Libertarian Syndicalism with Tom Wetzel

Libertarian Syndicalism with Tom Wetzel

book cover of "Overcoming Capitalism" featuring a red fish swimming away under distress from a school of smaller white fishes shaped like a large fish, "TFSR 1-29-23"
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This week, we share our chat with Tom Wetzel on his recently published book Overcoming Capitalism: Strategy for the Working Class in the 21st Century (AK Press, 2022). Tom is an organizer with Worker’s Solidarity Alliance, an anarcho-syndicalist group relaunching in the SF Bay Area, which publishes to Ideas & Action journal online and is affiliated with the International Worker’s Association IWA/AIT.

For the hour we talk about the book, questions of economics and self-management, the ecological feasibility of Tom’s Libertarian Socialist model, recent labor struggles and other subjects. We hope you enjoy and suggest giving the book a read if this conversation tickles your fancy.

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Featured Tracks

  • “Ninth Wave” by Trifonic from Ninth Wave
  • “I Wish That They’d Sack Me and Leave Me To Sleep” by Chumbawamba from The Boy Bands Have Won

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Transcription

The Final Straw Radio: So, I’m speaking with Tom Wetzel, author of the recent AK Press book, Overcoming Capitalism: Strategy for the Working Class in the 21st Century. Would you care to introduce yourself further?

Tom Wetzel: Okay, I’m Tom Wetzel, and I’m here in the East Bay where I-where I live. I’ve been active here, locally, for over 30 years here in various things, labor and housing issues, and environmental questions.

TFSR: So I just got done reading Overcoming Capitalism, and there’s a lot in there. I wonder if you could tell listeners a bit about your political position, kind of how you came to that position, how you developed and what groups you’re organized with?

TW: Sure. Well, I wrote this book to-to provide an up-to-date, defense and explanation of what revolutionary syndicalism or anarcho-syndicalism is essentially, and as a strategy for getting us out of capitalism, to overcome the oppression, exploitation of the capitalist regime. We can talk about the elements of this strategy, but I’ve been basically interested in these ideas since the mid ‘70s. I’ve both done a lot of reading about the history of anarcho-syndicalism, as well as the history of the American labor movement. And had interviews of many, many individual militants or activists in the labor movement, which has helped to shape my understanding of how this kind of politics works.

TFSR: So you’ve talked about revolutionary syndicalism — anarcho-syndicalism is another term — throughout the book you use the term “libertarian syndicalism” but you do mentioned also anarcho-syndicalism. I wonder if you could unpack the idea behind anarcho-syndicalism, maybe a real brief overview of it, and any groups that you’re affiliated with, or have organized with that fall under that banner?

TW: Sure. Well, I’m a member of Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, which was formed in the ‘80s to advocate this viewpoint. But anarcho-syndicalism, or revolutionary syndicalism, is a revolutionary strategy based on the idea of building up grassroots worker controlled union organization — I call them self-managed — union organizations meaning that workers themselves have control over the organization so that they can prevent the union becoming controlled by some outside bureaucracy of paid officials and staff.

The idea is to build up this kind of a movement on a very grand scale, build interconnections between different worker groups, and also different sectors of the working class. The working class is very diverse and has many different kinds of oppressions and problems and issues. And so, to get a movement which is powerful enough to challenge the extremely powerful capitalists for control of society, you need to essentially build links of solidarity, build a coalition of social movement forces, grassroots forces that can come together and become a united force for change.

It’s primarily based upon this immediate struggle with the employer, which is because that’s the primary place where the working class has leverage in society, through things like strikes and other kinds of direct action. These give people a sense of power and therefore tends to change consciousness over time as solidarity and strength of the working class grows, then the consciousness of “Hey, maybe we can change society” within the working class itself. And so that kind of process is what revolutionary syndicalism is designed to further. To build, to advance the struggle so that you have this kind of horizontal federated unity, a greater degree of unity being built up, of working class social movements.

TFSR: So different theorists over time have used different definitions for what working class means, or whatever the revolutionary agents might be. For Mao, it was the peasants and the industrial workers. For Marx and for Lenin, ostensibly, it was for the proletarian, the industrial working classes in the cities. There’s, I think, some really valid critiques of putting it on these specific components of society saying “these are the people that have the agency to make change, these are the people, them or their representatives, are the ones who will propose the changes that should occur”. And I like the approach that you take towards what you mean by working class when using that language. Can you talk a bit about who were the working classes?

TW: Okay, sure. The thing about the working class is that, within capitalism, we don’t have our own means to live. It’s not like under feudalism, we’re workers, the immediate producers, have access to land, which we don’t have access to. So, because we don’t have our own access to our own livelihood, we’re forced to go out and seek jobs from employers. That’s kind of the first element of the working class condition.

Then the second part of it is that we not only are forced to seek these jobs, we’re forced to submit to the autocratic managerial regimes that the capital is set up to control our labor. So, the workers are denied control over the labor process, control over how our own capacities are put to use. It’s that subordination to management power, which is another feature of the working class condition.

The working class do not have control over other workers. We don’t manage other working class people. There is, of course, a separate class of managers and high end professionals that the capitalists hire to control us: the managers; the HR experts; the industrial engineers that design job flows and stuff like that; corporate lawyers and so forth. The working class day-to-day has a kind of antagonistic relationship to that class. I call that class the “bureaucratic control class”, because their role is to control the firm’s, control the State, control workers, control the labor process. And we are subordinate to them.

That’s a very large part of society, between 60 to 75% of the population satisfy this definition. And the industrial working class, which is to say that workers in basic industry, certainly are a component. They’re like a core component, they may be 1/4 of the total workforce. They have a significant amount of leverage because of their position. So, the historical emphasis upon them makes a certain sense, and was a feature of both Marxist and syndicalist views, historically. But the working class in general was much larger than that because it includes people in the service sector, in health care, in retail. And as I say, that it’s a very large and very diverse population.

TFSR: But it sounded like in parts of the book, you were also arguing that there’s room in that definition for also people whose job is not paid in a wage, such as — what Federici and other feminists in the 1970s were pointing to — people that do social reproduction of the working class because of their relationship, not owning the means of production and being reliant on the decisions of the managerial class. People that don’t actually hold jobs can also be included in that working class definition, right?

TW: Sure, because classes are families. And so one of the features of capitalism in the 19th century was that for a family or working class family to survive, they had to send members out into the labor [force], out to get jobs. But at the same time capitalism has always shifted the costs of reproduction, of cooking and cleaning houses and taking care of the family. Taking care of all the members of the family historically was shifted on to the unpaid labor of women. This is the basis of the gendered division of labor within capitalism, historically. Even though most women ended up being recruited into the wage labor force so that capital could expand, the number of people they exploit and the number people to use, still gender inequality is a persistent feature inherited from that way in which capitalism cannibalizes social reproduction work.

So, certainly, because it’s families that are classes, not just the individual worker. Yeah, it does include a lot of people who are not currently working. There’s the dependents of workers, there’s people who’ve retired from working class jobs, they’re all still part of the working class population.

TFSR: Or people who might be considered a part of the lumpenproletariat, people who are currently between jobs, who are reliant either on public services, or just being shuttled from place to place by cops.

TW: Yeah, the vulnerability to not be able to find a job is part of the working class condition. People go through periods of their lives where they may not be able to find a job. They may be thrown out on the street here, even people who are working, or living out of their cars. That’s part of the vulnerability which is inherent to the working class condition. You end up with a sizable part of the working class ends up being unable to find work and in various kinds of difficult situations.

TFSR: Throughout the book you use the term “libertarian”, and a lot of people when they hear the term — like friends of mine, when I was like “I’m reading this book, and here’s the term they’re using” friends were irked at the use of the word libertarian, because there’s so normalized to the right-wing application of it. Can you talk a little bit about your decision to use that term? And I know that there’s elements of the DSA in the United States, the Democratic Socialists of America, there’s a Libertarian Socialist caucus — it’s not, it’s not only you using it — but if you could kind of talk about that a little bit I’d appreciate it.

TW: Sure. Part of the reason that I decided to use, say, for example, “libertarian syndicalism”, is [that] I’m trying to revive the left wing use of the word libertarian, which was this original meaning. Cause after all, a primary and fundamental aspect of our politics is the fight for freedom, for the freedom of the working class and the oppressed in general. And a politics which has a primary focus on liberty or freedom can reasonably be called libertarian.

Now, there is a fundamental difference in how freedom is understood by us — that is, by left-wing libertarian socialist — versus the so-called right-wing libertarian. In that they have a very narrow conception of freedom that is just absence of coercion or physical restraints. The old 19th century liberal conception of freedom. Whereas libertarian socialists, anarcho-syndicalist, cooperativists, have a different conception of freedom, where it’s positive freedom we’re talking about. We’re talking about people being able to control their own lives. It would be things like people controlling the places where they work, people controlling the communities where they live. This is also called “self-management”, control over the decisions that affect you.

And the thing about capitalism is it suppresses self-management. So, in the case of going back to my definition of the working class, we were talking about how workers in workplaces don’t have control over the work, they’re subordinate to this autocratic, managerial regime. That is a systematic denial of self management. It’s a denial of people having a certain kinds of essential form of freedom. I think that we are fighting for positive freedom, you’re fighting for rebuilding society on the basis of all institutions have to be based on self-management, people controlling the decisions that affect them. That’s kind of a generic definition of what libertarian socialism is all about in its various forms, and that’s why I think it’s perfectly appropriate to use the word “libertarian” here. Because you’re talking about a politics of freedom, right? A politics of liberty. So that’s why I have selected to emphasize that, right?

TFSR: It’s the kind of stubbornness I find beautiful. “You can’t have that word!” [laughing]

TW: [chuckles] Right, we’re gonna take it back!

TFSR: So it’s pretty common in our society for people to argue — they take on the assumptions, inculcation of the values of capitalism, the arguments that we get. And one of those things that we argue — alongside that there needs to be a bureaucratic control of people in the workplace — is that redistributive universal basic income type projects, let alone full so socialism, just aren’t economically feasible if you take out all the corners that capitalism cuts out: cost shifting; or motivations of market competition, whether it be among workers competing for a job, or corporations competing for market share of production.

So, I wonder, it’s kind of a vague and kind of big question, but if people talk about like, “well, there isn’t enough pie to go around, we need these measures to increase efficiency. And we also need to reward the people that are good at creating that efficiency through their competition. “How do you sell someone on the idea that actually no, socialism is possible and capitalism is what makes affordable good quality of life unavailable for everyone?

TW: Right. Well, first of all, just in terms of what we can afford: currently the 1%, the capitalist elite, sucked down 40% of all the national income in the United States. So we’re proposing to get rid of that, right? And to remove their role in society. So that means that all of that value that is created, ultimately, by the working class, we then have available to us to use in the ways that we want it to be used.

Capitalism, moreover, is not actually an efficient system, it’s actually horribly, horribly inefficient for a number of reasons. First of all, it creates huge amounts of bureaucratic bloat. To control labor, they put a huge amount of resources out of production, into building up these huge bureaucratic hierarchies. For example: in 1900 only 3% of the workforce were managers, but over the past century, because of their building up of these systems to control labor, today it’s 15% of the workforce are managers. And a lot of that is a kind of police sort of role of controlling workers.

This huge bureaucratic bloat, which also includes the State, is one of the areas where capitalism is hugely inefficient. And another area where they’re usually inefficient is the persistent cost shifting of the pollution and so forth, you know, and the failure to provide adequate systems of caring work: health care and education and childcare. These are all the efficiencies of the system. So, capitalism is certainly not in any way an efficient system, contrary to the hype that the defenders have it pulled out.

TFSR: One thing I really did appreciate early on in the book is that you address sexism and racism in the workplace and in society, and didn’t just explain them away as byproducts of capitalist exploitation. This is a thing that certain leftist have done over the last century and a half, saying that the primacy of looking at issues and under capitalism is one of class and that these other things are secondary, and then once working class institutions, or parties or whatever, get into power all those things will be resolved. This is obviously important because coworkers come in all sorts of ways and unequal treatment in the workplace is not only wrong, but it also undermines solidarity and collective trust and strength.

I think also that this focus in the book dovetails nicely with your points about the idea of community syndicalism, and the aim of solidarity among all strata where the state and capital dominate, by fostering social strength: by creating or strengthening existing solidarity among individuals in their neighborhoods, in their workplaces, in their faith communities, wherever that happens to be.

Can you talk a little bit more about your idea of community syndicalism, class composition and sites of struggle?

TW: Sure. I think that community syndicalism has sort of a limited role to play, I think that the primary force that the working class has for change, is in fact the struggle in the workplace, is against the employers. Just because of leverage, you know, you have a strike, that’s a production halting strike, you’re shutting down the flow of profits, or you’re shutting down a government agency. But in the course of doing that kind of thing, workers, particularly if you look at periods of heightened struggle, like in the ‘30s or in the World War I era, the appeal to other people in the working class community, other sectors of workers, other communities, forms of association in the community, is always very important in terms of building out, defending, for example, people who are on strike.

As in the highest level of conflict here is things like a general strike, where workers appeal essentially to the support of the entire community, so that these community connections are ultimately a form of working class power. Because if you’re going to have workers who are on a particular struggle, a particular strike, if they can gain a greater degree of support for their struggle, other workers going on strike to support them or whatever, then that increases their power. The solidarity is itself a form of power. And that’s where the community connections of workers is important.

Community syndicalism is the idea of building community organizations in working class communities to engage in struggles in sites of conflict outside the workplace. And there are, this does happen. We’ve seen fare strikes on transit systems, or rent strikes, for example, among tenants. What I would say is that that’s possible, it’s important that it happens, but the level of leverage in the community is lower than it is in the workplace. Because the leverage is from basically shutting down capitalist profits. Shutting down operations.

Now with rent strikes, you can see that it happens, right? You’re shutting down, the profit flows to the landlord. It’s just that landlords are just one particular sector of capital. And it can be difficult to build these kinds of purely community-based struggles to get enough power.This is why I say I think that the primary focus for developing working class power to make changes in society is going to have to be through rebuilding the ability of the working class to have production halting strikes, strikes that actually shut things down.

One of the things that’s going to require is, for example, building worker organizations that have the ability to violate the law and get away with it. One of the problems we have, since the Second World War, is the legal system in the United States (and other countries I think too) has built up a kind of legal cage where the most effective kinds of actions that workers can do are now illegal, like secondary boycotts for example. What’s going to have to happen is that workers will have to figure out how they can build an organization and build strikes, and just be able to get away with violating those anti-labor laws. And that’s another area where I think the connections to other groups in the community is important, because it’s probably going to be the case that general community support for worker struggles is going to be part of how workers are able to roll over the law, these unjust anti-labor laws.

TFSR: Jumping ahead a little bit, since you’re talking about legality and the restrictions post-New Deal… Your book takes time to look through solutions that are offered by the left and the center, and why you see them as false solutions to the ecological and economic woes that we suffered under. The empowerment of a bureaucratic managerial class under Leninism, and the related democratic centralism of mainstream labor unions in the USA, or the New Green Deal attempt to save capitalist production, these are examples that I can think of from the book.

There was a recent federal intervention to stop rail workers from striking for basic conditions such as time off and raises to stagnating wages, or threats to understaffing and job loss through automation. It was aided by not only the US’s, quote, “most pro-labor president, Joe Biden” as he claimed, but also by most of the supposedly lefty squad of the Democratic Party. It says a lot about the limitations of both attempting to vote Democrat for labor concerns, as well as the shortcoming of limiting movement tactics to those circumscribed by the government.

So, you wrote about weaknesses in the modern labor movement, including: limiting itself to National Labor Relations Board decisions; fighting for recognition; stepped mediation that stalls forward momentum in workplace struggles; and no strike clauses just to name a few. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what the rail strike teaches us, and the limitations of bureaucratic union structures? I know that wasn’t a limitation of union structures, that was an existent law that-that implicated stops of rail workers basically, but what sort of lessons can we take away from-from that?

TW: Well, the Railway Labor Act is probably the most egregious of all the laws that limit worker freedom to strike. It was passed back in the 20s and was modeled on Mussolini’s fascist labor codes. It’s basically a piece of fascist law that makes it very difficult for railway workers to legally strike. There was in 1970 — 1970 was the last time when Congress imposed a solution like that — but that time railroad workers engaged in a wildcat strike. Hundreds of thousands of railroad workers engaged in wildcat strike that year.

Now, I talked to some members of Railroad Workers United about this and they said, “Well, you know, that was a different era”. And they have a point, because during that period there were large numbers of wildcat strikes going on. There was the national wildcat strike that same year among postal workers, and that was an illegal strike. Also among over-the-road truck drivers, there were hundreds of strikes per year in that period. Therefore, it gave a certain confidence to the railroad workers that they could get away with violating the law in that case.

This comes back to this point I made about workers having to figure out, to build the ability to roll over the laws. In this case the railway workers didn’t feel that they could get away with doing that, that’s why it hasn’t happened. There hasn’t there hasn’t been a wildcat strike of the railroad workers this time. But I think what’s required here is to be able to build a larger social movement of workers engaging in strikes, and building org union organizations they control. This is going to be a fairly protracted process where new organizations have created that are not like the AFL-CIO unions in that they are more directly self-managed by workers, that are not as subject to a top down paid bureaucracy at the top.

There’s been some little movements in this direction lately, for example Amazon Labor Union. The organizing committee there explicitly set out to build it as an independent union, a grassroots independent union. That’s part of their strength, I think going about it that way, because then it’s rooted in the internal culture of the workplace, of the workers themselves. So there just needs to be much more of that kind of thing and these kinds of organizations maybe linking up to each other and a higher level of strike action taking place.

Now, if there was that kind of background, social ferment going on that would have made it more feasible from the point of view of the individual railroad worker. It would have made it more feasible, more likely, that they would have then considered the idea of engaging in a wildcat strike, to try to break an essentially, fascist railway labor act.

TFSR: Yeah, I feel like some of the stuff that I read off of Labor Notes were saying that the votes even came down were such a small proportion of the unions affected voted against the strike, because they didn’t think that it was going to pass. They had the-the expectation that they were going to be shut down anyway, and so there was sort of a chill over their independent activity.

TW: Yeah, they didn’t have a large enough majority that’s voting “no”. It is true, however, that the two largest groups, the engineers / drivers union and the conductor’s union, those two unions did vote “no”. That’s the largest part of the railway workforce, but they didn’t vote overwhelmingly “no”. It’s maybe 55% or something like that. That probably reflects their own judgment about this point that I made that, well, could they get away with striking against-against this law? It’s a question of what the larger social ferment and social conditions are, you know? If there was a much larger level of strikes going on right now, they might have made a different decision. They might have had a much larger “no” vote on it.

TFSR: As you meant you mentioned the independent unionization at Amazon warehouses. There’s also been, when I think back to the last six or seven years, a lot of wildcat strikes among teachers in various cities, pushes to improve conditions by health care workers and meat workers as the pandemic plods on. The Starbucks franchise, as well as the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Change To Win-affiliated union of Southern Service Workers. Service workers, fast food workers, are industries that, up until the last decade, big unions wouldn’t even touch and considered them to be unorganized bubble.

To my understanding, the United Mine Workers Association, local at the Warrior Met Coal mine outside of Bessemer, Alabama, is in their 21st month of a strike for pay and benefit restoration since cuts in 2016. These are just a couple of the things that come to mind when I’m thinking about where labor is at in terms of where I’m seeing or heard about strike activity. And again, I’m not a labor beat person, this is not something that I’m effectively paying a lot of attention to. But where do you see the US labor movement today, and do you see any intervention initiatives pointing at a libertarian syndicalist direction like IWW efforts or the WSA or other groupings?

TW: I think that the example that I gave with Amazon is probably the biggest, independent grassroots movement lately. There have been a lot of smaller types of independent efforts, like Burgerville in Portland, for example. That’s a fast food chain. The level of lack of organization at present means there’s a huge room for growth, because only 6% of workers in the private sector belong to unions. This includes even basic industries like manufacturing. So, in my hometown of Los Angeles, which has a half a million manufacturing workers, only 6% of them are unions. There’s just a huge amount of potential growth. There are many industries where the rate of unionization is fairly low, so there’s just a huge potential for growth to take place.

If you consider the conditions, the rather nasty way in which employers in this country treat workers, [like] stagnant wages for many years, I think there is a tremendous amount of potential for building new grassroots organizations. There are certain industries where there is a fairly high level of unionization like railroad industry, public utility, power industry, and some others, there’s the potential for building parallel worker organization. So, in the case of the railroad industry, there is a parallel organization, which promoted the idea of strike that was the railroad workers union. I think that the development of organizations like that, the development of new independent unions, these are the kinds of things I would look for, to see a change in the basic level of power that the working class has to change things.

As you were saying, part of the reason why I say that new independent unions are necessary is because a different kind of relationship to the employers is required where you don’t have things like no-strike clauses and management rights clauses, and stepped grievance procedures. These are all tactics since the Second World War that management has used to prevent disruption, prevent the struggle within the workplaces to take place. If someone has a grievance it gets kicked out of the workplace, to pay officials to deal with it, things like that. And so what you want to see here is a greater level of direct conflict with management in the workplaces, direct solidarity of workers themselves. The union is that kind of a movement in the workplaces, where workers are mobilizing and engaging in struggles. The idea is that with such a low level of unionization now, there’s really a very large room for growth in that kind of thing happening.

TFSR: So again, we’ve been sort of talking about where we’re at right now. How do we get to another place? In terms of the vision that you provide in this book for workers management of the workplace shifting from where it is to workers taking control, maybe picking delegates to communicate with other workplaces, with the opportunity to recall them at an instance if they misrepresent the viewpoints or decisions of the actual workers.

There’s a lot of skeptics to a decentralized, democratized economy that raises questions about the ability of regular people to decide on technical issues of industry: extraction, pollution — minimizing or getting rid of pollution — distribution of resources, topics like this. These big economy-wide things. Maybe they’d say something like, quote, “If you think that they would do damage — the people that have are specialized in this, they’ve gone to the colleges, or they’ve been running this business for a while — imagine all the chaos of mass meetings of uneducated workers deciding. And how long it would take and how ill informed the decisions would be”.

Can you say a bit about making decisions that affect our lives, the knowledge that we have as working people, and as communities, and our experiences under what we’ve been sold as being democracy and how that kind of paints our view of democracy in some cases?

TW: Well, in all the industries I’ve worked in, the manager is entirely dependent upon the knowledge and skills of the workers to actually get the work done. Because of the fact that people are doing the jobs, learn and have various kinds of skills, I think that workers self management of production is not at all a unfeasible idea. Managers often are not really there because of expertise and knowledge, that tends to exist in the workforce. If there are individuals who have expertise, like engineers, they, of course, can act as advisors, if we’re talking about a system of taking over control of production. Like in a very tumultuous period, a very wide scale social struggle, where workers actually are taking over control of companies as has happened at various times, like in Argentina in 2001, or in Chile in the early 70s, or in Spain in the 1930s. If you look at those actual experiences, workers were in fact quite able to successfully self manage the workplaces. And in cases, as far as expertise is concerned, it was the professional workers that they brought in as, or that were there, that acted as advisors, that workers are able to make the decisions with technical advice. So you know, that’s not an unfeasible thing at all.

In the Spanish revolution in the ‘30s the worker organizations, and syndicalist unions took over about 80% of the economy in Spain’s industrialized northeast. They took over industries like the railroads, the electric power industry, they actually built new hydropower plants in the Pyrenees Mountains.

They did huge amounts of changes and improvements in industry, that’s how they got a good transit system in Barcelona. They changed the whole structure. For example, there had been a fare system where you had to pay zones and so the people living in working class suburbs had to pay more money to get into the city; they got rid of that and changed it to a flat fare system. The transit system actually was making a profit under their management, worker management, which they then donated the profits to the war effort against the fascists, but I think there’s enough examples of workers controlling production to show that it is a very feasible proposal.

For one thing in many of these cases, what happens is that it increases morale and increases productivity, because people are excited to be able to have control and are not simply worried about the next stab in the back from management. And also the people learn from doing new tasks, that managers previously did, they will learn from the doing of those tasks and will certainly self educate themselves on that.

You can also look more long term to changes in the educational system to provide the working class population with a more integrated, sort of vocational-and-engineering-oriented kind of education, so that people have the skills necessary. If we go back to the 19th century, for example, the capitalists back then depended totally upon the workers already having the technology to run the workplace in their heads. You know, they depended upon skilled labor, skilled trades. Skills being very general in that period. What has happened since then is that capitalists have tried to deskill and shift responsibilities for decisions more and more to the management bureaucracy. But the fact that historically workers were actually the people who had the technology and understood it is something that can be revived.

TFSR: Yeah, I think you quoted Bill Haywood, who was one of the founders of the IWW, as saying that “the owners or the managers brain is under the workers cap.”

TW: That was the 19th century situation, definitely. That has been changed only because of Taylorism. Taylorism was designed to move all planning away from the workplace, from workers and concentrating it in management. So capitalism has consciously pursued a strategy which essentially built up this vast bureaucratic glove so they can control things. It’s all about control, rather than about the feasibility of workers managing production.

TFSR: And simultaneously, when the job is worth actually existing, the people that are doing them. Like I know that I have been alienated in so many workplaces where I could have had a perfectly enjoyable interaction with someone or solve the problem, but instead the sector of my attention is focused down to this miniscule little thing. And it’s alienating to spend eight hours being managed and puppeteered around instead of actually getting to use my brain.

TW: Right.

TFSR: In this vision of decision making that you describe in libertarian syndicalism it sounds like there are a lot of meetings. At times, I get overwhelmed imagining the frenetic activity that I’ve experienced at moments of social rupture being extended out to… You know, when everything seems possible, when suddenly there’s a million things to do, and it’s just kind of like limited by your imagination and sleep cycle. But imagining that being extended to every day, forever, makes me suddenly almost thankful for the bureaucratic banality of today’s world. In the vision that you’re promoting here, how do you see the work/decision making/rest/sleep balance possibly working out?

The IWW, since the early 20th century, has at times promoted the idea of greatly decreasing the amount of the length of the workweek by spreading around work. For instance, increasing the amount of time that workers have to enjoy themselves, to explore their imaginations, to increase their relationships with each other, whatever they want to do. But in this-in this libertarian syndicalist world would work and meetings be more fulfilling? Resolving some of those pressures in our lives, like you said, the idea of going to a meeting as a worker and actually being able to have something to say and making a decision about what affects eight hours, or however many hours of your life, could actually make it a bit more fulfilling than it feels right now. I wonder if you have something to say about that?

TW: Well, workers can’t control the industries in places where they work without meetings. And even-even today, under capitalism, there are plenty of meetings. So I used to have to go to weekly meetings where my manager would tell us what the story was going to be for that week. So, I mean, if you have an assembly once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month or whatever, I don’t see that as being taking up a huge amount of time. There are a limited number of things you would need to decide collectively, in terms of policies of the direction of the organization, or if there’s a problem that arises.

There also needs to be a public form of direct democracy of neighborhood assemblies. Because you can’t have a socialized economy that’s socially accountable to the population without the population, in general having meetings to decide what they want, right? What do we want to do? What kind of public goods and services do we want to have? People have to engage in a kind of participatory planning, for their city, their region or neighborhood, for the kinds of things they want to have.

These don’t have to be meetings every day [chuckles], they’re not going to be that frequent. But every so often, whether it’s once a month, or whatever, there does need to be actual participation, a vehicle, a venue for people to be able to express exactly what they want, to be able to exercise control over their neighborhood, their city, their society. There can’t be democratic social control of a society without meetings [laughs]. You know? But they don’t have to totally take over one slide.

I provided some technical ideas about how meetings can be minimized in a socialized economy through the use, for example, of a non-market price system that– So, like, for example within capitalism, how are the plans that different households and businesses and governments coordinate? Well, they’re coordinated through the market, the price system, right? So in a socialized economy, you can have a price system that isn’t a market price system. It’s a result of planning that nonetheless plays also a role of some coordination, where people in a particular production facility, like a bus factory or something, they are making their plans, they assume they’re going to be certain prices for various inputs, or certain kinds of demands for their products.

Well if the prices change, that’s a reason for them to go and change their plans, right? They don’t have to engage in massive amounts of engagement with people throughout society, negotiations or something. It’s just the price system tells them signals for what other people have decided, and then that helps them in making their own plan.

I think it is feasible to I think it is content feasible to have a self managed society, where you have centers of decision making and planning that are localized. You have neighborhoods, you have maybe a citywide congress of delegates from the neighbor, you have workplace assemblies, every so often in industry has a convention. You have these kinds of meetings, that I don’t think are going to necessarily fully take over someone’s life. I think a limited amount of time is all that will be required.

TFSR: And I guess kind of related to the idea of these different assemblies, in the US, there are many populations in the working class, groups such as Indigenous folks, women, Black folks, queer folks, differently-abled folks, and others whose liberation has bumped against movement hegemony at different times. Meaning that movements have not made space for the specific concerns that those communities or people with those experience feel. Oftentimes, people create caucuses or other groupings, where they get to come together and share experiences, and sometimes promote those ideas as a group with shared experiences.

Are caucuses and councils something that you’re thinking of in relation to community syndicalism? I guess this is more like, if there’s a neighborhood council, is the room also for people who are Bengali immigrants who are living in this neighborhood, to come together to talk about common things that they have a concern about that maybe isn’t impacted by in the rest of the community?

I’d be curious, corollary to this, about your impressions of what you’re aware of the council structures implemented in the Autonomous Administration in North East Syria (AANES), aka Rojava. Ostensibly, it’s a council driven project with a focus on empowering neighborhoods and challenging gendered, ethnic and religious hegemonies, and it’s identified as libertarian socialist and its aim. So yeah, I’d be curious to see if you see inspirations or challenges in what’s been happening over there in the last decade of what you’re aware of.

TW: Well, one of the most interesting features of that particular experiment is the fact they have distinct women’s assemblies and they require for all the mixed meetings and organizations, they have dual co chairs, so a woman and a man. They even have a women’s militia, because they’ve had problems with gender violence, honor killings and things like this. Their way of dealing with it is through these women’s assemblies, women’s councils, they elect delegates to the city wide councils. So they have their own system for protecting women, as a group who have been subjected to their own just take form of oppression. I think that in a society where women feel that they do have significant issues, obviously in that particular part of Syria, they do, then I think that, yes, women’s caucuses, women’s assemblies would be one way to deal with that.

There could be other kinds of assemblies, as well. In Syria they had separate community assemblies for the various minority groups, they have religious minority groups like Armenians, Syriac Christians, and Yazidis and so forth. They have their own community assemblies, they were encouraged to do that, and then they would send delegates to sort of the regional, wider community wide delegate congress’s, delegate councils. That kind of thing certainly is one way of dealing with that.

