Millennial survivors share anarchist ideals and downtown squats


David Gunn had just been released from hospital after attempting to kill himself when he met the fallen beauty who changed his life.

It was an ivory-painted downtown Albany townhouse, abandoned years ago but with its sleek bones and tall glass windows intact. Gunn, 30, climbed the wooden steps and turned the doorknob. The door was unlocked.

“Like most of the abandoned buildings are in Albany,” Gunn noted.

The two story walkup had no electricity or running water. But inside was a wonderland of grace notes: arched doors, built-in bookcases, hardwood floors. A huge black A surrounded by a oh adorned a wall, the symbol created by anarchists of the 1890s and then made famous by punk rockers of the 1970s. Since 2016, three to eight self-proclaimed anarchists have lived here. They have about two dozen supporters from the Capital Region who are invited to drop by and plan protests and vigils.

No county or city official noticed the squatters. The building has given Gunn a home, true love, and a community of friends.

“Anarchist” sounds as picturesque and ancient as “duel d’honneur” or “gargoyle sculptor”. Here’s what that means for Gunn and his friends who are also vehemently vegans: Avoid all governments, stand up for the working class, barter and fodder rather than using the money.

“It’s not to say too loudly that anarchy saved my life,” said Gunn, who has no family. “It gave me a purpose. Lawlessness has shown me that a feeling of having nothing to lose can be liberating and positive.”

Anarchists do not know who owns the house in a historic district where the barons of the Golden Age built houses in second and third cities. The inhabitants of the streets are working poor. Gunn’s friends have learned enough DIY skills (plumbing, welding, carpentry, baking) to help their hardworking and low-income neighbors and avoid the dreaded soul-crushing capitalist bosses. Their dazzling achievement is the bi-monthly Really Free Marketplace with thousands of donated items, from fresh bread and furniture to clothes and toys. The last market attracted 20 volunteers and hundreds of participants.

Given their distrust of government and off-grid life, anarchists look like wilderness survivors groomed for the American apocalypse. But instead of hunting, fishing, and hiding in a secluded cabin, anarchists live downtown and dive into trash cans after dark and collect unopened cans of oatmeal, bottles of sealed juices, palettes of sweet potatoes and purple plums.

“Survivors don’t want to be around people. Anarchists are social; we love our neighbors,” Gunn said. “We are not nihilists. If the government collapses, we can survive by living the way we do. But we will help other people as well.”

A hunt for shelter, food, love

Garrett McCluskey, 30, is a dreamer. The former electrician is bringing a battery operated sound system to local parks so he can play vintage jazz music as a public service. A gifted musician, McCluskey is distressed at the idea of ​​charging even modest fees for the voice and guitar lessons he teaches. He believes that making music should be free fun for everyone.

He dazzled half of the squat living room wall with full color prints of naked generous women, 1940s pin-ups. One appears to be carved in gold. Beauties are McCluskey’s vision board inspiring his search for true love. His acoustic and electric guitars are stalled nearby.

“I would love to have a girlfriend to sing with,” he nodded to his nearby acoustic and electric guitars, “Adventure companion – but this lifestyle is definitely not for everyone. We believe that all species, animals and humans, are equal. Animals are our friends. It would be next to impossible to fall in love with a non-vegan who eats my friends. “

Lots of friends, women and men, hang out in the squat but can’t stand to live there.

When McCluskey’s roommates had enough money, they called National Grid claiming to be the building’s new owners. The current has passed. There has been no electricity for months. McCluskey and Gunn say they would never endanger the building by starting a fire inside. They used microwaves at a nearby gas station mini-market to heat up hot water battles for their sleeping bags, then wore all their clothes to prevent frostbite. Good friends with apartments invited them to surf on a couch when the cold was severe.

Firefighters never marked the house with the large red X sign which designates a building as structurally unsafe to enter.

“But just because an abandoned house doesn’t have a red X does not mean it’s structurally sound,” said Samuel Wells, neighborhood stabilization coordinator in the city of Albany. “Very few abandoned buildings are ready to be inhabited without a lot of work. If a house goes years without basic maintenance, it is deteriorating in dangerous ways that might not be visible.”

Wells said the abandoned house should never be unlocked, as thieves can enter and steal copper wiring and fixtures.

