Back in the ‘good ole days,’ pre-internet, when folks like Big B and I needed the latest radical left news/updates, we’d make the 5 mile (or was it 5 hour?) trek back and forth (generally in several feet of snow and always up-hill both ways) to the closest radical book store or record store for a copy of the bi-weekly Toronto Ecomedia bulletin .
In both style and substance, hugely influential. Pre-internet, absolutely crucial. 2000 or so copies every 2 weeks. Generally 4 pages, but, sometimes longer .
In their own words, the zine was an “international ‘wire service’ that acts as an alternative to regular news services. We focus on news and often censored information on autonomous and anarchist resistance and analysis of current events “
There were a few issues of Toronto Ecomedia in the Arm The Spirit archives, but Big B recently gifted me a diaperload of them, so they are finding their way to the ISSUU site …
Here is a portion of an interview that was done with the Toronto Ecomedia collective back in 1992 by the folks from PC Magazine out of Toronto:
Ecomedia was a Toronto based anarchist project that started in 1986 and folded (pretty much) last year. They had a peak circulation of around 3000, mostly centered in downtown Toronto, and were well known in the international anarchist media. The questions were put to what remained of the original collective in the Fall of 1992 (another late interview, I know!), most of whom are still very active in various political struggles. Hopefully this interview will give you an idea of one group’s working interpretation of anarchism and how successful projects like these can be.
PC: Please give us a brief history of the Ecomedia project and how it came about.
ECO: The Ecomedia network originally sprang up as a news service between various centres of the squatting movement in Europe; a means by which offices in each city could gather and distribute news to all the other offices. Toronto originally became hooked into this in the early eighties when the Anti-Authoritarian News Network joined up. At the time, and for several years to follow, the AANN was essentially one person who distributed this info mostly through a small news bulletin, for free.
In 1986 the AANN and the magazine Reality Now began to do what was called the Ecomedia Report on local community radio station CKLN-FM. It took the form of three 12-minute segments a weeks with news and analysis. Some of the news from the show was then reproduced in an “Ecomedia Bulletin” which was how that end of things got started.
Toronto at the time had a loosely-defined “anarchist community” which began holding quarterly get-togethers hosted by a group called the Anarchist Circle. From these dinners, which usually had a theme and speakers or films or whatever, more definite links between these activists began to grow. And these events started to get bigger. So when in 1987 we decided to plan a continental anarchist gathering in Toronto in 1988, things really began to gel.
That year a few of us were in Vancouver and saw the infamous B.C. Blackout, a bi-weekly, free community info bulletin which had a very radical outlook but was really accessible. When we returned to Toronto, we approached people we knew had the skills and interest in this kind of thing and turned the Ecomedia Bulletin that had formerly been a much smaller scale project into a news bulletin much like B.C. Blackout. It made sense then that what we saw as a growing political movement needs a means of communication not only between its own people, but also with the community at large.
The idea was well received and Ecomedia took off – our distribution shot up, we made a name for ourselves locally. We also expanded to present a radio show on a second station, CIUT-FM and we watched similar projects spring up in other cities across North America.
PC: Have your goals and aims changed over the years?
ECO: When we first started we had a clear mandate: a communication tool for the anarchist movement. But as the years went be we developed politically, the Toronto scene changed considerably, and our role became less and less clear. For one, we no longer saw building a community based on an ill-defined “anarchism” as an effective method for change. So we turned to filling a general void of news from below – news about what people at the grassroots were doing. We still focused on news that was simply unavailable elsewhere, having access to its sources we felt responsible to spread it. But we always tried to promote action – pushing the message to do something about your situation whatever it might be.
PC: How successful do you feel you’ve been in achieving these goals?
ECO: We were enormously successful at meeting our original goals. We helped to define and promote the “community” we were trying to build and kept those people up-to-date on relevant political issues and events. Beyond that, we created something radical that reached way beyond most radical papers because people read it at the laundromat, at the restaurant, the health clinic waiting room, or whatever, and it was short, regular, down to earth and punchy. But for all those successes there were, of course, a million criticisms both from within our collective and without, but we’ll talk more about those later.
PC: What is Ecomedia’s collective definition of “anarchism?”
ECO: Ecomedia was never a highly ideological or theoretical project – our emphasis was always on the reality we’re facing and what we can do about it in the here and now. Some of our members didn’t even identify as anarchists, yet they believe in the project and our principles. So, as far as anarchism, for us, goes, it was actually a very fluid idea – more of a set of principles for organizing than a rigid outline of society or struggle. Those principles include grassroots power, an accountable politics and economic structure, challenging patriarchy and white supremacy and creating a new relationship between society and our natural environment. The focus is on direct action – on empowering actions which decentralize power and emphasize our inter-connection with each other.
