As you drive down Wooster Street in the Kansas-flat college town of Bowling Green, past front-lawn cornhole games and sidewalk trains of girls in low-rise jeans and guys sloshing plastic cups of Natty Light, there's no indication that this is ground zero for the revolution.
But in a meeting room at the student center, a few dozen insurrectionists have holed up for the Great Lakes Anarchist Gathering, a weekend retreat during which they'll plot for a cleaner environment, world peace, and a return to the hunting and gathering ways of the Iroquois.
To hear them tell it, the anarchists are pretty much against everything: elections and taxes, corporations and money, meat and dairy products, and generally anything with an engine not powered by the sun. In a perfect world, we would live by the barter system, and there would be no rich, no poor. Rather than punch a clock each day, people would gather to discuss art and philosophy -- sort of a cross between Communist Russia and an Ekoostik Hookah show.
With so much to do, the day has been a whirlwind of workshops and discussion groups. Participants have learned how to create their own insurgent propaganda (i.e., 'zines) to gather support for the rebellion. And in an arts-and-crafts class, they got some pointers on sustainable living, including how to make eco-friendly anal plugs using a clay mold.
But now it's time to go deep. Manuel Yang, a graduate student in history at the University of Toledo, is leading a lecture on philosophy. He reclines in a cushioned chair, the anarchists surrounding him in a circle. Yang asks them all to state their names, the books they've read, and which great anarchists have shaped their beliefs.
"My name is Matt," says a wiry young man whose primly folded arms and legs give him the appearance of a human paperclip. "And, uhhhhh, I don't really know how to answer that question."
Next is Ben. But he has questions of his own. "What's reality?" he implores. "This could be a dream."
Yang nods and strokes his chin. Matt's head falls back, and he dozes off.
As each participant speaks in turn, it becomes clear that today's anarchist doesn't fit neatly into any mold. Capitalism is generally seen as a bad thing, as it pollutes the earth and enslaves indigenous peoples. Worse, it also means having to work, which the anarchists are not happy about. One delivers pizzas like a hamster on a wheel. Another one gives swimming lessons. It's hard to foment unrest from the municipal pool.
It's certainly no life for "Captain Skullfire the Destroyer," as his name tag reads. He's a 27-year-old with a wholesome smile and the fragile physique of a Cub Scout who's intent on becoming a professional cage fighter. For the moment, however, "I'm probably living below the poverty line," he admits.
So he takes his revolution where he can get it -- namely at Target. Skullfire proudly shows off the ratty sneakers he nabbed from the retailer when he was 18 -- an act of civil disobedience. "I stole these from people who promote exploitation and slavery and murder. Does a giant corporation have any more right to the fruits of exploited labor than I do?"
The anarchists view themselves as society's forgotten children, living reminders that you can kick a dog only so many times before he bites back. For Emily, a 17-year-old with bouncy red hair and glasses, that moment came when her parents sent her to Spain as an exchange student. While visiting the Basque country, she met separatists who opened her eyes to the oppression all around her. Emily returned to Port Clinton High a freedom fighter, prepared to take up arms in the name of the revolution.
"Say you bomb this SUV dealership," she reasons. "That's hurting one family, but it's getting the word out that SUVs are doing something harmful."
Nick, whose shirt displays satanic goat heads, remembers the day he decided that enough was enough. "I used to just go with the flow, you know," he tells the group. "Then one day I just realized that a lot of that was, like, conflicting with my beliefs. And I've been in anarchy ever since."
The panoramic windows of the empty cafeteria are black now. It's been a long day of self-exploration. Tomorrow, they'll delve into Middle East policy and the hand-to-hand combat theories of Captain Skullfire. But for now, it's time to party.
A punk show in a fluorescent-lit classroom in the Women's Center has the ambiance of an awkward high school show-and-tell put on by stoners. Pamphlets on workplace discrimination and domestic violence line the windowsills. Someone's drawn an anarchy sign on the chalkboard. A freakishly tall, skinny singer stumbles back and forth, screaming like Johnny Rotten. A bassist convulses and headbangs, his chubby face contorted.
The siren call of the rebellion reverberates through the brick walls of the Women's Center. "Aaaannnnaaaarrrrcccchhhhyyyyyy!!!!!!!" the singer screeches from deep in his groin.
The audience members stand casually, some with their hands in their pockets, some sipping Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper. One girl sits on a couch, knitting. They're going to rise up. Just not tonight.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.