What do we Believe?
Hierarchy, Capitalism and Why We’re Against Them
Hierarchy is an institutionalized relationship of command and obedience. Institutional hierarchy emerged through rule by elders, changing reciprocal relationships into relations of domination, and frequently took the form of rule by elder men, or, patriarchy. With the emergence of states, political classes were formed to rule over people. The state enabled ruling classes to command entire communities and regions.
Capitalism emerged as a particular form of class domination beginning in 16th century Europe. Capitalism is defined by private ownership of the means of production by the capitalist class who pay workers a wage to produce commodities that can be sold on the market to make a profit. Because workers have no alternative means of subsistence, they have no other choice but to work for capitalists. Although originating through a complex historical process of changing class relationships in Europe, because of its imperialistic nature, capitalism created markets throughout the globe assisted by state violence.
Other systems of oppression developed alongside capitalism to maintain the power of its ruling class. Racism, justified through pseudoscientific ideology, developed to enforce particular relationship to production and social roles onto non-white populations. The history of racist economic accumulation and culture have led to structural racism and a racist legal system. Patriarchy also took a particular form under capitalism. With the rise of capitalism, women were initially relegated to unpaid domestic labor and low waged jobs and forced to rely on husbands or fathers who were able to earn wages. Despite the influx of women into the workforce – often involuntarily – over the last several decades, women still on average earn only 78% of what men do, and continue to do a majority of household labor. This leaves many women and children economically dependent on men and sometimes trapped in abusive or unsafe situations.
These hierarchies and the inequalities they create have been found to inhibit childhood wellbeing, increase drug abuse and imprisonment, decrease education, lead to worse overall mental and physical health and overall increase violence throughout society. These structures inhibit social freedom by preventing people from making their own collective and individual decisions. Under hierarchical relations, people are, formally and informally, governed by centralized and arbitrary rule while cooperative, free, and egalitarian social relationships are suppressed. The state, capitalism, patriarchy, racism and other forms of hierarchical domination are all interconnected and must be dismantled together. So how do we do that?
When people first hear about libertarian socialism it sounds like an oxymoron. For many, socialism means either whatever happened in the USSR and Maoist China, or Bernie Sanders style social democracy, and libertarianism refers to free-market fundamentalism and American constitutionalists. Despite connotations of the words, libertarian socialists don’t support state ownership of the means of production or capitalism. Socialism actually refers to cooperative ownership of the means of production, held in common by communities and workers directly. The political term libertarian was coined by French anarchist Joseph Déjacque to describe the communist wing of anarchism. In this original context, libertarian referred to a socialism which is stateless, classless, moneyless. Despite the cooptation of these words, libertarian socialism points to a political theory and practice that ought to be recovered.
The kind of socialist economy that Olympia Assembly advocates for the means of production would be organized communally and cooperatively with goods and services distributed according to needs rather than through markets.
One key feature of libertarian socialism is that the means for getting there must be consistent with the ends we are striving for. For libertarian socialists, socialism must be created through the kinds of organizations that they wish to see in a new world, such as directly democratic and participatory organizations. This is distinct from revolutionary state socialist notions of creating a transitionary workers’ state to arrive at socialism. According to libertarian socialism, if we want a society organized through free, egalitarian, directly democratic, and non-hierarchical relations, then we need to struggle for revolution through embodying those kinds of relations within our own organizations.
Another feature of libertarian socialism is collective decision making. Organizations that practice this are able to take actions without forming hierarchical and arbitrary rule. Through discussion and deliberation, people get together, have dialogues, and come up with plans for collective action. Because individuals have freedoms within and from these organizations, no person’s autonomy is arbitrarily limited. We believe that the principle of self-governance should be applied at every level from the neighborhood level to the global.
There are many different libertarian socialist strategies and tactics, but here are four common ones that many organizations and movements use. They are collective building, direct action, mutual aid and popular education.
- Collective building is creating new organizations, such as community assemblies, workers’ councils, radical unions, solidarity networks, medic collectives, cooperatives, people-powered infrastructure, alternative energy projects, and community gardens.
- Direct action is action taken by people self-organizing to achieve a goal directly, rather than by appealing to elected officials. This can include occupations, blockades, strikes, pickets, marches, civil disobedience, and self-defense against fascists.
- Mutual aid is when individuals and communities share resources – skills, tools, needs, resources, and abilities – for mutual benefit. This can include tool libraries, free food programs, free gift exchanges, and support between organizations and persons.
