Mutual Aid Under Attack: a conversation with the AVL Park Defendants
This week on TFSR, we are presenting a conversation with three defendants who are in an ongoing legal battle with the city of Asheville. This group is collectively known as the Asheville Park defendants and is made up of 15 people, three of whom are speaking today. They are all facing felony littering charges in connection with a demonstration in December of 2021 against a targeted camp sweep in a local park adjacent to the downtown district. For this interview, we will talk about their case, the issue of the mistreatment of houseless people generally, camp sweeps and what they mean specifically, how the charge of felony littering is often deployed by the courts, the nationwide crackdown on mutual aid, their own activisms, and how to keep in touch with this situation and support the 15 defendants.
To donate to these folks you can venmo @AVLdefendantfund. The defendants would also like to plug the venmos of another AVL based mutual aid group Asheville Survival Program (link shows an interview with participants of ASP with The Final Straw radio show in October 2021), which is @AVLsurvival, the local Anarchist Black Cross chapter Blue Ridge ABC and their venmo is @BlueRidgeABC, and Asheville for Justice (@ashevilleforjustice on Venmo) which is a mutual aid organization dedicated to combating systemic oppression by offering direct community support.
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Music for this episode is an edited version of:
Eyeliner by American Hairlines off of the Free Music
Liaizon Wakest on Autonomous Social Media and the Fediverse
This week, we spoke with Liaizon Wakest. Liaizon grew up in an anarchist commune in rural America. They can be found climbing into dumpsters from Mexico to Kazakhstan looking for trash to make art with. In recent years they have been focused on research into ethical technology and infrastructural anarchism. For the hour we speak about the interoperable, open source ensemble of federated online publishing servers and platforms known as the Fediverse and its most popular component, Mastodon. This conversation takes place in the context of media hullabaloo about Elon Musk seeking to purchase Twitter, the paradigm in which a rich egomaniac can own the addictive social media platforms over which so much social and political life is engaged and what positives we can draw from alternatives like Mastodon and the Fediverse.
You can find a real good interview by our comrades at From Embers about Mastodon which I mention in the interview from February 3rd, 2022 entitled Social Networks, Online Life and The Fediverse: https://fromembers.libsyn.com/social-networks-online-life-and-the-fediverse
Eric King Arrives at USP Lee: call-in continues
As a quick update on the situation of Eric King, he has been transferred this week from USP Atlanta to USP Lee where he and his supporters are concerned he’ll be placed into solitary and isolated for attack. You can find info on his situation as well as who to contact to press for his return to a medium security facility to match his current security points, visit SupportEricKing.Org and find the May 3rd, 2022 post whose title starts “Eric Transferred”
For the little-over-an-hour they speak on what it’s like to be working with incarcerated folks during the coronavirus pandemic, how prisons and the carceral mentality impacts everyone to varying degrees, the varying conditions in the prisons they are most tangential to, ways to connect with and support IWOC and many other topics!
Eric King Call-In Continues
Anarchist, antifascist and vegan prisoner Eric King who you heard from in our April 3rd, 2022 episode has been sitting at the federal prison in Atlanta since his transfer from Grady County Jail. Our comrade shouldn’t be behind bars, especially after all he’s faced at the hands of federal prison staff, but he’s stable for the time being but the fear remains that the Bureau of Prisons is trying to wait out Eric’s supporters so we’ll drop vigilance and he can be quietly shipped off to the high security facility, USP Lee where he could be isolated in a Secure Housing Unit and be in danger of further attacks. Eric’s support team suggests that folks check out the latest post at SupportEricKing.Org to find contacts for people and continue to press officials to not move Eric to a facility above his medium security classification.
Transcripts & Zines
This is just a quick reminder that you can find a printable zine of that chat and many, many more at tfsr.wtf/zines, alongside transcripts and unimposed pdfs for easy printing of all of our interviews dating back to at least January 2021. If you write a prisoner or run a zine distro or literature to prisoners project, check out the collection for new material. And if you can read and write in another language and want to translate any of the texts, you are welcome to with no permission needed, but please send us a copy and we’ll promote it as well. If you care to support our transcription process you can make a one-time or recurring donation or merchandise purchase, more information at tfsr.wtf/support
TFSR: So could you please introduce yourself to the audience with any names, preferred gender pronouns, or affiliations that you’d like to share?
Courtney: Yeah, my name is Courtney. I use she/her pronouns, and I am with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, as well as the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.
Xeno: Hey, I am Xeno, I use he/him pronouns and I am similarly with the Incarcerated Organizing Committee here in Sacramento.
TFSR: Well, Courtney, could you talk a little bit about Millions For Prisoners? Could you talk about that organizations, like what that group does?
C: Yeah, for sure. So, Millions For Prisoners in New Mexico/New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is… we’re all impacted by incarceration in some way, shape, or form from folks who are family members of people who were formerly incarcerated or are currently incarcerated. We have jailhouse lawyers on our crew. Of course, myself who has formerly incarcerated family members, as well as I worked in a State Penitentiary at the penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe as the head librarian back in about 2014 to 2015. I have some experience in terms of seeing the way the prison was run, and a lot of the human rights abuses that took place there. And yeah, we’re an abolitionist formation of folks who have been dealing with the impacts of state violence in one way or another through our entire lives, whether it be by police coming into our communities and terrorizing our community members, to folks dealing with incarceration, to folks experiencing different states of poverty including being un-sheltered. So, yeah, our people are all impacted by the system in some way. So it helps to drive us to continue to do what we do and stand grounded in our values. That’s who we are.
TFSR: Cool, and Xeno? Did you want to say anything about the work that you all do?
X: Yeah, I’ll say that, like, we’re Sacramento IWOC on social media. But we actually have members across California that are not just on the inside, but also on the outside. We help facilitate the existence of the Union for prisoners in every state prison in California. At some point we’d like to expand beyond that to additional facilities in California and help people do that across the country and the world, as well. I will say that we are a very wide ranging group of more than 20 people just dedicated to IWOC, not including more worker organizing focused stuff. The way in which we are least diverse is age in that were almost all under 30, but not entirely. I can also add that I have experienced a form of like mental health incarceration in my life, that was brief but truly terrifying.
TFSR: Yeah, who would one of y’all want to speak a little bit about what IWOC is and it’s relationship with the IWW? I know that it sprang out of the Industrial Workers of the World, which historically it’s a syndicalist labor union. Well, you can tell more about it than I could for sure, being affiliated with it.
But yeah, if you could speak a little bit about the history of IWOC and its relationship to the IWW. I seem to recall that during the Trump administration era there was tension between national leadership and other formations such as GDC, or General Defense Committee and IWOC.
C: Yeah, what I wanted to say about the matter is that we are definitely part of the IWW. We do have an active relationship with the IWW. They not only fund our work through a built-in dues model which is aligned with anti capitalist values, but we also continue to make gains with people who aren’t necessarily impacted by systems of oppression and violence, the way marginalized folks who have constant ordeals with the prison system or with police are. The working class solidarity in being in solidarity with folks who are behind the walls, who often may not have the choice to not work, which is often the case throughout the United States from coast to coast, that is leading to people in the IWW very much being in community with us and wanting to contribute labor administratively to what we need to have done for people on the inside since they can’t really do the same kinds of things that we can in terms of administrative work with computers.
TFSR: Courtney, how did you end up becoming employed as the head librarian at a prison? Did you just get your MLS and that was one of the options that was open to you? Or did they even require that? Can you talk a little bit about that experience of working in that facility?
C: Of course. Yeah. So, I actually got a bachelor’s in biology and worked in libraries. I worked in one in the community college for a number of years, I worked at one at the university out here for a number of years. And I was just putting my application out to everywhere, kind of broadcasting all over the place to get a job. I came across the State office and applied, I saw librarian positions and I kind of applied for those. But I didn’t really realize that I had applied for a prison until I got a phone call from who became my boss who was in the Department of Recidivism Reduction Division. I went in, because I was just interested because I was told you’re going to be giving books to people who are in solitary confinement.
What I had expected was about maybe 2, 3, 4 prison cells would be solitary confinement and it would be a punishment, or whatever the case may be. Although I did have very close family members who were locked up, I didn’t really know a whole lot about the experiences that they had, truly, until I actually went into the facility. But to my surprise, the facility was the supermax prison with about 600 people in various stages of solitary confinement. Of course, 300 being in the supermax facility. It’s all one great big compound is what it is.
The people in the supermax were at the time on 23 hour lockdown with one hour that they’d get in a cage with a two man escort that would take them out to the cage to have their exercise for an hour a day. Then at the level 5, which was on the other side of the facility complex, I’ll call it, it was a little less restrictive but still kind of the same content context. They have got to have what was called ‘tier time,’ where they would be in a certain pod and get to kind of be among each other, but were classified in different states and placed in different pods depending on whatever the case may be. If they were Seurity Threat Group classified or whatever. Then of course, there was a level two unit which was in the front. People could move and have access to the library and so forth.
When I went in to interview for the position. I wanted to see what the facility looked like because I had actually watched a documentary and a subsequent really disgusting thing that they did, which was a haunted house that they had at the Old Main. The facility I worked with was the site of what is called “the worst prison riot in US history” at the Penitentiary of New Mexico Old Main Building, where there were conditions of overcrowding, and physical and psychological abuse and terror that were employed on people that were incarcerated there. It basically blew up into a prison riot in 1980, where 33 people were killed and the National Guard was called in. As a result New Mexico had made that facility into a supermax where they put everyone there in solitary confinement with the exception of the level 2 that’s in the front that I was mentioning.
But I went in I found this little library that was in a chapel at the level six and it was this completely sterile environment. No wildlife, no trees, you’d see a bird on the barbed wire once in a while. It was almost like a religious experience seeing life in something positive and beautiful in such the horrible conditions. The human rights abuses, the torture, seeing people hurting themselves. Every moment being on your feet, it changed my life completely. It breaks my heart that I’m not there anymore, because through books and this is the thing about literature in prisons, books were the only escape that people had.
It was heartbreaking because a lot of that was taken away. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, people were allowed to have three books. We had to carry them out in an ATV to the different parts of the facilities, handing people their three books a week. People would get punished and their books will get thrown away. I would just buy more books to supplement. Right when I walked in, I just felt like I needed to be there. The connections that I made with prisoners…
Of course, the administration pummeled me into probably what could have been the worst experience of my life. As a woman, just the sexual objectification of me by corrections officers, and just the afterwards terror that I had resulted in me literally being afraid for my life, questioning whether I should move out of the state and change my name, and everything. I mean, it was the worst thing that I’ve ever really experienced in a workplace. I didn’t know who to tell who to talk to. But I had just randomly and with a lot of fear in my heart gone to, I was forced into resignation by the way, but I had gone to a Million’s For Prisoners park event that was commemorating Black August. I went to this big event and I heard a person who had just released from prison, but had a large sentence, I believe, an 18 year sentence on his head, named Justin Allen, who does a lot of incredible legislative advocacy work across the board with Right To Vote and stuff like that among so many other things. He was speaking about his experience in prison at this event. The courage that he had and that other people had, who were speaking that day in the park, helped me to go to another event and another event.
Then eventually I was approached, and I told my story to who became more than comrades, my family, with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico/IWOC and helped me to ground myself and have courage to even speak at all about anything. I just didn’t feel like there would be anyone that would believe anything beyond that a person who is in prison deserves what they get. That concept of vengeance on every level. People don’t really know what that looks like until they step into that situation and see the way humans are treated. You see people pacing back and forth, you see people harming themselves, you see blood, you see fights, the things that people confide in you. It’s heartbreaking whenever I think about it because I do want to be there to support people. I felt like when I was there I was providing a good heart in this ultimate darkness. People that rely on violence, when violence is how you operate as your baseline, it changes a person. Everyone that is involved in oppressing people as a career, police and prison CEOs, or whatever the case may be, they adopt that. That becomes the every day and they become addicted to that.
So just to answer your question, it was a fluke. I ended up just wanting to see what it was about, because I had heard about all that stuff that happened during the riot. They actually, the prison itself had a haunted house at the time where they were having people come on tours. They were paying like 30 bucks or more to go on tour so that you can experience someone talking about everything that happened during the prison riot. I don’t think they’ve resumed that as of now. I thought it was really disgusting that they were doing that when I first heard about it. A friend of the family son had died during the riot as well. So I was just curious and it led me into a rabbit hole and here I am today. Someone I never would have thought I would have become. I’m very introverted. I have really blossomed with the help of people who are behind the walls and people who are organizing who have experienced State violence. They’ve helped me to blossom into somebody that I feel like maybe I was meant to become as weird and kooky as that sounds.
TFSR: Courtney, can you talk about how access to literature has changed since COVID?
C: Yeah, for sure. Since COVID, one thing that’s happened is the distribution of literature. It used to be mandated by the ACA, or American Corrections Association, that people will be delivered books at least once a week and the limit was three books per person that they could have in their cell. Regular deliveries of three books per week if people request them. That of course, due to the pandemic, due to the excuse of staffing shortages, but really was, “we don’t want to do this labor because it’s hard labor to physically take books and physically sort books and get them out to people.” But under the guise of, “it’s the pandemic,” people haven’t been getting access to books.
Another thing that we’ve seen that is just outrageous in New Mexico is that the mailing system had changed. Of course, we were sending literature into our folks in New Mexico and really all over the Southwest, This is kind of a hub for the Southwest here in New Mexico. Just as of recently, New Mexico is sending mail to a third party that scans it and then sends it back depending on if it’s considered to be appropriate. That not only impacts the ability to send newsletters or literature from orgs or friends or family, but it also impacts folks who want to get drawings from their children, cards from their children, things from their family. It takes the personalization of a handwritten letter from one human being to another and it’s just another form of dehumanization and oppression.
They want to find any way that they can stamp the human being into ultimate hopelessness. The reality is that we’re going to continue to keep fighting against these forms of oppression by the state and these forms of hate. It’s just that they have so much hate pent up at every level. You can’t meet someone that works within these systems that’s going to be wanting to help people. That’s not what it’s about. It’s sick. There’s there’s nothing about it that is helpful in any way.
TFSR: Xeno, you mentioned that a lot of the work that Sacramento IWOC does is helping to distribute literature and getting it on the inside. But I wonder if you could talk about that and talk a little bit more about the Wobblies and about the idea of organizing. It has not the first time it’s happened in the US, we played a recording of Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin talking about in the 1970s organizing union of prisoners in North Carolina when he was being incarcerated there, but I wonder if you could speak a bit about the idea of addressing incarcerated folks as workers? I think that Courtney mentioned that people oftentimes don’t have a choice to not work and that varies state by state.
X: Yeah. So it definitely varies a lot in California. For starters, only a select few people get to work in California. Even if your work is firefighting for like pennies an hour, that’s considered a very enviable position to be in as a prisoner. As an incarcerated human being people want to be out of their cells doing something. And if that thing is almost completely uncompensated and life threatening, at least it’s an adrenaline rush. It’s better than just like sitting around doing nothing and talking to the same group of people day after day after day for decades.
I think that as far as revolutionary unionism, I don’t generally prefer the vernacular of syndicalism, snd officially the IWW doesn’t either. We are revolutionary unionist. Do I think that a labor strike in prison is going to cripple the state of California? Fuck no dude, they have so much money and one of their main taxes is just on capital gains. So that means that whenever the stock market’s going up, they’re flush. And whenever it’s not going up, they’re not, basically. We know that that’s not what we’re expecting to happen in California. Like, “oh, yeah. Let’s just talk to the union rep of the yard.” That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not trying to be like SEIU for prisoners. We are revolutionary unionists.
I think some people might enter union spaces not really understanding the key differences between a revolutionary union versus not. And that’s something that the IWW consistently struggles with. But aside from that, basically we don’t hire staff, we don’t hire lawyers. This is something that sometimes people inside are not happy to hear either. That we’re not here to do like their criminal case or their civil case for them. But we’re here to organize, which is about collective power. Whereas the legal system is about atomization and addressing individual problems, or “addressing them.”
So we seek to facilitate collective power in lots of different ways around the nexus of incarceration and that means doing lots of different things. We have a formal structure. I think this is what makes us different from an “informal group” or whatever. We recognize that the power dynamics inherent in our existing society are going to splash up on the shores of our group whether we like it or not and that the best way to actually ensure non hierarchical dynamics prevail is to have structure. I encourage folks to think differently from that, that having less structure and also means less hierarchy. I have deeply considered that point of view and come away thinking otherwise. I would just refer folks to the 1970 essay by Jo Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Jo Freeman, awesome person, clearly knew what she was talking about. She’s still around. Shout out to Jo Freeman if she’s listening… I liked your essay.
We have structure, we have people who are in charge of specific things. What we do to combat the horrendous system that I’ve been describing is that we keep people sane and by talking to them, writing them, building relationships inside and out. We do that however, in a systemic way where we also already know people on essentially, almost every yard in the California State Prison system. Yards are kind of separate facilities, really. So people don’t tend to necessarily see people on other yards in the same facility. but like I said, we have people on almost every yard. And we try coordinate putting those people in touch with each other. And then also coordinate whatever people on the inside are interested in that we’re about and that is not budget busting, we work with them to do.
So, we’re working to do a program where instead of hiring lawyers, which we can’t do, we help jailhouse lawyers build a structure to oversee and advise other jailhouse lawyer to help people build institutional knowledge and less time learning to do prison legal work, and make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts across different facilities, and so forth. Then also, when there’s a struggle that breaks out that’s collective, we would help amplify whatever kind of public message that the people involved with that want to put forth. As we’re building relationships with folks on the inside, we try and like help them get in touch with one another and decide what kind of group activities they want to do. Which sometimes revolves around either political education or more legal work, or it might be something different from that. But those are the kinds of things that we got going on. We’re looking to do like more on different things all the time.
But fundamentally, we’re happy to be a part of the IWW and we see this very much as a part of the historical tradition and historical mission of IWW, including the literature aspect. Back in the day with the IWW there were always people who were writing about what they were doing whether it’s Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, writing the first half of her autobiography, and then writing about going to prison, she wrote a whole book about going to prison. And then other people doing these struggles and also writing about them. Writing is a key essential part of real serious working class struggle, because everyone’s constantly reinventing the wheel. In the modern circumstance, people are also getting fucked up and fucked over by these business unions. If we’re not learning what we’re doing as a revolutionary union, and we don’t have an intergenerational knowledge base. We’re no match for SEIU. I’m picking on SEIU a lot but it all applies to all the major unions essentially.
Also I’m not speaking as the IWW when I talk shit on other unions. But if they were that real they’d be unionizing prisoners, not us. Not meaning to start any fights with other unions, but I think that what they do is pretty real on the ground, but maybe their president’s salaries shouldn’t be exactly what they are and maybe they shouldn’t be so subservient to the Democratic Party, frankly. I think that’s kind of known to be the IWW position. So I won’t go off a whole lot beyond that. But we know that just a strike isn’t going to stop the machine of incarceration, at least in California. It maybe a different story and someplace like Louisiana or Alabama, I don’t know, I’m not from there. I could be wrong. But we seek to facilitate making prisoners collectively powerful in all the ways that we can, and literature is completely 100% central to that. It’s not just like a pastime. Although a lot of people have different tastes. People like to read stuff to feel a sense of escape, or live vicariously in a cell, but there’s also political books and political zines and stuff like that, including the one of your guys’s interviews that we like to send all the time and also including stuff from other past movements, whether it’s Emma Goldman’s essay about prison, or whether it like stuff written by the Black Panthers, or Lorenzo Ervin’s writings or other stuff like that.
All of that stuff is really essential to the movement that we’re building. This isn’t all that we do. One of the things that we do, is we help guys in prison. I mean, we help everyone with this, but we kind of have a focus on radical feminism and radical feminism has like a specific meaning for some people. I don’t mean that specific meaning.
TFSR: Not the TERFy stuff.
X: Yeah, no, definitely not that. I just mean men being in touch with their emotions. Bell Hooks and stuff like that. You know, the reality is that people put in prison are there for all kinds of different reasons and some of them are like, “whatever, I didn’t do anything wrong.” The whole society is telling you you did something wrong, most of them end up feeling that they did do something wrong, even if maybe some of it really wasn’t. And a lot of it frankly, is stuff that is regrettable, and it’s stuff that people genuinely really regret and would even if they weren’t in prison. Moments of their lives that they really, truly wish they could take back. But a lot of times, it’s because people acted in anger. I think teaching guys on the inside and outside to be more in touch with their emotions and less quick to anger is really, really essential and revolutionary work, even if it’s not as fetishized by the very macho impulses that it seeks to undermine.
TFSR: Yeah, that’s really well said. I’m super stoked personally that if you listen to our episodes, every episode I’m just like, “hey, hey, hey, we do zines. Send them into prisons. Please, please, please!” I’m really glad to hear that y’all have found good use of those.
X: Yes, we most certainly have. Keep it up.
TFSR: Hell yeah, I will do my best.
Initially, I thought Courtney and I were just going to be talking. So I’m really glad that you’re here, Xeno. Maybe the two of you can compare and contrast in this next question. I feel like there are a lot of through lines between prison systems from state to state in the US. The political, historical, and economic flavor of a specific state is often reflected in the Department of Corrections in that state, and how the prisons look. For instance, states in the former US South have lots of chain gangs, guards tend to be on unionized often on horseback with shotguns and have low pay, creating more wild and baldly corrupt places where the majority Black prisoner population have been able to organize and use some of that corruption to an advantage of accessing forbidden tech like cell phones for the organizing process. That’s clear with things like the Free Mississippi Movement, the Free Alabama Movement with prison organizing in Georgia, with folks affiliated with Jails House Lawyers Speak, and voices coming out of South Carolina at times, like it’s all super amazing.
In California, as I understand, having spoken with some folks inside there, which is one of the largest economies in the world, prison guards have a very strong union, the facilities seem to be more updated and more locked down. The struggle against long term solidarity and arbitrary gang designations of shaped a lot of notable struggles inside of the prison over the last couple of decades. I was wondering Courtney and Xeno, but in particular, because I don’t know very much of prisons in New Mexico, that was really enlightening to hear about the prison riot in 1980. But can you talk about the prison systems that you most interact with and some of the characteristics?
C: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So New Mexico employs a system of human warehousing. So prisons are scattered about the landscape in remote areas that are often really difficult to access for folk’s loved ones. In fact, one of my comrades and mentors, Solinda Guerrero, before I had ever joined Millions For Prisoners used to have a transport van to have families access to these facilities by driving them out to go see their loved ones, because a lot of them are out in places that are hard to get to. That’s kind of what we’re looking at as a system of human warehousing, a lot like what I was mentioning with the penitentiary of New Mexico being a warehouse for human beings who are in confinement conditions.
Now, in terms of refusing labor, on that front I did find a handbook from corrections industries, which is also called Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility, but it’s run by a private corporation. They can actually issue disciplinary action for folks failing to report for their assigned work. We also see in interstate run prisons that people are punished by being removed from Gen Pop [general population] and then moved into restrictive housing units, aka ‘solitary confinement.’ We also see that from coast to coast prisoners reporting being punished if they refuse to work.
Now, also from a person that I was speaking to about this issue before coming on, my friend Justin, who also spent 17 years incarcerated and also did some firefighting work, etc. He was mentioning that you can get written up, lose good time, go to seg if you refuse to work. Now in the facility that I was at jobs, well, they were kind of considered as a ‘privilege’ by the administration. So they were often taken away. Like if someone had a work duty, let’s say, one of the porters in library, for example, at the level 2, they could get punished by having their work assignment taken away. They kind of do it a little bit differently in places that have group labor, like farms and so forth. I guess they also had something where people were raising cattle, but yeah, for that kind of thing you will get punished if you don’t report to it. But then they can also turn around and take the job away if it’s something that’s considered to be a privilege.
But yeah, we we had a porter at the level 6 facility, the supermax facility, whose job it was to clean blood that had spilled from people fighting or getting stabbed or hurting themselves, or whatever the case may be. In New Mexico workers make about anywhere from 10 cents to $1 an hour. So it kind of varies from place to place. But people that are in prison are also not considered as employees of the penitentiary for purpose of filing Occupational Health and Safety complaints with the Environmental Improvement Division. I took that from a corrections industries handbook. So we also see that in other states where people aren’t considered as employees who are working for the prison. It’s a very mucky situation, when your workplace is also serving as the place that you live and the place that you get your food from, and the place that you get your punishment from. When it’s all kind of merged into this soup of punishment, people don’t have the same inherent rights that workers do. Not to say that workers across the US are having that great of a time, of course, which is why that solidarity between the working class and people who are literally under the exception clause of 13th Amendment considered to be slaves [is important].
X: Yeah. So this is just like, what I think from having done this for a few years now. So when I’m talking to prisoners, the most effective thing that they remember happening against the prison system was the 2011 and 2013 hunger strike. Which are kind of known as hunger strikes, but also included labor strikes. That also is heavily intertwined with the power of shot callers of various groups on various yards. And the state uses certain terms that I think people can probably guess for these groups, but I just want to say they’re all different. They ranged from literal Nazis to people I’m proud to call comrade. But I would say that the dominant formations that are like that in California prison are…
First of all women’s prisons completely different and separate, nothing I say right now applies to that. For the men’s prison, which is 98% of the prisoners, right? Something like that. There are these groups where there are shock collars. If anyone makes trouble, their life could be in danger. Making trouble could be something as simple as filing a grievance when the shot caller has said, “Hey, you’re filing these grievances frivolously don’t do that.” So basically, the way things work is shit rolls downhill. So the administration will have a DL but everyone knows what’s happening kind of relationship with the shot callers on the yard. And they’ll be like, “if anything happens on this yard that we really don’t like, it’s your fucking fault and we’re gonna punish you like it’s your fault.” So then that person enforces the State’s discipline through extra-state means.
People who “investigate gangs” for the State of California inside prison, which is basically the state’s little FBI, but just for its prison system, or you can say they’re kind of like Stasi almost, if we’re gonna think of prison as like a police state society within Republic. These people are like the Stasi of that little micro society. There they have a lucid understanding that they are not actually out to suppress these groups outright. They are here to facilitate their usefulness to the state. They don’t say that out loud, obviously, but they do actually say it perhaps in setting with prisoners, they will let onto that. I’ve talked to people who are aware of all of this and have served long sentences for our survey.
So we have a pretty lucid understanding that the people at the top of most of these larger para-State criminal organizations. They are not the friend of the State and they’re not really the lapdogs of the state. But they nonetheless operate a little bit like the leaders of a business union might operate. They want things to improve for themselves, and for their folks inside, but they do not want revolution. Even if they sometimes strategically embrace revolutionary rhetoric, to further their end, those ends are to exploit people to make money, except that when a corporation does that, they’re supposed to abide by certain rules, which of course, sometimes they break anyway. But these people have absolutely no rule. For these organizations that are more or less explicitly about patriarchy first of all, and second of all, making money, there’s very little that they won’t do to you if they decide that you’re in the way of their goals.
They’re not a unified whatever. They’re not obviously as centralized as like the State is. But we’ve had people who are doing stuff as simple as trying to get people clean needles who are using on the yard and that has been deemed a sufficiently non business friendly activity to get that person rolled up on and stabbed by multiple people on the yard and nearly killed. That was a real thing that happened. Because someone was doing something that the shot callers didn’t want.
Then you also have this other system of yards in California called the ‘SNY.’
TFSR: Is it SNY?
X: yeah, it stands for Special Needs Yard, like GP is ‘general population.’ Sorry if that was unclear.
TFSR: Oh, no, no, that’s good clarification, though.
X: In SNY there are people who are not able to get along with the rest of the prisoners, but that has become larger and larger and larger over time and is now essentially 50% of the system at least. If you ask a person in general pop, “what is SNY?” They will say to you, “Oh, yes. The snitches and child molesters yard.” That category ‘snitch’ can include a lot of shit. If you roll up onto a yard but say you’re a white antifascist. Well, guess what? The white group that you’re going to inherently be scrunched into in a men’s prison in California is the Aryan fucking Brotherhood. If you’re Anti-Fascist you can do that, but you better do it really quietly and not in a way that’s actually practicing those values on the yard or they will kill you. If you’re lucky, what they’ll do is they’ll kind of just like push you towards the guard at yard time and say “this guy’s no good.” Then that means you go to SYN.
It’s different for different groups. Like I said, that’s just the dominant group for white men on GP yards. But the other groups are varying degrees of more cool than that. I’ll also add that unlike the other group, the Aryan Brotherhood is officially suppressed by the State of California and they do very much at least make a convincing show of trying to outright suppress that organization, and yet are unable to do so. But they don’t really do that with other groups. Except for Black Guerrilla Fam, which is like not a real group. That’s just something they accuse random Black radical people as being affiliated with. So that’s kind of an exceptional thing.
TFSR: What do you mean that it’s not a real group? Just that it’s a thing that gets hung on people, but most of them aren’t affiliated.
X: It’s something that George Jackson called for in his writing, but as far as I could… and I don’t know. I don’t have a complete unbroken history of what’s always happened on every yard of every prison in California. But I do not know of any yard where Black Guerrilla Fam, I’ve never heard of that. But there are there are radical Black groups, but they don’t call themselves that.
TFSR: This is a little bit off topic, but kind of not. But there’s a book that I read last year that I really want to get ahold of the author of. I should just reach out. It’s called ‘Chronicles of a Prison Dirty War: California Prison Politics.’ It was published last year, but it was a lot of experiences from like the 70’s 80’s and 90’s about the creation of some of the racial dynamics and organizations in the California system.
X: Yeah, I really, really want to read that, by the way. I’m gonna get around to it.
TFSR: So IWOC New Mexico is is a group that I became aware of from some of the writings of Julio A. Zuniga AKA, ‘Comrade Z,’ who’s being held by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at the Memorial Unit, formerly known as ‘Dirty Darrington.’ We featured an interview a few years ago with Z. But I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the circumstances currently at the Memorial Unit. There’s a cool interview that Z conducted with another person behind bars, that’s up on Mongoose Distro’s website, and talk about the work that incarcerated workers there such as Z are doing to organize
C: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I wanted to start, since you did mention Mongoose Distro that please check out MongooseDistro.com There is so much awesome material from Comrade Z, other comrades behind the walls, as well as zines that you can print out. Definitely a good resource for information and really awesome folks there.
So, right now it looks like the conditions in Darrington have continued to get worse, with folks not having access to air conditioning, which is a big issue in Texas, there’s water quality issues, workers have been getting sick with H. pylori infections and being forced to work regardless of being sick. Folks are suffering from retaliation with bogus write ups being written up on them. Also, there was a death of a member under suspicious circumstances which were labeled as a suicide. Currently working on trying to talk to folks to try to get more information about that specifically.
Now, currently IWOC members in Texas have filed a civil lawsuit with the United States District Court Galveston division and it has close to 20 IWOC members on it. I was also going to share some words that Comrade Z had provided to us. It’s on Mongoose Distro and he also sent me a letter. So yeah, folks dealing with retaliation, bogus write ups, mail room items being tampered with issues with getting folks on to the prison phone list to talk to folks.
So yeah, I was going to share a few words from Comrade Z in a letter that is posted as I mentioned on MongooseDistro.com he states:
“I have to suggest as a militant anarchist, for the brothers and sisters listening to us, the real problem is the policy makers. All comrades and jailhouse lawyers need to file U.S. §1983 on every single TBCJ member, as I have already begun to do. Bobby Lumpkin, Bryan Collier, Guistina Persich, Tammy Shelby are on my lawsuit, including the chairman of TBCJ Patrick O’Daniel. I am filing a motion for leave to supplement defendants and add the remaining eight members of the TBCJ into our class action suit. If you are with IWOC-Texas, file your lawsuit in the same fashion. We have been distracted by their psychological games far too long, and the culprits have been sitting pretty playing God for far too long. The Wizard of Oz has been discovered in Texas. Corruption is being exposed by me, X386969, and it is going to take the solidarity of all of your resources in the free world to help us bring the changes we all need, by any means necessary.
The more lawsuits filed on the policy makers will not only bring us into the political arena as activists for an overdue overhaul of the Texas government and it’s institutions. I do not believe in authority, nor do I believe in prisons. However, this cannot be said about everyone I come in contact with, therefore I am rolling with what I have, because progress is made by stepping forward, not back.”
So yeah, just you know, an example of using different strategies to fight against the oppressor and Comrade Z and the continuously growing group of members in the Texas branch are filing a civil lawsuit, class action lawsuit right now. Just due to the conditions that they’ve been undergoing.
Comrade Z has been reaching out to me and I’ve been in communication with Z for at least the past year to year and a half. Definitely I know that, as we were mentioning earlier, in the discussion about getting transcripts of y’all’s radio program, I know that Comrade Z was mentioning not on our last phone call about appreciating getting transcripts from y’all’s radio interviews, and hopefully he will also hear this one or be able to read this one rather.
TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome.
I was wondering also Courtney, in terms of you had mentioned that New Mexico IWOC and Millions For Prisoners kind of acts as a hub for a lot in the Southwest. There have been ABC chapters, I know in various parts of Texas, at least, and I also know it is an absolutely huge place. But I guess in the Southwest, I want to ask about specifically how it looks like in Albuquerque and in New Mexico, the inside outside part of it. But is there much of an inside outside organizing framework in other parts of the Southwest? Or is it kind of just a few spots where people have coalesced?
C: Yeah, that’s kind of a good question. It is kind of a few spots where folks have coalesced. I’ve noticed a lot of activity. Specifically with Arizona, we have still a budding relationship with folks in Arizona. It started with some comrades who were building relationships with the people behind the walls with the Anarchist Black Cross. During the pandemic, a lot of dynamics have changed. But yeah, right now as it stands, we are a hub for folks in the Southwest, in Texas, I have some folks in Nevada. In Nevada, I don’t really know of a lot of outside orgs who are supporting, but I do know that in Texas, we collaborate a lot with folks in Fight Toxic Prisons, as well as people with Anarchist Black Cross. There is actually an IWW chapter in Texas that is working on kind of building relationships with Comrade Z and other comrades. And we have other folks that are popping up along the way.
It’s kind of interesting, too, because the pandemic led to a lot of people working remotely in terms of organizing. So that’s kind of what happened when there were just a lot of correspondence from people in the southwest. There weren’t IWOC chapters per se that were as active or maybe not active at all that New Mexico started adopting on more regional requests from people that are experiencing issues and trying to figure out how similar are the systems that people are facing. We also organize with folks in Louisiana and have a partnership with folks that are in the Save the Kids From Incarceration and the 10 to 2 Unanimous Jury Campaign. I haven’t heard from those folks in a little bit. But definitely have some relationships with folks in the South who are experiencing the conditions that they’re experiencing.
So yeah, we get reached out to from people from other places too. I just kind of get letters in the mail and folks have heard about us. A lot of stuff is spread through word of mouth. So as you notice with Comrade Z, he passed along my information through word of mouth, and that’s kind of how things operate. I think it’s a successful way to kind of work the administration by doing it that way.
TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. On the topic of ‘Inside Outside,’ I’ve noticed that on the Facebook account for New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, there’s mentions of being involved in not only supporting people on the inside, but also in relation to supporting people on the outside resisting police brutality. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that link is right there. People hate the pigs, and a lot of people on the outside when they make that connection that it’s the same repressive institution on the inside the outside. It may look different and the level of boot on the throat is different between living in an overly-policed neighborhood or what have you. But yeah, I’m wondering if you can talk about how you’ve seen those two things tied together?
C: Oh, yeah, yeah. And we absolutely amplify and are always anti-police in every fiber of our being in all the work we do because it it all goes together. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, for example, a lot of people were swept up by the police and put into prisons. Structurally, it all has to do with structural racism, and oppression, pulling entire segments of our society and of our culture and of our people out of our communities and putting them into prisons. Also, we were a part of some federal sting operations, including Operation Legend that was enacted by Bill Barr back in the Trump administration, where so much funding and so many federal police officers were put into the streets of New Mexico. Basically, we had police on horseback in our International District where our communities are struggling. In the place where I live, in the South Valley, we were doing block by block events where we were going to different neighborhoods as part of our strategy and just building was community who have been impacted by police.
When you go into any community that’s heavily impacted by a heavy police presence, with tanks in the streets, doing stop and frisks, harassing community members, harassing our youth, detaining people, you’re going to see that solidarity and you’re going to see a lot of people that have experienced the system, who have family members who are in prison. It’s all connected. We go out into our communities and we all understand the violence that we face every day, whether it be out on our streets or in the prison system.
In the prison system. It’s very much this extreme concentration of violence. But yeah, on the streets, it’s it’s very much the same. We have so many police killings that are happening here in New Mexico. It’s part of who we are. We’re always going to be fighting against the police and the prisons, because it’s all one and the same system. It’s all based on patriarchy, systemic racism, violence, and it’s rooted in slavery. These are all issues that we have to face when we’re living in our communities every day. Some of us more than others, of course. Yeah, we’re just gonna keep up the fight.
TFSR: Xeno, do you have anything to add?
X: Yeah. So the way that these kinds of shot caller led groups, which again, I’m not trying to make any universal statements here. Not every person who might call shots is that bad necessarily. It’s hard to kind of speak in universal terms about this kind of stuff, because it’s, it’s always moving around and always changing. There’s very few formal rules. But basically, the way that some of these structures tend to operate in times of struggle in a similar way to a business union. It’s that it’s very common during a really militant strike. I heard someone talk about this. About the Teachers Association in Arizona, where after a week of teachers being on strike in Arizona, some staff from this, not even a union, actually… it’s an organization that associations are allowed to have that’s not a union. They went to the press, and were like, “yeah, the strike is going to be over on Monday, everyone’s going back to work.” They did not consult the teachers in that at all. There was no vote or anything because they’re not a union. So they can’t do that.
I just want to say that first of all, not every non IWW union is definitively a business union. IWW itself isn’t immune to that temptation of like business unionism, either. But that being said, a lot of these like hierarchical organizations in prisons will make strong attempts to shut down struggle, at the point that it gets too hot to handle, even if they also play a role in initiating it on the front end. That in the makes them very reminiscent of a businessman, which will channel workers righteous outrage and then cut it off at the knees when it gets too radical or revolutionary, or threatening for the system. Unions are a lot more bureaucratic about the way that they do that. But these other structures do a very similar thing, in my view.
About the SNY, if you are a person that the State determines is male enough to go to a male prison in California, I’m sorry that that happened to you. Second of all, they will put you on GP normally by default, unless you say otherwise, I suppose. If you get to GP, and you’re just not cool with some stuff that you see going on. Or you see, “Oh, this group is clearly deeply invested in making profit off people’s heroin addiction, and I’m not cool with that. And I’m not cool with them. And I don’t want to be part of this group that I ‘have to be a part of’ because of my race.” And you don’t want to peacefully coexist with people involved with that. You need to go to SNY. You can make that explicit and tap a guard on the shoulder and say, “I want to go to SNY.”
I’m not saying that SNY is that great. It’s legit where they put sex offenders. So you’re going to hang out with them. SNY is where people would have to go if they’re not going to get along with the group that they’re shunted into when they get onto a men GP yard in California prison. Any interaction that you have with a guard without another prisoner present could be considered snitching, full stop. So whether that’s seeing a counselor that’s part of the staff that could be considered snitching. And so if you are ‘not good’ before, you’re definitely ‘no good’ now.
So with that category, those two shunted together categories, snitches and child molesters. Those two things are not the same at all. It’s very easy to be considered a snitch. The state is very much involved in like pitting SNY and GP against each other. If you read the agreements and hostilities, it’s explicitly like solidarity between GP prisoners only, and it talks all this shit about SNY prisoners. Because the state will send people from SNY undercover into GP, and try and spy on people they want to spy on and do all kinds of shenanigans like that. There’s a lot of distrust between GP and SNY.
Now the state’s trying to reformulate those designations, and create a new structure within the prison system that involves mixing people from GP and people from SNY who’s agreed to get along. But that doesn’t always work. Then sometimes you end up with groups of people defending each other who are just kind of like SNY solidarity in response to GP solidarity aggression. So it’s all very messy, and very different from other places. I was talking to some folks who are saying that in the Chicago-land area, any person of any race can be a member of any group on the street or in prison. That’s certainly not the case in California prisons.
TFSR: I know that in the strikes in 2011 and 2013, one of the main demands was an end to requiring debriefing for people who were stuck in solitary. I don’t know if that sort of is a continued issue with this issue that you’re bringing up with it. I don’t know if that relates to what you’re talking about, exactly. Or if it’s like another iteration of it or if it’s a different issue.
X: It is a related issue. Briefing… If you know anything, if you were legitimately part of one of these groups in a participatory sense, and you are now going to SNY they will absolutely try and get you to debrief. Ie, spill your guts about everything you know about that group. Like I said, a lot of people don’t think that the State is really out to dismantle a lot of these groups. They’re out to make sure that these groups are malleable to the State’s intentions, and goals. They’re very successful in that, in my opinion.
Briefing, is the thing that they probably try and have people do all all sorts of times. The State, when it decides it’s going to do something, never really gives up on it. So unless there’s like some kind of world historical disruption to cause that to happen. I’m sure they’re still trying to brief people coming out of solitary. I know for a fact that they brief people as they move from GP to SNY particularly people who they know would know stuff.
I didn’t talk a lot about what it’s like on SNY. So I will say that it’s absolutely hellish there, too. Like I said, you’re hanging out with all the people that people are afraid that they’re going to have to hang out with and they go to prison. And on top of that, some of those yards, if they determine that you have ‘mental health problems,’ or whatever that means. In our society, I think everyone has mental health problems, pretty much. It’s kind of interesting to just go on a side note, the people who created the DSM-5… I think one of them was very vocally regretting that and said, “oh, everyone’s in the DSM-5 and I’ve created a monster.” I don’t know a lot about it, I’ve heard of it.
So basically, if the State determines you have mental health problems, which assuredly if they say you do, they will make sure to find evidence that you do. They will place you on one of those types of yards. This is largely in the SNY. They might also just involuntarily give you drugs. One of our members describes how they can give you drugs involuntarily, that will ‘separate your soul from your body.’ He doesn’t mean killing you. It means just completely spacing you out so much that you’re not yourself. You’re basically like a person with dementia, but at any age. That’s like a level of control. I don’t know a lot about health in general, to be honest, but that’s how it was described to me.
That’s just a level of control that’s unimaginable anywhere but prison or like a dystopian future TV show or novel. It’s really terrifying that the State submits people to that, and then also has the gall to be like, “we’re helping them and this is all for their own good.” Everything is always framed in terms of progressivism in California politics in general. That also applies to the prison system. I also would say that beyond that, a lot of people in prison who are in touch with us also very much want us to be involved in the political process and stuff like that, and pushing for various different reforms.
