Portland Anarchists Are Rebelling Against the Lazy Government by Fixing Roads
When radical left-wing politics meets civic responsibility.
The great and terrible thing about culture in 2017 is that it's impossible to be a true rebel. Globalization and the internet have capitalized on most forms of counterculture. Anti-capitalism is always consumed by capitalism, as anyone who's ever bought a Clash T-shirt can tell you. In other words, punk's dead (sorry). But there will always be punks, and they'll always be seeking out new ways to rebel. Which is a long windup to this: In Portland, Oregon, the new hot way to resist government is through providing your neighbors with civil services.
A group of local anarchists started Portland Anarchist Road Care after the conditions on public streets became unbearable. In an email, the organizers of this project told me why:
We drive these streets every day, and are often in near accidents from people swerving to avoid them. People have contacted us, saying that they have wrecked their bikes, or that they have gotten multiple flat tires. We waited around like everyone else, for the state to come in and fix the roads... We finally realized that the state is not going to do enough, on a timeframe that is reasonable.
According to the Portland Mercury, the anarchists have already repaired five potholes on three blocks of SE Salmon Street between 37th and 39th Avenues.
On the Portland Anarchist Road Care Facebook page, the organizers explain, "When faced with anarchism as a political theory," skeptics will often ask, "But who will fix the roads?" The activists are proving the haters wrong by taking a hypothetical political spat into the real world and also pushing back on the stereotype of anarchists being lazy.
Dylan Rivera, the spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, pushed back against the anarchists' claims of "gross negligence," explaining the root of the pothole problem—the city had an unusually brutal winter, which caused the damage, and such a wet spring, there's little opportunity to repair them, as it needs to be dry outside. Rivera also urged citizens not to take up DIY road repair projects on public streets.
"This is a really bad idea for people to do this type of thing. It's unsafe for people to be working in the streets with traffic," he told me over the phone. Additionally, he pointed out that if the anarchists aren't using the right materials and end up damaging somebody's car because of it, they may face civil liability. He said the city is doing the best it can—noting they repaired 950 potholes alone last Friday—and asked for the public's patience. But people who don't believe there should be government should exist might not feel too sympathetic for the Portland city government.
Portland Anarchist Road Care told me that while it's not the ultimate goal of the project, it does hope to change negative public perception of anarchism: "We want people to learn about anarchy by participating in anarchist efforts, or by those efforts effecting them in the real world, not just through some media filter."
This story has been updated to include comment from the Portland Bureau of Transportation.
Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter.