What Alito Can Also Destroy
A couple of weeks ago I posted photos of a huge old Masonic Temple and a long-established women’s club founded for well to do ladies. There are other more modest social establishments I walk past as well in surrounding neighborhoods.
All of them depend, however, on a right Americans have long assumed — freedom of association. But this freedom is only in place because of Supreme Court rulings, and the radicalism of the right wing justices puts all associations at risk. Expect the right to ban associations of anyone they don’t like if they are given half a chance. It happened with groups like the NAACP in the 50s, and there is every reason to believe the radical right wants this to happen again.
There are a couple of old veterans halls within a mile of my house. Like many throughout the country, they are aging institutions. Veterans of recent wars are less likely to join, for a variety of reasons. This Veterans of Foreign Wars hall has an emblem over the front door which has seen better days.
And one indication that membership has dropped off at this American Legion hall is the fact that the list of wars ends with “Panama-Pers Gulf” — no mention of Afghanistan or Iraq.
While many chapters of veterans associations are conservative, some have joined in liberal causes like fighting for better health care and expanding the social safety net. If the radical right wants to allow associations for liberal causes to be shut down, veterans chapters like these are at risk too.
Many churches in my area have active congregations, but some are no longer in operation and have sold their buildings. Two are now community centers.
This church dates to the 1800s and in the 1970s constructed a high rise of subsidized apartments for senior citizens. More recently the church closed and merged its congregation with another parish. Part of the old church is now contains a Shakespearean theater, a magician’s office, and a space for teaching swordsmanship and Kung Fu.
This church was built later in the 20th Century and was converted to a community center more recently as well.
It now hosts AA meetings, a big band, singing lessons, meditation and yoga classes, a foodbank dropoff, and offers event spaces for rent.
Without a right to association, though, all of these are at risk. Yoga and meditation have faced a fierce backlash from the radical right, who view them as indoctrination into Eastern religion, rather than, well, Yoga and meditation. Places like this can expect many members to be under attack.
A Renovated Town Hall
And to be clear, this project is now at risk too.
This is a “town hall” that was built 150 years ago as a general meeting place for a small village that was once in a semi-rural area outside of city limits. The area was later annexed by the city, and now it is a fully urban neighborhood a mile from my house.
It was home to associations such as the Masons, The Order of the Heptasophs, and the VFW. It hosted lectures and political events. A small offshoot church was founded here. And businesses such as a drug store and cigar factory operated on the first floor.
For years it was shuttered, but now grants and private funding have been won to renovate the old town hall and open it with retail and apartments, as a part of a larger revitalization effort.
But it’s an effort at risk due to the radical anti-freedom agenda of the GOP. One group making a major contribution to renovating neighboring buildings is an anarchist collective which runs a popular coffeeshop and bookstore. They’re a worker-owned cooperative with the open point of view that modern capitalism and politics must be fixed by collective, decentralized action.
Merely mention the word “anarchist” and the radical right wants to lower the ban hammer.
I don’t agree with every single thing this group stands for, and the members don’t even agree on everything. But they stand for a point of view which is responsible and constructive, and utterly demonized by Alito and the rest of the GOP.
It doesn’t even matter to the radical right that urban renewal run with the input of the community is good for business overall. Jim Crow, discrimination against women, and anti-LGBTQ laws have been huge drags on economic growth, but given the choice between equality and economic strength or discrimination and economic damage, conservatives choose hatred every time.
For now, I’m sure the anarchists will be fine, and the larger project will thrive as well. But what could be at risk isn’t clear. Loyalty oaths as a condition for government employment are spreading in conservative states, and the threat is looming that associating with the “wrong” people will put federal funding at risk before long.
I fully expect this group of anarchists, in their limited way, to fight for their rights. Hopefully a lot more people will too.