City Walks – Freedom of Association

Things Worth Fighting For

Old Town Hall Detail

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.

Veterans Associations

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.

Veterans of Foreign Wars hall

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.

American Legion Hall

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.

Converted Churches

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.

Community center in former church
Senior citizens apartment building with community center in background
The old church is behind the highrise

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.

Community Center in former church
Community Center Sign
The First Christian Church is a Mainline Protestant denomination that still has many active churches in the US
Foodbank dropoff sign
Community Center Banner

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.

Old Town Hall Under Renovation

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.

Old Town Hall Under Renovation

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.



  1. There was a time when I would have thought you were overreacting. But not anymore. I confess that for years I never believed the GOP really wanted to overturn Roe v Wade. I thought it was posturing to keep a segment of the population voting for them. So, yeah, I can see them chipping away at our constitutional rights including the first amendment.

    • It may have been that way in the ’80s or ’90s, but we are now in the era of the True Believer.  They don’t give Fuck One about turning the country into a 3rd world hellscape.  They only care about their psychotic bullshit and forcing it upon everyone else and using Orwellian doublespeak to call it “freedom.”

      • Also for a not insignificant number, the End Days ™ are literally any day now! So like who cares what you have to do and how horrible it gets because soon there will be the second coming!!!

    • The town hall in this post was built right before the area was a part of a massive, bloody crackdown on labor which saw demonstrators getting gunned down in the streets around the coutry. And to be clear, the backlash here and elsewhere in the country was strong. But strong labor laws didn’t really take off for 60 years.

      Anarchists were an actual political force here and else during the late 1800s in response to desperation over the overwhelming power of capital, and more mainstream unions kept organizing in the face of powerful opposition.

      I think it’s not clear that the GOP will win — most people really don’t want the freakish control over personal lives they represent. But I also think we may be at the start of a decades long struggle as well.

      The advantage of history is it helps show perspective through it all.

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