I think that just within that atmosphere there’s reforms that would really help a lot of people. Then there’s the ‘reforms’ that the state and the bourgeoisie want. The reforms would probably help with that kind of people in California, for example, would be retro actively abolishing Three Strikes. I know someone who is a Black woman who picked up a $20 bill off the ground and was convicted of robbery, and it was her third strike. She’s a grandmother. So those are the kinds of things that are bureaucratic so called democracy facilitated, and makes it almost impossible to fix. There are some interesting attempts that radical reform coming from the legislature but the CDCR is just a monster that the legislature doesn’t truly control. So when they pass well intentioned laws, the entire bureaucracy goes into overtime trying to twist the intentions, and keep milking the system for themselves.
Part of what’s going on with that also has to do with SEIU, which represents non-militarized prison staff, and how they don’t want prisons closed, basically. Those people who are a large constituency for SEIU elected this dude Richard Lewis Brown is basically the Donald Trump of SEIU 1000, which is the State Workers Union. He had a huge series of scandals, and was in court to determine if he got righteously kicked off of being President of SEIU 1000 or not. Basically, his huge base of support is the civilian workers from CDCR facilities. That’s the California version of the DOC. The R stands for ‘rehabilitation.’ A lot of times you might see people just call it CDC and disregard the R.
TFSR: But that’s the Center for Disease Control.
X: Yeah, yeah. Well, California Department of Corrections would also be the thing that people might call CDCR or CDC. The difference is that it implicates the fact that they’re not really rehabilitating people. Then they might also say CDC and capital letters and then a lowercase ‘r’ to indicate that same thing.
TFSR: Could you all, tell us a bit about where we can find out more about the work that you’re doing and the organizing that you’re involved in?
C: You could check us out on IncarceratedWorkers.org or check out our Instagram @incarceratedworkers for more about Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, you can visit @IWOCNM and @millionsforprisonersNM on Facebook. Also, please check out Mongoose Distro at MongooseDistro.com
X: For Sacramento IWOC, which again is not really just Sacramento, but it was when we started the page, you can check out our Instagram @Sacramento_IWOC. For the website, we’re part of the national organization. So the national website is also ours.
TFSR: Awesome. It was really a pleasure to meet you both Courtney and Xeno, and thanks a lot for taking the time to have this chat. I really appreciate it.
Earthbound Farmers Almanac and Food Autonomy in Bulbancha
We’re joined this week by some of the folks behind the Earthbound Farmer’s Almanac, a self-published annual collection of art, comics, facts, articles and incitements to challenge us to thicken our relationship to the land and grow autonomy against state, colonialism and capitalism. You are welcome to read the almanac for free in portions on the Lobelia Commons social media (fedbook or instascam). We also talk about spreading food forests and building neighborly food resilience with Lobelia Commons and a little about Ndn Bayou Food Forest (formerly the L’eau Et La Vie anti-pipeline camp) which can be found on fedbook or instascam.
Instrumental #2 (waltz) by Elliott Smith from Grand Mal: Studio Rarities disc 8
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TFSR: Could you all please introduce yourselves with any relevant information that you’d like to share: who you are or where you are, preferred pronouns, etc.?
M: I am M., I use he/him, and I am in southwestern Mississippi at the moment, but I bounced between southwest Mississippi and New Orleans, aka Bulbancha.
B: I am B., they/them are my pronouns. I’m also bouncing back and forth between Mississippi and New Orleans.
Hadley: And I’m Hadley and I use they/them pronouns. I’m also bouncing in and out of New Orleans. But I’m located west of New Orleans, I live in a project called the Ndn Bayou Food Forest. That is a propagation and free plant nursery.
TFSR: Cool. Do you mind if I ask a couple of clarifying questions? Can you talk about that food propagation project a little bit, Hadley, anything you’d want to share, any way that people can learn more about that? Sounds pretty cool.
H: Yeah, totally. It actually grew out of the campaign against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. And folks may be familiar with its earlier incarnation, the L’eau Est La Vie camp. In that same location, basically, after the pipeline was finished, which was rerouted around the camp to avoid the conflict, but currently runs next door to the Food Forest. This is the fourth year of it as a farm project, basically, and the goal was to take this land that had started as a point of conflict against petrochemical infrastructure in the Gulf South and then pivot from that point to looking towards some regenerative future. We found that the strategy that we could do with this place was to just use it as a little base to propagate as many fruit trees to give away as possible. So a lot of the trees that Lobelia Commons, which we’ll also be talking about, plants in New Orleans, are propagated here, or another rural space that we’ll probably talk about also.
TFSR: There’s obviously, depending on how close you are, blowouts from pipelines are a danger that’s one of the things that has brought people into the streets or into the swamps, in this case, to block the construction of these large pipelines. And also, they tend to leak. Are there any fears of that? Or have you been trying to work around that in terms of propagating food plants in that area?
H: Oh, yeah, it’s definitely a concern. Thankfully, we aren’t particularly near to a valve station, or a pump station, which is where the majority of smaller pipeline leaks happen. If there were to be a major blowout all we can do is hope that it’s not in the little section of the 165-mile pipeline that we’re at. But we do also understand that we’re surrounded by a lot of other pipelines too that definitely are a lot older, and probably are leaking a little bit in different places. But that’s the nice thing about having a propagation nursery, too, is we’re sending out trees, and then hopefully, I think we do have good soil, but even if we sent out a tree that had grown up with a little bit of oil on its soil, it’s gonna get hopefully put into a healthier habitat later.
TFSR: Cool. And for listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with the geography of the Gulf Southeast, can you all who are traveling back and forth between Mississippi and New Orleans say a little bit about— Is there much distance between those two places? Are they pretty similar biomes?
M: Part of the reason why we’re there is the geographic proximity, but the difference in terms of drainage and elevation. And especially just generally in the Gulf South, any amount of elevation really matters in terms of the type of storms that you experience, what flooding looks like, just the general potential inclement scenarios you could find yourself in.
Where we are is about an hour and a half north of New Orleans, and New Orleans is between 10 feet above sea level and 10 feet below sea level, and where we are is around 300 to 400 depending on where you are. So it’s a pretty, pretty dramatic shift even though 300 feet about sea level is not really obvious that much, but ecologically, it’s quite different. And that’s largely because of that elevation. So the forest types is, like, pine, oak, hickory/piney woods area. We’re in the very southern and what’s called the Pineville, historically was like long-leaf, pine forests, pitch pine. So harvesting turpentine and growing pine for lumber and that continues on today. So historically, it is quite poor soil, very acidic, as opposed to New Orleans being a lot more flat, not having a ton of agricultural space in the area immediately surrounding it. And largely because of the logistics that go into literally just reclaiming that space for development.
TFSR: Yeah, we’re here, among other things, to talk about the Earthbound Farmers Almanac. Can you talk a bit about the project, and how it got started? And what people can find in it?
M: The Farmers Almanac started a little over two years ago, I think, this is our second printing. And we finally started as a little bit of a haha joke, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we type thing”, but then we liked the idea. A lot of the projects that we’d come up with in Lobelia Commons have been experimental “what if” ideas that then we took seriously and saw what we could do with them. That’s the story of the almanac at least for me. What I’ve been inspired by is just how it’s grown and other people have taken to it and it’s an open-ended thing that people can obviously submit to, but also has been a way of meeting people through— We put out on social media that if people want to distribute it, they can and just basically pay at cost, sometimes we just give them away, and they pay shipping. Then they can use it as a fundraiser if they have some food sovereignty project or local neighborhood initiative like that. Sometimes there’s a rural garden center, book club thing, or just giving out to a bunch of rural friends or what have you. So we’ve made a lot of connections, and I think other people have made connections through distributing it, which is definitely something— I think that we thought there was potential for that but I don’t think that we expected to have the impact that it has.
TFSR: How has it grown from issue to issue? You can only see that scale, I guess, because you said it’s a second issue. How has it changed? And can you talk a bit about the content of it?
M: I would say it’s more robust this time around, I think there are so many things that you can put into an almanac. If you look at the ones you would find at a grocery store, there’s everything from like horoscope to recipes to the moon calendar, maybe growing tips, and some weird Christian stuff, and some weird funny stuff. It’s all over the board. So, as a project, the possibility sometimes can be very overwhelming. I think the first issue, we did a good job of trying a bunch of stuff and trying to be like “Oh, we should do this, we should do this, we should do this.” But we’re all doing this as volunteers and definitely not making any money off this. So we were stretched pretty thin. But what’s nice about this most recent issue, the second issue is that I think other people took to that and started submitting things that are elaborating on that idea of what reference material can you include, what’s like a comic that can be done for it, different ways of writing for it. I think it’s more filled out. It’s maybe even a little bit longer, maybe 15-20 pages longer than the last one, but less in terms of that — It feels denser or richer. And we also printed a lot more of them and are hoping to distribute them more widely, both regionally — regionally, we distribute in garden centers and some friendly nurseries, various local businesses throughout the Gulf South, — and to friends around the country and actually even outside of the country.
H: Just to add on to that a little bit. I think one of the things that are really clearly grown in to the second issue and I’m excited to see how it develops into later issues is that the reference section is just getting more and more filled out. And we’re reprinting things from the previous year, there was a really nice comic strip from last year that explains fruit tree propagation with nice little diagrams of how to cut the branches and everything like that. And we reprinted that and a comic on banana propagation and also have a lot of just new resources like maps that show some of the shifting hardiness zones are growing zones throughout the US of where the coldest minimum temperature is and how climate changes change that and things like that. For me, doing stuff around the garden, I’m actually starting to have the Almanac around to reach for it because it’s like “Oh, the seed germination temperature chart is going to be really useful for this, the soil chart is going to be really useful for that.” Another thing that we filled out a lot more this year was historic dates and things like that, and the calendar section to add more reference points of a global radical history of struggle around food and land and stuff, which is obviously an incredibly huge topic that covers struggles literally all over the world, but we tried to at least have more little entry points or just citations of things for people to get excited about and then do more research.
TFSR: It says in the editorial statement that not all the contributors and editors are a part of Lobelia Commons. But for those who are involved with that project, can you tell us a bit about that collective and its relationship to the so-called New Orleans? And could you repeat the indigenous name for the territory that somebody referenced, I think it was M.?
M: Bulbancha. Lobelia started pretty much right when the pandemic hit. It came out of the swelling of interest and mutual aid. A number of us had started in the New Orleans mutual aid group. And that grew out of this pre-existing food share. Basically, there wasn’t food coming in from the port that was providing the excess with which that food share existed. Then the project basically was buying bulk from Costco as many mutual aid projects around the country were doing. NOMAG, as it became known, really just got a ton of volunteers, so many people lined up for that. A number of us who were involved in starting also, we’re gardening and doing weird stuff with mushrooms and whatever, just nerding out about plants and the logistics of what allows New Orleans to exist in its contemporary state. So we just started like “Oh, let’s just do our own thing about focusing on food autonomy.” Because we’re clearly missing something,
if a pandemic hits or if some severe crisis hits, the experience of New Orleans tells us a lot about FEMA and that the state is really not coming. If the state does come it looks like huge lines, like a food bank like that, or just these poultry things. So how can we start to chip away? What does experimentation look like in terms of really fundamentally relating to food and place differently than we are raised or taught to? We’ve done a number of projects, and a lot of things have just not stayed the test of time’s had failed. But we started with a plant delivery service, basically. So, when people were delivering groceries, we were delivering plant starts, then when we no longer felt as necessary to do the delivery thing — also, that was a ton of labor for no real reason — we basically just started promoting what we call the decentralized nursery, which is a newfangled name for something that people already do throughout the world. Basically, if you’re starting some plants for your garden, just start a few extra and put them out in front of your house and give them out for free to your neighbors. So we tried to encourage people to do that a lot. A lot of people started meeting their neighbors and maybe a punk house, living in a Black neighborhood, some white punks who had never had good relationships with their neighbors for a number of reasons suddenly are talking to their neighbors. And there’s starting to be this breaking down of a colonial line over this meeting point of plants.
And we went on to start a number of other projects, maybe one of which that’s still going on is this mycology club which started as we call it the Mushroom Collaborative, but upcoming this week we’re doing an inoculation. But the idea is basically just to learn with each other about how to produce mushrooms, learn how to identify mushrooms, and just do foraging walks. We meet every now and then and we’re open to people joining. It’s a very caring space, people bring coffee and doughnuts. Usually, someone brings some critical reading about mushrooms, or fungi generally. It’s been a great space and the project I’m most excited about within that group is to form what we’re calling a mushroom commons and to basically inoculate logs with shiitake, or lion’s mane or reishi, and basically hide them around some of the parks in the city, and that people could then start to forage in the urban setting. Hadley, maybe you want to take it on?
H: Yeah. There are definitely a bunch of other little projects or initiatives that I could speak to that are more of the things I’ve been involved in. Because one of the things that are really nice about Lobelia is we always intended it to be a very decentralized thing that doesn’t feel tied to one particular space within the city, it’s not tied to one particular activity or even gardening, specifically. We want to imagine it being a much larger range of whatever people are excited about doing. For example, I haven’t participated in as much as I’d because I’m out of the city. I missed their public days sometimes, the Herb Commons group has been really cool, where it’s a bunch of people with a lot of skills around herbalism, who gather different things, or they’ll put the call to the larger group, and those of us who are growing herbs can contribute some of what we have or some of what we’re harvesting wild and send it to the folks working on the Herb Commons stuff. And then they go and do a pop-up tent in a public park or along a walking path, and have informational materials and lots of different herbs for people to try and take home and learn about, including fun activities. I went one day, and they were teaching people how to dye clothes with mulberry dye, and also just giving away all these herbs and everything. And that one’s really cool, because it’s also a nice way, if people don’t want to go do the public herb commons thing, they can engage with it more on the level of being a gardener who grows many herbs and sends it to the Herb Commons. Or they can have that more active communal interaction with them.
The one that I put a lot of my time into maybe, as I already mentioned, is called the Front Yard Orchard Initiative. That is basically just the goal to propagate and, if we can fundraise, to buy cheaply as many fruit trees as possible and give them away to people, and help people plant them if they want that help. Ideally in the front yard, but we aren’t actually strict about that, if people have a better spot for the tree in their backyard and we know that they’re going to share it with their family and their neighbors. It’s still a contribution to the overall food commons that we’re trying to create. Through that, we’ve been propagating and giving away and planting well over 100 fig and mulberry trees. And then lots and lots of other trees that are a little easier to come by — banana, moringa, things like that. And also trees that we have to fundraise and buy, we’ve also been giving away a bunch of citrus and pecans. What’s been also really nice about that has been just getting connected with other young farmers in the city who were excited to also help give stuff away. Because it’s one thing to grow 200 trees, but then try to go out and find spots for them all— We’ve just been handing them off to people and they’ve planted well over 50 in neutral grounds. For folks who aren’t familiar with New Orleans, the neutral ground is what you refer to as the green, grassy strip between two one-way streets, which are really common, they’re all over the city. People are walking along them and a lot of time it’s where you park your car if the water is going to be high. We’ve just been planting a lot of fruit trees through that project.
The last one I’ll mention right now is just a little informal, harvest crew or a harvest group where we just let each other know and keep track of different things that are just already growing in the city that don’t get utilized. There are just so many fruit trees that are sometimes in wild and cramped spaces, or sometimes they are in front of businesses and they don’t get utilized. So we just go out and pick a lot of figs and loquats, and mulberries and try to have some collective processing of those things, to save them or give them away in some way. That one has also just been really great to get people noticing the place that they’re living in a little bit more and developing a relationship with the place.
There’s this one particular park near the place I stay at in New Orleans that they just recently clear-cut all these beautiful elderberries and mulberries that we used to go harvest from. Now we’re starting to think whether or not we need to start paying a little bit more attention to the local neighborhood association politics over other terrible stuff that is happening in that realm.
B: I wanted to bring up a project that we’ve been involved in, which is working with our friend who is a neighbor and a Black elder community member, she’s a Black mama, her name’s Miss Althea. Her roof and her house got very damaged in [Hurricane] Zeta and then continued to get pretty severely damaged during [Hurricane] Ida. We’ve just been working with her and MADR and NOMAG to get a roof on her house and to try to eventually get solar panels and just see how far we can go with getting her set up so that she continues to be able to support her community in the ways that she has been for many, many years. We’ve just been talking about the cyclical nature of disaster relief, and how short-term it can be and spring up immediately after a disaster, but the longevity of that is just pretty short-lived. We are trying to sustain that because we’re living in a disaster, and we’re going to be constantly coming up against these things. So, creating situations and supporting people who are already doing the thing to be able to continue that so that we’re not constantly one foot in one foot out, we’re firmly facing each thing as it comes along. And we’re prepared for it.
TFSR: Concerning that work that you’re mentioning and also the example earlier that was given of the white punk house that started relating better to Black neighbors by sharing plants and having a thing in common and literally sharing the means of survival in a lot of ways… New Orleans, like a lot of other places around the country that particularly have large populations of color, have a lot of history of gentrification. And I’ve heard lots of stories of white punks, for instance, moving into— I grew up in the outer Bay Area, a lot of my friends decided to move to Oakland because housing costs were inexpensive. While they were not personally responsible, they definitely contributed to the displacement of Black and brown populations that have been living there generationally. Building those sorts of connections sounds really important. It’s awesome that you all are working with that elder. And I guess another part of that, too. These are thoughts that will lead into a question…
I’ve seen and talked to people who have done mutual aid projects. And I don’t know the ethnic and racial makeup of your group. But in a lot of instances, it’s a lot of white folks who have some extra time and maybe a few resources and can do mutual aid, often distributing stuff into Black and brown communities and poor communities. And while it’s a cool project that sustains people and takes off some of the pressure of racialized capitalism from folks, it isn’t necessarily able to bridge the gap between charity and mutual aid. It doesn’t bring folks in and also allows itself to be shaped by the people who these folks are living beside, and who are taking advantage of the project.
You’ve already given one good example right now with your neighbor who you’re helping with her roof, which is great. But I wonder how Lobelia deal with, for instance… Is it mostly white people that are coming and picking up the plants, are they putting them in their yards and increasing the property value of their neighborhood? And I don’t know if y’all are from New Orleans, even. Have you had any insights or experience of making that branch between moving from charity into a mutual aid project that can not only help sustain people but also contribute to an oppositional force, strengthening the communities against capitalism and gentrification?
M: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of obviously really good stuff there. Lobelia itself was definitely started by people who fit that description, largely white, younger, mostly transplant and have a little bit of extra time because almost all the projects were funded basically with unemployment and stuff. So that definitely fits that bill. And I think that where we’ve put our focus is moving away from that charity thing. A lot of people say this and don’t actually mean it. Probably everyone who’s been in Lobelia, it’s a “funny thing” because people come and go all the time, so there’s not really a membership per se. But the people who do stuff that gets called Lobelia, we’ve all probably done mutual aid that is effectively charity. And we all know that that feels terrible. It’s super draining. Honestly, most people that are involved with doing Lobelia activities are pretty generally over activism, or at least critical of activism in some way.
So most of our energy is localized, it’s where we are pretty much. The decentralized nursery is an example, that’s something that just relates to your neighbors, we’re not meeting up and being like “Okay, where’s the most marginalized group that we can go support?”. If there’s a group that reaches out to us that’s maybe doing that work and wants a bunch of plants for whatever reason, wants a garden — that has happened in the past, and the Louisiana Seafood Worker Alliance, the past two years, we’ve given them between 50 and 200 Roselle hibiscus plants, but we’re not like organizing in that way. We need to eat and our neighbors need to eat. And we want to talk to our neighbors and have strong connections with our neighbors. That comes from not this idealistic or selfless thing. In some ways, it’s “I want to have fun when I’m doing this.” And oftentimes, it’s very joyless to just seek out how we can do the most good. That’s largely why we’ve been rooted in specifically where we are. The relationship with Althea is probably the greatest articulation. Some of us have known Althea for seven or eight years. Some of us were eventually pushed out of that neighborhood. But they still keep up very strong relationships with a lot of people that continue to live there, or were forced out of that neighborhood as well.
TFSR: This isn’t so much meaning to be directed at you all individually. Because I know there’s a decolonial lens that shows up frequently in the book. And I think that it’s important to talk about that and the difficulty of navigating being a part of a settler-colonial society and that settler colonialism is an ongoing project and not one that’s passed, which is the thing that the book points to. So I am wondering when people talk about infrastructure projects, if you have thoughts about how that relates to settler-colonial society?
H: Yeah, I might have a rambly answer to it.
TFSR: It’ll match my rambly questions.
H: I think there are a lot of different aspects to how to approach it. A big part of it just has to do with history and getting acquainted with the history of the places that we’re in and making sure we keep those things present in a way. Here at Ndn Bayou, we grow some sugarcane. And I feel like there’s no way to grow sugarcane and have people here and give them the tour here and talk to them about the sugar cane that we grow, we have it as a visual barrier. But you can’t grow sugarcane without talking about the history of slavery and the way that plant was so integral to the whole colonial project in so many ways in this region, and sometimes people talk about New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city. We’re very close to all of that history. So when I talk about growing sugarcane, I try to teach people, if they don’t know about it already, people who are visiting the farm, talk about the Haitian Revolution and talk about CLR James’ The Black Jacobins, which I try to recommend to people, we have it in the library here. And I tried to get people to read from it or talk about the history of the way James describes the enslaved people in the northern plains of Haiti at that time, who were, in some sense, one of the earliest industrial proletariats in the world, because they lived in these huge camps with hundreds of people working these huge body-destroying mills. As soon as they had the opportunity, they chased all the slave owners into the cane fields and lit the cane fields alight, and burned them alive there. I think we need to come at it from a sense of we are coming from a settler-colonial society, some of us, but we just need to be clear about which side we’re on to some extent, and in this space, in particular, because of our having been rooted in this struggle against this pipeline that was led by indigenous people, we have a bunch of very direct relationships. So we can actually very easily be sending stuff here to our friends on the rez in the southwest, not to be specific about that place.
There are various forms of support that we can give having this place, and just as a refuge for people to come through lots of different things like that. It’s definitely not that easy for people who are just trying to have a relationship to land and a land project or inside a city like that. They don’t already have those connections. It can feel weird to be “Okay, well, I don’t want to be a settler here doing my garden project. So I need to go out and find the most public-facing, Indigenous organization to go meet those people.” It just has a top-down looking at the world, like a map colonial viewpoint almost even to just approaching things from that way sometimes. So I don’t have clear answers for people in other contexts.
M: I think that’s why our focus on the connection between these rural farms in the city is so important, because, aside from obviously just doing an isolated thing, having that connection is what literally makes, say, a farm in the rural south or anywhere, for that matter. That’s what makes it having that connection is what makes it actually become counter-infrastructure, something that can be used more widely and for partisan ends. So, having those places and the connections and having it be social is what allows for establishing these flows. I think it’s important to encourage familiarity with the place as people come and visit these various farm or rural spaces from the city and vice versa, to encourage familiarity while maintaining an openness to potential discomfort that could come there.
And there’s actually a piece in the Almanac called “Beyond the Levee”. It talks a lot about this historical counter infrastructure or maybe infrastructure against the state in the colony. That obviously took place in the form of maroons most famously, but also in other forms of desertion and fugitive city and at times insurrection. The piece ends with this imagining of a not-so-distant future where state infrastructure has collapsed to a further degree than we already currently experience and how those histories can be honored and lived as a means of survival and preserving dignity. I think it’s important to consider the potentials that developing these types of counter-infrastructure and the social world that they create and are a part of can aid and abet some future fugitivity and other types of movement that might become necessary as the state infrastructure continues to literally collapse, especially in the form of levees and floodgates. So, I think with respect to food autonomy and its relationship with those infrastructural projects, it’s just completely necessary. It’s absolutely critical to the functioning of those projects, to the point that it’s no longer an activisty activity. It’s the lifeblood and provides many avenues for imagination and experimentation inside those projects.
B: I feel like, in some ways, it relates to your question about “mutual aid” or what is often charity in certain capacities, but I guess, for someone who’s a white settler to know the answer to that question, I feel like is problematic. For myself, in these projects, there needs to be an acknowledgment of not knowing and not decide that this is like the way it needs to be. Or in this position where we’re isolated and we’re going out into these areas, and we know what’s best, and this is how we’re going to plug in, but being in community, I think, is one of the best ways to dissolve that, or to challenge that and to challenge oneself. Because you’re opening yourself up to asking people “What is it? What is it the community needs? Are the ways that we’re able to plug in?” Based on, for example, asking Miss Althea what she needs or what she wants, rather than deciding for her. That extends itself to like indigenous communities where it’s like “okay, there’s no way that I could know if I’m not in a community with indigenous comrades.” I think the first step is to be connected and also to be receptive to criticism and change. Being open to that, I think, is the biggest part of that.
M: Yeah. I’d add a little bit that being guided by humbleness and willingness to learn is critical, because a lot of the stuff that we’re doing, say, here in southwestern Mississippi, we’re largely producing mushrooms, raising tree crops, and have a prep plant nursery. And these aren’t novel ideas by any means. We’re just doing the means of both subsistence and survival for countless people for basically since humanity has been around, in all sorts of different forms. To pretend like we have some excellent idea that you see in some more permaculture circles, for example, that we need to proselytize or bring to the poor people who can’t figure it out. It’s just a totally backward way of thinking. Just being innocuous in a way, or doing your thing quietly. And then when it’s time to show up and support, if you’re a settler, Indigenous comrades, or Black comrades or worker comrades, or just your neighbors or your friends, show up with the capacities that you’ve built. Because there’s nothing that you can do that will make you not a settler, but your relationship with the land can change based on how you choose to live in relation to it.
H: Also, just while we’re on this topic, I wanted to clarify that our collective at Indian Bayou includes several Indigenous people, it’s a combination of Black and Indigenous and white folks here.
TFSR: Cool. Those are all really good answers. I appreciate you responding.
Living in Asheville, as I do, over the years I’ve seen a lot of like little shops pop up that are homestead-themed, they play with this settler concept of going back to the land— I am wondering if you have any ideas about how projects like yours can contribute to a countering to things like cottage core, or another niche, capitalist re-visioning of what it means to live in relation to the land?
H: We are definitely very anti-cottagecore. There’s a lot there. I’m not sure quite where to start.
M: We were just laughing about it a second ago, because I feel like we go back into the city and we’re constantly labeled cottagecore.
B: Like bringing baskets of mushrooms into the city people are like “Yeah, that’s what you are.”
M: I guess we can address the question with respect to some back-to-the-land thing. I actually also don’t exactly know what #cottagecore is.
TFSR: Me neither. I was hoping that someone else could describe it… [laughs]
Do you think that your project or that it’s an interesting thing for your project to engage with the idea of going back to the land in the American imaginary of homesteading and independence and individuality, that gets reproduced in things that I’ve experienced as being part of cottagecore? If I look at the hashtag on twitter.com, mostly, there are a lot of images there, and there’s a lot of focus on aesthetics. And, again, aesthetics are not bad. But when people prioritize aesthetics over actual engagement and the relationship between themselves and the land, or their health, or their autonomy, or their neighbors, that falls into a trap that capitalism provides. How do you think food autonomy projects can sharpen their teeth? Because I think that food autonomy is a really important challenge to capitalism, as well as to the individualized alienation of capitalist existence.
H: Well, I do think that the aesthetic of cottagecore is definitely something that needs to be attacked. I have been thinking about it a lot recently, about the ways that this really polished, “everything must look beautiful,” everything is presented for Instagram? It does tie into this weird obsession with purity and cleanliness, and this traditional whatever the fuck. I feel like there has always been this undercurrent and a lot of hippie counter-culture. But since the pandemic, I feel like its potentially fascist qualities of that obsession with purity are really becoming clear or clarified to me in a way.
I don’t want to veer too much into talking about the pandemic instead of talking about food. But I’m hearing the same sorts of people talk about how they’re not going to get the vaccine, not that I would tell anybody to trust the vaccine or the pharmaceutical companies in particular, but saying they’re not going to get the vaccine because it’s going to make them sterile, and it’s going to make their body impure. You hear that from a lot of the same hippie types, who would also say things like “Oh, we can’t grow a garden in the city, the city is dirty, the city is contaminated. There’s lead and all these toxins everywhere.” It’s true, there are a lot of toxins in the city. There are also a lot of toxins in rural areas, and people end up turning it into this moralizing thing, which is also obviously coming from a completely inaccurate place, whether you’re talking about the vaccine, the soil, or anything, everything is contaminated. We are contaminated. Contamination is a good part of our lives, we’re full of bacteria that are not ourselves, or they are ourselves.
So obviously, the purity thing is a fantasy, but it is just scary, honestly, the way it’s coming up to the surface in some ways now. I don’t have a clear answer of how to address it but I do think that in some ways, the Almanac is intended as something that somebody who’s in that mindset can pick up and not be immediately turned off to, but that can start to complicate and challenge some of those views.
M: I think being on the mushroom farm, I think we probably have lots of thoughts about contamination. And a lot of the gourmet and medicinal mushrooms that you would buy at a grocery store or farmers’ market are produced in these super sterile environments indoors. And definitely not going to knock them that since some people were involved in our project who grow like that, but there’s this constant policing of the space and disciplining of the space that is absolutely related to aesthetic. Any disturbance is really noticed, there’s a conflict anytime anything is entering that space, and our attitude here is quite a bit different because we produce mushrooms outdoors on logs. There are molds everywhere, sometimes there are molds on our mushroom logs that we want in the soil, and the trees are growing. It’s always contradictory. And the way out of that is through it, you need to promote diversity from the perspective of someone who is a fungal partisan is to, in some ways, increase contamination, different kinds of contamination, and create more fungal competition and more fungal communion. Again, not to come at these indoor mushroom facilities, we hope to one day also be able to have those kinds of facilities, because they definitely have their place. But there’s a definite distinction between the laboratory and the home space, and the laboratory and the school and any other public space, and a lot of that policing have been gendered labor. That comes through with a lot of stuff that Hadley was talking about, in respect to that being very appealing towards a politics of purity or white supremacy, fascism, hetero-misogyny, and, on forth.
B: Yeah, I used to go back to some of what you’re saying about the commodification of the image of nature. As it relates to back-to-the-land mentality, or cottagecore, whatever, homesteading aesthetic, and I guess something I’m noticing in this conversation is just the constant thread of connection and trying to break down the severing that happens when a commodity is created or is maintained in the public eye, through social media, as a representation of what it’s supposed to be based on what is the most marketable.
It’s difficult, right? Because if you’re trying to run a mushroom farm as a way to sustain yourself, there isn’t a certain element of having to play into that, where you still have to sell the mushrooms at the end of the day. So I think that we all have to still participate in these systems that exist. I’m new to Lobelia as a project, but I feel like part of what I’m seeing in Lobelia, and part of what I want to continue to see is a continued connection between the city and rural areas. That’s what Lobelia seeks to do in a lot of ways, I guess, maybe that’s one of the main pitfalls of the idea of back to the land is that it feels very isolating, and it also feels in line with prepping or individualistic or the new version of having a nuclear family and moving to the suburbs where it’s severed. So trying to reverse that severing, to continue those connections.
H: Yeah. Just to piggyback on that idea is that a distinction between food autonomy and isolated food production. And I think food autonomy is inherently a very social thing and something that’s directed towards a communing or commenting or sharing that a lot of the back-to-the-land thing or this macho “I’m going to move to this cabin and produce everything that I need to sustain”, which is just totally ahistorical, sounds extremely lonely and not at all what should be considered food autonomy. That’s as a solo project.
TFSR: Yeah. And I think it would probably have less inherent adherents, or followers online if it looked a little less like Tom of Finland a little more like Ted Kaczynski because that’s probably what you’d look like if you were sitting in a cabin by yourself for 20 years.
H: When we’re talking about the pitfalls of the homesteader mentality or the back-to-the-land movement, I think what M said about self-sufficiency being this ahistorical myth that never existed on the household or family level, in any agrarian land-based society, I think that’s a good place to start. And obviously, also, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed with settler nostalgia or the nostalgia for American settler culture that seems to be a part of the homesteading that some people are trying to do. Those things are very present and are a huge problem that needs to be addressed in the larger movement or the larger wave of new interest in growing food and getting more connected to the land.
But at the same time, I don’t think that they’re really new or surprising concerns for anarchists or people who listen to this show. We aren’t trying to have just a bunch of self-sufficient nuclear families. We don’t have any reverence for settler culture. In fact, for those of us who are white, if we find any inspiration or affinity with white people in early colonial history, it is only those people who were fully defecting from settler society and were welcomed into Native society or who were otherwise complicit in the struggle of Native people against colonization and were assisting that in really material ways.
And similarly, I don’t think that we really suffer from the same strategic delusions or missteps of the back-to-the-land movement in the 60’s and 70’s, in which case, a lot of people were trying to just drop out, and their projects became isolated and weird in different ways. There is a general understanding now, certainly, among anarchists that our projects need to be conflictual, they need to be part of these larger struggles, we can’t escape climate change, it’s coming for us wherever we are.
So there’s like a lot of really material things I think people should be thinking about to try to avoid that isolation. Because it can happen even with the best of intentions if you get just too involved in projects that keep you facing inward and you’re just biting off more than you can chew with the land itself, or what you’re trying to do with it. Distance and gas prices and the jobs being nearby or not — all of these things are factors that matter when we’re trying to figure out and cultivate the flows in and out of these spaces. The flows of people and resources that are needed to sustain a project and the people involved emotionally, physically, financially, socially, etc.
That’s going to look really different in every context. But just a general framework or an idea that I found useful is this concept of the “captured garden.” The standard example of a captured garden is from the height of the coal era in Appalachia when people are living in company towns, where the coal company controls everything. In a lot of cases, people were actually required to have a garden so that the mine owners didn’t have to pay people as much because they knew they were growing their own food. This stands in sharp contrast to just a generation or two before that, when growing food was something that gave people more freedom and autonomy and bargaining power when it came to dealing with the coal companies. If the wages were too low, you could just go back to the holler and grow food on your little plot of land and also have this large ecological base to draw from around, this forest and hills that everyone was using as a commons to graze their animals and hunt and things like that. And by the time of the company towns and the captured garden, a lot of that had been destroyed and taken from people. And so the captured garden is this example in which growing our own food has become this thing that is no longer contributing to our autonomy, but it’s contributing to our subjugation.
I find that to be a really useful framework, if we try to transpose it a little bit onto the modern era, just ask ourselves: “Is my community garden contributing to autonomy and giving people more ability to live their lives and have successful struggles against their bosses and the state? Or is it a captured garden?” With a rural land project, if an uprising comes along, and you’re too tied down, taking care of the chickens every day to be able to go into the city, maybe in some ways that is functioning as a captured garden for you. Obviously, there are lots of other ways that a well-positioned project could have really useful interactions with those conflicts.
TFSR: Thank you. Those are really insightful answers to a totally convoluted question, but you got what I was trying to communicate.
How can people get a hold of the Earthbound Farmers Almanac? How can they learn more about Lobelia Commons and maybe get involved or contribute to either the projects?
M: The 2022 Almanac is finally out, it was late three months because of a paper shortage. People can get it, if they’re trying to buy an individual copy, or a couple of copies, they can support the project. All the money goes back into the printing of the Almanac, which we’re still very far in the red, it all just gets paid out of pocket and we owe a bunch of people a bunch of money. So they can buy that at emergentgoods.com. They can also find us at @LobeliaCommons, on both Twitter and Instagram. There we have more information about stuff we’re up to. We’re also posting the Almanac, pretty much the entire thing, in like social media posts over the course of the year. And if anyone is interested in distributing it, or starting a book club, or maybe selling it at wholesale, or sticking it in the free little libraries, coming up with some way to use it or use it as a fundraiser, they can contact us on social media or firstname.lastname@example.org. And we’re definitely looking for folks to contribute to next year’s issue, we are going to have the deadline for that is July 31 of this year. Feel free to reach out, and send us pitches, you don’t need to come up with a whole piece, you can send us an idea, and we will answer as soon as we get it. You can just put the “2023 Almanac” in the subject.
TFSR: Thanks again for having this chat. I look forward to putting in an order myself for a physical copy of it. I’m sure that Firestorm will carry it. So I will just grab one from over there.
M: Yeah, we actually had to send some, I don’t know if we did last year,
B: To FireStorm.
M: Oh, wait, you probably dropped it off.
B: No, I just put it in the Tranzmission Prison Project book stack. So it went out to folks at TPP but not Firestorm.
TFSR: I bet people’d really appreciate receiving some of that stuff on the inside. That’s awesome.
B: It was so cute. Because immediately after I dropped them off, someone texted me and was like “I was just reading a letter that had a request for an Almanac.” It was like perfect timing. Super cute.
M: Yeah. I have many pen pals in Angola in Louisiana. And we sent them to a few buddies in there. There’s this crew of guys who meet now and then and they talk about gardening and stuff and apparently, they’re super hype on it. That made my year last year.
Strategies For Ecological Revolution From Below with Peter Gelderloos
This week on The Final Straw, we’re featuring a recent conversation with anarchist author and activist, Peter Gelderloos about his latest book, “The Solutions Are Already Here: Strategies For Ecological Revolution From Below”, published by Pluto Press in 2022. For the hour we speak about critiques of science and Western Civilization that Peter levels, as well as the centrality of struggling on the ground we stand on, creating autonomous infrastructure, resisting colonial extractivism and the need for imagination and care as we tear down this ecocidal system.
Anarchist and antifascist political prisoner, Eric King, has been transferred from Grady County Jail (where we spoke to him from for our April 3rd episode) to USP Lee in southwestern Virginia where he and his loved ones are afraid he will be put into solitary and attacked where there will be no witnesses. This comes directly after he won a trial against the federal Bureau of Prisons showing that he had been set up and punished for false reasons, subjected to obvious acts of petty and not so petty vengeance by the corrections officers, and in spite of the fact that his security level should have him at a medium security facility rather than a high security like Lee. There is a continued call-in campaign that his supporters are asking y’all to participate in. You can find more information in the show notes or at SupperEricKing.org as well as on the twitter, facebook and instagram pages for the under the name @SupportEricKing.
May Day is coming up real quick, y’all. The first of May has been known as a festival of spring bounty from pagan times in Europe, and has been celebrated by anarchists, socialists, communists and labor activists to commemorate the 1886 struggle for the power of workers against the capitalists and state and the remember the Haymarket Martyrs. We have a couple of episodes featuring content about May Day that we’ll link here, but this is just a quick note to find other comrades and fellow travelers this May Day, there may be something going on in your area. And if there isn’t, maybe you can organize an event with you friends!
TFSR: So I’m very happy to be speaking with anarchist author Peter Gelderloos. Peter’s latest book, The Solutions are Already Here: Strategies for Ecological Revolution from Below is just out from Pluto Press, I just got my copy in the mail. Super stoked to get it. But welcome back to the show, Peter.
Peter Gelderloos: Thanks for inviting me, again.
TFSR: Facing the challenges of increasing climate chaos and its impact on life on Earth, feels really, really fucking daunting. Without thinking through the idea of like some centralized grand and technocratic response – which is kind of how I feel like I’ve been trained to think about big problems as big solutions – and not that that seems likely when countries at the industrial core aren’t even able to hold themselves to, you know, self imposed limits of cutting back on producing greenhouse gases, or even coordinating and distributing free vaccines to stop a pandemic.
So I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s head is kind of spinning when I try to think about the looming and existent climate disaster. How does this book kind of help to challenge that framework and mindset of expecting big centralized solutions to the problems that we face?
PG: Well, when you look at the history of how states have been dealing with ecological crisis, first of all, they’re very reductionist. They reduce a complex, multifaceted ecological crisis, which ties into so many problems – social and environmental – they tend to reduce it to emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, only to climate change. And they do that in large part not only because they don’t want to recognize many of these other problems, but also because technocrats need to simplify problems in order to reduce it to data that can be plugged into their machine, right?
So even though they’re they’re reducing it just to climate and they’ve been aware of the danger of climate change – like the US government recognized it as a national security problem already back in the 1960’s – their responses have been militarizing borders and increasing the deployment of militaries for, you know, so called disasters, natural disasters, and things of that nature. And then also making big agreements that have done exactly nothing to slow down greenhouse gas emissions.
So even within their reductionism, they don’t do a good job of dealing with the one part of the problem. And the other part of the problem that they recognize is actually bad for us: increasing militaries, militarizing borders and all that. So they are viewing the problem with interests that are diametrically opposed to the interests of living beings like ourselves. The larger part of it they have to ignore, and then of the part that they look at, half of it they don’t get right, and the other half they deal with in a way that that actively harms us.
We’ve also seen in a lot of these so called “natural disasters”, that the most effective responses for saving lives are responses that happen on the ground. It’s not the militaries, its neighbors, its regular people organizing themselves spontaneously with the logic of mutual aid. That’s what saves the most lives, we’ve seen that time and time and time again.
And absolutely, we are totally conditioned to rely on on the government to solve things for us, or, you know, major corporations, techno wizards like Elon Musk, or whatever. And that’s in large part because we’re forced into a situation of dependency and passivity and immobilization. Which is a very depressing position to be in normally, and it’s an even more depressing position to be in when we see the world dying around us. And so it’s completely coherent and consistent with that forced dependency and forced immobility to just either look the other way, or cross your fingers and hope and pray that, you know, some big godlike figure will come along and solve it for us. But it’s this big godlike figure that caused the problem and that is continuing to aggravate the problem.
So, actually, you get more intelligent solutions to problems from people who have on the ground knowledge, from people who are familiar with their territory, know that the resources they have. And it’s equally global, it’s just coming from the territory, it’s coming from below, rather than coming from either you know, boardrooms or situation rooms, where they’re not looking at the territory, they’re looking at maps. And they’re above all looking at their own interests of maintaining control. Because their ability to do anything in response to the problem is, in fact, predicated on our immobility, on our dependence, and our enforced passivity.
TFSR: So there’s almost like a sort of Stockholm syndrome that a lot of us – through the socialization from the state – have where we identify the the methods and the impulses of government in scary situations as being somehow salvatory, as opposed to sort of counterinsurgency constantly being operated for the continued extraction of resources.
PG: Absolutely. And I’m glad that you brought up counterinsurgency because that is one of the most important theoretical lenses to use to understand both ecological crisis and government, corporate and NGO responses to that crisis.
TFSR: A thing that kind of refreshing about this book is the radical critique of Western civilization as the vehicle for many of the woes that we experienced today. I appreciate that you attempted to undercut the misconception, right off the bat, that human nature is the cause for the destruction that we’re experiencing around us, or that there are too many of us or too many of certain kinds of us on the planet. Can you talk about the ideas of the Anthropocene or arguments around overpopulation, and why they present kind of a misdirection when seeking causes of anthropogenic climate change and resolutions of finding balance with the world?
PG: Yeah. Human beings have been around for a really long time, depending on you know, when exactly you identify the beginning of anatomically-modern human beings, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of years. Hominids with similar capabilities for longer. And the problems of destroying the ecological basis for life on this planet, for a great many species is a recent problem. And even the problem of causing ecological collapse in just one bio region is, in the broader timeline, a recent problem with maybe like four thousand years old, some of the earliest examples. And, again, some people – because we’re taught to view human history in this way that ends up being very white supremacist but focusing on the history of States – some people take that to mean “Oh, well, for the last four thousand years human beings have been destroying the environment. So you know, that’s what’s relevant.” No, for the last four thousand years humans have not been destroying the environment. A very small number of human beings have been doing that in a very small part of our overall territory until much more recently. And all across the world people fought against getting forcibly included in this new western model of being human. We do have examples of non-western cultures also destroying their soil or destroying their forests, destroying their ecosystem, but they weren’t nearly as good at it as Western civilization is, and that’s the dominant model, that’s the most relevant one to talk about.
