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Looking For the Fulcrum

Brian Burch

walking a fine line between establishment complacency and non-violent resistance is never easy. One day I appeared in court to set a date for a trial for having participated in a demonstration organized by Homes Not Bombs. Two days later I met with the Minister of Housing to discuss mutual concerns around transferring of responsibilities for non-profit and social housing to Ontario municipalities. On occasion I can be found at events organized by The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. On other occasions I can be found meeting with executives from the Royal Bank or participating in the celebration of a mass using the Tridentene Rite or conducting workshops in the theory and history of anarchism and non-violence. Maintaining a balance when walking between these diverse worlds requires a strong fulcrum, a centre point where what may seem to be mutually exclusive can meet.

There is a great deal of stress that arises when trying to balance between street level radicalism and participation in traditional activities, when trying to both be a part of the life of dominant society and to stand as one of its critics. Perhaps this is akin to Martin Luther King's effort to use creative tension to transform society. The tension that arises when being both an insider and an outsider can indeed be transforming, but it is always frightening.

It may be easier to be a part of both worlds if one is strongly committed to values that permit seeing some commonality in what may appear to be widely different situations.

An anarchist, for example, with a view that all forms of hierarchical and institutionalized authority are harmful both to those with power and those without it may find it somewhat easier to deal with institutions on a equal footing. A Christian, with a belief that there is an aspect of divinity in all people, may find it easier to engage in conversation with people holding contrary views. A non-violent activist,who believes that the use of verbal or physical force against another is wrong, may find it easier to not view those with opposing values as the enemy.

Alternatively, one could just maintain a focused way of life and not move in different circles. That way it is easier to avoid feeling confusion over personal identity and tensions over what could happen if various potentially conflicting values need to be addressed at once. There is indeed a certain harmony that arises when there is some stability in life.

One of the more harmful aspects of our society is the rarity of people comfortably breaking through barriers. There may be advances in employment equity, for example, but how much time do those who hire and fire actually spend with the unemployed or marginally employed or indeed with the homeless? How much time does the average baseball fan spend with painters? How often do we truly welcome youth into the real decision making processes of organizations that are supposed to assist them? If we can't cross these minor barriers, when will we gladly and joyously cross the major ones such as between the pro-choice and the pro-life movements or prisoner rights and victims rights efforts or between the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered communities and conservative religious bodies?

I have found that cabinet members and bank executives will try to find common ground with their critics. I have found that those that block the doorways in protest against homelessness can also find ways of dealing practically with homelessness through developing new housing projects. I have found that anarchists have found ways of feeding hundreds of people in a co-operative and compassionate manner with the support of local businesses and community organizations. This requires a willingness to take the risk of rejection and accept the possibility of successful communications with those one may at other times have phenomenal disagreements with.

Finding a balance that permits working with opposing groups, that encourages open communication and personal sharing is a revolutionary act---an essential component to radical social change. Perhaps non-violent Christian anarchists have it easy. We consistently have to balance various potentially conflicting views as we work out the tensions between our faith, ideology and movements to define ourselves and the just world we try to help build and sustain.


Brian Burch is a Toronto-based writer and activist. He is a proud member of United Auto Workers Local 1981 - The National Writers Union.

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