A self-styled anarchist group in Portland, Oregon, has put a middle finger up at authorities and begun to patch potholes. Portland Anarchist Road Care says that “state neglect has caused the streets to fall into disrepair”, and promises to take “the state of the roads of PDX into the hands of the people”.

Their Facebook page was launched at the end of February, after a bad winter in Portland that had left the city’s roads mottled with potholes. Authorities said that they had to wait for dry weather to repair them, but this group wasn’t willing to hang around and decided to take matters into their own hands. Members go out and use the method of “cold-patching” to fill in the holes in the roads, while wearing face masks, balaclavas, or bandannas.

A large pothole fixed by the group. Photo posted to their Facebook page.

The group is knowingly riffing on the age-old question asked of anti-government anarchists: "But who will build the roads?"

We got in touch with a member of PARC, who wanted to remain anonymous. Their email ended with the rallying cry: “Rise up!”

“We were putting our political beliefs into practice”

Portland Anarchist Road Care is an organising body helping to build community networks and motivate people to take agency in the public spaces that they live in. We originally viewed caring for the roads as a direct action we could take, to improve the lives of people in our communities and neighbourhoods.

A photo posted to the
Facebook page of a poster with instructions for how to safely repair potholes.

Over the past winter, thousands of potholes emerged throughout the city. We know cyclists who have crashed; many of us have popped tires. Potholes have turned into channels running 15 or 20 feet long. Like everyone else, we sat around on our hands, waiting for someone else to come and start fixing the potholes. Eventually we heard the city make a statement saying that we had to wait for weather to improve for them to do anything. We thought that this surely couldn't be the case.

As it turned out, their excuse is only true of one method of repairing the roads. The government was unwilling to examine other methods, and instead was subjecting the people of our city to hazardous conditions and financial hardship, while demanding patience. They urged patience, while we saw car wrecks on the side of the roads. They urged patience as we ourselves changed our tyres. Why be patient when there is something we can do, now?

A member pouring cold patch into a pothole. Photo posted to Facebook page.

Whose streets? Our streets

We went out the next day and started patching potholes. While reflecting on this action, we realized that more than simply solving a problem for ourselves and our community, we were also putting our political beliefs into practice. We believe that the means of production and public spaces belong to the people, and we are only prevented from free use of them through the threat of violence by the state. With ownership comes responsibility though, and if we are saying the streets are ours, then of course it must be us who cares for them when they are damaged.

A fixed pothole. Posted to the group's Facebook page.

We believe that this is a path to revolutionary change in our society. As revolutionaries, the more we organise to deal with issues that are currently dealt with by the state and capitalist institutions, the less people feel a need to rely on those institutions.

PARC says that there is a core group of ten organisers, but a public meeting they held recently attracted about 60 people, and they are trying to mobilise as many throughout the city as they can. The road care they’ve carried out so far has been funded entirely out of their own pocket, but the group is in the process of putting in place a decentralised funding model to avoid becoming one of the hierarchical, capitalist structures they so strongly oppose.

Local authorities have not tried to get in touch with the group directly, but a spokesperson from the city’s department of transportation has publicly advised against renegade road repair.

Members in the process of fixing potholes. Photo posted to
Facebook page.

PARC says that the project has had a positive response from the community, but they have received criticism online from other self-appointed anarchists.

On the internet we have been inundated with harassment from right-wing zealots, mostly "Anarcho-Capitalists" who mistakenly thought we were capitalists ourselves, and upon finding out that we are actual anarchists, got their feelings hurt.

We have also received some criticism from anti-civilisation leftists and primitivists, saying that we should be tearing up the streets. We believe that this attitude is ableist [discriminatory against disabled people], as it prevents people in need from accessing healthcare. This attitude hurts workers, who have to travel to their jobs, despite the condition of the roads.

A member tamping down cold patch in a pothole. Photo posted to
Facebook page.

The group’s Facebook page is steadfastly political, calling on followers to come to a demonstration at Portland’s airport to protest against the planned deportation of a local Iranian woman who was detained by police. PARC says there’s much more to come – and they have no intention of limiting their actions to the roads, fighting for racial and immigrant justice, homeless advocacy, healthcare advocacy, and LGBTQI+ rights amongst other causes. And of course, fighting the establishment.

Article written with
Catherine Bennett

Catherine Bennett , Anglophone Journalist