PC: What are your views/criticisms of the anarchist scene here in Toronto:
ECO: We’re probably not in a position to comment on the current anarchist scene here because we aren’t playing the same kind of role in it that we use to. As we were saying earlier, we helped to build an “anarchist community” here through the continental gatherings, through various local organizations and events and through monthly meetings. Many good things came from that and we learned a lot. But we see a dead end in trying to build movements around a single ideology – instead we are active in broader community organizations and coalitions, ones that incorporate various groups with different ideas. This is where most of the real push for change is coming from these days.
PC:What is the relation in Toronto between anarchists and other politically active communities? Has Ecomedia been able to reach and work with these communities?
ECO: IT was precisely the question of communities and their relationships which challenged the anarchists in Toronto the most and showed the weakness of the anarchist movement as it was defined. People everywhere are struggling to build solidarity between people who have very different identities, whether the defining factor is race, gender, sexual preference, class, age or whatever. Of course, all these things overlap so that identity and community are very tricky concepts. One of the things that we found was how much common political ground we had with people who, because of different backgrounds and experience, were not sympathetic with “anarchism.” Basically, anarchism is a culturally specific term that defines politics which are common to people all over the world. To be stuck on the ideology instead of the ideas ends up excluding people who might work well together. We’ve found primarily that meeting and working together with people of different backgrounds has happened by defining common interests and goals first and approaching our politics on that basis.
Ecomedia was somewhat successful in this area primarily because of its accessibility, not just in terms of where you could pick it up, but because we would try to open up the paper and the radio shows especially to articles and announcements from people who were in the thick of particular struggles regardless of whether we were 100 per cent in agreement with their politics.
Part of working with people is having faith that they will generally find the means most appropriate to their particular situation. While discussion and debate can and should rage on about these things, you have to accept from the start that your ways and means make sense to you based on your experience and may not always fit with someone else’s experiences. It’s also a matter of honesty and commitment. It you address problems honestly and show a regular commitment to issues, then people who are concerned with those issues will respect that, whether or not they agree with everything coming out of your mouth.
Significantly, Ecomedia did not try to either create one big organization which would somehow encompass all people (which is just preposterous) or insert ourselves into other people’s organizations (Which is just obnoxious). That come from an acceptance that ties working together can mean developing a supportive relationship while working in parallel or separate organizations – it doesn’t necessarily have to include a direct connection.
Anarchists and other ideological groupings, especially Euro-Canadian ones are obsessive about working with “other communities”, especially around race. It has a lot to do with wanting to reach other people with their message – which is still primarily a missionary position. The approach is always that white people want to set up the structures, set the ideology, set the goals and strategy and then invite people of colour into their groups. Real solidarity between communities doesn’t go like that, obviously.
If you want to work together then you have to start from the ground up and that means accepting that your way isn’t necessarily right, and accepting that people have autonomy. Everyone has their own ideas and agendas; working together will happen only when everyone has common interests and can share all the power (which occasionally means stepping back from rigid ideological preconceptions.)
PC: How important do you think it is to develop community resistance and how do you see it relating to a larger insurrectionary movement?
ECO: Obviously, ‘community resistance’ is what it’s all about. However, it’s a tricky question because many people don’t even see themselves as part of one definable community. This is especially true of a place like Toronto where urban planning has effectively broken up most geographic communities. Most definable ‘community resistance’ has come from people as oppressed groups, like the queer community or immigrant communities who have common language and/or culture and maintain that in opposition to the mainstream.
Modern radicals really need to have an understanding of factors like urban planning, technology’s role and reaction to it, and definitely social interaction – such as how people work, feel and think as individuals and in groups. These things are even more important to an organizer than, say, a detailed analysis of capitalism, because the modern world’s effects on people plays a huge role in our ability to organize and empower each other.
But the reason community is so important is that it’s one human need which capitalism and consumer society cannot replace effectively. We need each others physically and emotionally. Patriarchy has us seeing ourselves as competitive individuals but we can replace that with a stronger sense of ourselves as part of a community or social group. Once that identity is there, we can see how it is damaged and threatened by today’s society, and we have something to contrast that with. A strong community is necessary as the backbone of any long term resistance – it’s simply unsustainable by individuals alone.
If we accept that building resistance entails strengthening communities, then we also have to learn how to adapt our strategies so that our actions and organizations serve this dual purpose. “How community resistance relates to a larger insurrectionary movement” is also a question which depends on particular circumstances. The structures and choices which a grass roots movement takes have to be those appropriate to the conditions facing them, and not pre-determined by anything other than some general principles. However, there is something to be said for studying history and avoiding the bad choices made by other movements in the past.