- Popular education is free education through dialogue usually intended to spread political ideas and actions. This can take the form of reading groups, film screenings, pamphleting, workshops, public lecture or panels, and education through action, and can cover topics such as history, political theory, political organizing skills, and practical skills.
Examples of libertarian socialism in practice can be found all over the globe over the last two centuries. Here are just a few examples:
- The Paris Commune (1871): For two months in 1871, the city of Paris was governed by a democratic commune of workers who decided upon and begun to implement progressive, secular, and highly democratic policies until they were crushed by the French government
- The Free Territory of Ukraine (1918-21): During the Ukrainian Revolution, Free Soviets (workers councils) and Libertarian Communes operated as the primary mode of governance for a region of 7-million people.
- Shinmin Prefecture (1929-31): Formed as an autonomous region based in anarchist and communist principles in Korea, this region operated as a means to resist Japanese imperialism for 2-million Korean migrants.
- Spanish Revolution (1936): During the Spanish Civil War, much of the Spanish economy, including farms and factories, were cooperatized and put under direct workers control.
- Rojava (2011-present): The Democratic Confederation of Northern Syria, better known as Rojava, formed during the early days of the Syrian Civil War and is still working on developing a new radically democratic and egalitarian society based in the principles of women’s liberation, ecology, and libertarian socialism.
What We Do & How to Get Involved
Points of Unity
Our five points of unity are the basic principles that inform our decision making. They are ideals to implement in our current organizations and to strive towards in society as a whole.
- Horizontal Community Democracy and Free Association: Decisions should be made collectively by those affected by them free from coercion and unjust hierarchy.
- Direct Action: We must use our power to address our concerns, taking responsibility for our actions and our communities rather than appealing to representative policy makers, unjust laws, and bureaucracy to accomplish our goals.
- Collective Liberation & Solidarity: We recognize the multiplicity of struggles that are needed for collective freedom. We believe that every person is worthy of dignity and respect and that within systems of oppression everyone suffers.
- Cooperative Economics & Mutual Aid: Decisions in the economic sphere should be made by communities, workers, and consumers directly and everyone should be entitled to the necessities of life and beyond.
- Ecological Stewardship: The Earth is facing an environmental crisis on a scale unprecedented in human history, responsible for human suffering and mass extinctions. We believe that Ecological problems have their roots in social problems, and can be solved rationally and ethically.
Introduction to Olympia Assembly
Since our formation in March 2017, Olympia Assembly has advocated a radical vision for our town – one which includes an emphasis on direct democracy and city governance by the people themselves, as well as cooperation amongst neighbors to meet our needs when the established system fails us. We assert the right of all members of our community to freely access the necessities of life, ranging from food, water, and shelter to the need for a healthy environment and social atmosphere. We assert further the right of people to make this vision a reality.
Although it had contested trajectory from the beginning, Oly Assembly was created as a communal assembly project. Olympia Assembly hosts seasonal mass assemblies that reach out beyond people who are currently organized and beyond people who agree with libertarian socialist politics. The aim of these assemblies is to discover through dialogue and discussion what the needs and desires of the people of Olympia are so that we can work towards achieving them ourselves.
The work done for achieving these goals is done primarily at monthly organizing meetings and by working groups. At meetings, people bring discussion topics and proposals for new projects or continuing projects to the table for discussion. When there are proposals we deliberate, make sure to filter decisions through our points of unity, and then vote. Through deliberation, people bring forward questions, concerns, amendments, critiques, and dissent. This lets us round out decisions and we almost always come to a unanimous and near-unanimous agreement.
Olympia Assembly working groups are often temporary and designed to complete a particular project – such as a seasonal assembly, a mutual aid event, or a protest. However, Olympia Assembly has also created a few more permanent collectives working towards long term goals or sustaining the organization. Our current long term projects were formed to meet specific community needs discussed at our seasonal assemblies, but are subject to change based on changing needs and conditions.
- Olympia Solidarity Network (OlySol): a volunteer network that uses direct action to combat landlord and employer greed and abuse. We collaborate and organize campaigns with tenants, workers, and other marginalized communities who have specific grievances against their former or current landlords and employers, such as stolen wages or denied deposits. OlySol’s victories include winning back a stolen deposit for tenants, stolen wages for a worker, repairs for over 100 tenants in a low-income apartment complex, and the cancellation of a private security contract that trespassing houseless neighbors in downtown Olympia. The tactics in these campaigns included mass demand deliveries, pickets, flyering, and other direct action tactics.