So you know, that other question is relevant for the theoretical exercise of like, “okay, what exactly are the more destructive, or the healthier, forms of social organization?” but in the current media environment most people will bring up this kind of somewhat trivial fact at this point that maybe two thousand years ago, or one thousand years ago on another continent, a completely non-western society also caused major erosion. And that’s just an instance of deflection away from the fact that the problem that’s currently killing us is Western civilization.
So, you know, there are works that, for example: Fredy Perlman’s Against Leviathan that try to define what the problem is more broadly, but in the situation where we’re in right now, where species are going extinct at an accelerating rate, where millions of of humans are already dying every year because of the effects of this ecological crisis, and so many people are losing their homes, losing their land, losing their access to healthy food. The problem is the civilization, the modern state, the capitalist system that arose – centered in Europe – but also simultaneous to this process of mass enslavement in Africa and mass invasion, colonization and genocide in the Americas, in Africa and in Asia and Australia. That’s the problem.
If you take any criteria beyond just greenhouse gas emissions, it becomes very clear what’s the social model that is putting us all at danger. And even if you reduce it just to greenhouse gas emissions, you kind of avoid looking at the historical roots of the social machine that’s causing so much death and destruction. But it’s still very clear that Western civilization and the economic model that it forcibly imposed on the rest of the globe is the problem.
TFSR: So, one thing in the book you also say is that it’s necessary for us to critique science because it’s so shaped by those institutions who wield it, fund it and command it. Can you talk about this and how it differs from an anti-rational rejections of science for the sake of faith structures, or antimodernist frames of some anti-civ perspectives? And maybe speak about how you’ve observed our movements, or movements that you find inspiring in this framework, how they’ve been making and imagining their own science?
PG: Yeah, I mean, first off, maybe this is more semantical but like, I do think a critique of rationalism as a worldview is important. But then again, different people would mean very different things with that.
So just to focus on your question: in practice, in the real world, the scientific method cannot be divorced from the scientific institutions that currently control or manage the vast majority of knowledge production via the scientific method in this world that we inhabit. You know, I love science fiction, we can imagine other worlds but that’s the case in the one that we inhabit.
One thing that I think is important to recognize is that the scientific method is a very valid method for knowledge production, for falsifiable objective data. I think it’s also important to recognize that that’s not the only kind of knowledge. That there are many other kinds of knowledge that cannot be produced by the scientific method and that we run into… First of all there’s been no social system in the history of the world that I’m aware of that has ever relied only on that kind of knowledge. And our current “rationalist” society – speaking about rationalism as a sort of mythical worldview – uses a great deal of like non-falsifiable and subjective information, but they pretend that they don’t as part of this mythology. Which is very, very important to certain people, academics and whatnot.
So it’s important recognize, I think, that that’s not the only form of knowledge. And like, so a brief example of this: we can even see this when we get beyond the importance of, for example, emotional knowledge. How to deal with people, with other people in groups, how to take care of people, you know, this is something that’s actually incredibly important. And it’s amazing how easily it can be dropped by the wayside because it’s not reduced to numbers.
But for example we can look at health care. So there are forms of healthcare that are much easier to evaluate using the scientific method. And there are forms of healthcare that are much harder to evaluate using the scientific method. Finding out what happens when you dump some drug in a human body is much easier to evaluate, because the person who’s administering the drug doesn’t need to know anything about it. And they don’t need to know anything, or barely anything, about the person that they’re administering it’s to. And that’s sort of like the point of that whole methodology of treatment. Whereas other forms of treatment require much more subjective approach, a much more modeled approach, to the specifics of the person who’s being treated and they require a much more developed skill set to be able to deliver the therapy in an effective way.
So that’s not the fault of the therapy, that it can’t be evaluated as well by the scientific method. That’s a limitation or fault in scientific method. But we live in a society that’s so mechanized and that loves to be able to have – it’s in fact built up on – knowledge forums that can be plugged into the machine, and spit out the numbers. So it’s a society very much based on mechanical reproduction. That kind of society is going to favor the treatments that can be evaluated by the scientific method, and it’s going to disfavor or discourage or hide the treatments that can’t. And a year does not go by without us finding out about how damaging some form of medication was, or how damaging this blindness towards certain forms of therapy and care were.
And that doesn’t that doesn’t invalidate scientific knowledge production, but it does certainly speak to the question of social machinery. That it goes beyond just the question of, like, “Can we test this? Is it valid or not?” It’s that in fact, in practice, we can’t separate it from the question of social machinery.
What does that have to do with the ecological crisis? I already mentioned the reductionism of a multifaceted, very broad, very complex ecological crisis to climate change. That’s symptomatic of what I’m talking about. Climate change is something that’s more easy to quantify. We can measure it in temperature, we can measure it in parts per million carbon dioxide, we can measure it in emissions. Whereas things like what I know about the place where I live, what I know about the health of the soil in the place where I’ve lived for the past seven or eight years, is not something that I can quantify. But I know it, I think much better than someone who might come by and take a sample from a laboratory and test it but then not have any further relationship with the land. Someone who’s not out there taking care of these olive trees or planting a garden, year after year, and wondering when the rain is going to come and feeling it in their bones how this territory is desiccating. And how we actually need to start doing things now and fast as this climate becomes more of a desert. Because there are dead deserts, and they’re living deserts. And this land right here, where I live is going to become one or the other depending on what we do.
And the people in the laboratories are way behind the game and they have a lot less to offer. They do have things to offer, like there are certainly moments in which my gardening and other people’s gardening can be complemented by having access to that chemical test from the laboratory. And you know, that would be great to have that kind of complementarity, to have even solidarity at that level. But usually you don’t have that because our systems of knowledge are gaslit, we’re excluded from the resources that we would need to be able to access that and the people in laboratories generally have no idea what they’re talking about and think that they have access to some absolute, an all encompassing truth. And that’s problematic.
So yeah, there’s absolutely a possibility – I mean there should be a great deal of dialogue between different kinds of knowledge, including knowledge that’s produced through the scientific method – but we don’t have a lot of that now. And when you we look at how history has actually unfolding, the data produced by powerful scientific institutions regarding climate change has not been wrong, per se – the broad strokes of it have been correct, like for a while now they’ve been predicting what’s going to be happening, and it’s been happening – but it’s been quite conservative. Time and time again they’ve been way too optimistic in their predictions, and the kind of red lines or warning marks or benchmarks or whatever that they set are getting exceeded, they’re getting past years and decades in advance of their particular predictions.
So in terms of the precision of their predictions, they have high precision predictions. Like, me looking at the soil and the rain clouds or you know, someone who’s actually lived there their whole life and has access a lot more ancestral knowledge that I don’t have access to, they’re not going to be able to come up with like a high precise prediction of like “Okay in 20 years this is going to happen” but I think they will get a much more accurate prediction. Whereas the scientific institutions have had high precision and low accuracy. So they’ve actually been wrong in a dangerous way again and again and again. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence, given their proximity to and affinity with the institutions that are most directly responsible for the destruction of the current global ecosystem.
TFSR: So yeah, I guess that’s a good clarification is like systems of knowledge rather than sciences. And as you say that seems like the need from the Western civilization, or the organizations that are working within it, to have crunch-able numbers and quantities that they can put into their figures. Seems like it would also not only would it limit the output information but it probably blinds the people that are making the measurements, even if they’re trying to make the right measurements to see the actual outcomes.
The approach of looking systemically and trying to say that, in fact, all of these systems and how they correlate to each other can fall under one umbrella that we call “Civilization” and its colonial impulse, or “Western Civilization” and its colonial impulse, when people see a critique that is that large, oftentimes people will say, “Ah, but there are things that we have gotten from this system”, they will say that. They will say that capitalism has driven innovation and the creation of certain kinds of knowledge or certain kinds of technology that have benefited human life in a lot of ways. For instance one thing that they can point to is around medical science. And as you said, there are some treatments that have proven to be not so much treatments as poisons. It’s not a like an assured thing that medical science will resolve issues, but there are a lot of technologies that have been developed and applied over the centuries that are positive. And I could see someone saying, “well do I choose between the current structure and like small reforms within it, or supporting a sort of revolutionary alteration in the productive models, the distribution of resources and capacity to produce these technologies that are saving my life, or making it so that I can be mobile, or extending life” for folks that have very serious medical issues for instance?
There has been critique, for instance, of criticisms of modern civilization that came out of Earth First at its beginnings, or other pro-ecological movements that look at not human beings as the problem necessarily, but technological development as being – and the sciences and the knowledges that come out of that, not to say that they’re just produced from that, but that are applied there. Saying “if the government fails, for instance, or if the economy scales back, I’m not going to be able to get my medication and I may die”. Can you talk a little bit about the sort of reticence that someone would have of trying to approach a degrowth of the economy and the government, because they’re afraid that what safety nets exist for them currently would no longer be there, and they wouldn’t survive it?
PG: Yeah, that’s definitely a very legitimate way to address questions of social change. And I think it’s actually super important when we inhabit our own bodies, our own experiences and needs when we’re talking about proposals of widespread social transformation, and struggle, generally.
I think it helps to primarily consider two different things. One is that if we break out of an individual’s framework – which, like I said, that concern that you’re posing is very important, there’s also an iteration of that concern which is very dangerous. Because if we make a critique of Western Civilization on the basis of how many people it’s killing, how many millions of people are starving to death because of this model, all of the forests and ecosystems that are getting destroyed, it can be dangerous. You definitely don’t want to go into a framework of “it’s us or them, someone has to die in this situation”.
So first off, I think we need to break out of any kind of individualist or competitive conception of this problem. And if we look more systemically, or if we look at health as a collective good, the healthiest possibilities for human society are ones in which people have a healthy reciprocal relationship with their environment. They have access to the commons, they have access to a very diverse and healthy diet that is locally adapted. And that is, in fact, based on brilliant technologies that were thousands of years in the making, that existed in every territory before colonialism, which is a technology without whirring gadgets and lights and bells and whistles but it’s the technology of how we build up our survival mutually with the other organisms around us, with the other living beings around us. Many of those technologies still exist. And so without colonialism, with access to that commons, with access to that kind of rooted, territorial, popular and ecological technology, that is the best hope that a human community has for health. For the healthiest lives possible for all their members. So that’s one thing that I think is really necessary to acknowledge. That we live in a system that produces a disease, that produces death and that’s a huge problem that we can’t sweep under the carpet.
The other good thing is that when we destroy governments and capitalism, everything that they own, everything that they think is theirs, everything that they blackmail us with – because they control access to it and we have to spend our lives working to try to get a small piece of it – it’ll be ours. And so once all the rich people are gone, and once all the cops and all the politicians are gone, all of that will be ours. And we can decide to get rid of it, we can decide to keep it, we can decide to make it ourselves in under much better circumstances. So things like medicine we’ll obviously keep making and we’ll find ways to make it that are healthier, we’ll find productive processes that are less damaging for the environment. And we’ll also be changing our living conditions so as few people as possible need access to those technologies, but those who do need that access will get it.
And then we’re also forced to deal with other other technologies, like nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs that the state has saddled us sadly with the necessity to mediate those in the best way possible, because they’re not going away for, you know, forever. Some of those radioactive substances will be around for billions of years, so “thank you, government!” But we will do a better job of handling that than they do. Because we care about us. And because we’re actually good at organization when we get the chance. In the US every single nuclear waste storage facility has leaked at one time or another. So they’re crap at it and they’re also to blame for it. On my worst days, I definitely fantasize about, you know, locking them all in the nuclear storage facility, there’d be certain poetic justice to that.
But thinking about it more realistically, and in the question of our needs, all of it will belong to us for better and for worse, and we’ll figure out how to take care of us. And we’ll do a much better. Even though lately in our movements, it’s pretty depressing, because we’re I think learning a bit too much from the system we live in, and we’re doing, frankly, often a pretty terrible job of taking care of us. But we can do much better than the state or capitalism ever could.
TFSR: Yeah, and they’ve had the opportunity to prove that already. And there’s tons of people that, you know, in as far as distribution of treatment methods for things, or COVID vaccines, or whatever, like, they have proven that it is not in their interest, it is actually in their interest to deny large swaths of the population any number of these things so that they can mark up the price and make more money off of less.
TFSR: So some of the most inspiring parts of the book, for me, were the examples of resistance to mega projects, to the expansion of colonial extractivism as well as to some of the alternative movement experiments and infrastructures that you highlight and that you get voices from, which is great. Were there any that you wanted to include but you just didn’t have time to fit that you might share with the audience?
PG: Um, there are definitely some. There are some cases where I was looking for interviews and I wasn’t able to get in touch with the comrades who would be able to speak from personal experience about those struggles, or I was able to get in touch but they were in the end too busy to do interviews, because things are pretty difficult. And so I can name some of those, maybe for people to look at the more, but I won’t go into them precisely because I wasn’t able to learn enough about them.
So, for example, in the movement in Kurdistan, an ecological focus is a large part of the analysis. And it’s a territory that’s been very damaged by war, by desertification, by forced impoverishment coming from the various countries, the various states, that control Kurdistan. And so I know, in fact yeah some friends helped put out a book about some of the experiences in trying to helped make that desert bloom. But yeah, the comrades, it’s been, of course, a rough time over there so the comrades weren’t able to give an interview about that. So that didn’t make it into the book.
Let’s see… There are many, many very interesting struggles in India. I mentioned some of them on the basis of already published research, but I wasn’t able to arrange any interviews with comrades there. India’s interesting because there are very, very different experiences of reforestation, that demonstrates, again, just how we can’t really trust the media, how we can’t trust governments when they talk about this. Because reforestation means completely different things depending on on who’s saying it, and a lot of forms of reforestation are very, very bad for the environment. They’re basically things that, say, like a government like Chile will do to be able to get counted as like a negative carbon emission country, so then they can make money with carbon trading. When, like, in Chile the reforestation is very much an industrial activity which is which is bad for the environment, very bad for the soil, bad for the water table. And it’s very much a colonial activity, because it’s taking place on the lands of Indigenous peoples who are in the process of trying to recover their lands. And a huge part of that process is trying to win back their food autonomy.
So forests are important. And forests can also be edible forests. These pine plantations, these mono-crop pine and eucalyptus plantations that are being planted by the official institutions, are definitely not food forests. No one can feed themselves off of them. But also agricultural fields are important for a lot of people’s to feed them selves. And the official reforestation happening in Chile is often used as a weapon against Indigenous struggle, against the struggle, for example, of the Mapuche for food autonomy, for getting their land back and being able to feed themselves off of their land using traditional technologies and whatever modern or Western technologies that they feel like adapting. That’s up to them. And to the extent that they can do that, to the extent that they have food autonomy, they have a vastly increased ability to fight back against the colonizing state because they’re no longer dependent on global capitalism. And they’re no longer dependent on the state that they colonizes them.
And so in India there’s some really great examples that really contrast how ineffective and also how damaging state-led efforts for mass reforestation are, how they just respond to this technocratic impulse to produce numbers on paper – when on the ground it’s a completely different story – versus communities, many of them Indigenous communities, that have been undergoing very, very effective, large scale forms of reforestation that improve soil health, that increase the possibilities for food autonomy, the increased quality of living, and that, you know, helped create more robust ecosystems with habitat for other species and in addition to just humans. So I would love to one day meet comrades who are participating in that because there’s some really powerful struggles happening there.
TFSR: Well, you do put the invite in the book for a longer extended, like, sequel if folks had more stuff inspired along those lines. So if any listeners are out there and want to write that book, I would love to read it.
Over the years, we conducted a couple of interviews with Anne Peterman from a group called “No GE Trees”, who was talking about that struggle in Wallmapu and – because they were similarly trying to build solidarity with resistance to that sort of mono crop forestation that damages the soil, that depletes the water tables, that denudes the landscape of the vitality and the variation that’s required for native species to exist in it throughout actually the US South – so people were protesting in the Asheville area in solidarity with not only resisting GE Tree plantations in the southeast, but also in Chile.
And a lot of those trees, they’re not good for a lot of things, they’re not good for making lumber out of, especially eucalyptus. Growing up on the West Coast…they’re not good for windbreaks, they got planted for windbreaks, they’re not good for railroad ties, that’s what they got planted for at one point, but they get chopped up after a couple of years of growing, so not even creating a mature forest, and processed down into wood pellets, and then sent to Europe so that European governments can claim that they’re using a renewable source of energy production. It’s just this game of shells with carbon and basically pollution and degradation. It’s a continuation of the extractivism of neocolonialism.
TFSR: We’ve already seen a measurable connection between climate change, the disruption of food production, exacerbating conflicts, and being used as a weapon against Indigenous communities as you’ve noted, and resulting in increased refugee movements and displacement. As a result, right wing tendencies have welcomed an escalation of conflict and inequality, the building and buttressing of physical and metaphorical walls, and the acceleration of fossil fuel extraction to suck out every drop of profit that can be withdrawn before it’s too late. And to be fair, I say, “right wing”, this also goes for centrist neoliberal regimes as well but the rhetoric looks more actively genocidal oftentimes, and facilitates extraparliamentary violence when it comes from the far right, usually.
Would you talk a bit about the importance of the increasingly, in some ways, difficult project of fostering internationalism and inner communalism against this, nationalist tendency as the climate heats up?
PG: Yeah, obviously the far right, and neoliberal centrist more so, have a lot of advantages because they have access to resources, they get a lot more attention. They’re taken seriously. So even a lot of centrist media that pay attention to the far right in a disapproving way still help them out more than the way that they treat like truly radical transformative revolutionary movements by just ignoring them. Because we’re kept in this in this permanent place of either not existing or being infantilized and we have, as you pointed out, we have a lot of work to do on this front.
And we can also talk about forms of internationalism that are very damaging. This is a kind of internationalism, which is completely under the thumb of, you know, colonial or neocolonial institutions. It’s this worldwide recruitment that takes place, largely through universities of – sometimes in a limited fashion it’s been analyzed as a Brain Drain, but I think it goes beyond that. Basically training and recruiting people from all over the world to participate in this system – whether it’s under the auspices of the United Nations, or under the auspices of some prestigious university in the Global North – to create an internationalism which is a completely monistic, technocratic, simplified worldview that builds consensus about what the world looks like, what the problems look like, and what the solutions are, within elite institutions that are completely cut off from all of the various territories of the world, even as those institutions increase their recruitment to a global scale. So that they have representatives or spokespeople from all the different continents from all over the world but they’re brought together in a sort of epistemological, technocratic space, which is completely a reproduction of colonialism, and makes it flexible but furthers the dominance of Western civilization, of white supremacist civilization.
And so that’s the kind of internationalism, which is very, very present, and it has access to a great deal of resources. And on the other hand, in the Global North, we’re not doing a nearly good enough job to create a very, very different and subversive kind of internationalism. And the comrades who are doing the best job of that tends to be migrant comrades, comrades who have who have migrated, who have crossed borders. I think a lot of folks who grow up with the privilege of citizenship in the Global North, if they do travel, if they do try to get like a more global perspective, it’s often still done in this individualist way that has a lot more to do with tourist vacations than with the needs of revolutionary struggle. And so we don’t have – I mean we don’t really have communities in the Global North, because the triumph of capitalism is so complete – but we don’t have radical groups that are attempting to be communities that pool resources in order to intentionally create global relationships of solidarity with communities and with struggles in the Global South that they could actually be supporting, and that they could actually be creating dialogue with to develop the rich, detailed, global perspectives that we actually need, as well as the possibility for global solidarity.
So, yeah, in the book, towards the end, I do this exercise of imagining what if we’re actually able to do what I’m talking about. Or what I’m trying to argue in the book is like a real model for a revolutionary transformative response to the ecological crisis. And so since I’m talking about the need to root ourselves in our territory, I imagine “Okay, here we are in Catalunya, what does this look like over the next few decades?” And one of the first things is in Barcelona and Tarragona we have these big ports with these big old ships that are currently moving merchandise all around the world. And that’s something that on the one hand it needs to stop because of how much that’s based on fossil fuels and on unnecessary consumption and all the rest. And the later timeline, in that chapter of the book is, you know, maybe much more beautiful and romantic, imagining there’s no more borders and people can traverse the world in sailboats, which are sailboats that have been expropriated from from the wealthy, who of course no longer exist. And and I think that’s a beautiful thing to imagine.
It’s really nice to think about a world that we’re actually allowed to live in, and that people all over the world can travel and go where they want. But right now we have the ugliness to deal with. And so in those ports, there are fuel reserves that have already been dredged up from the earth and there are these big ocean-going cargo ships. So there’s a part that talks about expropriating those cargo ships, getting in touch with revolutionary comrades in the Global South that we already have a relationship with and finding out what they need.
There’s the example of early on in the pandemic, both in Catalunya and another territories, workers taking the initiative to re-purpose their factories to make parts for respirators in a way that was faster and more agile than the capitalist were able to do. So kind of taking a cue from that I imagine this process of, okay, instead of sending merchandise, which is just furthering a relationship of dependency – I was speaking with this one comrade from Venezuela, other comrades from from Brazil, like a major thing is their economies and their material environments have been intentionally structured in a way so they don’t have a lot of very basic things that they need, that in Europe or North America would be easier to find. So for example, like basic machine parts for the machines that would be needed to process food. Not even talking about some hyper industrial and unnecessary endeavor, but basic things like harvesting, threshing, and milling grains, for example. So instead of, you know, a relationship of dependence, where this really fertile territory, like Venezuela, gets grain imports of European grains that Indigenous and Afro Indigenous populations have not been traditionally consuming and that are certainly less healthy – so, basically supermarket food. Instead of importing supermarket food, this short term process of exporting those cargo ships, re-purposing factories from the automotive industry to make some of these simple machine parts, and then using the existing fuel reserves to send off these cargo expropriated cargo ships, so that in these other territories that are colonized, neocolonized territories, that we have a relationship and solidarity with, they can create their own material autonomy and break that dependence once and for all. And then we’re also not just navel gazing and thinking “how are we going to survive the climate apocalypse and making sure that our bunkers are well stocked?” But we’re actually thinking about collective survival in a way that is solidaristic, in a way that is realistic, in a way that is global, and in a way that recognizes our responsibilities, given the past and present of colonialism and white supremacy.
TFSR: Yeah and I would say that the one group that I’m familiar with that really has continued doing a good job on the subject of building or continuing solidarity across the borders is Zapatista structures. In the US there is still, despite the fact that the Zapatista revolution happened 30 years ago, and there are still active, six declaration Otra Compaña groups or whatever that are around all sorts of parts of Anglo dominated North America, Turtle Island. Like, it’s just astounding, and I wish – but people did it really well during that period of time. And I think that that’s something that’s been lost is these clear lines of communication, and the building of inspiration, the sharing of knowledge, of experience across that border to the south of the nation state that I live within the borders of. There’s so many overlaps, and labor struggles that happen. There’s so much cross border transit of goods and I have so much more in common with people across that border than I do who fucking run those corporations here.
TFSR: Another point that I really liked in the book – and you approach this in a number of different ways, or I read this in a number of different places – talking about the importance of territorialization. And maybe that’s the wrong term, but being rooted in the land base that you’re in, listening to it, trying to understand what it teaches and how to live with it. Recognize how other people have done that, and like rooting your struggle in a sense of place. And this is one of the reasons that some of these anticolonial and anticapitalist resistance movements in different places around the world look so different is because they’re rooted in different legacies and practices, religions, languages, and experiences of colonization. And I really appreciate the fact that you point this out and you say, “Look, don’t expect everyone around the world to circle their A’s, or to use the term ‘autonomy’ necessarily for what they’re doing. But just recognize similar traits among people that you can have solidarity with in the struggle against global capitalism and colonization”. Can you talk a little bit about some of these similar traits, how you kind of identify these like versatile strategies?
PG: Yeah. So yeah, I think I do use the word “territorialization” or “territorialized” and that’s largely coming from Catalan and Spanish. In English “territorial” tends to be an ugly word because it’s associated with possessiveness, with drawing borders. I find it a very useful concept that’s used here so I just started using it in English. I would just encourage people to look at the roots of that word, “terra” or “tierra”, like the earth. A relationship with the earth not as like this big, abstract blue planet floating in the void but the earth under our feet.
So it’s interesting because you’re asking about similarities – oh god this is gonna sound like some cliched bumper sticker or something like that – but my first response is to say that the similarity is in the difference. Because in an act of war against this world of supermarkets and Amazon and smartphone screens which impose this secretly white supremacist homogeneity, when you territorialize you are becoming part of a long historical tradition that is so so so specific to the exact place where you live and nowhere else. So that means eating different food, cooking it in a different way, pruning different trees, it means speaking a different dialect of a different language. It means things that at first glance are maybe more defined or marked by their difference, but when you when you see like gatherings of peasants from different countries around the world, or gatherings of gardeners, gatherings of revolutionaries who very much believe in being territorial in this sense that I’m trying to talk about it, who believe in having their roots in the ground beneath their feet, and fighting from that relationship and understanding themselves within that relationship…
One thing that strikes me is how much pleasure there is in sharing “This is how you do it? This is how we do it. Oh, this is what you eat? This is what we eat.” And so even on the face of it, the color of that, the texture of that seems to be bringing out differences but I think that really what’s the conversation that happens there – and it feels this way to me like insofar as I’m this alienated exsuburbanite who is engaging in relatively later in my life, to a limited extent has felt this way – that like, beneath the words, there’s the sort of language of love which is completely an exercise in sameness. Not the sameness of homogeneity, but the sameness of “We’re living beings in this earth and we love the Earth, it gives us our lives, we love the other living beings around us.” And so really people all across the world who are living in autonomy and calling it different things and using very, very different technologies and eating very different foods, and all the rest, are on a deeper level doing the same thing, and I think can often recognize ourselves in one another.
TFSR: I guess jumping back to a reference that you made a little bit ago, I was very moved by your chapter, A Very Different Future, where you were describing – this isn’t the primary part of it, the first part of it at least you were describing – an alternative view of where we might be if we go down this path and sort of a best case scenario of how reframing and healing the world could look. I feel like though there is a lot, lot of doing needed to change the course that we as a species are on – or that we who live under the civilization, are forced to live another civilization live in… One of the primary challenges that we face is one of imagination. Because imagination feeds the soul, it’s a playful creativity, it’s a necessary part of, I think, what it is to be alive. Can you speak about this, and sort of point to any projects or movements or people that you think listeners might appreciate in terms of having a radical imagination, and being brave enough to share that out with other people?
PG: Huh. Yeah, I’d start off underscoring how important I think imagination is, like you said. I think it’s, I don’t know, maybe I think it’s more important than hope. Sometimes it’s just really not possible to access hope. But it’s nice, even in those moments, to be able to look out your window or look at the street and see a completely different world filling up that space, even if you don’t think you’ll ever live to see it. So that I think is extremely important. And I don’t think that we can, I mean, obviously the world that we create is going to surprise us. It’ll be born and dialogue with us and it will also insist on certain things and impose itself in certain ways. But at the same time, I don’t think we can create a society that we’re unable to imagine. Even though the caveat that I was trying to trying to communicate is that it will still be different from how we imagine in, but the imagining it is a hugely important part of creating it.
And I think it’s extremely, extremely important to make a very, very clear analytical and strategic distinction between imaginings and blueprints. Creating blueprints is just a furtherance of the war against the planet. It is an extremely colonial act to impose a blueprint on the world. And actually, this reticence towards imagination is probably the biggest criticism I’ve ever had of insurrectionary anarchism. Like this general refusal to imagine. Which isn’t even really well supported by the theoretical bases of insurrectionary anarchism. I think it’s just more often manifests as a fear, like an insistence of focusing on the present, which has some important strategic elements to that insistence. Like we’re gonna focus on the present. But then there’s also I think this fear of actually going beyond that.
Who is doing a good job of sharing these imaginings, these imaginations? So okay, there’s this one group that I interviewed in the US for the book. I keep their location anonymous, but basically they get funds and divert theirs, or they take advantage of some financing that’s intended for other purposes. Basically it’s intended to help large scale industrial farmers buy trees for windbreaks and whatnot. And this is a radical anticapitalist group that buys massive amounts of trees, like tens of thousands of trees in order to help neighborhoods move towards food autonomy. And I haven’t seen them do anything that’s explicitly propagandistic works of imagination. Like “we can imagine this area that we live in being an abundant orchard, where you can grow our own healthly food and not rely on wage labor to get low quality food”. But I think on the material level, there’s a great deal of imagination in what they do.
And I think also a lot of it refers back to peasant and Indigenous imagination from Latin America, because a lot of the neighborhoods where what they do is most effective are neighborhoods with with a large number of Central American migrants who have a lot of experience with growing their own food and with combining residential and agricultural spaces in a way that is generally not done in the Global North. And so if not on the level of like written propaganda, at the very least on the material level, there is a thriving imaginary in that project of neighborhoods, poor neighborhoods, working class neighborhoods that increase their quality of life by growing healthy food. And this is one small group that’s doing this, if this were done across the US, then you’d be creating like an atmospherically significant amount of carbon reduction, of carbon being brought down from the air by reforestation. It’s done in a complex healthy way and not in like a mono cropping, genetically engineered way, and it also gives working class neighborhoods access to healthy food.
Also, most of the trees that they’re planning are autochthonous, how do you say that in English? They’re native, they’re native species, most of which have been neglected by industrial agriculture because industrial agriculture imposes a lot of needs, that are divorced from the needs of human and environmental health. Like transportability: apples are great because they can be they can be hard, they can be harvested early, and then they can be shipped around the world. Pawpaws, for example, are a very, very important native tree food from North America they’re kind of too mushy, they don’t work so well being transported so they don’t work so well as a supermarket food. And so it’s a very healthy food, which is a part of Indigenous cultures, Indigenous histories, Indigenous technology, which is just removed from the equation by how it’s done. And so it’s it’s really awesome to see a group that’s bringing back a lot of those native species and increasing biodiversity and increasing human health in working class neighborhoods.
Aside from more material projects, there’s something very, very important that anarchists have actually been doing for a long time, and that is experiencing a very, very exciting rebirth, which is anarchists speculative fiction. Whether science fiction or fantasy, there is increasing attention being being paid to some of the greats from the recent past, like Octavia Butler who’s a radical, not an anarchist but someone I’ve learned a lot from, someone that, it doesn’t matter that she’s not an anarchist, she’s a really great writer and really great thinker. So yeah, Octavia Butler, Ursula K Le Guin, over here [in Spain and Catalunya], for example, they’ve even been republishing and reprinting some of the anarchists who are engaging in some speculative fiction from out of the workers movement in the late 19th century. And then you also have a lot of current writers who are putting out anarchist speculative fiction, and that’s something that we really need to support and we need to try to spread beyond just the movement. Get it into our libraries, get it into our local bookstores, because that’s generally more effective in spreading anarchist ideas and anarchist imaginaries then, you know, then a lot of our nonfiction writing.
TFSR: Yeah, plus, it’s fun.
PG: Oh, yeah.
TFSR: [giggles] I’ve seen warnings on social media and in some recently published books such as Climate Leviathan – which honestly, I have not finished yet, just haven’t had time – but of ideas of eco-Leninism, or eco-Maoism, an ostensibly leftist authoritarian state response to climate destabilization, then I’ve got a feeling that it’s not just about Derek Jensen anymore. Can you talk a little bit about this tendency, and if you see this as an actual threat with actual adherence, like an actual threat to liberty?
PG: Yeah. Probably most significantly Andreas Malm took it into a new territory, well beyond, for example, like Derek Jensen, with that group. And so this is something that is getting us lot of attention in anticapitalist academic circles. I’ve never seen anywhere where it has any implantation on the ground, like directly in real struggles or in social movements. So from that perspective, it would seem just like a very out of touch, elite, making kind of wild arguments that are fairly ridiculous and irrelevant. Except I think we’ve seen dynamics before, where when the official centrist practices and ideologies flounder, and are unable to produce solutions that the system needs in order to correct and survive – and that’s definitely, we are entering that that period of history right now- where authoritarian elements in social movements that seem to be very, very tiny and not very relevant, all of a sudden go really big, really fast.
That happened in a huge way in the Spanish Civil War, where the authoritarian Communists were completely irrelevant and tiny, and the anarchists had so much influence in the revolutionary movement. And then in less than a year, because of outside funding and because of elite power structures making alliances of convenience, all of a sudden authoritarian revolution – supposedly revolutionary methodology because in fact the Stalinist were quite explicit in saying that they weren’t trying to fight the revolution in Spain – where those authoritarian currents gain ground really, really, really rapidly. And so we need to learn from history, we need to prepare ourselves for that eventuality or inevitability, and we need to be making the arguments now about how these authoritarian ways of looking at the problem are completely detached from people’s needs and the needs of actual ecosystems, and how they are completely unrealistic given the nature of the problem.
That also means being more vociferous about talking about our methodologies, our solutions, and the victories or partial victories that we have. In the case of Andreas Malm, he made it a little bit easier to beginning with some pretty obviously racist, anti-Indigenous statements that he made. I mean he’s very much… he has trouble seeing past the needs of the reproduction of Global North white supremacist society. But I think later iterations of that kind of authoritarian, Eco-Leninist thinking are going to be more sophisticated and they’re going to do a better job at hiding their colonial and white supremacist dynamics. And so I think we need to, yeah, we need to be conscious of that danger while it’s still small.
TFSR: Does it seems strange to you that AK Press just published a book by him last year? How to Blow up a Pipeline.
PG: Um I mean, yeah. There are anarchists publishers that take the approach of only publishing books that they feel affinity with, and I think some really, really important literature that is not commercially viable has gotten circulated that way and that’s really important. And then there are other other radical publishers, like AK that take the approach of being a very broad platform. And there’s some things that AK publishes that I wouldn’t have found out about or gotten access to that both have a broader appeal or like a less radical appeal, and that are also exactly the things that anarchist, especially in North America, need to be thinking about that address things that we historically ignore and do a terrible job of. And then there are things that AK or similar publishers have published that I wouldn’t touch with a 10 foot pole, or that I would touch to burn maybe?
TFSR: [chuckles] Yeah, and I’m not meaning to put AK Press on the spot specifically, but like, that book, and then like, Nick Estes-
PG: The same thing applies, like PM, like all these larger platform publishers. I think I as a person would tend more – just because of I don’t know, my personality, or whatever – would tend more to the sort of small affinity kind of oriented model. But I’m also able to recognize that the way a broader publisher does things has advantages, and it puts us in contact with texts and ideas that we really need to be in dialogue with, and that if we’re just focusing on affinity we’ll never get out of our little echo chamber.
So, yeah, and then some of the Marxists who I respect who are closer to anarchism, say that Andreas Malm’s earlier, big seminal book was important and useful. Like about climate capitalism, about looking at the intersections between climate change and capitalisms earlier development. So, you know, evidently he’s put out things that are theoretically useful, but I think he’s kind of a clown when it comes to direct action. Like he’s coming from this highly privileged, Scandinavian social democratic vantage point where he can talk about his flirtation with direct action from a few years ago without the risk of going into prison, which is [laughing] another planet for the rest of us. And then he, with How to Blow Up a Pipeline, it just seems so like vapid and fatuous. Like this highly privileged academic talking really tough about “yeah, we’re gonna take this thing down” when he really has no idea what he’s talking about and he tends to talk about it in very irresponsible and unrealistic ways.
TFSR: Available at a bookstore near you…
TFSR: [laughing] So, one of my favorite answers to the question of “How can listeners offer solidarity from where they’re at?” that I’ve asked guests in the past, one of the best answers that I’ve gotten consistently from people that are doing anti-megaproject work, or blocking pipelines – megaproject I guess – anticolonial struggles, is to do that work where we’re at, against the oppressive dynamics here to destabilize the capitalist core, so that autonomy can flourish here, as well as at the peripheries. And I feel like that was really echoed in the conclusion of your book. What would you tell people a good next step is after reading the book? [laughs] Leading question?
PG: I mean, in tandem with developing a global perspective, that’s real, that’s based in actual relationships of solidarity with the people and with struggles in other parts of the world, I would say that taking steps, at least baby steps towards food autonomy, is something that can be done anywhere, needs to be done anywhere. And that it’s also an interesting exercise or an interesting line of attack, because it can kind of give us new perspectives on what are the structures that get in the way of our survival? You know, what are the structures that really need to be identified as enemies? And sharing food is is a really powerful activity on every level. And so moving beyond more superficial practices of affinity, towards practices of solidarity with people who are, you know, don’t think the same way as us, as a step towards actually creating like a community worthy of the name, food is extremely important. Being able to share food, being able to decrease dependence on capitalism, that aspect. If I had to give a shorter answer I would highlight that for special attention.
TFSR: So start a garden. You heard it here first.
[both crack up together]
PG: Housing! Housing is really important.
PG: Taking over housing, anyways, yeah. To answer properly you’d have to talk about so many different things.
TFSR: I guess intervene where you can and have some imagination. I really liked the fact that a couple times in the book that you challenged the the readership to “no, really, stop reading. Please take a moment, close your eyes or look out the window and just do some thinking”. Yeah, that’s good.
Peter, are you working on anything else right now or just kind of like, taking care of business between between books?
PG: Uhhhhh, right now just trying to stay alive and yeah. I think we’re doing a very bad job generally in our movements of taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other. And so I’m trying to look at that more. Yeah, trying to get off my ass to actually plant my garden once it’s spring. And yeah, we’re still working on the infrastructures gatherings, anarchists infrastructures gatherings here in Catalunya. Whenever I find the motivation to start working on the next book, the next one will probably be a critique of democracy, both representative and direct. And then I’d also love to get to this research project about the invention of whiteness in the Spanish colonial experience, since it’s been mostly studied in the English experience of the invention of whiteness through through colonialism.
TFSR: Cool. Well, thanks for this lovely book. I really enjoyed the read and thank you for taking the time to talk.
PG: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to talk and thanks for, thanks for reading, thanks for the conversation and, yeah. Thanks for being in touch.
An interregnum is defined as being a period of discontinuity in a government, organization, or social order, and it typically points to time frames at which there isn’t a clear monarch or reigning body in a given place. This article points to the many ways the George Floyd uprising, the covid 19 pandemic, the rise of anti-work, and what the article calls the Great Refusal (a pivot from the ‘Great Resignation’ nomenclature of some mass media) have all created the conditions for a possible broadscale social revolution. Also stay tuned to the end of this episode where we chat briefly about what books we’re reading right now. We hope you enjoy this chat!
((note to listeners, I’m now using the name I use in real life for this radio project, which is Amar. It’s become more and more important to me to be as fully acknowledging of my culture and ethnicity as possible, and this is one way I’m choosing to do that))
A note on the audio, I messed up recording on my side – my bad – but Scott saved the audio by doing their own back up recording!
In the south eastern US state of Georgia, there is a call-out for anti-racists and anti-fascists to show up and counter and stop the yearly demonstration organized by the buffoonish Sons of Confederate Veterans at Stone Mountain Park for April 30th, 2022. Stone Mountain was intended by “lost cause” supporters as a confederate Mount Rushmore, including a large bas-relief carving and was maybe the site of the birth of the second KKK in 1915. More info on the twitter for Atlanta Justice Alliance and some background can be found in a prior TFSR interview
A call-in campaign continues until we hear otherwise for Eric King, the anarchist prisoner who recently won a court case against his jailers at the federal Bureau of Prisons. After that case, they decided to transfer him to a higher security facility across the country. The BOP has a history of setting Eric up to get jumped by white supremacist prisoners at other facilities and the worry is that not only is this move an obvious act of vengeance by the BOP but that he’ll be isolated and targeted at USP Lee or whatever facility they stick him in. You can find notes about the call in at SupportEricKing.org, in our chat with Eric on our April 3rd, 2022 episode and in the recent IGD This Is America interview on the subject.
Libre Flot, a French anarchist and former volunteer alongside the YPG in Rojava, has ended his hunger strike after a judge released him for medical reasons but he’ll be electronically monitored by the state pending a future court case, as reported by Abolition Media. Likely future updates and ways to support Libre Flot can be found at SolidarityToDecember8.WordPress.Com.
Mountain Valley Pipeline Resistor Needs Support
Max is facing a bunch of legal fees for locking down to block the delivery of pipeline to the MVP construction project and is looking for support in covering costs. More info can be found at https://tinyurl.com/MadMaxFines
Amar: Three of us are sitting down, me and Scott and Vicky Osterweil, who has been on the show before and who has written a bunch of really amazing stuff. In Defense of Looting; A Riotous History of Uncivil Action, primarily, we had her on the show to talk about that book. We are all here to talk about this article on Haters Cafe, which is a blog run by primarily black and brown proletarian folks. This article is called the The Interregnum: The George Floyd Uprising, the Coronavirus Pandemic, and The Emerging Social Revolution.
And we’re just all here to talk about it a little bit. It’s not an interview, it’s sort of a departure from the you know, format The Final Straw has gone in so far and I’m excited to talk with y’all about this really thought provoking piece.
Scott: Yeah, this is Scott and I thought I’d start by giving a quick little summary overview of the piece. The pieces written in points, but I’m going to kind of bring them all together. I thought this piece was really helpful and interesting because it ties together a bunch of different important phenomena, especially like recent ones. Not just the pandemic, the George Floyd uprisings and the great resignation, which this piece says we should rename the great refusal, but also the longer arc of rebellion over the last 10 years. Basically, there’s this claim in the piece that the insurrection that we saw from George Floyd uprisings has been translated into daily life. So the struggle has left the realm of the political and now is possibly moving towards a social revolution. I think that’s good to kind of set us up for a conversation.
Vicky: Yeah, totally. First of all, thank you so much. It’s so nice to be back here with y’all, on one of my favorite shows. It’s such a pleasure just to chat, especially under these circumstances. When we scheduled this… things have changed globally. So it’s exciting to sit and think, reground ourselves in thinking through our local contexts and what that looks like. It’s really valuable. So I appreciate you and appreciate the audience, too.
I think one of the things about this piece that I found really sort of activating I guess is the way in which it talks about the great resignation, which has been this wave of quitting. Mass wave of quitting jobs that has gone on now, basically, since the beginning of the pandemic, but it accelerated really dramatically in 2021. I haven’t seen January numbers, but I know that even through December, it continued to accelerate, people are quitting their jobs more and more. Some of that is almost certainly due to the pandemic and the conditions of work that that produces. Some people have, when I’ve talked to comrades about this piece some of them have sort of said, “oh, well, you know, I think the quitting is just about the conditions getting worse or people having to care for each other.” That might be true, but that’s also still a recognition that it’s not possible to do work under those circumstances.