You’re going to need things like environmental caucuses, because the issue of — although the libertarian social structure provides the means to controlling, preventing emissions into the ecological commons, you’ll need to have so-called militant minority in environmentalism press the issue to make sure this is actually effectively carried out. You can imagine this, and then wherever there are particular sectors or groups, within the society you have specific forms of oppression, specific issues, them having their own organizations that are active and pressing their concerns, is going to be a likely thing to happen, and should be something that’s supported.

TFSR: That makes me think of, if you ever read the sci-fi novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk. This book I became aware of during the anti-globe or the alter-globe period, and the idea of Spokes-councils showing up — at least to help facilitate protests occurring whenever there was a large conference of capitalist or militarist organizations. You would have different affinity groups or local groups sending in delegates and in the vision that she employs in that book of what a post revolutionary San Francisco Bay Area was. Kind of some Ecotopia flavor there, but kind of pulling from a couple of different directions, there were representatives of the sea, the air, the land — and this is coming from a Pagan perspective — asked to come and speak as to how the decisions that were being discussed by the rest of the communities in the area, were going to be impacting the interests of who they were the delegate of the air, the bay right there, whatever. Anyway [laughs], I like how people play, in scifi, with these kinds of ideas and come up with possible resolutions to it.

Just to kind of go off on the direction — because you’re talking about what dealing with the ecological impacts of a continued industrial economy would look like — in the book you talk about neighborhood councils, specifically addressing the impacts of the possibility of a factory being there or operating. You also talk about — the latter part of the book has so, so many ideas in it that I’ve can’t even touch on them here — the idea of an ecologically sustainable approach towards fixing costs of an item or a finished product would be impacted by a measurement of the ecological costs of the production of it. Of the elements of it, as well, as you know, at some point, the fuel that would keep a vehicle going or what have you.

You can you can fill this in better than what I’m saying from memory right now [chuckles], but say you’ve got a bus factory and the buses require some element, like cadmium or something like that, for the battery, that the extraction of this is detrimental to the humans and non-humans that live in the area where it’s extracted from. This is actually considered into the cost of production of the device, and it impacts the output price and availability of it. In the current capitalist economy that we have, this just gets shifted off to the population that lives there in a very laissez faire manner, if you will. It’s not considered a part of buying the device. Can you talk about workers control, neighborhood control and decreasing pollution?

TW: Yeah, well, the basic structural change that would be needed would be that the ecological commons, any form of emissions, or extraction of resources in an area has to be controlled by the population there. See, right now, this is not the case. The state basically aggregates to itself the right to regulate. And so they let the capitalists do cost shifting things, because the masses are not allowed to prevent them from doing that. The basic change then, is you have your popular power through your neighborhood assemblies, through city wide — or regional — congresses of delegates representing them. That level of organization has control over emissions into the ecological commons, the use of the ecological commons. Therefore they would have, presumably, their own staff of scientists telling them about: what are the emissions here? What is the effects on your health of these kinds of emissions? And they can then ban an emission. They can say “Well, you can’t use that. You can’t pollute us that way”.

Or they could say, if there’s no other way to produce this particular product, like buses or something, without certain kinds of pollution given the current technology, they can say, “Well, all right, we want a reduction. We want you to reduce it by say 25% or 50%, over the course of the next year or two years”. So what happens in that situation then is that there’s a supply and demand situation, the supply and demand of permissions to pollute. The permission to pollute is controlled by the masses through their neighborhood organizations, right? They can deny that permission. The production organization is the demand, they want to have the permission to pollute because their current technology doesn’t allow them to produce without it.

So in that situation, where you have a supply and demand situation, prices will fall out. If you say “Well, okay, we want 50% reduction” what happens is that you then, from that, can fall out a price of that pollutant. You have a price of the pollutant. At that point they get their permission to pollute but they have to pay a cost, a fee. And that fee represents essentially the polluter pays principle and the community is basically being reimbursed for the pollution. Whereas right now, the community is not reimbursed for pollution that the capitalists generate. Moreover, it gives that particular production organization, a strong incentive to try to find a different way of producing that product so they don’t have to use that pollutant, or they can reduce the amount of that pollutant that is being produced. Under capitalism there is no motivation. if the capitalists can use nature as a free sink, and don’t have to pay anything.

Say you have a coal fired power plant that generates emissions that damage people’s respiratory systems, they don’t get paid anything. It also damages the whole world through contributing to global warming, they don’t pay anything for that. Under the change situation that I described, either the pollutant is being banned, or if production organizations are allowed to pollute, they have to pay for that privilege. And then they are then motivated to seek out technological changes, to reduce or eliminate that pollution.

That means then that you have a tendency, a new kind of dynamic in the economy where there’s going to be a tendency over time to make the production system more ecologically efficient by reducing the pollutants per unit output. Or reducing the extraction of certain natural resources because they are required to pay for that. This is a basic change in the structure. You don’t have a capitalist using nature as a free sink anymore.

TFSR: How does that differ from cap and trade?

Currently, it does kind of work where polluting– I mean, maybe not with the refinery that’s in the middle of the East Bay. That’s an example of it, it blows off a bunch of chemicals every few years and a huge cloud that poisons mostly working class populations of color. And so there’s a point there about the leverage that those populations have to make the electoral change in our democracy. But if you’ve got low population, rural area where a thing we get extracted from, and therefore they have less of a voice in terms of numbers to affect the sort of production, or something that goes into the commons, as you said, like air pollution, or water pollution that eventually gets distributed so widely, that it’s not just the neighborhood that we’re the the factory is.

TW: Okay, the problem with the present institutions that do regulation, whether it be cap and trade — or in the Bay Area we have Air Quality Districts that can produce fines and so forth — is that they have no way to impose an accurate price, the production organizations, that actually represents the real damage. What they do is they may have a fine or something, but they always put these low enough that it does not end profitability on the part of the capitalist firms. The capitalist firms have enough power in controlling the state that the prices will always be set low enough to not really solve the problem and to not affect their profitability.

This is why the fossil fuel industry, the oil companies now are backing carbon taxes. The reason they’re doing that is they know they have enough clout to make sure that those taxes are low enough that they could still make a profit, it won’t really affect anything. Well, in other words, it will be ineffective. And that’s because of the state being controlled by the capitalists and not being controlled by the population. So, the difference here is that what I’m saying, what I’m proposing, is that the actual population themselves, through their own direct participatory organization, have the power to ban those pollutants. Or if they want to just say, “Okay, well reduce by at least by 50%”, or something like that. And then you get an actual price, that’s a more accurate price, because it tells us how much of how important it is to them.

Because they’re going to have their expert advisors telling them that “Well, this is going to do this kind of damage to your health”. So they’re going to know what the real impact of that pollutant is, and then they’re going to be motivated to make whatever kind of demand reflects that. Whether it’s to get rid of it, reduce it by 50%, or whatever. You’re more likely then, if the masses themselves directly control access to the ecological commons, they can enact an accurate price, or they can ban the pollutants altogether. This is simply not something which the present regime’s capable of doing.

TFSR: Okay, so then it would be just the wider society saying that the sacrifice that this small, rural area where something is being extracted from is… If there’s not a big vote coming out of that area?

TW: Well, they would themselves have the power to prevent that extraction, it’s damaging to them. Because the idea is that every population group and its particular regions, people area controls the ecological comments in that area. Okay, so that like here in the Bay Area, you have refineries, for example? Or do you have to say you have some other kinds of production organizations that generate fluids? Well, that’s relevant to the population here, because this is where those pollutants are going to have an effect.

Similarly, if, you know, there’s some extractivist operation that’s going to affect and do damage, and shouldn’t people in that rural area. So like, for example, like under fracking, you have these gas fields that are built, typically what they do a typical gas field will generate as much, they’re very leaky, and that will generate as much volatile organic compounds as a big oil refinery. And that will be hugely destructive to help them with their animals, you know, like they have a goat herd or something, well, they won’t be able to drink the milk anymore, because it’ll be poisoned by the emissions from that gas field, you know. So the idea is that within that population in that area, we’ll be able to prevent that they will have the political power to say no, you can’t do that. Here, he can be able to ban it, you know, if there isn’t some way to reduce it or restrict it in some way.

TFSR: So I have-I have two more questions on here. There was the one about the market socialism idea-

TW: Okay, market socialism has a number of problems to it, looking at it from a libertarian socialist point of view. First of all, if we imagine how there could be a social force of social power, to actually get rid of the capitalists who are extremely powerful [laughs], we got the most powerful ruling class in history. It’s going to have to be organized on a very vast basis. The transition will have to occur out of a period when there’s been highly disruptive, massive levels of strikes and other kinds of actions going on. The only way you’re going to get that kind of a massive movement of that scale is to increase the levels of cohesion and support for each other’s struggles.

That means that the level of consciousness about like the why particular segments of the society, particular minorities in society, have certain issues. It becomes more broader, okay? If you have this massive working class space movement that’s built on solidarity, why would they want to, after seizing control of the workplaces, chop them up into separate companies to put each other in competition? You built a movement based on solidarity, now you undermine it by forcing this company to compete with this company, driving them out of business or reducing their wages. Market Socialism seems to be incompatible with the kind of force that will be necessary to create a socialized economy. That’s just one argument.

Another argument is that if you think about the way a market system works, it’s also a labor market. You’re coming out of capitalism, you have these various groups of people that have worked as managers or engineers, or whatever, and they happen to have certain areas of expertise. The cooperatives, because they have to compete with each other and they’re concerned with their survival, people who have a lot of expertise or marketing knowledge, or whatever, are going to have a lot of leverage in terms of negotiation for being hired. And they’re going to be able to say, “Well, okay, I want to have this kind of power. I want to have this kind of level of pay”. You’ll likely end up with a system where, like in the corporations today, we have this hierarchy and you have these high-end professionals and managers, and they end up getting a lot more money than the rest of the workers. And they have a lot of control, power over the running of that operation.

If you look at, for example, the Mondragon Cooperatives in Spain, they’re not actually run by the workers. There is an annual assembly, but the plans are made up by the top professionals and managers, and they’re just given to the workers to say “agree or not”. The workers themselves are not actually permitted under the rules, to go out and hire their own consultants, to give them an evaluation of those plans. What happens then is that the managers and professionals end up becoming a dominant class, a class that is in control over the working class. You haven’t really gotten out of the class system with a system of market socialism.

Also, the problem of ecological damage is due to the way the market system operates, because firms are able to use nature as a free sink. There isn’t that equivalent of social control over the economy or economic planning that I was talking about, which would be able to produce accurate prices of pollutants and force production organizations to change their production. You’d have companies free to engage in pollutants. Market Socialists might say, “We’ll have State regulation”, but we know what that does. That always ends up with the problem of regulatory capture, where the powerful industrial groups have enough clout that they can get the state regulation constrained enough so they can still make profits, they can still engage in ecologically damaging activities.

Then, if it’s a market system that’s got the State, you’ve got the whole problem of the state is itself a bureaucratic top down structure. That’s also a power base for the bureaucratic control class also. The state in itself has a sort of class oppression built into it. You can see this in the way that public sector workers are subordinate to managers in the public sector. If you have to have a state to regulate this market economy, you still have a class divided society. You haven’t fully moved to a liberation of the working class from subordination to some dominating class.

Those are some of my counter arguments against Market Socialism, why we need to have some kind of democratically planned coordinate economy. Planned economy doesn’t have to be like a centralized, top-down central playing regime, like existed in the Soviet Union or, you know, for that matter, big corporations. Corporations like Walmart, they have their own central planning machine that’s all controlled from the top down.

The kind of planning that I’m talking about is the more distributed planning where there’s lots of planning going on locally, neighborhood assemblies, communities, and worker organizations, workplace planning, and so forth. Then these are all adjusted to each other, basically. I think some kind of planning system like that is necessary to overcome the destructive characteristics of the market.

TFSR: Yeah, cool. I really appreciate that. I really appreciate this conversation. And there’s a million other questions I could ask you, and [laughs] I’ll hold back somehow. But I suggest that people check out the book. Where can people find other writings of yours or be in touch with you? Do you have a public email? Or do you have any social media? Or do you publish to any blogs in particular?

TW: I have a blog called OvercomingCapitalism.info. Some of my essays are on the IdeasAndAction.info website. ideas and Action is the webzine of the Worker Solidarity Alliance and I published a lot of essays there. They’re there. That’s probably the main source, I think, where some of my writings are.

TFSR: Is Worker Solidarity, is WSA currently organizing? Or mostly, like a discussion group in the US, or are there any unions that are affiliated with it?

TW: No, it’s a very small political group and we’ve kind of been trying to rebuild it. Here in East Bay we have a group, and we’re probably going to be starting up a new magazine soon. Right now mainly the ideas & action magazine is our main, sort of publicly visible, voice. There’ll be another one here that we’re going to start up, another newsletter here in the Bay Area, very soon.

TFSR: Cool. Well Tom, thank you for all this work, and thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I really appreciate it.

TW: Thank you.

Voices In Struggle: Remembering Tortuguita + Resistance in Lützerath and Against Tren Maya

Voices In Struggle: Remembering Tortuguita + Resistance in Lützerath and Against Tren Maya

Manuel "Tortuguita" Teran pictured in the forest "TFSR 2023-01-22 | Remembering Tortuguita + Resistance in Lützerath and against Tren Maya"
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This week on The Final Straw, we feature three segments: words from a friend of Manuel “Tortuguita” Teran, the forest defender killed by law enforcement on January 18th outside of Atlanta, Georgia; A-Radio Berlin’s conversation with an activist at Lutzerath encampment in western Germany attempting to block a lignite coal extraction operation by RWE; a discussion of the Tren Maya megaproject by the AMLO administration in Mexico.

Remembering Tortuguita

First up, we caught up with Eric Champaign of Tallahassee, FL, about his friend Manny, aka Tortuguita or little turtle. Manuel Teran was shot and killed by law enforcement during an early morning raid of the forest encampment to defend the Welaunee aka Atlanta Forest and to stop CopCity on Wednesday, January 18th, 2023. Law enforcement claimed in the media that they responded to shots fired and the wounding of an officer by killing the shooter, but at the time of this release the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has not yet produced a weapon or bodycam footage of the clash. [Update, Georgia Bureau of Investigation claims they found Tort’s gun and ballistics match the bullet in the pelvis of the cop] The killing of Tortuguita has sparked outrage, calls for independent investigations, vigils and calls for renewed and dispersed activity. Word is that another 6 people were arrested and charged with domestic terrorism during the raid. Check out our chat with a member of Atlanta Anti-Repression Committee for some context and links to group fighting back in the courts. There’s a fundraiser for Tortuguita’s family at GoFundMe

Eric also speaks about his friend, Dan Baker, who is nearing his release date. You can hear our past chat with Eric about Dan’s case at our website alongside links about the case and how to support him. There’s now a paypal for donations for Dan’s post-release, which can be found at DanielBakerDonations@gmail.com

Then, we feature two segments are selections from the January, 2023 episode of B(A)D News from the A-Radio Network. You can find this ep, #64, alongside many others at A-Radio-Network.Org

Updates from Lützerath

This second segment is a recording by A-Radio Berlin of a conversation with a radio activist from Aalpunk from Lützerath giving some context of the struggle there in the west of Germany. Since this recording, the encampments have been evicted but resistance continues against the ginormous lignite mine that the corporation RWE is attempting to expand there. You can also hear or read our September 25th, 2022 episode for some background. More info at https://luetzerathlebt.info/en

Opposing Project Tren Maya

Finally, we’re sharing a segment by Frequenz-A about Proyecto Tren Maya in the Yucatán peninsula of so-called Mexico. The conversation with a member of Recherche-Ag about a report they published in Solidarity with the Zapatista movement, on the German state and corporate participation in this mega-project and the dangers posed by the Maya Train, which includes huge expansion of electric, travel and other corporate and state infrastructure through sensitive ecosystems and sovereign indigenous lands, being overseen by the Mexican military. You can find this report and more at ya-basta-netz.org.

To hear a past interview of ours talking about Tren Maya & AMLO’s infrastructure projects, you can find our February 2nd, 2020 interview.

Announcements

Phone Zap for Jason Renard Walker

Jason Walker, a writer and organizer held in the Texas prison system, is currently being held at a psychiatric unit after having to fake  suicide attempt in order to escape a plot to murder him. He’s asking for urgent support in ensuring that he’s not transferred back to Connally Unit, where the original incident took place, and for his entire classification file to be reviewed to help him get moved to a safer place. You can check our show notes for the relevant contacts and words from Jason and a script to call with at BRABC.BlackBlogs.Org

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Featured Tracks:

  • We Were All Scared by Cloudkicker from Beacons
  • Push It Way Up! by Cloudkicker from Beacons

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Remembering Tortuguita Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself however you see fit with whatever names, preferred gender pronouns, location, or other information that’d be useful for the audience?

Eric: Sure. My name is Eric, he/they. I’m an artist in Tallahassee. I’ve been doing some farming and been involved with a lot of mutual aid work out here. That’s part of how I met Manny.

TFSR: We’re talking about Manuel Teran, aka Tortuguita, who was killed by a state trooper outside of Atlanta during a raid the other morning while folks were camping in defense of the forest there. I wonder if you could tell listeners a little bit about how you met and knew Manny in Florida?

E: This is a whole other story that we can maybe expand on a little bit later. But I moved to Tallahassee with my friend, Daniel Baker, in 2020. Shortly after we moved here, the J6 riots were happening. They’re threatening to occupy all the state capitals to try to orchestrate some coup attempt. He was very concerned about this. He was trying to rally up people to try to be there, to try to prevent that from happening or at least try to extract people who could have been injured from this occupation. Federal agents raided our apartment and arrested him. And I was embroiled in all this prison solidarity work for Daniel.

I was going through a lot, I was still trying to keep connected with the projects that we had already begun. Over the course of doing that, I used to volunteer regularly at a DIY art space called The Plant in Tallahassee, and Manny was another volunteer there. So we met through that and became friends. And before long, we were pretty much doing everything together. They were a pillar of support for me while I was trying to process Dan’s whole situation, and they even attended one of Dan’s hearings out here. They were one of the only friends in town who showed up for the trial and wrote Dan some letters. It was really helping me get through it and get the support that I needed to stay sane at that point.

TFSR: All of us here are very sorry for your loss.

E: I just went off this fucking ride.

TFSR: Can you tell listeners a little bit about what you know about Manuel’s or Tortugito’s backstory, some stuff that fleshes them out? Because a lot of people are probably seeing a picture of them. I saw Unicorn Riot did an interview with a couple of friends in Atlanta, which is great. But it’d be cool to hear a little bit more about your impression of them, and what you know about their background.

E: They were a very international personality. They’d grown up partly in Venezuela, partly in Texas. They had lived in the US on and off. They’d lived in Egypt for a while. They lived in Japan for a bit. They were quite the globetrotter. I know they had done some environmental work at FSU-Panama. They were very committed to their studies. And at least at first, out at Florida State University at Panama, they had started doing a pre-med program. But they were intimidated by the prospect of all the trauma that comes with that profession. So they transferred more into the psychology department to study neurobiology. The main point of interest that they were focused on was the use of psychedelics for therapy. They had an Ayahuasca experience at one point that blew their mind about the possibilities of therapy through the use of these types of substances.

TFSR: Can you give your impressions of Tortuguita’s participation in forest defense and organizing around Cop City? What got them involved or inspired them?

E: A combination of things. On the one hand, especially trying to study that therapy, there are so many different legal barriers and the way the carceral system works. I feel they’re very aware of how the carceral system prevents people from getting these types of treatments that could be available and very beneficial to people. Also, going to Dan’s trial, I think, flipped a switch with Manny because they were very struck by the injustice of the trial and how Dan was being treated. I remember them telling me that they had cried about it not long after, and I could tell it affected them very strongly. Going through all this really feels helpless, when you’re at the mercy of this oppressive bureaucracy. It makes you feel really powerless. The forest movement in Atlanta was a way that felt they could have a more tangible impact and actually be able to make more changes.

TFSR: So, Manny survived the first raid, as I understand, the one that brought initial charges of domestic terrorism on December 16, when six forest defenders were netted in a day-long raid on tree sits, a very violent one, in the South Atlanta forest. If you’d talked to Tortuguita since then, how have they expressed the experience to you?

E: I don’t really know a whole lot about that. All I know is some rumors were saying that they were up in a tree smoking a spliff, blasting some bangers on their Bluetooth, and basically telling them to “fuck off.” I don’t know if I can really confirm that but it sounds about right.

TFSR: Okay. I would imagine the badassery aside a pretty dramatic thing. Kamau Franklin recently noted in the January 20 episode of DemocracyNow! that Tortuguita made past statements to the media using that name about the importance of this being a nonviolent struggle because facing the police on the terrain of violence was a tough sell. I note this not because I’m a pacifist, or because this is a pacifist project, but because law enforcement has justified their claim that they responded to being shot at and claimed that it was Manny that had fired the shots. The police have, at this time, as far as I know, not provided any proof of the allegation that Manny was responsible for shooting the officer who went into surgery. In point of fact, actually, as I understand, the cop apparently had surgery on his groin area, which may point to the cop shooting himself while drawing his service weapon. That’s the thing that happens. But that’s speculation. [police later claimed to have found a pistol, – editor]

From your impression from communications with Manuel before the incident that cost them their life, were they expecting the violent escalation by the cops raiding the encampments in this manner?

E: We all had a grasp of the potential risks. We know that they’re a violent occupying force that is willing to go to any end to crush anyone who stands up to them. So we definitely wouldn’t have put it past them to do something like this. They were also in a particularly vulnerable place as someone with immigrant status, somebody who is non-white, they were in an extra vulnerable position. So we were very concerned about them, but they were also competent and intelligent, and we always assumed that they’d be okay. I think we’ve definitely had these types of conversations before, and they had a very firm grasp of what the risks were. But they were also the most peaceful person, never starting a conflict with people. They might butt heads with people sometimes about theory and stuff like that, but they’re overall a very humble person. You could talk to them about anything. And they’re not the person to go off the handle. They’re not the thug or whatever that the media tries to portray them as.

TFSR: Switching gears, we’ve seen the memory and image of Manny many times being presented, as happens when someone dies at the crossroads of the cultural conflict, such as the defensive villain. The far right says terrible things, the media and the cops make other accusations, oftentimes similar to what the far right says, and the movement against Cop City and allies frame another image as a way of honoring, but also as a way of motivating or inspiring people to pick up where your friends struggle left off. I wonder if you had any thoughts about this that you wanted to share. What it’s like to see a friend being memorialized or represented in the manners that you’ve seen.

E: They were an anarchist, so they never wanted to be a symbol or a celebrity, or a martyr or anything like that. They were perfectly content to stay behind the scenes and do the work. It can be overwhelming and frustrating to balance all these different views. For the cops and the haters, fuck all of them, I honestly couldn’t give a shit less what they think or say about any of this. As far as I’m concerned, it is completely irrelevant. They don’t know shit, they can’t even grasp their own reality. But the people who knew them are still in solidarity, we’re all sticking together, we’re all speaking out. And the truth is going to get out there, it’s going to show the abuses that are perpetrated on our own civilians by cops every day. 2022 was a record-breaking year for police murders.

We’re trying to preserve their memory as a human being. And they’re an ordinary person that was doing some extraordinary things, and anybody can do it. And that’s the real message that they would want to get across. They didn’t sacrifice, they’re not a Jesus or something who sacrificed themselves for other people. It’s up to each and every one of us to take up our own cross and follow that example in our own way.

TFSR: Maybe without the cross part. [laughs]

E: Hopefully not. That’s the thing: all these deaths and suffering are totally unnecessary. They’re literally camping in the forest, they’re out there sleeping, minding their own business. To be honest, even if they did roll up on them early in the morning, I could care less. That’s what they get for fucking assaulting people on public lands, for traumatizing all these people, for shooting pepper balls up into trees, they’re trying to kill somebody. So I don’t really know what they expect. As far as I’ve heard, there’s no weapon recovered from the site. No cam footage. Cops lie all the time. I expect them to lie. But even if they did shoot back, honestly, I wouldn’t even blame them. That’s what they get for trying to occupy public spaces or usurp all the common spaces, all the resources. They’re taking up all the space and time and they’re stealing our friends and their lives.

TFSR: We were talking really briefly before we started recording about the vigils that have been happening. We had one here in Asheville, I wasn’t able to make it, but I heard it was quite nice and sad. But it’s good for people to get together and mourn, for the things they’re going to mourn for and the people they’re going to mourn for collectively. And that’s the thing that we didn’t get to do in a lot of ways over 2020 and 2021 and 2022 even, with the COVID pandemic. I wonder if you could talk about what you’ve seen with the vigils and how far they’ve expanded. And how, as a member of a community that was close to Manny and that held Manny, how that feel for you.

E: It’s been really amazing. Even within the first day or two, we’re already seeing this whole outpouring of support. So it’s obvious how many lives they’ve touched through all this and how many people have been affected, who maybe didn’t even know about any of this stuff, or weren’t directly affected by it. It wakes you up to the fact that there are people out there doing stuff every day that they can’t or don’t even bring it up. Anybody can form a revolutionary act in their lifetime. And Manny was one of the people that made the ultimate sacrifice for what they believed in. And that’s more than can be said for the vast majority of people. So the time that they spent in the forest was probably the happiest that I remember seeing them. So it makes me feel a little bit better than whenever they left this world, they were in a position where they were all in. That was what they wanted to do. That’s where they felt happy. That’s where they were most at home. Even though they were an internationalist. They’re a true citizen of the world. And the Weelaunee Forest became their home and will remain their home.

TFSR: You mentioned before that they are also friends with and comrades with anarchists and anti-fascist political prisoner, Dan Baker. Dan is set to be released from federal prison shortly. For folks who want an in-depth conversation about Dan’s case, I’ll direct them back to the other chat, not to keep you top long, but could you talk a bit about Dan, how he’s doing and, in your life, the weight of militarized police response that you’ve seen in recent years?

E: We live in an oligarchy. For a lot of people, this is an uncomfortable truth. A lot of people maybe don’t realize this, but rich people call all the shots in this country. They literally pay for campaign finance, so that politicians can get an office, they pay for lobbyists to influence policy that ordinary people never get a chance to vote on. And then they monopolize the media and twist narratives in their own favor.

On the one hand, you have a certain subset of the population that is willing to accept a bribe, to betray their friends and neighbors. On the other hand, the media will twist other people’s minds and lead to all these fascist militias. There’s no real media literacy, no real grasp on reality. And so between these crushing forces of the state and also para-state violence, it places all of us under threat. And I don’t think a lot of people were really taking this threat seriously at the time, except for Dan, who was one of the few people who had seen similar stuff before. He’s seen villages in Kurdistan besieged by ISIS, it’s the same far-right religious fascism extremism that the US has supposedly been fighting against for so long.

And the exact same mentality is also propagating within the US. And so people like Dan, people like Tortuguita take it as their personal responsibility to stand up for others. And that’s such a very rare and courageous thing that most people can’t even comprehend or can’t even really grasp what that actually takes. It appears crazy to them. Dan was one of those people who were willing to stand up for people even at great personal risk. And when many saw that example, they felt they also needed to do their part in some way. And this struggle for the forest seemed the most impactful way to do that because otherwise, they expect us to roll over and take it and submit to dehumanization and ultimate destruction. I asked myself how many of us are they going to put in the ground to build their fucking pigpen in the woods in the name of protecting the public? It doesn’t make any sense. This Cop City is already being built on the blood of civilians that they’re supposed to be protecting.

TFSR: I’ve never heard it called a pigpen. That’s perfect.

Do you know his release date, is there a post-release fund already out there?

E: This last week, I helped him file a Habeas [Corpus] petition, so he should be eligible for First Step Act good time off, and should be able to get up to a year off of his sentence. That was processed this past week. So with any luck, he may be getting out within the next three months, at least into a halfway house. We’re really anxiously waiting to welcome Dan home. And it really kills me that he will never get a chance to meet Manny in person. I was always looking forward to that day when they would actually get to meet.

TFSR: That’s tragic. Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you wanted to comment on?

E: I don’t know. That’s about it. Fuck them pigs, it’s time. There’s no going back from all this. Whenever they engage in this repression, they’re sowing the seeds of insurrection, they’re sowing the seeds of insurgency. If that’s what happens, then they brought it on themselves, and there’s nobody else that they can blame for it.

I feel like people need to be ready. And hopefully, we can still find a way around that. I don’t think anybody wants to see this violence and human suffering. But it’s not necessary in the first place. So that’s why people have to fight back, they have to stand up for themselves. Otherwise, the state will keep taking and taking and taking until everyone’s replaced. There are no more free humans in the world. They’re cops and prisoners.

TFSR: Well, Eric, thanks for the ray of sunshine. [laughs]

E: I guess the silver lining is that we protect ourselves. There are so many examples from all over the world. So many people have made these tremendous sacrifices. And if we remember them and if we internalize their values and their spirit, then change is possible. And it’s coming.

TFSR: I can point folks in the notes to Dan’s address where they can write to him.

E: There’s a dedicated PayPal. It’s DanielBakerDonations@gmail.com.

TFSR: That’s great. Thank you. Any way that you want people to follow your artwork, for instance?

E: People can check out my Instagram, my handle is @echosartist. There’s also a @FreeDanBaker Instagram that I’ve been running. It’s been hard to keep up with it as well as I would like, but people can reach out to me there also. Hopefully, I’ll make some posts regarding the recent events on there pretty soon.

TFSR: Well, thanks a lot for sharing this time and sharing your experiences, and again, sorry for your loss.

E: Likewise, really appreciate all the work y’all are doing and getting the word out and giving a voice to people who otherwise wouldn’t have one.

. … . ..

Updates on Lützerath Transcription

A-Radio Berlin: 2023 arrived only a couple of days ago and we already have to deal with the first eviction of radical space in 2023. What a shitty start, or maybe a powerful one, because it’s not only one squat that is being evicted but a whole village in the coal mining area in the west of Germany, close to the Dutch border. We spoke with a media activist from Radio Aalpunk who can tell us more about the fight for Lützerath.

What and where is Lützerath? And why is it being attacked by the police?

Radio Aalpunk: Lützerath is a village next to a lignite mine in Germany. It’s next to the Garzweiler lignite mine in Rheinland. And maybe people still know this region from the protests that happened a few years ago against cutting the Hambach Forest which is next to another mine in the same region. It’s one of the biggest lignite regions in Europe. Lützerath is a village that has been for a few years occupied by activists to prevent the destruction of the village for the expansion of the mine.

First, it started as a civil protest because the company that owns the mine, RWE, wanted to destroy a road. And then people from the region were against this and started a vigil there. And then later people started to occupy abandoned houses and build tree houses. Lützerath is so important because it’s a very strategic position. So, the government decided that they will not destroy any more villages for lignite mining, apart from Lützerath. And Lützerath is located on top of a lot of lignite. And if the village gets destroyed and the whole open area around it gets dug away, then Germany will for sure not be able to reach the climate targets that it set in Paris. The amount of brown coal, lignite, under Lützerath has more CO2 than the whole of Greece emits in the year. So it’s really, really a lot of CO2. And Lützerath and this lignite must stay in the ground.

But I would say that, apart from this very clear ecological fight that we have in Lützerath, it has also become a space where people live and live politically together. It is explicitly an anarchist occupation, where people try to live together according to anarchist values. So it’s also really this living-together experiment. I would say it’s both this symbolic and also very concrete fight against lignite, and this very living together, trying to build our utopia, an alternative way of living place.

Now it’s getting attacked because the Green Party signed an agreement with RWE about stopping burning coal earlier, but that they can destroy Lützerath to expand the mine, which is one of the typical bullshit far-in-the-future goals in the fight against climate change, which don’t really help because we don’t have the time to wait more years.

So Lützerath is getting attacked by the cops because they want everyone out so they can tear down the village and then get the lignite that’s under the village.

A-Radio Berlin: Getting attacked by the cops says it all about what’s happening now. Can you expand a bit on what happened in the last couple of days?

Radio Aalpunk: Starting from January 2, a lot of police arrived in Lützerath and they already started destroying the outer barricades of the village. At the moment, they are trying to set up the infrastructures that they need for the eviction and to be able to, in the future, cut off the village from more people coming in. So they want to build a fence around Lützerath. And what’s also mostly happening is that it’s a show of force, it’s an intimidation tactic, because there’s been some confrontation. They’re in their riot gear and showing their force and already trying to discourage people by destroying stuff.

A-Radio Berlin: For a lot of people in Lützerath, it was clear that at some point, there might be a confrontation with the police that will try to evict the village. Can you tell me a bit more about how the people are prepared for an eviction? How are people planning to defend their utopian place?

Radio Aalpunk: When it comes to preparation, that’s always an obvious, very visible part. Everyone who comes to Lützerath can see it. We have very beautiful barricades there, a lot of barricading has been going on. Getting the eviction[ defense defenders] food, getting enough glue and glitter, getting all the material we need, which is very important. More invisible parts are also very important, for example, the whole psychological preparation. We had a lot of talks where people shared their experiences with prior evictions, so we could psychologically prepare.

But also, for example, we need a whole communication strategy for this eviction, which has also been a lot of work. And in a way, the two years of living there has also been a preparation for eviction because you live together, you care for each other, you form strong connections, or you make affinity groups, which are then the people you go defend leads with. And when it comes to how exactly we want to defend Lützerath, there’s not really have one answer I can give to this. At a certain moment, we realized that having a common consensus about the action level doesn’t really work. Because everyone thinks about different strategies when it comes to the defense of Lützerath, so we really want to promote this diversity of tactics.

We also want to defend by getting as many people to Lützerath. And we see at the moment already, there’s a very big diversity of people in Lützerath. You can also see it in the pictures. We have pictures of people standing with a Christian cross in front of the digger and then linking arms with people in full black bloc outfits. We’re welcoming different tactics. I think it’s up to everyone to make their autonomous decisions in fit with their own morals to decide what they think is a good way of doing an action. We do have some camp-wide common practices. Identity refusal is something that we often see in the movements to take up police capacities, but it’s not really anything you have to do, it’s something that’s often done and that you can get information on.

A-Radio Berlin: In the last few years, there were quite a few big evictions. I’m thinking about Hambach forest, where the police evicted the tree houses in the forest, and also La ZAD in France. What do you think is going to happen in Lützerath in the next days or weeks?

Radio Aalpunk: The timeline we have right now is that because until January 9, there is still legal protest registered in Lützerath, so people should be able to come in, and then we think on the 14th of January, the cops will probably start entering Lützerath. I have to put a disclaimer here that this is information based on data we have from the cops. So I can also not guarantee that this is 100% correct. Because, as we know, cops tend to lie. And what’s gonna happen is probably the strategy we heard about is that they want to separate Lützerath in different pieces, put fences between the different barrios. A barrio is a smaller part of the occupation that organizes itself. The police [likely] want to put fences between them and then part by part evict and then destroy the barrio. They will, of course, come with cherry pickers and try to get people out of the tree houses. The estimate is that this will take about four weeks. But of course, we will try to make it as long as possible. And preferably, we want to make it impossible, of course, to evict. If we are enough people, this might work. We have done it before. If you look at the Hambach, the forest is still there. So there’s a chance that we can win if we’re enough people.

A-Radio Berlin: You are part of an independent media collective in Lützerath. What’s your task or role in this eviction struggle?

Radio Aalpunk: I’m part of Radio Aalpunk, which is the eviction radio team of Lützerath. Our task, or the task of independent media in general, is to show a more nuanced way of making news about Lützerath because we’re on the side of the activists. When you read the big media, they often focus on little details that they think are funny, for example, when the newspapers talk about the Hambach Forest, they always talk about the fact that someone threw a bucket of shit on the cops. This is funny, of course, but I would like independent media to talk more about why we do this fight; what we fight for; why RWE is a shit company; why it is important to focus on the whole anarchist aspects of Lützerath – this whole community we have there, and not only focus on a big scandal, like someone threw a stone.

I think our task is double-edged – we want to get the information out to as many people as possible and to give relevant updates about police movements to the people in Lützerath. But also keep the people in the eviction entertained because eviction is either very boring or very stressful. You’re just sitting and waiting or you’re getting evicted. We want to offer people good night stories, they can request songs or podcasts, so they have nice things to listen to while they’re in an emotionally difficult situation.

What I would really like to do is get the love I have for Lützerath and the love I felt inside of Lützerath to the outside world. I want to support my friends who are in the eviction and to also be able to transfer some of the beauty of Lützerath so people also understand why people feel so strongly about this and why this is such an important fight.

A-Radio Berlin: So if people would want to support Lützerath, what can they do, and where they can find more information?

Radio Aalpunk: If you want to support Lützerath, first of all, you can always come by. If you want to be in Lützerath during the eviction, we recommend coming before the 9th of January.

If being inside an eviction is, for whatever reason, too much, the Lützerath eviction is not only happening or being made possible inside Lützerath: in the village next to it, Keyenberg, a backup camp will be, and from there, we will organize support for the people inside of Lützerath. So, you can always also come there and just help in the kitchen, for instance, because cutting carrots so there’s food for everyone is just as revolutionary as gluing yourself to your tree house. I think it’s very important to not make a hierarchy in this. Come support us in the backup camp if you think that being in Lützerath is not the best for you.

We can also always use donations; money; eviction foods – food that doesn’t go bad fast; batteries – because we don’t know how long there will be electricity; power banks; battery-powered radios – I’m talking from the radio perspective. Also just nice things like chocolate – if you’re sitting in the cold in the rain it’s nice to have some chocolate.

Sharing messages about Lützerath on social media is very important, there are a lot of very strong pictures out there. If they reach more people, there can be a big impact. It’s important to inform as many people as possible about the fight going on so that’s something easy everyone can do from home.

If you want to find more information about Lützerath, we have the website Lützerathlebt.info where you find a lot of legal information, also what you should pack when you come to Lützerath and the links to all our social media channels.

One that’s important is the Ticker, which is the communication chat we use for important updates about the eviction and the police. You can also find the link on the website and you can join, follow us on every social media and come by if you can.

A-Radio Berlin: For more information, go and check the web page Lützerathlebt.info. You can also listen to Radio Aalpunk.

. … . ..

Tren Maya Transcription

Frequenz-A: In the last piece of today’s show, Frequenz-A out of Leipzig airs an interview with Pollo about the disastrous neocolonial project Tren Maya. Tren Maya is a so-called infrastructure project in the south of Mexico that causes destruction, exploitation, and suppression. Another topic in the interview was the participation of German and European companies in this project.

Hi, can you first introduce yourself, your wished name, pronoun, and your affiliation?

Pollo: My name is Pollo. I am part of the research group called Recherche-AG, an investigation group that is part of the Network of Rebellion in Germany. That’s a network that was founded during La Gira por la Vida, the Journey for Life, by the Zapatistas and Congreso Nacional Indigena (National Congress of Indigenous People in Mexico). They visited Europe and left movements and groups in Europe last year. And we found the research group researching the participation of German and European companies in their territories to do some direct actions against these companies.

F-A: Okay, and today we’re talking about multi-project Tren Maya. Can you first describe what this is about?

P: Sure. Tren Maya is an infrastructure project by the Mexican government of the current president López Obrador. The Mayan Train is a little bit difficult to describe because the name is presenting a different version of the project. It’s called Mayan Train, but it has nothing to do with the Mayas or the train. The Mayan Train is a big infrastructure project which is entering indigenous territories and big ecosystems the Selva Maya, a big rainforest in the south of Mexico. And the Mexican government presents it as a train project for tourism. So the idea of the Mexican government is to connect the big Mayan sites in the region by train to develop tourism in the area. But in reality, the Mayan Train project is bringing big companies, plants, monoculture, and destruction into this area. It is replacing the indigenous communities or changing the way of life because they are living from small agriculture in small communities. And now, they will have to work in factories or hotels for tourists.

Moreover, it is a project of militarization. We could call it Tren Militar, and not Tren Maya because it is a project which is under the control of the Mexican military. And the Mexican military is also getting the profits out of this project, as well as big international companies who are working on the project. The role of the military is also important because of the migration in the area. The south of Mexico is the most important area for migration from Central America and the Caribbean toward the United States of America. And so the whole project and the militarization it brings is also part of the fight against immigration and the fight against migrants in this area, which is why also, for example, the government of the United States is supporting this mega project. Another big point is the destruction of the environment, because the project not only threatens the rainforest, but also big cave systems. It also threatens the water in the area and the mangroves on the coast. So it is really a project which has nothing to do with a small project for tourism, but it’s changing the whole area. And it’s a mode of colonialism because big companies siding with the military are entering these territories of indigenous people in the area.

F-A: How does the situation on the spot look like? What is the resistance to or support of the project? What repressions do activists on the site face?

P: It is difficult to describe it because the whole project is in a big area in different regions. The situation is different from region to region. But generally, we can say that in the whole of Mexico, there’s also a lot of support for this project and for the new Mexican government, which considered itself a left government, but in reality, it is promoting the neoliberal policy. There is resistance, mainly from the indigenous communities, for example, from the Congreso Nacional Indigena. They are resisting in the streets or at the construction site, but also using legal means. A lot of laws have been violated by the Mexican government, for example, the law of consulting the indigenous communities. Theoretically, you have to ask the communities before entering the territory, but this hasn’t happened. But right now, the Mexican government declared it a project of national security to ignore their own laws, which shows the importance of the grassroots connection between the communities to resist the project on the spot. This begins now with the Carvana against Tren Maya project, which will take place in April-May this year.

F-A: What is Caravana? What will it look like, can people join it? Is any support needed?

P: You can read the comunicados, statements of Congreso Nacional Indigena, who called for this Caravana. Search for the Comunicado por la Caravana “El Sur Resiste!” (the South Resists). The idea is to connect the different resistance groups in the area and to give visibility to the issues related to the project. You can support this, for example, by action here in Europe or wherever you are. There are a lot of international companies in this Tren Maya project, they are companies from Germany, the United States, China, Spain, France. It would be possible to do action against these companies while the Caravana is happening. You can also help by giving publicity to it, if you have some connection to the press. Financial support is indeed needed. When you look at the statement by the Congreso Nacional Indigena, you will find donation options, which would help a lot. And there’s also the possibility to join the Caravana. If you read the statements, you can inform yourself about the plans. And there’s an email address that you can contact and apply for or ask for help.

F-A: As far as I know, you’re focusing on the work of Deutsche Bahn. Do you want to mention the most important critical points on the Deutsche Bahn or other companies that are important to have in mind?

P: The participation of Deutsche Bahn, which is the railway company here in Germany, is important because they present themselves as protecting the climate and the environment. They are a train company, but it is much more than that. They are active in the whole world, for example, they are transporting weapons globally. They are also part of the Tren Maya project, consulting the government and other companies within the project. There are also a lot of other companies like the Deutsche Bahn from other countries in Europe, which are part of Tren Maya. For example, Ineco and Renfe from Spain or Alstom/Bombardier from France. As I said, we want to present these companies as the evil companies they really are and do something against that presentation as a green solution, a climate-protecting company, because they are not.

And another important player here in Germany is the weapons industry because [Tren Maya] is a project promoted by the Mexican military. And it’s also a project, which wants to bring much more military into this area to act against the migrants and Zapatistas who fought for autonomy in these areas. A lot of the weapons this army uses come from Germany, too. So we are also doing actions against these companies and protesting their participation in this destruction. It is the destruction of a whole region and entering it in a colonial way. It’s a new form of colonialism in this area.

F-A: As far as I remember, this destruction-construction is going on since 2020 and they try to speed it up and finish it as fast as possible. How much of it is already done? How much destruction is already there?

P: That’s also the problem of this project because it is really uncertain that they will finish their goals of the project by 2023. The project started in 2018. In 2020, they started the construction, but they want to finish the project by the end of 2023. And so they are getting nervous and trying to speed up the process, and the problem is that they are building everywhere a little bit. They are starting to destroy the rainforest and build stations but sometimes they stop and go on to another construction site or they have to change where the train goes because there are protests. Sometimes they also notice that you can’t build above big caves situated in the rain forest. So,f they also changing the route permanently, which means it’s not certain that this project will really be over and that the train will arrive by the end of this year, but all the destruction of nature is still happening and all the militarization goes on. All the problems of the project – the violation of the rights of indigenous people, the destruction of nature, the militarization, the fight against migrants – all this is happening right now in the name of this project, whether or not it will be ready by the end of this year. So, we don’t know if Tren Maya becomes a reality, but the damages are already a reality.

FA: I would really to promote the reports of Recherche-AG because it’s quite a complex story with multiple layers that are not possible to cover in a short interview. Where can people find it and in which languages is it available?

P: You can find our research online. Search for “Tren Maya Made in Germany”. We have it on two different websites, the website of the YaBasta network from Germany, and the website called DeineBahn. The report is available in German, Spanish, and English for now.

F-A: Thank you so much for finding time to talk. Wish you a lot of strength, and a lot of strength to people who are on fighting on the site.

P: Thank you very much.

Rhiannon Firth on Disaster, Mutual Aid and Anarchism

Rhiannon Firth on Disaster, Mutual Aid and Anarchism

"TFSR 1-16-2023" and the cover of Rhiannon Firth's "Disaster Anarchy" book
Download This Episode

We’re happy to share Scott’s interview with Rhiannon Firth about her recent book, Disaster Anarchy: Mutual Aid and Radical Action. You can get the book at a discount using the code “firth30”, on the Pluto Books website or you can get a digital read for free, linked in the shownotes.

Rhiannon’s: facebook; twitter; email.

Next Week…

Next week, we’ll likely share our recent chat with Tom Wetzel on his anarcho-syndicalist / libertarian socialist tome Overcoming Capitailsm (AK Press, 2022). Patreon followers will get early access to this chat as they very occasionally do to author interviews, alongside other gifts and the satisfaction of supporting our transcription efforts. Want in but don’t want to have a Patreon? Check out tfsr.wtf/Support for merch and other methods to donate and help keep our transcription and operating costs afloat. Thanks!

Announcements

Sanctuary Park Defendants Statement

A Statement from the Aston Park Defendants in Response to APD’s January 11th Press Release -January 14th, 2023:

“On Wednesday, January 11th, 2023, Asheville Police Department (APD) issued a widely circulated press release stating that 120,000 lbs of “trash” were removed from two “vacant” homeless encampments in West Asheville.

We believe that this press release is part of an ongoing misinformation campaign by the City of Asheville to justify evicting encampments, fracturing communities of care, and broadly criminalizing unsheltered homelessness without creating real solutions.

APD claims that the two camps were vacant, but admits that over the course of two weeks, they forced the people living there to leave. “Services” were offered to the people displaced, but were limited to rides, sharing information about local shelters, and helping people register for a housing list with a months-to-years long wait for placement. We question the utility of these services to people who are chronically homeless and unsheltered.

According to the city of Asheville’s 2022 Point in Time count, 232 (36%) of people without housing were unsheltered, defined as “sleeping outside or in other locations not suitable for human habitation.” These people are criminalized with trespassing laws and ordinances restricting camping. Yet, limited capacity and other barriers to shelter access often leave people with no other choices.

When people camp together in larger groups, they are able to share resources and build community. Providing these camps with basic waste disposal and sanitation services would eliminate the health risks used to justify their removal. Instead, people camping are blamed for these conditions, then forced to relocate with only what they can carry. Tents, shelters, and other necessities must be left behind, and are relabeled “trash.”

APD, city government and anti–homeless businesses use this, coupled with overblown and misleading claims about violent crime in camps, as justification for displacing unsheltered people again and again.

Since the 11th, APD evicted two more camps in East Asheville, just ahead of a cold front bringing ice and snow. Camp evictions in February and December of 2021 under similar conditions sparked widespread public outrage. Despite this, conditions for people living unsheltered have mostly remained unchanged. Misinformation about “litter” and crime, alongside unfulfilled promises of long-term solutions, have redirected public attention from ongoing violence.

Not only are camp sweeps violent, they are an ineffective and expensive strategy for managing unsheltered homelessness. There are more humane, longer-term and lower-cost alternatives. More on this, along with other updates, coming soon. In the meantime, check out our website, avlsolidarity.noblogs.org, for more information including links to sources cited for this statement. Please share and spread the word!

Solidarity & Love,

The Aston Park Defendants”

Asheville Mutual Aid Market

If you’re in the Asheville area, on Saturday, January 28th there’ll be a Mutual Aid Market at the Odd bar on Haywood Ave in west Asheville from 12-4pm including free brake light clinic by the Asheville Socialist Rifle Association chapter. Bring gently used clothing, kitchenware, fitness gear, tools, books and other stuff to share and take what you’d like. Oye Collective is hosting BIPOC artists and musicians who’ll have stuff on offer for donation, and donations will be collected for Asheville For Justice. Check the AFJ instagram for more info, the announcement in English and Spanish and info on accessibility.

Phone Zap, Tuesday for SeaTac detainees

There’s going to be a prisoner organized phone zap around conditions at SeaTac federal detention center on Tuesday. Inmates at SeaTac Detention Center are facing cruel and illegal conditions, without adequate access to medical care, food, and communication. You’re invited to join a phone zap on Tuesday Jan 17, from 8am-2pm, calling once or as many times as you can, asking that the Associate Warden’s Office take immediate steps to correct the situation. Script and details in our show notes

Here is a script you can use:

“I’m calling on behalf of inmates at SeaTac Federal Detention Center, asking for the leadership to address the cruel and *illegal* conditions at the facility.

Without a long-term warden and the presence of leadership at the lunch line, it’s been difficult for inmates to directly address concerns themselves. Because you’ve silenced them, I’m calling on their behalf to let you know that many people across the nation are watching SeaTac right now. Please take immediate steps to improve conditions for every inmate at SeaTec by providing:

  • A minimum of 2,000 calories/day

  • A doctor on-site at the facility

  • Immediate access to prescription medications

  • Immediate access to dental care

  • Increased email access

  • A warden assigned to the facility”

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • Cavern by Liquid Liquid from Liquid Liquid Discography (1981-1984)

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: I’m really excited to be talking to Rhiannon Firth today, the author of Disaster Anarchy, which came out through Pluto Press this year. Can you introduce yourself with any pronouns and whatever affiliations that you’d like to mention?

Rhiannon Firth: Yeah. Hello, I’m Rhiannon Firth, my pronouns are she/her. I live in London at the moment. I’m a lecturer in sociology at the Institute of Education. That’s me.

TFSR: Awesome. I’m really excited to get into the book because I think it’s a really important contribution to thinking about mutual aid and disaster and anarchism. So to open up, your book is making an anarchist contribution to something that’s called disaster studies. You propose this idea of disaster anarchy, I wonder if you could give a little background on what disaster studies is, and the different fields within it: a state-based one and a critical one, too.

R: Okay. It might be worth giving a bit of personal history into how I ended up writing this book in the first place. So I’ve been interested in anarchy and anarchism since well before I went to university. So my studies and interests aren’t– I’m totally an academic geek. I’ve mostly been at university either studying or working in some form since I started doing my undergrad. But the book itself started when I was working on a research project. I was working as part of a research team. I was on a precarious contract. And I’ve always been on precarious academic contracts until very recently. But my boss at the time had a bit of money left over at the end of a project and asked me if there was some way I could use it. It was a project about disasters, and I didn’t know anything about disasters at the time. And he said, “Well, you’re into anarchy and social movements, why don’t you go and study Occupy Sandy? And obviously, I knew about Occupy Sandy, this was about three years afterward. So it was in 2015, and the hurricane itself and the relief movement were in 2012.

So, I had this money and this offer to go to New York and interview some people involved in this cool movement that I was already really inspired by so I said “I’ll definitely take you up on that!” I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, because it was this money at the end of a project that needed to be used quite quickly. Otherwise, you have to give it back to the funder, I think. So I went with very little preparation and interviewed people and met some really wonderful, inspiring people through the Occupy Sandy mailing list. Obviously, that movement grew out of Occupy Wall Street. I’ve managed to get in touch with some people and interviewed about seven people. And it was actually the third anniversary of the hurricane when I visited.

That was all really awesome and inspiring. But I came back with all this data, and I had no idea what to do with it. I was supposed to write an article or something. And I couldn’t figure out how to theorize what I was interested in, because the main thing that I found that I was interested in was the fact that the movement had initially been quite radical. Occupy Wall Street was an anti-austerity, anti-capitalist movement with large anarchist strands, and then Occupy Sandy also had many of the same people involved. But the Department of Homeland Security in the US commissioned this report that very much praised the movement and talked about how fantastic they were, and how we incorporate this youthful energy into our official disaster response, and so on. It’s quite a patronizing document. And it’s very hard to find online anymore, actually. Because when Trump got rid of loads of documents online, that was one of the things that went, so. There are some anarchist archives that it’s still on, but it’s no longer on the government web pages like it used to be.

I was fascinated by this document and why it was commending Occupy Sandy so much. It also caused splits in the movement. There are a lot of splits in the movement between those who wanted to not be radical or to accept funding or also who were quite pleased, they saw it as a recognition from the state and the government that their actions were more effective than the official relief effort, which was very much the case at the time. So I needed to figure this out and I felt I needed to know stuff about disasters and how disasters are defined and I went down this huge rabbit hole. Instead of writing an article, which was what I was supposed to do, I actually found it impossible to write that article because I needed an anarchist theorization of disasters and so on, and it didn’t exist. So, to me, that was a huge gap.

Also, what was even more difficult was a lot of the mainstream literature says things that sound quite anarchist. Like this government report that praises Occupy Sandy, there’s this huge valorization of autonomous responses and community response and so on in a lot of the mainstream disaster studies literature. Sometimes you read it, and it’s hard to find anything to criticize. So it took me a long time. And then finally, I got this theorization together and started to write the book. And it took me five years. I was writing this book, and then COVID happened in the UK, well, globally. But I’d never expected to live through a major disaster in my lifetime. And suddenly, this disaster happened all around me. And then also, the discourse that our government here was using and then the splits that were in the movement completely echoed and even magnified what I already started to theorize and I was writing about with Occupy Sandy. So I was like, “Well, I’m really onto something here. My theory is playing out all around me”. I ended up taking an extra two years to incorporate interviews and work on this COVID response here as well. That’s how the book came into being. And I think that partly answers your question about disaster studies as a field. I could go into more detail about that. But I feel we’ve been talking for a while.

TFSR: No, I think that would be interesting. I want to get into the two movements that you looked at. But I would love to hear you talk a little bit more about specifically what your theorization of an anarchist disaster response is, but also how that differs from the ways that the state or other academics talk about it, because those differences seem really important and interesting, even when, as you mentioned, there are places where it sounds similar. But ultimately, you’re saying there’s something very different at play with the anarchist response.

R: Yeah. I suppose the anarchist response to me is very much based on Kropotkin’s idea of a social principle and the idea that in the absence of a state or a hierarchical coordinating authority, people can cooperate and solve problems and organize themselves without an overarching authority. And in fact, that’s a much better way for people to respond even in disaster situations. A lot of people might accept that people can cooperate in normal times. But maybe a disaster is an exceptional circumstance where people need a coordinating authority, even if temporarily. What we see instead usually is when there’s a disaster, it takes a while for bureaucracies to figure out what they’re doing because they’re quite rigid structures. But what happens immediately is people start cooperating and helping in the recovery effort. And people have been writing about this for a long time. Rebecca Solnit is very well-known for writing in A Paradise Built in Hell about the way people step in and roll up their sleeves to help in the recovery effort. Interestingly, the mainstream disaster studies approach very much accepts that. They accept that people, grassroots movements, and people in community groups are much better in the immediate aftermath of a disaster than states who take a lot longer. Naomi Klein, who wrote Disaster Capitalism, talks about how there’s this assumption that there’s a need for specialized bureaucracy to then step in and coordinate this effort. And that’s very much the mainstream disaster studies approach. It says autonomous groups are great, but they need someone to come in, and then, as Naomi Klein shows, that’s often a power and resource grab that happens. It’s often people that come in and vampire of the energies of movements.

An anarchist approach to me is something that’s consciously anarchist and tries to fend that off, in a sense. It’s first accepting that non-hierarchical movements are better at organizing disaster relief and better at organizing almost everything I’d say. But then also, it needs to be a denial of the idea that there is a need for someone to then step in and coordinate them. And then that means having to fend that off because people will try and do that.

TFSR: It’s really interesting because both of these beliefs are widely held that we know from experience and reports that when disasters happen, people come together and work together. And, as you said, that goes back to Kropotkin, in terms of talking about it as an anarchist principle, and then the state also recognizes this in its official documents. But then there’s also this widely held belief that we need the centralized authority to take care of us. I guess a lot of it’s about security. There’s the fear of that Mad Max thing. There is a disaster, and then you have complete lawlessness, and people are killing each other over scarce resources. Why do you think those things both stand in our general understanding of these things of how we respond to disaster? Do you have any thoughts on that?

R: Yeah, it’s really confusing. And I think it’s very much about what people think human nature is. And I think anarchists have quite a coherent view of what human nature is, or at least what it’s capable of, which is that humans are probably malleable. And if you set them up to fail and compete, then they might do, but they’re perfectly capable, at least, of cooperating. I think I stated this role of contradictory view of people, it sort of sees them as these Hobbesian brutes that compete and battle each other to the death for scarce resources. But then it also sees them as these kinds of easily manipulatable people with so-called rational choices that can be nudged through technocratic control. So, it’s a manipulative view of human nature. But maybe, the state also views human nature as malleable, but that they ought to have the right to mold it themselves for their own purposes, whereas anarchists prefer people to make a more ethical choice.

TFSR: Yeah, the way you talk about the neoliberal responses to disasters, to use that as an opportunity rather – to force people to fend for themselves. So that has the sound of autonomy or decentralization, but at the same time, the neoliberal state will increase its order and control through police functions. So that’s the response to the brutish understanding of human nature. They’re doing both things. You refer to the response to Katrina, which, scott crow writes about: mutual aid and self-defense are going on from the community perspective, too. They are dealing with people coming together and people trying to hurt each other. So, there’s a different way that anarchists respond to that, the fact that both of those things can coexist. That wasn’t really a question. I’m thinking about that.

This gets to this other point that you make, which is that anarchists define disaster differently than the state, specifically in relation to how a capitalist state creates disasters. Can you talk a little bit about those differing definitions of disaster that you encounter?

R: The mainstream disaster studies, as well as mainstream consciousness or public consciousness, as well as the state and state policy, always see disaster as a temporary rupture that needs to be fixed. So, in a way, they like anarchist groups or any groups coming in to help. They like Occupy Sandy coming in to help so long as they help get back to normal or, as we had during COVID, this even more terrifying “new normal.” So if anyone wants to help get the wheels of capitalism moving again, then they’re welcome. It’s only when things become non-state or anti-state that the state sees them as a threat. As long as mutual aid is helping people do their shopping or keeping people alive while the neoliberal state withdraws its welfare functions, but continues to profit off people and communities then it seems to be fine with it.

The difference in the anarchist response is that they see capitalism as an ongoing disaster. And then the injurious effects of a disaster are not injurious if the state would see it. For the state, they’re not problems of order, and order needs to be restored. They are problems of humans, and capitalism is already inhumane. And the people that are hurt most by the disaster are the people that are already barely surviving the everyday disasters of capitalism. So, the effects of disasters are always racialized and gendered, with people who are more marginalized and more precarious or the people that are more likely to die or lose their livelihoods in a so-called natural disaster or a pandemic or whatever. It’s the people that are already struggling that are going to suffer the effects most. Anarchists tend to see these disasters as constitutive of capitalism. Rather than a rupture in capitalism that needs to be plastered over to get back to normal, they’re actually revealing the very nature of capitalism, in a sense.

TFSR: One of the benefits that an anarchist response to disaster brings is that it has this long view both of capitalism and the state as ongoing disasters, but also specifically in relation to the climate catastrophe that we’re facing, that’s getting worse and worse.

Sorry, I am pivoting. One of the things that I think about a lot with anarchists’ response to mutual aid is it seems often, we’re in the reactive position. Like when fascists come to town, and we want to drive them out. But this long view that you mentioned is maybe really helpful to think about how anarchists can understand that disasters aren’t continuous within this current social order. Do you have thoughts on that? What that long view offers us in relation to the future disasters that we know are coming?

R: It’s not only anarchists, I think it is Walter Benjamin who had this idea of the “Angel of History”, where history is this pile of ruins that accumulates and things are getting worse and worse. And it offers this reverse perspective on the idea of progress. And the idea that things are continually progressing and getting better. A long view is more about reversal of perspective and seeing the– I suppose mutual aid rather than simply being “let’s fix things”, it’s prefiguring a different way of being that also, hopefully, in a sense, addresses the climate crisis. Anarchists disagree with people who think that we need a strong state, people like David Harvey and George Monbiot– He’s writes in The Guardian. He puts forward these arguments that anarchists are playing games with climate change because they’re messing around and causing disruption. After all, we really need a strong state to address capitalism. It is this state versus capitalism view where the state is the only thing that can save us from capitalism. As an anarchist, I see the state as absolutely essential to capitalism. It’s the state that provides the security and the monopoly on violence that keeps everyone in this capitalist system. Anarchism offers radical alternatives to that, which is about people and communities and ecosystems working more cooperatively, at a more down-scaled level. And mutual aid is something that hopefully prefigures that because the state is this alienating impulse that alienates people from each other by turning them into these nodes of this capitalist machine.