- Olympia Community Medics: a medic collective Olympia Assembly helped to start that provides first aid both to street protests and the downtown community. They are distinct from most street medic collectives in that they provide weekly medical supplies to houseless people around downtown. It is now organizing autonomously from Olympia Assembly but works closely with us on Mutual Aid Mondays and other projects.
- Mutual Aid Mondays: a weekly event that provides autonomous houseless camps with free food, clothes, hygiene materials, tents, sleeping bags, first aid supplies, and literature. This provides material assistance to those most in need and builds relationships between working class radicals and the houseless population. It is a coalition effort between Olympia Assembly, Olympia Solidarity Network, Olympia Community Medics, Just Housing, and the Olympia Industrial Workers of the World.
- Rojava Solidarity: Olympia Assembly hosts periodic popular education and fundraising events to support the Rojava revolution in northern Syria. The Democratic Confederation of Northern Syria – or Rojava – is developing a new radically democratic and egalitarian society based in the principles of women’s liberation, ecology and libertarian socialism which serves as an inspiration to those of us fighting for a better world here in Olympia.
- Education Working Group: a collective within Olympia Assembly that works towards revolutionary education of our membership and the general population. We host monthly reading groups, as well as occasional film screenings and write and distribute informational pamphlets.
Many tools exist that make our organizing efforts more effective, and there exists a large amount of already created materials we can learn from and build off of. There are, however, so many materials out there that we attempt here to sift through and aggregate some of the best tools to offer anyone interested in gaining or honing the skills that make this work possible and effective. Check out the QR codes in each section to learn more, or find all the resources on our website at olyassembly.org/resources.
The benefit of having good facilitation means that a meeting can stay on topic, move through the agenda in a timely fashion, and accomplish the determined goals. Facilitation includes setting an agenda, keeping time for each item, reading a room (taking stack, gauging the vibes, knowing when to allow for fluid discussion and when to interject and shift participants back to the current topic or question), and summarizing discussion for the benefit of the group. There are ways to do all of these that are subtle and allow for people to feel heard without compromising the goals of the group.
A necessary component of organizing and campaign planning is the ability to understand how the current power structures operate and where points of intervention exist. There are levers of power and understanding those opens up the opportunity for wielding them to our benefit. Target and power mapping are ways to hone in on who in a particular situation has decision-making ability and illuminates how to access them to pressure a decision we want.
Collective Decision Making
Collective decision making can take many different forms depending on the size and purpose of a group, including simple majority voting and consensus decision making. Olympia Assembly’s decision making process operates through a system of shared principles, discussion and debate, majority agreement and implementation. Any proposed decision must be consistent with our Points of Unity. Once proposed, a decision will be discussed by membership until all concerns and disagreements are addressed, and if no consensus can be reached, it will be put to a vote. The decision is then implemented by the appropriate working group or individual, who reports back to general membership for approval.
We all come to a space with a variety of experiences and understandings of the world. Differences in experiences and ideas are influenced by how we are socialized, how we are impacted by the current systems of power, and the positions of power we do or do not hold. A good collective decision-making process takes this into account in order to ensure all people can contribute on an equal footing.
In order to create the changes we want to see, we’ll need to build our movement and increase our number of supporters. This means getting out there and talking to your neighbors, starting a dialogue with strangers, and being able to effectively communicate your ideas to a wide variety of people. Outreach can be aimed at getting people to join an organization, support a specific campaign, come to an event or even just make them more sympathetic to your goals. Depending on the intention, outreach can take many different forms from flyering, door knocking, tabling, posting on social media and more.
Direct Action creates the reality we want in real time and doesn’t wait for top-down permission. It means engaging with a structure we know can either be abolished or made better and enacting that reality collectively. It means intervening and stopping a capitalist process that is destructive to human and non-human entities while concurrently exemplifying a better alternative. It can be anything from creating blockades to distributing resources to our unhoused comrades.
We live in a world that encourages us to externalize responsibility and decision making. A world that disempowers us and takes our agency. Community organizing takes that power back. Through community organizing, we are able to decide for ourselves what we need and take steps to get there. This work isn’t easy. There are many forces that work against us. The better equipped we are with these skills the better we are able to confront these systems that are constructed to disenfranchise us and the better able we are to collectively change these systems and create and then live in the reality we all know we deserve.