Redefining Radical: The Youth Liberation Front's Unique Perspective on Anarchism

Submitted by Elias Roessler on Thu, 01/23/2020 - 12:07 - 0 Comments

Over the past few years, Portland has seen the rise of many so-called “radical” groups, with Rose City ANTIFA, the Proud Boys, and Patriot Prayer, all using Portland as their chosen place to fight over the future of our country’s politics. Relatively new to the scene is the PNWYLF or the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front, only having formed in the spring of 2019. Starting as a small group of like-minded individuals coming together over Discord, the group has steadily become more organized, creating chapters all over the US. They are mainly comprised of people in their mid-teens-early 20s; they are a group specifically for youth and students. However, despite their apparent meteoric rise into prominence, there is very little information on this group available to the public. The only information available on them comes from their bio on Instagram, in which they describe themselves as “an autonomous network of youth and student collectives dedicated to the liberation of all people through any means necessary.” However, aside from that brief description, the group maintains a high level of secrecy, often citing “operational security” to preserve the anonymity of its members and prevent actions against them. As such, I anticipated some difficulty in getting them to talk to me. However, their desire to share their philosophy eventually overcame their desire to maintain a level of secrecy, and a member of their group, who will be referred to in this article as “H,” agreed to talk to me.

The PNWYLF in Focus

H described the PNWYLF as a group of “radical students” that are in “strong opposition to fascism, capitalism, and authoritarianism.” According to the document “Criticism of the Youth Liberation Front As it Stands,” they avoid major leadership roles, attempting to avoid the pitfalls of rebellious groups in the past, hence the decision to label themselves as an ‘autonomous network.’ They believe that if they follow the same system or “labor aristocracy” as the regime, they seek to destroy, they aren’t any different from failed revolutionary movements in the past. “Radical change must come from inside these communities [the oppressed and marginalized] not from white saviors who attempt to portray themselves as heroes.” When asked why they used the term radical, H was very passionate in refuting the argument that being “radical” is in any way terrible. Instead, ‘radical’ means that “you are more committed to seeing the root causes of injustice in our society, and more committed to calling them out… You see the root causes of a lot of these issues, and you want to eliminate them. That’s what makes us different from Liberals.” H went on to explain that while the PNWYLF accepts liberals to their group, they do not accept their ideology, viewing it as harmful. “Liberalism and its continued marriage to capitalism is what has secured a system of injustice and exploitation which we have to free ourselves of.” H made it very clear that they view capitalism as the root of all societal issues, arguing that fascism is “capitalism in decay” and that while they will work within electoral politics, their group is “ultimately that of a revolutionary one.” H also explained the group’s view on anarchy, asserting that while many view anarchism as a destructive force “that could not be further from the truth”. H explained that while they do advocate for the destruction of the current system, it’s more than just mindlessly tearing things down, as they also “advocate for a community-led government, we[the PNWYLF] advocate for no domination from one person to another. We’re not just a bunch of young punks; we are passionate about the community we come from.”

Radical groups have started coming about more in the past few years as the US has become more and more polarized in its politics. The far-left has grown, and in reaction to this surge of progressive views, the far-right has also surged. The PNWYLF believes that this is what makes now such a transformative time. “In the wake of a financial crisis, you often see the rising of left-wing populist movements, starting a fight against the corrupt institutions that have been mistreating them. What we see now is different” H said, passion in their voice “right-wing populism has shifted the focus of the working class away from systemic problems, placing the blame on minorities, those without a voice, and that’s what we’re trying to fight against.” This is also why they choose to remain anonymous, explaining that while they agree with the need to be transparent, they need to be careful because “ they [Alt-Right activists] will not hesitate to go after vulnerable members of our community, especially youth… we remain anonymous to protect ourselves”.

Over the course of our interview along with interactions with various YLF members at their protests, I became fascinated by how this group functioned. There wasn’t anyone leading the protest in any real way, but they were still well organized, planning what they would do, where they would go, and even going so far as to have representatives from the National Lawyers Guild present to monitor their interactions with police. It was shocking to me that such a large group of young people was organizing in such a way and making real action for a cause they are very clearly passionate about. Whether you agree with their beliefs or not, it’s impressive to see how they have managed to grow their group in a mere matter of months, growing from a small group of like-minded individuals chatting over Discord, to a fully functioning organization with chapters across the country. The thing I was left wondering, though, is whether or not they will make any real change happen. There have been so many radical groups in the past, and even though they make it clear that they are attempting to learn from past mistakes, is it possible that they will fall into the same pitfalls as revolutionaries that came before them and simply fade away.

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Elias Roessler's picture

Elias Roessler is a writer for Beyond the Flock, joinging this year, he is a senior. He is interested in writing about music, and current issues