EUGENE, Ore. — The Blair Island Cafe was supposed to be good for the Whitaker neighborhood. A clean, colorful place with Mediterranean-style pasta and seafood, an alternative to the organic bakeries and cheap microbrew taverns that have always nourished this community of 70-year-old bungalows, food co-ops and what appears to be the largest remaining population of Volkswagen buses in the hemisphere.
The popular resistance started last August with a broken restaurant window, and when that was repaired, another, and another. Then the literature castigating "yuppie gentrifying scum" and their BMWs parked outside. Fearing worse, the Blair Island Cafe closed its doors late last year--and the movement to keep Whitaker a low-rent refuge for the down-and-out raised its collective fist in victory.
"It is possible to build and maintain a very strong and self-empowering resistance to the pioneering gentry . . . through individual and small group actions," read a flier posted recently near the site of the former restaurant. It urged a process of neighborhood self-destruction as an antidote to escalating property values. "Resist the urge not to litter. The health and diversity of our neighborhood depends on it."
Eugene for years has stood with communities like Berkeley and Santa Cruz as a seedbed for the counterculture, the kind of town where 1960s-era liberals grew into middle age, got jobs and sport utility vehicles, took over the City Council and passed resolutions about investments in Burma and Styrofoam containers at fast-food outlets.
Then the anarchists moved in. Forget about investments in Myanmar; smash the banks. Why bother about hamburger wrap? Close down McDonald's. And so this Oregon university town has given birth to one of the most active communities in what seems to be a small but growing national resurgence in anarchist thought--a movement dedicated to wiping away just about everything the last 2,000 years of human civilization has produced: government institutions, industrial development, technology.
Eugene Becomes a Lab for Anarchists
Eugene, a city of 150,000 that is best known as the home of the University of Oregon, has become a test kitchen for the principles of anarchy applied to small-town America. Issues like upscale restaurants and condominium developments, new downtown parking lots and logging of local forests--these are as likely topics as the writings of Emma Goldman and Noam Chomsky during weekly meetings of the 20 or so members of Eugene's Black Army Faction.
In recent months, anarchists have vandalized the minivan of a police officer, writing "Die pig" across the back window; waged war over the removal of dozens of stately old trees to make way for a downtown parking lot and residential development; started a grass-roots community school with training in subjects like vegan cooking and worm cultivation; launched damaging attacks against local computer software and Nike outlets, in addition to several banks and restaurants; leafleted banks, mortgage companies, fast-food outlets and lawyers' offices with messages like "Viva la Unabomber" and "Actualize industrial collapse."
Nearly 75 showed up at a Northwest anarchist conference in Eugene in June, and later that month eight police officers were injured when a downtown march called by the Anarchist Action Collective to smash computers and television sets turned into a riot. Rocks and bricks were hurled through bank signs, shop windows, a hotel and motorists' cars in a street action that included more than 200 activists. Police responded with shields, batons and made 20 arrests.
The anarchists are mostly teens and twentysomethings with inclinations toward black clothing and punk rock. But their numbers include middle-age intellectuals, artists and writers. And Eugene's entire activist community has joined with them on issues like the downtown trees, logging of national forests and animal rights. (It was probably the animal rights issue, businessmen say, that led to the smashing of the front window of a downtown furniture store advertising a "leather sale.")
"I am not going to allow any group of . . . urban terrorists to make our city streets a place where people feel like they can't be," said Mayor Jim Torrey, who was vomited on at a City Council meeting by a defender of the downtown trees.
"Eugene can be categorized as a unique city . . . because we enable people of various points of view to feel comfortable in expressing themselves and feel comfortable in how they dress and where they convene," Torrey said. "And to have an organization like the anarchists take advantage of that and create a situation where our streets are not safe--it has finally come to a point where the citizenry feels that enough is enough."
The anarchists respond by saying that extreme times--high school shootings, corporate exploitation of Third World labor, destruction of native forests, genetic engineering of food--call for extreme measures.