There are very individualizing discourses. One that we had in the UK was at the height of the crisis community, this idea of community was deemed desirable. And we even had conservative politicians advocating mutual aid, and there was a call for NHS volunteers, the National Health Service. It’s in pieces after decades of austerity and the idea that people should volunteer for it, and work for it… People were banging pots and pans for the care workers, but they don’t get fair wages and things like that. But there was this idea of community and helping us being desirable at the height of the crisis and then the discourse became more and more individualized as they started to encourage people to go out. There was this ridiculous poster we had: “Stay alert, control the virus”. The idea is that you go out into the world and on an individual level, you have to be alert, you have to make sure that you keep your distance and have your mask and wash your hands and do all these very individualized aspects. And this is a commandment from the state. Also, the idea that everybody has to do the same thing – the stay-home-stay-safe thing, for so many people home is not a safe place. This is generic advice.

And I talk about that a lot in the book actually, about how this neoliberal approach to disasters treats disasters as generic and it treats people as generic. And the idea is that the same policies can apply in every disaster. So things like staying home and lockdown, people see as specific to COVID. But they’re not at all, they’ve been used in all sorts of disasters from the Grenfell Tower where people were told to stay put and burned to death, and several other things were “stay put, stay home” – it’s been advice in planning for nuclear war. It’s about maintaining social order, but it doesn’t consider differences between people and people’s different needs. So, home might not be safe for some people. People might be experiencing domestic violence, or they might not have a safe home to go to. This generic instruction is very alienating. The anarchist alternative is that people and communities on a much less alienated level have to come to an agreement between themselves about how to keep themselves safe. And the idea is that they can cooperate to do that.

TFSR: That’s interesting, also thinking how capitalism is based on universal exchange. The state looks at all of us as exchangeable items that they plug into their systems of efficiency.

On the other hand, the experience that you talk about in the case studies, but also it’s widely recognized. I think you called this term “disaster utopia”. People acknowledge that this is a feeling that people have, when you are faced with a disaster and you come together with the people around you, you feel like you’re doing something important for the first time in your life. This is something I think about a lot: similar to the experience of being in an action with people, there’s a thing that happens that feels real and present and important in a different way than most of our alienated lives. The demand to return to normal after you’ve been working together with people is really depressing.

Is there hope in introducing an idea of disaster anarchy that we could somehow normalize anarchism – that experience beyond the disaster?

R: I’m less optimistic than some other people. And, in fact, I’m really pessimistic. And people think that I’m going to be really optimistic, because I’m interested in utopianism and utopian studies, and I’m interested in anarchism and so on.

But actually, when the pandemic hit, there were a lot of people that seem to somehow think that it was going to be the basis for some new anti- or postcapitalist order. The fact that people weren’t able to go to work as usual, people thought this was some radical thing. But I saw the lockdown as pretty draconian from the start, and then you get typecast as some libertarian, who wants everyone to catch the virus, like you don’t care. And you are like “No, no, it’s not that. I think there are alternatives to this very securitized lockdown thing, how about people cooperating? And I didn’t see that happening at all. People were doing mutual aid, but a lot of it was WhatsApp groups, and people weren’t seeing each other in person. And a lot of it was helping people do shopping. And it felt incredibly alienating from the start. But there’s this huge mutual aid movement. And I think it was incredibly inspiring. Sections of it certainly, I heard some really inspiring stories. Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in one of the more inspiring movements. I think there were sections and movements and people that I interviewed, and certainly, in my book, there were people that were involved in really radical, interesting anarchistic groups. I wasn’t at the time, I did a bit of delivering meals on a bicycle around my area, which I really enjoyed because I love riding around on my bike, but I didn’t feel like I was part of a radical movement. I felt I was doing social services for free, basically.

TFSR: I was asking about whether there’s an opportunity to normalize – not return to normal – the experience of collectivity that can happen in disasters. ‘m thinking about that also, because in the book, you caution against making the argument or defensive anarchists responses as being better or efficient than the state because that fits into the state’s logic, makes it co-optable by them. How are we talking about anarchist responses that get outside of that logic?

R: I guess it’s about people relating at a human level and seeing how the disaster is affecting different people differently at a human level and helping people at a human level and forming a community in a desalinated way. And there definitely was some of that. I had several interviewees I spoke to, people in anarchist circles who say that they met people they wouldn’t have met in their local community, that they probably walked past every day, but they’ve never spoken to. Some people even had conversations about anarchism with these people and were received quite sympathetically. And then there were other things, and they sound quite dark. And it’s easy to be pessimistic about them. Some people wanted to call the police on a group of racialized youth who were hanging around on the street corner because they should have been at home. This was obviously some less radical, more middle-class people that wanted to be involved in mutual aid as an altruistic do-goodie-type thing or something. But, they were tucked out of that by the anarchists in the group who persuaded them that these young people might live in overcrowded housing, or they might not have a safe home to go to, and they are less at risk from the virus than some other people, and they’re not really doing anyone any harm, they are just hanging around together, and calling the police on these black young people, when the police historically are awful to black people is probably not the best idea. And they did talk them out of it.

So I think useful things, that can even be seen as an intervention, that’s a form of community self-defense. It’s about forming communities and defending communities from the police and the state and so on. So even though it’s a little thing, and there was someone else that wanted to call the police on a window cleaner, apparently, because he was out cleaning windows, they got talked out of it, too. So there were these little micro-interventions that are about defending communities from being used as the crowd-sourcing of policing during the pandemic.

TFSR: I initially had this response. Like people are gonna see the contradictions that we’re forced to live under, where we can’t work, but we have to pay rent. And so something big is gonna happen. And something big did happen in terms of George Floyd’s uprisings in the US and how that reverberated around the world, too. But it wasn’t the direct response to COVID that brought that out.

It’s not hopeful, because we live in a disaster world that’s falling apart, and people are really suffering, but you talk about how people are increasingly seeing the state as irrelevant to them. I guess this gets us into another huge thread in your book – the idea of recuperation. Because if the states were irrelevant, we, therefore, need to do mutual aid to survive. But then the state can use that as a stopgap measure or increase its austerity because we’re doing that. We don’t make it revolutionary. That’s a problem. So I wonder if you could talk about recuperation and how you think about it in terms of disaster response, and how that can be resisted?

R: That is the major thread that is running through my whole book is I do think the state is increasingly irrelevant to more and more people. I think mutual aid is necessary for more and more people to survive as the welfare state retreats, and the oil economy is collapsing. And then, also, the state has this survival instinct of its own that it seeks to recuperate anything, it seeks to capitalize on all social relations. To me, the state is another capitalist enterprise, but it has a monopoly on violence, rather than having a monopoly on a particular product, rather than being Amazon, and having this monopoly on logistics. It’s got a monopoly on violence and territory. So everything within it, it sees as its territory, and it seeks to capitalize on social relations. So mutual aid helps the state because it keeps people going and keeps people alive. But then at some point, the state and mutual aid are going to come into conflict, because the state will seek to dispossess people and exploit them.

And there’s this idea of social capital, that a lot of people see as this fluffy, maybe even left-wing term to encourage social capital, but with the word capital in it, it’s about how the state seeks to capitalize on the social. So social action is only useful in terms of the state if the state can mobilize it in its own interests. And if it can’t, then it becomes a threat, and it seeks to repress it. So, in a sense, the reason the Department of Homeland Security was so happy with Occupy Sandy was that it was doing the state’s job for it and saving it money. It was doing a relief effort that FEMA and the Red Cross were quite managing to do. But when Occupy Wall Street occupied Wall Street, that’s not the social action that the state wants to see, because it’s disrupting profits for capitalists that are within the state. That’s why it was violently dispossessed, and then also this whole thing’s racialized. And we saw Katrina was heavily militarized and securitized. In the book, I look at the fact that if social action is only valuable in the terms of the state, that can change on a whim, if you see what I mean, whatever the state’s interests are can change on a whim, and it can separate people and split movements unless people decide that their action has a meaning and value beyond what the state labels it, and then they’re willing to defend that, I suppose.

TFSR: There’s been a lot of critique about the mutual aid projects that have happened since COVID. And you mentioned this in terms of the interviews with people in the UK, that there’s a feeling like “Are we doing anything that’s actually different than charity?” Or is it really breaking down the hierarchies? Or is it a threat at all to the state? There’s a way that when we have these programs that have us have bare survival without mounting that threat, then we have to question those actions.

One of the things that you bring up in the book as an important location of possible resistance to that recuperation is the use of space. In the examples in London, there are different people squatting spaces. Can you talk about that, and how having space functions in terms of making that extra possibility of resistance?

R: Yeah, it’s something that I noticed. Actually, when I look back at all the work I’ve done, my Ph.D. was on intentional communities as radical spaces. When people live together every day and talk about stuff every day, they do form bonds that go beyond the thing that you form from seeing your neighbor every so often. But also, I found that various mutual aid groups in London were associated with squats and with social centers, and they were the ones that seem to ward off state power. There was this thing called the local councilor issue that I talk about in my book, which was the elected representative for certain wards and stuff.

For some reason, the mutual aid movement in the UK, and I identify this in the book as being really problematic, organized itself according to the electoral districts, which are territorial categories of the state. So the elected representatives of those districts would be, “Oh, well, that’s my ward. So that’s my mutual aid group.” They’d go in, and in some instances, they’d be quite nice people who take a backseat. And a lot of these things were WhatsApp groups, so they joined the WhatsApp group, and then they try and take control of this whole initiative, and there were some incidences of people giving out fluorescent hi-vis jackets and saying, if you’re doing mutual aid, you have to wear the hi-vis jacket. One of them tried to get people to do DBS checks, which are security checks to make sure you don’t have a criminal record, which obviously goes against the anarchist ethos. It shows how recuperating the mutual aid movement became in some ways in the UK, but some places managed to stay radical, and they were the places that themselves had a squat or something like that. And I think this idea of territory and space is interesting. So you can have someone trying to rule over this abstract space of their elected ward. But then the way to resist that seem to be people that had a space or hub that was alternative space or scale, that could be a hub, and it had a physical presence in the neighborhood, and it had people that interacted with each other and lived together. That seems to be a really powerful presence that helps to ward off this recuperation.

TFSR: The vision of expanding that contesting space would be a way to ramp up mutual aid towards something more confrontational and less bare survival.

In the so-called US, we have to think about also occupying space as part of the settler state, as another layer to that, which was a big critique of Occupy Wall Street that it didn’t have that framework. Wall Street is already occupying territory, right? And so occupying occupied territory without the liberationist perspective for indigenous people was a problem. It’s another complication that we think about here often how we take space and what that means.

But in the New York example, what do you think the relationship was between having Occupy Wall Street as a private predecessor and what Occupy Sandy was able to do? Because that’s different than the COVID mutual aid example in the UK, which just sprung from COVID?

R: I’ve got a chapter on my interviews, I always find it very difficult talking with Americans about an American movement, because I know that, with my cultural differences from my background, I don’t understand a lot of stuff. I definitely feel an anthropologist going in. I didn’t have enough time to be a proper anthropologist, if you see what I mean, whereas, in the UK, I feel more like a sociologist who’s looking at things.

I felt Occupy Sandy as a whole, as a movement, wasn’t completely radical. A lot of people I spoke to bemoaned the fact that there was this split between people that were becoming a bit NGOish and people who were quite staunch. And then they’re anti-capitalist and anarchist critique. I spoke to people from both of those sides, really, and they did seem to be a split in the movement, which was echoed in the COVID movement here, I think. But the COVID movement here was mostly non-radical. And I spoke to the radical people but it was mostly non-radical. From what I can gather, in Occupy Sandy, there was definitely still a very radical element to it. And I don’t know if that has to do with the time and when it was, as well but it was obvious that it grew out of Occupy Wall Street, and people were still talking about anti-capitalism and Wall Street and things like that. And from what I can gather, it grew out of their social networks and social infrastructure that was still going. There was still this vibe of people who had been involved. And there is still this coolness to the idea of occupying that people were willing to mobilize under, I suppose.

TFSR: I was interested in thinking about reading their case study, because on the other hand, thinking about space and movement, there was a space that started with Occupy Wall Street, but that created infrastructure that could be mobilized during Occupy Sandy and go elsewhere. And that’s what I saw in my region during COVID. We had networks and connections that were in place because of hurricanes and the hurricane response. And people who would go around and do work were – I lived in the mountains, and we didn’t get a lot of hurricanes – but we’d be nearby communities that were wrecked by it. And so people were doing that. And from that network, we started doing mutual aid in our town when COVID hit. I’m thinking about the mobility of those networks also. We also ran into the problem that it seems in those responses, often it’s not radicalized, even if it’s all anarchists doing the work. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s taken that way.

But that’s also something you write about in the book that one of the benefits of mutual aid seems to be the ability for people to plug in. And people use that word specifically, which I think is interesting cuz I always hear it. One of the issues with anarchism is how we get people to understand and engage with it. So I wonder if you had any thoughts about mutual aid as an entry point, rather than some of the other ones, like subcultural, punk, or whatever.

R: Something that is really good and really cool and really useful about mutual aid is the fact that you can turn up as yourself, and like you say, plug in, rather than, with more rigid organizations where there’s a role, and you have to fit the role, you have to be the spreadsheet person or you have to have the qualifications for that role, you have to like it like a job. That’s how more traditional relief agencies work, which are professionalized. You can’t turn up as you, you have to turn up as the role and persuade that you are the role. And then, sometimes in a disaster situation, things arise that are unexpected. So, a rigid role might not be able to do that thing. And also, that means that there’s not a lot of redundancy.

The idea of having a system with lots of people that maybe aren’t doing a lot, but they’re there, allows for more flexibility if there’s another shock, and having the idea that you can turn up as you are and plug in. Having infrastructure for that is really useful and important. That is the strength of anarchism and mutual aid.

TFSR: Definitely. It felt like a generational shift during COVID, where all these new younger people came in doing all the work in the area where I was living, all these new anarchists. And when we were faced with the murder of George Floyd, there were these networks already in place that can do other things, like jail support or go show up on the streets. The great resignation or people refusing to work in various ways. I wonder, to what extent these kinds of things echo one to the other, even if we’re not still doing the same COVID response. That experience and the entry point for people seem to have led to other things.

One of the lines that you say, and maybe this is part of it. I love this: “The state needs the grassroots to survive. The opposite is not the case.” I think that’s so important to hammer home. First of all, that first part is really interesting to think about – the state needs the grassroots. Because I don’t think we always think that when we’re doing grassroots stuff, but it’s also really important to keep in mind that we don’t need the state to do what we’re doing.

One thing that might be interesting to hear your thoughts about is the way technology and social media played a role in that. That was part of Occupy Wall Street, but it became essential during COVID, because of the need to distance or whatever. Technology is obviously an ambiguous tool. Could you talk about that?

R: When I interviewed the Occupy Sandy people, this idea of social media and stuff was really central. And they saw it as pretty much a fundamental part of their movement. And certainly, when in terms of the publicity that Occupy Sandy received, what it was known for was mobilizing social media and managing to mobilize this movement via social media and managing to mobilize resources and donations on a massive scale, getting torches [flash lights] and blankets and things to communities using the Amazon gift list that’s usually used for people’s weddings. Where they put all the presents they wanted for the wedding, they’d have a list of things, and people from all over the world could donate a torch to them or a blanket or a dehumidifier or whatever. And they saw that as fundamental to that movement. But then they were also quite critical because they realized they were using Amazon and making profits for [Jeff] Bezos.

Obviously, we need our own systems and infrastructures and things in place. But these were useful in the interim. And there was a lot of optimism about creating open-source alternatives, and that being seen as this thing that had momentum that was going to happen. When I spoke to people, that was still the case, there was still this idea that open-source software is going to develop. I don’t feel that’s happened in a way which– There are open-source alternatives, but they don’t seem to be being used as much as the mainstream things. And the people in the COVID movement in London at least, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about technology at all. It was taken for granted or seen as a normal backdrop thing. Everyone was using WhatsApp for their groups to communicate. Some of the more radical groups had alternative Signal groups and things that. But the community-based things had to be WhatsApp, because there were a lot of non-anarchist people and it’s a thing that everyone had. People had meetings, and it was always on Zoom. And some people tried to use Jitsi, which is a more ethical alternative, but they found it was a bit buggy, and it crashed and it didn’t work. And some people didn’t have it, and they didn’t know how to use it. So everyone reverted to Zoom in the end. But there wasn’t a lot of technological optimism anymore like I saw in Occupy Sandy. And there weren’t a lot of critiques, either. It was seen as a thing that was there and taken for granted.

TFSR: Yeah, I’ve definitely experienced this time, too, being forcibly integrated more into my technology. It’s been accelerated over the last number of years, because it became a tool for the work that I had to do, for the organizing that I was doing it now. And now it feels too pervasive in my life.

R: You forget about it until you lose your phone and realize that you’re literally disabled, you can’t do anything.

TFSR: It’s interesting because people always try to retain some hope in it. This whole Twitter debacle is going down where Elon Musk bought Twitter, and everyone’s like “This is gonna be garbage, because nazis will have a platform”, which has happened, but then people are doing this weird disruptive thing on Twitter that I don’t think anyone anticipated that has potentially had real consequences in terms of stocks for certain major corporations, or impersonating politicians and saying weird stuff, which I think that’s cool. I don’t know if it’s revolutionary, but it’s cool, at least. I’m confused to see that it’s a tool that gets used in interesting ways, but then seems to end up tying us back into the corporations.

I want to get back to another strand. Your book also functions as an overview and introduction to anarchism, which I really appreciate, because you give a lot of really interesting and important background to piece all these things together. But you also have a really unique take on it that I’d love to hear a little bit more about You say that anarchism is an epistemology and ontology and ethics. And I wonder if you could explain what you mean by those different things because I thought that was really a nice contribution.

R: Okay. Something that gets to me a little bit and also this came out through this study, was that a lot of people who are anarchists are anarchists because they see as effective or efficient some organizational panacea that if we are organized this, we can solve problems, we can organize disaster relief more effectively and we can solve climate change, which I agree, I think that organizationally, it is a better way to solve climate change. And I completely agree, but I think there’s more to it than that, as well. That’s almost saying “if that could be disproven, and then if we found that a different way, if we found that fascism was a better way to organize disaster relief and solve climate change, then because we’re only interested in organization, then we should go with that.”

So I think it goes beyond that. There’s an ethical imperative to care for each other on a dis-alienated level, and not in a utilitarian sense. It’s an ontology in the sense that it’s a reversal of perspective. So instead of seeing things, people, or social action from the perspective of the state as useful, it’s about seeing things from a human and ecosystems approach is what is meaningful here right now, in the relationship I’m involved in right now, rather than from a top-down perspective. So it’s a different way of seeing and understanding the world.

TFSR: Another really inspiring moment in the book for me is when you say, from an epistemological anarchist – or using anarchist epistemology, I think it’s how you say it – we can see insurrection in daily life. I love that, and I wonder if you could say a little bit more about it. It goes unseen so often. Can you talk a little bit about how we can look at the world through an insurrectionary lens?

R: What you were talking about with the people on Twitter, you could see them as naughty little school children playing up against daddy Elon, or you could see it as a mini insurrection. If you see human cooperation and caring and the ability to relate beyond an instrumental sense, as always there, then you see actions like that as insurrectionary. As you were saying, it seems like a radical moment. And I think it is, it’s people seeing this illegitimate authority that’s trying to break up the communities that they formed on Twitter and break up their relationships, and they’re resisting that. It is insurrectionary in a sense. It’s probably not going to be the basis of a huge revolution. That happens all the time. If you see anarchism as an ethical relationship between people that’s more real, more authentic, and more caring, and resists the urge of the state to slot us into these cybernetic nodes and roles and things like that, then it’s all around us. Then you see, when when it’s being suppressed more as well, rather than seeing this urge to be ordered as natural.

TFSR: Right. Maybe this is my last question. But the other arc through your book is thinking about utopia, which is also something you’ve worked on before. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you understand that term. Another thing that comes up is desire. How that fits into your theory of disaster anarchy, and whether we need disasters to try to create alternative worlds?

R: Disasters, do we need them? We’re in one, and the things that capitalism calls disasters are revealing the nature of what’s already there or magnifying it.

But to me, utopia is– The term means the good place that is no place. It’s a pun on three Greek words: eu – good, ou – no, and topos – place. So it often seems like people make utopian novels where they imagine a different society in a lot of detail. But to me, it’s about the human impulse to imagine and desire socio-political arrangements, and people can either do that in fiction or sometimes they do it in these social experiments or utopian communities. And you can get totalitarian utopias, for sure. So, I’m not for totalitarian utopias. I’m for grassroots utopias and anarchist utopias where people come together and try and imagine a different world without hierarchy and without the state. And it’s an expression of that desire, but then a conscious bringing into being of it through either someone can write a novel, like Ursula Le Guin’s novels are absolutely fantastic anarchist, utopias, or people can come together and try and make Utopia through their practice. And it is about saying, “We desire something different. And we’re going to consciously try and put it into place.” And I think that utopian impulse of imagining how things could be different and trying to put it into place is a step that’s needed beyond the insurrection I was talking about on Twitter, for example, where you can see an anarchist insurrection in a sense, but it’s maybe lacking that utopian elements of articulating an alternative society. To me, an anarchist utopia is tied almost completely with the idea of prefiguration.

TFSR: Which is the disaster utopia experience when you are in the moment, you can see that there’s another world possible, and you’re living it, even though you’re still in the context of the horror world that we live in. There’s a glimpse of it, it’s there for that period of time, at least.

R: I guess the connection to disasters is to really desire a utopian society, you have to see how really bad the one that we’re in is. Some people naturally feel the world is shit. Since I was a kid, I’ve always been fighting against authority in the world and what’s given, but some people aren’t like that. Some people may be quite comfortable and accept it, or they may be completely downtrodden, but also see that as their fate somehow, not feel like there’s a beyond or something. But often, disasters will either reveal the shitness of things to people who perhaps didn’t realize it, or they might also show that something else is possible in this coming together of people in recovery, it might be an ontological break that reveals that something else is possible. And so it gives people an experience of an outside that allows them to be more utopian.

TFSR: In that line, one of the things that you say, I don’t know, if you see this as what should happen or what can happen or does happen, but you write that in disaster times, norms ought to be loosened and there should be a higher tolerance for deviance or deviation. I loved the way that you put that: that’s another space where the conformity that we are expected to live in can be torn apart a little bit. Although it depends on other people also not punishing you for that.

R: That was a thing I found during COVID that a lot of the social response was heavily moralized, and if you didn’t agree with everything to the letter, then you were some COVID denier. You have to understand that people react differently in these situations, and people’s normal coping mechanisms aren’t available, and people were being treated like these generic subjects that all ought to be ordered and stay in order. But people’s actual conditions vary significantly. There has to be some allowance for the fact that people are really suffering mentally. You can acknowledge these things without being a COVID denier, or you can have empathy without being a COVID denier.

TFSR: That’s been a really hard line and really confusing, especially now where it’s ongoing, and there’s no general agreement on doing precautions. I’m a chronically ill person. I navigate the world from that perspective, which is exasperating because there’s nowhere I can be. But also, we have to keep in mind that the mental health aspect that you were mentioning, we were all traumatized by this in a way that there’s been no space to recover. It’s too hard to even understand the mass death and disabling, and then our lives have utterly changed and they’re not going back.

R: And that’s the thing because there’s no communication or agreement, and that’s not the anarchist thing. That’s because of the state. People expect to be told what to do by the state. And then once the state stops being interested in COVID, people seem to lack the capacity to say, “Is there someone chronically ill who’s going to be here, who has different needs? We need to discuss who’s going to be in the space and what their needs are.” Because the state had a very strong response and then it just withdrew that…

TFSR: There’s that anti-authoritarian response when the state tells you to do something, too, which vibes with certain kinds of anarchist responses: to be like “I’m not going to do what the state tells me.” But there’s a weird overlap of there was important information, a lot of it was actually contradicted and confusing. And now we’re in this place where there’s no clear line or information at all.

R: I think health was securitized rather than treated as a community and resourcing issue that we need to educate communities about how to protect each other and themselves. And there need to be resources for all these things. It’s more like “These are the rules that you have to follow. And let’s not question. And now they’ve changed.”

TFSR: That’s maybe a whole other discussion. I loved our conversation. I wonder, is there anything else that you would want to say or that we didn’t cover that you want to bring into this space?

R: I’m really interested in thinking through– I start on this in my conclusion. It’s something that was underdeveloped in my book. Thinking about how anarchists deal with climate change, rather than the disasters of climate change, the whole scale infrastructural change that’s going to be needed. How do we degrow? How do we occupy spaces that are smaller and build infrastructure? That’s what I’m interested in doing more. So if any of your listeners or you want to get in touch with me and continue those kinds of conversations?

TFSR: That seems so important because, again, it’s this issue of so many people by default thinking that there needs to be a centralized authoritarian response. You do talk about this in the book, too, that that re-ups the state’s power, or re-ups capitalists’ process of extraction and resource wasting. But it’s very hard to see see the other, there’s not a lot of room given in most of the conversations to the possibility that it would be something else than that, except for some anarchist spaces. And then there’s also the pessimism that a lot of people have, like “There’s not really much we can do.” So it’s going to be in pockets of places of resistance.

Do you want to say how people can find you or find your work?

R: Find me on Facebook and Twitter and all the usual capitalist platforms that we were criticizing earlier. I’m either Rhiannon Firth or RhiFirth, I use those interchangeably. And then the book, you can buy from the Pluto website. And I think you can get 30% off with the discount code “Firth30”. And there’s an open-access version available as well, which you can see if you search for Disaster Anarchy open access, you should be able to find it or get in touch with me and I’ll send it. People are welcome to follow me or befriend me on any of these things on the internet. Or email me at rhiannonfirth@gmail.com.

TFSR: Cool. Anyway, I will put all that information, too, in the notes that go with the show. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk.

R: Thank you. I really enjoyed it. And hopefully, we’ll be doing an event together in London at some point.

Asheville Water Crisis and New Years Eve Bail Out

Asheville Water Crisis and New Years Eve Bail Out

This week on the show, we’re sharing two local conversations with community organizers providing mutual aid in Asheville, NC.

2022 NYE Noise Demo & Bailout

Collage of words "We See You We Love You" projected on Buncombe County Detention Center at 2021 NYE demo & cases of bottled water stacked next to U-Haul truck & sign saying "Free Water | Agua Gratis" plus "TFSR 1-8-23 | Asheville Water Crisis Mutual Aid + New Years Eve Bailout / Noise Demonstration"
Download This Episode

First up, we’re sharing a short interview with Beck of Pansy Collective, a queer DIY benefit booking collective responsible for Pansy Fest. Beck talks about the 2022 New Years Eve noise demonstration and bailout that Pansy helped to fundraise for (alongside the Asheville Community Bail Fund), as well as the Buncombe County Jail being reported by the Citizen Times newspaper as the deadliest jail in North Carolina as of January 2021.

Asheville Water Crisis

Then, we you’ll hear Elliot of Asheville Survival Program (Instagram or FB), M of Asheville for Justice and Moira talk about the water crisis that started on December 24th, the city’s response, how mutual aid stepped up to distribute water and more. To read statements by the 16th people facing felony littering and other charges for mutual work and solidarity here in Asheville, check out AVLSolidarity.NoBlogs.Org, or check out our transcripts or episodes from (10/31/21, 12-26-21, 5-15-22) for more words from the groups involved.

Next Week…

We announced that we’d be airing Rhiannon Firth talking with Scott about her recent book, Disaster Anarchy, but we’re putting that off until next week. Patreon supporters can find it released a tiny bit early.

Announcements

20th Balkan Anarchist Bookfair

If you’re in southern Europe, the 20th annual Balkan Anarchist bookfair is coming up from the 7th to 9th of July in Ljubljana, Slovenia. If you want to table or present, submissions are still open and more info can be found at their website, bab2023.EspivBlogs.Net

Fundraising for JJ Ayer Eagle Bear

In prior weeks, listeners heard updates from the struggle against evictions at Winnemucca Indian Colony. Jimmy J, who spoke in the December 25th episode has set up fundraising to help him overwinter via the venmo: @lunaleve

Comrades Conspiracy

There is a fundraiser online to support four anarchists accused by the Greek state of participation in a terrorist group the state is calling “comrades”, a case which has stretched out for nearly 3 years now, and their trial is slated to take place on February 6th of 2023. Learn more at FireFund.Net/Solidarity4Comrades

Leon Benson Fundraiser

We’re happy to announce a re-entry fundraiser for Leon Benson (aka EL Bently 448), a wrongly convicted man in Indiana being organized by IDOC Watch, out of Indiana. Leon was the subject of a chat with his daughter, Koby Blutt, in our May 30th, 2021 episode (audio and transcript available at our website). You can find it at GoFundMe.com by searching Leon Benson.

Eric King Release Fundraiser

There is also a fundraiser going for post-release support for anarchist prisoner Eric King that you can find at GoFundMe.Com

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Featured Tracks:

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Bail Out Transcription

Beck: I am Beck, I’m with the Pansy Collective. I use they/them pronouns. Yeah, that’s who I am.

The FInal Straw Radio: Cool. And it’s been a long time since we’ve had anyone from Pansy Collective on the show, could you tell us a bit about what y’all do and who you are?

B: Yeah, for sure. So Pansy Collective originally, we had a Pansy Fest, a DIY music festival that was centered on queer and trans folks in the south, pretty similar to Get Better Fest and other regional fests for queer folks to make art and play music. And we also would do political workshops, or educational workshops intermixed with that. We did that for about three years, collaborating with Another Carolina Anarchist Bookfair. And we’re going to be doing another collab this year, it will be the first one since the pandemic started. So, really stoked for that.

But lately, we’ve just been focusing on doing a lot of benefits shows for local organizations and people doing movement work. We’ve been doing the noise demo for about three years. And starting last year, we collaborated with the Asheville Bail Fund, and it launched actually on last New Year’s in technically 2022.

TFSR: I definitely want to talk about that. Would you mind saying a little bit more about what kind of politics Pansy Collective has? I mean, you worked with the anarchists book fair, but the kind of like fundraising that you’ve done in the past. Like I think y’all have worked with Black Mama Bail Out. I really appreciate the fact that you all put on a fun time, as well as platforming artists that are often excluded from other venues, as well as injecting radical politics into queer scenes or into party culture or into like, show life. Could you talk a little bit about how you envision that?

