone to share the anarchist perspective on the May Day situation. Can you share why you are speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the anarchist community?
It would be absolutely wrong and offensive to imply that my personal opinion could possibly be representative of the opinions of other anarchists. First of all, it would be incorrect based on the fact that anarchism is such a broad philosophy and its entirely possible to find two ‘anarchists’ who wildly disagree with each other. More importantly, the act of speaking as a representative for other non-consenting, autonomous individuals would go against anarchist belief. We all have our own feelings and opinions and we need to respect that. [Santa Cruz Police Department Spokesperson] Zach Friend, for example, [wrote a column about this] but that’s his role, that’s his job, he’s a spokesperson and the SCPD has given him that authority. Individuals from the city council can act as spokespersons for the city council. That mindset is very much built into our society, where we think ‘there has to be one person in charge here who can speak for this group of people.’ It sure makes things simpler, but outside of institutions it makes it all too easy to marginalize individuals and impose authority.
What is your involvement in the local anarchist community?
I came here originally to go to UC Santa Cruz 12 years ago. I did a bachelors and a masters degree in engineering before becoming more interested in local DIY projects. I’ve helped organize community bike rides, I’ve taught various classes through Free Skool, and I’ve been supportive of other projects, such as Guerilla Drive-In and Subrosa.
What brought me to the community was being attracted to the DIY attitude here—you can accomplish so much if you just “do it yourself.” That’s not something that is promoted widely; kids growing up in our society are often discouraged from thinking outside of the carefully packaged boxes of their university-aimed educations. Kids learn a lot about how to be the cubicle employees of the future and not as much about how to live richer lives.
Have you found the local anarchist community to be as diverse in opinion and beliefs as anarchism sometimes is?
There are things everyone can agree on, like the value of community, being autonomous and being able to make decisions for your own life and the community being able to decide things for itself. But beyond those core things, it’s all over the place.
What is driving you to talk to GT about all of this?
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to say that you are an anarchist or you live by anarchist principles. There is a common viewpoint that anarchism has to be violent, that if you are an anarchist you are a ‘bomb-throwing anarchist,’ and that it’s all about destroying the world that we’ve built. For me, the anarchist struggle is a non-violent one that is based on better communication and building a more nurturing community. Also, I think it’s important for people to know that we have similar concerns and desires for our community and, in the end, we want the same thing. We may disagree on how to go about reaching that goal but we aren’t on opposing sides.
Has Santa Cruz anarchism been misrepresented as violent?
Certainly. After the May Day events, the finger was immediately pointed at Subrosa and at many of the anarchist DIY projects in town, many of which have been around for years and have been nothing but positive for the community. Certain individuals and groups in town have linked all anarchists and radicals with the May Day events simply because there were circle-A symbols spray painted on buildings. This reckless finger pointing has devolved into an all-out witch-hunt where long-standing members of the Santa Cruz community are being singled out solely based on their sociopolitical beliefs. It’s a big problem when people aren’t willing to communicate and create an open dialogue with everyone, including those who may hold very different opinions.
Did a small group of people ruin it for others?
I would imagine that for a lot of people it was just a dance party, and it’s unfortunate that they were then unknowingly associated with this thing that just a small percentage of the group was involved in.
What kind of conversations have been happening in the aftermath?
Some of the conversations have been centered around personal opinions of the May Day events, discussions of violence versus non-violence, and the ways in which this was a violent action. Many people have been critical of such actions that are based around intimidation and bullying. There has also been a lot of talk about the aftermath of May Day and the disappointing ways in which the media has created a circus and distributed utterly false information. On that topic, I’m still having conversations with people in town who think that Subrosa planned the dance party and that their involvement is proven by the fact that armed deputies broke down the front door and ‘raided’ Subrosa. Both of these claims simply aren’t true and it shows just how damaging the distribution of false information can be.
I’ve also had a lot of conversations in which I’ve felt like I’ve had to defend my beliefs, and that’s certainly difficult, but the positive side of it is that nearly every conversation ends with the other person having a better understanding of what I mean when I say I’m an anarchist. So the [broadening] has been positive, the conversations have been positive, the community dialogues have been positive. People talking is always a good thing.
So you’re seeing this as an opportunity?
All of those negative feelings can be turned into something positive and into an opportunity for a better understanding of each other. The community dialogues were a positive response to that—to the fact that we should all have an opportunity to voice our feelings and concerns. How can we work together to prevent this from happening again? How can we make our streets safer for Santa Cruz youth? These are topics that are important to us all.
Why do you think DIY events are important for the community? Why is it problematic to attain a permit in most cases?
I feel it’s important for a healthy community to have events and activities that lie outside of the realm of commerce. It’s also important for individuals to feel empowered, to create that which is missing from their lives and form stronger relationships with the people around them. I agree that it’s important that an event should be approved by the community, [but] by the people who would directly be affected. I don’t agree that asking the city ‘representatives’ for permission (and paying the associated fee) is the same as asking the community for approval. It all comes down to who is putting on an event. Let’s take the Guerilla Drive-In for example. Who is responsible for the film-showing event? In a lot of ways, it’s everyone. Everyone pitches in, carries equipment, brings food to share. It feels that much more problematic that one person or one organization has to ask for a permit for the community as a whole to do this thing. What it ends up feeling like is the community asking the city officials for permission to live their lives. It seems like these permits are really a way to place the responsibility on an organizing individual, but that goes so much against the concept of ‘we are all organizing, we’re all creating this together.’
Interesting— in that sense it makes the permit process discriminating against events put on by a community that doesn’t believe in having a leader?
Right, though I wouldn’t say that everyone who participates or is involved in an anarchist DIY event is necessarily an ‘anarchistt.’ It’s important that these things are open and free to all.
If there’s no permit, no official permission, how can the officials or the police know that it won’t turn out like the May Day Dance Party? That’s certainly their fear now.
I understand that claim, but I don’t know that I agree that a permitted event has any less likelihood to turn into a disaster. How many unpermitted events have gone on in this town that have been perfectly positive and involved people from all areas of our community? It would be wrong and poor logic to say that the May Day Dance Party is proof that all unpermitted events should be stopped. I think we can find more intelligent ways to make our streets and parks safe other than making them inaccessible and unusable by Santa Cruz residents.