I think it’s really interesting because I think we have gotten into this habit over the last 10 years that this piece talks about, sort of these movement waves where this big movement blows up in the streets. In 2009 there’s Oscar Grant and you have the student strikes, but it was really occupy in 2011 that really sort of starts the cycle. Those sort of would be defined by tactical innovation: the squares, or the riot in the case of Ferguson in Baltimore, holding a space with with rioting. Once that tactic was outflanked or defeated by a combination of the left/liberals and the police then we would sort of go back into a moment of waiting.
I think what’s been really interesting about the last year and a half that this piece sort of points out, really sharpened for me, is that in fact 2020 was so big and so consequential, the George Floyd rebellion, that we have this explosion of basically autonomous but not fully disorganized job-leaving. We’ve seen memes about it, people sharing those signs of a Burger King, “we’re all closed, sorry, everyone quit” but also the explosion of the Reddit r/antiwork which became such a thing that they ended up on Fox News and Reddit shut them down. They splintered into all these more reformist subreddits. But it was the fastest growing subreddit in years. There were 1000s of people posting about how much they hated work.
I spent a lot of time watching it as well. It had a very anti-recuperative tendency that was really strong. People tried to bring it into democratic politics or party politics and they would get shot down. It was really like, “No, no, no, the focus is on how our jobs suck and how our labor conditions suck and we have to destroy work.” That was really interesting that that space sort of developed spontaneously in this way that’s very similar to what the movement looks like, which is just people quitting their jobs and then millions. This piece brings that as like an attack, as opposed to a sort of tactical defense, which all those other sort of moments where, as opposed to like a political moment.
These are all interesting questions. This distinction between the political and the social and the attack versus the reactive or defensive movement I think is the stuff that’s really interesting for me.
Scott: Those are the two really important overarching points that I think I would love to dive into. “What does it mean to enter a social revolution or to move our sights beyond the political?” And then that question that always comes up because often a lot of anarchist organizing or anarchist action comes in spontaneous waves in reaction to things and then we’re always left scratching our heads, “how do we move ahead of the things that get thrown at us?” But yeah, Amar, I’ll pass to you.
Amar: Oh, Amar is fine. The whole Reddit /antiwork phenomenon is really interesting. I heard a little bit about it, because like I’m not a redditor. I know of it sort of nominally. But I gather that it was started by two anarchists. I gather that those two anarchists are also trans people. I don’t know if either of those folks are still involved in it. But for me and as an older millennial, the role of the internet and all of this is just fascinating. It’s just fascinating to see how this sort of not truly global because it’s still not yet accessible in all corners of the world, but this more global platform than I’ve actually seen in my lifetime has really furthered the anti-work sentiment, the great refusal sentiments, and it’s just super fascinating to see that.
Vicky: Yeah, exactly. And the other thing that happened last year, I mean, obviously most of the news attention went to the far right or right wing anti-Vax protests and obviously the more recent up in so-called Canada, the caravan. They were doing occupy again, like 10 years later. We couldn’t do occupy if we wanted. We would need 10,000 people rioting to hold a square. We needed that in 2020 to hold the square for a few days, but they needed like 100 people in trucks and they go to do occupy again. Whatever. It’s still scary, obviously, but the State is giving them a lot of tactical latitude. Anyway, that’s been where all the attention has been. That has been the “politics of resistance” during this period after the rebellion.
But there were also those moments of spontaneous looting, and the student walkouts. I think one of the things that the piece tries to pull towards is that a lot of these things that have been happening have been less visible. I write about this in my book about how during the Great Depression, there was this mass wave of looting that store owners wouldn’t even report it to the police for fear of it entering the news and people getting ideas. So we have no idea historically how much it was, except that it was widespread enough that we know that many people didn’t want to talk about it. That’s all we know about it and that’s from contemporaneous reports.
The collapse of like school grading… I know a bunch of teachers, both at the university and primary and high school level. School discipline has completely collapsed. Work discipline has largely collapsed. One of the things about all these people quitting their jobs is that the bad jobs… nominal wages, and again wages are very hard to determine, there’s debate about this, but nominal wages have gone up year over year in 2021. Faster than they had anytime since the 70’s. It led to this immediate wage increase. I think that that stuff is really interesting in this period when there’s a lot of demand from the left that we focus on organizing the workplace. Like, “Oh, you gotta organize the workplace.” Actually, we’re seeing all this workers struggle, but it’s not really being seen as that because it’s not taking this visible political form.
Amar: Do you think that… because I’ve seen that too. I used to drive to work every day and there was a McDonald’s on my drive and one week it was “now hiring $15 and up” and then it just went up and up every single week. Like 16, 17, 18 and now it’s a $21 an hour, which is just incredible. I wonder too, with the public perception of the refusal or anti-work generally, is that you see a lot of it coalescing in lower wage or fast food or jobs that are seen as unskilled or disposable. Do y’all think that that’s affecting how folks are thinking about it a little bit? Because I’ve definitely seen that. It’s not really seen as a general strike. It’s not really seen as workers organizing each other and I wonder if there’s some endemic classism in there?
Scott: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean when the pandemic first hit the hierarchy of jobs, I feel, became so apparent based on who was able to work from home and then who was an essential worker, which was unless you are a nurse or doctor, a devalued worker, right? Typically in the service industry or in the supermarket or something like that. So I think that stuff became kind of pretty clear right away. And listening to what you were just saying, I was thinking about how the people forced to work in service industry during the pandemic were also being forced to risk their health in ways that other people were removed from if they had these other options. That continues even now with the people in service industry being put into these positions that they can’t really say no to.
I think that one of the things that’s interesting about thinking about the wages going up is that this happened without workers making demands, and this piece really talks about how there’s a nostalgia on the Left for the traditional workers movement, for like labor organizing. Which is this kind of organized way to go in this particular workplace typically, not in a general way, and make specific demands within that instance. This is spreading in a very different way, not through the typical ways of organizing. I think that is another interesting phenomenon of social media and internet.
I think it’s interesting how this piece ties that together, also with the way that the discourse around police abolition and prison abolition sort of spread all of a sudden through the George Floyd uprisings. It shows us something like that we can’t go and lecture people to believe these things and hope that they’ll just take them on. There’s something else that is causing this spread. It’s not the Vanguard party going and doing political lessons for people.
Vicky: Totally. I think one of the things that’s really valuable for me, to sort of historicize this moment and think about it, is that there are these other incredibly successful general strikes in American history that are never seen that way. Increasingly, as people read Dubois’ Black Reconstruction, they’re starting to see the general strike of the enslaved as a real thing, as a thing that happened as he as he describes it. But every year, even before the Civil War, 50,000 enslaved people, obviously, most of them illiterate, in many ways, facing incredibly difficult modes of communication between separate plantations, even within plantations, although, as more and more scholars are demonstrating, they were very good at communicating and there was a very dense communication network that famously Harriet Tubman used to spy on Confederate soldiers.
In any case there was also in response to Jim Crow in the fascist regime in the South, the post-slavery fascist regime in the South or post reconstruction, you have the great migrations. Which I think don’t get talked about as labor action in the same way. Even though people like Ida B. Wells at the time understood them as such. The nostalgia for the classical workers movement isn’t just a Marxist, although it is often sort of worshipping of a particular industrial proletariat, which again lots of Marxist don’t do, but a lot of them do as well. It’s not just that. It’s also a refusal to recognize Black and indigenous forms of resistance historically in the country.
So I think it’s not surprising that in the wake of a Black uprising that spreads so widely to all of society that then we would be seeing these tactics that have a more historical echo with practices of maroonage, migration, mass networked action that aren’t necessarily organized into the “solidarity fist” of the union in exactly the same way. I don’t want to get all talking about Deleuze or whatever the hell… But I think there’s a real opportunity here. And the reason that I want to have this conversation, and I think we all did is because we are actually in a moment when things really feel like they’re at stake. Obviously, the war, and the murder, and all the events of the last few weeks have have increased that feeling that there’s high stakes. I also think what the piece says and I agree with is the proletariat, the class is on the attack. It’s on the offensive right now. I hate we have to formulation shit like that.
But it is a valuable opportunity to rethink how we think about struggle, because I think it was so vital over the last 10 years that we have all of these political struggles. It was so important and the piece sort of argues that without those struggles there was no way that the George Floyd rebellion could have emerged. But now, there’s this temptation to see things and patterns or as repetitions, to fail to recognize when things have changed especially under the conditions that we understand them of what politics looks like. Which is like unions, demands, parties, or even anarchists. Even uprisings, insurrections, I think we really need to move past that as well.
We, those of us who think of ourselves as insurrectionary types, or whatever. I think that all of these questions are really up in the air right now and if they were to merge with a street movement, it would provide a really serious opportunity for total, significant transformation. I think that’s the first time in my life I feel really comfortable saying that on the radio and feeling like that’s real. You know what I mean?
Amar: Absolutely. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen a lot of these things happen. It’s incredible, not to parrot myself a little bit, but it’s incredible to see the things that are happening right now. And thank you also for bringing a historical context to the point of the general strike and all of that stuff. Because I think that that’s history that people are speaking of, but is a parallel that, I think is very well drawn, and needs to be drawn now.
Scott: I think, and there’s something in the piece and then the history that you just brought up, Vicky, too, there’s something about what gets seen and understood and what doesn’t get seen or comprehended in various ways. There’s a particular racialized and colonial history to that, that we know when we talk about US history in particular, there’s a uniform narrative that’s given that tries to fit things into progress, or sort of like a immiseration of particular groups of people as part of our collective history that leaves out all of these multifarious ways that people have resisted. If we don’t tell those stories we can’t learn that that happened. First of all, which is inspiring for today, but also learn that there’s flexible ways to do it.
So the most visible things that are also whitened, right? Or like the the labor strikes. I think for us as anarchists recently, it’s a certain kind of uprising. Those things are interesting because I think maybe one of the reasons that they get so much play and are so compelling is because they do play, like the piece says, into the spectacle, the image of politics. They also tend to have an end. I think sometimes in my anarchist thinking, I really get into this idea of the eruption of moments of liberation that we formed that are temporary and then they dissolve. But there’s something else in this piece that’s gesturing towards, “how do we not just wait for those untimely moments to come and echo across the years or whatever,” but like, “how do we sustain things in the meantime.” There’s these threads of sustained resistance throughout history that fly under the radar.
One of the things that the piece talks about, which I would love to hear what you all think, to what extent do we want things to be like clandestine and not talked about so that they can keep happening in a way that allows for spaces of freedom? And not either recuperation or violence from the State? And to what extent is that just a failure from the analyst or whatever to see that there’s really strong resistance going on?
Vicky: So for that final question, I think one of the things I’ve heard, a close comrade, a friend of mine when I was tweeting about this piece who has slightly different politics from me was sort of saying, “Oh, well, I think this movement of quitting will lead to mass repression.” I think that’s sort of the question you’re saying, when we make a struggle like this legible do we risk damaging it? First of all, yes, of course. I think that’s really important and that’s true. Also, though, particularly the great resignation is and anti-work is a trend that the right and the capitalists have noticed. They brought it to many of our attention, because this is happening at a scale that none of us can necessarily really see beyond sort of a meme of an image or whatever. But when millions of people are quitting the capitalists are scared, and that’s how we know it’s happening because they’re talking about it in Business Insider and the Economist or whatever.
So like on that level, the question I think is right. I think it’s right to think about, “do we try to wrench these things into politics?” When we do so we do so at great grave danger to their potential. But also, we do want to be able to speak to each other, and to have a context in which we can sort of organize and start to answer some of these questions. To speak to the first half of your point, though, if that’s okay. Unless you have something you want to sort of jump on on that?
Amar: No, no, go ahead.
Vicky: This is to veer away from the piece of it and get a little personal, but I’ve now been organizing in various capacities and writing and fighting for like 12, 13 years now. Maybe since 2009. What time is it? 2008? So yeah, for ages now, right? It’s been a long time. One of the things that has happened is that I have grown really dissatisfied with the waiting for the change to come and happen spontaneously. At the same time that I recognize that over the last decade none of us have really been able to predict how this stuff was going to break down and it hasn’t really been driven by political radicals either. I don’t think that’s going to suddenly start happening either. But we have these one lives. These one precious, increasingly threatened life.
I’ve always loved the anarchists tendency to say we have to try and build that world in the present in our own worlds to the extent that we can. I think we can apply that to bigger scales without it being dangerous to our goals. Do you know what I mean by that? There’s this really hard line to thread and we haven’t come up with the answers. I certainly and anyone who tells you they have is full of shit. Myself, even, I don’t have the answer I’m also full of shit.
But I think there is this tension right now with this real desire to have enough power, for lack of a better word, to act in a really in a way that increases those possibilities and opportunities, while recognizing what’s going on right now. Which is that on a sort of spontaneous, which isn’t a great concept, but on a class wide scale some of these attacks are happening now. They’re happening and can we intervene? Because I think there’s also a desire and the piece does talk to this. Sorry, I’m just rambling now. I guess that’s the point, right? We’re having a conversation.
But the piece speaks to the leftist desire to get out and be the leaders to be the vanguard. We saw that in the uprising where revolutionary organizations, I heard about this in every city with there were big things, would get to the front of a march and lead it in a circle, or lead it directly into trap. Or all these terrible things, all the swooping and stuff. So I think without wanting to be a vanguard and being satisfied to be participants in events, and nothing more than participants in events, how can we be the most effective participants in events possible? In a way that both makes our lives better and increases the chances for other people to reach for those things. That’s such a hard question because it’s about power and organization, but our terms for those are so limited.
Amar: Yeah, yeah, I think about this, too. And we saw, I think anybody who had two eyes and was paying attention saw the orgs get out in front of stuff in the George Floyd uprisings. I think that it was just such a typical tactic on the part of the orgs as a part of power accumulation and optics and all of these things. How do we not do that? And how do we participate as anarchists in a way that is anti-authoritarian, or anti-vanguardist, or anti-optics or whatever, if we can say that. I think that’s such an important question. I think that to answer that would maybe be to do something of a disservice to the scope of the question itself. Because it’s so important and it’s less of a question and more of a provocation for me. Just challenging folks to be like, “this is a moment, this is happening.” I remember back in the day people were really invested in this idea of a revolution and I’m just like, “Y’all, it’s here and what do we do with it?”
Scott: That’s like the thing that I really loved about this piece, because I’ve been reading other interesting pieces that are pessimistic or nihilistic. This one is saying we’re in the midst of at least a proto-revolution, if not a revolution. In thinking about this question about how we can be participants within it without trying to get out in front, which is so important. Thinking about the last decade and the anarchists involvement in all these uprisings, not to credit it to anarchists, and I don’t even mean a particular person who says they’re an anarchist, but tactics learned from anarchist uprisings or uprisings that have elements of anarchism within it. They’ve been accumulating over over this time. I think the anarchism, more than in my lifetime, you can talk about it and people are like, “oh, yeah, I have some ideas about this.” It’s less unheard of. It gets mentioned even in mainstream aspects.
I feel like, again, some of this spreading of knowledge or information, some of the ways that anarchists have shown up in the streets or organized mutual aid is becoming more baseline knowledge for people about how to defend yourself in this situation. I think that that might be a way to think about it. Again, this is to say that anarchists aren’t leading things, anarchists are showing up and doing things and those things are getting innovated over and over again throughout all these events.
Vicky: Yeah, I think that’s that’s exactly right. I mean, as someone who has been doing police in prison abolition stuff for almost a decade now, I remember having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about how for years it just felt like bashing your head against a brick wall. Then suddenly in 2020 you were just nodding and everyone was nodding along with you like, “yeah, abolish the police, abolish prisons!” I think there’s probably a tendency among people who identify as anarchists, especially who sort of form online to want sectarian identification as anarchist to be really present and stuff. There’s this counter tendency that I think, Scott, you just really well summed up, which is that, in fact, the tactics and the ideas are spreading.
I think that that’s also valuable in terms of attempting to the best of our ability to decolonize and abolish the whiteness of the ways and the Europeanness of the ways that we think about this stuff. Maybe the movement has gotten anarchist enough that we no longer need anarchists. I don’t know. I’m in a weird place now. But I guess what the piece has me asking myself and questioning and what the last 10 years have as well is this great refusal moment, in some ways, the George Floyd rebellion was a summation, and intensifying, and generalizing of all of the struggles that had come before. We saw all those tactics repeated. It was incredible and beautiful, and really, really important. And now something has shifted and we have to move away from our dogmas in a real way that is scary.
Part of the reason I feel is partially scared, and I mean not just the state of the world, but because I don’t see my comrades, all of whom I love dearly in my local area, I don’t see any of us moving in a way that makes me feel like it’s the answer. Even during the uprising my comrades, who I really love and who I was in the street with and who I would do a lot in the street for, I didn’t see us moving in a way that I was like, “Okay, wow.” Myself included. I was among this we, right? We were participating, and that’s cool. But I want to think about, because it matters so much, I want to think about what we can do and how we can we distinguish sectarian tactical, ideological things that we rely on from things that are really important actually and it’s really good that they become core.
I think there can be a tendency that I think is actually kind of creepy and proto-right wing to be like, “we must reject all of our previous knowledge.” Absolutely not. We have learned so much. We have to stay queer liberationists, trans liberationists, anti racist, these are all so crucial. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s a question. We’re in a moment where we can really start cutting back some of the stuff that isn’t serving us. As the piece says, in the spirit of the great refusal, you should think about how to leave those formations, whether they’re tactical or ideological, or just groups or whatever, that aren’t serving us right now in this moment.
Amar: I love that part of the article so much. The whole, “let’s think about how to translate a, not anti-work as sort of a hardline definition, but a refusal on to our anarchist politics and praxis.” I thought that that was such a cool provocation. And Scott, I wonder if you have anything to say about that. I was just super sparked by it. I don’t really have a lot to say about it. I mean, seeing folk and seeing how folk were moving in the streets, or like moving in the midst of the uprising, I didn’t see a whole hell of a lot of it, but I definitely was just like, “Hmm, we did that,” or like, “that happened.” There’s a question there, too.
Scott: Yeah, I’m thinking in current anarchists discourse that I’m finding most interesting right now is the stuff that Amar: C, Anderson’s Nation on no Map, where he’s been elaborating a Black anarchism that isn’t about self identification as an anarchist. He looks at the history of Black people in the US and sees anarchist, or anarchistic, or whatever, aspects of community self defense and mutual aid and says that there’s conditions that create this. and that there’s histories and knowledge of these ways of being and doing that sort of exceed the limited definition of anarchism that can be tied back to a particular European historical context.
That kind of stuff, alongside a lot of care work, accountability transformative justice, and disability justice work that I read that’s in an abolitionist vein tends to me to do this kind of loosening up of anarchism into something that’s not like who you are, but it’s the things that you do and the way that you do them. It can be in all these moments. I think when we take this into struggle, we get so caught up in being a thing and showing up to do thing as a kind of person all the time. I think protest is often, because it’s captured by the political, this is where I want to get right? Back to the idea of moving out of the political into the social. When it remains in the realm of the politics and we’re just announcing we’re anarchists and we’re here to fuck shit up or whatever.
One of the things reading this, it made me think. I had been translating Guy Hocquenghem and his writings on gay liberation after ’68 people. And the May ‘68 people were saying a similar thing about the social, they were calling a cultural revolution, because they were still a little bit enthralled by Mao. But they were like, “the revolution has to touch every part of life.” It’s not just the realm of politics. It’s not the labor movement. This is where you get the beginnings of gay liberation in France too. I think that’s really an interesting thing. In that moment, in the 60’s, late 60’s and early 70’s, that dovetailed with the hippies and a counterculture that wasn’t really politicized. I think the material conditions for a lot of the people who were involved in that were such that they could do a kind of subversive thing and still kind of be part of the system. So it didn’t translate into this social revolution that they were calling for.
But I think we’re in a totally different scenario. We don’t have the opportunities and all the kinds of props that were holding up the state and the market at that time have been thrown away at this point. The pandemic has just made it even starker. So to me, that explains a little bit why a political thing can translate more generally and pervasively through all the strands of life the way that this piece is arguing that it is or is starting to or can continue to do.
Just one more thought… So when the pandemic hit, this was my thinking, and this is almost accelerationist or something, I guess, but I was like, “oh my god, everyone is gonna just suddenly become a revolutionary because we’re just faced with the contradictions of you can’t work but you need to pay for rent and you need to pay for food, but you can’t get any of these things.” I was trying to do organizing just being like, “look like we have to do something! We can’t… this is ridiculous.” I got caught up in my organizing with people who are really stuck on old models for me. A lot of going back to, “we need to be clandestine, and we can’t say anything to anyone because then we will be known.” But I was like, at some point we just need to act right and do something. But in the immediate lockdown, those conditions did not create the kind of uprising that I had hoped for, at least, and didn’t really expect.
This piece says something really interesting that I would like to parse out about this. It says “the novel Coronavirus pandemic was a necessary but insufficient condition for the George Floyd rebellion and the great refusal.” So I was like this is going to do it. This piece is saying that this set some things up but then something else happened. Then the next line is “Anti-Blackness, ableism, and xenophobia were also necessary, but they are not novel, though the pandemic’s deepening of these societal codes.” In that kind of weird Interplay that something new happen that we weren’t expecting. I think that’s really interesting. Because again, it scrambles our ability and even our desire to predict things which is I think, where we fall into traps, often.
Vicky: Yeah. God, there’s so much there. There’s so many different things. I’m all over the place.
Scott: Sorry I rambled.
Vicky: No, no, it’s literally my favorite feeling. Too much to respond to is the best. But yeah, I think there’s this question of the Coronavirus and the pandemic. One of the things that actually I think is so scary, not to shift too much about the Ukraine situation is that, the Democrats seem malicious and out of touch enough to me to want to go to war to distract from the virus, right? The handling of the virus has been so bad internationally that I do think a lot of state leaders see, and it’s working as far as I can tell, in a public opinion way. There’s not a sort of 2001 Old Glory flags everywhere fascism coming back, exactly, but people have stopped talking about the pandemic, largely. This is the thing that is on people’s minds. I think the failure of the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, should be understood in terms of the Great Refusal and the Great Resignation.
One thing that happened was that Trump gave us a bunch of money, and clearly the $600 for unemployment a week was like the Arrested Development meme: “It’s one banana, Michael, how much could it cost? $10?” Clearly a bunch of rich people were like, “how much do poor people make a week? $600?” And everyone got this crazy raise. We didn’t have to work, got on this huge raise, and an eviction moratorium. So there’s all this cash on hand and what people did with that extra space as well as the extra anger, alienation, the mass death, it’s not a silver lining. There’s no silver lining to the pandemic. These are just the conditions, and we can’t describe it that way. This is a this is an absolute utter catastrophe of a global scale that will never be forgotten, at least not for generations. It’s an utter disaster. But it produced both negative and positive conditions that gave people space to rise up, right? And people were like, “Okay, I don’t have to go to work. I can’t go party, I don’t have to pay my rent, I’ve got nothing to do. Fuck it, let’s get rid of these pigs!” That was this spontaneous feeling and tactic and desire that emerged.
I think part of what the Democrats have been doing is like, “Oh God, we can’t reproduce those conditions.” We can’t reproduce the conditions where people aren’t struggling enough that they can fight us. They also, I think, to some extent think that the uprising was all about Trump. What they classically failed to do is to recognize that the uprising happened. So many of us participated and we all remember. We all remember what it felt like and we were all changed by it. You can’t put that back into a bag with punishment, although they are trying.
I don’t know if that’s happening in y’all’s cities, but here in Philly rents have gone up way faster than housing costs. They’ve started instituting credit checks to even get a rental, which I’ve never seen anywhere. Not even in New York when I lived there. It’s wild. And that seems to me an at least slightly coordinated punishment of the working class. Not just for the uprising, but also for the Great Resignation. There’s all this repression happening and now the war is a piece of that as well.
But to be a sort of classic, “whatever,” as I am, all of this repression is in response to real movement that’s happening on the ground now and real fight that we’re giving. We’re on the offensive. I don’t know, I keep just circling back to that. Because Scott, as you pointed out, in the 60’s, even in the 30’s, the insurrectionary movement got kind of bought off by the New Deal. Then the depression got funneled into war production. It’s not clear how anyone can do that. In fact, the financial collapse still hasn’t quite happened. We’ve never recovered from 2009, the stock market has fully divested itself from our daily lives. It doesn’t feel like they have carrot to give us and it doesn’t feel like they can wield the stick well enough. So it feels like we’re chomping at the bit to overextend the metaphor. We have some capacity right now to move.
Scott: There’s another part of this piece to build off of that, that I find interesting. Thinking about how the Democrats have failed to play their historical role of siphoning off the energy of movements and recuperating them in electoral politics. You’re kind of talking about that. But it seems like such a an opportunity for the Democratic Party to take stuff. They keep having things thrown at them that they can totally wrapped up into their shtick and use it. But they’re not doing it. I mean, maybe it’s like you’re saying that they’re scared of the threat that they’ve seen and therefore grasping at straws. But I wonder if either of you had thoughts about why are they so doggedly going in this other direction than what they’ve typically done, which is to try to water down our movements with tokenism and naming policies that don’t do anything?
Amar: And recuperation.
Vicky: Do you want to join take a swing at it?
Amar: I’m uniquely ill-equipped to talk about party politics.
Scott: That’s a good trait.
Vicky: Alas, alas, I have some ideas. Bernie Sanders was was a slam dunk for them. Medicare For All. I mean, if they weren’t good historians they would know that in 1945 in the UK when the Labour Party, the NHS, ran the government for 30 years. The Dems could do it. They’ve got a bunch of slam dunks that are pretty easy. The ball is in the air. Why am I choosing all these bad metaphors? They have these opportunities. I think part of it is that they just are genuinely an imperial court. DC is truly divided from reality on the ground. The pandemic has somehow made that worse. They don’t even get in cabs anymore to talk to cabbies or whatever they do in their op eds.
So I think it’s that and also they are increasingly happy to be the left wing to the extent that they are the left to the Republicans, not as the recuperators of social movement. So I think that now that the Republicans are like, “you know what? We should be fascist because otherwise we’ll never win an election again.” The Democrats can just be like, “yeah, we’re just like utterly greedy, right wing capitalists, like, that’s all we are.” So I don’t know. I think it’s some combination of those things and fear of the uprising. I think in their heart of hearts, Democrats, liberals in general, not just Democrats, if you ask them “which is scarier a fascist uprising or an anarchistic/communist one?”, they think it’s scarier from the left. Because the fascists, maybe they kill them or their friends but probably they get to keep all their property and their nation. Whereas the anarchists, they lose their whole worldview. Like, that’s a lot scarier.
Amar: Yeah, indeed. I really likes this part in the article, and it’s skipping to the end a little bit. The article is written somewhat chronologically, but there’s a lot to sort of unpack in it. And it talks about sort of the right and the coup. This is bullet point 24:
“The lesson they seem to have learned from the coup is that increased calls for secession and the independence notwithstanding, their best chance for power is the 2024 election of Donald Trump. There is therefore something of a three way race between the proletarian movement, the 2024 election cycle, and Donald Trump’s physical death. The death or incapacitation of Donald Trump would represent a blow to the American fascist movement as currently constituted that would require at least another election cycle for them to recover from.”
I really liked this bullet point. I think that it relates somewhat to perceptions and fear and the anxieties of the Democrat institution. I wonder if you’ll have thoughts on this point.
Scott: So, I’m actively frightened by the far right and everything they’re doing. And maybe we can talk a little bit about all the kinds of State policies that are being proposed and passed that are incredibly frightening. But while there is a street movement and January 6 was a thing. It was a debacle. It’s kind of confusing and hard to really, totally understand. This point is saying that in the end, the far right is still attached to an election of a particular person. So, in a way that that gives me a little bit of a feeling of optimism that it’s so narrowly focused on this one thing that just seemed to limit it in a way or help contain it from me. Because in my mind all the time I’m surrounded constantly by Nazis, basically. Like walking down the street in my neighborhood, you know? And so thinking about how they’re still grasping at the old orders of power, and obviously that power still kills and hurts and degrades us all. But something about that was interesting to me.
Amar: Yeah. I mean, there’s been just an immense amount of things that have at least hit the newsstands. I had a text from a person that I hadn’t heard from in a while, and the text was just like, “I’m thinking of you. I hope you’re okay.” And I like genuinely didn’t know what they were referring to because there’s been so many things that have happened. It turns out that they were referencing the anti-trans stuff that was happening in the news with parents of trans kids now being liable for child abuse or some horrifying shit in Texas.
But yeah, there was a point on our notes that we were talking about fear and talking about anxiety and being like, “Am I coming out of left field being fearful right now?” I don’t think that anybody is. I think that there are a lot of oppression fantasies that are spinning themselves out. I’m thinking specifically of like QAnon, and COVID-denialism, and stuff that’s on the far right, that I like obviously have no sympathy for. I do name it as like an oppression or colonization fantasy, basically, that people are like, “Oh, I’m being genocided. I’m being colonized.” It’s just like, guys, I don’t know. It bears no spinning out here. There’s no reason we need to debunk that shit.
But I do think that we’re seeing sort of a creep into various things. I mean, we saw it in fucking September 11, back back back in the day. Maybe some listeners were not alive in 2001. But we saw that precipitated the formations of two extremely fascist institutions and those were the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. Ever since then, in my consciousness, it’s been an ever encroaching upon fascist creep or whatever. We’re seeing that really explicitly, and I think to react to that with fear and anxiety is really normal. And to react to it in a way that’s just like, “oh, I need to not have fear about this,” is to react in a way that’s maybe a bit rooted in survival. That is something we should honor, or one could honor. But I think its really healthy to acknowledge that kind of thing.
Vicky: Yeah, I really appreciate that point from both of y’all. I think two years into this pandemic when all of our forms of comfortable social reproduction and making ourselves feel better and hanging out… all of them have been disrupted for years now and we have watched as world governments have utterly refused to try and fix that. The thing they claim to be good for is something like a pandemic or whatever, right? And they just have literally no interest in helping us at all. Some countries are more brazen in that than others and that has to do with their internal political and domestic stuff.
But in any case, I think even without that 2015 to 2020 the rise of street fascism was traumatic. I don’t know if y’all had this experience, but there was a lot of movement, but also everyone was hyper-vigilant all the time. Everyone was in a fight or flight constantly. That was utterly unsustainable and we didn’t get to rest from that because the pandemic dovetailed with that perfectly. I think we have not had an opportunity to grieve. One of the things that I think about a lot with regard to what you were saying a while ago, Scott, about this classical Workers Movement is that I actually think that there has been a real repression of grief among revolutionaries for the 20th century in general, the experience of that in general.
I hate “Don’t Mourn, Organize!”, which was a thing Joe Hill said about his own death, it was not a slogan. When someone asked him what they should do to honor him. He said, “Don’t mourn, organize.” That is an individual’s request and the fact that’s been turned into a slogan, I think, is disgusting. Don’t organize, mourn, y’all know those really weird squishy stress toys? They have the bulgy eyes if you squeeze them. They all squeeze out or whatever. The way I, and I’ve had to experience a lot of it unfortunately, grief and rage… If we just tried to repress it, like those toys, it just pops out from in between your fingers. It comes out in other ways and if we just like try to organize through it, or fight through it, the grief is going to shape and the pain is going to shape the stuff that we do, or the fear is going to shape the stuff that we do. It’s such a crucial gift from the queer movement and the feminist movement to be like, “no, stop, take care of yourself, take it seriously.” Everyone rolls their eyes at the idea of self-care. Okay, fine, whatever. That term is probably useless now, but like we need to take care of each other.
I do think that like the mutual aid in its less formal ways that it has appeared, which I think has been cool, but have looked a lot like charity or social services to me. The spreading of the concept of mutual aid among everyone as an organizing principle for people’s lives has seemed really powerful to me. We’re all at such low capacity. We tend to think everyone’s going through it, “Well, that’s just life, buddy.” If you have a very specific tragedy, “oh, that’s really sad” but if everyone’s going through it, “Buck up!” No! When everyone’s going through it, it’s so much harder because no one has capacity to help each other. That stuff’s all really, really important and serious. As we talked about tactics and what can we do to move forward we also do need to be able to hold each other in this horrible, horrible time. It’s been seven years of this. There have been these glimpses of hope that have been beautiful, but for the most part it’s just been awful.
Scott: I love that you brought that up, in terms of feeling the feelings. In the last two years during the pandemic, it’s been really hard to know, because of so much isolation, you don’t have the same kind of benchmarks to know how off you’re feeling in relation to any kind of normalcy. So it’s just like, “oh, there’s something wrong with me, but I don’t quite understand it.” Just like losing your kind of orientation has been hard. I’m also thinking, and maybe this is like my psychoanalytic… or just the fact that I’ve read Hamlet so many times, but thinking about how mourning is also a refusal, right? If you let yourself mourn, you’re refusing to do the things of a productive life, right? You’re like, “I’m not going to play the role. I’m like so immersed in my grief that I refuse to work.” I think it would be interesting to kind of think about some of those emotions and affects and feelings that we have, and how they could relate to this social revolution of how they withdraw us, or allow us to refuse the wages that we are bribed with.
Amar: Which are just paltry. Not even scraping the bottom edge of inadequate for maintaining any kind of life.
For me, in relation to the government and in relation to sort of political power systems at large, what the COVID pandemic really showed me was how little those structures think of the populace. They hold us in such deep, abiding disdain and that to me, is one of the reasons why people are like, “No, fuck this, anti-work, I’m gonna walk out of my job.” It’s amazing to me, too, that a lot of folks who are entrenched, to call back to the Arrested Development meme and those fuckers who think that a banana cost $10, they still think that people are quitting their jobs because of the pandemic money. Which is incredible. Because that was not all that much money really, right? I mean, prices have gone up. Every single time I go to the grocery store, I’m like, Oh, this should be $25 and comes out to like, $55 or $70. That’s maybe a whole other conversation but perhaps related. I don’t know, I kind of lost my thread.
Vicky: But I think you didn’t lose the thread. I think the thread is right there. This is in the piece too. The pandemic demonstrated this total disregard for us, even at a basic “we are necessary for the economy to function” it’s better if we’re healthy. Even at that level, even just using us as workers, they’re not even willing to do. They’re like, “well, maybe we could force you back to work and some of you will die, whatever.” There’s just the total disdain and hatred. And the way that that reflects on the future of ecological catastrophe, obviously, and war…
I don’t know about you two, but I have found it absolutely horrifying to see the world governments, and media, and politicians, and leadership, and Economy act as one so decisively against Russia. Not because I want to defend Russia, but because they had this power all along. They could have been doing this to the pandemic, they had operated so fast and so thoroughly against Russia, and whatever, Russia is literally engaging in an imperialist war of aggression, fuck them. But they could have done this two years ago against Coronavirus and they’ve shown us all that. And they’ve shown us that what they’ve done for us instead is told us to get COVID and die. And that is horrible, but it also is really ‘mask off’ no pun intended. I think things are really clear right now and the clarity is gained at to great expense, and it’s not worth it, but I think we might be able to make use of that clarity.
Scott: You know, it’s interesting, because I teach young people, mostly late teens and early 20’s, and this maybe connects back also to the grief but I have found over the last two years of teaching that students are just in crisis after crisis after crisis of their own health, they’re caring for a family member, they’re losing their housing or losing their job, they’re working too much. All the time, I’m just making space for them to just have the crisis and not worry about repercussions from me. But I’m just thinking about how that generalized panic and scramble and care work and grief that is happening, how that’s going to affect a mass population moving forward.
To me that is what I was expecting to happen when the pandemic hit, which is the contradictions become clear and everyone refuses. But we’re being put through it in this horrible, torturous way. I think that’s going to change people’s outlooks. Obviously, when I come and talk to these students I’m saying a lot of these kinds of things. This is happening to you and you don’t deserve it. But just thinking about that, I don’t know what we’re coming out of this or what that would even look like at this point. But people are carrying along with them this experience of unprecedented struggle in their “personal lives” is going to have a strange ripple effect, I think. Hopefully one that allows more people that keep unplugging from this system.
Vicky: Yeah. And I think, not to be too pessimistic, but one of the things that gave me a little bit of strength and historical analysis under the Trump regime was thinking about how the historical fascist regimes and indeed the regime in India right now and in Turkey to a large extent, they drew on a huge body of traumatized war veterans for whom life had become cheap and meaningless right, in the trenches. There was no commensurate experience in the United States until the pandemic. So we have this now, this population that I think is going to be capable of accepting very radical answers, and I don’t necessarily think that those are going to be good. Because trauma, as anyone who knows, doesn’t make you a better person. It’s about how you respond to it. Which is part of why it’s so vital right now that we respond to that trauma seriously, and that grief seriously. It’s so funny that we’ve ended up here from starting in this conversation about like the social revolution. It feels telling also, you know?
Amar: I think that’s such an important point, Vicky. Traumatized populaces are more readily accepting of increasingly radical or fringey or whatever solutions to stuff. I think that that’s something I’m gonna be sitting with for a while.
Scott: I’m thinking about more news recently about how much worse than expected climate catastrophe is going to be, and how much quicker. We get something like that every year, I guess, or more frequently. That’s the stuff that we’re facing in the next decade. We get inundated with the narratives of ‘lone wolf’ survivalist competition over resources stuff to steal us for this horrible catastrophe that we’re facing and you put that with the kind of trauma… It almost stacks the deck for just a horrific response. I’m hoping that somewhere in there, the caring for each other that people are doing will create some other possibilities.
The caring, not just like intimately or in kinship and family and whatever… I do agree that mutual aid stuff has been not necessarily as radical or politicized or however you want to call it as it could be, but the knowledge of that that’s something that you do that you’re that you have resources and spread them rather than hoard them and save up for the future that’s not going to happen, or whatever. I hope that that is something that will hopefully stave off a really violent trauma response.
Vicky: Yeah. And one thing that’s been weirdly giving me a lot of hope lately, I’ve been reading David Graeber, rest in peace, and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything. Which is a book about prehistory. It’s a book about an anthropological overview of prehistory. Just the extent to which so few societies have ever been organized on these bases of exclusion and then private property and hierarchy, like exclusively on those things. Those things have all existed, but they’ve rarely been coalesced in authority like in the way that this current social system has, is sort of what that book is about. So I think that, well, I obviously brought up the specter of mass fascist movement. It’s already happening, it’s already here. Obviously, it’s not at the specter anymore. Alas.
I also do think that the reason I bring it up is because that’s a possible future. But I do also think that that’s precisely why it’s so important to think about how to care for each other now, and how to start moving in these other directions, because we can see this other thing that is perhaps further in our history for many of us, for all of us, in fact, who have been forced to live under this white supremacist, settler, colonialist, European regime for as long as we have.
There are deep, deep roots to the extent in our history, and I want to call it our history, not our nature, or whatever, in our history that are very different. I think as things start to break down, or continue to break down, rather, as this stuff all breaks down, we can make gestures and movements together to take care of one another, that push against that, and that can radiate out, in much the same way that the sort of political tactics of struggle were imitated and radiated out over our movements over the last 10 years.
Amar: One great thing about the mutual aid sphere that’s been being fostered through institutions at this point, like Food Not Bombs, and Prison Books and related stuff, I think it has provided a really, not gentle, but easily accessible entry point for people who are just getting radicalized. There are just a lot of people who are getting radicalized in all sorts of different directions right now. I’ve seen the mutual aid be really… anarchism historically not the greatest or most accessible thing to come to.
I can remember being a baby anarchist and being like, “can I hang out with you guys?” People were just like, “actually, no. Keep coming to prison books for about a year and then maybe we’ll invite you to the potluck as well.” In a way that was really nice to hear, because I love rules, I love parameters. So there’s a parameter here, “okay, I’ll come to the prison books for a year.” But it’s been nice to see that people can go do the mutual aid and then have society through that and have like anarchist community through that and it’s just wonderful. That’s giving me a lot of hope right now.
Scott: One thing that’s been in the back of my mind during this conversation, so a lot of people will say, “why did the anarchists or the left or whatever allow the fascist and right wing people to come out in front in this anti state demonstration against mandates, when we could have like articulated a different version of that that wasn’t about business and people dying?” I’m talking about anti-vaccine and anti-mask stuff. For a while I was hitting my head against that this was an opportunity and what is the anarchists response. Maybe that’s the wrong question and picking apart this piece is kind of helping me think that a very visible left/anarchists movement around State control and surveillance through the pandemic, I don’t think would have been the right direction anyway.
What we see with the right wing demonstrations and the fascist demonstrations around this, we see them making their own beds in a way and we don’t need to participate in and then the anarchist stuff that’s happening is more clandestine, right? It’s like these relationships that are being formed through mutual aid, it’s the relationships that are being formed in the streets that I think do a lot more. If you really need to be convinced that wearing a mask is not a big deal and that it helps people, that just doesn’t seem to be the place that we should be putting our effort and time into.
This was just helping me think about that, because it’s something I’ve been wondering about for a while. Why did that space go to the right when it’s typically an anti-state stance?
Amar: This is reminding me of… did y’all read that piece Against the Liberal Creep?
Scott: I did.
Vicky: I flipped through it. I didn’t read the whole thing.
Amar: I couldn’t really tell like how much of it was a shitpost. Like, really couldn’t tell, but I feel like, Scott, it was really going in that direction of being like, “the right got this anti-state mandate thing and we should have jumped on that and pivoted the narrative.” Among many other things I’m not doing really doing this piece justice. I’m like honestly not sure if I would recommend it. But it’s interesting as a thought exercise. I guess.
Scott: I actually read this piece and and the Interregnum piece around the same time, and I really didn’t like Against the Liberal Creep and what it was trying to say and then and then I think I went to Interregnum and I was like, “oh, okay, here’s a more helpful analysis” for me at least, than the Against the Liberal Creep one.
Vicky: Yeah. One of the things that happens, and that really infuriates me, as someone who tends to think historically is how much people are happy to forget our very, very immediate recent history. In 2016, 2017, 2018, a lot of people said, “we got to try and pull out from the right, we got to try and organize, we got to get in front of their talking points, or whatever.” Most of those people have gone to the right. Most of those people are now on the right. They didn’t pull anyone to the left, they’re on the right now. I think people will have their own particular example of who I’m talking about because there were a lot of them. They were mostly grifters.
I think there’s this idea that we have to convince people, [that] it’s our job as revolutionaries who are enlightened to convince people and obviously I’m here on a radio show. I think education and discussion and ideas are really important. I write not quite for a living, but I get paid to write sometimes. I do not make a living doing it. So I think that stuff is important. But also, it’s the wrong idea of the relationship to it. The thing that Marxists have often gotten right historically is the conditions of people’s exploitation and lives is sufficient to educate them about what’s wrong. Anarchists are good at that too, often. People know, and yes, there will be edge cases where someone gets radicalized the wrong way. Maybe you encounter them in your life and it’s worth arguing with them and trying to flip them. Definitely.