B: Yeah, for sure. So a lot of Pansy Collective got together because we were sick of being at these punk shows with no politics. Just seeing the kind of “anarchist, punk” but like, what the fuck are we actually doing with this energy, with this community? A lot of the times most of our shows are benefits for, like, Black Mama Bailout, with Southerners On New Ground, or, you know, someone needs to fundraise for a gender affirming surgery. We have an abolitionist politic, an anarchist politics, so the things that we fundraise for and do benefits for are usually aligning with that. It’s been cool to kind of bring that back into punk.

We also do all kinds of other music and arts and stuff like that, it’s not just punk stuff. But making sure that we have scenes that are available at all of our shows, and making sure that we’re inviting folks to table and to get people who want to party and have a good time also get connected and plugged into the community. So we often have other friends who are doing stuff around town or in the south come in, plug their work and get people together and plugged in.

TFSR: Awesome. Thanks. So you mentioned the noise demo, this is the New Year’s Eve noise demo that happened on the evening of the 31st. And I wonder if you could talk a bit about your collaboration with the bail fund, how the noise demo went, what it was like, and what the bailout action was like?

B: Yeah, so the last year was when Asheville Community Bail Fund was launched, and so this year, this time around, we wanted to collaborate again. And we have kind of a goal set to bail out 23 people by 2023 — and right now I don’t know where we’re at with that number, I think last we checked it somewhere around 12 or something — but I mean more so than reaching this number of 23 people, it’s keeping the bail fund going.

And so the New Year’s Eve demo is kind of like I mean, it’s an anarchist tradition to go out to the jail, make noise, make people know that they’re seen and loved and they’re not forgotten about. And then also starting last year — not the most recent demo but the-the one last year — it was bailing people out during the actual action. And it was great. This year was awesome. We had a marching band and that was really sick [laughs]. We had a portable PA, it was fucking great, it was really cute. A lot of people showed up, like 100 or so folks.

But that goal of reaching 23 people is continuing on. And also important to note the bail fund is all year round, right? New Year’s Eve is a really great way for people to get plugged in and be like “Oh, remember that thing that’s going on?” to do trainings and stuff like that. So prior to the noise demo we had a jail support training, ways for people to plug in, to join the bail fund and to join organizing throughout the year. Because it doesn’t stop after New Year’s. It’s going to continue to go. And yeah, it was great. It’s always a good time. There’s food, I love making noise in the streets with my friends [laughs]. And getting to see the folks that are inside flashing their lights on and off and waving and knowing that they’re not left alone on this night. That they’re not going to be alone there, they’re gonna get out.

TFSR: Yeah that’s awesome. Especially as the pandemic continues the idea of being stuck in there, and assuming that you’ve even got like a bail option, just maybe not having access to that amount of money at one time seems pretty scary.

You’re an abolitionist collective, not to say that bail funds are necessarily an abolitionist project, but with that in mind — since you’ve supported Black Mama Bailout in the past, this is a running theme for Pansy Collective, which I think is awesome — can you talk about what the intention is there? Just for anyone that doesn’t know about rotating bail funds, like the Asheville one, or the Black Mama one, or the ones that are in an increasing number of places around the country, can you talk about why people go about bailing out folks that aren’t family members, that aren’t loved ones? And what the impact that you understand that to be? Like, what that’s for?

B: Yeah. It’s not an abolitionist practice, right? We’re buying into the cash bail system. And also, no one deserves to be in fucking jail. And so that’s point blank, we’ll do what we gotta do to get you out. And it’s important to note too — it was at least reported last year, I don’t know how long this has been true — but Buncombe County jail has been the deadliest jail in all of North Carolina. Several people have died in that jail due to horrible, horrible abuse and lack of medical treatment. You know, every jail is fucked, but we definitely wanted to highlight that this year and get people out so they don’t fucking die.

This particular bail fund and different bail funds, like Black Mama Bail is getting mama’s out, there’s political prisoner bail funds for folks. This one is just like, “if you’re friend or family member, whoever, is in jail, contact us, and we’re going to work on fundraising to get them out and make sure that they’re set up with care packages and support when they’re out”. But I mean, point blank no one deserves to be in a fucking cage. This is a disgusting, evil system that we’re living in, where people are being caged in and kept away from their loved ones and profited off of so. Yeah, that’s just the basis. No one should be in prison.

TFSR: Yeah. Like the way that the bail system works in this country — or where it operates, because it’s not the same everywhere and not everyone does have have bail — oftentimes there’s this other part of the economy that directly predates on people’s inability to access large sums of money, called bail bonds people, or bail bondsman, or whatever. What bail bonds do is they will put up front, if you pay something like 10%, or 20%, depending on what what it is, or allegedly what your history is with the court system, they’ll put up the full bond if you family or you are willing to pay 10 or 20% non-refundable.

The so-called “justice system” presumes that we need to put a barrier to people necessarily just getting out and committing a crime over and over again, but we don’t want to just hold them pretrial without this access to the outside. So what do we do? We monetize it, and then they make it so that either you don’t get out because you can’t afford the money — or because the the bail system won’t let you out for whatever reason — or you can get out if your family can rustle up a bunch of money that they’re never going to see again so that bonds people can go in and pay it off. And then if you run or if you don’t show up to court or whatever, then they’ll come after you because they’ll be out the rest of that money. But they keep whatever refund happens. Or if someone can just pay it outright.

This is basically what the bail fund is: it’s socializing and collectivizing this attempt to raise the money to pay it off in one go. And then if the court system processes you, you go through your trial or whatever, take your plea, whatever that looks like, the money doesn’t just go into the courts pocket, it doesn’t go into a bail bonds person’s pocket, it goes back into the bail fund, and then they have this money for the next time they want to bail someone out.

So it’s a really interesting way of not only getting people out of that very deadly situation, but also, in a way kind of undermining or short circuiting the class-based assumptions that if you can’t afford to pay bond, you don’t deserve to get out and be with your family, be with your loved ones, whatever, or mount of legal defense for yourself in the run up to your court.

B: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

TFSR: I don’t think abolition has to be the judgment of if a project is worthwhile or not, I think that’s awesome that you all do that. And for the folks that do get a chance to get out at this event, when people are processed in a timely manner — like I know there’s a lot of bureaucratic stuff that’s going on in the jail that’s making for really long processing times, and really pissing off the magistrates, apparently — but if people get to get out, and then there’s a bunch of people out there with food who are happy to see them, and there to offer them a ride to whatever they need to get to, a phone charger, a cigarette. That’s pretty endearing. It’s pretty lovely.

B: Yeah. Yeah, it was really great when folks are bailed out during the action, when that’s happened before, joining in and grabbing the megaphone and making noise. It’s awesome.

TFSR: Do you have anything to say about what that jail support training that you mentioned was like, or what the purpose of that is? Just for anyone who’s in a community and thinking about starting a bail fund?

B: Yeah. Most of the jail support training is just focused on some of the bureaucratic stuff. So it’s specific to Asheville, but it’s like, what are those steps that you’re gonna go through when bailing someone out? Also what are the supportive things to bring with you? How to make a care package, to get cigarettes, to get some hot food or like, offer a ride to the place that they’re gonna stay? It’s really about understanding the bail system, like you described earlier, and then also what are these tangible things that we need to do? Also how are we deciding who is going to be bailed out, and in what order? Stuff like that.

Most of it really is remembering that we’re not there to judge folks for being incarcerated, and that we’re gonna show up with loving arms and be prepared to have some hard talks, or be [open to people being ] like, “actually, I’m good. I’m just gonna head home. Can you take me home?” To just step into that situation with a lot of compassion and care, and basic necessities too. Because we don’t know whether folks are housed or not, but to show up with that warmth, and those resources being really important.

TFSR: Yeah, for sure. Well it sounds-it sounds like it turned out awesome. Can you, in closing, would you mind saying a few things about where folks can learn more about Pansy Collective and maybe get involved in y’all’s work, or support you through projects like this?

B: Yeah, definitely. We’re on Instagram, mostly, so…God [chuckles in exasperation at social media] you can find us @PansyFest, or you can email us at pansyfestavl@gmail.com. Yeah, definitely hit us up if you’re trying to play a show, if you’ve got something to fundraise for. We’re really down to do whatever. [laughs]

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, thanks Beck. I really appreciate it. Asheville Community Bail is on twitter and instagram and at AvlCommunityBail.carrd.co/

B: Of course, thanks for having me.

. … . ..

Water Crisis Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves with whatever names, preferred pronouns, locations, affiliations, or whatever else you think would be helpful for the listening audience for this conversation?

Moira: Certainly. My name’s Moira. I’m a lifelong resident of Asheville, North Carolina and my pronouns are she/her.

M: And this is M. I’m a member of Asheville For Justice. My pronouns are they/them/elle and I live over here in the West Asheville Candler area.

Elliot: I’m Elliot, my pronouns are he. I also live in the West Asheville Candler area. I’m a street medic and I do stuff with Asheville Survival Program.

TFSR: Cool. M or Elliot, you want to talk about either of your projects that you work with, Asheville For Justice, or Asheville Survival Program, and tell us a little bit about what-what y’all do?

Elliot: Yeah, so Asheville Survival Program began in March 2020 as a response to the COVID pandemic. We established two projects initially: one of them was a free grocery store in a low income neighborhood in West Asheville, and the other we call “streetside”. It’s a coffee and food and gear distribution for homeless folks living downtown. When the city shut down the homeless shelters for several months of the beginning of COVID, we were out every day serving coffee, and then giving people gear. We ran the Free Store and did home deliveries of groceries and household supplies to folks who were affected by the pandemic. And the Free Store just closed in October 2022, streetside is still going strong every weekend.

TFSR: And would you mind saying some stuff about Asheville For Justice?

M: Yeah. So Asheville For Justice also started in 2020 during the uprisings. And funny enough, it was out of the water bottles stabbing shebacle, when APD just ransacked a medic tent that was handing out water bottles. The original members came together with the intention of starting a Black-led, BIPOC-centered mutual aid group. And since then we’ve just been kind of evolving our mutual aid practice. And yeah, it’s been a couple of years now.

TFSR: So as weather patterns intensify, we’re seeing infrastructure failures more and more around the so-called USA and everywhere else. As in the pattern, the capitalist state has peripheries, and those at its various peripheries, or margins, are often the last to get services, or when they do get services, they’re often the lowest quality, and when they get interrupted, those are the margins are often those left out in the dark, or the cold, and hardest hit. So in the week prior to New Year, Asheville and surrounding areas suffered a breakdown of the water infrastructure, I was wondering if y’all could talk a little bit about this. And maybe how geography and elevation have been a part of the water supply issues and getting it back up and running.

Elliot: Yeah, so as far as we can tell, this current water crisis began around December 24 due to a combination of freezing temperatures that caused breaks in local water lines, as well as the shutdown of the outhern water filtration treatment plant. In the Asheville city water systems, there’s the county and there are three filtration plants; two of them are located in the north and remained active. So the northern area, which tends to be the whiter and wealthier area, was less affected by this. The city communication around this crisis was initially, and continues to be, pretty vague and difficult to tell who was impacted, where people were impacted, how many people were impacted. But there was a news article that was released that I saw Wednesday morning, that said, 35,000 people were without water.

I got a tip Tuesday night that this was happening and would be happening for a while, and drafted out a statement to share to local mutual aid groups to request that we get together and start talking about this. But I made the mistake of not sending that out until late Wednesday night, because the city was saying that they were going to be doing water distribution, and I was naive and waited to see what that water distribution would be. It turned out to not be a whole lot actually and we can talk about that. But we got together Thursday on a signal loop and spent all day doing logistics and making phone calls and figuring out how to source water and rounding up donations on Venmo to pay for stuff. And then Friday we started two distro sites, one in Shiloh and one in Candler, that we’ve been staffing through today.

Moira: My understanding of it comes from, my partner works for 211 and so I was listening to my partner going, “this is so nuts, why is the city doing this?” And I was like, “Wait, you mean people both don’t have water, and the city is terrible at getting them water? And they haven’t had water for how many days? [Sighs] Alright I’m going to find out where to get water bottles and try to figure this out”. And then sort of ended up filtering through a bunch of threads to end up connecting with Elliott about this. And as far as geography is concerned, certainly the Asheville water system favors those in the sort of basin of downtown versus the people way out, over a bit of a crest of a hill, like in Candler or South Asheville, or down by the river where it’s always been messed up.

TRSF: Can you say what 211 is?

Moira: Oh 211 is an information and referral service. So if you happen to call 211 with “oh, I would like some water now”, because basically the-the city said, “if you need water, call 211” right? But if you call them, basically 211 is just giving a list to the fire department, and then the fire department drives over and delivers it. The only people they’re doing that for are elderly people, disabled people, and people who are homebound or don’t have a car, don’t have the money to get to water. But then the city tweeted “just anyone call 211!” If you are in the state of North Carolina — or various states, I don’t know how many states have 211 active — and you need resources from various nonprofit groups, 211 is a good contact to connect to you as services in your state. They don’t deliver water.

Elliot: Part of the initial communication from the city, when I was waiting to hear what their water distribution would be, I assumed they would be setting up locations and activating disaster funds to source bottled water, and working with a local relief agency that we have here in town to set up places people could come get water. But what the city said in their initial press conference and on their social media was “sign up for 211 deliveries”, which is not what 211 does. They’re an information referral service. You call 211 if you’re like, “I’m looking for homeless shelters and night, where can I go?”.

We should also include: people in the area who are homeowners who were affected by broken water pipes due to the freezing temperature can call 211 to request help securing funds to repair. But that’s only if you’re a homeowner, right? If you’re a renter, it’s just up to you and your landlord. I think the city’s communication here is a really good example of the idea that in disasters, the state is motivated to maintain control of the narrative and to consolidate power. The state is not here to help you, the state is not here to solve your problems. The state is not here to bring you what you need in a disaster. They’re here to make themselves look better.

And so the city’s communication was initially very vague about where the impacted areas were. They were putting out press releases and saying “from this road to that road”, but they used incorrect road names. It took them until the middle of the week to release a map actually showing the areas that were without water and the areas that had boil water advisories. So during this time, about half of the county was under a boil water advisory. But who knows if people actually knew that was happening. If you happened to have already signed up for the Asheville alerts text message system, you probably got a text message that said it was a boil water advisory. But they only sent that in English, the communication wasn’t bilingual, it wasn’t in Spanish. You can’t text 211 for this stuff, so if you’re deaf, you know, good luck.

The city’s communication was to make themselves look good. It was not to distribute necessary information to people who need it. They were sending out these press releases saying “we’ve used our climate justice map to distribute water to 100 households.” But like, who were those 100 households? Do I know if I’m covered by the climate justice map? If I am — if I look it up online and I find it — how do I know the city is going to bring the water? It wasn’t actually useful for the people who were impacted, it was just a way for them to pat themselves on the back and say that they’re addressing the problem. And it does seem like they kind of shifted responsibility over to 211 to figure out how to solve it. And it’s not 211’s job.

We live in a town that highly prioritizes tourism. You know, we’re “Beer City, USA” or whatever, our whole economy runs on fucking hotels. And the city did not, on December 24 when this began, request that the breweries that are all over town, start bottling water for people. You know? We had folks clearing out the grocery stores buying bottled water for themselves. I heard from somebody three hours away that people were coming to their grocery store clearing out water for themselves. And yet we have all these breweries and bottling facilities. The hotels were fine.

M did you want to say something about the elevation impact?

M: Yeah, I was thinking about the map that they finally put out — bringing it back to the geographical the areas affected versus what the city was saying — where elevation is is definitely a variable on who was getting water as the southern plant get turned back on and how much pressure they were able to give to get houses in higher elevations their water restored. And that’s definitely a factor. But looking at the map that they finally put out, that showed the areas affected, the areas that were not affected, and the areas that were still out, there’s three colors for it: a mixed area of outages and restored, and then one was completely out, and then one was areas unaffected.

It was just really interesting to look at how North Asheville was not affected at all. Elliot, I do remember you saying that there’s two plants in North Asheville, but also North Asheville is higher in elevation. I mean there’s Reynolds Mountain up there, that’s-that’s pretty high up. But North Asheville is very wealthy and wasn’t affected at all. If you look at South Asheville, Shiloh, which is a historically black neighborhood, was one of the last to get their water restored. But if you look across Hendersonville Road to Biltmore Forest, they were not affected at all.

Moira: Not affected at all. Why?

M: We’ve been curious to take maps of the areas that were affected and not affected and lay it over maps of median area income, home values, redlining in Asheville and see where they would correlate there. But yeah, I’m over here in the West Asheville Candler area, which is mostly white, but there are a lot of Latine people here. And unless you, like Elliott was saying, had signed up for those 211 alerts, you would have to check the city website to see what was going on with your water. But then when you sign up for the 211 updates, there was no option for Spanish at all and a lot of people over here are predominantly Spanish speaking. So, yeah, just interesting.

Elliot: The water pressure was slower to resume in areas that are higher elevation, which means if your house is on a hill…like we’re not talking about significant amounts of elevation. So over the past week when we’ve been at these sites, we set up distribution, like little pop up water distro sites, at the Shiloh Community Center and at a church in a Candler / West Asheville neighborhood. And most of the people who are coming through the sites were older, were disabled, had someone in their home with a disability, were taking care of elderly family members. The first couple of days we were in Shiloh, the majority of people who came through had disability placards in their car, and we’re mostly older Black folks.

We were hearing from people every day for the past week, “The city says the water is back on but I don’t have water in my house. I only have a trickle”. We were hearing “My water is back on but I don’t trust it. They said I should boil it.” But you know, household members are immunocompromised, they didn’t feel safe boiling the water. So, I think it was really important for people to have places they could go to get bottled water. So in addition to the 211 debacle, the city was also allowing people to go to local fire departments to pick up water and the fire department would give you, I think a case of bottled water and two gallons to flush. And the YMCAs opened up for showers, which raises the question about who deserves to take a shower, you know? The YMCA doesn’t let you come in and take showers for free if you’re homeless, but they let you come in and take showers for free if your water got caught off.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah, that’s a good point to bring up.

So, we were talking about this happening on the 24th, and Elliot, you had gotten rumblings that this was not going to get resolved right away. At the time of this recording, and at the time of the release in a couple of days — this is Friday the 6th of January — it’ll be two weeks since this. The water department’s website says that water has been restored everywhere, and the way y’all have described is that it’s been a patchwork of various stages of a trickle of water here, or a boil advisory or what have you. Are people still distributing water? Is there a demand for it still, and do you have any sort of information about what sort of pathogens might still be in the water supply?

Elliot: Pathogens is going to be a complicated question to answer.

As far as demand, we were giving out around 120 cases a day in Shiloh and Candler, and then decided to close the Shiloh site on Thursday this week, because their water had resumed largely the day before, fewer people were coming through. We expect to still staff the Candler site today and as of yesterday, Thursday, we gave out another 120 cases of water.

I think what we see in disasters like this is a difference between what the city, what the state says people need, and what people who are experiencing the crisis say they need. And we’re out there to meet the need that people say they have. So I think we intend to continue staffing as long as we have capacity and the ability to source bottled water, as long as people are still coming and asking for it, in spite of what the city is saying.

I did see that the city has released a document describing the recent water testing. They seem to have done a lot of water testing over the past couple of weeks during this crisis. But when you look at the PDF that they’ve released on their website, it doesn’t tell you the address, it just says, like, west or north or south area. And because of the patchwork of issues with this, it’s hard to tell where they actually tested. I think there are going to be a lot of ongoing questions about the safety of different areas, different neighborhoods or specific homes. And I don’t know where people can go to get those answers, especially if you’re renting from a landlord. Whose responsibility that is, or where people can go to get-to get that kind of information.

M: I mean, yeah. Cuz as of yesterday, this area that Elliot and I are in, the boil advisory has been lifted. And yesterday, there were still people coming through without water on, and brown water, milky water. So there’s just a huge difference between what the city is saying and what people in these neighborhoods are actually experiencing. Like, what is milky water? What even is that?

Moira: It feels like the city is actively interrupting people’s ability to get good information at that point, right? Like, “Oh, the water is supposed to be back on, I guess I don’t have to think about it anymore.” Which is just what they’re trying to do, they’re just like, “quit asking us questions”.

Even after the 211 debacle, they switched it over to the water department, who was supposed to be taking the calls. They literally routed calls from City Hall to the water department. The people who are meant to be fixing the problem were the ones who had to work overtime to take people’s calls. So it just feels like, in this attempt to make themselves look better, as is a state’s way, constantly, they have actively interrupted the process of people getting water and good information this whole time.

Elliot: And I think this is a good example of what happens in disasters. It breaks your trust in the capacity of the systems that you rely on every day. I have traveled around a little bit to do disaster relief in different areas, because it’s a skill set I wanted to have. I wanted to learn what it looks like on the ground in places that have been experiencing this for a long time, and what it looks like to do disaster response. And it really hits different when you’re doing it at home.

Those of us who do mutual aid disaster response — so there is an organization called Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, that has helped us a lot with some of logistics around this — and what it’s looked like for me is I’ll take two weeks off of work or a month off of work and go to Jackson, Mississippi, and help build a small scale water filtration system for a neighborhood center down there with Cooperation Jackson. And it’s really different when you can take the time off of work and travel, and focus on doing that work. When it-when it’s happening at home and I’m trying to balance my regular job and washing the dishes and doing laundry and taking care of my kid, it’s a lot harder.

I think a lot of us didn’t expect something like this to happen here, it doesn’t seem like something that could happen at home until it does happen at home. And it feels really lucky to me that we were able to leverage existing mutual aid projects to come up with a response to this. And that we were able to roll out the response very quickly because a lot of us here in the community have been practicing mutual aid, it’s like a muscle that you exercise. I think we can get a little bit lost in the day to day details and logistics and relationships around serving hot food to homeless people: ”is this really making an impact? Where are we going to raise the money next week? How are we going to fix the van?” But I think an important thing to keep in mind is, when you have existing mutual aid projects in your community — kind of regardless of what they’re seeking to address — you’re exercising that muscle, you’re building those habits, you’re building the collective expectation that we know how to solve these problems as a community. Because the city isn’t going to do it, the state isn’t going to take care of us. We say “we keep us safe” and this is what that looks like.

So there’s been a lot of skill building around the sort of invisible labor that goes into mutual aid projects. We were able to round up a signal loop with about a dozen people in it who already know how to do logistics and communication, and how to make decisions together and how to plan and how to communicate about our availability or when we’re not available. And having built the skills over time, and built some of that trust and also built the collective care, expectations, and relationships, I think has made it a lot easier for me, particularly, to balance doing a disaster response and managing the day to day life.

We’ve also talked among ourselves about the idea that this isn’t one disaster that’s going to resolve itself. We’re going to continue seeing this. This is the impact of climate change, right? It was below freezing for several days, it was like two degrees over Christmas, when these lines started breaking. And so some of this is like the tag-on impacts of climate change on our communities, even our fairly wealthy communities, you know, it’s gonna hit all of us.

Moira: It feels like what we need to do is kind of, as climate change keeps rolling on, we’re basically just widening the definition of disaster, right? If every day is a disaster, is it really disaster relief? You know what I mean? How do we react when it’s… Because I imagine a big portion of what caused the outage — of course, this is just my idea of it — is probably that it was like 70 degrees, and then in two days it was 2. That huge shift in temperature, the water system, like any system, doesn’t really like that very much.

People in other countries and other places are experiencing that constantly. And it’s just — we as a country, we have this culture that kind of considers it like, “Oh, but they just had a disaster. Oh, that’s a thing, that’s just one thing.” But no, it just keeps rolling, and it’ll keep being that way. Realizing that disaster relief and disaster work is really just laying the groundwork for what the next 200 years are gonna look like.

M: Right, and the first disaster was colonization. So if we just zoom out a little bit and realize that there are Black and Indigenous communities who have gone without water and resources for a really long time. And Latin American countries who have been impacted by imperialism, who go without water, because of martial law, because of wars that the US started, I mean, we could go on and on. But having something like this happen at home makes me think also about what it looks like to be in solidarity with other communities that have been putting their own systems in place to have clean water, despite. Like Flint, Michigan, and Jackson, Mississippi and Indigenous communities in the Four Corners area.

It is dire out there. 40% of the Navajo Nation doesn’t have running water. It just lights a fire under me to be in solidarity with those communities more, and learn from them, and lift their voices and just figure out what we can do here at home to prepare ourselves and make our connections stronger for when these ongoing effects of climate change continue to affect communities that go underserved anyway, and just not expect the state to do anything at all.

TFSR: Y’all are making really good points and mutual aid is great when bringing services to people when the state is not providing it. However, the state’s usually okay with that to a point because, to bring it back to what was said earlier, the state doesn’t want to lose face that they are the representative and the legitimate source. And so at a certain point, mutual aid can also be a threat to the legitimacy, as M was pointing out, to the continuation of settler colonialism and racialized capitalism and these things. The state, at a certain point, will see something like this as competition. That’s one reason that that kind of solidarity is really important, to put things into perspective and realize where we stand and where we need to stand.

Neighborhoods get treated differently, neighborhoods with different median incomes have been treated differently throughout this and had their services restored, or not lost, throughout it. Currently, there is a an ongoing case against over a dozen people who are alleged to have participated in protests around the lack of public services, the criminalization of houselessness and poverty in Asheville, in Christmas of 2021. People facing felony littering charges, among other things. Those are coming to court very soon. We hope to have some folks to talk about the case soon. But, I wonder if y’all could talk a little bit about repression, how the city has reacted to your efforts, just that sort of thing, and how the press has covered you?

Moira: Let me start by saying: what a wild two Christmases. Makes you want to write, like a —

[Elliot and Moira simultaneously start making up Christmas songs about all the chaos]

Moira: — laaast Christmas —

Elliot: — I got arrested. The second Christmas, he took my water away —

Moira: Wild, [sarcastically] what a fun two things the city can just give you as a gift for Christmas. And it’s like, you know th-they’re always just going to see it as “Oh, that’s a little bit of bad press, I guess”. But like, so many people are furious,

Elliot: WLOS [local Fox affiliate TV station/website] did run a little piece about us. So you said some things about how mutual aid can kind of fill the gaps in state services in a disaster situation. I think if we understand mutual aid as a dual power organizing strategy that has the long term goal of building community resilience, so that we can meet our needs without the state, the trajectory of that is that initially we may be filling the gaps and doing things that the state isn’t providing.

Like when ASP basically took over the role of giving coffee to homeless people downtown when the city closed the shelters due to the pandemic, we come in and we start filling that gap. And then over the year, because we keep showing up, and we’re building relationships, like, real relationships with people, and not just giving them services and checking off boxes — and as a mutual aid project we don’t have barriers to who can get our stuff, we don’t make you prove that you actually deserve it, we just want to give you stuff — as we build those relationships, and as we build power, our projects start to threaten the legitimacy of the state.

This is a dual power trajectory. This is what happened with the Black Panthers, right? You get too strong and they shut you down. And then what we see there — and I assume you’re going to talk about this in the interview that you’re doing later for this segment — we either see repression or cooption. Or both. We see the state making what you’re doing illegal, and then taking over and providing it themselves. And what that’s looked like here in Asheville has been the felony littering defense cases. If you want to read more about that you can go look up Asheville Free Press where I did a lot of riding around it.

In December 2021 there was a demonstration, an art party event that was held in a local park to call on the city to stop evicting homeless camps. And that resulted in a substantial amount of police surveillance and 15-16 people, more than a dozen people, being charged with the crime of felony littering. Which is, in North Carolina, littering more than 500 pounds. This is something that hasn’t been charged in over a decade in Buncombe County, particularly, and is typically charged for businesses that are dumping waste. This charge doesn’t happen when the city evicts a homeless camp. They don’t weigh everything that they steal and throw away when they clear out a homeless camp and then charge people. Our local police officer, Mike Lamb, in January of 2021 specifically said that they don’t do that, that they don’t criminalize homeless camp evictions unless there are anarchists and activists who are resisting. So we’re seeing a bias from the city against — sorry I think that was in January 2020. [sarcastically] 2020 is three years long, so it’s all just the same year, right?

TFSR: 100%. Yes.

Elliot: After that demonstration, calling for the city to stop evicting homeless camps, City Council attempted to secretly pass an ordinance that would outlaw food distribution. And Ashville Free Press, as a local anarchist media outlet, was able to break that story, and public pressure against the city prevented them from actually passing that ordinance. But it was all happening at the same time: these felony littering charges were being issued at the same time that the city was trying to criminalize food sharing, at the same time that a local police officer was giving a presentation to city council saying that all crime downtown was because of homeless people and that they only arrest anarchists and activist.

So we’re seeing that trajectory, from filling the gaps, to building power, to facing state repression. I think that connects back to the thing we were saying about how we’re trying to build resiliency for the long term. We’re trying to exercise mutual aid muscles so that we can continue showing up and continue doing this, because it’s gonna keep happening more frequently. It’s happening every day in places all around the world. I’m sure they’ll pat us on the head for doing this, as long as what we’re doing is filling the gaps without critiquing them too hard. But as soon as we start actually pushing back, that’s when we start seeing repression.

M: Yeah, that’s when they start violently controlling the narrative. And in Asheville, they do do cooptation of mutual aid. One little example that I can think of right now is the SRA, the Socialist Rifle Association, quarterly does these brake light clinics where they change people’s brake lights for free. You just roll up, they do a safety inspection, and change your headlights or your brake light. I think after about a year of doing that Asheville Police Department started with this voucher program where if they pull you over for a brake light, they give you a voucher to get your brake light changed for free. I just thought that was funny and interesting. One little example of cooptation.

Moira: Are you saying —

Elliot: —that’s not the solution we want.

M: No!

Elliot: We don’t want the cops to start changing people’s brake lights. The whole point of those brake light clinics is so the cops will leave you alone when you’re driving around. We don’t want the state to start criminalizing us for doing this water distribution and then start doing it themselves.

M: No, because they’re going to fuck it up. I mean, the whole reason that the SRA does that is because it predominantly affects BIPOC people that get pulled over for not having their brake lights. And if the cops do it, they’re probably going to pull over white folks, give white folks vouchers…they’re not gunna do it with an antiracist approach.

Moira: My image of how these vouchers get used is, “Sure, I’ll give you this brake light voucher if you let me search the car.” That’s the way that they — it’s like everything that they coopt has hooks in it. It’s the school lunch thing: how many families are in debt to the school for school lunch debt, and that school lunch exists because it’s a co-option of the Black Panthers. So they take something, “Oh, this is working. Hold on, let me put this in my program and now I can put hooks on the back of it.”

