The History of BAAM (Chapter 2) The Death of the BAAM Coalition; the Birth of BAAM!

19 Dec

By the end of 2001, BAAM’s position as a respected and important part of the movement against the War on Terror had begun to unravel. As the anti-war movement grew in size, the liberal coalitions pushed anarchists to the margins and denied BAAM the place it previously had to speak at rallies. While anarchist resistance to the war grew in other cities, it began to whither in Boston. BAAM  meetings became smaller and smaller, dampening the spirits of those who remained. Nato recalls feeling “a disillusionment and sense of futility in regard to involvement with the liberal anti-war movement. To be blunt, they made us sick. Peace is patriotic? Shit. As my friend Dan says in his song, ‘If peace if patriotic, I’m starting a fight.’ We all knew that the Bush administration was not interested in the moral appeals of the people, however large [their demonstration was]. Look at the anti-Vietnam movement. It was largely crushed and scattered to the winds by 1972, after years of huge involvement and struggle, and the Vietnam war didn’t end until 1975.” Furthermore, NEFAC members were busy with their own organization’s work, and perhaps due to the shift in direction within BAAM, eventually stopped participating. According to Vertigo, “I will say, without any negative feelings toward NEFAC or its members, that many NEFAC members began disappearing from BAAM, and right or wrong…people in BAAM felt slighted, and our dwindling numbers…hurt morale.”

Vertigo remembers attending a last meeting in late December 2001 with just three people, the other two being Frank Little and Elly Guilette. “But I do recall that we felt that something really solid came out of BAAM,” he continues, “in that lots of Boston people were activated! People were very motivated by BAAM, and we felt we should somehow try to keep the momentum growing in our own city.”

The lull in anarchist participation in anti-war movements, differences of opinions on the structure, politics, and purpose of BAAM, and, in the opinions of Frank Little and Matt Carroll, the controlling nature of the Barricada Collective, may have led to the destruction of the original BAAM coalition. Even though NEFAC members, including future Barricada members, were present and participating in these transitionary stages, Frank Little remembers, “After NEFAC declared an end to BAAM, I called for people to meet again anyway and we, the leftovers, met the next week to try to figure out what to do. Unfortunately…folks fell into arguments about political platform points and what the political positions of a new organization would be. (The irony of them, excluded by virtue of being non-Platformist, arguing about this was apparently lost on them.)” After a few weeks of arguing, Frank Little found himself as the only person at two consecutive BAAM meetings. However, Little said, “I just refused to let it die. It struck me as ridiculous that anti-authoritarians had to agree on every detail of some post-Revolution utopia in order to work together.” While platformists, like Nato, disagree with Little’s definition, arguing “Platformism is an organizing principle,” not the blueprints of “some post-Revolution utopia,” this is of little relevance to the point. Frank Little continued calling for meetings of a synthesist BAAM throughout January 2002.

Little’s persistence paid off. He continues: “Within a few weeks, I was joined by Mike A and Elly Guilette…In addition, the members of Sophia Perovskaya (NEFAC)…were great allies to us at the beginning.” The new members decided to create an open organization, a General Union of Anarchists, for anyone who considered themselves anti-authoritarian, and that the group would be run by consensus (instead of simple majority vote). Meetings also rotated locations around the city in an attempt to make it easier for more folks to get involved. As Guilette said, “We wanted to…meet other anarchists that may have been put off by the other groups in town that would not let you join unless you had lived in town a long time and knew someone who would say you were not a cop.” Additionally, the General Union of Anarchists aimed to serve as a place where environmentally-focused “green” anarchists could participate. Guilette remembers, “There was a very anti-green anarchist thing going on in Boston at the time so we wanted a place for those folks to hang out.” Again, Nato and other NEFAC members would interject here. Nato says, “NEFAC isn’t anti-green. A bunch of us identified as green (or green and red) anarchists,” and the only anti-authoritarians they wouldn’t work with were “primitivists and individualists.”

Unable to come up with a new name, at Nato’s suggestion they decided to stick with BAAM. The acronym, however, and in particular the “Against Militarism” part, according to Frank Little, “was too narrowly focused and didn’t fit the broad-based group we were after.” Little suggested Boston Anti-Authoritarian Movement. Though that was rejected by the group, it was a name which years later was independently accepted.

At the time failing to come up with an acronym, the new group settled on keeping the word as an onomatopoeia – a word that imitates the sound it is meant to represent – adding an exclamation point to the end: BAAM! The name would come to stand for “The pleasant sound of authoritarianism being smashed.” “I always liked that,” adds Vertigo, “just enough anarcho-absurdity to make it worth-while.”

According to Matt Carroll, BAAM! became very active in planning activities, including constant skill shares, actions, and other creative, public events, most of which centered around the Lucy Parsons Center radical bookstore in the South End, or the house on Lopez street in Cambridgeport were Frank Little, Elly Guilette, and other BAAM! members lived. BAAM! held frequent skill shares on topics including labor songs, folk science, street tactics, silkscreening, and flag making. “It was extremely important for us to have an anarchist group in Boston that performed actions and activities,” said Guilette. “We wanted to share skills, add to the community at large through strike support, protests, etc….We started doing lots of self-defense work and protest prep work.”

According to Tania Vamonte, who joined later in the Summer of 2002, “I was drawn to BAAM because it was someplace I could meet like-minded people and talk politics and maybe get involved in something. Who could I have talked to otherwise? I didn’t know anyone yet!” Indeed, BAAM! focused heavily on recruiting new people and helping them to get involved in the struggle, a goal BAAM! would maintain for the rest of its existence as a general union of Boston anarchists.