But as an organizing principle, I think what this moment is really showing us is that since 2020, since the George Floyd uprising is that a lot more people spontaneously are on our side, just numbers wise. There’s just a lot more people under these conditions. And that really matters, because liberals will do everything they can, as we’ve seen both in the rises with both Mussolini, and Hitler, and Trump frankly. Liberals will do everything they can to hand power to the fascists to keep it out of the hands of the left or the revolutionaries or whatever you want to call it. But we don’t have to convert those liberals because they are enemies. People get confused between people who are just spontaneously humanitarian liberal because they haven’t really thought about it, versus people who are Atlantic subscribers or whatever. They’re 15 or however many there are left.
Scott: Yeah, I think there’s a difference between them. People want answers often and there’s a liberal position that seems to offer answers through electoralism and slight reforms on the status quo. It’s the same thing, though, with authoritarian communists. They seem to have the answer. I think they draw in certain kinds of people who aren’t okay with the unknown, with embracing the unknown. I think also, we want to know the right way to act and I think that’s commendable, really. So I don’t know about convincing people of other things, but maybe just like opening the door for more complexities and unknowns.
Actually, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how much people are motivated by being afraid of showing that they don’t know something, and how much damage that causes in every kind of situation that you could think of. Just leaving more room for that. That is another thing about this piece that I think it is calling on people who want to contribute to a revolution to do, is to not know it, not get in front of it, be part of it, open up for it, be honest about what’s happening. Not try to frame it or theorize it or whatever. Just be like this is happening, this is really happening right now.
Vicky: Yeah, it’s really happening and it doesn’t fit any of our theories very deeply. That doesn’t mean that we therefore have to jettison every previous theory, but it means we have to think and act differently in some ways. That means being unknowing. I always get into trouble with that literally with my friends and relationships. I’m always getting into trouble pretending to know shit. Then people are like, “you’re bullshitting.” You are right. It’s a real problem. It’s such a problem for everyone. It’s really hard to embrace unknowing. It’s really, really hard. But as your expert guest here on this podcast I would like to give my expertise to say, “I don’t know shit, and you don’t either and that’s kind of a beautiful place to start.”
Amar: Yeah, I love that. And I think the popular narrative is very slowly skewing toward that. So that’s also really nice to see.
Scott: I feel like this could be a place to wrap it up. I keep thinking about going into the horrible policy stuff that’s going on. But I’m like, “No, let’s not bring that back in.”
Vicky: Yeah, I mean, I’m really loving talking to you both. So it’s tempting to just keep going. But I think probably. Yeah.
Amar: This is so lovely. It’s really lovely to get to talk to y’all two.
Scott: I love doing this. It’s really helpful to me as a person who who likes to think in dialogue in real time. Dialogue is really nice.
Vicky: That’s a really nice thing in the Graber book, actually, they talk about that as a critique of Descartes.
Scott: I have it. I haven’t cracked yet.
Vicky: Sorry. I’m literally reading it to my partner because they just never think spontaneously to read books by men. So whenever there’s one that I think is going to be interesting, I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna read this one to you.” Otherwise, it’s never gonna happen.
Scott: I love that. It seems appropriate.
Amar: Having distance for books by man is really reasonable.
Vicky: It’s not even conscious. I don’t think they’re even aware of it.
Scott: I’m actually reading a book by man and I’m regretting it, so.
Vicky: Often the case.
Amar: I’m now I’m reading a book by a man, but it’s about it’s about the Amazon strikes, and it’s mostly interviews. At least I think this person’s a man. I’m actually not sure. We’ll see how it goes. It’s good so far. What are you reading Scott?
Scott: I just started reading the most recent Jeff VanderMeer science fiction novel for reading at night and I don’t like it. I might not finish it, I don’t know. I was just reading a bunch of really awesome queer and trans stuff. Then Jeff VanderMeer. Like why did I do that?
Vicky: I had that experiences in 2021. I think it’s literally the first year in my entire life since I’ve been able to read. I didn’t finish a single book. It was so intense, like, I could not read. N.K. Jemisin cured that for me this year. I just read her trilogy in the weekend. But it’s been wild. I found the pandemic so antithetical to that kind of sustained, quiet, focused dialogue with with a voice that’s not my own. But that’s also alone.
Amar: I can relate to that Vicky. I also was having trouble finishing anything. Finishing movies or TV shows or just not having this sort of sustained focus. That’s so interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard folk talk about that much.
Vicky: That’s so funny because I bring it up and then I hear very similar. I hear something like, “oh, yeah, actually I couldn’t do that either and I haven’t really thought about that.” I think it was a collective condition.
Scott: Yeah. I’m in this queer book club and people have said that in the book club. That last year they didn’t read books at all. It’s that was exceptional for them.
Vicky: What a time we’ve been living through.
Scott: Yeah, it’s fucked.
Vicky: Jeez! I mean, personally, I think 2016 year six is the worst one yet. The worst 2016 yet.
Scott: Yeah, I feel that. I’m sorry that you’ve been bearing all that in. But thank you for also talking with us now.
Vicky: Oh, my God. Literally I have to keep marking that for myself. But it’s been such a pleasure. I wasn’t sure. I had this long day. But this has been so delightful and given me so much life and I feel so held and among friends and comrades and it’s beautiful. Thank you both so much for organizing this and having it happen.
Scott: Yeah, thanks for being willing.
Amar: Thanks for being willing. This was definitely medicinal for me as well. It just feels like it’s getting to talk to y’all. Sometimes I think that anarchists fall into this trap where we don’t really talk about politics, as weird as that might sound, delving down into sort of nitty gritty and I really love that that happened here.
Vicky: You just made me realize when saying that how often my interlocutors on that call themselves communists. Like when I want to talk about politics with someone it’s mostly with people who call themselves communists. I mean like anti-State, Left-Communists or whatever, but it’s interesting how few anarchists comrades I have who I get into that broad strategic political questions because that has so often been associated with such bad left politics, obviously. So it was a real delight.
Scott: Sometimes I feel like I want so bad to be around people that I just assume we know and share something. So with anarchists, there’s a version of that. Same with queer/trans people or punks or whatever. Yeah, we know something. We don’t have to say it. But then, I want my anarchist friends to like, I want to hear what they have to say and think about something because they have really good ways of thinking about stuff. I need to parse it out with them. That piece was a nugget in my head and so talking it through is really helpful and bringing things together and I appreciate it.
Eric King Transferred To High Security Prison in VA
[00:04:08 – 00:23:50]
First up, you’ll hear Eric King, anarchist prisoner whose recent legal victory against the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the US was featured on our episodes from the week of March 27th, 2022. Last week, Eric was suddenly transferred out of Colorado toward United States Penitentiary Lee in the southwest portion of Virginia near Johnson City, TN. This is in spite of the fact that Eric should be held at a medium security facility according to BOP standards, unlike the high security and max prisoners at USP Lee. We caught up with him mid-transfer while at Grady County Jail in Oklahoma where many Federal prisoners stop during cross-country transfers. Eric and his supporters are afraid that he’ll be facing time in the SHU, or Secure Housing Unit at USP Lee for no reason other than punishment for his legal case and his supporters are putting together a call-in campaign to raise Eric’s visibility to keep him safe. There is information about this in our show notes at TheFinalStrawRadio.NoBlogs.Org and hopefully soon at https://SupportEricKing.Org .
This is followed by Sean Swain’s segment [00:23:53 – 00:32:42]
Maria of Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv
[00:33:06 – 01:07:52]
Then, you’ll hear Maria, a member of Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv, just returned from Ukraine and currently in Warsaw, Poland. We talk about ABC Kyiv, mutual aid and refugee support, border crossing, some information about anarchists participating in the territorial defense, NATO, non-violent as well as armed resistance to the Russian invasion, Russian forcibly moving Ukrainians from Mariupol into territories they control and other recent news stories. You can find more on how to support Operation Solidarity at linktr.ee/OperationSolidarity and the Resistance Committee of anarchists participating in armed resistance to the invasion at linktr.ee/TheBlackHeadquarter. You can also find a benefit for ABC resistance to the invasion at ABCMusicalSolidarity.Bandcamp.Com, written up at North Shore Counter-Info.
Mira, leftist punk from Kharkiv
[01:09:06 – 01:41:14]
Finally, you’ll hear a conversation recorded on Sunday, April 3rd with Mira, a member of the street punk band Bezlad and a show booker in the hardcore scene of Kharkiv near the Russian Border. Mira talks about his leaving of Kharkiv to L’viv to aid leftist and punk territorial defense fighters getting protective gear, his experience of the devastation of war on the city he loves and the breakdown of solidarity with antifascist and punk communities across the border between Russia & Ukraine since the war in the Donbass and intensifying today. We’ll play a song by Bezlad after this interview and will link them in the shownotes.
Libre Flot’s Hunger Strike Continues
As a continuation of our recent announcement of the former YPG volunteer on hunger strike against unending detention by the French government, there is a call for a day of solidarity for Libre Flot for what is both his 36th day of hunger strike and his birthday. Libre Flot was hospitalized in relation to the hunger strike on March 24th but has continued due to his more than 15 months of pre-trail detention. On April 4th, 2022, the supporters are asked to make some noise at French embassies, consulates and other institutions to raise awareness of his plight. More info at SolidarityToDecember8.wordpress.com
Eric King Call-In
Alongside a recent post showing photos of the scene of Eric’s assault in the broom closet, there will be a post with phone numbers and talking points up at SupportEricKing.Org by Monday. Below are some contacts you are suggested to reach out to to check in on Eric’s condition and talking points to help ask why he’s being treated this way despite his noted security level leading into the embarrassing trial loss by BOP:
Why is Eric King, who is at a medium level according to the BOP, being moved to a high security facility across the country?;
Why is this move coming so quickly after Eric successfully won a lawsuit showing that the BOP was closing ranks to set Eric up for 20 years of additional prison as he approaches his out time?;
What will you, as a public official, do to challenge the impunity of the federal prisons to persecute prisoners and violate their human rights?;
DRAFT MESSAGES / TEMPLATES
Hello Senator _____,
I am writing about my friend who is a prisoner in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. His name is Eric King, inmate number 27090-045. He was recently found not guilty on all counts at a trial in the U.S. District of Colorado. Eric was moved from FCI Englewood and is currently being held in a private facility, Grady County Jail in Oklahoma. He has been told he is en route to USP Lee, a maximum security prison in Virginia.
I am writing because I believe Eric should not be sent to USP Lee, and would be in danger if he were sent there. He is scheduled to be released from prison in December 2023, and wants to avoid anything that would infringe on this release date.
There is an active threat against his life. A few years ago, before being sent to Colorado, Eric was held in the Segregation Unit at USP Lee for approximately two weeks. Before that, at USP Atlanta, a white supremacist gang member told him he would be killed at USP Lee if he was released into general population. This was documented at USP Lee.
It is imperative that Eric not be put in harm’s way. I am asking that you not send him into a situation that is so dangerous. The Bureau of Prisons knows this and there is established case law regarding the BOP sending someone into dangerous and life threatening scenarios. See Fitzharris v. Wolf, 702 F.2d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1983); Gullatte v. Potts, 654 F.2d 1007, 1012-13 (5th Cir. 1981); Roba v. U.S., 604 F.2d 215, 218-19 (2d Cir. 1979).
Additionally, Eric is in this situation because of a bogus maximum management variable on his security profile. This has him erroneously being sent to a facility beyond his actual security level. He has no pending charges and no incident reports. He intends to be released to Colorado to live with his wife and his two children in just over a year. I ask that this management variable be removed so that he can be sent to a medium- or low-custody prison close to home and begin preparing for release.
I am afraid for my friend Eric’s life if he is sent to USP Lee and I am asking that you intervene with the Bureau of Prisons and ask them not to send Eric King into harm’s way by sending him to USP Lee.
His lawyer is Lauren Regan and can be reached at 541-687-9180 or email@example.com. Please help my friend.
TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time and the space to have this conversation with me. First off, would you please introduce yourself to the audience with a name, even if it’s a pseudonym, any gender pronouns, where you’re from, or where you’re at now?
Maria: I’m Maria, from ABC Kyiv, and I’m staying in Warsaw right now, just coming from Lviv where I visited comrades and had some meetings.
TFSR: Can you tell a little bit about ABC Kyiv and the history of the group? What work you’ve done before? What does it look like now? How the invasion has changed it?
Maria: We are a relatively old collective, 10+ years old. We used to mostly help political refugees from neighboring countries who escaped from Russia and Belarus. It’s not that many of them were in jail, but we were helping them with the refugee-seeking procedure and getting into politics in Ukraine. Now we changed because I expected they will go to Warsaw or whatever. But they mostly joined the territorial defense units in Kyiv. So we don’t have clients anymore, you know?
TFSR: Yeah. The history of the Anarchist Red Cross at one point included militant support of combatants too during the Russian revolutions. Right?
Maria: Actually, in the Makhno army, I think it appeared first.
For now, we are trying to do several types of work. First of all, we work with another collective that provides the same kind of help to people who decided to join the resistance, take up arms, and to fight for people and freedom at home. It’s different kinds of support. One is that we need to collect money, we need to buy things, humanitarian aid, medical aid, and different stuff that people who fight need. Another part is taking care of comrades who are relocating or choose not to because not a lot of people lost their jobs in Ukraine. And help with relocating people to other countries, they also may need help with a place to stay, money to live, possibilities to find a job. That’s a lot of work. For sure, we are taking part in it. We are not doing it as a separate collective, but rather with other ABC collectives, and with the group called Operation Solidarity from Ukraine.
TFSR:Awesome. I know that ABC Dresden in Germany has been one group that’s been able to funnel money towards mutual aid and defense funds, which is pretty cool. It’s amazing to see ABC groups – just from the outside, I’m involved with an ABC group here, but we’re still pretty focused on prisoners in the United States – to see the work that groups are doing in Europe is pretty impressive.
What’s the situation getting back and forth with Poland if you can talk about it? Has it been difficult because there is a long wait at the border? How have you been received in Poland at least with the government?
Maria: Surprisingly, with Poland, I crossed already twice, it was no problem at all, both times. In Ukraine, it was much more problematic months ago, but at the moment, it’s quite slow. Transport is late, but it’s not super difficult. I think it is difficult only for male assigned people. In Lviv, it’s also relatively calm, which is the new calm – they have 3-4 air raid alerts per day, which means that they expect air attacks. Sometimes there are air attacks but the air defense systems work well. I’m actually not an expert in weapons because I hate it. But the situation is like it is.
TFSR: Some of the questions that I’m going to be asking are related to either the war or the armed groups because that’s an area I think that a lot of anarchists elsewhere are interested in. But if you can’t answer them and don’t have an answer, I understand totally.
One thing that I’ve been seeing in the news here is that Russia may be pulling back, withdrawing troops, at least in the areas near Kyiv, back across the border to Belarus. Is that a thing that you’ve heard about or do you have an understanding of what’s happening with that?
Maria: I also read today that pulled back some troops, but not all of them. Actually, they say on the news that we expect more intense fights in the next few days. I hope that’s not true. But it can be. Also, they still attack Kyiv and other cities from the sky. With the army, they at least stay somewhere. But with these air attacks, it’s not clear where it will hit next time. Withdrawing troops doesn’t mean that they will stop bombing us.
TFSR: Sure, pulling back the army could actually mean more bombing, hypothetically.
What’s your impression, having been back to Lviv, of what it’s like to try to organize there or to be an anti-authoritarian, anti-nationalist group that’s trying to do organizing in the midst of an invasion and a time that almost necessarily leads to heightened levels of nationalism?
Maria: I didn’t see that much nationalism. I was there just for a couple of days meeting with comrades. I was not really in the streets. I know that the Operation Solidarity group there is very well-organized.
There was one stupid small attack by young Nazis on our comrades near a shop, where they were waiting in line to buy stuff for guys from the territorial defense. It was shocking, but they were some small idiots. It’s not that they really hunt there or whatever. I think Nazis are busy, the same as leftist people. We are not very much interested in each other, at this point, at least.
TFSR: What I’m seeing from the Telegram channel from Operation solidarity is that the attacker was from Misanthropic Division, and the comrade had a broken finger out of it.
Maria: He had a broken finger on his hand was wish he was packing medical supplies and other things for the army. It seems very unpatriotic to do it. It’s sabotage, in my opinion. I’m very surprised. I already started thinking about some conspiracy. Maybe they’re paid by Putin because it seems stupid to do it.
TFSR: Well, Nazis are stupid.
In your experience, how is the support from abroad into Operation Solidarity been going? There’s still a need, but they’ve been listing on their social media that they’ve been receiving– They went out and bought helmets, they went out and bought various forms of armor. Is the fundraising still going on? Has that been successful so far?
Maria: I would say it’s quite successful. But it always can be that if we have more money, we will buy better stuff for people, if we have more people, will still need to buy new things for them. Also, most people cannot work, renting rooms in Western Ukraine is very difficult, it is crazy expensive. Because so many people came there. Prices went high. There are still people there, their families and in the worst situation, you can expect that most of the people will lose their jobs. We also help with this part.
With medical things, you need to buy new ones from time to time, and we hope to have much more people. We have more people now compared to two months ago. I hope it will be much more, that is why for sure they still do fundraising and we still do fundraising for them. Other groups also do fundraising. I’m very satisfied with working together with them.
TFSR: I want to talk again about the armed organizing that people are doing, but there have been stories of lots of examples in this conflict of people taking unarmed actions against the war effort, for instance, the mutual aid and the medical support that you’re talking about, or blockades to slow the advance of tanks outside of major cities, massive street protests, including those that have been fired upon by Russian troops, the Belarusian anti-war sabotage on train infrastructure that’s been supplying Russian troops. Are there other examples or any that stand out to you of the unarmed mutual aid that you’ve been impressed with, that people should know about?
Maria: I’m not sure I understood all the points you mentioned. Because if your English is too perfect for me.
With the sabotage in Belarus, it is not militant, but for Belarus, it’s already a lot. For us, I think that we are not concentrated on these points. For me, it’s literally like fascists in the 30’s and 40’s are coming. People want to have arms and to fight back. I would not say that we are working on any anti-militant or whatever actions. We have a consensus that we need to fight with arms.
I know that there are protests in occupied cities. I don’t think that they decided to be very anti-militant, they just don’t have a choice. But the Russian army may actually shoot this protest. It’s only peaceful from one side.
TFSR: One of the groups, to my understanding, that’s been organizing in Ukraine for the armed self-defense is Black Flag (Chernyi Prapor)? Can you talk a little bit about the organizing and training that they’ve been doing that you know of, and as an anarchist grouping, how they’ve been relating to the territorial defense of the Ukrainian military?
Maria: I’m not that much in contact with them, it is a group from Lviv, as far as I know, a relatively small one. I’m not in personal contact with these people. That’s why I don’t really know how they do it.
I think one of the biggest collectives is the Resistance Committee. They’re also groups of people here and there in different territorial defense units trying to organize together, like three-five people. I know this better.
I also know about people from Kharkiv, I knew them before, but I’m not in contact at the moment. I know that there is a group in Kharkiv that is fighting in the territorial defense unit in Kharkiv, which is a hot spot. I also know anarchists who individually went to the army, for example, my friend, who is actually also one of these refugees, a non-Ukrainian citizen, went to fight the first morning, and he is stationed separately from us, but we still support him.
TFSR: Do you have a sense of how it is for them to relate to the fact that the territorial defense has a relationship with the Ukrainian military? How much autonomy they’re able to keep in that or any lessons that you’ve heard about how they’ve been able to try to keep that autonomy?
Maria: From talking to people, it seems it works quite well. They are not pressuring much and it feels like for other people there is a possibility for some autonomy. They are much less hierarchically structured. The army might pay less attention to this. But officially, they are part of the army. But there is actually no other way to organize because if you just take a gun and go to the street, they will think you are a subversive and kill you. Even historically, with the partisan movement, they’re actually always connected to the army to some extent. I don’t think it’s possible to really do it in parallel without any agreements.
TFSR: A few weeks ago, I was seeing stories online about foreigners coming to Ukraine to try to fight and defend it, getting shuffled into the military, or being pressured to sign contracts of service similar to conscription. Have you heard about this being the case for folks that have tried to join anarchist formations? Are they able to get in? Or do they just get funneled into the general military or territorial defense of Ukraine?
Maria: I think the problem you’re talking about is more about people who are going to the International Legion. I heard that people went to join a Belarusian unit, but I was not following the topic. Because I’m trying to concentrate on people I know, comrades, and things I can influence. I came across something like this in the media, but I haven’t heard any people I know who complained about it. But for people from the International Legion, which I think is separate, maybe it’s a problem for them.
TFSR: Another thing that I wanted to ask about, and it’s okay if you don’t have a comment on it or an understanding, but there was a video released recently that appeared to show the Ukrainian military shooting Russian prisoners in the legs extra-judicially. Have you heard about this or heard sentiments from other Ukrainians or people in the region about captured soldiers getting shot in that way?
Maria: I even didn’t hear about it, to be honest. I can imagine it can happen. For example, a friend of mine was telling me that when he was taking part in the evacuation of the occupied and besieged cities around Kyiv. It was the third week of war already and before he was rather in a better mood. But at that moment, he was really like “They are murdering kids. They’re raping women.” He saw the bodies of women on the streets. They [Russian troops] don’t want to fight with the army, they want to fight civilians. My friend was angry and didn’t feel mercy for them anymore. But then you just go out from there thinking and feel that you are a human and you should follow the humane way of thinking and acting. But I can imagine that after everything people saw. But I didn’t hear about what you mentioned.
I’m sad, I don’t want that to happen. But it’s very complicated. When you talk about these things theoretically from somewhere abroad, it’s one thing, but when the war is coming to your place, it’s totally another thing.
TFSR: That makes sense.
You mentioned children being killed. Some stories were circulating, I think they were sourced from the Ukrainian government about Russia importing thousands of civilians and children from occupied territories within Ukraine into Russia. Have you heard of this?
Maria: Yes. Many people from Kherson, which is the biggest occupied city, and Mariupol which is besieged. My friend’s parents were sent from Mariupol to Donetsk or Russia, she lost contact with them. It’s been five days now. They just put them on the bus. The besieged Mariupol and people couldn’t have access to drinking water and food. I think they demoralize them, but the people still didn’t want to go. They just take them to the bus, some of them could call and say, “Your parents were forcefully put on this bus, they will get in touch when they can.” But no one is reaching out these days. Then they’re sending a message that they’re in Russia. Today at the train station, I talked to people from Kherson, they’re telling the same, the few people who managed to escape.
TFSR: You can’t really guess about the strategy or the reasoning behind that, whether it’s to just depopulate areas, to make them easier to occupy, or if it’s about trying to forcibly settle people to new areas.
Maria: They’re not deporting all the people. For me, making the city empty is not the reason. As for Bucha and Hostomel, I heard the opposite – they don’t let people out. They make them too afraid to try to go out by bombing the humanitarian corridor, for example, because they actually want them to stay. Then it is difficult for the Ukrainian army to shoot because they’re inside together with civilians. Maybe there are other reasons, but they also try to use them for propaganda. They are filming people, they’re giving them a text to read. A woman was complaining about Azov and Medusa published several videos, and you see that she’s actually telling the story they forced her to tell because they didn’t do it in one shot.
TFSR: Forcing some of the people that they’re holding to act in front of the camera to say, “Oh, yes, I’m so happy that the Russians are here”, something that the Russian government can show back in the media.
Maria: Mostly they want their people to see that look, here are refugees from bad Ukraine coming to good Russia. Today I heard several stories from people who were going to stay with families in Belarus. If they did it the same day, I think it was something on the media in Belarus, that you should care about your Ukrainian relatives. Relatives from Belarus are calling to say that they should come over. “Here you at least will speak your language, blah, blah, blah.” And people are coming because it’s their families, not because they want to move to Belarus.
Today I met a woman, she said, “My daughter and grandchildren are there. It’s my chance to see my two-year-old grandson.” On the one hand, she is going to this place from which we are bombed, on the other hand, we all mixed, for the older people, it looks fine. And then in the media, they create 100 people from 10 people saying that thousands of refugees from Ukraine are coming from Ukraine to Russia and Belarus.
TFSR: A lot of people in the last six weeks have left Ukraine, and have withdrawn to find other safer places to go to. But I’ve also heard reports that people are coming back to Ukraine for defending it from the invasion or fighting back or trying to collect what they left behind. Is this a thing that you’ve heard about too?
Maria: I know several people who went back because, when they came here, they put them to live in a stadium, and then you leave with 500 people after being shocked and bombed. I think your psychological condition is not very stable. There is already a lack of places. I know that Germany and Poland and today I asked a person who stayed in the Netherlands, she said the same that they actually stayed in barracks or whatever. Volunteers do care about them and give them food, but they cannot live there forever. And they read the same news as me and you.
I know a person who wants to go back to Kyiv to my district and I know that it’s been very loud there the last few weeks. But she has animals, she cannot let them out and she lives in a barrack. She has them in transporter cages. I think it’s very different for different people. But some people just cannot live like this. For some people, it’s better to go with the risk to die rather than stay in a camp.
TFSR: Switching topics a bit, they’re far-right elements, since the Maidan, have been coalescing and doing arm training and participating on both sides in the war in the Donbas. As we’ve talked about, there are armed formations that are anti-fascist and anarchist, and that have been trying to hold that space separate from the far right, and I guess push back against that being normalized and also make safer spaces. But one thing that was happening at the start of the war that I read about was that supporters of the Arsenal Kyiv football club, the Hoods Hoods Clan were starting to support armed resistance. They were known by some as being a more anti-fascist football club. But as I understand, they’ve begun working more with right-wing nationalist formations. I’ve seen pictures of members throwing up the Svoboda three-finger salute. Are you aware of this? Can you talk about what your understanding is among the folks that are staying back and doing armed defense? How difficult it is to hold your ethics in this situation when you’re being shot at?
Maria: I’m not in direct contact with those people, because my comrades are mostly anarchists. There are some anarchists among them, but it’s not an anarchist group. I hope that it is some individuals who are doing it, I don’t think it can be the whole group, but I should check. The group is quite big, and from time to time, new people join. I don’t think they can control people that much. I would ask today, that’s interesting. As I was on the way, and I was in the Lviv without Internet, I don’t know all the news. But it sounds problematic for me is if it’s true, I would not be happy.
TFSR: It’s pretty clear to me that the aggressive invasion of territory and bombing of cities by the Russian military is a terrible thing that should be fought against. I totally respect people defending their territory and defending the spaces they live in, their families, the people around them, and their communities. In the West, it’s difficult for people in countries that are NATO countries to figure out how to relate to this in a way that puts us aside from supporting NATO intervention. I know the weapons that are getting sent in are helping territorial defense fight back the invasion. But do you have any thoughts about how people in countries that are NATO nation-states, besides sending funding, should be helping to resist the invasion without simultaneously working in a way that justifies imperialist Western militaries?
Maria: Sending money is nice. People can go to fight against fascists themselves. It’s an individual decision, but it’s always possible. With this NATO question, I’m very surprised how often I hear it because do you really think that all these leftists have an influence on these decisions?
TFSR: As far as influencing the way that NATO operates? No, but also, in the United States, the position that the US takes is that the Ukrainian government should be supported. It’s not about creating space for an anarchistic society there but those two things overlap in terms of stopping people from dying. The US for instance, where I’m living, and where I’m from uses humanitarian intervention regularly to justify the continued growth of the US military. It’s not just about necessarily helping people defend themselves from an invasion or from a terrorist group or from whatever. But it becomes a part of a larger plan that fuels the big industries of war in this country. That’s what I’m getting at in wondering if you have any views about it.
Maria: Russia openly says on the propagandist TV that they should bomb Washington. I’m not sure that the US TV says something like this, that they should throw somewhere a nuclear bomb. I think was these two, one went much more aggressive, at least with the rhetoric. I think that thinking about geopolitical is just practically totally not useful. Because that’s actually the context they’re given to people to distract their attention. For example, I hear the question about NATO much more often than the question if all the comrades are alive. Maybe it’s because I’m not that good with the theories. But for me, it’s a very strange situation, when people want to talk about this NATO thing that much in a situation where they can actually not really influence it. I think that as anti-authoritarian leftists and anarchists, we should be much more focused on the things we can influence in our lives, and less on the topics given to us from the top, on TV. It is just my opinion, but I feel like this.
TFSR: Super helpful. Do you think it’s useful for people who can take off and maybe a train or whatever to come to join territorial defense and try to support anarchist groups?
Maria: Yes. You can contact all the groups we discussed online, they have websites, Telegram channels, etc. You should ask them, not me. But I think there is a possibility, people who are looking for it can find it without my help.
TFSR: Maria, also would it be helpful to share any information further about how to contact ABC Kyiv, or you’ve mentioned operation solidarity, I can put more information in the show notes and announce that.
Maria: The Operation Solidarity has a chatbot if you need to contact them.
TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to say right now?
Maria: I think we all start to think about how this happened. With Russia, with what is going on? How we have new fascism, because all my life I was asking questions about what happened to Germans in the previous century? I’m asking myself what happened, and how we didn’t see it before they attacked so many countries. Now they also attacked my city, because the country was attacked already eight years ago. I think we should really work somehow that it will never happen a third time, or whatever time is next time?
I hope we will win. I hope my comrades in Russia and Belarus will be released from jails. I do hope we will find a way to stop these things from happening. Because for me, one of the most problematic parts is that actually, the Russian society supports what is going on.
TFSR: I hope for those things, too. Again, thank you very much for taking the time to have this conversation.
Maria: Thank you for asking.
. … . ..
Mira: Some people know me by the name Mira. I’m from Kharkiv city, which is in the east of Ukraine. Right now, I’m in Lviv.
TFSR: You’ve been in Lviv for a little bit now, like a month or so, right?
Mira: Yes. For the first 11 days of the war, we stayed in Kharkiv. Then we moved to Dnipro using suburban trains with transfers and spent some time in Dnipro and then went to Lviv using an evacuation train. It took like 21 hours to get here. Some of our friends were just staying in the vestibule of the train without a seat because was all crowded. It was a long, long way. We made it to Lviv. Lviv is a much better place to stay because we could do something here. It feels more like a regular peaceful place. We have some air raid alerts from time to time, and sometimes missiles get here too. But for the most part, it feels like a regular peaceful time. From here, it’s easier to coordinate the different types of work, volunteer work, and mutual aid work. It’s more productive and successful to be here, to get stuff, to meet people, and to send all the stuff further to other parts of Ukraine.
TFSR: Kharkiv, where you’re from and where you left is just right across the border from Russia. I know it’s been the center of a lot of really intense battles between the Ukrainian military and lots of shelling and cluster munitions from the Russian military. Is that right?
Mira: Absolutely. Honestly, when a few years ago, in Kharkiv, I and my friends did lots of punk and hardcore shows, including one of the biggest events in our country, Kharkiv Hardcore Fest, which is a few days event, and some bands from abroad that would come to play in Kharkiv were asking, “Aren’t you afraid that you are really close to Russia?” While we already had the military invasion in the eastern part of Ukraine, part of Donbas, it was already occupied, but we still were sure that it won’t go deeper into the country. When people from Finland, and Poland asked us that, we said, “Yes, we are okay.” We didn’t believe that Putin and the Russian military government would really be so crazy to start a full-scale war. Actually, we were surprised to witness what started on February 24.
TFSR: I’m glad that you and your friends were able to make it out. That sounds really, really scary.
Mira: Actually, I just want to add a few words, that since the beginning of the war, the police and army were trying to keep some order at the railway station, because so many people come in, they panic, and the place is too crowded and too many people stayed at the railway station. There were a lot of police and army to make things go smooth and try to keep some order.
That’s why we tried to use suburban train stations because we didn’t want to spend and unbelievable amount of time in the line. Because children, women, and elderly people, go first. If you are military age between 18 and 60, you are the last one to get on the train. We decided not to even try to go to the main station. We preferred to walk with our backpacks and stuff to the nearest suburban train station and get on the suburban trains. One day, we just went to see how it goes, if the trains actually pass by. Just to check it without backpacks, how it goes. When you’re staying on the platform and it’s a pretty open space and you can hear the air raid alerts and the sounds of explosions. It’s not comfortable to stay there, because you never know where the next missiles going to drop.
We made it there, we took one train, we made it to Krasnohrad and spent four or five hours there waiting for another train, and then go to Dnipro right before the curfew time. My friend from Dnipro met us with the car and brought us to the apartments just five minutes before the curfew time. That’s how we made it to Dnipro. Then we took the evacuation train from there for Lviv, 10 days later.
TFSR: You were there after the war started in Kharkiv. And you’ve been to some of these cities before, I would imagine, as a traveling musician, among other things. Can you talk about what it’s been like to see places that you’re familiar with suddenly devastated in these ways?
Mira: That’s really hard to express the feelings, which you get when you see the city you love, the city that you have lots of stuff in common, which you associate with yourself, and you see that everything around is being ruined by the air raids, by multiple launcher systems. To see the historical city center being ruined, and to see regular residential neighborhoods being ruined. You can’t look at it without tears. That’s really tough. Every day, we hoped this will be the last day when they do the bombing and shelling and dropping air bombs. But the following day, it was just getting worse and worse. When we were thinking about how long it could take to rebuild everything which was destroyed, hoping that will end soon, the next day is coming and we see even more destruction. That’s really painful and tearful to see.
Honestly, the first two days we were scared, then the fear changed for hate and anger toward the people who are doing this. We tried to find the ingredients to do Molotov cocktails and stuff like that because we thought they would be in the city soon and we might need that stuff. But actually, the armed forces you’re doing a pretty good job defending the city on the ground. Even those groups of Russian troops who managed to get into the city were eliminated. The main threat was coming not from the troops on the ground, but from the launchers that launched rockets and from the air bombing. The Molotov cocktails wouldn’t really help. We were sitting without any possibility of resistance, because in my group, we have five people, and none of us has military experience. The territorial defense was accepting volunteers only with military experience, so you’d be more useful for the defense. Since none of us had that, we were not accepted. Actually, the territorial defense was pretty full of people, and they didn’t even need more, because a lot of people were willing to defend their city, their land, and their country against the aggressor. That’s why the territorial defense pretty much all over Ukraine is packed with volunteers. They’re not really accepting new applicants for that.
So we were just sitting without really any use. Since every day it was getting tougher and tougher, we decided to go somewhere else, to leave the city until it gets a bit better because the missiles started getting all around the city, not just the suburbs, not just the neighborhoods closer to Russia, to the ring road, but also in the center, all the neighborhoods, including mine, which is close to the city center. There was already some destruction in my neighborhood as well. That’s why we decided to move to be useful in something else, not just sitting in the basement and listening to the sounds of the explosions.
TFSR: What activities have you been up to since you’ve been in Lviv? Is that at all connected to the work that you were doing before the war started in your community? I know some people start off doing, before the pandemic, for instance, were doing mutual aid work of one sort, like feeding people. Then after, in the US at least, have changed. They’ve just modified what they’re doing. Was there any connection between what you’re doing now and what was going on before?
Mira: We are doing totally different things now, because being a booker for shows is not something we would do here, and I had some small business rental for live events, I had my equipment in several clubs, and that is what I was doing besides booking my shows. Definitely, that’s absolutely not timely, nobody needs that. We just do what people actually need. While organizing the shows and the festival in Kharkiv, we have pretty much a big following on our facebook page and Instagram. I know that some people we met in shows, now are in territorial defense or in the armed forces, and I know that some people are lacking protective gear and lots of other items, not just knee/elbow protectors and bulletproof vests, but a lot of other stuff needed to be alive and to be productive in their defensive activity. Right now, the only thing that we are doing is trying to find the stuff our friends need and buy it and send it to them. It is just volunteer work, and it’s definitely not anything close to what we did before the war started.
TFSR: Especially in a war zone, I’m sure it’s really difficult. Here, it’s difficult to find some of that stuff at reasonable and affordable prices. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to source night vision gear or thermal imaging stuff in the middle of a war. From what you can talk about with it, is it just the prices that are really difficult? Or is it getting it off of captured or fallen Russian troops? What does it look like?
Mira: Most all the Russian troops that I’ve seen online don’t have that stuff, either. Since I toured with my bands a lot, I met people in Europe, with whom we stayed in touch till now. After the war started, some people started sending me messages, asking what was going on, and offering some help. That really saves lives now. With these contacts, we managed to work on the logistics of buying stuff, collecting money, and sending that to people who can buy that. Some of the volunteers are coming from Germany, and Poland to Lviv where we meet and get the stuff and send it further. The personal contacts, which I got in peaceful life before the war now really help to get what we need.
TFSR: So you’re mentioning booking gigs and shows and playing shows in the punk and hardcore scene in Kharkiv. Touring. Just looking back to what that scene in that community has been like for you – it’d be interesting to hear what the music scene was like?
Mira: Well, it’s pretty much a copy of a Western scene just on a smaller scale. Since the scene was born here much later than in the US or Europe, it’s younger but it shares the same ideals. I know that in the United States, some micro scenes just don’t care about anything. Some are really political, pay attention to political issues, and some are there just for music. When in Ukraine, they started to develop, it was very political starting in 2005 to 2015. Now, it was getting less, but we always were paying attention to who is in our shows, because we were always against any discrimination practices. We were not happy to see anyone with any Nazi symbols, in 90% of our shows, we specifically mentioned that Nazis are not welcome. Such people even don’t come because in most cases, they understand what views we have, so to avoid conflict, they just don’t come to our shows. There was a lot of physical confrontation in Kharkiv as well, years before, after the Maidan in 2014, actually, the number of confrontations got smaller and since 2014, it’s just calmed down. We didn’t really have big problems. There were some people wearing Nazi streetwear brands and stuff like that, trying to come to shows. They were just turned off at the entrance and didn’t get in. Years before, we had big fights in 2009-12. Sometimes we had fights with 40 people on one side and 50 people on the other side. But it’s calmed down with time.
Actually, at this moment, Nazis have their own hardcore scene developing. The fun fact is that they listen to a lot of good bands, but they do shows and they play and they support ideas, which those bands actually absolutely don’t support. I know some Nazis from Dnipro were traveling to Poland to see the band Backtrack and Agnostic Front, Madball, and stuff like that. When they go to Europe to see these bands, they shut the fuck up and don’t even show that they are right-wing sympathizers. But when they are back in Ukraine, in Dnipro, they have such symbols and T-shirts at their shows. But that’s an absolutely different scene and we don’t cross our paths. They don’t come to our shows. We don’t come to their shows.
TFSR: I saw Stiff Little Fingers once perform. They stopped the performance partway through and just started railing against Nazis and saying that “If any racists are here, you need to understand that you don’t understand the lyrics that we’re singing. Because we hate you. You need to go. You’re not welcome here.” I’ve seen like recordings a few times of Dropkick Murphys in the US also making that statement or going down and beating up Nazis that are in the crowd. I think it’s really important and really impressive when people use that platform to be very clear that that is not what they’re about.
Mira: At our shows frontmen of some bands clearly talk about that. Even if there is some person in the audience who also goes to some Nazi shows. That happens, we don’t know everyone. They just stay in there listening and don’t show who they are. But maybe that will help them realize someday what real punk and hardcore are about and what it is against. Maybe when some people accidentally get to the show with some friends, big shows where you can’t recognize everyone. Maybe these people see how hardcore punk bands play and what they are saying, and what are their views on racism, homophobia, and stuff like that. Maybe they change their minds. The time will show, you never know.
TFSR: Do people at your shows or at the shows in the Kharkiv hardcore scene table literature and stickers and stuff like that?
Mira: We don’t have sticker culture, we don’t have our clubs or something. It could be five shows in five different locations. It’s not really popular to put a lot of stickers around, because people in the clubs don’t like any political stickers, just to avoid losing clients. There is one club that we boycott, and we don’t do shows there. We don’t come there, because they allow right-wing bands to play there. It’s conveniently located. It’s a pretty good sound. But the owner is weird and we had conversations before. He was saying that he’s against any politics and that fascists will never have an event at his club. Then later, we have videos of people doing Nazi salutes there. It is just one instance, he says it is just business, he is doing business and doesn’t care about anything else.
TFSR: That sounds like stuff here.
Mira: I believe that happens, often, everywhere.
TFSR: If people here want to support– In the other segment that we’re airing from Maria, who’s currently in Warsaw, we mentioned Operation Solidarity, and also the Resistance Committee. A lot of their work is based out of Kyiv. Are there any other groups that you would suggest people send money to distribute, to get defensive implements, like helmets and vests out to the Lviv? Or do those groups work with you all in Lviv?
Mira: Yes, Operation Solidarity works in Kyiv and Lviv. We cooperate on some issues. We know each other, but they have a bigger following and more people. They are concentrated mainly on helping left-wing people in the scene whom they know. At Kharkiv Hardcore, we don’t check how left you are, if you call yourself an anarchist, or just if we know the person and if you know this person was at our shows, and you know the person is fighting or is going to fight soon, we help this person. That’s the difference. But we share the same values, we share the same views. We cooperate also on some issues. I think we’ll just develop this cooperation further.
TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to talk about?
Mira: Maybe just the thing that I need to mention is that 10 years ago, I would say before the Maidan 2014, before the Russian invasion, the first Russian invasion started in 2014 when they occupied the Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk Region. Before that, we considered our scene – of Ukraine and Russia – as one scene. I mean the scene in music and ideological terms, the antifascist scene, and the music punk hardcore scene. But after that, our paths started to go in different directions. We have fewer connections and less and less understanding of what’s going on in Ukraine. I had lots of contacts in Russia. After this full-scale war started, I got messages just from a few people from Russia. I understand that they now have a dictatorship, and they’re not allowed to say anything publicly and to voice their opinion if it’s against the official line of the government. But anyway, still, some people have a really weird position. Some people don’t say anything, some people say something that demonstrates they don’t understand at all what is going on in Ukraine, but they still keep trying to hold some position.
I don’t want to name the bands we have some questions to. But the main thing is that, unfortunately, after this conflict, the relations, and the attitudes to the Russian people would not be the same, because officially, 70% of the population of Russia supports their president. I understand they eat a lot of propaganda and are pretty fooled by it. But anyway, the result of it is the real war which we have right now. Unfortunately, all big bands, even in the punk and hardcore scene of Russia, didn’t show any position. They don’t call the aggressor aggressor. That’s really disappointing. I don’t know if we are able to communicate after this war is over.
TFSR: That makes a lot of sense. I guess it’ll take a lot of work on the Russian side, the Russian hardcore and anti-fascist scene to try to– It seems really complicated over there. But that’s not to make any apologies. As you said, they live under a dictator. That’s hard, but I hope that they do the work to recognize and listen to your voices.
Mira: I just want to add that there are bands in Russia, that tour in Europe, and they try to sit on two stools at the same time. They don’t want to call the aggressor the aggressor. They also try to show that they are for peace, but they’re not saying who is ruining the peace. That’s a problem.