M: That’s a good example, because the Black Panthers were violently repressed, also. As we’re talking about this it just makes me think of Atlanta and how those recent forest defenders got domestic terrorism charges. So just something to keep an eye on, as mutual aid across the country gets stronger, what else do we have to be prepared for?

Moira: Right? Because it’s only going to get worse, which is only going to cause our mutual aid efforts to gain more necessity. We’re going to need to do it because the state is going to fail to do it. Then because we’re giving out water to people we’re threatening their legitimacy, then they repress us and then pretend to do other things. And it just rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls [voice dwindles]. You know?

Elliot: And so the thing about criminalization and how that’s kind of unprecedented, unexpected in these situations, makes me think about the importance of community care as part of mutual aid. Like I said it hits different when you’re doing it at home, and I’m really lucky that I was able to lean on community members to help step in with my kid, bring me food, help me get laundry done while I was focusing on this. That’s a part of the invisible labor that I think allows mutual aid work to continue and also allows us to be resilient in the face of state repression. I also see community defense is an important part of this. We’re looking at, both the rising impacts of climate change, and rising fascist violence.

December was kind of a hell of a month. We had the substation attack in Moore County where nazis knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of people just because they don’t like the fact that gay people exist. And we’re going to be seeing increasing impacts of fascist violence, climate change, and state repression. And I understand mutual aid is something that allows us to show up and help keep each other safe when these things happen. Bring water when the water system goes out, bring out solar power when the electric goes out, also just do the basic work of taking care of each other so that we can get through it.

TFSR: If people want updates on the Asheville defendant, the Aston Park defendant case, they can check out AvlSolidarity.noblogs.org. Would you all mind plugging where people can find out more about Asheville For Justice, and ASP, or other projects that you’re affiliated with?

M: Yeah, you can follow Asheville For Justice on Instagram, it’s @AshevilleForJustice.

Elliot: ASP is @AvlSurvival on Instagram.

TFSR: Thank you. Thank you, thank you, all three of you. for having this conversation and for sharing all this information. And good luck and thanks a lot for doing what you’re doing. I hope this helps.

Moira: Absolutely.

M: Thank you so much.

Elliot: Thank you

Sophie Lewis on Abolishing the Family

Sophie Lewis on Abolishing the Family

"TFSR 1-1-23" + red book cover of "Abolish The Family by Sophie Lewis"
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I’m sure that many people coming out of this holiday season, returning from visiting relatives will wonder: “couldn’t we abolish the capitalist family structure?” We’ve got great news! We’re happy to present this conversation between Scott and Sophie Lewis, author of “Abolish The Family: A Manifesto of Care and Liberation”.

In this episode, Sophie speaks about the book, the ideas and inspirations she’s pulling from, the critique that the family form not only passes property and generationally allows concentrations of it, but simultaneously limits our horizons of care to these small, private and often abusive relationships. Here we also find ideas of Child Liberation, a challenge to the state form and capitalism, and an invitation to imagine beyond what we’ve been taught is the natural nucleus of human relationships in what turns out to be a long lineage of ideas cast back through Black feminisms of the 70’s and beyond.

Anyway, there was a lot here and we hope you enjoy. For a related chat, check out Scott’s July 10, 2022 interview with Sophie on the show, and you can find more recordings and essays at her site, LaSophieLle.org and support her freelance writing on her patreon.

Next Week…

Stay tuned next week, possibly for a chat between Scott and Rhiannon Firth on their recent book, Disaster Anarchy: Mutual Aid and Radical Action.

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Transcription

TFSR: I’m really excited to be talking with Sophie Lewis today about their new book Abolish The Family: A Manifesto of Care and Liberation, which is out now with Verso Books. Can you introduce yourself with any pronouns and any affiliations that you want to name?

Sophie Lewis: Yeah! I go by they and she. I have a visiting scholarship that’s unpaid at the University of Pennsylvania in the Gender Studies department. So I have a login for my academic writing and for research purposes. And I teach at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research as well, teaching online courses on critical social theory. Those are the two affiliations I’d mention, I suppose.

TFSR: In your first book, Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, you’re already critiquing the family. I was really interested in that book and how you talk about it now, in the new one. This time, you’re going full throttle “abolish the family.” But when you were talking in public about Full Surrogacy Now, you found yourself maybe softening the message of family abolition in terms of “expanding kinship.” Would you say that is something that other feminists who were talking about family abolition had done in the past? I was wondering if you just might talk about why you felt, at that point, that you needed to soften the message of abolition? And then, what’s making you feel like that wasn’t right or enough?

SL: Yeah. Thanks. OK. I think there are several slightly distinct things in that question, which is a great question. So, I would just say briefly that [when I wrote FSN] I didn’t quite recognize the extent to which family abolitionism was … unheard-of. I mean, I knew that it had been largely forgotten, because there has generally been an active forgetting and un-remembering of what took place in the ’80s, by which I mean a lot of different liberatory projects. This willful amnesia made that term [“family abolition”] disappear completely from the collective vocabulary. But I didn’t quite realize the extent to which that was the case. So I used “family abolitionism” almost as a tacit background assumption of this [first] book, which was about gestating and the labor of pregnancy. I really found that I had to contend with way more surprise than I had bargained for! Perhaps I should have expected it. But in my defense I was a little bit isolated in the research process, my PhD, which led into Full Surrogacy Now. It’s nice to actually be in conversation with people. I now am [in conversation with people] on these topics, but at that point in time I wasn’t. So… that’s one very pragmatic circumstantial comment to answer you!

But I would also say that there were some among the feminists I talk about in my new little pamphlet, feminists who were in the milieu of the 1967-1975 Women’s Liberation efflorescence, for example, in the United States, who very purposively decided to walk the [family abolition] agenda back. Kathi Weeks uses that phrase: “walking it back.” Kathi Weeks has a really great essay, actually, about how abolition of the family was the “infamous proposal of the feminists.” Which is a joke about it being the “infamous proposal of the communists” in the Communist Manifesto. What she’s saying is that family abolition was [also] very much also the high point of women’s liberationist and gay liberationist ambition. But in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, feminists such as Gloria Steinem simply denied that this was the case. They just adopted a stance of erasure and denialism about it. “That didn’t happen. We did not want to abolish the family.” That tactical decision was made by all the prominent liberal feminists, really, who might have been fine with that discourse at the peak of the New Left, but in its aftermath were determined to strategically ingratiate themselves to the capitalist establishment and the state. So, in the the 80s, they start saying “No, no, those people, if they even existed, they were crazy. We never said that. Maybe one or two people did, maybe Shulamith Firestone did, maybe. But barely anybody.” Which is a lie! It’s simply a pragmatic decision that liberal feminism made because liberal feminism is, in my opinion, an enemy feminism and very much a part of capitalist hegemony.

Now a quite different response to your question is this. I talk about this in the new book. It’s the question of the whole queer-feminist ecosystem – which is very much not Gloria Steinem – but rather a whole ecology of comrades who celebrate, in many ways very rightly, the emancipatory effects of survival practices on the margins of private property and bourgeois familism. I’m talking about uplifting queer Black mothers or mother-ers, queer Black mothering practices, indigenous care practices that people have managed to hold on to, wisps, remnants, ancient indigenous ritual or kin-making ethics, little vestiges of things that predate the imposition of the colonial gender binary and the bourgeois private nuclear household, or practices which were innovated under conditions of captivity, for example, under slavery in the United States. Those sorts of practices get called “expanded kinship” or “queer kinship.” And that was what, in Full Surrogacy Now, I was often alluding to when I was talking about “full surrogacy” or “gestational communism.” The scholarship surrounding this “expanded kinship” field in feminism includes really important classic books like All Our Kin by Carol Stack, which is an ethnography of Black kin-making in the “projects.” It’s one of the key texts of this whole field, and in Full Surrogacy Now, I was gesturing towards it. And it was reasonable to read me as saying, “Well, that stuff is, kind of, family abolition.”

I didn’t really say that outright, but it was pretty much implied that I wanted to simply affirm the celebrating of those forms of expanded kinship and survival. Something in there wasn’t quite clear. I hadn’t quite finished the thought. I hadn’t insisted either way, whether or not, indeed, those forms are the same thing as family abolitionism, or simply adjacent to it, or whatever. Now, remember that, in Full Surrogacy Now, I was talking about the untenability of the concept of “surrogacy” outside of a system of proprietary parenthood. I was making the point that “surrogates” are everywhere and nowhere at the same time in the capitalist family model. There are shadowy figures, cut out of the family photo, who are really quite fundamental to the maintenance of this supposedly autonomous, self-managing unit, the family. I talked about how there is a dystopian character to that, and at the same time, potentially, a utopian horizon that could be envisioned by saying, “Full surrogacy now. What if we became capable of acting as though we were all reciprocally and equally, on an equal basis, the makers of one another. Rather than having our reciprocal care segregated along the basis of class and coloniality?” I talked about broadly having a family abolitionist commitment, undergirding that, and then I also talked about the contradictory-ness or the illusory-ness of the family in the present. In the sense that these surrogates are always there, even though the definition of the family excludes them.

But those are two quite complicated things to hold and think together. So… I hadn’t quite finished the thought is the completely honest answer, Scott. Part of the reason I became motivated to write a follow up – which, to be transparent, is something I was asked to do! – was to clarify that aspect. I was asked to write a follow up explaining what family abolition means, and the project was “sold” to me as a pamphlet, which wouldn’t take me long to write (and *cough* it was also paid at the level of a pamphlet rather than a book). But happily, I was sufficiently backed up, at this point, by other family abolitionists from whom I have learned so much. The more courageous character, I guess you called it, the ‘full throttle’ aspect, comes simply from being less isolated.

TFSR: Yeah, and that’s a lesson perhaps of family abolition too. Yeah. If I was going to reduce Full Surrogacy to a couple moves, one of the things that I take away from that is that there’s this deconstructive move, to be like, “we have this idea of the family, but it’s not really how things are working, and if we actually look at the way things do work, we learn that the family structure is in itself insufficient.” You use the the example of paid surrogacy to show first that gestation is a form of labor and one that has the stratifications of class and race. And then in a move that I feel is similar to what Federici does in “Wages Against Housework”: if we can acknowledge this as work, then we can refuse to do it under these conditions. That’s helpful because, with family abolition – I’ll speak for myself – I have as my own experience a visceral response to family abolitionism, which is, like, “Yes.” I think also people have the visceral response of, “No”! But I hear the term “family abolition,” and I’m like, “I hate the family,” like André Gide said. I experienced it as this suffocating space, even if I love the people in my family, and care for them, too. The family structure itself felt like that. So, I have that response.

But then, it’s really hard, I think, in conversation with people to go from, like, “Well, you know, the family sucks,” especially if they have different experiences [than mine], to this more liberatory horizon of like, “What would it look like to do something different?” To make that into a question, I’m wondering how do you connect to those differing responses, which are often so visceral, of yes or no? To theorize it, or even make it seem more practical, beyond pointing out the contradiction – that we currently aren’t actually operating under the nuclear family. Everything that everyone does is bolstered by all these other things. If you have thoughts about that. Just in conversations with people, how do you approach those reactions?

SL: Yeah, it’s interesting to me, ongoingly, how people whose experience is actually forced into unusual levels of dependence on family (so, for example, someone who is classified as having some kind of disability and who has options that are very reduced, artificially, by this world, to, like, institutionalization or kinship-based care, for example) … how people in that situation might have a particularly clear understanding of how that constraint, those two options, the reduction of options to those two things, is pretty dreadful. How they are well-placed to understand that it perhaps doesn’t have to be that way. So you would imagine. But perhaps there’s instead a defensive psychological response of, like, “Well, statistics show that people in my position get maltreated at worse rates in the institutionalization setting as compared to the kinship care setting.” Which becomes a defense of the family. Even though you might then also ask the follow-up question, like, “What are those stats on each side? Is the difference significant? Are we trying to look at the lesser of two evils here? Or what is this framework that we’re operating within, what is the concept of the possible?” Sometimes I find that there’s quite a visceral reaction of like, “How can you attack the family?!” from people who are in fact, in a situation that you could almost call blackmail. Being blackmailed into support for the family because of acute dependency on the family.

All of us, however, are dependent, to some extent, on the family. Even those of us who are in unusual situations vis-à-vis the (biological or legal or juridically acknowledged) family, even those of us with few kin, or who live in dormitories, say, or in otherwise unusual, perhaps creatively different, situations, are still impacted in some way by the world of normative, narrative, romanticization of family.

The very language we speak is saturated by metaphors of blood and reproductivity: they are our containers for questions of self, legacy, and immortality, for our ideas about ancestors, genes, descendants. And indeed the aspiration of a work society is this: to work your entire life for the sake of someone (or someones) who becomes, essentially, an extension of you. I insist very much in this little pamphlet that work and family are 100% inextricable. The regime of work is the regime of family, at least right now.

I confess I don’t know if there’s a conceivable other way in which capitalism could organize itself and work. Society could perhaps organize its reproduction, maybe, in an even worse way. Maybe there are worse things than the family. I’m completely open to that. You can see, for example, that there are dystopian warehousing and dormitory style situations for reproducing the bodies of workers. Amazon warehouses in Czechia, for example. (I don’t know. That’s just a random example, because my friend was organizing there with workers who are literally warehoused in dormitories.)

But there are people who might find it particularly hard to imagine a utopian end to the family, rather than a dystopian one, precisely because of their vantage point. So, since you asked me about how I deal with the emotional reactions, I do try and see where someone is coming from, materially. For instance, it is really important to me to stress, over and over again, that the family really does keep many of my comrades alive. It keeps us alive!! It’s the one naturalized care structure in our society. It is bound up, substantially, with practices of resistance to the state in racialized or undocumented communities. The family is almost ubiquitously celebrated and romanticized in immigrant communities. There are basically no ethnic subcommunity in this nation-state where there isn’t an intense cult of the family. Family values come with a certain proud, almost micro-nationalist flavor, which slots easily into the wider patriotic-nationalist aspiration of citizenship. Oftentimes, non-white family values might feel like a different thing compared to the overarching hegemonic cult of the white bourgeois family, by which I mean, say, the image of the president’s family, the image of ultimate property owning, cis-heteronormative productivity-reproductivity. I’m just not convinced it really is different.

If you ask people about their associations with the family in culture and literature, you can sometimes find that people have all these quasi-nihilistic associations, like The Simpsons. All these darkly or lightly ironizing takes on the disappointment of nuclear heterodomestic life. You can sometimes get people quite far along towards abolition, simply by exploring this. People often resist the phrase, feeling at least initially resistant to the phrase: ‘abolish the family.’ But you can sometimes show people that there’s an anti-utopianism baked into the satirical vibe of the way we talk about the family. The way we roll our eyes and go, “You know, Thanksgiving.” Right now on social media… (Sidebar: I’m maybe leaving social media? I’m sure many of our common friends and comrades were on this list of anti-fascists and have now deactivated.) But I still noticed the overarching tone of popular discourse about Thanksgiving [on Twitter] was a series of jokes about escaping from the family dinner table, right? There’s this joke about having red eyes when you come back in the house, because you went out, to “go for a walk,” to get stoned, to get away, to escape. So there’s this collective open secret of how much it sucks to hang out with your family. Even if it’s ambivalent. It’s an ambivalent feeling. And nevertheless, right? And nevertheless. And nevertheless.

I think that satirical tone is what makes it all a question of relatable-ness and nothing more. That’s what prevents us from having a conversation about, “hang on a minute…. What if the world was organized completely differently?” There’s something that needs to be addressed about that initial affective reaction, as you say. And you brought up André Gide saying “familles, je vous hais” (“I hate you, families!”) which, I think, a lot of queer people feel. And the straight mainstream doesn’t appreciate the extent to which that feeling is a materially, structurally produced affect/experience for so, so many of us. There is a total crisis, an epidemic of dispossession: millions of refugees from the nuclear family are produced, still today, in this era of LGBT acceptance and mainstreamization and homonationalism and homonormativity. There are still ultimately huge populations of dispossessed rejected queer youth, whose relation to the family is ultimately going to justifiably be one of resentment, bitterness, and hatred.

I think you can also move beyond the initial reaction to talk simply about what you actually want for the people in your family, if you love them. And you might find that those things you want for those people is, actually, family abolition. That maybe sounds kind of glib, but I find that if you focus on the love that people often do feel for the people who juridically, legally, or biologically are their family right now, you can often actually bring them around (almost paradoxically), that way, to the political project of creating a world in which the care that all those individuals receive is not dependent on this infrastructure of organized scarcity. Where the ties between people are ultimately predicated on a kind of reciprocal blackmail. Where there are ultimately no other alternatives, yet that is somehow supposed to be romantic.

I really mean it when I say, “if you love your family, you want family abolition for them.” We can unpack that more. But I think I can work with both the very pro and the very anti kneejerk responses.

TFSR: Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense. For some reason right now, I’m coming with personal reactions to this. And this is one of the ways that you define what love might mean in the book: wanting freedom for your loved ones, wanting autonomy for them, the kind of autonomy that doesn’t seem to exist within the family structure. And the desire for that: that, in itself, is a liberatory desire. That really makes sense to me.

But also, I can imagine the fear, right? You were saying that under the structure of capitalism, which works through the nuclear family as the cell of its reproduction, the family also provides us with the the meaning of our lives – it provides that what we are all working for is the family, or our children, or whatever. So, stepping outside of that structure is daunting. Because then you have to find some other reason to be living. You lose that alibi, and have to face [the existential void]. I like that you brought up work abolition, too. Because then, you have to face the question of what you’re working for. Who you’re working for, maybe, but in a different way.

Maybe we should, at this point, talk a little bit about what we even mean by the family, because it could mean so many different things. When we’re saying “abolish the family” what exactly are we talking about? And what is included within that abolition? And what might not be included in that?

SL: Yeah, absolutely. I think people find this quite surprising if they’ve not thought about it before. But the definition I propose for the family is this: the family is the the name we have for the fact that care is privatized in our society. Or: the family is the form that the privatization of care takes in a class society.

Concretely, though, let’s be clear: I am talking about the capitalist family, not the feudal one, because that’s the one that we’re dealing with today. It’s relatively new! Under feudalism, before capitalism, care started to be privatized in households, which had previously been (the Latin word for servant is famulus) “collections of servants and slaves” (that’s where the etymological root of family comes from). There was no notion of love in the ideology of family whatsoever. The institution of marriage wasn’t an institution with a love-narrative until very recently in our history. It was just a property institution. We brought up (Wages for Housework) Silvia Federici just now. Her account [in Caliban and the Witch] of the way that care was privatized and enclosed inside domestic space during the Enclosures, in the context of the witch hunts, narrates the starting-point of the family in the sense I’m mainly talking about. I do think there’s a pre-capitalist family, i.e., a feudal family (which also involves privatization of care). But I think the family was perfected under capitalism.

What I really focus on, as I’ve mentioned twice now, is this question of the privatization of care. If people aren’t used to thinking like that, it’s precisely because our needs for care are unconsciously almost always, at this point, directed towards kinship and the private sphere. Our needs are met almost exclusively there. What I mean by this includes the scenario where you get an Instacart shopper to do your groceries, or a TaskRabbit to clean your kitchen, or an au pair to look after your kid, or whatever: that’s all privatized care. The social reproduction picture has changed quite a lot under neoliberalism.

Back in 1972, the Wages for Housework Committee that you were talking about was trying to make visible the labor that was done, often exclusively by one housewife, in the domestic sphere. But of course, from the point of view of the overwhelmingly racialized, feminized people who already did household labor for a wage in the homes of wealthier, overwhelmingly white women, the slogan should probably have been “Wages for ALL housework.” Fifty years later, now, there’s a creative fragmentation and dismemberment of all of the tasks that need to go on within a private household. It’s much more complicated than that situation was back then (which which was already, as we’ve seen, bisected by class and race). Today, you can have all kinds of tasks outsourced. At the same time, the basic dynamic of privatization remains. The care that we have can be purchased in or hired out, but the unit responsible for meeting our needs is this anti-social, anti-commons, private realm.

What it would mean to have our needs met in the common or public realm would be, e.g., if you could imagine no longer being obliged to take care of your hunger via you or your partner’s cooking, or your mom’s, in a private kitchen, or having to buy food or purchase private dining. Instead, you would always have the option of having that need met in a central canteen or eating-place, where food was just provided all the time. Or: if you had a need for radical intimacy, perhaps we could imagine not always meeting that need in a little team of designated people under whose roof we usually want to live. It’s fun to live with people, obviously; it’s not like cohabitation is something that anyone would want to proscribe or take away (on the contrary, we probably want to find ways to expand it, while preserving forms of voluntary seclusion). But this is a vision about the sphere of the public, the sphere of the commons, as the center of society, which necessarily means that people are not all working because of their need to survive. In this vision, you can go and get your hygiene and therapeutic needs met, you can mend stuff collectively (e.g., your clothes), swap things, eat, relax, all in the common sphere.

Think about the needs that you get met in the private realm of your household, and imagine the infrastructures that would have to be in place for you not to even necessarily think of going straight home to address them! In the past, laundries (and I’m not necessarily saying this is cool and romantic) would be big central operations where women did the laundry for a whole neighborhood or village together. Obviously: why is it just women doing it? That’s ridiculous. But at the same time, it’s quite an efficient way of organizing some very hard work. And we do want to think about things like efficiency if we are interested in anti-work, which is a horizon of minimization of the alienated work tasks that all of us carry on our backs.

Antiwork is not just elimination and automation of work, but also redistribution and changing the qualitative character of things through that redistribution. It’s not just a quantity thing. It’s a quality thing. Or, rather, at a certain point, diminution of work’s quantity collapses the distinction between quantity and quality: work becomes nonwork. Maybe it doesn’t really feel like work to look after a one-year-old for two hours every other day. But it is work if you have to do it for 20 hours a day every single day. That’s the kind of distinction I’m talking about.

TFSR: That’s really helpful. I was thinking one of the things you say in the book that really struck me. You quote Margaret Thatcher’s really famous claim that “there’s no such thing as society,” only families and individuals. And from that claim, you make this claim of your own: that that means that family is an anti-social institution. At first that would seem not right, because, as you said, we have this idea of family as where we get our connections, or where we know we can connect with people, perhaps. But I think within that phrase, there’s something really interesting, especially thinking about ideas of social war.

I wonder if you might unpack that idea about about family as anti-social a little bit, which I guess would just mean expanding on what you were saying just a minute ago?

SL: Yeah. Well, I’d love to take credit, but it’s really Michèle Barrett and Mary McIntosh’s idea, as expressed in their title, The Anti-Social Family. I think they wrote this in 1982, 1984, I can’t remember right now. But in any case, yes, they are in this Thatcherite moment in the United Kingdom, and they are two Marxist-feminists who are refusing to go along with the generalized feminist strategy I mentioned earlier, of pretending that family abolition was never dreamed of by anyone (apart from maybe some really crazy people). And Barrett and McIntosh are holding aloft the promise, the need for family abolition (we could also say: the orthodox-marxist imperative – ha – but obviously it’s not as though marxists ever really took that part of the Communist Manifesto seriously or honored it, but that’s another story…).

But yes, they say this in their book, The Anti-Social Family. As I read it, basically, Margaret Thatcher says, “There’s no such thing as society. There’s only individual men and women and families,” and they say, in reply: “Yeah, exactly, because of the last part, the first part is true.” The fact of the family is what turns all of human life indoors into the domestic realm for private satisfaction. And so, the social is kind of what happens on the opposite end of that impulse: it’s when we cease to turn inward and meet one another in the commons.

The sphere of the social is starved, systematically and structurally, by the family. Because the family is not just the narrative and the ideology, but also the material means for telling us that all the good feelings that we require, and all the very basic functions that we require, to be able to get up in the morning, are provided in the private nuclear household. They cannot be generated together outside of that unit.

People don’t actually love and cherish the competitiveness of the family, the chauvinism of “keeping up with the Joneses,” the generalized us-and-them mentality this all generates, which is a rat-race mentality (pure survival, working for your entire life, etc). People widely recognize that it is unbearable. Indeed, during the Big Quit or Great Resignation, which we were talking about a lot last year, people did start to reach a certain kind of tipping-point where they were saying, “well, actually, fuck this!” But the thing that makes it very difficult to reach that point is the “doing it for your children” aspect. The “doing it so that your children can have a better life than you had,” or the “doing it for your sick Dad or your sick Mom who doesn’t have enough money to pay for needed medical care.” And so on and so forth.

These are the sorts of reasons why it is the love of another, the love of family, that forces us into these deeply dis-empowered encounters with the labor market as wage slaves.

TFSR: Some of the last things you said was making me think, because you brought up the Great Resignation and I was thinking about COVID and how when the pandemic first hit, it really brought home the insufficiency of the family as a location of care, especially for people that are parenting or like you said, or caring for disabled or ill family members. Because most people still have to work in some way, but then they were also caring. Their structures of care that they need, they relied on school for children, weren’t available.

It’s kind of interesting, I was just thinking about how there’s this huge right-wing reaction to that: trying to force the schools back open, through COVID skepticism, or COVID denialism, which then turned into this whole anti-Critical Race Theory and anti-gay and anti-trans movement directed against public schools. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts about that. Because, again, it’s one of these experiences where COVID hits, and I’m like, “Oh, everyone’s gonna be face to face with the contradictions of the world that we live in, and they’re going to have a fire lit under them to organize things that are better!” But then we have this reactionary and really hateful outcome. I just wonder if you have any thoughts about that? Like why, when faced with the insufficiency of family, and the need for larger care structures, did it take such like a fascist turn?

SL: Yeah. I mean, this is the question I’m asking myself. I think it’s a really important question. I’ve been listening to the Death Panel Podcast, and going on that show a lot, because I think they have such wonderful things to say, both about the concrete policy developments that some of us might (certainly I do) find it quite difficult to follow. They do all that hard policy-crunching work. But they bring alive the political and theoretical ramifications of that stuff from a disability-liberationist perspective.

I’m rereading their [Bea Adler-Bolton and Artie Vierkant’s] book Health Communism right now, actually, to try and find clues as to how, historically, critical utopianists sought to de-privatize care from a perspective of anti-psychiatry and unionized sickness. The Socialist Patients’ Collective (SPK) in Heidelberg in Germany in the 1970s, sought to “turn illness into a weapon.” They wanted to find ways to resist the regime of capitalist health by dreaming of a communist health, a somatic communism that is not about “repairing” yourself and “curing” yourself for the purposes of productivity and work but, on the contrary, persisting for the purposes of becoming ungovernable and unproductive.

Sorry, that’s a bit of an evasion, because I don’t know how exactly the potential that we all felt [during COVID] was lost. I think so many people felt the potential of the moment. For instance, when people were forced to develop “pods”: slightly enlarged little units of temporary non-familiality. Maybe those simply became temporary prostheses to the family. Maybe there was just, say, one another discrete household that you decided to pod with for the purposes of epidemiological prudence, allowing the social-reproductive isolation of one private nuclear family to be attenuated, albeit only slightly, for a period. Pods were on the one hand, allowing people to get a glimpse of what it’s like to slightly open the door. But then, the State of Emergency logic governing all of that, and the ongoing simultaneous retrenchment and turning inward that was going on… Family abolition isn’t something that changes overnight. And unfortunately, COVID ushered in a lot of state involvement in people’s lives. It’s not like the world could be remade on the basis of state law, state discourse, state architecture: things like the apparatus of custody, the apparatus of parental rights, the apparatus of child protection. We’re going to have to figure it out ourselves.

Still, it’s just so interesting how there were two things simultaneously going on: a rebellion against work (which is intrinsically tied to the family) AND an affirmation of the sanctity of family (via the need to stay indoors, to stay the fuck at home). Obviously, some of us anarchist utopians, anticapitalists, feminists, we’re asking, “wait a minute, whose home?!” “In what ways can the private home, organized as private property, the very location where the vast majority of sexual violence and – for women – murder, occurs, be safe? How can you be forcing people into that space under the aegis of safety and wellness? People are going to explode in this pressure cooker situation.” And indeed, people were reporting that domestic violence rates went through the roof. People who were battered or abused, found it especially difficult to flee their partners or their abusive family members because there had been this intensification of the imperative to stay with your own.

This idea of “us and them” is only intensified under a lockdown, on one level. But then at the same time, an antagonistic moral imperative arises, “What about your neighbors? How are we going to make sure everybody’s okay? People are not okay.” So all this mutual aid was simultaneously made necessary, made really obviously necessary. It’s necessary all the time, but COVID raised a little bit more awareness of it.

I just don’t know what the cause of the collapse was. As you’re saying, we saw a gigantic wave of demoralization, at one point. There was so much normalization suddenly going on: a desire for the “normal.” This was very nihilistic, and went hand-in-hand with forgetting the George Floyd uprising. Society decided not to grieve the ongoing fact of death, of mass death. There’s much that is evil flowing from our failure to grieve. I think grieving is the only way you process and integrate the knowledge of this kind of loss. But it’s too challenging, maybe, for most of us to face up to our collective implicatedness in all this brutally unnecessary death. All this death, in all its unnecessariness. We bear a certain collective co-responsibility for the continuation of the world that that produced it, it seems to me. We didn’t start the fire, but if we’re not trying to fight it, we become responsible for it.

Those are just some random thoughts. What about you?

TFSR: Well, I think that that nihilism is really apparent, especially in the right wing reactions that took the opportunity to attack the idea of being taught about racism, or being exposed to queerness and other family structures. Another thing that comes to mind is one of the things about the pandemic that goes along with the anti-social aspect of the family, is that it made us feel unsafe around other people that we weren’t aware of what their exposure risk would be or whatever. So, that was a further isolating element, that I felt even internally as I navigate the pandemic as a chronically ill person. I think about that a lot, about my exposure risks and other people’s willingness to tolerate more risk.

One other thing, I don’t know what you think about this, but a failure on the… whatever we want to call it, but the Left or an anti authoritarian perspective that comes to mind. I’m thinking about this particularly in relation to children. This gets to another point that I want to ask you about: In most left or radical or anti authoritarian spaces, there are still spaces that are segregated adults and children. Usually, there are no children there, maybe in an occasional space, there’ll be some kind of childcare, but children aren’t integrated into it at all. So I feel like in that way, by reproducing the adult and minor hierarchy that we’re limited to in thinking are about the kind of collective care that you call for and Family Abolition.

To tie this historically to what you’re talking about, part of the gay liberation, the historical gay liberation movement of the late ’60s and ’70s, part of what they were calling for or in the idea of family abolition was a liberation, a Youth Liberation too, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that, where children fit within this idea?

