Philosophically and politically, I have been an anarchist for a very long time. However, I find myself embedded within this capitalist web and I’m frankly too comfortable to do much these days except pontificate from the heights of theory. There are, however, true anarchists that live among us, living as anarchists.
They are perhaps not as obstrusive as they once were, but they are with us nonetheless. These true anarchists are the hobos. They travel where they want, do what they want when they want, and work as they need. They are burdened by no quantity of possessions and leave little or no footprint on the environment. They are the modern equivalent of the pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherers.
Unfortunately we are forced to define by exclusion here, to overcome a long-held societal belief that hobos are bad folk. We are not talking here of tramps and bums, nor even of the urban homeless. As the late “hobo doctor” Benjamin Reitman, P.h.D, noted,
“a hobo works and wanders, a tramp dreams and wanders, and a bum drinks and wanders.”
Tramps and bums are seen as lazy, alcoholic, or dirty but authentic hobos are none of these, according to 2003 Hobo Queen Mama Jo LeCount. They are migrant workers, honest friends, and grateful stewards of the earth. A true hobo will always offer to work a chore in exchange for food and shelter. Handouts are for bums.
In North America, Civil War soldiers seeking a way home spawned the hobos and they were propelled by further economic necessity during the Depression years. Today, to live as a hobo is generally a lifestyle choice. I am reminded of this by a fascinating article in Culture 11 that looks at wannabe hobos and the annual Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa. Thousands
make the trek each year to convene with their fellow wanderers in joyful celebration and community at the convention, held in Britt since 1900. The week long event, which often includes weddings and parties, is filled with hobos and “hobos at heart” alike.
Mama Jo LeCount describes the hobo life as an “adventure” and there is certainly something in that. The road trips many of us made around the world in the 1960s (in our hippy search for something that may or may not have been just drugs) were hobo-like in that adventurous sense. However, most of us did those trips knowing that, at the worst, we had middle class parents and/or a full-employment economy to come home to.
For the true hobo, however, there is no backstop and their choice of lifestyle is much more serious than just “adventure”. I am certain that the absolute freedom to choose — the essence of true anarchism — that is essential to the lifestyle is at the heart of their choice. I’ll add it to my ToDo List to get to Britt one year and talk to them about it.