While the formation of BAAM! as a new and separate entity resulted in tension between some of the organizers in BAAM! and NEFAC, the two groups still coexisted in a comradely fashion. According to Vertigo, while Boston anarchists began to collect around two separate ideas about organizing, “the anarchist scene felt it was big enough in Boston to…have more than one main group… So right or wrong, imaginary or real, there was a perceived split in Boston with BAAM! and NEFAC.” Real or not, some of the members of the new group nevertheless felt unwelcome. Elly Guilette, for one, remembers: “We did joint ventures with lots of groups in Boston but it was a bumpy beginning because many groups thought we were not needed and should not exist.”

There was overlap between the organizations, and not everyone participated in the sectarian arguments. “Some people felt this was okay, NEFAC would organize for specific long term struggles and BAAM! was much more decentralized and more about self-educating and organizing for present actions and struggles with immediate results. It seemed like a very good mix,” Vertigo continues. “This split, it was really political at first. I mean, both NEFAC and BAAM! had the same demographics. Each had newcomers and old guard, university students and folks who never attended college, people who did not grow up in Boston and Bostonians. Both groups had rich kids and working class folk. So it was not really any social tension that got under anyone’s skin.” While both organizations had a few loud, aggressive, and stubborn individuals who got on the nerves of their counterparts in the other group, BAAM! and NEFAC not only communicated, shared members, and occasionally worked together, they would attend the same social events, such as the informal Black Flag Tavern home brew nights. When the World Economic Forum met in New York City from January 31 to February 4, 2002, BAAM! organized rides and housing for people from Boston who wanted to attend the protests, and NEFAC members rode down with them.

Nato agrees that the NEFAC/BAAM! split was overblown, saying “When BAAM participants exclaimed that they were continuing in their work, my collective (Sophia Perovskaya Collective of NEFAC) immediately responded with material support in helping to get the group going, something we were happy to do and proud of. We were excited for them. This casts doubt on the notion of a NEFAC/BAAM! rift. The rift was more personalities and purpose than anything else.”

Indeed, the breaking point in inter-group relationships didn’t come until the week-long festival in May 2002 called Festival del Pueblo (FDP). Festival del Pueblo was an attempt at a five-day festival of punk, folk, and hip-hop music centered around May First (called May Day or International Workers Day the world over). According to Matt Carroll, “FDP was well intentioned, but a lot of undemocratic shit went down amongst the organizers, and there was a huge amount of bad blood, which took I think at least five years to die down.” Nato agrees: “FDP was fucking horrible.” By all accounts, the festival was a disaster that devolved into loud and even physical confrontations among the organizers. The shows also failed to raise enough money to cover the costs of the venues. Carroll even claims that Barricada members were, “picking fights with the radical cheerleaders and food not bombs,” over their political differences.

After Festival del Pueblo, sharp interpersonal hatred rapidly divided the anarchist community. According to Vertigo, “Part of me thinks that because there were so many young people and students involved, that the movement was part of their social lives (as opposed to being separate; you have political allies and you have your friends, they need not be the same, they both have separate function in life). And so this is how political differences turned personal, political slights became personal slights, and personal slights became politics.” That summer, while the invasion of Afghanistan continued, the FBI terrorized Muslim communities around Boston, and the United States drove steadily down the path toward a decade of non-stop war, much of the energy of active Boston anarchists was wasted on infighting.

Eventually, despite of the drama of Festival del Pueblo, communication and collaboration resumed between anarchist organizations in Boston. By November of 2003, Vamonte remembers, “Food Not Bombs, NEFAC, and BAAM were co-moderating a listserv (The BostonAnarchists email list) and keeping up on each other.” The BAAM!/NEFAC spat was centered firmly around certain individuals in both organizations, but as the organizations themselves shifted, changed, and grew, the relations between groups stabilized. “At the end of the day,” says Vertigo, “it is nearly ten years later and…the fact that NEFAC and BAAM! are still going strong, show that those political differences were really just personal issues, and that the two organizing structures are much bigger than the few problems certain individuals may have had with each other.” For a time, however, BAAM! and NEFAC were both politically weakened, and wasted their time infighting instead of building an anarchist movement, all as a result of chronic interpersonal drama. And by the time the infighting died down, no serious connection remained tying the two groups together. Obviously, there were serious political differences, as NEFAC was an anarchist-communist specific organization strategically participating in long-term grassroots struggles, while BAAM! was a synthesist organization focused on skill sharing and fun, public events to spread the ideas of anarchism, bring in new people, and participate in short-term struggles. Having shared a common history and even some members, had the differences only been political, collaboration could have proved incredibly beneficial to both groups and to the building of a Boston anarchist movement.

Looking at the past ten years, BAAM! and Boston NEFAC have served separate functions, successfully reaching and politicizing different people, and participating in separate struggles, but have always maintained communication and occasionally worked together when the times have called for it. After the split, BAAM! continued to pursue its goals: to organize fun, public, and accessible events that taught people about anarchism and other revolutionary ideas and skills, to bring people to the movement, and to tackle small-scale issues. The skill share remained a primary function of BAAM!, occurring around twice a month. As Vamonte said, “I always liked the skill shares, you got to have fun and learn some thing practical, but it wasn’t anything serious and long-term, like you had to come back and work on it every week, not like the Democratic National Convention…”

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