SL: Yeah. Well, Youth Liberation or Children’s Liberation are concepts I feel people have heard of even less than abolition of the family, somehow! Sometimes people have heard of “smash the church, smash the state, smash the family” – those three used to go together in Gay Liberation history. But “children’s liberation,” and the analysis of adult supremacy, those are currently forms of memory cultivated, I think, almost exclusively among anarchists, in North America, at least, as far as I can see. There’s a really great collection that came out from AK Press, by carla bergman, called Trust Kids, which has stories about confronting adult supremacy, in small, voluntarist, small-scale ways, but trying to develop scalable radical democracies intergenerationally.

I do think that, for me, abolition of the family is very much about dehierchalization. I don’t know if I really feel attached to the word “democracy,” but I do feel sure about the need for a truly de-hierarchized space in which we negotiate our need for care. This is also linked to the abolition of work and the productivism of capitalism. Because, under capitalism, elderly people and very young people are positioned, culturally and socially, very much at a disadvantage, because of their relation to the labor market. When capitalism is not yet able to use you for the production of surplus value because you’re too young, or is not anymore able to use you because you’re too old and you’ve been used up, or when you’re never going to be usable because you’ve been classified as disabled (disability can be thought of as a form of inutility, non-usefulness to capital), then you’re being marginalized by capitalism’s ageism and ableism. In that sense, there’s quite a lot of similarity and overlap between Youth Liberation and Disability Liberation. I think some people find that quite startling. They want to hit back and say, “Are you saying that disabled people are like children?” And it’s like: “Do you think that children are not people?”

TFSR: Yeah. Why is that a bad thing?

SL: Yeah. I think the history of experiments in children’s autonomy and equality with adults is quite easily criticized from a Marxist or revolutionary perspective, because they’re so piecemeal. Often it was quite small projects, or, I don’t know, clearly compromised things like fee-paying schools. Things that weren’t necessarily outside of the marketized field of education. For example: There was a school called Summerhill that was quite famous. It was in England. I think it began in the 40’s or even 30’s, I can’t remember. But it became famous in the 60s and ran for a long time. Summerhill was a radical free-school, anti-hierarchical education project. Parents sent children there and paid fees, but while the kids were at Summerhill, there was all this radical pedagogy that was being put in place, with horizontality around decision making and the making of “rules” and agreements, no obligation to go to classes whatsoever. Well, that was the theory. And people spoked holes in it and said, “Well, no, the school master, in a sense, is still a school master. He still pays the taxes on the property.” Lots of people were really keen to poke holes in it from all directions. It was ultimately a private school, right? But it was also an an anti-school. I really found it quite delightful, reading about Summerhill, and reading accounts of some of the big meetings where everyone, young and old, was equal.

It was always asked, “Could the children who came through Summerhill get jobs in the normal world?” And the answer to that was always like, “Yeah, in fact, actually, they were creative individuals who excelled at whatever vocation they decided to study in the end. Because they had only studied what – and when – they wanted to.” Sometimes, apparently, young people would not do classes or schooling for two years at a time before they felt any desire to go to a class, because they were so burned and traumatized from the world of hierarchized schooling they’d left behind. Then one day they would suddenly decide, “No, I do want to learn engineering.” They’re these stories like that. It’s quite inspiring as a tiny little glimpse into what might conceivably be possible in terms of relations between the young and the not-so-young.

With all the caveats I’ve already given, I’m in a way more and more inspired by the youth-led or youth-run collectives and social centers that are talked about in the anthology Trust Kids. Like the Purple Thistle in Vancouver. That social center is the subject of some of carla bergman’s writings. I don’t think it necessarily has the same utopian aspirations that radical pedagogues like A. S. Neill of Summerhill did back in the ’60s and ’70s. But in many ways, it’s more true to its own form, because of its attention to the actual voices and thoughts and writings of actual children, who may or may not actually share the same sorts of Youth or Children’s Liberationist ideas that people like I do!!

You run into these sorts of paradoxes and problems when you try and liberate people – against their will? – at the abstract level of theory. There’s a contribution by carla bergman’s young comrade, or kid, who isn’t really sure about the idea that “children do not belong to anyone.” That is a phrase and a concept that comes up in a poem by Khalil Gibran (“On Children“): “Your children are not your children / They are the sons and the daughters of Life’s longing for itself.” There’s a commentary on that by this teenager. And they aren’t sure it sounds good to them.

The idea that children “don’t belong to anyone but themselves” – and belong to all of us equally as a responsibility – was very popular among Black and so called “Third Worldist liberationists,” or Black and Third World gay and lesbian conferences in the ’70s. There was one caucus that resolved that children must be liberated, not just from the patriarchy, but also from the ownership model of parenthood, full stop. Lesbian parents, for example, would say, “we’re not trying to mimic the proprietary structures of patriarchal parenthood in our own lesbian communities. We want to completely revolutionize the whole concept of parenthood and the private-public distinction all together.”

But then again, you need a model for how children (who have entitlements to very specific forms of care) will be guaranteed this care. There often need to be, especially for the very early years of human life, very stable, very reliable arrangements of care provision. Extremely young people need round-the-clock hands-on care. It’s not at all clear that it has to be the same exact adults delivering this care. Clearly, it can be several. But we have to come up with imaginings for what the model might be.

For that reason, it’s nice to visit speculative fictions, or science fictions, like Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, where there’s a society called Mattapoisett. I think she wrote this in 1976. She was influenced by Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex, with its ambivalent openness to the possibility that some forms of technology could help liberate proletarian gestators – pregnant people – from the burden of necessary compulsory pregnancy if they want to be. That’s very much in a post-capitalist scenario, rather than in the present scenario of techno-patriarchal capitalism, which (Firestone is very clear!) is evil. If something like an artificial womb were to be developed in the present, it would be a nightmare, because it would necessarily be for all the wrong reasons. And indeed, ectogenetic technology is being developed right now by people with very strong pro-life commitments and “fetal personhood” commitments.

But anyway, in this speculative fiction [Woman on the Edge of Time], where working-class gestating pregnant people have thought about their needs for gestationally assistive technology, there’s a communal tank with fetuses. After the fetuses are finished gestating in this “mechanical brooder”, as it’s called, the community does the parenting, according to a three tier system. There’s an expert called a ‘kid binder’, who’s professionally given over to the vocation of looking after kids, because it’s a serious business, it’s a serious art. Then, everybody else is also responsible, all together, for all kids. Then the third level is that every single individual child has three designated parents.

I quite like those concrete proposals, because it gives your mind something to work with. If you know children and can talk to them about what they think about that, I think you can advance a little bit into a less abstract level of Children’s Liberation in 2023.

TFSR: Right. My experience of reading those things is always like, “Oh, my God, that sounds so exciting.” But then, that reaction that you mentioned of like, “Well, I’m not so sure. That’s such a good thing.” That speaks to another desire that could get lost in some of the discussions about wanting to be cared for. And what the distinction is between wanting to be cared for and wanting someone to have power over you. In both of the situations of caring for children or caring for sick or disabled people, that can be transformed into power and control. I mean, that’s what the right wing literally calls it, in terms of parental rights.

But there’s another kind of care, that doesn’t totally destroy your autonomy. I think maybe it’s hard to see that from our perspective now. Right? Maybe even from our desires, because we’re so exhausted of caring for ourselves, that the desire to be cared for might be some kind of totalizing desire, just like an escape, you know?

To phrase that as a question: how do you think family abolition, the idea of family abolition or the movement for it, could transform our understanding of care? Along the lines of Federici saying, “We don’t even know what love is because of being forced to do this for us work.” What is the utopian vision of care that comes from a family abolition perspective?

SL: Yeah, that’s a great question. A part of me is content to tolerate not fully knowing. Simply being up for finding out along the way. Because I think, definitionally, a part of it can’t be known in advance. It would be a little bit like that very moving line of thought that you’re citing or gesturing towards, implies: that we want to find out what it would be like to conduct these same labors in a situation of freedom. All these beautiful moments. Because they can sometimes be beautiful even in the present, where they are stolen from us in large part (not 100% stolen – but a large part of these creativities and affects are being expropriated by capital, out from under our noses). Despite being partially expropriated of them, we sometimes experience some of the nicest, most pleasurable, joyous, liberated feelings, while doing things like teaching a very young person how to speak. Or learning things, back, from them. (What do we learn from one another transgenerationally, or just in general?) It’s the worst and the best of life. In the contemporary organization of maternal drudgery, wiping a child’s nose, as I said earlier, every three minutes, every single day, on your own, with no assistance, that’s a bit of a living hell. But at the same time, the relationship with that same child might be giving you some of the sweetest pleasures of your life.

What we want is to find out what it would be like to not have that whole situation circumscribed by capitalist privatization, such that the isolated intensity of its co-dependency is compulsory (as well as being pretty much all we know). Because, in a weird way, parents are almost, I’m not gonna say equally, but like, similarly dependent on the children who are so totally dependent on them for their care and survival. This is because of the way that your whole identity as a worker would fall apart if you were not the exclusive authority, quasi-exclusive authority and bearer of responsibility over that child’s existence. So, you would have to find out (and this is the kind of curiosity that Federici and her comrades were talking about) – you’d have to find out – what it would be like to love freely. You know, truly freely.

So, care, as you say, in the present is often bound up in power and powerlessness. And I’m not sure that it never intersects with autonomy in a somewhat constraining way. I don’t know. We will find out whether care and autonomy can be interlaced with no friction! I wonder. I think that’s the question! My definition of love is about both care and autonomy. “To love someone is to struggle to strive for their immersion in care,” like maximum abundant care, “at the same time as as having maximum autonomy.” I don’t know the extent to which those two things in the future might rub up against one another.

What I do know is that love is so proprietary in the present. We don’t really want people to be loved by others. Well, I think some of us do. Maybe all of us, even, in our best moments, do. But – because of the enforced scarcity of care, the care crisis of capitalism, the care crisis that is capitalism – we don’t feel it’s safe. We don’t trust ourselves or others to be cared for by many. We don’t trust others, indeed, to be autonomous from from us. I hope and believe, and to an extent I know, that it can be otherwise. I know that the enthusiasm and excitement for those anti-proprietary, anti-possessive modes can spread like wildfire in moments of high intensity struggle, or in moments of mass occupation of a public space where things stay and develop and become creative, become experimental, people live together in moments of insurgency.

That’s when, somehow, the proprietary logic of our emotion, what Alva Gotby calls our “emotional reproduction” of one another and ourselves, along these propertarian lines, is weakened and loosened. Instead we see outbreaks of Red Love, as Alexandra Kollontai called it. Red Plenty, was Mark Fisher’s term. (I’m not sure Mark Fisher was down for our family abolition at all.) I think the emotional level of “red plenty” is the feeling that we are secure in the very contingency of our caring and cared for-ness. Where we don’t need containers like the family, like marriage, like private property, to reassure us that we will be held tomorrow, as well as today.

Indeed, those containers that I just mentioned, family, and all the mechanisms that come along with it (like inheritance and marriage and so on): they are already quite fallible. They do fulfill certain social reproductive functions adequately from capitalism’s point of view. But everyone knows a husband can walk out on you (or worse, maybe, not walk out on you, in some cases?). It is us that the family is not serving. It’s serving the market and the state pretty well.

I keep noticing that the conversation about the crisis of white masculinity in America doesn’t really refer to the ample evidence, the sociology. that shows that men benefit massively from heterosexual marriage. Even with all their complaints, like: “there’s no male breadwinner household anymore” and “women aren’t respecting men anymore.” Whatever narrative is being peddled by Jordan Peterson, basically. The hard evidence is basically that marriage is a great deal for men. It’s a great labor deal for heterosexual men. That’s why they don’t leave marriages. They cheat, but they don’t leave (unless their wife has a life-threatening disease).

TFSR: One of the things that you said that’s really important that comes in feminist and Gay Liberation texts from the ’70s is this idea that the family gives to the worker this mini hierarchy. You get yelled at by your boss at work, but you come home and you get to lord over your wife and children. And then there’s a chain of hierarchy there too, where the husband has power over the wife, or the wife maybe has power over the children. It’s the little laboratory in learning your place. And then also the violent pleasures of having power over someone, too.

I think that’s really an important thing to pull out. That’s how I tried to explain to myself this current movement of, in a moment of devastation and economic precarity for so many people, why there’s a parental rights movement. Why is that the thing? That’s one place where these people are naturalized into having power over someone where they have no power in any other situation perhaps?

SL: Yeah, yeah. That’s fascinating.

Gosh, there’s something I literally thought just a minute before getting on this podcast with you, Scott. Someone shared a snippet of Hannah Arendt, who is a philosopher I’ve always disliked. She’s very, very conservative, in my opinion, anyway. But there was a section of an essay by her that I’d never read, which was her essay opposing desegregation! I didn’t even know this existed! Anyway, she argues that it is too great of an infringement on parental rights, basically, to demand that children go to desegregated schools if their parents don’t want to create a desegregated family culture. She has this fantastically clear and strong statement in favor of the primacy of family: the supremacy of parental authority over the realm of the public. I don’t know if this is actually useful, you may want to cut this from the recording. But I was just thinking about the social crisis that she was writing from within. The tumult of that moment. She’s writing from this moment of racial justice, upheaval, and movement and she’s saying, “The Family is threatened by this, and I choose to uphold the Family.”

I think we need to get braver. I think we need to be able to say, against the right-wing assault against Critical Race Theory: yeah, fine, this does threaten the family. I think there are so many similarities between that “integration” fight and this moment of organized assault on trans children and trans life more generally. Do people have the guts to understand the structure? The way in which the far right is sometimes onto something when it accuses anticapitalists, feminists, leftist of seeking to undermine the sanctity of the Family? Against Arendt, for example, can we insist that that parental rights can go get fucked, when appropriate?

I think the missing part of left discourse is the willingness to say, “Yeah, we do oppose the Family on x and y fronts.” Or even the willingness to merely criticize the family. I’d like us to be able to say: “We do not consider parental rights a supreme value on this terrain.” But we have to be very clear that at the same we oppose the devaluation, dispossession, expropriation and dehumanization of Black parents. There are many groups whose “parental rights” are always already pretty much null and void within the Child Protective Services industry.

Dorothy Roberts has important scholarship on family policing and the very, very white supremacist structure of parenthood as it is defined in settler-colonial law, and in child protection generally. We can, according to her, and I agree, seek to abolish family policing (and to that extent, basically argue almost for the voices of Black parents to count more), while at the same time fighting for family abolition, as a longer term anticapitalist goal. We can defend disenfranchised parents and at the same time struggle for parental rights to be limited or balanced out (relative to the rights of children).

But family abolitionism is full of these slightly tricky-to-think-through contradictions. Because we live in a world in which family is always already a racially bifurcated technology. Which is not to say that Black, or racialized, or immigrant, or queer, or proletarian working class families aren’t part of the privatization of care into private households. As I said, that privatization is the main thing about the family, so, even these alternative forms of household and social reproduction and kinship (which in many ways have skills and experiences that are going to be super useful for family abolitionism) are part of the family regime. It makes no sense to make exceptions for these sorts of marginalized and underserved and underbenefited families. People who benefit the least from the edifice of family values and the regime of familism (as an economic system) should not be used as a reason to shore up the family!

Saying like, “Oh, we don’t mean those families, we just mean, like, the white bourgeois family!” is much safer. People always want me to say that. They want me to specify that, when I say family abolition, I mean the white bourgeois family. But I think if you define the family – as I think it is correct to do – as a mechanism that really affects everybody and is reproduced, wittingly or not, by everyone, then then you really have to be talking about the privatization of care. It is non-bourgeois, non-white, non-settler people who are going to benefit the most from family abolition. In that sense, they deserve it the most. They should not be exceptionalized, or for that matter, romanticized. Because the private nuclear household is not somehow a wonderful thing, just because it happens to be situated in a racialized, proletarianized community. Unfortunately!

TFSR: Yeah, I want to get to the trans stuff, but where you’re leading me is thinking about the selling out of the radical liberationist movements of the women’s movement and gay movement by taking family abolition off the table. Is that another moment of white supremacist consolidation? I’m thinking about gender abolition, for example, or the word gender itself already includes the power structure. I think family maybe does, too, by thinking that family is related to blood and naturalized relationships, it erases other forms of relating to people that happening, but get called the family maybe, wrongly, and reproduces a kind of racialized logic that our belonging is based on blood.

So, what I’m thinking about here, and what I want to ask you about is on the one hand, why was it taken off the table? Do you think it has to do with this racialized logic? On the positive end of this question, how do we relate family abolition to these other kinds of abolitionist movements? Connecting it back to the abolition of slavery, but also police and prison abolition, which is explicitly Black liberationist and fighting against an anti-Black world? Do you have thought on why that was sacrificed in the vision of the movement and how we can make those connections now?

SL: Yeah, it’s really interesting. The collapse of that imaginary at the height of the struggles that proliferated around 1970 is definitely linked to, simply, our material defeat. It’s literally just the epistemic consequences (epistemicide) of the murder, frankly, and repression, that the state successfully carried out. Our people were stomped into the dust. We can’t really state that enough.

You can look at the beginning of the ’70s and the end of the ’70s and simply compare the texts! I found two things that struck me that were amazingly different. From the early ’70s and, then, in contrast, the early ’80s. A text by Pat Parker, who is a Oakland-based Black liberationist radical nurse and “third world” feminist, who has a speech that she gave at an anti-imperialist convergence, and it is all about how white women on the left need to get with the program of family abolition and stop being scared, because capitalism and the state will not fall until women and children explode the cell of the family (i.e. the private nuclear household).

That text [of Pat Parker’s] is amazing, because it puts Black women really squarely at the forefront of that politics [of family abolition], which I personally kind of imagined, like everybody else imagines, until I looked in the archive, was probably most forcefully articulated by the white, Jewish feminist Shulamith Firestone. It’s just not the case. Actually, Black women were saying it way harder, I discovered.

But then 10 years later (and, again, we have to think of all the successful State repression of Black liberationist struggle in the interim), we have Hazel Carby’s very famous and also very well articulated open letter, White Woman Listen!. I think that’s from 1984. And it’s basically about why white feminists’ excessive emphasis on the family as an oppressive structure is harmful to Black women. And she says, “Black feminists do not deny that the family can be a source of oppression, but it’s also, for us, an important site of survival and resistance to the state.” That’s the text that everybody knows. What people don’t know is the previous one, the one 10 years before that. Because as I said, the memory has been erased.

I find it so interesting that essentially, we’re talking about the defeat of Black feminist abolitionism in the widest sense. The abolitionism of the present state of things in its entirety: family, capital, state, criminal justice system, all of it. That intensity was actually voiced by the Black feminist imaginary. Which makes sense given, for example, Hortense Spillers’ analysis of how it is the Black woman who falls out of the symbolic logics of gendered humaneness in the grammar of American life. And it is the Black female social subject who needs to be made a place for. We don’t know what that place would be. She says she doesn’t know whether that place would be called a family anymore. That’s possible.

Tiffany Lethabo King reads Hortense Spillers’ epochal text, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” as potentially family-abolitionist. Tiffany Lethabo King is one of the Black family abolitionist theorists thinking and working today. And she’s not the only one. I quote in my book from Lola Olufemi and Annie Olaloku-Teriba, who are working on “patriarchal motherhood” from a Black radical perspective in the UK right now. I do think maybe it is the defeat of Black power that we must point to, if we want to explain why family abolitionism was no longer thinkable by the end of the ’70s.

TFSR: Thank you so much for this wide ranging discussion. There’s just so much to talk about and it’s such a central and big idea. So I really appreciate you getting into the nitty gritty. For our listeners, if there’s anything you want to say in terms of ways people can support you or follow you, you’re getting off social media, beyond buying the book, which we’ll link to in our notes.

SL: It’s always a massive pleasure to speak with you on The Final Straw, Scott. I learned so much from you. Thank you for prompting me. It’s true, I have a Patreon, Patreon.com/reproutopia. It is my only regular and reliable form of income. It’s really appreciated when people help support my freelance writer life. I’m not sure yet (whether I’ll be on Twitter in the future). I’ll probably be on Mastodon at some point. But yeah, reproutopia is the handle you can find me on. My website is lasophielle.org. You can look at some archives of video and audio on there, and there’s a list of all the essays that I’ve written, which at this point are very, very many (!), on all kinds of concepts, from octopus erotics to the political economy of heterosexuality, and more. But yeah, I look forward to our next conversation on here.

TFSR: Thank you for being willing. And yeah, we’ll link to all that stuff. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you and also really a pleasure to read your work because you are also just a wonderful writer. So I just put that up there too.

SL: Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.

 

Alabama Prisoners Speak + JJ Ayers of Winnemucca Indian Colony

Alabama Prisoners Speak + JJ Ayers of Winnemucca Indian Colony

Split image of JJ Ayers & an ADOC prison dorm, "Alabama Prisoners + Jimmy Ayers of Winnemucca Indian Colony | TFSR 12-25-2022"
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This week on the show, we featured 2 segments: a chat with Michael Kimble & Gerald Griffin about conditions in Donaldson CF prison in Alabama; and Jim J. Ayers, a 42 year resident in 6 generations of lineage at Winnemucca Indian Colony facing eviction by the Tribal Council.

Conditions at Donaldson Prison in Alabama

First up, anarchist prisoner Michael Kimble and his friend Gerald Griffin talk about the current situation at William E Donaldson Correctional Facility in Bessemer, Alabama. Following the pause of prisoner work stoppages in October of this year, Gerald and Michael talk about violence at the institution, overcrowding and under staffing, lack of medical care, mistreatment of gay and other marginalized prisoners and other, hard topics. There is mention of extortion, violence, drug use, homophobia and other topics, so listener discretion is advised. You can information on how to get in touch with Michael and Gerald in the show notes, as well as Michael’s blog AnarchyLive , and we’ll be mailing out the latest Fire Ant Journal and our past interviews with Michael Kimble (5/19/2019 & 12/28/2015).

Michael Kimble #138017
William E. Donaldson Correctional
100 Warrior Ln
Bessemer, AL 35023

Gerald Griffin #247505
William E. Donaldson Correctional
100 Warrior Ln
Bessemer, AL 35023

If you’d like to donate to Michael’s legal and other costs outside of putting money on his commissary with his ADOC #, you can give a donation to our accounts and specify MK in the comment so we know where to pass it. Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross is also selling $20 Fire Ant Journal t-shirts designed by Michael Kimble as a benefit for him, linked in our shownotes. We hope to send out copies of the latest Fire Ant Journal with our patreon mailers at the beginning of January, for new supporters at $5 or anyone supporting at $10 or more per month, which goes to support our transcription costs. More on that and the places you can send funds directly to Michael at https://tfsr.wtf/support

Jim J. Ayers Resists Eviction at Winnemucca Indian Colony

Then, we return to the Winnemucca Indian Colony following last week’s conversation with Kyle Missouri who is resisting eviction from the colony in Humboldt County, Nevada. You’ll hear Jim Ayers, tribal council chairman until 2012 talk about how the current Tribal Council came to power at Winnemucca, the council’s wielding of private police and BIA officers to siege remaining holdouts to the eviction orders, Jimmy’s 6 generations of ancestors stretching back on the Winnemucca Indian lands and the ongoing legal proceedings heading through the ITCAN court as residents attempt to stop the council’s evictions, home wrecking and banishment actions.

  • Sandra Freeman of Water Protector Legal Collective is currently representing Jim in legal proceedings and are a great source for updates on the situation and ways for, especially legal workers, to plug in
  • Donations for the WIC residents can be sent to via cashapp to $DefendWIC
  • a fundraiser to support South Side Street Medics, an Indigenous-led crew to support providing first aid and training to residents of the Indian Colony
  • Jim Ayers interviewed in December 2021 by Honor Life youtube channel
  • Video discussing Judy Rojo (chairperson of disputed Winnemucca Tribal Council) by Man Red

Next Week…

We should be bringing you a chat with Sophie Lewis on her new book, Abolish The Family: A Manifesto of Care and Liberation, out from Verso Books in October of 2022.

Announcements

Asheville NYE Noise Demo and Bailout Action

If you’re in the Asheville area, you’re invited to join Asheville Community Bail project, Pansy Collective, Blue Ridge ABC and other local grouplets in a noise demo at the Buncombe County Jail, the deadliest jail for inmates in North Carolina, at 7pm on Saturday 12/31 at Pack Square. It’s suggested you dress warm and bring noise makers. Simultaneous, there will be a bailout action to get folks out of the jail. You can donate to this effort via the paypal for avlcommunitybail(at )riseup( dot)net or the venmo for blueridgeabc(at )riseup( dot)net, and any returned bail money will roll back into the community bail fund for future release activities. Learn more at avlcommunitybail.carrd.co

Zine: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/files/2022/12/UPDATED-NYE-Zine.pdf

Phone Zap to Press Indiana to Get Treatment for Khalfani

IDOC watch is calling on folks to call and email the Indiana Department of Corrections to pressure them to move long-term political prisoner Khalfani Malik Khaldun (state name Leonard McQuay #874304) moved into a medical facility to remove the two cysts growing on his left temple since October of this year. Check our shownotes for a link to the blog post on idocwatch.org

Bad News #63

This month’s BAD News is now available! You can hear:

  • 1431am on the eviction of Mundo Nuevo squat in Thessaloniki and the murder by policeof Kalo Fragoulis, a 16 year old Roma and the death of a 12 year old child because of inadequate housing conditions;
  • Črna luknja shares a longer interview on the eviction of Mundo Nuevo squat in Thessaloniki;
  • A-Radio Berlin with a contribution from an anarchist perspective on anti-militarism and nationalism during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990’s. A segment of a longer interview;
  • Frequenz A concludes the show wih an interview with the accused in the so called “Luwi71-Trial” in Leipzig so-called Germany. The Luwi71 is a house (in the east of Leipzig) occupied for about 2 weeks back in august 2020.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • Ebb Tide by the Mar-Keys from Last Night
  • Ghost Town by The Specials on The Two Tone Story (RIP Terry Hall!)

. … . ..

Michael Kimble & Gerald Griffin Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself for the audience with your location, or your name, or any other information that that they would find useful?

Michael Kimble: Okay, my name is Michael Kimble. I’m down in the Alabama prison system at William E. Donaldson Correctional in Alabama in Bessemer, AL, serving a life sentence for murder. I’m an anarchist, I’m gay, I’m a revolutionary, and I’m about abolishing the State.

TFSR: I like that.

So recently, Alabama prisons had participation by a number of people from a number of different facilities in different work stoppages and strikes, because the prisons require the workers to participate in order to function. I’ve heard some things about the conditions at places like Donaldson. People might have a thought that prisons look a lot of different ways in the US. Sometimes they’re Super Max’s and really constricted, and sometimes people have more access to outdoors and programs. But can you talk about what the conditions are like at Donaldson and why people were engaging in protest?

MK: Let me put it like this. I’ve been locked up 38 years. This is my third time at Donaldson. But this time here, they got me feeling like I’m coming to prison for the first time. Not just the officers, but the prisoners too. Here at Donaldson, the conditions are dire. You got all asbestos ceilings, paint, you have no security at all in the dorms. You are locked in a dorm with 118 other guys and we have no security. People are dying daily here.

Everyday there are ambulances at the back gate. We had over 30-40 deaths here within the last 15 months. Most of them due to drug overdoses, but some of them have been murders. Not just prisoner on prisoner, but guard on prisoners too. I think Gerald may want to say something about the conditions, because Gerald had been experiencing some conditions because he’s diabetic. He’s having a lot of problems with that. So he may want to share some of that with you.

Gerald Griffin: Hi, my name is Gerald Griffin. I’ve got a 22 year sentence. I’m originally from New York and I’ve just been in the Alabama prison system for the last 13 years. Just like Mr. Kimble was saying, this is not where you want to be. It’s a hopeless state of mind. We fend for ourselves. We guard, we we secure ourselves, we do everything that they supposed to be doing. I’m diabetic. They don’t give us [medications at a] regular time. They might call us at three o’clock or they might call us tomorrow at eight o’clock to get your insulin shot.

Dealing with insulin, you are supposed to take it at a regular hourly time. They don’t do that. Then when we fight about it, or when we say anything about it, they want to use their tactics. They spray us with mace when we’re not even being violent towards them. We are just asking for our medical health. It’s a lot of things that goes on in here.

It’s all over the news how many people are being arrested for corruption here, but it’s just like they do this and they do that but it’s still the same. They stay the same. This is getting more violent and dangerous because of the hopelessness that everybody has in this prison. You don’t have programs, we don’t do nothing. All we do is just stay and lock the door. We fend for ourselves. We see them, they come unlock the door and count and that’s it. That’s the last time we see them.

If somebody to be taken out for sickness, we have to literally knock the window out or bang for them to get attention. They are so short on staff. They don’t have no police, they don’t have nothing. We we secure and we police ourselves.

TFSR: Someone had told me before that because there’s no enforcement of giving people the cots that they’re assigned to or that they’re supposed to get, that oftentimes weaker people or older people, people with sickness, whatever get forced outside in the winter and all the rest of the time. Can you talk about that and what you’ve seen with that?

GG: Yes. You have people being kicked out of doors for whatever reason. Sleeping outside in the cold, sleeping on floors in the dorms, just unsanitary stuff. How can we say that this person can’t sleep here? This happens because they let it. They let it. No matter what, nobody’s supposed to be sleeping on is supposed to be everybody’s assigned to a rack. [Guards] don’t take time to do their job, to put somebody on the rack or anything like that. The corrupts run. Hold on.

MK: So they have these guys sleeping outside and in the cold, it’s winter time. Of course, they can come back in the dorm, but if you can’t house these people, you can’t protect these people and give them a ‘humane safe environment’ as your mission statement says… you have got to release them. More people are going out of this facility in body bags than making parole. The justice department has been here for the last three or four months doing investigations.

GG: DOJ was here while a murder took place.

Michael Kimble: Matter of fact, they was here while a murder took place. They had the riot team here too, at the time, and it still took place. We went on strike on September 26. We went on strike throughout the state of Alabama because we were complicit in our own incarceration and working for nothing. We say this is slavery.

[Background Commotion] Hear what they got going on right now, Bursts? Right now they are fighting now. They are fighting now and [guards] ain’t finna do nothing. You see these guys with these knives here and they ain’t finna do nothing.

