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CONVENTION 2000 / THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION

After a Week of Anarchism, Back to Bagging Groceries

Matthew Hart, 26, has a job and a fairly typical life. But his politics landed him among the throng on the streets.

August 18, 2000|CARLA HALL and NICHOLAS RICCARDI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Portrait of the anarchist after the Democratic convention:

He goes back to his job as a supermarket clerk, back to being the guy you ask if the cantaloupes are ripe, the person who asks you: "Paper or plastic?"

The image of Matthew Hart--black bandanna wrapped around his head, bellowing about police brutality into a microphone before demonstrators and baton-gripping police--is now just a page in his political evolution. The rhetoric of revolution is replaced with the joys of everyday politicking. He goes back to being a shop steward in the grocery store.

That a 26-year-old white man, whose father is a construction worker and whose mother spends her days in an office, has become an anarchist says much about the varied backgrounds of people in this stereotyped movement.

Yes, they chant about police brutality and the oppression of indigenous people. They dress in black masks (the Black Bloc) or they don colorful wigs (the Clown Bloc) or they look like they just left a "Star Trek" convention (the Spock Bloc).

But Hart did not don a costume this week. In fact, he actually put on a tie to assure the media at a news conference that anarchists would not be violent at the North American Anarchists conference in Los Angeles last weekend.

What he has done all week is preach the gospel that unites this diverse movement--a distrust of authority and a belief that capitalism beats up on people economically far more brutally than stray water bottles thrown at cops.

Most demonstrators want time in the convention's extraordinary limelight. Anarchists would rather have revolution. Matthew Hart probably wants a little of both.

"Democrats are having these plush dinners and creating these laws that are targeting our youths," Hart said as he marched with fellow demonstrators down Broadway earlier this week toward Staples Center. "We're not just here to protest Democrats, but multinational corporations as well."

For Hart's generation, it's anarchy's moment in the sun.

Growing up in Whittier--onetime home of Richard Nixon--he was a politically apathetic teenager who was skeptical of friends who claimed to be anarchists, their philosophy borrowed from punk music. He thought anarchy as a system was ridiculous.

But he did go with some of those friends to distribute food to the homeless. He was struck by the fact that police arrested them for handing out food on the street without a permit. And he was stunned when one of the homeless he met turned out to be a family acquaintance, who had once taken Hart out for dinner when the Hart family was low on money.

"He could be any one of us," Hart, who asks that his supermarket not be named, said over coffee just days before the convention began. "And there were the police doing all they could to stop people from helping them."

That experience didn't instantly turn Hart into an anarchist, but it sent him down the road. He began reading, he began talking to anarchists.

Six years later, he is a classic anarchist--no one can really be a leader; groups should all make decisions for themselves.

"This society promotes certain aspects of human nature that I think are negative aspects," he said. "Greed, dog-eat-dog individualism, competition. Anarchy focuses on unity, solidarity, brotherhood and sisterhood, things that are very positive aspects of human nature."

Hart, who has a girlfriend and lives in Fullerton, tries to embody this philosophy. He is part of a group that sends shoes to prisoners who it believes are being held for their political beliefs.

Hart could not be more impassioned on the issues of police brutality and political prisoners--which may be why he sounded so fiery on Wednesday. In late-night conversations over coffee and even while marching in tense demonstrations, he is generally soft-spoken and contemplative.

Still, like all anarchists, he is hungry for revolutionary change. Some are willing to use eye-catching tactics toward that end--smashing chain-store windows during protests against sweatshops and gentrification, trashing police cars while protesting the legal system.

Although Hart said he personally does not believe in those tactics, he does not condemn those who use violence as a revolutionary tool. Indeed, some of the "political prisoners" he supports are incarcerated for killing police--in "self-defense," Hart stressed.

"How do we feel about [former South African president] Nelson Mandela?" Hart asked rhetorically. "Mandela helped create the African National Congress, which did bombings."

Hart certainly didn't change the world--or the Democrats--this past week. And he may have gotten some attention he didn't want.

"I'm the only person in my family with an FBI record," he said, laughing nervously.

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