When these bands announced European tours, I am afraid that the agenda wouldn’t be correct. Because some people in Europe hate the United States so much that they refuse the right of Ukraine to subjectivity. They call it the concept of the United States and Russia, two empires, and they don’t care about Ukraine. They hate the United States so much that they don’t give a fuck about Ukraine at all. That’s why some people in Europe are supporting and eating it and spreading Kremlin’s propaganda. They’re so anti-imperialist, that they are okay with Ukraine being destroyed.
TFSR: Yeah, it’s a funny way to identify an empire, not as someone going in and invading another place because they say that they have a historical relationship and that that other place actually belongs to them, which Putin has done by saying, “Lenin was wrong. The Tsar was right. Stalin was right. Ukraine is a place for us to make decisions about.”
TFSR: Mira, thank you so much for this conversation and I am excited to share it. Are there any other links, do you want to mention your band name? It’s okay if you don’t. Or anything that listeners might follow.
Mira: Well, if you’re into punk rock, if you like street punk and oi, you should check out the band I am in right now. It’s called the Bezlad. While in Lviv, three of us are here out of five people, and we’ll try to make some new songs about current events. With the help of local folks who will fill in, we will try to record something. Also, we have a plan to play at a bomb shelter. That’s something new that we never experienced. Hope that will work. If you’re interested in punk, check it out, and stay in touch if you feel like it.
TFSR: We’ll be featuring a song at the end of this interview so folks can listen in to one track by that band. All right. Well, thanks a lot. I hope you keep safe and good luck to you and yours. I hope the war ends soon.
Mira: Thank you so much. Thank you for your attention. Thank you for speaking out about this. For spending your time to let people know what’s going on and let them hear Ukrainian voices on what’s going on here.
This week, you’ll hear a chat with California-based activist Victoria from Merced Under Construction, who talks to us about the prisoner hunger strikes at Merced County Jail and John Latorraca Center. Over 40 prisoners engaged in hunger strike for 17 days, fighting for issues like protesting black mold, little food, lack of visitation and other issues. The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. You can learn more about how to support and keep up on https://linktr.ee/mercedunderconstruction or MIRA’s facebook page
You can find coverage of the 2016 Merced Jail protests, check out ItsGoingDown.Org
Eric King Trial Ends
Then, you’ll hear from Josh from the Certain Days Calendar and Mookie from the Civil Liberties Defense Center do an update on a roundup of the recent trial of Eric King. Eric was found innocent on charges of assaulting a Federal Bureau of Prisons Lieutenant, a charge that would have added another 20 years to his time in prison, thankfully. More on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, more on Certain Days at CertainDays.Org and the CLDC at CLDC.org
Victoria Espinoza: Alright, great. My name is Victoria Espinoza, and identify as a Child of God. I’m born and raised in Merced, California, and I’m the founder of Merced Under Construction.
TFSR: And could you tell us a bit about where Merced County is? What listeners should know about the county? The economy, who lives there, what it looks like, that sort of stuff?
VS: Well, Merced, man, not a lot of people know where Merced is. When they hear Central Valley. They’re like, “what is that?” They think of like Bay Area, LA, when you think of California. But we are literally the central of the state of California, like the Central Valley area in between Fresno and Modesto, or Stanislaus and Fresno County. Our city slogan is “we are the gateway to Yosemite.” And, you know, we boast about it, or the city does at least. But nearly 25% of our population is living in poverty. So it’s predominantly white, Latino, like Hispanic, Mexican, indigenous folks living here with some other races mixed in. We have like, less than 4% Black folks, we do have a very strong Hmong community here and a lot of other different nationalities, race that are here.
TFSR: And for like, as far as, you mentioned, 25% of the population living in poverty, what are the sort of industries that people are involved in? Is it agriculture? Since we’re gonna be talking about prisons, I’m sure that prisons, and police and military are like big employers for parts of the population.
VS: Yeah, so we are a very large agriculture community. So we do have a lot of farm workers. We have a lot in many of our cities and our outskirts as well and unincorporated areas. So that is one thing that we do have strong here in Merced is the ag. We have some industry, industrial stuff, but mainly we’re known for agriculture, honestly. We do have UC Merced, last university that’s been built in. They’re building on that. UC Merced is growing, obviously. So we are seeing some of that, some things that are happening in our community, with rent controls not happening, people are getting pushed out and it’s not the Merced that it used to be 10 years ago, definitely.
TFSR: I guess I do want to ask some questions about Merced Under Construction later and imagine that that’s, like, gentrification and issues like that are being engaged with that group. Is that right?
TFSR: Jumping off into the main topic, though. So we’re speaking because there’s been hunger strikes among incarcerated folks at the jails in the county. Can you talk a bit about the conditions at Merced County Jail, and also at the John Latorraca excuse me…
VS: John Latorraca, you said it right. It has a nickname called Sandy Mush? I don’t even know that nickname comes from, but it’s its nickname.
TFSR: Yeah, what’s been up with the hunger strike? Can you talk a little bit about what sparked it? And how many folks are participating and sort of like the basic stuff on that?
VS: Yeah, so the last count that we had, it was about 44, initially, but since then, we’ve had people probably come out and people probably go in. So I haven’t got an accurate count as to how many that could be from the initial start of the strike. Yesterday marked day 17. I haven’t heard from anybody since noontime yesterday, so I’m hoping privileges were not taken. But they were dealing with a ton. A ton of stuff going on, black mold in the housing units and that’s impacting health, not being given hot meals, even hot water, just simple basic human asks, just necessities to live on.
The grievances for these things that there were issues in administration, they were being ignored, or they’re getting vague responses, that whole system had failed. Losing mail, incoming and outgoing was already a problem before the pandemic. And since the pandemic had started it became even worse. Since they had their visitations taken for over two years with the excuse of the pandemic, and weren’t offered any other means, the mail and the phones became a vital lifeline. Those were basically stolen from them.
That has impacted them in negative ways. I mean, their mental health, inability to make appropriate decisions. So many people that were in the facility the past two plus years were taking deals just to get out of the jails here so they could go to a prison that offers visitation, and that is crazy. That’s like people at there last, at their wit’s end, like “I’m gonna take a deal just so I could get out of here because this is like living hell.” That was a serious thing.
Being discriminated against based on their housing status, the jail uniforms that impacts them when they’re before a judge or the district attorney. A lot of these same asks were things that we saw from the 2016 prison strikes that Merced county jails were also a part of, and it’s nearly six years later, and not much has changed. It’s just kind of kind of crazy. They were on day 17 as of yesterday, and they were in negotiation. So the agreement was actually yesterday for them to end their strike. They were supposed to end it with the hot breakfast, have their hot water.
But then the morning came, and we ran into issues with the staff. They began to be hostile towards them. And when meals came around, they didn’t bring them anything, they didn’t even bring them cold food, they didn’t bring them anything that did not bring them hot water. They were just being cold. When I think about it, it was just evil towards them. So they basically went through all these negotiations for what purpose? They were with the Sheriff’s corrections, they had agreed to this on day 17, that it would break in the morning on these conditions. Those two basic conditions weren’t even met.
So they weren’t accepting any meals from the admin. They weren’t doing any movements at all. So that means their yard time and they’re getting maybe two or three hours a week, if that. Anyway, they weren’t accepting court movements. They weren’t even seeing their attorneys for meetings. They basically weren’t doing anything, any medical, anything like that, they were basically saying, “I’m not moving, I’m not eating until you guys change some stuff.” And the negotiations after noon time yesterday, they said that they had pulled some folks out. We were doing some phones zaps for them on their behalf yesterday to all the jail facilities and the Board of Supervisors. They did pull some of them out to have more talks. But after that, it’s been radio silence. So I’m hoping everything’s going okay.
TFSR: That sounds like a terrible flex, kind of authoritarian flex, that places like jails and the kind of people that staff them would make. When you’re mentioning people taking deals just so they can go to prison, are a lot of the people that are there and who are participating in this in pretrial conditions right now just sort of awaiting their day in court? And also people who’ve gotten county charges who are being held there, too?
VS: Yeah, we do have some people that serve sentences here locally. I think if it’s under two years, one year. It’s at the discretion of our county facility if they want to house somebody for their time, or if they’re going to send them to state prison. They have that ability. But most of the folks that are here are pretrial detainees, so they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. Some of these are not sight-and-release offenses with the whole bail reform law. Some of these people are sitting in there on bale-able offenses, but yet they don’t have the funds to make that happen.
TFSR: It’s so so inhumane that you expect someone to be able to put their life on hold and also not be able to necessarily access the means to build a defense for themselves because they’re worrying about how their family is doing on the outside. They’re just kind of waiting until the courts have enough time to see them.
You’d mentioned the uniforms too. And I know that in the demands, there was a statement about how the uniforms that were being assigned to people weren’t necessarily respective to like security threat group status that people were in. I know that even the STG [Security Threat Group] type thing, saying that someone’s in a gang or whatever isn’t always applied according to someone’s actual participation in a criminal organization. But can you say a little bit about people’s experience of the of the issue of the uniforms and what that means for access to programs or to things like ability to research in the library? Not that there probably is a library, but you know what I mean?
VS: Yeah, I think a lot of it… the people that are more impacted by this whole uniform thing, are predominantly brown, Latino, hispanic, Mexican, indigenous individuals, because they separate them by the two gang classifications, Norteños and Sureños. Pretty much everybody else gets housed as general population when it comes to the maximum security facility of the Merced County Jail. But mainly these folks are the southern, northern, or the red and the blue, however the classification deems it. They separate them, and since Merced County unfortunately operates on LA County’s informal gang injunction model, a lot of people come into our jails are impacted and being labeled gang members based on familial association, based on where they live. They might live next to somebody that’s a documented or validated gang member. So they get housed, and they say it’s for their safety to house them this way, but then we have people that are not from any of these origins, being classified like this.
So when they go to court, and you see the northern, Norteño, classifications, they’re in green and white stripes, the southern are in a blue and white stripe. And so that takes a big toll on them, when they’re going through the whole process, how the district attorney is looking at them, how the judges are looking at them, and the bias that comes with that. This has been going on for a long time with this facility. We know that other jails, like in Stanislaus County, have a different system. Basically, people are housed as general population, just like they do in prisons, everybody’s pretty much housed together, and they know how to separate folks.
So that’s what the sheriff’s corrections here in Merced, were talking about introducing a bracelet system. But they’ve talked about this before back in 2016 and no changes have been made. So that’s a problem for a lot of people, especially when they’re going through this whole unfortunate situation, with being incarcerated, being labeled as a “gang member” even if they’ve never even been a part of that lifestyle. It’s pretty disgusting that that’s been going on for so many decades. This has been happening for a long time in this community.
TFSR: Do you have a sense of if they are just gonna keep going as long as they can go with it?
VS: So right now, so what they were doing, they were refusing all admin meals, and basically attempting to survive minimally off what they could get on commissary. Commissary is trash. It’s a lot of things that are not even acceptable for the human body. And these are things that people are forced to buy because they’re not getting proper nutrition from the food that they’re getting from the facility itself. The food, they were protesting, part of the strike was protesting the inadequate conditions of the food and improper nutrition. I mean, people’s health being impacted. They’ve been in there for a few months and we got folks losing teeth. I mean, that that’s how bad it is.
So that was pretty much what they were doing, refusing all admin meals. Because they weren’t even getting hot meals like they should have been. At least two hot meals a day. It’s the minimum. They weren’t getting that for so long. And that’s pretty much what they were refusing. It was affecting a lot of them. I mean, yesterday was day 17. They were in the negotiations ready to say, “All right, we will accept if we get a hot meal. Like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a hot meal.” I can’t imagine going 17 days without a hot meal or even hot water. That’s just like the basic things that you need. Right? That was the other thing, is the hot water, being able to have hot water.
TFSR: So there’s the cruelty of not offering these things. You mentioned that administration had made the agreement that after 17 days, they would offer them a warm meal and hot water and they refused that. How have they been expressing themselves and their reasoning for continuing to treat people in this manner in the media? Because I’m sure that they’ve been making statements, the media has been reproducing right?
VS: Yeah, well, initially, the Merced Sun Star had wrote an article, again, without interviewing any detainees or inmates, and without reaching out and speaking to any of the loved ones, or anybody that was involved in the organizing around the strike out here. They interviewed the Sheriff’s Department. Basically, they were just talking about how they’re supposedly meeting and in negotiations with these asks of the detainees and the inmates. Which was not true at that point. So we had sent out a media advisory, challenging, to show us to tell us exactly what’s being done, because the public has a right to know. Public state funds or whatever is being used to fund that facility and all the things that are happening in there.
So I mean, they’re going to paint their own narrative. That’s basically what they’re going to do and they’re going to do that time and time again, I don’t think that’s going to change. But when they were in negotiations and they had clearly stated, “Okay, we will break our strike on day 17 when we get our hot breakfast and our hot water.” At about five, six o’clock, when they’re usually taking out the trays, they came around, nothing came. Not even cold food. Then when they were trying to communicate with the correctional staff, they were being treated hostilely. They were basically taunting, saying, “Yeah, your hot water is out here. But we’re not going to bring it to you.” Well how are they going to go and get it? How are they going to go and get that water? It’s out there. But we’re not bringing it to you. I mean, that type of behavior, it’s just unnecessary.
So yeah, you’re right, it was just kind of like that flex, “we can pretty much continue to do what we want,” kind of thing. They were reaching out to us. So we started, we had put out posts and numbers for phone zaps to try to get something. Then after a couple of hours, they pulled some folks out, to have more communications with them. But that was around noon time yesterday. And again, like I said, we haven’t heard anything from inside as of now.
TFSR: So yeah, as far as the public needing to know about this and you mentioned the taxpayer money and such. But also all the people that are in there, almost everyone is going to have people on the outside who care about them. I’m sure a lot of the people, not just people who have an idea that this is a wrong circumstance, but they have a personal care for loved ones that are stuck behind these bars. How is the outside engagement, then, as far as you could tell, in terms of organizing, communicating, offering support to loved ones, participating in the phone zaps, or showing up in person?
VS: Oh, yeah, I mean, for instance the rally that we had on the 21st, the turnout was low. We had less than 12, like 12 people total. A lot of that right now has to do with the inmates and the loved ones, they’re concerned with the possibility of retaliation, and also the risk of even advocating for somebody, out here, that’s in there, people that are labeled as “gang members,” you run the risk of being labeled a gang member yourself. I mean, and that’s a consequence, that many folks that are impacted face. I might even be labeled as a gang member, because according to a loved one that I had, that was inside the facility, just recently, the end of last year, they were taken out by classifications and asked questions about myself about “we know she’s a gang member, who does she run with?” and these type of things.
I know that this facility has blocked my phone number so that folks in there can no longer reach out to me. That’s unfortunate, because I didn’t know about the hunger strike, actually, until day 10. Somebody from the family members in there had to find me, and search for me, in order to make the connection because I didn’t know my number had been blocked from the facility itself. So I mean, that’s another thing. Folks trying to organize in there trying to reach out for help and they’re literally blocking their means of a lifeline from within the Merced County Jails, for whatever reason. I don’t know why.
That’s pretty much what we’re seeing. There are people in there that don’t have anyone. So we have people in there reaching out, because they need funds, they don’t have any funds for personal care, or to get anything from the commissary line. And it becomes a community within the facility when you have people like that that are indigent, and they should be able to utilize the welfare funds. And when they utilize the welfare funds, when they do get commissary on their book, then all of a sudden, the staff comes and takes that for anytime they went to the doctor, anytime they got a mail package for the one month, what are those four or five dollars if they’ve been in there for a year. Then somebody puts $50, $100 on their books, and all of a sudden administration comes and says, “Oh, you owe us this money,” and then they snatch it. So that’s kind of a problem as well, for those people that are impacted in that way. They don’t have loved ones out here at all.
TFSR: So, if the administration takes the tack of separating people, according to ostensible gang certifications, or whatever, putting them in these different uniforms, have people been able to, despite that, organize across these lines with each other for the hunger strike and the common understanding that we’re all suffering under this?
VS: Yeah, I have seen that this time around as well, that people were joining in solidarity within the facility itself. But yet, it’s just very hard to try to make those connections inside the facility. The Merced County Jail is the maximum security facility. So it’s heavily segregated. But people were still in solidarity with that, trying to say, “hey, we’re having the same issues, let’s join together, let’s band together.” So that was one thing that they were doing in there to try to show them “hey, we don’t have to be segregated, we don’t have to be labeled like this, and we don’t have to work different uniforms. We could be housed together, we can even organize together inside of the facility for change.”
TFSR: Is anyone on the outside raising the alarm, obviously, black mold is a health issue that that is on the books that black mold can cause mental issues, it can cause lung issues, quite obviously. And, not getting your caloric value or your intake of calories every day can also cause mental anguish, as well as starvation basically. Have there been anyone successfully being able to raise concerns about the demands of the folks inside of these two jail from a legal standpoint saying, “this doesn’t follow the California requirements for how a county jail operates?” Has that been a direction that’s been helpful at all?
VS: We haven’t had any support in that area. And I’ve reached out and it just seems like they’re not. I’ve reached out to ACLU, I’ve reached out to other firms for prisoners rights, and a lot of these places, they’re not based near our area and so they just say, “we don’t have anybody that can cover” or, “we’re at our capacity.” So we haven’t seen any relief in that way. But I’m gonna hopefully be getting together with some folks in the next week to draft something up, because we want to have an external review and investigation because I don’t think our Merced County Grand Jury is doing a good enough job, because they’ve seen these conditions for a number of years and they haven’t enforced any type of action to make them correct it on a permanent status. So we’re gonna have to look to like OGI or OIG, whatever the that external government entity that’s over our prisons and our jails is going to have to come and put eyes on this.
TFSR: I See. So could you talk a little bit about MIRA and about Merced Under Construction, who’s getting involved, and what the groups are about, and talk about the difficulties or any difficulties or wins that you’ve seen with those groups?
VS: Oh, awesome. So MIRA, was actually Merced Inmates Rights Association and it is the page that’s ran by the loved ones of the current detainees and inmates of the Merced county jails and the John Latorraca Jail. It’s pretty awesome, and they’re new to all of this stuff. But they’re so passionate and driven to bring awareness. And that’s kind of where I fit in. I’ve been a directly impacted person, right? It’s kind of how Mercer Under Construction all came together.
Right now, we’re just looking for support. Merced Under Construction isn’t officially an org or anything like that. I’m actually, we’re opposed to the whole nonprofit industrial complex. So we’re really looking to folks, to keep it really grassroots and centered around real people, and being able to find funding for the work and whatnot. Hopefully, we can start doing that here pretty soon. But that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re just centered around incarceration, and the impacts of that on people in their families, a lot of work around police accountability, and creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated folks and their families. One of the pillars is to definitely to reach out to the children that are impacted by it as well.
TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the name Merced Under Construction? Does it concern that the community is not completed? It’s not done? We’re still building it as we go? Or is it more of a like, “there’s money coming in for development projects, we need to make sure that those developments are actually supporting the people that already live here as opposed to larger entities?”
VS: It’s a little bit of both and the fact that we’re just never done. There’s so much work to be done. When we have developers, and we have businesses looking at Merced to build, and we have more and more funding going into suppression and first-responding in our community. Yet, we still have youth that are being impacted, joblessness, homelessness, houslessness, and people that are struggling trying to stretch a food stamp, people that are just falling through the cracks. I just feel like it’s always gonna be undone until we can finally bring that awareness and bring folks together, have this accountability, and figure out where the money is going. Because some of these funds that they’re they’re getting, like the COVID-19 funding, and all the extra grants and stuff that they get for every arrest that they can deem a gang related arrest, or an incarceration they can deem gang related, they’re getting federal and state fund grants on top of that. So is that a reason? Merced is just always under construction.
TFSR: Kind of like a side note, I did Cop Watch when I was living in Sonoma County. This is like the mid 2000s, and we were seeing that the local Gang Task Force, which was made up to some degree, it did have California Highway Patrol participation, but also it’s mostly the county that was coordinating with local police departments. They would all kind of joined together under the auspices of gang issues, would set up checkpoints. They would also get Driving Under the Influence, like federal anti DUI funding, to set up checkpoints in immigrant neighborhoods where people maybe didn’t have the papers for the car that they were driving because they were sharing it among multiple families, or maybe they didn’t have a license because they weren’t legally allowed to because they were undocumented. Just getting the money to go and set up there under the auspices of gangs, or DUIs nowhere near a bar, and taking people’s vehicles who were absolutely being marginalized by capitalism and white supremacy, and selling those and funding their own department out of that. That sounds kind of like it’s par for the course for California’s policing systems.
VS: Yeah. There’s so many. There’s the minor decoy program grants that they get. There’s just so many little things and it’s all fruit of the poisonous tree, in my opinion. It doesn’t really impact anything like what you’re talking about, the DUIs, and the minor decoy. These little grants get a ton of money. but yet, in my community, violent crime is up, murder is up, rapes are up, child murder… We just had a little girl that was killed in our community, her body was found. Nine years old, Sophia Mason, a beautiful black child. These types of crimes are happening. But they’re putting money into checkpoints. They’re putting money into seeing if anybody’s gonna buy a minor alcohol or cigarettes. But we have some dark, unnecessary crime rising here. My mind is blown. Home invasions are up, it’s just crazy. We’re a very small community compared on the scale of the state of California, Merced County is tiny. We’re very small. So again, it just doesn’t make any sense to me at all whatsoever.
TFSR: Well, how can listeners find out more about the strike and support it from where they’re at? Maybe not locally? Or if or locally? If you have some suggestions?
VS: Oh, definitely awesome. So we will continue posting on the MIRA page, the Merced Inmate Rights Association page, and the Merced Under Construction Instagram and Facebook page. But like I said, we’re unofficial org, so we’re asking folks to support. Right now we have a link tree link up. If folks have it in their heart or their conscience to support us, we’ll be accepting donations through ‘buy me a coffee,’ through that outlet. But we’re putting funds together for detainees and inmates directly. So we want to be able to put, fund several people’s, at least a month commissary account, whether that’s $25, whether that’s $50, we want to be able to put money for them to use themselves, for the phone, for food, for personal care, etc. We’re also going to be having some letter writing days, where we’ll be sending them out handwritten letters, cards, and communication with folks that are inside of the facilities themselves. So we have a direct line. There’s a lot of people like I had said before, they don’t have anybody out on the outside, they don’t come from much. We want to be able to support them, and let them know that they are loved. That they’re cared about and that there are people out here that say that they matter.
A lot of other work we’re doing that we need support with, it’s police accountability part of our work. And man, sometimes we have bits of a drive, we have to drive got to take reports, do our own investigations. We also have to request records from whatever government agency that the officer involved works with. So we have to pay for flex or dash cam or other records. And again, we don’t want to be a part of the nonprofit industrial complex, so we’re trying to just keep it grassroots and just real people funding real work that’s really happening in Merced. We’ve never done this before. It’s only always been on our own time on our own dime. And now we’re like really needing assistance because it’s growing. So that’s basically it. Just check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and hopefully we can get our website up here in like the next month or so.
TFSR: Victoria, thank you so much for having this conversation for the work that you’re doing. Yeah, I guess keep in touch. And we’ll keep trying to cover this when we can.
VS: I appreciate you Bursts. Thank you so much.
[ Editors note: The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. ]
Transcription (Eric King Trial)
Josh: My name is Josh, I’m based out of Baltimore. And I do a lot of political prisoner support work and abolition work. I’m a member of the Certain Days Calendar Collective, and the children’s art project with political prisoner Oso Blanco. I’m currently also editing a book with Eric King, where we interview political prisoners about their lives inside. I work in communications with the Zinn education project. And I guess I first started writing Eric in 2017 or so and we’ve been corresponding ever since.
Mookie:My name is Mookie Moss, and my pronouns are he and him. I’ve been on the CLDC board of directors for gosh, maybe six or seven years, my day job has been a farmer for the last 25 or 26 years. But I’ve worked in and around a lot of radical organizations, both in the United States and in South America. A lot of the work that I’ve done has been around indigenous farmers down south, and anti-capitalist movements in South America, and here in the United States, environmental activist, that kind of stuff. So that’s who I am.
TFSR: So for listeners who don’t know, Eric, can you say some words about who he is and what he was convicted of?
Mookie: To be totally frank and honest, I have come to Eric Kings’ case pretty late in the game. But I did jump in with both feet based on this opportunity to work with the organization that I work with, which is the Civil Liberties Defense Center. My learning of Eric’s life and his story was kind of a crash course. But just based on my past experience being there for his trial, he came across to me as an incredibly emotionally sensitive guy, and also a really intelligent guy. He spoke really, really well. Obviously, because he’s a political prisoner, my view is that he really looks at his experience, both in jail and the world around him through a very, very strong political lens. So I would just add that.
TFSR: Oh, yeah. And with, with the usage of the term political prisoner in there, that says a lot, not only for what he was convicted for. Right? For that politically motivated property destruction, but also for the way that he’s conducted himself, and also how he’s been treated by administration’s since he’s been inside.
Can you all talk a bit about as sort of background for this case, what has Eric’s treatment been like in prison? How is he related to other prisoners as an antifascist, and as an anti-authoritarian, and also how the staff has related to him for these reasons?
Josh: Sure. So Eric, currently has been in solitary confinement for over 1,000 days, for over three years. He’s been in federal prisons all over the country, in private prisons as well. And he’s been brutalized and attacked wherever he’s been sent, either by guards or by Nazi-type prisoners. He’s defended himself every step of the way. He’s tried to help other prisoners, whenever he’s been given the chance, to to help voice their concerns.
I think it’s also important to point out that it’s not just Eric being targeted, that this happens to political prisoners and prisoners in general, throughout history. It’s currently happening not only with Eric King, but as you know with Sean Swain having his finger chopped recently by guards, there’s several indigenous prisoners being abused now, for the religious reasons, having their sweat lodge destroyed in a federal prison in California. I mean, it goes back all the way, the Attica brothers, Herman Bell being abused years ago before he got out. You know, it goes back throughout American history of guard abuse. It’s it’s pretty endless.
Mookie: I would also add, just to what Josh eloquently put, is that witnessing what Eric actually just went through as an extenuation of that type of torture, and bullshit, and experience that he has dealt with all along the way. Watching how the Bureau of Prisons handled him even just during this court case, where there was obviously a spotlight put upon him and put upon his conditions and experience was mind boggling to watch and to bear witness to. I have been interested in political prisoners and the struggle for a very, very long time. It’s not like I came into this with a blind eye like people are being treated well in prison, but the amount of punitive and destructive behavior from the Bureau of Prisons towards Eric, just during this case, there was something coming up. I can talk about that. Josh and I can talk about that. But it was just it was a microcosm of a much larger experience of let’s turn the screws against the people that are standing up for themselves and for their their belief system. It was really something else.
TFSR: He was speaking of “screws”, would y’all mind talking a little bit about what this trial was about? And what what sort of outcomes Eric was facing during it, and how long it’s lasted? Because it seems like it’s lasted a very long time to get to the phase of actually going before a judge and jury.
Mookie: Yeah, that’s right. So if I’m getting my dates right, the original incident which caused this recent trial, took place August 17, 2018. It was a situation where an assault had happened in the institution that Eric was spending time in and Eric wrote a[n] email to his wife to sort of blow off some steam and describe the situation that had happened in the institution he was spending time in. Basically, he said… I don’t have the email in front of me. So I’m not going to read it word for word, but basically, he was describing and feeling some excitement over the fact that a prisoner had struck a correctional officer. And beyond that, he went on to describe the feeling of wishing that he could be there to witness it, wishing he could have seen it, he said something along the lines of even watching it in virtual reality.
He was pulled out of his pulled out of his cell, because that email, obviously was read by the correctional authorities and the guards. So he got pulled out of his cell under the guise that they were going to do an investigation. He walked himself from his cell down to a place called the lieutenant’s office. And the lieutenant’s office, which really was a long hallway that had four rooms that came off of that hallway. A couple of them were lieutenants offices, one was a property room, I believe it was described as, and then the last room in that hallway was a broom closet. A broom closet full of mop buckets, rakes, tools, all these different things.
What happened next changes a lot depending on which correctional authority you heard the story from but Eric’s story never really changed a bit. What Eric’s story was as he was led into this broom closet. There were two correctional guards, two lieutenants, Lieutenant Wilcox and a Lieutenant Kammrad. Lieutenant Wilcox got in his face, Eric said, “I don’t want to fight.There’s two of you,” essentially, Wilcox kicked out his subordinate, Kammrad. Wilcox started a fight with Eric and he called him a ‘bitch’ he called him a ‘punk’ in this broom closet and he attacked Eric. Eric, decided that he didn’t think that being attacked a broom closet was going to be good for his life or good for his situation and so he fought back and he struck Lieutenant Wilcox in the face three times very in very quick succession. Lieutenant Wilcox was a really big guy, and Eric is not a big guy.
So it was pretty clear that Eric was more skilled in that expression, and he broke Wilcox’s nose. And after he broke Wilcox’s nose the other guards the other lieutenants ran in and you know, Eric had assumed a neutral position after he put wilt Wilcox down on the ground, and then from there, a whole series of things unfolded. Essentially the case was a “he said, he said” case, you know, where Wilcox said one thing and Eric said the truth. Fortunately for this court case, the guards that all had a story to share, the story was so convoluted and and frankly bullshit that that really came out in the trial.
So this turned out to be a self defense case. And it’s pretty remarkable, the legal team for the CLDC Lauren Regan, Sarah Alvarez, and Sandra Freeman, they did an incredible job of not only showing the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Bureau of Prisons story, but also did a really good job giving Eric an opportunity to speak his truth up on the stand. And we’re lucky enough to be in one of those very rare situations where justice prevailed.
TFSR: Okay, there’s a few things that are heard throughout the course of the last, I guess, three and a half years, including that Wilcox had said, “Oh, you’re in Antifa, huh?” Something about his daughter running into anti-fascists and having a problem with that. He just sort of threw out a bunch of weird, disconnected shit, it sounded like. But it seemed like it must have been some sort of prefigured situation for them to take him into a room that the only room that didn’t have any cameras, which was a bit suspect, and then afterwards to hold him down in restraint for a number of hours, like 14 hours or something like that. Can you talk a little bit about some of that?
Josh: Sure. Yeah. He was held in four point restraint for hours after the incident occurred, after he was beaten. Yeah, there’s parts of it on video. There’s parts of it that were missing on video. I think it’s also worth mentioning, I listen to the trial from afar, but at one point I think they tried to make the case that a black eye that Eric suffered, was actually his Antifa tattoo on his face, which is just another way of showing that it’s his politics that they’re attacking, which I think does go to show what you were saying that it’s intentional and it is planned out. Anything to add, Mookie?
Mookie: You know, Josh is correct. They did at one point try to pin that black eye on the fact that he had a tattoo there. At another point, they were sort of edging towards this reasoning and this was very skillfully shut down by Eric’s defense team, but potentially that Eric either got the black eye when he was brought down on his face by the rest of the guards who rushed into save their buddy Wilcox. It was sort of hinted at one time that maybe potentially he could have given himself that black eye, which is of course ridiculous. Because after this incident, there wasn’t a moment that Eric was off camera.
Luckily, there was a nurse at the facility that Eric was sent to after this attack took place. This was the only Bureau of Prisons nurse that actually checked Eric out in any sort of realistic way and made notes that he had showed up with a pretty significant shiner. If you look at the video of the medical assessment that they did after this whole incident took place. This should shock absolutely no one who has any sort of understanding about how the Bureau of Prisons works, but the nurse who did the initial medical assessment spent about three minutes. Eric complained of a high level of pain in this temple, he had pain in some other places, but really was like, “hey, yeah, I’m hurt, and I’m hurting right now.” And there was never a second look given to him.
It was really something else. She inquired about a potential new tattoo, which he was like, “No, this tattoos not new.” But you could tell that there was a very purposeful, obfuscation of the truth that started immediately following the incident, because my perception was, is that they knew that they were going to have a difficult storyline to defend. And so at every turn where modicum, a little chunk of truth could come out, instead of asking questions and risking documented truth on Eric’s behalf coming out, they just slid right past it.
So the medical assessment, even though Eric, the State, or the government in this case, showed a picture repeatedly of Eric immediately following the incident, but we’re talking minutes after the incident. They’re like, “look, he’s got no black eye. This isn’t true. This didn’t happen.” Because their whole case hinged on the fact that Wilcox never took a swing at Eric, never assaulted him. That Eric sucker punched Wilcox, which is just blatantly not true. But so yeah, so they showed this picture of Eric right after the incident. And he didn’t have a shiner, because as anybody knows, it takes a good chunk of time after you get hit the eyeball to to get a big black eye. So it was really, really, really something.
TFSR: Eric has had a history of negative interactions with authorities and with guards in the past. And if I recall, a lot of those instances were in relation to private communication with his partner, or poetry that he’s written, or drawings that he’s made, and them being eschewed as threats by administration. So for that he’s gotten time in solitary, he’s had his rights to mail taken away, he’s had his ability to receive books taken away, or magazines. Just sort of exacerbating, and just amplifying the academic isolation as well as personal isolation of prison that he’s had to go through over these years.
Usually, he would just face ,as most prisoners… This this kind of crap is not abnormal in the US Prison System, whether it be in a State system, in a county, where someone’s in jail, or in the BOP, retaliation for petty things by petty guards, and all being adjudicated before some sort of internal rules board or some sort of internal court. Luckily, Eric did not have to defend himself before a kangaroo court inside without press and without legal defense from other parties. How is it that this case, why is it that this case, that could have tacked another 20 years onto his sentence, why did this become a public case? And how did the CLDC get involved, as far as you all know?
Mookie: My understanding, Bursts, is this case was brought to Lauren Regan initially by Daniel McGowan. Correct?
Josh: Yeah, believe so.
Mookie: So Daniel, you know, has a long standing relationship with the CLDC, because they did defense for him back in the day when when he was going through his trial, that he had been in contact with Eric for some time and reached out to Lauren Regan, who’s Eric’s lead defense attorney, and was the founder of the CDC, and said, “Hey, there’s this guy who’s serving time, he’s got a really compelling story. He was assaulted. He’s a really good guy and I really believe in him and believe in trying to seek some sort of justice in this case.” Lauren has a very close friendship with Daniel, and they’ve got really good history together.
So I think that really, Bursts, the reason why this happened is because there was a lot of trust. There’s a lot of historic trusts. And I think that’s a really important piece of this case is that. Lauren, and I were talking about this after the trial wrapped up just that. It’s really incredible when you see real true solidarity pay dividends like it does. Daniel felt solidarity with Eric, and because he had solidarity with Lauren, they came together and Lauren was like, “Daniel, if you believe in this person, I believe in you so much that, let’s go.” And that’s how it went forward. The CLDC, this is one of the things that they specialize in is shining lights in the dark corners of the key parts of our judicial system. So, I think that that’s that’s originally how Lauren got the case.
TFSR: What are the next steps in legal process for Eric? Is the outcome of the not guilty finding by that jury, does that does that mean he’s going to get any sort of reduction in his sentence? Or are there grounds for, because they were able to prove in a public court that the claims from the administration were false and that he had been subjected to harm, are there grounds for other lawsuits to sort of go back and point to the other portions of time when he’s been stuck in solitary? Been put in courtyards with giant Nazis? Gotten diesel therapy? Not had the ability anymore to get visits from his spouse in his family, is there anything brewing in terms of that? Or is he just scheduled for release in December 2023 and we’re just hoping to get him out.
Josh: Yeah, I think a lot of that is still to be determined. Like you said, he’s scheduled to be released in a year and a half, in December 2023. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that he’s still locked up in there. As of right now, the end of March, he’s still on a mail ban, he can still only receive mail from his family. Last I heard he’s still in solitary confinement, even though he won the case. I think that there’s a likelihood that he’ll probably be transferred, who knows where that might be. Probably a lot of diesel therapy, a lot more diesel therapy.
But I think it’s also again, important to keep in mind that in the face of all this violence, in the face of all this state repression that he’s met it face on with a sense of humor, and he’s been able to build strong relationships, not only with people, those of us on the outside, but with those imprisoned right alongside of him, even when he’s in the worst possible conditions. He’s organizing them. He’s educating and is sharing as much as he can with those around him.
Mookie: I would also just add, Bursts, to echo what Josh said. I mean, Josh is right on there. And also I do know that the CLDC has a civil case filed on Eric’s behalf. I think that ideally, when somebody is wronged to such a grievous level, as Eric was wronged in prison, that there would be some sort of… I don’t even know if I should say like financial or time served retribution, but my understanding is that based on the law, it would be almost impossible for Eric to benefit in any monetary way from this civil case. I believe that there’s a Prison Act that says that you can’t benefit, even if you’re wronged from something that occurs if you [are in] prison if you’re there. I wish I knew and could speak a little bit more articulately.
But I think what’s really important about this, the civil case is that what I really think that the CLDC, and what Eric’s defense team, and what I would imagine Eric is hoping for is that by bringing the civil case, it’s going to effectively shine a spotlight on his treatment and will be a cautionary tale to any of the psychopaths in the bureau of prisons that decide to make his remaining time the hardest time in the world. That’s not to say that it’s not going to happen. I am just always shocked at the level of depravity that the Bureau of Prisons will go to make people are uncomfortable on the inside.
But having said that, every single night of this case, as it went on through the week, Eric was subjected to some new bizarre turn by the Bureau of Prisons, whether all of a sudden he was getting yanked out of his the cell that he’d been in and got transferred to a whole new facility next door. That happened one night. Another day, his cell flooded and coffee was spilled on his documents, another day, his documents and all of his personal property were removed. That made it almost impossible for him to prep for trial. I mean, it was so bizarre that that even the Bureau of Prisons… I’m sorry, there is nothing funny about this. It’s just unreal.
The Bureau of Prisons story when a cup of coffee was spilled on his documents and made them impossible to read, the BOP story was that a bird flew into his cell and knocked this cup of coffee over on his documents. The courtroom, when this was said, was just like… jaws dropped. And the judge who presided over this case, Judge Martinez, he even at that point leaned back in his chair and shook his head and said, I’m not going to be able to quote him verbatim, but basically the gist of what he said was, “I cannot believe that what’s happening to Mr. King is happening to Mr. King and the Bureau of Prisons better watch itself, because they’re setting themselves up for a civil suit.” I don’t know if he knew that was already in action, but all of those actions are going to be added to the suit. So hopefully, that gives them just the tiniest bit of cover from more torture and abuse. But it’s hard to say.
TFSR: Yeah, I remember seeing tweets about the stupidity of that moment. Unicorn Riot had a nice image for their posting of their coverage.
Were there any other highlights that stood out from the case? Either testimony from Eric or… because he was actually able to speak on his own behalf and had to answer like cross examination, I would imagine, but can you talk about any other elements of how the the case itself went?
Mookie: Sure. Let’s see highlights or lowlights. I guess in a case like this, they are kind of one and the same. It was very interesting to see Lieutenant Wilcox walk into the courtroom for his testimony. I think that was on day one. You know, all the photographs that I’d seen of Lieutenant Wilcox. He’s a fairly large, imposing, hulking figure and that was not the guy who walked into the courtroom. The guy who walked into the courtroom had a cane was bent over. Evidently in his off time, he has now since retired from the Bureau of Prisons, probably related to this incident… But he’s got a ranch and I’m not sure exactly if he was supposedly or actually injured on his ranch. I’m really not sure. But he walked into the courtroom and sort of shuffled down the center like an old man. I was like, “wow, the theatrics just don’t stop” and I’m not I’m not saying that he wasn’t actually injured, but whatever was happening, they did their very best to make sure that he didn’t come in as an imposing hulking prison guard type.
He got up on the stand and I would say what was most interesting to me, and I guess this was written and you could have seen it coming from a mile away, but the government’s case was so incredibly weak that anytime he was asked a question by the CLDC, or by Eric’s defense team, in any way that could impeach a previous story, or a previous statement he had made, it was just one, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I can’t remember” after another. Then when the government would come and ask him a similar questions, it was remarkable how quickly his memory sharpened up. So that was really, really interesting.
The other Lieutenant that that got on the stand, Lieutenant Kammrad, his his testimony was really weak. And I think the take home, the important take home of that piece was that the government was really trying to flip it 180 degrees, they are trying to say, “Look how authentic our guys are. It’s been three years since this incident and you can tell that our guys are telling the truth, because there’s variation in the story.” Well, the fact of the matter is, is that the variation of the story was was wildly varied. And it was backed up with video evidence that the defense team had brought that just punched so many different holes in the way that this moment in the broom closet unfolded that it just was absolutely unbelievable. Then the inverse of that is when Eric went up on the stand, he told such an incredibly lucid and cohesive story that matched up to every single one of his previous statements. So that was, I thought that was pretty interesting. How about you, Josh, what am I forgetting? Give me a second to think about those highlights.
Josh: No, no, I think you captured them all. My partner and I were kind of glued to the phone all week, working and listening to this in the background. I think you’ve captured all the major highlights. Eric did a great job while he was on the stand, of course.
Mookie: Yeah. Eric did a great job. I guess I would also just say, Bursts, that I had heard lots of things about Judge Martinez going into this case and I definitely had some concern. I’ve got concern anytime in the same realm as a federal judge, of course, but I have to say that… And of course, my experience as somebody in the gallery watching or Josh’s experience listening and I know a lot of people have listened, we don’t have the same experience that the attorneys do, because we’re not privy to all the sidebars. And I will say that there were more sidebars in this case than I’ve definitely ever heard of. I think even judge Martinez said, “there are more sidebars and objections in this case than he’s ever seen in his career.”
So, it was very clear to everybody in the courtroom that this was not only a very contentious case, like any political case can be, but it was really important to find a passage through this story in a way that didn’t bias the jury either way, and because this case was political in nature, and because Eric chose to do a politically motivated act of property destruction, it was very tenuous in in how they would go after Eric. You could tell that the government, the US Attorney’s, were doing everything that they could open up lines of questioning that we’re going to shock and dismay jurors who might not have the same or even a political analysis as Eric’s. I think that Eric’s defense team did a really skillful job guiding the jury through the story in a way where it didn’t open those doors necessarily.
There’s just lots of different feelings on what the term “violence” means and whether a politically motivated act of property destruction is violent. I have very strong feelings that it’s not, but I think that there was some concern that the jury could grab on to certain terminology that would then bias them and they would lose their ability to see this case for what it really was: One side is speaking the truth and one side is making up stories as they go along.
So I have to say that not having access to what has happened in those sidebars, I feel like there was 100 sidebars, I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but there was so many that I felt like judge Martinez did a pretty darn good job running a clean courtroom. I didn’t see bias in him, what I saw was a judge that actually just really wanted to follow the letter of the law. Luckily, you know, in this case, the letter of the law is on Eric side, he was defending himself and that’s a right that every single person has to do in this country, even if you’re locked up. So I thought the judge did a pretty good job walking that middle path. I have to say that I think that he was impressed with Eric’s defense team. I think that because of the nature of this trial would have been very possible to have lawyers that weren’t necessarily prepared to handle something at this high level. I think they hit it out of the park.
