Happy birthday, Voltairine de Cleyre

Happy birthday, Voltairine!

I hope this virtual birthday card breaks all realms of plausibility and somehow reaches through space-time to you. 145 years after your birth, you’re still remembered and much-admired.

I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that those who remember your name comprise a radical bunch of anarchists and feminists. Your speeches and writings, more than a hundred years later are still cited by us, loved by us.

There often comes a moment when I think to myself, ‘what would Voltairine do’? This usually comes when discussions of action come up, and I always think about your essay, Direct Action. The bad news is, in my time, we’re seeing an increase of rejection of the tactics of direct action. These days, you can’t break a window without a clusterfuck of liberal handwringing.

I know it was much the same in your day, and that we still haven’t combatted liberalism, but the state has made itself more powerful than ever, with the advent of new technology,and abuses this privilege to send people down for the smallest, most peaceful actions such as sitting in a shop. They’ve taken away our ability to strike, Voltairine: the once-powerful unions now defanged dinosaurs.

The will of the unions just isn’t there anymore. It’s hard enough to get them to walk out for a day, let alone the burning steel-mills and sabotaged printing-presses you wrote of.

Direct action is the only way we can achieve change, I agree with you and so do many. But while the spirit is willing, right now the flesh is decidedly weak. The best we can muster is a lot of people going camping, which has pissed off the police a bit, but it looks to me like people waiting around to achieve a majority while in a state of mild discomfort. It’s nice to see baby steps, but I feel like the time has come to run head-on at the whole corrupt system.

You’d probably shit a brick if you saw it, Voltairine.

With social issues, we’ve hardly got much better. Although men are no longer legally allowed to rape their wives, most of Sex Slavery still applies. Our mass-media sells women the idea that we must truss ourselves up in discomfort and dedicate our lives to attracting a mate. They mask fear of women’s sexuality in “oh God, think of the children”, thus dragging the next generation into this way of thinking.

As for marriage, you were absolutely spot-on there: your thinking still resonates a century later. The divorce rate is steadily climbing, but despite this, society insists on banging the marriage drum. In good news, the right to marry will soon be extended to same-sex couples. In bad news, that means a whole other bunch of people will have that norm forced upon them. It looks like equality, but it smells like extension of oppression.

In the long run, some things have got a bit better, but really nothing has happened. It’s not your fault, Voltairine, it’s ours. We haven’t been doing enough.

The few of us who remember you, we are continuing your battle, we are inspired by you. We commemorate your birthday. We will fight until your thoughts become an amusing historical artefact, a time capsule of a life before liberation.

Happy birthday, Voltairine!


Stavvers xxxx

P.S. If you ever fancy coming to visit, try to settle your differences with Emma Goldman. Her and Mary Wollstonecraft have mastered time travel.

Edit: Voltairine, I spoke too soon. On this, your birthday, people in New York are blockading Wall Street, engaging in a massive act of direct action that has been labelled “economic terrorism”. I’m sure you’d be happy.

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