When I talk with people about anarchism, they tend to tense up. I can use words like mutual aid or police abolition quite comfortably these days, but I think people have big feelings when I use the word anarchy. It conjures images violence, rioting, revolution. They think of punks and skinheads. But the colloquial use of the word “anarchy” (confusion, disorder, lack of obedience) is far from the political ideology.

Anarchism is a belief system that rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. Anarchism believes in autonomy, the right of the people to self govern without state leadership. Anarchists believe that the state should be abolished as it holds too much power and is harmful towards most people. That’s it. Not nearly as radical as one might think, right? At least not in today’s political climate.

Part of the misconception around anarchism is that many people think of it as an alternative form of government born out of violent revolution. But I’ve come to learn that anarchy isn’t necessarily just an end goal but an ongoing process, like “justice” or “solidarity”. Most anarchists don’t believe that revolution will happen overnight and people will be able to self organize in the ashes of that revolution. While that might happen, it’s not an ideal transition away from state control. Like so many concepts that we deal with these days: collapse, genocide, apocalypse, etc. anarchy is not one single event but a series of events that started in the past and will continue into the future. It’s an ongoing process.

What’s more, anarchism isn’t a single approach! There are dozens of ideologies that branch off from anarchism: green anarchism, anarcho-pacifism, communo-anarchism, anarcho-primitivism, anarcho-capitalism. The list goes on. Each take considered different factors depending on where you live, what your community looks like, what resources you have, how healthy you are.

No matter what ideology you follow, anarchism is built on some basic approaches to a better life: mutual aid, resistance to state control, communalism. And it’s funny because most people would agree with these principles but would not call themselves anarchists.