TFSR: I can see how like bringing up the fact that there are political views that are held by Eric, and the nature of his conviction, and pointing to that as being potentially counter to the political views of the guards, and thus, motivating them to act in juvenile and petty manners… Differentiating that from like, “he burned down a politician’s office, and someone could have been hurt!” That seems like a very thin line to walk and it sounds like folks did that very, very well. Do you all have any updates on how Eric’s health is these days? And how are his spirits?
Josh: Due to the mail ban, not many people have heard from him. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is extremely happy about the outcome of the trial, happy to be getting the few visits that he does, that he is able to get. He’s looking forward to getting everyone’s letters and everyone’s love. Everyone keeps sending solidarity from around the world. He’s looking forward to reading everyone’s letters, responding to everyone’s letters. You can follow him on social media. His support site is SupportEricKing.org. You can send a books now, which is great. If you follow him on social media, or check out his website, you’ll find out when the mail ban is lifted, and you can write to him. But in the meantime, just know that he does appreciate all the support. I think he’s vocalized that as much as possible to those he has been able to speak to.
TFSR: So it’s been mentioned that Eric’s a pretty prolific poet, you can find a bunch of his poems up on his support website. I don’t know if y’all want to share any poetry by Eric that you feel especially moved by? If not, that’s totally okay. But I just wanted to put that out there.
Josh: Well, yeah, I’ll share one, actually, if you haven’t picked up the 2022 Certain Days Calendar, Eric wrote a poem for the month of May. So you’re still in time to get one you can go to BurningBooks.com. They are only five bucks at this point and all the proceeds benefit political prisoners. But in May, Eric wrote a poem, he actually wrote it to me one time before this calendar came out when we were just thinking of the theme. It’s called “Mutual Aid is Friendship.” Yeah, it’s a great piece. It’s very short. And it’s one of the last ones he was able to send out before one of the many mail bans he’s faced.
TFSR: Well, that’s about it for the questions that I had. Are there any other topics that you want to talk about? Otherwise if you could remind folks about how they can support the CLDC, the defense work that they do, and the research and we’ve had guests from CLDC on the show a few times to talk about digital security. We’ve had Lauren Reagan on before to talk about political repression more generally. I’d love to hear more about where to find more about that. Also, Josh has prior been on the show to talk about Certain Days, it’d be good to hear about that, too. But were there any other topics other than shouting out projects that I didn’t ask about that y’all want to touch on?
Mookie: I guess I would just like to throw this in the ring a little bit that I know that supporting political prisoners in this country and around the world is something that I think a very narrow band of people who are politically active do. I just would like to say publicly to anybody who’s listening to this podcast, that it’s very easy to find resources to support political prisoners in this country. You can go online and literally Google that. There’s going to be a ton of different places that sends you to, and I just want to encourage people to take 15 or 20 minutes out of their week and find a different prisoner to write to. I think it can’t be overstated how potent this act is. Not only does it have the potential to change somebody’s time on the inside, but I also think that it creates bonds that can last a lifetime, but it’s also an incredible way to build our movement. So I just want to give a “Rah! Rah!” for that. I think that’s something that’s really worth people’s time.
And just since I have the I have the air right now, if people are interested in supporting the CLDC, which I think is a really great to do. The CLDC, one of the things that I love about working with this organization is the breadth of their work in movement building, and resistance, and support for activists. It’s staggering, really the CLDC goes to where the work is, whether it be in pipeline work, or prisoner support, or environmental, or animal rights work. It’s just a really remarkable organization and anybody can find how to support that at CLDC.org.
Josh: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll just mirror pretty much everything Mookie said. CLDC is great. Actually, in two days now I guess it’ll be in the past when people are listening to this, but the CLDC is hosting a political prisoner talk with Daniel McGowan, with Linda Evans, Ray Luc Levasseur, Rattler, a few other people. I’m sure it’ll be amazing like most of the other projects are. But also yes, just write political prisoners every chance you get. Just try to learn about them. Eric has really been amazing with that. Every time he’s sent to a new prison, he finds friends that he advocates other people writing to and building relationships. I think it really can be life changing not only for those inside, but for those of us on the outside, too.
I guess besides getting a Certain Days Calendar if you can, we’re coming up with a theme now for 2023. But if you’re heading over to burning books to get a calendar, you could get some Oso Blanco greeting cards. It’s a project called ‘Children’s Art Project’ that he and I and a few other people helped start where greeting cards are made with artwork from indigenous political prisoners and the funds benefit the Zapatistas in Chiapas. It’s a really cool project. Oso Blanco is a fascinating person to get to know. And a shout out to Sean Swain. I hope he’s doing all right, even though he’s one digit down.
TFSR: One digit down, but he’s still two fists in the air.
TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. We didn’t end up interviewing folks about Certain Days this year, but there was one that some of y’all participated in on, “Millennials are Killing Capitalism,” I saw.
Josh: Yeah, yeah. That was Daniel and I a few weeks ago. That was a good one.
TFSR: That’s awesome. I’ll link that in the show notes, too. Mookie and Josh, thank you so much for being a part of this conversation and for the work that you do. I really appreciate it
Josh: Thank you Bursts, it was a pleasure.
Mookie: Hey, Bursts, yeah, it was. Thank you so much. And, Josh, thank you so much for your support for me in this case, you were really instrumental in bringing me along and I’m so grateful for the whole team that came to came together to stand with Eric. It was really a group of outstanding people and thanks again Bursts.
Josh: Yes, thank you.
Transcription (Eric King Transfer)
TFSR: Eric, where are you at right now?
Eric King: Right now I’m at a federal transfer facility called Grady County. It’s one of the marshal’s contracts out in Oklahoma City.
TFSR: It seems like a pretty frequently used facility. This is the one that I talked to Jeremy Hammond at a couple of years ago in 2020. What’s the facility like?
EK: It’s usually fucking sweet but right now we’re having a goddamn Ad-Seg thing where we only get out one-two hours a day tops. It went from being super sweet where you get commissary and video visits to goddamn annoying.
TFSR: Did they give you some reason as to why directly after the trial where BOP was found to have abused you that they transferred you across the country from Colorado.
EK: This makes me sick, for real, because everyone at Inglewood [Prison] during the pre-trial shit was telling me, “If you get found innocent, you’re good, you’re gonna go to a medium or the communication unit, things are gonna be better for you. You could just feel the venom in their kindness. So they’re telling me all these lies, and then I go to pack up for transfer and they are “Oh, we’re sending you back to this miserable, horrible dup of a penitentiary out in Virginia.” “Well, that’s not what you motherfuckers just told me.” “Well, it is what it is.” There’s no way for this not to be retaliation, I’m the one that has low security points. I should be coasting with my feet up wearing shower shoes all day, not having to work, wearing boots for the shower.
TFSR: You’re going to USP Lee, as far as I was aware. Is that a max facility? Or what level is that? Have you been there before?
EK: It’s a penitentiary, so it holds high-security people, max-security people. There are big gang leaders there, but then there are also just violent assholes that can’t function in lower securities. Then there’s me and one of the World Trade Center bombers.
TFSR: What are you thinking in terms of what recourse you and your support folks have right now? I know that getting your voice out right now is an important part of it, that people know what’s going on.
EK: The issue is that most likely, they’re going to dump me in the SHU. In the SHU, you have no radio, books, magazines, newspapers, no pictures, no commissary, no food, you don’t even have pens and pencils, they give you rubber pencils. I’m going to be isolated, I’m going to be cut off. People need to know: get a hold of these Virginia centers, get a hold of the Northeastern Atlantic region. I want people contacting those in charge to get a hold of the designation center in Grand Prairie, Texas, the SEC. Call these people, do mass calling. Call 1,000 times and ask them why is a medium or low-security guy being held at this prison again? Why is he back here? Why are you going to take someone’s mail, take someone’s phone calls, say all this communication shit about them, and then put them somewhere where you can’t be in touch with his family and his life in danger. Now, I can’t let anyone know something’s happening to me. We got to have a spotlight on this. We got this big-ass trial victory, people are watching, people are happy. This is the next stage in that fight. I still need support. I still need people. The trial didn’t end the problems. It ended with one big problem. But now we have this other big problem. I still need people to fight for me and let them know that we’re keeping EK safe.
TFSR: This trial ending is pretty enormous. But you do have a year and just under nine months left inside, and since your whole time inside has been a history of provocations, harassment, diesel therapy, violence by the administration…
EK: I said this to my wife. “Not every win is a win.” If we had two months last maybe, but 19 months is more than enough time to get somebody really fucked up. I don’t want any more goddamn problems in the in here. It’s been such a long arduous hassle with these people.
TFSR: You’ve been two years without mail, with mail bans and books bans and stuff like that, right? You just started getting books recently.
EK: Yeah, and they gave me another mail ban. They just put another one on in February. I’m going to land in this new play. I am just getting things back again for one month in January. Then they immediately say “well, we’re taking it again, because you’re circumventing the mail ban.” So I’m going to land at [USP] Lee with five months left on this new mail ban. God damn it.
TFSR: All the way across the country from your family as you said.
EK: Yeah, they took away my phone. I don’t get any phone calls ever. Because of this phoney-public-safety-factor bullshit they made up. I’m just stuck.
TFSR: What do you want to talk about, we have eight more minutes or something. You got to the point already of how fucked up it is and where you’re heading.
EK: Yeah, things aren’t going to be good. That’s really where my mind is, I want people to know my family needs support too. Send them kindness, be kind to my family, my wife is the one that I give all my information to. If I’m scared, if I’m sad, if I’m depressed, I ask her, “Let people know this.” People hear that shit from her. Please, take it seriously. She’s often literally the only one talking to me. Because if I can pay some dude to use his phone, that’s who I’m going to call. If she puts out the word that I’m in trouble, or I’m sad, or I need something, please show me love and listen to that. We did really well at the trial. It wasn’t a flawless victory, we butted heads and there were things I wasn’t happy about, things that they weren’t happy about. But my legal team did fight for me tough. They spent a lot of money and time and they showed up and had me prepared. But it’s not over. I want them to be able to celebrate because they spent a lot of resources to get this win. It is a win, but for me,…
TFSR: …it’s not a win till you’re out. Right?
EK: Right. I don’t get to celebrate yet because they can still put me in there with someone who is getting drugs from SIS to stab me or some shit like that. That stuff is still in the back of my mind because it’s happened so many times that it doesn’t feel– I can’t celebrate, I got to celebrate for a few days after it happened. But right now it’s back to “Alright, we need to focus on the Bureau and focus on keeping me safe.” It’s just such a horrible way to exist. You can’t be super happy and celebrate with your family because you don’t know what the Bureau’s up to.
TFSR: Yeah, that’s real.
EK: It’s on my mouth on this fucking this $8 coffee that we have here. They sell this little bullshit bag. It’s called Maxima. It’s got maybe 20 scoops in it and it is $8.44. That’s other shit my wife’s having to deal with. God!
TFSR: Spaces like Grady really rely on people being in a panic mode and putting too much money in the commissary and too much money on phones, if people have money available because they don’t know how long they’re going to be there. Do you have any sense of how long you’ll be at this middle facility? Or could it just be they’ll swape you out today?
EK: It’s important to acknowledge that this place is a hella exploitative. They know we’re all panicking, all trying to talk to our family as much as we can. The best way to tell this is these phone calls are expensive. That computer that we use over there is expensive as shit. Commissary, I just told you $8 for a bag of coffee and all of us are having coffee withdrawals, needing some coffee. They’re vicious. I have no idea how long I’ll be here. In my mind, I’ll probably leave on Friday, on Friday morning, they’ll probably come and grab us. But if we make it to the weekend, that’s just two more days of spending shit-tons of money. They give you the lowest quality stuff, just bad.
TFSR: Two fewer days of being at Lee at least…
EK: My dream is that enough people contact them for the right, let’s just get this fucking dope bag out of here. Get him moving. That’s what I’m hoping, that they do it in a way that was different than at McCreary. Let’s get this fucking dirtbag out of here. The way to do it is we’re going to set them up to get jumped. Hopefully, at least they do it a different way. They’re just like, “He’s a problem, let’s move him.”
They don’t have goddamn toilet paper, the toilet paper rolls. They don’t give you those, they give you a little folded bundle, and it’s eight squares in a bundle. You get two bundles a week. Think about that. Think about what that means. You learn to make do your 16 squares a week.
TFSR: That’s so fucking cruel and inhumane. Well, if you did have like 20 sheets, maybe you could make a weapon out of it somehow, an explosive or-
EK: [laughs] Those extra sheets could come in handy for violence, for sure. I don’t know if people understand how horrible the SHU’s get. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have pens or pencils there. They give you a rubber pencil. You have to sharpen it by scraping it on the concrete. Then you can’t file grievances with that. You can’t write legal mail with that. When I try to write to one person I can write, my wife or my cousin Deb, who was at trial, God bless her. They can’t read what I’m writing. It’s just a complete way to cut you off from the– They can do whatever they want. No visibility has no accountability or whatever. That’s what they do. They bury motherfuckers there and once you leave, you can cry about it, but you’re going to say nothing while you’re there. They might take away your 16 sheets.
Automated voice: This call will be terminated in two minutes.
EK: Do they have to word it that way?
TFSR: Terminated. “I’m the Terminator, enjoy this call.”
EK: Please, stress my gratitude, but also my urgency. This isn’t a sit like, “Let’s plan, and let’s see what feels best.” This is I need action. If we make a mistake, we make a mistake. I need people mobilized quickly. I’m okay with a mistake. I need them to know the eyes are on me.
TFSR: Yeah, for real. How is it you said that you haven’t shared space with other people in years and you just got moved to an open dorm, general population? Could you describe how that feels?
EK: I’ve been in it, literally a 6×8 box for two and a half years, and before that different SHUs for another year. Going from such a confined space by myself and now I am literally surrounded by people. It feels like a fucking wave of people. There’s also a microwave next to me. When’s the last time I use a microwave? There’s a TV above me. I haven’t seen anything from the Ukraine-Russia war. I just now saw the Will Smith hitting Chris Rock thing. It’s super, super positive. But also, the SHU really damages you. I didn’t realize it until I got out, like right now for this brief period. It feels like someone’s stepping on my chest this entire time. It’s exhausting.
TFSR: Are you able to like find the corner and breathe by yourself? You don’t have to say anything about this. But you know someone who’s in there, right?
EK: I got a bro in here. There are a few other people from the system that we know the same people. Because it’s a small-ass system. There are people here that have been in the same prisons I have, or we know the same people. It’s all respect, there’s no conflict or tension or anything. It’s all just internal.
TFSR: You’ve been someone who’s done a lot of practice and meditation and yoga and instructed other people on these practices. Are you finding that those are helping you right now? Or are you just having to move through it?
EK: Not right now. The meditation, yes, because I can just focus on breathing and focus on my being. There’s obviously no room to sit in the middle of this goddamn open dorm and start doing yoga. I would look like a complete jackass. Justifiably so. But just being in my own space, being centered definitely helps because in the past, when I did long SHU days– Because I always do these goddamn long SHU bids, I don’t know what’s the deal it, it is just a vindication on resistance, I guess. But in the past, when I got the SHU, it would be so suffocating that I thought I could die. Things have improved drastically.
TFSR: Do you have any more updates, any news about when you think you’re getting transferred out? Have you been able to hear from any lawyers or anything like that while you’re at Grady?
EK: I had my legal call, Lauren did get ahold of me. I told her what I needed. She asked, and I told her, and so I trust that it will help. I’ve heard that they are organizing the calling campaign and doing that which I asked for and have been desperate for. I hope people stick with that and continue to put pressure because these people aren’t going to tell me anything. The people at Grady County are not going to tell me shit because they don’t know anything, they are just the county workers. It is just what I’m hoping on and I’ve read some things and heard some things from different comrades. Everything seems like it’s going in the direction that I need. So often we will need something and maybe the people don’t understand how serious it is, or some people don’t. You just need a few to listen to you and believe you and hear you and they can get this ball rolling. It feels like that’s what’s happening right now. I’m really grateful, that makes me feel safe and seen. What this whole thing is about is just making sure that the Bureau knows that people are watching. They’re not going to get away with any sly shit. People are watching, senators will be checking in or whatever we’re able to do with a little bit of pressure. That makes me feel good. Really good.
TFSR: This is a little bit off-topic. But when Josh was on the show the other day, Josh from Certain Days. He was talking about the book that you all are working on. Can you say a few words about that if it’s interesting?
EK: Josh is the perfect person to talk to, he is just such a clever, beautiful person. I started having this idea after reading some IRA books that talked about not just the bombing and killing, but the trauma of suffering and doing suffering to others and what’s left afterwards? What’s left when the ashes and the smoke clears? It’s not glory. It’s internal. Then I had that time with Jaan in his cell and just hearing him talk, and all these stories that I knew, these aren’t documented, no one will ever hear these stories. These stories could change someone’s life, they changed my life. I, Josh, and all of us really honor our mothers and fathers that were in this struggle before us. What they’ve gone through in prison shouldn’t be negated down to a couple of typed-up quotes for some magazine, or their ideas on the struggle. Their lives inside are equally as valuable in the mundane as they are in the extreme. So I didn’t want just to have their stories about how bad they suffered, I wouldn’t want my story to just be about all the SHU time I did. I’d wanted it to be about my life because I still exist. I want that for those that have been through this.
I had that idea and brought it up to Josh, and Josh is just an astoundingly productive person who just wants to help and work, brought it to life. We typed up a questionnaire and he just got to work. I think he’s interviewed some 7000 people so far. It’s actually just 30 or 40 , but it is still a lot. That’s a lot of work. You got a full-time job. This is just comrade work, which – I don’t want to disrespect movement, but I don’t see that all the time. I haven’t seen that in my entire life. I see it a lot, you do it, a few other people do it, but it’s not the most common thing. No questions asked no, “oh, I don’t know, this might be a bad idea.” It was “Let’s bring this shit to life.” And we have, and some of the things I’ve read have been so touching. Something I didn’t know about people. I didn’t know what Kojo [Bomani Sababu] had been through. I didn’t know that Oso [Blanco] was so aggressive. I didn’t know so much about Ray [Luc Levasseur]. So, to me, it’s a project of honoring our existences, not just our suffering, if that makes sense.
TFSR: Absolutely. Recognizing that people aren’t just these two-dimensional struggle machines that are there for putting on a flyer or sticker whatever. That could be a band name.
EK: Yes. It could be title the cover of the book.
TFSR: We have a minute and a half left, these are 15-minute calls. Is that right?
EK: They’ll tell us the two-minute mark.
TFSR: Are there any other things that are coming to mind right now that you want to express?
Automated voice: The call will be terminated in two minutes.
EK: For me, the most important thing is just asking people to please be there for my family. Mutual aid and community support, she is in prison too. I got two little girls, they’re in prison too. Lend us your voices, keep these eyes on me. I’m not trying to be an attention grabber here, like I’m Mr. Big Deal. But this can get very serious very quickly, it could get very dark. That’s all I can think about right now. Help me fight, help me keep an eye on these people so they can’t bury one of us. Don’t let them put the dirt over me right now after we just got this big-ass plan. Don’t let this win turn into a loss. That’s where my heart and that’s where my head’s at right now. And be nice to my wife.
TFSR: For sure. That’s true.
Automated voice: The call will be terminated in one minute.
EK: Bursts, thank you so much. Please give my regards to both Swains, to Lauren and Sean.
TFSR: I will.
EK: Please give yourself a big hug for me.
TFSR: Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it. Take care of yourself, okay? Make some friends.
EK: How are you doing? It’s been a very selfish call. We only got 20 seconds.
TFSR: I’m good. Just got off of work, and got some pizza and a beer waiting for me. Some local IPAs Chicago area.
EK: Oh, IPA is gross.
TFSR: Right. I’m from the West Coast. It’s what I do.
This week, we’re joined again by Aryanum, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era (ASRAnarshism.Com), mostly made up of anarchists from Iran and Afghanistan. We mostly get updates about the situation of anarchists, atheists and feminists in Afghanistan under the Taliban or in an effort to escape as refugees, but we also get a few updates from Iran as well, including the regime’s founding of a national anarchist group called Iranarshism. At the time of this release, we’ve already got the transcript and a zine available for download, translation, reading and sharing.
Baktash Abtin, poet dissident died of covid in prison which is causing political prisoner hunger strikes in Iran
Ervin prison is where many political prisoners were on hunger strike
Sohiel Arabi is an anarchist political prisoner in Iran who Aryanum describes as an FAE correspondent inside the prisons
BAD News #54
The March 2022 episode of the A-Radio Network‘s monthly, English-language podcast. This month with additions from: 1431 Social Radio in Thessaloniki, Greece; A-Radio Berlin on workers from Gorilla gig delivery app service; A-Radio Vienna with experiences from a queer anarchist in Kyiv right after the invasion by Russia; Crna Luknja from Ljubljana, Slovenia with a Serbian anarcho-syndicalist organizer on the part in the war in Ukraine played by NATO and resisting from within that framework. Check it out!
Eric King Trial
In a surpisingly good piece of news, a jury recently found anarchist and antifascist political prisoner in the good ole USA, Eric King, not guilty of assaulting an officer, a charge which would have given a 20 year hit to Eric who has been slated for release from Federal prison in July of 2023. You can find updates at SupportEricKing.Org as well as ABCF.Net. You’ll hopefully here more about this in an upcoming interview with members of his support crew and you can direct thanks to the amazing folks at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, or CLDC, for lawyering for him.
Rope (طناب) by Toomaj (توماج ) & Biqlb (بیلقب). Tamooj is an Iranian protest hip hop artist released on March 17th 2022. Toomaj Salehi was detained by Iranian officials for propaganda because of his anti-corruption, anti-regime music and Amnesty International had to step in on his behalf, which in addition to popular pressure secured his release from Dastgerd Prison. Tamooj just released a new video on March 17th, 2022: Blind Spot ( نقطه کور) . You can hear more at his soundcloud or watch more videos on youtube.
Year of Famine (Sale Ghahti, سال قحطی) by Fereydoon Forooghi (فریدون فروغی), recorded in 1974 and leading to Fereydoon’s ban from acting for it’s public performance by the Shah’s regime. He released an album by this name in 1977.
. … . ..
TFSR: So we’re joined again by a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era. Aryanum, who we have spoken to before, will be sharing some responses to some questions that we had from other members of the FAE. Thank you so much for having the time and putting together the energy to have this chat. Would you introduce yourself further for the audience? Do you have preferred pronouns or any sort of other info?
Aryanum: Yes. Hi, this Aryanum, my pronouns are he/him, and I’m a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era. Thanks for having me here again.
TFSR: Of course.
So the last time that we spoke to y’all, to members of FAE, and to you in particular, it was July of 2021, during the expansion of Taliban forces across Afghanistan, as the US military ran for the exit. Simultaneously, the US and other Western governments froze assets in an attempt to stop the Taliban from stepping into full power, which also threw the population into famine.
Can you speak about what you’re aware of that experience and how FAE affiliates in Afghanistan and their communities are doing these days?
Aryanum: Yes, first I think there is a misunderstanding. I don’t think the Western governments have frozen the assets to stop the Taliban because of their actions afterwards: flying the Taliban members to Oslo even though it’s on their a list a terrorist organizations, sending money for pay directly to Taliban. From what Biden did… these action shows that they were not about stopping the Taliban. They just didn’t want to pay any more money. The previous government in Afghanistan was propped up by the US Embassy and government. They were only surviving through the financial aid that they were receiving from these governments. The change of hands, the change of power, that arguably was helped by the Western governments they stopped providing those funds. They just stopped it.
Regarding how comrades are doing… the majority of them are right now, except one of them, could no longer work because of the current regime. Because some of them were journalists that the Taliban has targeted viciously. Their pictures are going around, there are reports of them going around to be tortured severely and being executed and being killed. Either assassinated mysteriously, which all goes back to Taliban, or being tortured and imprisoned. So they could no longer work. A majority of them evacuated from Afghanistan. They no longer are in Afghanistan. Some of their family members wanted to evacuate as well. But the Iranian Government is making it really hard. Even returning some of the refugees back to Afghanistan, extraditing some of the refugees. For Pakistan, even though Pakistan has opened this consulate. It is in so much demand, that right now a visa to Pakistan is $500. With all of the famine happening, people are selling their children to survive, to child marriages. It is a crisis. A complete crisis.
The Taliban government is not even a government. They don’t know what they are doing. They have no experience. They don’t have any staff to even organize and deal with the issues like governing their country. So recently they declared that the labor that people do, for the work they do, they don’t get money. The Taliban government wants to instead give them wheat, just grains, which doesn’t work in the urban environment. There is no way to sustain on just grains. And that’s the thing that the Taliban is doing at the moment including all the suppression execution, assassinations they are doing.
TFSR: Yeah, there was this this massive displacement internal and external to Afghanistan that resulted from the fighting and fear of the Taliban reprisals and from economic destabilization. When we chatted a little less than a year ago, you all were attempting to fund for resistance to the Taliban, as well as to help get anarchists out of the country, since they’re enemies of the state. And it’s very dangerous to to be any sort of like dissident even in areas that were controlled, ostensibly by the Afghan government. But is the resistance still a thing that you need? Or for getting folks out? Is that still something that you’re fundraising for or that you’re trying to aid in some way? Or is that kind of on pause?
Aryanum: When we the last talked, yes we were trying to gather from comrades, because they were requesting, they were thinking of resisting as much as they can. But after a little evaluation on their part, they realized the neighbors and the people around them are not gonna join up. Some of them are part of the previous Mujahideen and they even though they are armed up, that is no way to cooperate. Since we are so few, unfortunately, you do not have the number of anarchists like in Ukraine to have a detachment of your own. So that plan changed into leaving the country. They’re trying to utilize the money that we gathered up til then, which was around $2,000. They plan to take refuge to Iran. But the day that they were planning to leave to head to toward Iran… Nimruz, a province bordering Iran and Afghanistan, that a majority of refugees were using as a crossing between Iran and Afghanistan. That province was taken the same day that they planned. So that plan had to stop.
We were still gathering more money, but it was kind of slow until Kabul fell. When Kabul fell, since we were basically one of the first people raising funds and basically the only anarchist one in this regard, a lot of comrades started helping out then, we managed to raise about $45,000. We were using PayPal. So PayPal took basically $15,000. So we were only left like around $30,000. But we decided that would be enough money for our comrades to leave the country. We managed to get some of our comrades through Pakistan and they were trying to process the asylum status to leave Pakistan. Firstly, it is not easy from Pakistan, you cannot go to India because the dispute between Pakistan and India. Going from Pakistan to Iran, the border crossing, just to travel there is really, really dangerous. Iran has other issues. So if you’re saying Iran, illegally, basically you’re in danger of being extradited back to Afghanistan. So we managed to get some of our comrades in Pakistan. Some are in Iran waiting to process their information. One comrade is in Afghanistan still, but we managed to get most of them out. We are kind of running out of funds because keeping them in Pakistan and trying to get the application process. Just for the visa for one of our comrades to travel to Iran legally just to get the visa and travel, basically took $2,000. Us trying to evacuate our comrades to Pakistan, that took a lot of money. We might start issuing another fundraising, but we haven’t decided on that yet. We still have some money at this moment.
TFSR: Since the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, their claims of relative normalcy of participation of women in civic, political and economic life seem to have withered. Can you speak about what is known of the realities of life today in Afghanistan, for women, as well as others who are not cis straight men?
Aryanum: They’re were obviously lying from the very beginning, even though as they were taking the provinces, there were videos of them coming up of them flogging women for not wearing their hijab right or not travelling with with a man called mahram. Basically a man which is their father, brother, or husband, basically. Anybody that basically the patriarchy enforced through religious means and through force, basically. So the women started making protests against the regime. Some of them were activists before the regime change during the previous republic of [Ashraf] Ghani and [Hamid] Karhzi. They started protesting during the Taliban’s regime from very beginning. The Taliban started suppressed them as soon as they could. They were assassinated, they were mysteriously killed, they were imprisoned as hostages or for ransom. They’ve were imprisoned. The men basically like the women in Afghanistan, we’re saying, is the chant is “Our war, our fight, our struggle starts from home.” Because basically we have Talib in our homes. The patriarchy and the Islamic patriarchy, it has deep roots in the society, and for them to struggle against the Taliban outside, they had to basically wage war against their own family members that have the same ideology [as the Taliban].
So because of that, men did not support them. Because of that even men did not protest for their own rights against the Taliban and did not protest that much with the government. Recently there was a decree by the Taliban that women cannot leave the country without the mahram. Basically, they cannot leave the country without having a husband, or father, or brother, or any man that is above them in the social hierarchy, approve of them leaving the country, and he needs to leave with them. I know there is an issue with some of the woman activists that want to leave the country after all this oppression but are dealing with some challenges in that regard. We are trying to see how it develops, but at the moment, women get imprisoned if they were protesting, and some cases assassinated, and in some cases we heard from the news that they were raped and then assassinated. There were signs of sexual assault.
Some of the people that we talked to who were talking about, they were like scouting a location just for the graffiti against the Taliban. They were with their fathers and were supporting that. Taliban, scouting the area, having checkpoints all around the area scared them to hell, because they thought they were gonna get arrested right there. Even though they didn’t do anything yet they were just scouting their area for graffiti. But the Taliban was like “Oh, is this woman part of the Woman Justice seeking movement?” They scared the brother and he scared her. So they decided not to do that again.
So it is a big campaign of silences going on. The woman that get arrested, even though they’re released, they cannot talk. They don’t feel safe to talk back anymore. The public movement that are talking directly in the face of Taliban is fizzling. We are hoping it transforms to a more covert form.
TFSR: That sounds really difficult and it’s hard for me to imagine because I haven’t experienced anything like what you’re describing in my life. Just how scary that would be.
Yeah, I wonder, as you say, if things have to go a little more underground and less with the government, and since the patriarchy and the Taliban exist in the households, and the state is empowering, or what there is of the state, is empowering the diffusion of patriarchal violence through the households, and sort of as a reproduction of the state, at a home level… I wonder if people who as imperfect as it was lived under the Republic will see the difference with what they’re experiencing now and will the men, for instance, be more willing to understand, in contrast, the pain? I imagine if the dialogue was more talking about liberation of women and fighting against gendered violence, and then the Taliban is imposed and some strict kind of Sharia is imposed or whatever. If you can compare it to another experience that you’ve had? If that maybe primes you for having a better understanding of alternatives to what’s being imposed. What do you think?
Aryanum: The previous government wasn’t for women’s rights. We had honor killing during the previous government as well. The patriarchy was as strong as it is now. It is just so that the previous government being propped the US was less likely to use it. What achievements women had during the previous government was because of their own making. They worked for it for 20 years to make it happen. It wasn’t just that the previous government was suppressing them. Not because it was actively encouraging them or making their part easier. The woman activist was even active during the previous government.
The path that the Taliban is taking right now is very similar. It is basically they’re using the same tactics that the Islamic Republic of Iran is using. Iran had it’s own moment in the beginning of the revolution opposing the mandatory hijab, but it got crushed. It’s very similar things that Taliban is doing. They were imprisoned, killed, assassinated, either by the militia or by others. The current women’s movements are getting acid thrown at them and get disfigured because of acid. There is honor killing going on in Iran. And the most recent, a woman [Mona Heydari], 17 years old, left her husband. Way way older husband. She went to Turkey because she feared for her life but her father and brother basically forced her to come back and her husband killed her and decapitated her head. Then paraded on the street showing it off. That was one of the most shocking things that I saw. It happened a couple of months ago.
So you just said previous government was not using patriarchy as directly as the Taliban and because of that the women’s movements could move forward and make some achievement for their own autonomy and freedom. But the Taliban is going to use the same tactic as the Islamic Republic of Iran. The patriarchy is going to become worse and more embedded in the society. As it is the patriarchy is so strong that the men do not accompany the women in the struggle. There is no solidarity at the moment. There are some men that are, of course, supporting and they get killed. The treatment they receive is worse than what the captured women receive. Even though they are defending humanist ideal against a fascist organization that is the Taliban. But they get treated worse and they get killed. That scares the other men that are on the fence. They just don’t join. There is no solidarity at the moment.
In the previous government, there are some that want to go back to something like a republic, that they can choose their own, and have a political participation, like men, in the government. Some are saying that Islam is one of the problems that are perpetuating patriarchy and enslavement to our current predicament. Some of them are seeing both state and Islam as a problem. Which is basically our position as anarchists of Federation. I’m not sure if that answered your question.
TFSR: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I didn’t mean to put the agency into the hands of the government. But your point that when the government is not as actively repressing, people get a chance to organize and coordinate as opposed to when there’s direct threat of violence or death coming from the State. That’s kind of what I was trying to get at. The point was very well made.
In ways other than the patriarchy, does the Taliban appear to be ruling any differently than they did until 2001? Like how is life for queer folks or for atheists, or people of other faiths than the brand of Sunni favored by the state, or for political dissidents? Is it just kind of the same as you’ve been describing already?
Aryanum: For the atheists and the members of the LGBT community. They were in the closet and in hiding even during the previous government. They just hold their own hidden communities. Because again, the society is very patriarchal and it hasn’t changed. The struggles are very similar. It was deadly then, it is more deadly now. They are in hiding, some of them left the country and some of them because of a financial blockade, extradition of the refugees from Iran and Pakistan. They are they are stuck in Afghanistan and they cannot leave the country.
How the government is ruling since 2001? It is basically the same but it is more vicious, more ruthless. It is more pronounced in Mazar-i-Sharif. Because in Mazar-i-Sharif, they [the Taliban] have a deep hatred of that city because it was one of the last cities that basically fought until the end during the last takeover. It fought against Taliban. A lot of killings that you see happens in Mazar-i-Sharif area in the province of Balkh, where women are mysteriously getting killed, by mysteriously, the perpetrator without a doubt is the Taliban. They don’t announce it as they’re doing it, they just do it. They either give the bodies to the hospitals and make a reason why they died and they falsified the evidence. Or they leave them somewhere, just leave the body somewhere.
It is the same fascist Islamic government that it used to be 20 years ago. Maybe it just got smarter. It’s using the similar tactics that the Iranian government is using. It is probably getting counseled by the Iranian Islamic state, getting supported somehow because the Iran is gonna benefit from the water rights and its going to benefit from the the mines that Afghanistan has. I believe Taliban is going to give them some rights. I just read the news just a few hours ago that the China wants to cooperate with the Taliban in Afghanistan to drill some oil refineries, drill some oil, petroleum and refineries and a copper mine to get copper for cheap. And I’m sure Russia is not that far off. Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, the governments gave a go ahead for Taliban taking over and they provided support. Mostly Iran, provided support and Pakistan provide their military support, I believe. China just provide political support. The short answer is, it is the same as before, but more brutal.
TFSR: Like you’ve, mentioned women’s protests and protests for gender justice, being repressed pretty heavily. What are the levels of resistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan still that you can tell? Like, protesting Kabul of no longer featured on Western media, and I’m not sure if that’s because they’re not happening or because the Western media has such a short attention span. And the tragedy of the Taliban takeover is such an embarrassing moment for so many people in the West whose governments and taxes went to participate in the occupation and war that lasted 20 years? And what’s the state of resistance information that you can tell getting out of Afghanistan?
Aryanum: Sure. So, there are some militant groups that announced their formations, we are not affiliated with them, and we are watching them from afar. Just observing the situation about them. And majority were previously part of the Mujahideen. There are similar Islamic groups with their belief system that is not that far different from what Taliban is espousing. For example, only one of them is even showing women speaking in their announcement of their formation, the rest of them were just men, and they are just saying how they are defending the country. The language is full of patriarchal Islamic rhetoric. They see the woman as their belonging, their namus, that’s what they are called. That they need to be defended, the patriarchal chauvinism.
So, beyond planning to work with them, we just observing them at the moment. There is another suit in Pancheer province, it was another previous Mujahideen leader basically, that is mounting the resistance in Pancheer province. There are small groups that are forming, but the women’s movement is basically the only radical movement. But it is not militarized because they were not given any weapons. They do not have a chance to have weapons. The military organizations are forming, they had their weapons beforehand from the back when they were part of the Mujahideen organization or another military organization. The new organizations, that were not part of those groups, they did not have opportunity to have a gun. The opportunity to procure a gun, but also experience to do the very covert guerrilla tactics or any other war tactics against the Taliban. Those that do, have a previous experience from, like I said, the Mujahideen or other military groups.
Regarding how the news is getting out, fortunately, there is still internet. Afghanistan during the previous government and even during Taliban, Taliban doesn’t have any expert to oversee censorship on the internet. We can imagine that with the cooperation of China and Iran, they are working to get that capability. But at the moment, the people are using the internet to get the news out. They use Facebook, they use WhatsApp at the moment. With our communication, we try to push into secure communication. Like for example, Telegram, even though Telegram is not that secure, it is more secure to us that WhatsApp. Signal for the best secure communication. But unfortunately, it seems that since the internet is so big over there, the signal processing on WhatsApp is much, much more efficient than Telegram. So our comrades, when they having signal issues, they might be able to communicate through WhatsApp, but they cannot do through Telegram and not through Signal. It’s not as good, unfortunately. Yeah, people are communicating through that. This causes the Taliban to check the phones on every checkpoint. So whoever is sending a message, have to keep clearing their messages, including our comrades that are traveling through, moving anywhere, they just have to keep deleting their messages. Taliban would just show up and force them to show their phone with all the apps open so they can view it. They will check on the phone and see if the name of the person they’re talking to is on a list or database for them to apprehend. So that’s happening, but people still can communicating through internet. The news can get out through there.
There is one news channel which is not related to us. That provides relatively okay news about Afghanistan. That’s Amajnews.com. This seems to be okay for the most part. Some of the language that they use in some articles shows them as very very liberal, statists, it shows the bougie side. But yes, they are getting the news out that way. You can find them on Telegram and their website. But we try to create as much news as we can. We ask the people involved as much as we can, people who we are in contact with and are comrades.
TFSR: Yeah, I know that your networks are very stretched thin. At one point you talked about using satellite networks to be able to produce podcasts or some sort of news or media that could be broadcast in a way that didn’t need to be encrypted but could be consumed relatively anonymously inside of Afghanistan. Is that still an eventual goal?
Are the Taliban still… it sounds like if they’re letting people through with their smartphones at the moment, they’re not doing what they were doing their first rule of destroying technological devices like stereos and whatever else. They’re just sort of dealing with the fact that they’re there now.
Aryanum: Yes, there was one video showing the Taliban member condemning TV to being of the devils and destroying it, but they cannot really control it as much they need. They need phones as well. They try to use phones to infiltrate into groups, and catch the people involved that way. For example, so they arrested 49 people, I think 25 of them were women activists, and they got forced confession from out of them with the promise of them being freed. So when they did that they produced a TV program showing all of these forced confessions. “Oh, yes, we only wanted to leave the country, not fighting for our rights, fighting for self interest… just wanted to leave the country, to go to some country. The people who helped us, lied to us saying ‘hey, we can help you get out of the country.'” Stuff like that.
They put a snippet of conversation between two activists. In which they got a hold of a phone. I believe it was Tamana [Zaryabi Paryani]’s phone. She was arrested with her sister. They got off the phone and extracted conversations. They edited it to their favor and put it in the program to show that “yes, all of this was a ruse for them to leave the country. This had nothing to do with us oppressing them.” It is same tactic that the Islamic Republic of Iran is using with the forced confessions.
They are searching house-to-house. So if they find anything incriminating being shown… well, not necessarily… They just search house-to-house, some take and steal their belongings, they steal whatever people have left. The jewelry, the gold, whatever they find in the house, they steal it. If they find anything showing that the residents of the house had any anti Taliban sentiment, well, they’re gonna get arrested, the men are definitely gonna get tortured. So that’s going on, but there is not a network to intercept the signals midway or record every messages like NSA in the US. I mean, they would like to have something like that.
TFSR: Yeah, what state wouldn’t?
Yeah. So there was, during the war, bombings that were claimed by a group called Islamic State in Khorasan, or ISIS-K. Is this group joining in with the efforts of the Taliban? Or is it waging its own insurgency, or has it sort of disappeared?
Aryanum: That is like Al-Qaeda, maybe it’s inactive. They haven’t done anything recently, and the Taliban may be using it as an excuse for tightening their own security measures and becoming more intrusive and more violent. Using the Al-Qaeda as their legitimation tool. “Yes we are the good government, Al-Qaeda is the bad one. We are not Al-Qaeda so we are good.” That sort of logic is going on. I’m not sure about the ISIS Khorasan, to be honest. I don’t have any information about that.
TFSR: Ok, thank you.
Do any of your federation members have anecdotes or experiences of having to become a refugee, that they shared with you? And if they’ve moved to places where there are anarchist communities, have they been able to integrate or interact with those communities? How have they been received? Finally, are there any NGOs or organizations that are doing refugee support work that you’ve heard are doing a good job and should be supported by general civil society where possible?
Aryanum: We managed to, with the help of a comrade introducing us to somebody, help one of our friend’s families to leave directly to the US. There is another comrade that used their own channels and managed to get their family to the US as well. From their experiences, if I want to start from beginning, after the fall of Kabul and after 12 days, our comrades decided to evacuate because we couldn’t mount a defense. There was no resistance at the moment and he chances of the window of opportunity for us to evacuate was closing.
So some of our comrades try to leave the country, evacuate the country to Pakistan. There are two borders that gets used. And for Pakistan, the one of them is Torkhan, which is near the near Kabul. That was closed in the beginning. The other one was the Chaman crossing. Chaman is the border city in Pakistan. So, it is kind of far away from Kabul, it was 12 hours via the bus to get there and just another hour to get to the border from the city and province of Kandahar. So they arrived there, there were so many refugees just lining up to go to Pakistan. The Taliban and Pakistan, in collaboration with each other were changing the rules every single day. The first day that the comrades tried, they said they’re only allowed the residents of Kandahar and they don’t allow any other residents to cross the border without a visa. Just the Kandahar people. So our comrades basically tried to forge identification that shows that they were from Kandahar so they can pass. The change the rule again! They needed to have a visa now, there needed to be something… they kept changing the rule until they closed the border.
Two of our comrades managed to cross the border. Basically, the rest of them had to be smuggled. There was no path. The only people that could cross the border… none of them could be women or children because leaving the life of your children in the hands of a border smuggler is very risky. The has been horrible news of people missing in the smuggling process. So one of our comrades that came with their family decided that they will not cross a border. One of the times that they crossed that border, the lost their luggage. So they lost their phones, they lost all of their clothes, everything. They only had their identification with them in a bag that they kept with them. In an attempt to cross the border, the last time, the Pakistani border guards really was mistreating the people and every Afghan refugee that was trying to cross the border. They were hitting them, they were hurling insults all sorts of things. One of our comrades decided through a different channel which went to Qatar, then from Qatar, they went to America. In America they reported that they were sent into military encampment, a military base. The building that they were in had no door, just a curtain for the privacy, but there was no door so they could not leave their belongings there because other refugees could come and steal them and they did. They bought their 3 year old kid and some shoes, those shoes that lights up when you step on them so for the three year old to calm her down, to ease her as they keep moving from one place to another. They got stolen. In the refugee camps, there are stealing people. People have needs and people are thinking, “okay, I can sell this for my own thing.” So they steal the stuff.
