Saturday, 8 September 2012

You wait ages for an anarchist... OR: If you go down to Friern Barnet Library today, you're sure of a big surprise

News that anarchists have occupied Friern Barnet Library came as a surprise. Well, sort of. I mean, the building closed in April by Barnet Council is crying out to be reclaimed for the community. Now it has been. What was surprising was that there were some anarchists local enough to do it.

In my capacity as Barnet TUC publicity officer, I maintain a large database of contacts to inform about our activities. I once went looking for anarchists in Barnet. After all, other boroughs have stable communities of anarchists who produce magazines, run film nights, and so on, and can be relied on to support anti-cuts activity.

But in Barnet, other than a pleasant, lone anarchist who operates on the margins of the Barnet Alliance, I drew a blank.

Now a group of anarchists hearing on the anarchist grapevine that Friern Barnet Library has closed, have occupied it. Squatted it, you might say, but whereas squatting residential property has recently been made a crime, squatting other buildings has not.

Like anything that involves politics - people having different views - there are tensions in this situtation, but with luck it can be used to put new fire into the campaign to save Friern Barnet Library.

The Save Friern Barnet Library (SFBL) campaign have not given up for a moment their fight or their belief that their purpose-built library will open again in the heart of their community. Barnet Council rather bizarrely hurried down on hearing about the anarchists and took them to see the house in Friary Park that they have been trying to get SFBL to take over as a library substitute.

If you know anything about anarchism, their core idea is that the State is the enemy. To my mind they neglect the value - even if it is often ambivalent - of the welfare state, the idea that the state can mean, as well as repressive institutions, welfare services, publicly accountable and publicly owned.

SFBL have been clear from the start that they want Barnet Council to provide a library service in Friern Barnet Library. Their earlier offer to run community services from the library was in order to supplement the library service, not to replace it.

The anarchists are less clear on this, it seems. Of course, the anarchists have done their own work and have the right to express their own views. But their goals and those of SFBL do overlap and where they do I hope they can work together to advance the aim of saving Friern Barnet Library.

Today, SFBL have organised one of their pop-up libraries - everyone is invited to go and support this. And you will have the added excitement, if all goes to plan, of using the library itself, where a number of workshops are being held. Details:
The Save Friern Barnet Library group will be holding its monthly pop-up library today 11am-1pm on the library green.
The Friern Barnet library building will be open via the rear door (facing the green) from 11am onwards, and occupiers are inviting any individuals in to have a look round. There are some free creative writing workshop at 1pm in the library by Greenacre Writers, and Dr Natelson offers a Physics / Chemistry lecture and tuition from 11am-1pm.

Sign the petition -


Shirley Burnham said...

How did the activists know they would be able to gain access ? Did someone tip them off, or had they gone armed with crowbars and, as luck would have it, just happen find a window open, keys on the desk etc ? These matters give the story a different dimension, of national interest. It is very much in the public interest to know.

Anonymous said...

Impressive, you managed to use the word "anarchist" 11 times in 10 small paragraphs. This is good tabloid style. By the way, do we know for a fact that these people are self-proclaimed anarchists? Or is it just an assumption, because all squatters and scruffy-looking blokes are anarchists?

I have some reservation about what the squatters are doing, taking into account the current context of councils forcing through plans to have libraries run by volunteers, at the expense of paid, qualified staff.

Other thing is, criticism of the state is only one aspect of anarchist theory and practice. Anarchists also support worker's struggles and want to get rid of capitalism. But I suppose its easier to put down anarchists by showing them in a reductive light.

And because some people cannot imagine a world where all relations wouldnt be run or mediated by a powerful state-authority doesnt mean that there isnt a truly democratic alternative and that anarchists havent thought through the contradictions of the state.

But like you say, "if you know anything about anarchism..."

Citizen Barnet said...

Thank you for your comment, Anonymous. You're right, I didn't say very much about anarchism apart from the emphasis on combatting the state. But, as you also point out, this is 10 small paragraphs.

That idea is also very important to explore in the context of the debate that is going on between everyone who wants to save Friern Barnet library, so I'm not embarrassed about having mentioned it, and having neglected other aspects of anarchism.

You yourself bring it up: are the occupiers to some extent helping Barnet Council's agenda? To what extent can opening a 'community library' help or hinder the campaign to get Barnet Council itself to run a library service from that building?

I was having the self-same doubt today regarding the occupiers' identity: I can't actually remember seeing them describe themselves as anarchists. It's how they have been referred to by other people since day 1. I won't use the label 'anarchist' again until I know.

I have nothing against squatters or scruffy-looking blokes in general. (Some of my best friends...) And I like to debate with anarchists, but then I'm a Trot so you would expect that. I certainly didn't mean to put anyone down and I don't think my blogpost read that way.