The topic for the latest Carnival of Anarchy is Anarchism in your area. So I thought I’d tell you all a little about whats going on with anarchism in the town I grew up (and have spent most of my life) in, Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington, at the bottom of the North Island of Aotearoa / New Zealand. This post does come a little late, but I’ve been busy the last couple of days so didn’t get a chance to write.
Wellington is a city of around 150,000 people, with around 400,000 in the region, making it the second largest city population wise in the country. In terms of anarchism and political activism, it is by far the largest though, although still relatively small.
In 2005 a few Wellington anarchists got together to organise a weekend focussed on the Wellington anarchist community – in the build up to this, we got together a list of around 95 self-identified anarchists to invite to the weekend (around 60 attended over the two days), so that gives you an idea of how many people there are floating round. The majority of anarchist activity, however, is probably done by around 20-35 people.
While there are only a handful of explicitly anarchist groups in Wellington, there are a number of other groups/organisations/institutions/projects with heavy anarchist involvement. I’ll try to detail most of them here briefly, although I’m sure I’ll forget a bunch!
Wildcat Anarchist Collective – Wildcat calls itself a class-struggle anarchist group, and has undertaken a variety of activity throughout the 2-3 years it has existed, from protests to leafletting to discussion sessions to producing a weekly broadsheet. Currently Wildcat is continuing with its weekly discussions on a range of topics relating to anarchism, producing the Aotearoa Anarchist, an Aotearoa anarchist zine and irregularly producing SNAP!, it’s (formerly weekly) news broadsheet. Despite it being the only class focussed group in Wellington, a large number of class-focussed anarchists are not involved in the Wildcat collective – this is due to a number of reasons, including personality clashes, disagreements with Wildcat’s activity and the (perhaps at times, although certainly no longer true) perception that Wildcat was solely the domain of old(er) white men.
The Freedom Shop – By far the oldest anarchist group in Aotearoa, the Freedom Shop collective has been runing for close to 12 years. The collective runs Wellington’s anarchist infoshop, selling anarchist books, zines, pamphlets, patches, badges and more. The Freedom Shop first opened it’s doors on May Day 1995 and despite its original home being moved to make way for a motorway bypass, the shop has withstood 2 moves and plenty of adventure to reside in it’s current home of Shop 204b, Left Bank, just off Cuba Mall in the heart of Wellington’s central city. While the collective has gone through ups and downs, its currently in a fairly strong state. In addition to the shop, the Freedom Shop also does anarchist bookstalls at community festivals (most recently the Island Bay fair last week), conferences (most recently the Aotearoa Indymedia conference in Auckland in January) and other places (like the Parihaka Peace Festival 5 or so hours north of Wellington in January). The shop is open 10am-8pm Monday – Friday and 11:30am ish – 8pm ish on Weekends.
Wellington Anarcha-Femmes – The Welly A-Fems have been going on and off for some time now, and in their current form have monthly discussion meetings, organise actions and events and support sessions. I can’t say I know too much more about them, so I’ll leave that one there.
A-Men! – A group of male-identified anarchists who used to get together weekly to discuss and work on issues relating to patriarchy and male privelige. Sadly dormant at the moment, but could spring back to life any minute now?
Poneke Black Pages – An annual “yellow pages” style directory for anarchist and activist groups in Wellington.
Groups with heavy anarchist involvement
Magnetic Fridge Diary – Contrary to its name, this diary is neither magnetic nor a fridge. What it is, however, is a monthly calendar (folded A3 size) of activist and community events that gets distributed around Wellington (current print run of 200). Each issue generally has a theme and contains a handful of short articles/reviews on that theme – for example, the March issue focusses on the Iraq invasion and International Wom*n’s Day. The March issue is at the printers now, so keep an eye out for it around town in the next couple of days, Wellingtonians!
Wellington Animal Rights Network (WARN) – WARN is a motley crew of vegans that do stalls, actions, public meetings, film nights and whatever else springs into their heads. Activity fluctuates from heavy to barely living at seemingly a moments notice, but the group continues. They also have an office which is useful for storing animal liberation propaganda.
Peace Action Wellington – PAW organises around anti-war and anti-militarism issues. Originally a mix of anarchists, socialists (of varying flavours) and liberals, it is now mostly (though not entirely) anarchist in composition. Its most recent activity was a protest against the visit of John Howard to Wellington, and is currently planning for events around the 4th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
Oblong – Oblong is a collectively (predominantly anarchist) volunteer run internet cafe, which also currently houses The Freedom Shop. Political art/photo exhibitions adorn the walls, with plenty of political conversations filling the room at all hours of the day. Infrequent workshops are held, including training on basic computer usage, linux and other open source software and more. The shop is open 10am-8pm Monday – Friday and 11:30am ish – 8pm ish on Weekends.
W(((i)))ndymedia – W(((i)))ndy is the Wellington collective that helps run Aotearoa Indymedia. They also run several large-scale film nights a year and produce a monthly (or so) print newspaper, mostly consisting of articles and photos from the Indymedia website.
128 – For many Wellington anarchists, 128 is their second (or sometimes first!) home. 128, located at 128 Abel Smith St (original name, eh?) is the local anarchist/activist community centre. The house, formerly a squat, is now leased on a peppercorn rental. The house is situated near the central city, about 5 minutes walk from Oblong/The Freedom Shop, and has three live in caretakers. It has plenty of space for meetings, parties, film screenings, yoga, dance practices and visiting activists from around Aotearoa and overseas. It also houses: Revolting Books, an anarchist library; a Wom*ns space, the Mechanical Tempest, a bike workshop; an open art space; a wood workshop; Kotahi te Ao, a grassroots film project and more.
Save Happy Valley Wellington – The local group of a national coalition working to save a place called Happy Valley, on the West Coast of the South Island of Aotearoa, from being turned into an open-cast coal mine by state-owned mining company Solid Energy. Organises film nights, fundraisers, protests, stalls and public meetings, and encourages people to go to the 13 month old occupation of Happy Valley and now the 3 week old occupation of nearby Mt Augustus as well.
Community Gardens – Anarchists are involved in two community gardens projects in Wellington – Common Ground out near the South Coast of Wellington, and Arlington Gardens, in the central city near a large area of council flats. Additionally, the Innermost Garden project is a refugee, migrant and local wom*n’s project to establish their own community garden in the near future.
Aotearoa Jews For Justice – AJFJ came into existance late last year during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. It is a collection of (mostly anarchist) Jews, ranging from anti-Zionist to non-Zionist and left-Zionist who organise around issues relating to Israel/Zionism, racism/anti-semitism and Tino Rangatiratanga (Maori self-determination). The group is predominantly based in Wellington. It has been dormant so far this year but should be back into it in the near future.
By and large, in recent years, anarchism in Wellington has been dominated by lifestylist and individualist currents (and a less kind person might add reformist to that), although these have never been all encompassing. Over the past 6 months or so, I have begun to notice a move (back) towards a class-struggle focus (although frequently not exclusively so) by a number of local anarchists, and a simultaneous move towards a post-leftist stance by a number of others. Could this be a mini-split in the making? Only time will tell.
All in all, anarchism in Wellington is cemented by a number of friendship circles and cliques that simultaneously help the community exist/stay active and make it hard for (especially less confident) new people to enter and get involved. Also, for long term activists outside of the friendship circles, it can be hard to remain “in the know”.