Do you think anarchists should always tell people they are anarchists? With social networks like Facebook, it feels like everyone has a public identity because so much personal stuff can be unearthed by strangers so easily and for such a long time afterwards. Because I don’t choose to reject capitalist-controlled society, I sometimes feel like I have two identities, the safe one and the anarchist one. The safe one ends up being the public one; only my fellow anarchists know I am an anarchist. I feel like some of my comrades judge me for having a “safe” public identity and sometimes I agree that we should all be true to our ideals all the time, but I am still thinking it over.
– Subtle Radical
Dear Subtle Radical,
I am wondering what it is that you are protecting yourself from by having a “safe” identity. Do you fear that the state will target you for your beliefs? That potential employers will not hire you if they know you are an anarchist? These are valid concerns. Are you simply trying to protect yourself from potential ridicule by people who do not understand anarchism? If that is the case, I suggest that you start looking at being an anarchist as an opportunity for liberation. Do you want to be an anarchist so you can sit around with other anarchists, only feeling like your true self around a few people, while the state continues to sell its image of anarchists to a fearful populace? Or do you want to help build resistance?
I always prided myself on staying true to my anarchist ideals. As I traveled the country I presented anarchist ideas to people in ways that they could relate to, defying the misconceptions about anarchists created by the state and the media. Not everyone that I spoke to became an anarchist, but I inspired many to join the struggle as labor activists, feminists, anti-imperialists, free speech advocates, and so forth. You have the same potential. You need not be an outspoken anarchist agitator to inspire resistance among the people you meet in your daily life. Be subtle, Subtle Radical. Present ideas that are approachable and relevant to the person you are addressing. You will be helping other people and will feel more like your true self. Yes, you will be judged and occasionally ridiculed, but you could also be changing lives.
Being fearless and unstoppable was important to me, yet even I felt compelled to use a pseudonym when I knew my real identity would prevent me from meeting my basic needs, such as renting an apartment, or when it was tactically advantageous, as when I was organizing to build broad support from progressives. I used a pseudonym not to conceal my beliefs but because the name Emma Goldman had been vilified by the government and the press. I was a world-famous anarchist. You, Subtle Radical, are not. More than likely, you have more to gain by being open about your beliefs than you have to lose. That is not to say that oppression of radicals is not quite real and that people should not be careful about what they say and and to whom. Details of organizing should definitely stay among comrades. But the more anarchists reach out to non-anarchists, the more people learn what anarchism really is about and think about such things in new ways. Facebook and other social networking do complicate things, because, yes, it is difficult to control what you are sharing and with whom. If that is a concern, keep political discussions to private messages and real-life interactions. This does not mean that you are hiding your true self, just that you are being cautious and accepting the realities of the world you live in.
Perhaps a pseudonym would be the correct course of action for you. Some radicals feel more like themselves when they take on a new name. Whatever you call yourself, be true to yourself. Ultimately, how you live your life and how much you share with others should be based on your ideals and no one else’s.