Anarchists insist that they would not harm their home although they may be overconfident in their housekeeping skills. A former roommate tried to give the apartment free running water by removing the meter from the pipes with a blowtorch.

They now have what is called “zero gravity toilets”. McCluskey fills a five-gallon bucket, carries it upstairs and then pours it into the bowl to push the droppings down the sewer line.

“Zero gravity toilets are a big blow to a lot of women when it comes to moving in,” McCluskey sighed.

On a recent summer afternoon, he shared juicy watermelon and mangoes with his anarchist friends Gunn and the University of Albany, Premedical Major Tobi Warwick, and their girlfriends.

Gunn met his sweetheart Alyssa Gallagher during a tofu cooking class. She had an apartment and a job at Capital Roots, a nonprofit that provides fresh produce to low-income families. Still, she loved Gunn enough to move into the squat.

“Dave has some unique and interesting ideas; he makes an impact on the community,” said Gallagher. “I don’t mind diving in dumpsters. Food is normally in clean, tied bags, not just thrown loose in a dumpster.”

The group is looking for dumpsters at grocery stores, bakeries and restaurants. A single dumpster in the fish market was too smelly for anyone to dive in. Usually, they find so much clean, edible, and healthy food that McCluskey organizes the excess food on the front porch in neat mini-market rows, with a sign inviting passersby to help themselves.

“But I’m not going anywhere near this zero gravity toilet,” Gallagher said with a laugh. “I have a gym membership so Dave and I can use the showers and bathrooms there.”

This free market

It may seem strange that guys without conventional day jobs champion the working class. McCluskey’s most recent foray into the world of work has been his vegan stand-up comedy act.

He was banned from the Albany Comedy Club on the night of his debut. McCluskey played video on stage at a pig slaughterhouse.

“Mmmmm bacon. Laughter is a letter of the massacre. Are we still laughing? He said as mutilated pigs screamed at the screen and horrified audience members growled and yelled at him to stop.

When asked now if he thought the act was funny, McCluskey considered the question with genuine gentleness.

“I think I can be funny and entertaining. But maybe it was more confrontational than funny,” McCluskey replied.

The free market is the real place of work for anarchists. This inspired 22-year-old Warwick to join Gunn’s group. He has an apartment and a job at the Albany Medical Center.

“He’s such a loyal guy that when we planned a protest against the centre’s treatment of animals, Tobi came with us in his blue coats,” McCluskey said.

Warwick is also allowing his address to be posted on social media promoting the Really Free Free Market so Albany residents can drop off donations at his apartment.

“The market has been a transformative experience for me; I then wanted to commit to the ideals of the group, ”said Warwick. “All ages, including children, all races were at the last market. A man who needed size 10 shoes for a job interview cried when he found a pair. “

The anarchists had no idea what a pair of disabled bathtub grab rails was. But a man who uses a wheelchair was happy to get them. It reminded Warwick how much a prosaic item can change the life of someone who can’t make enough money to buy it no matter how hard they work.

Create their own world

Richard Lachmann, professor of sociology at the University of Albany, sees the appreciation of anarchy as a sensible reaction to being stuck in an economy of odd jobs. His next book on American workers is “First Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship: Elite Politics and the Decline of Great Powers”. It’s a title anarchists would appreciate.

“Millennials are in an economy with a lot of jobs available, but mostly lousy jobs with no security, no advancement,” Lachmann said. “Off-grid communities, rural and urban, emerge more often in times of economic uncertainty.”

Historically, the prickly personalities of anarchists and their unwillingness to compromise have made it difficult for them to submit to the adjustments that most workers make almost mindlessly in order to get along with the bosses and integrate into the cultures of the ‘business.

“But if you’re young and all the corporate world has to offer is a never-ending jump between unsatisfying jobs, the rewards for those compromises seem less valid,” Lachmann said. “It is a risky decision to try to create your own world. But if the world you find yourself in now is unappealing and unstable, the risk seems worth taking.”

Gunn candidly explains how his mental health issues make relationships with traditional workplaces problematic. After his suicide attempt, he said state health officials diagnosed him with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Gunn says he sees a therapist and gets a disability check that’s too small to live on.

“Honestly, I probably wouldn’t fit in a lot of workplaces,” Gunn said. “But I found a way to be a meaningful part of the world.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated. The steps of the building are made of wood; an earlier version incorrectly identified the material from which it is made.

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