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ellenrr Donating Member (619 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 10:10 AM
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My anarchist experience
Before I was born my parents lived in an anarchist community in Stelton NJ. I went to the annual reunion this Saturday and thot I'd share these notes I wrote up. The agenda of the reunion, besides the personal memories - more and more precious as the years advance and people die - also features talks about liberatory education and labor rights and other progressive issues.
First, a few words about the origins and demise of the community.

In 1909, Francisco Ferrer, founder of anti-clerical schools in Spain, was executed by the state for his anti-clerical beliefs. In response, a Francisco Ferrer Association was formed in New York City to further his ideas of progressive education free of state or church control or indoctrination. In 1911 the Association opened the first of its Modern Schools in NYC. Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman were two of the leading figures in the movement.

In 1914 a bomb went off in an apartment near the Ferrer Center, a bomb believed to have been intended for the estate of Standard Oil Chairman John D. Rockefeller, who was, according to Saturday's speaker, "The most hated man in America". (more on this below). As a result, police infiltration of the center increased, tensions arose, and the asso. decided to move the school to the country: Stelton, New Jersey.

In the spirit of the progressive ideas of Francisco Ferrer, The Modern School in Stelton promoted independent thinking and creativity. Children were left to their own devices - if they wanted to learn something it was taught to them, if they wanted to play all day they did. Graduates of the school report mixed results - some say they got the best education one could have, others disagree.

I spoke to one woman at the reunion and asked her about her experience: "The Modern School taught me about respecting other people and how to relate to people with compassion, unlike today's schools which only teach people how to pass tests."

With The Modern School as the focal point, the Ferrer Colony grew up around it. The idea was to "lead the people back to a natural, mutually self-sufficient relationship with one another."
The colony was composed of mostly Jewish immigrants from Russia - anarchists, socialists, communists, Trots. You can imagine the debates which went on long into the night, with great heat. The Modern School lasted until 1953. (My brother Jeff was in the last class. I unfortunately was born a couple years too late to attend.)

The Friends of the Modern School was founded in 1973, every year it holds a reunion to exchange memories, and has speakers on alternative education, labor rights, and other progressive topics.

One of this year's speakers was Thai Jones, the son of two members of the Weather Underground. He is an expert and writer on anarchist thought and his topic this day was the events of 1914 that led to the move of the Modern School from NYC to New Jersey.

Thai spoke feelingly of protests by anarchists against unemployment, and the staggeringly brutal police response. His talk made me think about how much remains the same and how much has changed in the fight against oppression by the capitalist class. When a bomb went off that was thought to be intended for the Rockefeller estate, the assault on anarchists intensified, and the Ferrer Association moved the Modern School to NJ. Said Becky Edelsohn, a Ferrer Center anarchist, "all the violence that has been committed by the labor movement since the dawn of history wouldn't equal one day of violence committed by the capitalist class in power."

More info on the Ferrer Movement and the Modern School:

Rutgers has archives of the colony, and there are a couple of books about it.

It was wonderful to be in the presense of these people, many of them in their 80's and 90's, some coming from as far as Cal and Texas.

And still radical!

There ought to be a way to have younger people tap into this tradition of radicalism, but I have no idea how that could happen.

It's history but it is current too.

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UnrepentantLiberal Donating Member (747 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Dec-04-11 03:18 PM
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1. Interesting read.
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