So, that was happening and one of our comrades was saying the food was really little. I’m not sure why that was, apparently, people were not donating enough and it was hard to divide it, I’m not sure what was the reason, just not allocating enough food and they had to pay their own money that they brought over just to eat. Things were expensive at the camp because they don’t have a choice to go anywhere else. That is only some stores that are allowed to be operating. The choices are limited and they are expensive, because they can gouge people. People had no autonomy to cook for themselves. I think that would have been good if they could cook for themselves. But I guess they didn’t want to give the refugees tools that could be used as a weapon, I guess. I have no idea at the larger military bases, why they don’t give them any things.
In the beginning, they used to be able to eat at their own place. But after that, they were forced to, if they wanted to eat, they had to go to the kitchen to eat. So a family with two kids, yeah, that’s gonna be hard. Like they cannot bring any food out. So they have to all go there and then their belongings getting stolen and stuff like that. They did receive a cell phone so we could communicate with them, which was good, it was paid by some nonprofit organization, I believe. So to help us, one of the groups around Minnesota, they recently met some Iranian family that they became friends with. That is some of their struggles.
Previously, since they are non-believers or atheists, they couldn’t mingle with some of the Afghani groups as well, because some of the Afghani’s are extremely religious. Our comrades are not praying and its really conspicuous, especially if you are leaving your country with basically nothing, your identity is the only thing you have left. For some people, that includes their religious identity, and some people would become extremely dependent on that and if you’re not conforming to that ideal, yeah, it could cause conflict. So, our comrades decided not to intermingle that much. Just with a select group of people, they were not sent to the same place. But they met the Iranian family that are friends with and they are working to a degree to get their legal residence and they are already trying to get a driving license. So they are working on that stuff. None of the other ones are same as this.
Yeah, there was a lot of crazy things that happens in between, but it’s all about them getting out and that’s their experience outside of Afghanistan. For inside Afghanistan, while they were trying to get out, that family was part of a group, but they didn’t go to a safe house same as that group. Because safe houses were not safe and are not safe in Afghanistan. The people who rent those spaces out are not in solidarity with you, with the people who give them money. The people, the neighbors would talk. So, the Taliban would find out real quick, and would come knocking. Some of the people that were in the safe spaces or safe houses waiting to get out of the country to evacuate, they’ve been arrested in the safe houses. Some of these are women activists, they were already in safe houses, but the safe houses were compromised. The owner of the place gets scared if the Taliban comes and just tells them everything. They already got your money so they don’t care, they just tell them everything.
So one of our comrades family decided to take refuge in Iran. He couldn’t get the visa, so they cross the border illegally, but they were shouted by the border guards. And they got into an accident after with another car, which was kind of severe enough to have a broken hand, severe bruises, unfortunately. Not too serious of injuries, but they got caught by the police because of the accident and they got extradited back to Afghanistan. Like I said, the Iranian government keeps sending Afghan people back to the Afghanistan. Land border crossing without visas has a lot of risk. Some of our comrades are trying to process that application for some of the western governments, ut the other government is saying “oh, you need to prove how your life was in danger that made you have to leave the country.” Which is a ridiculous question because it’s very obvious. There’s a famine going on. There is extreme suppression of the religious and ethnic groups in Afghanistan. So, that question is very misguided. But some of our comrades are journalists as well. One of them even had, before the takeover of Taliban, had a lot of sharp critiques of Taliban that everybody in the in the business knew, so their life is in danger. They applied for the French Embassy, they applied for Swiss embassy and trying to see how they can process an application for asylum.
TFSR: Thank you for sharing that.
The one other part of it that I wondered was, and it’s okay if you don’t have an answer to this, but if there are any NGOs that you’ve heard of from folks that have had to go through this, that seem to be doing a decent job, and who would be worthy of supporting if people had money that they wanted to give or if those NGOs operated in areas where the listener lives that they could consider volunteering with. Or maybe just anytime you find that there’s people being resettled to where you live, going and trying to meet people would be a good idea. Does that make sense?
Aryanum: Yes, there is one organizations that are claiming that they are helping targeted Afghans find refugee and resettle, and there is not going to be any expenses and no salaries, and 100% of the donation would go to helping them. And like I said, personally I just heard of them recently, and I’m not sure exactly how they operate, or when they’re operating. So don’t take this as an endorsement. But then name is Azadi Charity. They have a Twitter account, and the website is AzadiCharity.com. That’s what they’re claiming that I understand. There may be few others, but unfortunately, they don’t come to mind at the moment. And unfortunately I’m not familiar with them If they haven’t helped anybody that we were in contact with. But people can help them and inquire about them.
TFSR: Thank you very much. So it’s a little bit of a shift in topic. But I wonder if members of your network have observations or words for anarchists slipping under States in the former Soviet Union such as Belarus, Russia, or Ukraine, or about the war being conducted by Putin’s regime that they’d like to share with comrades there?
Aryanum: They fully support our comrades in the countries Belarus, Russia, Ukraine. We condemn the imperialist action of the Russian State against Ukrainian people. We are not in support of the Ukrainian State. I believe Ukraine was the State government that basically put the news and development of the Ukraine airplane crisis that happened in 2020 in Iran. So, during the shooting down of the Ukrainian airplane, the Ukrainian government cooperated with Iranian regime, we still haven’t found out what was the truth. So they helped the Iranian government to hide the truth. There is no file among Iranian anarchists for the Ukrainian state. But we are anarchists, and we support the Ukrainian people against the imperialist forces of Russia and the opportunist, imperialist actions of the West, of NATO.
Because of this, we are really happy about the anarchist detachments, the militaristic detachments that doesn’t necessarily listens to the State directive, and does not side with their fascist group, like Azov. We wish them the best. We hope for an autonomous region, where it’s similar to Rojava, something like that in Ukraine. We are hopeful about that. During the war in Afghanistan, we consulted some of the comrades that fought in Rojava, to see what we can do. Can we make something like Rojava happen in Afghanistan? Unfortunately, since our numbers are unfortunately so little, we could not have even an anarchist detachment, we could not do something that happened in Rojava. We were not prepared for something of the scale. But as the war continues on, this might be an opportunity for the Ukrainian anarchists, the Belarusian anarchists, the other anarchists, joining the defense against Russian invasion, to find an opportunity to create something like an autonomous region just like Rojava. We are really hopeful about that. And, again, we are saddened about all the losses, all the destructions. It is just a reminder of what happened in Afghanistan. That war just took took a month but all the internal displacement all the external refugees, we understand. We experienced that, we are in solidarity with them.
TFSR: Thank you very much. So I can see from the ASRAnarshism website that there have been mobilizations of teachers in Iran against the economic crisis there and also striking mine workers in the Azerbaijan province within eastern Iran. I guess switching to Iran for a moment. To your knowledge, have anarchist been able to participate in these struggles? Are there other social struggles that are worth noting here for the audience? That they may not have heard about within Iran?
Aryanum: Yes, Iran right now is a hotspot of strikes. Not only from teachers, but like you said, mining workers. And also the financial economical crisis is so big that even then prison guards are striking. Which we spit on them because they tortured our comrades for the little money they get, we are not in solidarity with the prison guard’s strikes. But everybody is striking. They are doing it in waves, it comes and goes. It shows deterioration of the Iranian control on the working population. The way they’re trying to get out is by supporting regimes like Taliban, so they can get some benefits, so they can ease their own crisis to a certain extent.
But yes, a lot of workers are striking. And among them are Iraqi’s as well. They’re not specifically from our organization, but we are aware of the dark movement anarchists organizations. Most of them are covert in Iran. Certain groups here and there. During the workers strikes, plenty of them are going to be anarcho-syndicalists. You could see anarchists in every struggle, just they don’t advertise it because in Iran, anarchism, even though it’s growing, the opposition to that from the government is growing as well. They created fake anarchism group, which is a national anarchism called Irananarshism, which is just to divert attention from the people who are looking for anarchism that direction, they send them in the wrong path. They also are approving translation of anarchists books because they want to control the narrative, they approve what is damaging to them, which is the most mellow stance of anarchism that they can. They change the narrative and done and they control and they can see where the movement is going by. Like how many people are purchasing this book? And maybe they can track who is purchasing this book, who goes to the gatherings promoted by authors of this book. So they’re trying. It is a growing part of the concern of the Iranian government.
TFSR: Yeah, I hadn’t heard of the Iranarshism or Iranarshist national anarchist. That’s so weird. National anarchists are a strange abomination.
Aryanum: It is probably created by a government sponsored group just divert people from anarchism.
TFSR: Yeah, I could, I could see that. What can you say about the situation of political prisoners in Iran at the moment. A news services posted information about hunger strikes going on in a few prisons, right?
Aryanum: Yes, the hunger strike is happening because of the death of Baktash Abtin. He was a poet, writer, and a filmmaker. He got imprisoned because of what the government describes as the propaganda against the state, which he got imprisoned. The government in Iran was using COVID as a weapon. The situation in the prisons was so abysmal. The people could contract it, COVID, the political people. But the people that got in there because of embezzlement. They had all the money that they could use to live a good life in prison. They would get out of the prison soon after. The political prisoners that didn’t have any money, the activists, they either injured them, or used COVID as a weapon. So, the people who contracted COVID were not sent to a hospital, they did not do medical procedures to cure them, or ease their symptoms.
So Baktash Abtin contracted COVID. He got it so bad because of the neglect. He eventually had to be hospitalized and while he was in handcuffs in the hospital bed, he died of COVID. We all know that it was because the government wanted him to die and they were using the COVID as excuse. The larger scale prison hunger strikes started because of that. The hunger strike eased off a little bit, but we have recent news as of this week that they are continuing that again. For some reason they are restarting it again. During their hunger strike in Ervin prison, the head of prison, I think we reported on this as well on our website, the head of prison and head of intelligence started assaulting the political prisoners during the hunger strike. Some of them got severely injured. They wanted to give some benefit to one of them, like a shorter prison sentence, and having a right for a family member to visit them, something like that, for them to stop the hunger strike. But they persisted and got assaulted. But they’re gonna continue on.
TFSR: There had been an article recently about women prisoners inside of Iran doing an action…
Aryanum: About the woman. The prison in Iran is abysmal for both women and men. Women get arrested for petty things. If they are pregnant, they are gonna give birth to the child in the prison. The child is going to grow up in the prison. There are a lot of children. I don’t have a number, but there is a lot of children at the moment are growing up in the prison and are in prison because their mother is in prison. They haven’t seen a world outside of the prison as long as they live. And that’s another situation in prisons that are not talked about that much, but it is a reality that we are experiencing. The children are not put up for adoption. The children are not given to a family member that can be responsible for them or who can take care of them. They are living with the mother. And in some cases there is nobody, left alone. The mother and the child are serving a sentence that is cruel and inhumane.
TFSR: Yeah, the idea of raising kids inside of a prison is… I mean, that doesn’t happen in the US, the child would get taken in either put in foster care or sent to a relative. But definitely people give birth in prisons and obviously, in some cases in assigned women’s prisons, people who have been in for a while sometimes get pregnant. And there’s a question of how that happens, if not the guards.
Aryanum: Yeah. There is sexual assault of men and women is rampant in prisons.
Men’s prisons from our report, Sohiel Arabi, who got released from prison, sent to exile for two years. Then after two years, he needed to report back to prison. They didn’t want to let him go. Even though they keep making the same cases for him to keep extending his prison time. I think for some deals, he was allowed to leave the prison, he was part of some deals, regarding BARJAM, the nuclear deal, to leave the prison and be just in exile. But he will be going back to prison and he has multiple stories about prison that there is a sexual assault, it’s rampant. Prison guards would sexually assault you. You are not allowed to masturbate in prison. So there is a lot of sexual frustration there as well. There are people that take advantage of others, and the prison guards do what they can, what they can get away with. It is not like in the US, where they try to keep it on the low. In Iran it’s just not a concern. It just happens.
TFSR: There are there are laws in the US where whether successful or not prisoners can file with the federal government to the PREA, the Prison Rape Elimination Act. I’ve heard about people filing suits against other prisoners or against administration’s or against guards for that. But, yeah.
Aryanum: One thing that I remember is that some of the censorships that happens from Taliban, is that the people that made it out, if they haven’t hidden their identity, their family members are going to experience the same thing that the Chinese people and the Iranian people experienced. Which is the Taliban would go to their family members, and would threaten them, would beat them to tell their family members to stop talking to silence them. Even though people make it out they have to be careful about themselves and their identity because it can be used against their loved ones that are still in Afghanistan, or Iran, or in China. It’s the same tactic. They just learned it from Iran and China.
TFSR: Yet, it’s terrible. That makes sense. So well, Aryanum, I hope that you’re doing well and thanks a lot for having this chat. And I can point people to the social medias and the telegram channel and the website in the end of the episode. But, thanks so much. Solidarity and appreciation to the work that you and your network do. And I’m glad a lot of them have been able to get out despite difficulties.
Aryanum: Thank you very much for having me and having this conversation. I really appreciate that and having a voice within the podcast.
I just want to say sorry to everybody who contacted us this past few months on asking for an interview for a written interview for the voice interview, sometimes from our Iranian comrades, something from our Afghan comrades. We let them down. We either gave them late responses or something like that. Unfortunately, our core outside Iran and Afghanistan is really a small and we are only responsible for dealing with this inquiry for inquiries and questions. We got overwhelmed and we apologize for it. It is not because we are ignoring you. It is because we just can’t unfortunately, we get overwhelmed. Thank you very much for having me on. We’ll be talking again.
This week, we spoke with Petr, a Russian anarchist member of the group Autonomous Action, who is living in Europe right now. For the hour we speak about the invasion of Ukraine, a bit about the resistance inside of Russia to the war drums and the Putin regime, the dangers of a nuclear conflict, the impacts of increased sanctions and anarchists organizing across the borders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus against the war and against tyranny. You can learn more about what’s going on by visiting Avtonom.org and finding the English tab, or using tools like google translate to read articles from the Russian there.
On Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 9 comrades were arrested by the DGSI, the French anti-terrorist police unit, across France. In Toulouse, in Dordogne, in the Paris region, in Brittany, and in Rennes. Anarchists are accused of being “the criminal association planning a terrorist attack”. All but one comrade were released, some after months in pre-trial detention. They are awaiting trial and are placed under the judicial control. The defendants, not all of whom know each other, have been under surveillance for a long period of time, including digital surveillance such as planting recording devices in vehicles as well as physical surveillance.
On March 4th, 2022 it was announced that it was six days since our comrades started the hunger strike. He did so at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine knowing very well that this information would drown in the news about the war. That all efforts would be focused on supporting the resistance in Ukraine and the people fleeing from there. It’s amazing what support for Ukraine has gathered, even thought it also came with shortcomings and contradiction; racist sentiment and nationalist visions for the future to name but two of them. Our comrade would in the same way support people fight for freedom. He is in isolation, the method the state use to deprive us of connection and communication with others. He needs us in the same way we need each other, we can never win alone. A person with their body can resist the repression of the state, but without the access we have on the outside his voice will not be heard.
The following is an update from the now 15 defendants facing charges in Asheville, NC as a part of the city government’s attempt to repress food sharing and mutual aid organizing.
“Since our last statement at the beginning of February, the state has targeted 8 more community members in connection with the December demonstration in Aston Park criticizing the City government’s inhumane treatment of homeless folks. We are now a group of 15 locals facing multiple felony charges for participating in mutual aid efforts in our community.
The city government claims we are each responsible for leaving behind more than 500 lbs of trash following a peaceful protest. APD claims this resulted in a 100 hours of “clean-up efforts”, the use of heavy machinery, and a cost of $2,680.
Over the past three months, the taxpayer dollars and time expended surveilling, harassing, arresting, and now prosecuting the defendants vastly exceeds the damages claimed by APD. How many of the same resources and heavy machinery have been employed by the city and county government to remove and destroy homeless camps in the last year alone?
These actions are not an effort to make our city safer, they are an attack on mutual aid. We remain committed to ensuring all members of our community have a safe place to live, a community around them, and agency over their own lives.
We still need your help as we face state repression and attempts to shut down our networks of care.
“Keep sharing food and care and solidarity with one another. Keep delivering groceries, cooking meals, sharing funds, and showing up in the parks. Keep standing with your community. Keep building this beautiful, transformative mutual aid movement. Keep sharing our story. In solidarity and community, the Sanctuary Camp Defendants”
TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with whatever name, location, preferred gender pronouns, or affiliations that you can give us?
Petr: My name is Petr. I’m located in Europe, I would prefer not to disclose the particular location. I associate myself with he/him.
TFSR: Cool. Are there any projects that you’re involved with for the sake of this conversation?
Petr: I guess, the most important for this conversation is that I participate quite heavily in what the Autonomous Action is doing. This is one of the largest or maybe even the largest organizations of anarchist, libertarian communists in the ex-USSR countries. I’ve been involved in Autonomous Action quite a lot before I moved to Europe. I am still involved while being here. There are lots of projects going on. But mostly, spreading information, organizing more or less a stream of anarchist views, anarchist analysis of the current events for as wide an audience in Russia and neighboring countries as possible.
TFSR: I’m familiar with avtonom.org as a website where I can occasionally find English translations, updates of stuff, and ideas going on in the Russian language sphere. Would you share a little bit about the history of that group Autonomous Action more widely, the shared values and beliefs, like you said, that most people identify as anarchist or libertarian communists? Where the members are? What stuff do the projects do?
Petr: The Autonomous Action was established quite a long time ago, 20 years ago, in fact, in 2002-2003. It used to be an organization with quite solid, libertarian communist and anarcho-communist platform, based essentially on Kropotkin, Bakunin, and Bookchin. But it was not very picky, meaning that we cooperated with all sorts of the progressive left, but still, our opposition towards the state and towards the statist left was quite pronounced always, all the time. During the first 15 years of its existence, Autonomous Action was quite active on the streets. We really organized hundreds of various street actions. We also were quite integrated with the Antifa movement in Russia, I think the Autonomous Action was a major player in the anti-fascist movement on the streets. But then in recent years, since the state repression is constantly increasing, it becomes more and more difficult to actually organize something on the streets openly by anarchists, which means that we are increasingly trying to become a stream of information. That’s why we nowadays don’t call ourselves an organization anymore, but a media project. We’re on our website. We’re on all sorts of social media networks. Those members of Autonomous Action who are still in Russia — and most of them are — participate in street protests and grassroots initiatives, from environmental to political stuff, like the current anti-war protests.
TFSR: You’ve mentioned that you’re in Europe right now. But I wonder if you have a sense, at least among Russian anarchists and Russian-speaking anarchists that you’re in contact with, what are the reactions to the escalation that the Russian government’s been building, but in particular, the invasion of Ukraine, and the justifications behind it? We’ve heard of several marches around Russia with many arrests and beatings, as well.
Petr: It probably will come as no surprise that all the anarchist organizations or movements or projects that I know about in Russia pronounced quite explicitly their position against this war and against Putin’s regime which started this war, and I guess for us as anarchists, it didn’t come as much as a surprise as, for example, for liberals. We were not surprised that Putin will start another war. Wars accompany capitalism, always. Even more, they accompany capitalism in this flavor, which we observe in Russia, this strange mix of neoliberalism, authoritarian regime, and patriarchal propaganda for the crowds. We were not much surprised. But we were a bit surprised by the scale of it. Nobody seriously believed that Putin would really decide to occupy or at least try to occupy the whole of Ukraine. Our guess was that only the Eastern and maybe some southern parts will be under attack. The scale was surprising, but not the war itself.
There were lots of protests around the country. The protests are still ongoing. People still go out in the streets every day. Anarchists, participated quite a lot in these protests. But the protest is quite disorganized. Because, as I’ve said, it’s really difficult to really organize a real demo in Russia, because, it’s just those who will call people to come to some particular place and time will be probably arrested long before it started. It’s really just the spontaneous organization of people via social media, etc. But still, indeed, in the first days of the war, some groups of anarchists in Moscow, for example, and then in St. Petersburg as well, did manage to gather in crowds with banners and with anarchist slogans, etc. But most of the times anarchists were just part of the crowd without any banners or flags because if you have a banner, or if you have a flag, you will be just the first one to be arrested, of course. But the attitude of all anarchists in Russia is anti-war and anti-Putin.
TFSR: From what I hear in the Western media, the Russian government has criminalized media outlets and organizations that call this an invasion or a war. Do you have the impression of if the population in Russia knows what’s going on with the battles, with the shelling of cities, and the refugee crisis that’s building? Do you get the impression that this will be the new Chechnya to bring the country together into Putin’s arms?
Petr: That’s true. Indeed, in the best spirit of George Orwell, the Russian government criminalized calling this war a war. Officially, it is a special military operation. Indeed, even for carrying, for example, a sheet of paper with the words ‘NO WAR’ in it, you can get a fine, you will be penalized. If you do it for the second time, at least in theory, you can get a prison sentence, which is a significant step towards— Putin’s regime was being harder on anyone who has been protesting all the recent years. But this is a really strong step, even for Putin’s regime. Because it’s especially ironic, given that the state propaganda all these years was based essentially on this memory of World War II, and on declarations that “we are peaceful people, and we don’t want war”, etc. This is the reason why Putin and the authorities decided to ban the word “war” because otherwise, it would sound too crazy for the majority of the Russian population.
The question about whether the population knows what’s going on. It is a difficult question. It’s a difficult issue. The urbanized population, which was critical towards Putin even before the war, more or less have the means of accessing Western media, accessing some remaining independent Russian media, they know how to use TOR, VPNs to access blocked websites, so they definitely know what’s going on. About the rest of the population, I’d say that the majority understands what’s going on because nobody really believes the authorities that bombings are aimed only at military facilities, etc because nobody believes Russian authorities in anything. The trust in the government is really low. But it’s just the case that it’s difficult to leave with a feeling that you are a citizen of an aggressor country because the historical memory of people in Russia is that the Soviet Union was under an attack by Nazi Germany. There is this whole myth about a brave country defending itself from the aggressors, and now Russia is this aggressor. I guess many people just try to close their eyes and forget about this. They happily catch on any piece of propaganda on the TV or the Internet, which says “It’s the Ukrainians who are bombing themselves, or we are freeing Ukraine from the Nazis” or that Ukraine was developing biological weapons to destroy all Russians. This is a real claim by the Russian military. It becomes crazier. I think still, people often try to believe that, just because it’s difficult to see the reality often, unfortunately. I think that the role of anarchists and other progressive political movements is to try to open people’s eyes.
The next question of yours, whether this will be the new Chechnya, the idea of Putin definitely was that it will be a quick victory, which would improve the political situation inside the country because people when the wars are won by an authoritarian leader. But now that there is no quick victory — two weeks have passed, and no significant military success up to now — unfortunately, it seems that it could be the new Chechnya in the meaning that it will be just senseless bloodshed for many months or years, which will be horrible. This is definitely a very grim perspective and future. We should do everything that we can to avoid this. We probably can talk later about what we are doing for this and what anarchists and other progressive left can do for this.
TFSR: Thank you.
The claim about the chemical weapons development is kind of a newer one that I’ve just seen popping up over the last few days. Can you describe what that claim is that’s being made by the Russian military?
Petr: Essentially, they invent a new reason to invade Ukraine every day. And at some point, they claimed that they found some documents with the names of some chemical substances, somewhere in Ukraine, in the conquered cities, and based on this, they stated that Ukraine, with the help of the US and NATO, was developing biological weapons to target Russian people. They even claimed something that this weapon will be specifically aimed at the Russian DNA, which is absolute nonsense from the scientific point of view. But it’s just the case that we’ve observed this for many years that Putin and Kremlin propaganda, just their strategy was always just “say as many crazy things as possible so that the truth is just drowning in the sea of shit essentially”. They don’t care about whether what they claim is consistent because one day they say that we invaded Ukraine because we want to defend the people of the East of Ukraine. The next day they say that we invaded Ukraine because it wanted to become a member of NATO, the next day, they say that it was because of nuclear weapon which was being developed there. It’s just a constant stream of nonsense, which nobody actually believes in Russia, except maybe some hardcore patriots, which are definitely the minority of the population.
TFSR: I also wonder, since we’re going back into reasons for the invasion that have been given… The de-nazification makes sense with what you said about the Russian government playing off— The massive amount of people that died during World War II fighting the Nazis, but talking about this as an extension of the Patriotic War for the Fatherland. The de-nazification — and we know that there are militias that are connected to or integrated into the Ukrainian military that have white supremacist connections or have indeed Nazis within their ranks — I’ve been hearing some other anarchist sources talk about okay, “ there’s Nazis involved in the military of Ukraine. There are Nazis involved in the military of the US. There are Nazis involved in the military alongside Russian troops.” One group, for instance, that’s been mentioned, is the Wagner group? Can you talk a little bit about it, just to even the playing field and to point out that states are bad and Nazis using state militaries? Can you talk a little bit about some of the Nazi groups that are involved in the Russian military?
Petr: Well, the whole business of this de-nazification is of course total bullshit. It doesn’t have anything to do with reality. Of course, there are Nazis in Ukraine, and of course, they are some militias that are somehow associated with the Ukrainian army. But it’s definitely not the real aim of invading Ukraine. Putin doesn’t care at all about Nazis, what he cares about is whether he can order these people or not. Definitely, Nazi mercenaries are fighting on the side of the Russian Army. They were involved in armed conflicts in the east of Ukraine, they were involved in Syria, in many other regions of the world. But actually, it doesn’t matter much that they’re Nazis. They’re much more just soldiers of Putin than Nazis. Because the Nazi groups in Russia have been mostly eliminated or totally subjected to the state about 8-10 years ago. Nowadays, there are no independent Nazi parties or groups that are active on the streets. They are either dead or in prison, or they are part of more or less pro-Putin, pro-regime movements. Nazis are not political players anymore in Russia at all. It doesn’t make sense to even to talk about them. Maybe if you have some, specific questions, I probably can give some answers, but they do not play any significant part in what’s happening in Russia now.
TFSR: Okay, that makes sense. I’ve heard Russian people describe that Nazis aren’t fighting you on the streets. But when you get pulled into a police station, there’s going to be a Nazi with a boot to beat you. It seems like one thing about the way that Putin’s regime operates is to destroy autonomous power that could exist, anything that could destabilize and integrate it into their own power base, which is why it’s hard for Western people sometimes to take a read on Putin’s politics, because they presume it’s left or it’s right or something like that when actually it’s just neoliberal authoritarian.
Petr: I agree. Putin doesn’t care about whether this particular group is left or right, Nazi or Antifa. He cares about whether they pose a threat to him or not, that’s what matters. That was the reason behind crushing the Nazi movement about 10 years ago, and actually, about the same time they started crushing the Antifa movement. Then it was more or less finished by 2014 when it was split along this conflict in the Crimea and the eastern parts of Ukraine because some part, some members of the Russian Antifa movement went to fight on the Ukrainian side, and others went to fight on the side of this newly-established so-called republics. Both sides considered themselves to be anti-fascists. That was sad to observe. But I guess that’s what you expect more or less in such political conditions.
Putin has made the argument that Ukraine is a part of Russia, we’ve talked about the claims of genocide and Russian speakers and Donbas. Just as a note, war times are a time of increased nationalism. Have you seen the idea of who is Russian changed shape recently within Russia or to your experience? Where does this leave people of Chechen or Uzbek or other backgrounds or African backgrounds who may or may not be considered as Russian as others right now? How does the race work inside of Russia, basically? Do you get the impression that this has changed around the time of the war drums beating?
Petr: This, I should admit, is a very complicated issue. It probably would require a separate interview or a separate podcast to talk about this in-depth. But in general, on the one hand, Putin and his elite would probably want to establish some ethnic Russian domination or something similar to that. But on the other hand, they understand that they rule a country, which is really multinational and multiracial and multi-ethnic, and pronouncing one ethnic group as a dominant one has its dangers. On the other hand, another thing that stops them from going full Nazi or fully nationalistic is that, I already mentioned, this myths of The Great World War and the fighting against German Nazis, and these myths, these sorts of archetype supports Putin because he and the regime as a whole always claim themselves to be the descendants of these brave Soviet warriors who fought Nazis. That’s why they avoid directly discriminating against ethnic groups, or at least stating this explicitly, although, probably personally, they would these to happen. But politically, they are trying to avoid this. We have no evidence that the situation of ethnic minorities in Russia changed a lot since the war started.
There are problems, but it’s not that there is any apartheid or something like that. We know that the Ukrainian citizens in Russia are now often subjected to questioning. They have visits from the police, because citizens of the country with which Russia is at war right now, even when Russia itself doesn’t mean that it is in a war, up to now at least, it was just questioning. Essentially, the police come to a Ukrainian family and ask them: “Are you going to commit any terrorist acts? Do you have relatives in Ukraine?” It’s relatively soft, up to now, but we closely monitor the situation. We don’t know what might happen next.
TFSR: Because we’ve talked about the censorship that’s occurring around the information getting to parts of the Russian population, do you have a sense of what the morale might be inside of the military? Can you talk a little bit about the universal military obligation or draft in Russia and who gets out of it and how they can do that?
Petr: There is a draft in Russia. Every male after turning 18 has to serve for one year in the army, except when he starts studying at the university and it’s a long and venerable Russian tradition to avoid the draft. It’s been like that in the Russian Empire, in the Soviet Union, and it’s still like this in the Russian Federation. No one or almost no one wants to serve in the army. That’s almost universal. That’s why people try to avoid the army, by all means possible, even before the war, by paying money to the officials, by entering the University, even if they didn’t want actually to study, etc. Of course, now, when there is a real danger of being sent to a real war, even fewer people actually want to serve. Since currently, Russia seems to be losing this war, and there are rumors of actually announcing this total mobilization and sending all the conscripts to the war to Ukraine, we expect that there certainly will be protests or at least conflicts concerning this. We are trying to observe this and once we noticed that anything is happening try to help the protesters, help those who are trying to organize against this conscription, etc.
About the morale inside the military. It’s difficult to say because we don’t have any spies in the Russian army. Judging by the news, I guess, you more or less read the same news as us, it seems that the morale is not that high. Also, because as I’ve said, it’s some a mind-blowing fact to any Russian soldier that he is now serving the role of an invader. Because all his life he was taught that his role is to defend his country against invaders. Now he’s the invader. Also because no one actually wanted to really play a part in the war. All these soldiers didn’t want to really risk their lives in real battle. I’d say that the morale is low. There were some rumors about soldiers rioting somewhere near the border against sending them to Ukraine. But there were no independent confirmations about this. It’s still just some rumors. We definitely expect that there will be some riots, some soldiers rejecting the orders, etc.
TFSR: I guess on Telegram loops and on social media I have seen a video of captured Russian soldiers explaining why they’re there. That sounds also like a terrible situation to be in. But I can’t blame someone for capturing an invading soldier. Or a video of older women confronting soldiers and saying, “You should really put some sunflower seeds in your pockets so that when we kill you, at least something good will grow”. I’m sure the vitriol that they’re facing has done quite a deal on them when they’re being told that if anything they’re going to liberate people or to defend people. It makes me wonder if they’re not doing so well in this facet of the war — this is speculation, but if the Russian government might decide to focus more on the aerial bombardment because it’s easier to push a button and kill a bunch of people than it is to go in and face snipers who know the territory.
Petr: I guess that’s more or less what everyone now agrees on. That it seems that indeed, this is the tactics that the Russian army or the Russian government has chosen now. If we can’t win by conventional weapons, then let’s just bomb them. Because I guess they use more or less the same tactics in Syria and Chechnya. It seems to them that it brings them victory. Why shouldn’t it be used here in Ukraine? Of course, Ukraine is a bit different, because it still has its military, more or less, well, not intact, but still in an operational state. Also, unfortunately, the world didn’t pay so much attention to cities being bombed in Syria, the world does pay a lot of attention to cities being bombed in Ukraine. From this point of view, I’m not sure that these tactics will be actually profitable for the Russian army. But they certainly starting to do something that, they’re bombing more and more civilian buildings, residential buildings, etc. Unfortunately, that’s definitely the case.
TFSR: The last few decades, since the end of the Cold War, and since the end of the Soviet Union have brought a few shifts and changes in international arms treaties. I know, in the last six years, the US has stepped aside from anti-nuclear proliferation treaties that included Russia, as a signatory, and now there’s a lot of concerns that if NATO or US (as a more active element within NATO) decided to escalate participation, or actually start participating on the ground that it could spark a nuclear war. Do you have a sense of people seeing that in Russia as a possibility? How do you feel about that?
Petr: People in Russia definitely do see this as a possibility, especially because Putin himself mentioned that in his speech, when he actually announced the start of the war, he mentioned that we have nuclear power, etc. Also, many people, especially those who are older still remember the Soviet times when the expectation of nuclear war was more or less permanent. It’s not something entirely new.
I’d say that many people that I know at least, definitely are afraid of this. Also, there is a lot of evidence that Putin is not entirely in his mind. He definitely has some mental problems, which means that probably there is not much to prevent him from starting a nuclear war if a demon in his head tells him to do so. Or angels? I don’t know what he has in his head. People are definitely afraid of this, they hope that these are still just hollow threats. But you might never know. I personally think that we should be afraid of this, that, indeed, the Russian nuclear power is now in the hands of, first of all, a person who is definitely a bit mentally unhealthy, second of all, his state apparatus, which is fine-tuned to obey its head and to essentially just tell its head, which is Putin, whatever Putin wants. In this configuration, there is not much resistance to possibly pressing this nuclear button. I think that the danger is real, unfortunately.
TFSR: There’s been a lot of talks of NATO states avoiding sending troops so as not to escalate in that way, but sending weapons instead and imposing further sanctions on the Russian economy, including the ending of purchases of oil, or the capping or slowing of those purchases, which is a major part of the Russian economy, the exporting of petroleum products. How does this affect regular people inside of Russia? How much do you think that it actually affects the rich and the bureaucrats directly?
Petr: It definitely affects regular people. Exchange rates just increased twice or three times over a couple of days, which means that essentially people lost half of their salaries. There are already lots of problems with the goods in the shops, with logistic chains, etc. It’s really a large, profound systemic effect on the Russian economy, even if some people do not yet see it immediately, but it’s definitely there. It definitely will affect regular people a lot. They will become much poorer than they were before that.
How does it affect the rich and the elite class? That’s a good question. It definitely affects them to some extent. We see all these boats being captured all around the world, and we see assets, frozen, etc. The businesses that they own also suffer because of all these sanctions. It’s difficult to estimate whom it affects more, the regular people or the rich. I don’t even know how it can be measured. All I can say is that it definitely influences people.
Some of the sanctions, I guess, make sense in terms of stopping this Putinist military machine and essentially, just slowing down the military part of the economy. But other sanctions, for example, this Visa and MasterCard payment systems blocking transactions of Russians abroad, essentially prohibiting them to use payment cards issued by Russian banks abroad. This makes sense maybe from the pure ethical point of view, but from the point of view of at least allowing people to flee the country and then use their money abroad, this is not that good. I know many people who fled the country because they were some anti-Putin activists, but then their payment cards were blocked, and they essentially were left abroad without any money at all. There are very contradictory opinions about sanctions. I don’t have any clear answer, whether they’re beneficial or not, but definitely, people will suffer. They’re suffering already.
TFSR: Do you think that anti-state, anti-capitalist, libertarian leftists, and anarchists are poised to make good use of the momentum against the war and the increased pressure within Russia to bring about some change? Even if it starts from a small place, including the anti-militarist, anti-draft sentiments?
Petr: The short answer is that I would like to believe it. The long answer is that, as I’ve said, there were literally two decades of destroying the protest landscape, including anarchists. There are very few anarchist or libertarian left organizations that are still capable of actually organizing something massive or mobilizing significant numbers of people.
Having said that I still think that the current situation is somewhat promising as well. It’s bad, but it’s there is some silver lining in this cloud. Because lots of people, including those from the anarchist movement, actually think that based on what we see now, the Russian Federation, as we know it, probably will not survive in the next several months or several years. Because, indeed, the economic situation is quite tough now and it’s really catastrophic, because of the sanctions. And because of the war, war is an expensive business as well. also because of purely political things, because, as I’ve said, Putin probably planned to finish this war very quickly, in a couple of days. But he failed in this. And within the circles of his friends and henchmen and military generals, top hats, etc… they do not do it very much when someone fails. It’s not something tolerated. We expect definitely that the power struggles at the top of the Kremlin chair will intensify. Probably, the regime will somehow collapse in this or that way, comparatively soon, we cannot announce any particular date, but there is this feeling.
In this situation, we probably have good chances to establish or at least help to establish something more decentralized and more libertarian on the ruins of this collapsed regime. It’s still a good question to what extent we’ll be able to do anything meaningful. But at least nowadays, we’re trying to spread the word, spread the libertarian and anarchist ideas, and trying to push gently these anti-war vibes, anti-war protests into a more anti-authoritarian channel. To explain to people that to stop the war, it’s not enough to simply get the troops back, you also have to remove Putin from the Kremlin. We also need to make sure that no second Putin arrives there. I’d say that we can make good use of this moment, we have to try.
TFSR: How have Russians and anarchists in particular reacted to the recent military interventions in Kazakhstan and the backing of the Belarus dictatorship?
Petr: Here the answer is simple, we definitely stood in solidarity with the Belarusian protests. Lots of our comrades, anarchists from Belarus participated in these protests, lots of them are jailed for this, some of them for really long sentences. We supported them and lots of Russian anarchists actually went to Belarus to participate in these protests. The events in Kazakhstan are more complicated, meaning that there is still some fog of war there, it’s still not entirely clear what happened in Kazakhstan. Was it a military coup d’etat or was it a folk revolution? Was it something else? I guess we’re still trying to find out. But we definitely supported the protests in the western parts of the country against gas prices increasing. We definitely tried to resist, to protest against sending Russian troops to Kazakhstan. Because this is all parts of the same chain, sending troops to Ukraine, sending troops to Kazakhstan is part of this empire politics by Putin, by the Russian state. It looks at Kazakhstan and Ukraine and Belarus as its sphere of influence, which they should rule. We as anarchists may surely oppose this way of thinking, in general. We do not think that any empire has the right to tell the people what to do.
TFSR: Do you get much of a sense of Russian sentiments from the wider population about those two interventions or are they kind of hard to gauge?
Petr: In Belarus, there was no military intervention. Russian troops did not enter Belarus, or at least officially didn’t enter. Russia helped the Belarusian dictatorship only with money, lots of money. They also sent some TV propagandists, media managers to help the Belarusian propaganda. There was no clear military intervention, although, Russian troops, are now in Belarus, and they actually attacked Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. But that’s just because they signed lots of agreements. Putin and Lukashenko are best friends now. That’s happening all the time, but there was no intervention.
The general opinion of the Russian public about Kazakhstan, people just didn’t have enough time to actually understand what’s happening. It happened in 10 days, or even less. I don’t think that there is any sentiment, which is shared by a large part of the Russian population about this. Most Russians just don’t care a lot about Kazakhstan in general. It’s difficult for me to give any clear estimate about this.
About Belarus, the Russian society was polarized by the riots and protests in Belarus. Those who were more conservative have this nostalgic feeling about Belarus reminding them about Soviet times. They believed that these were protests inspired by the West, which is poised to destroy this island of the Soviet Union. They definitely were against the protests and they supported Lukashenko. Other parts of the society, more liberal, were unilaterally against Lukashenko and they supported the protests by whatever means possible. It’s very polarized.
TFSR: Do you have any words for comrades internationally or who are in Ukraine, who might hear this? How can anarchists abroad support the efforts of dissidents within Russia, and everyone living under the Putin regime who are resisting?
Petr: We are in contact with our comrades in Ukraine. It’s not like we are disconnected, there is a constant flow of information from here to there, and from there to here.
But anyway, the main words that we can send them is that they are fighting not just for themselves, or for Ukraine, they are fighting for Russia as well, because we really believe that, as it happened a lot in historical times, a lost war often meant the fall of the regime in Russia. We definitely believe this will be another case of that. Stay strong. Defeat Putin. We in Russia, or internationally, will help you to do this as much as possible.
About the question how can anarchists abroad support the efforts of dissidents in Russia? The best way to do this is to spread the information, spread the word that it’s not the case that the entire Russian population supports this war, there are dozens of thousands of people on the streets, thousands of those who are arrested. There are political organizations or groups, even if not that large, but still dozens of people who are actively working against war and organizing protests, meaning designing leaflets, printing leaflets, starting websites or groups in social media, etc. All of this is extremely important. If you want to support people with something else, not just with the word, we have several cryptocurrency wallets, I can send you privately the numbers. If someone wants to give money to printing leaflets, paying for websites, paying for the fees which our comrades have after being arrested in the street protests, please do. We will be grateful for that.
TFSR: Yeah. Is there anything that I failed to ask about that you want to talk about?
Petr: I guess we covered all the important topics. The only thing is probably that in the current situation, it’s quite important not to fall victim to propaganda from both sides. Both from the Russian side, and from the Ukrainian and broadly, the general Western side. Unfortunately, we sometimes see in the Western media some anti-Russian vibe, which is probably understandable in times of war. But at the same time, it’s quite dangerous, I think. As I’ve said, it’s really important to always separate the actions of the Russian government, which Russian people didn’t elect, to begin with, and the actions or the opinions of those who actually live in Russia, and who suffer from the actions of the Russian government. The Kremlin does not occupy just Ukraine, it actually occupies Russia as well. I think that is an important thing to remind people about.
TFSR: Absolutely. Petr, how can people follow your work and the work of Autonomous Action?
Petr: We have a website avtonom.org and it has an English section. We don’t have enough resources to translate all the materials into English but we try to translate at least the most important ones. You can also find the links to our social media there. We have all sorts of channels that you can expect, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, even Instagram. You can follow us on whatever channel you prefer.
Petr: VK, you mean this Russian social network VKontakte? Yes, we have a page there. But we do not recommend using it. It’s owned by the Russian state. Don’t use VK.
TFSR: If listeners do speak Russian, or besides the written content on the website and on social media, you’ve also got a podcast on Sound Cloud, right? But it’s in Russian.
Petr: Yes, it’s in Russian, it’s weekly. People definitely can subscribe to it on YouTube, Sound Cloud, or whatever, or just listen to it from our website. We are trying to give a weekly anarchist analysis of what is happening. We see that many people actually subscribe. It seems that the format is convenient for the audience. We’re quite proud of it actually.
TFSR: I see that some of the notes from those are getting translated. I imagine if someone does have those language skills also and wants to contribute offering to do translations of some of the stuff published on the site might be helpful?
Petr: That would be great. CrimethInc. actually, did some translation on their own initiative. But we definitely need translators, so if someone feels they have these skills, they’re definitely welcome to contact us by any means possible.
TFSR: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you and thank you again for taking the time and for all the work that you’re doing.
Petr: Thanks for having me and hope that the war will be stopped.