Review of Land and Freedom: An Open Invitation
By Seaweed(Black Powder Press, 2013)
Reviewed by Bryan Hill
This year, Black Powder Press released a compilation of essays by Seaweed, an author whose writings I have enjoyed for years, which reimagine land-based struggles and propose building autonomy from a regional perspective. Land and Freedom is Seaweed’s first published book. The compiling of these nine essays has really helped me to hash out some of the core ideas and theories behind their writing.
Most pronounced in this book is the way in which Seaweed diverges from other anarchist writers, in particular by coining new terms for old ideas. For example, Seaweed explores the idea of a ‘secessionist movement’, which is a term used to describe a type of land defence rooted in the creation of regional autonomy through rural subsistence. Seaweed makes the argument that resistance requires ‘habitat’ to nourish its rebels and provide real skills and resources, in order to begin to establish local autonomy. These ‘habitats’ can then function as a base to spread stateless territories and anarchy. Thanks to the compilation of these texts into a book, it became apparent that this is not just flowery language or an expression of Seaweed’s aversion to using the word ‘anarchist,’ but rather Seaweed intentionally describing a very different conception of struggle.
In prior releases of these texts Seaweed used the word ‘warrior’ to describe rebels struggling for land and freedom, yet in this release, the term has been removed. I can only speculate that perhaps the author has reflected on the traditional and cultural significance of warriors in indigenous communities and resistance. I thought it was a appropriate for Seaweed to avoid that term as there is a tokenizing tendency for leftist and anarchist people to deify indigenous people in struggle which both forgets that warriors are real people, and that even settlers are capable of accomplishing heroic things. This observation complements the fact that many of Seaweed’s ideas and arguments are deeply indebted to the struggles, traditions and practises of indigenous cultures and resistance to colonization in North America.
One of the strongest pieces in the book is “The Art of Rebellion.” Originally published as “Of Martial Traditions and the Art of Rebellion,” it introduces some of the major works of ‘Martial Strategy’, and provides an abridged reading for anarchists, rebels and warriors of some key martial theories and ‘truths’ which we should consider in our struggles for autonomy. Seaweed begins by critiquing the language of war amongst rebels and proposes instead that an understanding of our actions is a kind of rebellion. The essay culminates in examples of land defence efforts that employ those strategies.
In my opinion, one factor that limits resistance time and time again is the fact that rebels must start fresh as each generation finds its combative spirit. Sharing stories of resistance, both our best victories and our hardest learned lessons, is a part of the struggle;, and this piece is one example of offering new rebels a glimpse of our past. When this essay was originally published in 2008, it stood out as one of my favourite pieces of writing, and today, it remains on my ‘must read’ list for all willing rebels who takes their lives into their own hands.
Seaweed also provides us with two short histories of resistance and colonization. In ‘Society of Masterless Men,’ we hear the story of a band of settlers who deserted their colonies and made connections with the Mi’kmaq and Beothuk, living out their lives in the bush of Newfoundland in the 18th century. “On Parks” provides a short history of how National and Provincial Parks were used in the process of colonization, displacing indigenous people by using military force. “On Parks” was an interesting read considering the history of reclamations of “park lands” in Ontario, such as the Stoney Point reclamation of Ipperwash Park in 1995, or the current Oshkimaadziig Unity Camp in Awenda Provincial Park. Throughout the essay, Seaweed attempts to critique the environmental left’s assumption that bioregions prosper best when they remain “pristine and untouched” instead the left ought to learn from the traditional practises of land stewardship and co-dependance of traditional indigenous cultures living off the land.
Of the few other theoretical pieces to round out the collection, I found myself the least interested in the first piece, called ‘An Open Offer,’ a utopic essay similar to Peter Gelderloos’ “An Anarchist Solution to Global Warming.’ Both featuring flowery prose that explore what might come from a future where people’s actions reflect a connection with and stewardship of the earth, and a real communal autonomy.
While I appreciate the importance of dreaming or of thoughtful considerations of how we could adapt to a world less depend on resource extraction and advanced technology, these utopian essays often fail to inspire me. With both brevity and daydreaming in mind, they more often than not ignore conflict resolution or other hard interpersonal dynamics we will face, which give the stories a two-dimensional nature. Perhaps writings of these sorts are best kept for the stateless utopias of sci-fi authors Octavia M. Butler & Ursula K. Le Guin.
I highly recommend this book but encourage the reader to find the text ‘Ponds and Oceans’ online and print it out separately. Originally it was intended as a collection of proverbs and should be thoughtfully considered independently as well as a part of Land and Freedom. The version published in this book mashes the proverbs together and ruins the flow of the text. I believe that it is a strong text but without the negative space to consider each proverb on its own, it falls short.