When I was first getting into organizing and activism, I heard a classic analogy, the “Baby in the River Story,” that drives home the importance of organizing goal-based campaigns to create long lasting policy changes instead of service-only or education-only campaigns that could never end. It usually goes something like this:
Imagine you are walking along a river, having a nice stroll. Suddenly, you notice that there is a baby floating hazardously down the river! Oh no! You immediately jump into the river and save the baby! You return to the shore, but before you can go find the parents of the baby, you notice another baby in the river! And another further up! And another, and another!
So you head up stream, saving babies as you go, trying to find where all these babies are coming from. Before long you find a bridge, where there is a person throwing babies into the river. What are you to do?
Should you gather your friends and spend all day every day fishing babies out of the river?
Should you post flyers around town, make documentaries, and have teach-ins to spread the word and educate people about the river baby problem?
Or should you go up and actually stop the person from throwing more babies in the river?”
Since hearing this story I’ve always asked myself if what I’m doing is really going to the heart of the issue and solving the problem at the source. But as I’ve learned more about the intersections of systems of oppression and how most problems are themselves symptoms of larger and larger issues, I realized that there is an important part that is missing from the Baby in the River story:
“Why are they throwing babies in the river?”
If every issue is someone throwing babies into a river, then there are thousands of rivers and thousands of babies that need saving. And for every baby-thrower we stop, there is another one to take their place.
In our current society we have a lot of problems: racism, patriarchy, bigotry, poverty, healthcare, houselessness, pollution, climate destabilization, I could go on and on. These all have individual solutions, and there are great people working on all of them.
But what is causing all of these? What are the sources of the sources?
Many have answered “Corporate Influence.” I would definitely agree that this is a common thread for many of them, but does this really explain it all? Aren’t corporations just doing what they are supposed to do in a capitalistic society: Make more money. Is it their fault that they are too good at it?
When the system is based on self-interest, greed, the concentration of wealth, and constant growth, should we surprised when that is what we get? No matter how many regulations we put on capitalism, this is the direction it will always be striving for, with ruthless efficiency.
Instead, of using an economic system that condoned slavery, why don’t we create a system with the values that we actually want? Why don’t we work together to create a system based on freedom, equality, and community? A system where we don’t have to regulate it to restrain its destructive drive, because it doesn’t have one? What would that look like? What would you want it to look like?
Anarchy doesn’t have specific answers to all these questions, because it doesn’t do much good to replace one rigid system with another. Anarchy answers with principles such as equality, freedom, and mutual aid, and leaves the specifics up to everyone to decide. Anarchy challenges all of us to stop giving away our power to an elite minority and to come up with our own answers.
So why are there so many people throwing babies into the river? and how do we stop it? I don’t know. I think there are a lot of answers, and I’m excited to continue exploring them with you.