Snow in Syracuse

It was spring in Virginia but as I got into upstate New York it was still winter with ice covered lakes, piles of filthy snow and light flurrys falling along the highway. Snow is normal in Syracuse, it gets just under 3m of the stuff in the average year holding the record over any other large US city.

The Syracuse meeting on March 15th was attended by 14 people and was in the Women's Information Centre, an independently ( ) funded feminist center that has now been open for 35 years. The meeting was organised by the Syracuse local of the North Eastern Anarchist Network.

I stayed with Stephen who was originally from Long Island but who moved there after a spell in New Orleans. He met me off the Greyhound where I had the first 'talking to someone on a mobile to turn around and find them beside me' arrival experience. I'd come up from NYC where I had arrived at the huge Port Authority Greyhound station to realise I was trying to travel on the same day Syracuse university was re-opening with the result that there was a couple of hundred students in the que ahead of me. Fortunately on this occasion someone in Greyhound had planned ahead and there were extra buses running the route.

Geographically I'd guess Syracuse might be considered the eastern edge of the rust belt, as with other cities in the region the population is declining in number. The salt and chemical industry that once provided much work has gone so there are a good few vacant buildings and high unemployment / under employment. On my way out we drove down the main street which seemed to be largely comprised of strip bars and tattoo parlors leading me to suspect that part of the local economy kept money in circulation through tattoo artists going to the strips clubs and strippers getting tattoo's. Official figures show the main employers are education and health related.

In terms of historical radicalism it was known as the "great central depot on the Underground Railroad." This wasn't a train route but a network of safe houses secret routes that enabled up to 30,000 enslaved people to escape to Canada in the 19h century. Conversations about local activism tended to revolve around anti-war activism (a protest was planned for the week after my meeting), feminism, opposition to the building of a super mall and the local anarchist networks in particular the Syracuse Solidarity Network.

One very general difference with the places I stayed on the tour were the huge differences in living space between the boom cities like New York, Boston, LA etc and the bust cities of the rust belt and elsewhere. In the boom cities I tended to be staying in small but modern apartments. In the bust cities people lived in houses with lots of space but that were old and generally looking the worse for wear. The bust generally worked better for me as it often meant I'd have a bed and even a room to myself rather than sleeping on a coach or knowing I'd displaced my host who was sleeping on the coach.

One feature of the Syracuse house was the dog of another guest there. This was a viscous looking cross that involved perhaps a pit bull and a dobberman. Lots of teeth and muscle with a terrifying bark to match. But it had been raised with some sort of lap dogs and had come to the conclusion that this is what is also must have been. So while its bark was terrible its bite was non existent, it was in fact timid. And it liked to try to climb into peoples laps despite the fact that it obviously didn't fit. It's owner told me it also insisted on sleeping not only on her bed but actually under the sheets!

As I update this months later I've no clear memories of either the public or private meeting in Syracuse, both of which took place at the feminist center. With the public meeting as with a couple of the other stops in the North East tour a proportion of the audience was older anti-war activists, veterns of the struggles of the 60's perhaps. The discussion at the private meeting revolved around the North Eastern Anarchist Network and the relative advantages and disadvantages of this form of loose organisation.

Some of those I met had been at the 'riot' in Georgetown, Washington DC a while earlier and it was interesting getting their perspective on what seemed like a pretty silly 'bash the rich' type stunt during protests against the IMF/World bank the previous October. A lot of hot air had been blown back and forth online after a bystander getting hit with a brick that had bounced off a shop window although in online postings about the incident she seemed to view herself as 'collateral damage'. I've embedded the youtube video below but overall this was another reminder that a real weakness in the US movement was that the high burn out rate meant that 'spectacular' action and the positive experience of confrontation with the state was seldom developed from. Syracuse was another of those towns where today's generation knew the anarchists who had been active ten years before but had no real contact with them and were thus re-inventing the wheel in many respects.

While in Syracuse I did an interview with two members of the Syracuse Solidarity Network covering anarchist organising, local anti war and feminist movements and activism in a rust belt town. The second half is Stephen talking about how the experience of working with Common Ground in New Orleans after Kathrina radicalised him. The interview is at

Extensively added to 3rd December 2008

WORDS: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter )


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