TFSR: So when you’re talking about the DOJ that’s the federal government stepping in and saying, “We’ve heard reports that there is unsafe situations and that something needs to be done.” I think in Alabama, but at least like in Louisiana, and I think in Mississippi, the federal government stepped in at different times to say, “These are too dangerous of situations.” Why do you think the federal government hasn’t stepped in when the local government won’t? Just the same same thing, just different level

MK: Well, it’s really hard to say why, but when I really think about it… they got a bad federal prison system dealing with the same problems. So how can they correct anybody else’s problem when they aren’t correcting their own problems? It’s just for show. It’s because so much been going on. So many people been making noise, so they had to get involved. The city investigating the business going on since 2019. They’ve been investigating the State and threatening to file suit. Matter of fact, they have filed a suit on it, but still they hadn’t came in to take over.

Coming in and taking over isn’t going to do no good, because prisons are going to exist, and the condition of prisons are going to exists as long as they exist.

TFSR: Yeah, because these things are so ongoing and the Alabama prison system has continued not getting people out on parole, they’ve continued to be really badly understaffed and with facilities that are degrading and stuff… are they just waiting for a bailout to get new buildings built and then get kickbacks from that? Or they just don’t care?

GG: That’s what a lot of us feel like. They just trying to make this seem like it’s just so overwhelmed that they got to have new buildings. So that’s part of it. That’s part of the reason why they want to build a new prison and that’s the reason the governor, she don’t want to say that she got a problem. She knows she has a problem but she just don’t want to upset the community by saying, “I’m using this money, I’m using that money.” Stuff like that.

Right now, they know they have a problem and they don’t they don’t care. The only thing they care about is: New prison. That’s it. The money.

TFSR: Is it okay for your name to go into this? Is that okay with you? Could you spell your first and last name just so I get it right when I write it out?

TFSR: Do you want people who listen to this later to write you letters and get in touch with you or try to put money in your commissary or whatever?

GG: Yeah! That’d be cool. My number is #247505

TFSR: Awesome, that’s super helpful.

In the past, Michael had talked about how filling in the power vacuum, that it was mostly gangs that were taking control. Does it seemed like that still, or is it less organized?

GG: It’s more like cities now. The gang stuff is not really the problem no more. Because it’s everybody for themselves, for real. It’s like, “I get along with this person. I might get along with this person. I might get along with this group of people.” It just goes like that. Then you got the outsiders that got addiction problems and people look at them like scum of the earth. But how can you look at them like that and you’re selling it to them?!

Then there’re the gays. You got people will jump on them and send them out and do things to them. A lot of them, that’s who’s sleeping outside. But like I was saying, it’s behind closed doors stuff. A lot of people do stuff behind closed doors. They want to look good in front of their friends and then here you go, you take it out on the gay community or whatever like that. It’s just something that… the staff don’t help them. period.

TFSR: It seems like in some prison systems, there’s pretty active collusion between social disruption in space and the guards because by creating factions and pitting them against each other, and using snitches and whatever, it means that they can stop prisoners from organizing together. In Alabama, like anywhere, people don’t get along sometimes, but it has a really active history of prisoners getting together and making some noise, which is really impressive.

Did you see much participation in the strike in September? Or was it pretty spotty?

GG: It was pretty spotty. Because you had different factions. Like people gotta use different coolers and people can’t drink out of this water and stuff like that. So it’s separation. That’s what they want. They want us to have separation. They know that people don’t follow the rules or whatever like that, and they know it. Violence comes behind that. If they would come in and step in and do their job how they supposed to do it, we wouldn’t be having all these violent episodes. It’s something that they could have stopped. They curate it. Look at the conditions, you know? You have hopeless thoughts.

When you see nothing changing, people escape to do drugs. That’s why you have OD’s, because they try to escape it another way. But we don’t talk to no counselors. We don’t have none of that. We are supposed to have a mental health person come be able to talk to us every time, but we don’t see nobody. I’ve been here at this prison for over six months, now. I haven’t seen a classification officer yet. They don’t care. Once they send you here, they send you here. They don’t help, there is no help here.

So people like us, we gotta stay strong with each other and this is what we come up with. We are calling out for help. The people that’s listening and stuff like that, just know that all of us ain’t no bad people. We’ve made some mistakes and stuff like that, you know? We need help.

TFSR: Besides talking about what’s going on, do you have senses of what you want that help to look like from people? Should they be contacting the government? Should they be trying to get jobs at the prison to make it better? Or should they be trying to just send money into to folks? Or listening? Or what what would be helpful?

GG: The helpful part is dealing with people that we can contact. That will make us stronger, when we got a connection with each other and we all on the same page and I’m not sending you on a wild goose chase. I know that y’all have timing in the world, just like in here. You guys have a lot of stuff going on too, but we don’t want to send y’all on a wild goose chase. Contacting the prison,… keep doing it in mass. They hate publicity, they hate being on the news, they hate all that type of stuff.

So yeah, they might try to retaliate on us, but I’m in motion, I’m on a move like I don’t care what they do. I want change. Sometimes we have to go through the things that we have to go through to get change. I’m one of the participants that’s willing to go through whatever they get, to get some type of change. Because all we see is our friends going out in body bags. I’ve seen three people that I’ve literally had a conversation with a couple of days before they died and now they gone.

They walk past us. The officers walk past us, it ain’t their fault. They understaffed too. But something got to be done. They are scared to say something. You got some officers that are willing to participate and expose some of this stuff. But they want to cover their job because they got to feed their family, too. So I don’t look at them to break their neck for us and stuff like that, because this is a bigger problem. They know it’s a bigger problem.

TFSR: So has it been brought up that there aren’t officers around and people aren’t getting check-ins about their wellness or about their status changing. I think Michael had brought up that there was an issue with paroles, actually. This is the thing that I had heard in past chats with with folks inside or supporters, is that parole boards just aren’t getting people out. If there’s no programs, as has been mentioned, how do you get the the recognition that “you’ve made changes and you’re a better person should be that out” or whatever?

GG: That’s the answers and questions that we try to get from the commissioner, from the people that’s running the ADOC. “What do we have to do? What’s the criteria to make parole?” There’s no criteria. Y’all get paid, y’all are getting funded for these programs, but these programs, we’re not doing them. We don’t even step out of our dorm.

The only time when we step out that dorm is when they call “chow.” It’s like a controlled movement for the past year since COVID. They got us in real controlled movement. Why you think it’s so violent now? Because they have us so bunched up, there ain’t nothing to do. You got people that want to get a trade, you got people stuck inside these buildings that want to do something, but we ain’t able to do nothing. They only thing they feed us is, “We are short staffed.” Well, that’s not our problem. So how can we get to our fam? You know? We got Mike right here.

TFSR: Right. Thank you.

MK: Yeah, Bursts.

TFSR: Hey, Michael, so we talked a little bit about how difficult it is to get programs or anything towards parole. How the parole setup is just an absolute joke. I know that there’s discussion in a lot of states around the country, I don’t want to take it out of the situation that you all are experiencing, but a lot of activists have put in a lot of energy to get changes made in different States around the definition and like taking the ‘slavery clause’ out of the Constitutions and making sure that that term isn’t in there. That labor extraction is not in there tied to people being put in prison.

But even if you all aren’t working, you’re still being fed crappy food in small portions, you’re still in dangerous situations, you’re still being denied medical visitation, you don’t have programs, what what would you like to see? What do you see as next steps for alleviating the pain that so many of y’all are going through?

MK: It’s like this: I know Gerald was talking about these people, they have families to take care of out there, so they work here. Some of them, they might not be as bad at the other ones. But the slave has to take care of his family, too. My whole thing is this here: Of course, we are talking about the conditions as though we want to be living in better conditions. But they are not going to change. As long as prisons exist, it’s just the nature of prisons. It’s not going to change. So the only thing I know to do is to abolish prisons and to destroy prisons. That’s it.

The best thing that I know that we can do here, regardless of what the constitution say, regardless of what the law say, is how we relate to each other. That’s the only thing that’s going to change anything is how us prisoners relate to each other. How people on the outside relate to each other, and relate to us in here, and how we relate to those out there. The only thing that’s gonna change anything is our relationships. The longer we continue to discriminate against people because they are gay, queer, trans, white, Black, we are going to continue to have these problems and prisons are going to continue to exist.

So the best thing to do is find some kind of way to abolish the State, because that’s the only way we can abolish prisons.

TFSR: That’s the answer I was hoping you were gonna give. **laughs**

MK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. They took it out of the constitution in Alabama. There was like four or five states that had a slavery clause removed. Regardless if they got a slavery clause or not, it doesn’t even matter. United States constitution will come right back and say that it makes sense that you can practice slavery or because of what you just said in the first clause, that it was outlawed. So it’s a conundrum.

TFSR: You’re trying to get out, right? Through legal measures.

MK: Yes.

TFSR: Do you want to talk about that at all? I can get with other folks on your support group to see what is good for like fundraisers, but what would you like to say about that process?

MK: Oh, well, I had just recently hired me an attorney, I had one a couple years before but he didn’t do his job. What I’m trying to do now, I’m trying to get back in court on a sentence reduction. It’s the most favorable thing for people who get the kind of time I got and did kind of years I had. In the county that I was sentenced under, Johnson County, has been the most favorable county for doing this. That’s all I’m trying to do is just trying to get back in court on a sentence reduction. My past few years, I’ve been trying to keep a clean disciplinary file. I’ve been up for parole nine times. Well, 11 times now. I got turned down and they put me on five more years. The way that works out is that there is no particular criteria, so you can’t challenge it in court. That’s why we haven’t been successful. There’s no statute or nothing that says that, “You got to do this” and then they have to do this to let you out after so many years. They don’t have none of that.

What they do have is: they have a parole board that consists of a State Trooper, a Parole Officer, the Assistant DA, they got a group called a “victim’s rights goup” that’s speaks at everybody’s parole hearing. What they’re doing at the parole hearing is they’re going up, regardless of if they know the person or not. It has nothing to do with their individual cases or nothing. They just speak on everybody’s case.

At my last parole hearing, my attorney and a couple of my supporters told me that 40 people went up there and nobody made it. Nobody. Some people had done 30 years and hadn’t had any disciplinaries, and everything was in order, and they can’t understand why they refused to give them parole. There’s more people going out in body bags that are making parole in Alabama. So the only thing I’m trying to do now is get back in court on this petition here for a sentence reduction. According to my attorney, I got 85% chance. That should happen this year, Bursts

TFSR: Fingers crossed. All right. That’s awesome.

I’ll find information for the show notes about where we can direct people if they want to give donations for that. Even lawyers acting for free, it costs them money to file paperwork and such. Fingers crossed on that.

MK: I wish I had Eric King’s lawyer! I read their transcript from the interview. They are awesome.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah. I’ll poke the CLDC and see if they if they have the capacity.

MK: Not many people beat these cases.

TFSR: Yeah, right?! The fact that they were able to get a federal judge, not a prison judge, obviously, but it’s just a federal judge to say, “yeah, you need to stop fucking with him.” It was so obvious when they spilled coffee in his room when he wasn’t even there and said a bird came in and did it.

MK: You know, I have three of those: Assault on officers [charges] that I got more time on for that since I’ve been locked up. Man, I know how hard it is to beat these folks [charges]. Yeah. He was able to beat them. Even though they came with all the ridiculous stuff and they was able to beat him. I’ve never seen that. I’ve never seen that. Not here. Now when they say one of us assaulted, we always get time.

TFSR: Yeah. Yeah, that’s how it’s set up for. Right?

MK: Yeah.

TFSR: Oh, I just got a letter from him. He’s actually getting letters and I’ve been sending zines to him too, folks have been sending him books. So for the first time in years, he can have visits from his family. It’s amazing. I’m glad of that. But he’s at the ADMax in Florence. He’s at the highest security prison in the country, I think.

But yeah, we gotta get you out.

MK: Yeah. Well, I’m gonna get myself out before I get too old.

TFSR: Yeah. Is there anything else that I didn’t ask about that you want to talk about?

MK: Yeah, what I wanted to do, is for the person that was involved in, I just want to say how grateful I am, man. For what they were able to do for us and helping out. For years, I did the law stuff, the lawsuits, and the criminal court stuff, I did all that stuff for years. Mainly because I came out of the old Black radical Marxist tradition. So when I came out of it, my thinking started to change. What I started doing is coming up with ideas of what I think that can change how we relate to each other in here that make it better for us. The only thing that will make it better in here for us, is us.

So that was one of the things that I start intervening in. I started about two years ago. My partner at one time used to be a Crip, a gang member. I was Holman [prison]. What they did at the time was they would take all the ex-gang that became gay, they started kidnapping them. They started bringing them in their dorm, holding them in the dorm. This is a gang prison. It was really ran by gangs. They would prostitute themselves out, working for the gang. That’s the first time I had to pay to get her up out of that dorm. That’s when I started doing these types of intervention. Then I started a shoe program. Where one comrade coming out of Chicago, we had shoes, tennis shoes, and boots for people who couldn’t afford them. These are the kinds of things that I’m into. Some real practical stuff.

A lot of people don’t want to hear all this stuff. All these ideas floating around, these big ideas floating around. People want to be released.

TFSR: So how do you deal with situations like paying off folks debt? How do you avoid just being held ransom, like somebody recognizing, “Oh, you have access to a source of income, we could just do this over and over again.”

MK: Matter of fact, about a month ago, I thought they were going to black bag me, but it just hasn’t gotten to that point yet. I have always been able to come up and pay it off. Basically, when I say I was gonna do it by some time, it might be a week or two late they might add an extra few dollars on, but it’d be taken care of. I haven’t had another problem. But the problem with that is that some of them, they go back. They get to borrowing money or go back to the drugs. Not everybody, but majority of them do. But even if just one or two want to stop, that’s two lives you saved. That’s two lives.

TFSR: I can totally imagine people just having to lean on drugs just to shut the world down for a little bit. It seems like that’s a way to…

MK: You know, they use the drugs down here too because they control us with the drugs. They got drugs down in the prisons that they didn’t have when I first came. They didn’t even exist. You got fentanyl in here, they got all the psychrotrophic drugs to get high on, they got flakka , and all these other different type drugs, and the hallucinogenics. You got people just laid out.

The warden and the police they just walk by like they don’t even see them. People are just laid out naked. Here a guy just the day before yesterday was just standing in front of the door. Just standing in the dorm, it was the dorm that Gerald was staying in. He was there with all his drawers pulled all the way down with his butt cheeks apart. He was hallucinating. He’d get whooped for that because people feel like that’s disrespectful. But see, I understand what’s going on. So, I don’t feel like he needs to be whooped. What needs to happen is he needs to pull his clothes up and taken somewhere and come down.

TFSR: Yeah, drink some tea.

MK: Yeah, but these guys get kicked down and beaten with a belt. They took his mattress and all his stuff and just threw it outside and the police they say nothing. They put them in a cot, threw all of his stuff on top of him and just brought him outside. It’s brutal and cruel.

The drugs and the money… some of these guys are making some real money off these drugs. You got dudes calling real shots in here. You got people putting hits on people. The crip gang had put a hit on me, because of what I was saying about my partner at Holman. They put a hit on me.

TFSR: That’s scary.

MK: Yeah. So you know and then you can’t go to now or the cap guy came outrun Boost Mobile, AT&T and all. They had it was solid they could call in I’m not affiliated with nothing. They look at me, I’m just an old person. They don’t care nothing about me, nothing about what I did, nothing about what I do. They don’t care about none of that. All they care about is their pocket. Everybody wants to be a millionaire.

Anything else you want to know?

TFSR: You writing anything these days?

MK: Yeah. I’m still writing for Fire Ant. The only thing I have been putting out lately thought is explaining the stuff that has been going over here. That’s it. I haven’t been doing any other major writing or anything like that.

TFSR: A new issue just came out and they’re sending like 50 of them to us, so we’re going to try to send them out to some folks too.

Well, it’s good that you’re building feelings of solidarity between folks too. Helping them out.

MK: Yeah. You got a different affiliation gangs and stuff like that, but sometimes it’s like, “Man we might need to start our own god damn gang.” For real. If you a gay person, whatever happens to you here… don’t nobody care. They call you a fuck boy. So whatever happens to you, you deserve it. They look at gay people as lower than rats. Snitches. Yeah. This is the first time I’ve seen it. It’s the first time I’ve seen prisoners working for the police. Stabbing people for the police. Beating, jumping on people for the police.

It wasn’t too long ago, about three or four weeks ago, [someone] stole some stuff off a commissary truck. It ain’t got nothing to do with of the guys in here. But you know these guys… They went and got these guys, and jumped on these guys and took them to the police, because these guys went and stole the stuff off the truck.

These people here got keys. The police don’t open the doors. Inmates open doors. This is something they’ve never did. They never did this. In about 38 years, I’ve never seen it like in here. They don’t care. They don’t give a fuck what we do as long as we don’t go outside that gate. Do anything you want to do inside. They be out here grilling till three o’clock in the morning sometimes.

TFSR: So they’re like a little mini State, basically, a colony.

MK: Yeah. I want to get that picture for you to show you what is going on out here. I’m gonna get some of these clips and send them to you.

TFSR: Yeah, please do. Please do.

MK: Maybe a different clip. We going to just send them to the email.

TFSR: Yeah, that sounds good.

MK: You’ll see the stuff that’s going on. I’ll tell you that we was outside during the interview, right? One of the guys… He was what we call ‘wiggin.’ He was walking around, bent over, started throwing up just in the middle of nowhere.

TFSR: Just having a bad reaction to drugs?

MK: Yeah, yeah.

TFSR: If you send those clips, just make sure to note if you want them shared or not, so that I know what to do.

MK: Anything we send, you can share. It was nice talking to you.

TFSR: Yeah, you too. And it was nice meeting Gerald. I’ll definitely put his contact information in. He gave me his number and stuff like that. So I’ll put that in here. We’ll be in touch. Michael, take care and I’ll talk to you soon, okay?

MK: He wants some penpals. Okay.

. … . ..

JJ Ayers at Winnemucca Indian Colony Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience with your name, your location, preferred pronoun, any sort of affiliation that would help them understand who you are.

JJ Ayers: All right. My name is Jim Ayers. Jimmy J Ayers. I was born and raised in Winnemucca, Nevada, I lived here all my life. I’m 63 years old. And I’ve lived on the Winnemucca indian colony since 1980. I grew up and went to school here, worked here all my life, and we never had no problems on the Indian colony. I was a tribal chairman a couple of times for the tribal council. I’ve been on the tribal council several different times. That’s where I’m from.

TFSR: So you if you were on the tribal council a couple of times, and you were the chairman, can you talk about what happened in 2012 or 2011 with the tribal council and why it is that they’re now deciding that people like you and your neighbors aren’t allowed to be on the Indian colony?

JJ Ayers: Okay, In 2012 we had a tribal council. It was Jeremy Ayers, Linda Ayers, Alan Amber, Cheryl Applegate-Lawson, and Rosemary Thomas. We were the official tribal council in 2012.

Well, one Sunday, about just before noon we were all sitting in church and we had an alarm system on our Tribal Administration Building and our alarm system went off. My sister says, “Oh, I’ll be back to church. I’m gonna go shut it off.” She ran over there and by the time she got there, Judy Rojo and Bob McNichols, and all these goon squads that are kicking us off the Indian colony right now were over on our tribal building, they broke into the building and changed the locks. My sister went over there and they were going to try to throw her in jail for resisting arrest. They did eventually, but they didn’t get her for like three or four hours, because in her office, she has a steel door, and she just went in there and locked the door. They can’t get her out of there. But there was some guys from AIM from California, there was probably about 30 people armed with tasers and guns and everything and they were going to take over our Indian colony.

So what they did is they went in that tribal building and took all the files and records and our computers and all of our tools. Just took everything out of that building they could put it in a U-Haul and hauled it off. Then they went over to our smoke shop because we had a tobacco shop, we were selling cigarettes there for at least 20 to 30 years. We had a whole bunch of money from selling cigarettes in the bank. They were trying to take over our cigarette shop, but the gal in the cigarette shop did the same thing. She locked the door and they can’t get in there. She held them off for like three days, but she was an old lady and she needed her medication and stuff. So, finally she had to come out and then they took over our smoke shop too. After they took over our smoke shop, they were telling us that we didn’t have no rights and they’re going to kick us off to Indian Colony. They were the new tribal council.

How they got power is by a BIA superintendent. These people that took over the Indian colony never ever lived on the Indian colony. None of them are even from Nevada. All of them are white folks, they don’t got no tribal enrollment numbers or no Indian ID cards, and they’re in current control of our Indian colony today as we speak. Judy Rojo’s the name of the tribal chairman, but she thinks she’s like a president or something. She don’t even go by the Indian bylaws that we have. All Indian colonies have bylaws. She don’t go by no bylaws, she makes up her own laws as she goes. She got a bunch of crooked lawyers, crooked judges, she hired her own police, she has her own private police, and she has the BIA police in her pocket to do her dirty work for her.

The reason she got power is because… We took them to the Ninth District Court and we beat them. They were supposed to stop and turn the colony back over to us back about three summers ago. They never did, they just kept on rolling with their businesses. They started a marijuana dispensary shop under the name of Winnemucca Indian Colony, also. They’ve been making a million dollars a year off that place probably. They’ve been running that Dispensary for 13 years now.

So now they changed the name from the Winnemucca Indian colony. We had a deal. They were supposed to get 60% of the profit and they were supposed to give 40% of the profit to the residents on the Indian colony which was back then like 26 families. Now it’s down to like 24 families. A lot of people died from old age. But out of 20 some odd families, they kicked out 14 families. The families that refused to sign their contract and pay $400 a month to rent. There’s like five families up on the Indian colony right now that pay their rent and they could stay there. But everybody that didn’t pay their rent was getting evicted. They kicked us all off.

The BIA police beat up one young man, he’s probably about in his late 30’s. Beat him up. He had to take his grandma to Reno to the hospital and then when he tried to come back home to her home, they wouldn’t let him even go through. They got the colony barricaded off. They guarded one entrance on Bell Street and then on South Street, there’s only two entrances on the whole Indian colony. They got South Street locked with these big chain link fences and a padlock and cement blocks. That streets totally blocked off. They said that they got the Indian colony locked down to all public people except for approved residents.

So they won’t let the mailman come on here. They won’t let the electric people come on here. I tried to get wood delivered to my place, my son’s house, and they stopped the wood delivery. I could get no propane either. Same thing with propane. I tried to get propane delivered. No way they won’t let nobody go through. They said we don’t need propane because we don’t live there no more. My house got burned down. I don’t know. I think they burned it down, but I sure can’t prove it. But there was three big fires up here on this Indian colony. Barbara Mill’s house. She died and somebody burned down her house. I think it was Judy Rojo and Bob McNichols.

Then they are building a Tribal Administration Building, because we got 20 acres in town, and we got 320 acres up by water Canyon. They were building a Tribal Administration Building. They’re building some low income houses up there, too. They got about six of them built now.

TFSR: Is that for tribal members? Or is that for someone else?

JJ Ayers: They said it was supposed to be for tribal members, but they’re kicking all their tribal members out of there, so I don’t know. For their eligible tribal members, none of those people even live in Nevada, and none of them could even prove they’re Indian. But that’s their eligible voters. They got 26 eligible voters. And when we were on council, we had like 170 people that could vote. So these guys are really coyote and they’re just banking all that Indian money in from the dispensary in our smoke shop. Then they found out they can’t sell cigarettes because they didn’t have a cigarette license. We had a cigarette license, our tribal council, so they bulldozed down our trailer after they sold out all of our cigarettes and put us out of business so we can make no more money.

TFSR: Jimmy, did you mention that when like 30 or 40 people came out from California, did you say that they were like American Indian Movement, AIM, working with the BIA?

JJ Ayers: Yep, it was American Indian Movement (AIM). Today, they say they close that chapter and those guys don’t act like that anymore, but I really don’t know. I don’t really know those guys that well, you know what I mean? I imagine they got chapters all over just like a biker gang or something like that, I would think.

TFSR: Do you know where that chapter was from? The one that they said they closed?

JJ Ayers: California somewhere, Northern California. That’s all I know.

They built those houses up there. They burned down my place, burned down Barbara’s place, they burned down the Tribal Administration place. I’m pretty sure it was them, because all the fires have the same trademark. There was a big loud boom and then 30 foot flames in the air. Plus the fire department, they wouldn’t let the fire department put it out until the BIA cops give them permission to go on the Indian colony. He had to come from McDermott, which is 40 minutes away.

Meanwhile, the fire has burned in full steam for 40 minutes, by the time the firemen put their hoses out and hook up to the deal, that’s another two hours. By then your places burned up. My place, they didn’t even try to put out. They just let it burn. It burned from one in the afternoon till 11:45, maybe 12 at night. It caught up three other times early in the morning. They had to come and spray water on it again.

But after they burned down my house, then they got a court order to ban me from going on to the property to get my stuff that didn’t get burned up. They got cameras on the tribal building right across the street from my lot, and if I got caught going up there, they’re gonna hold me to contempt of court.

TFSR: You lost a couple of animals in that fire too, right?

JJ Ayers: I lost three dogs and a cat. Me, my girlfriend, Ed and my son, the four of us were living there. We lost everything we own. Everything, clothes, papers, titles, everything got burned up except for a few items in the yard that the flames didn’t get. Not one of these tribal Indians tried to help us after we lost everything. They didn’t even bring us a case of water, didn’t bring us no food. Nothing. You know what they did? They got a court order to kick us off the reservation. How’s that? That’s pretty low life to me, I think.

TFSR: Yeah. It seems like there’s been stuff going through the courts for a bit around these banishments and around evictions. I had spoken to Kyle last week, and I think that might be who you’re talking about who took his grandma to the doctors and got attack.

JJ Ayers: They tased him and beat him up. He’s in jail. He’s just getting out today. They sent him over to Reno Jail on Park Boulevard, and he’s just gonna get out of jail today. I don’t know what his bail was but I’m sure was a whole bunch. They dropped the trespassing charge and just got him for resisting arrest and not obeying the police officers orders or something like that.

TFSR: Kind of sounds like the same thing, but it’s funny how they just trump up a bunch of charges all at once.

So, the next step, the next legal step, at least, is the ITCAN Court that had a hearing last Thursday. They decided to change the link on the Zoom meeting for it, I guess beforehand. Was there a conclusion from that? Or the judges still discussing it?

JJ Ayers: We’ve got it in appeals court right now. And that’s another thing. They do court over a phone and all of us senior citizen Indians up here… we don’t have very good phones and we can’t even go on court to listen to our damn court, and what’s going to happen.

Another thing, when they served us papers to evict us off the Indian colony and stuff. They never served them to hand in hand. They threw them out in the damn street and zip tied them to the fences. Not one of us got served hand to hand, none of them.

A couple of people up here don’t even have lawyers. They didn’t even know they were getting kicked off the Indian colony. They just came in with the BIA police and herded them out like a bunch of cows out of the roundup corral. They were like, “You guys gotta leave. We don’t care where you leave. We don’t care what to do, but you’re not staying here.” Elders had to leave their medicine, their clothes, everything in their homes. They just had to leave right then and there. So that’s another big issue we’re having, trying to get a medicine and their clothes and food and lodging. We don’t have none of that and they kicked us out right before the holidays. Those young kids, they don’t even got a Christmas tree or no presents. All the Indian kids have got ran off.

TFSR: Where are those elders and folks staying right now? Are they still in the motels?

JJ Ayers: Yeah, all of us are pitching in and we got a GoFundMe for the Winnemucca Indian colony. We’ve got them in motels, but it’s been hard, because we’re not getting that much money for them. We’re still trying to feed them, we’re taking the meals and stuff. Whatever we could afford. All of us are disabled, so most of us lived off of commodities. They stopped the commodities on the Indian colony back in 2012, they won’t even let the Indians get commodities on the Indian colony, we had to go to our church, or to a senior citizen place a block away, to meet the truck to get our commodities. These guys are messed up bad.

TFSR: Is the GoFundMe that you mentioning get the SSSM to Winnemucca Indian colony’ fundraiser? I see somebody posted it in December. I’ll post that for sure and share that. Hopefully, that will get more donations. There’s a CashApp too that folks have been sharing, I know the water protector legal support was passing around $DefendWIC.

JJ Ayers: Those guys are raising money for motels and food for the elders.

TFSR: Yeah. So you’re packing up stuff right now so that if an eviction happens, you at least have your stuff, it doesn’t get destroyed, is that right? Or are you planning on leaving?

JJ Ayers: Yes. I’m just not listening to their laws. They’ll probably beat me up and taze me too any day. So I’ll probably be in jail. I probably won’t even be able to talk to you next. But the cops haven’t rat-packed me yet, but I’m sure they will. Because I’m like seventh generation on that Indian colony. They named the streets after my great grandmother and stuff. I’m staying at my son’s place, that’s where my great great grandmother died, in her house. My other grandma died right across the street from there. Her name was Irene Leyva. So I’ve been up here all my life. You know what I mean? Since 1980. It’s been a long time.

All my family, they outnumber how many legal voters the tribal council has. I got like 48 family members that could vote. They only have 29 eligible voters. So that’s why they’re trying to get me out of there, because they know I could be in power over the dispensary or we can, our family.

The residents should be in control over that stuff. That’s what I’m saying. You know what I mean? It’s not just ‘I,’ it’s not just me, It’s we, us. All of us elders that lived here forever, we should have say what’s going on on this Indian colony. Instead of having any say, we got booted to the street with crooked cops, crooked counsel, crooked lawyers, crooked judges. They all passed those ordinances so we could get removed. And it ain’t right.

I got a lawyer named Sandra Freeman, she’s from Colorado. She represents me, but my son, and my sister and my brother, they all need lawyers, because they don’t have any representation. So they got kicked off the Indian colony on December 2. But we never left. My family is still up there. We just barricaded the doors and we don’t answer the door. When the cops come we won’t answer it. We just stay in the house.

TFSR: That’s hard. What’s the weather like out there right now?

JJ Ayers: The weather is super cold here. It’s been below freezing for the last two weeks. It’s been in single and teens for the low. My waters been frozen for a week straight. We have to haul water. I have animals.

That’s another thing. I got four dogs and they’re trying to tell me I gotta get rid of my dogs or they’re gonna haul them off to the shelter if they catch them. So it’s been really hard up here for us. We’re just looking for some legal help and maybe some funds so we can get through the winter.

It’s the worst time of the year Christmas, we will get booted to the street. I can’t believe these guys. They are heartless, man. These guys have no souls. All they think about is money, money, money, that’s it. They stole all of our money and they’re trying to take more of it. Now, they’re not happy with that, they want to take our homes away. Kick us out to the streets.

TFSR: For anyone that’s listening that is a lawyer or that knows a lawyer, if your lawyer’s in Colorado, did they just have to be barred at a federal level or specifically around…?

JJ Ayers: I think they got to be educated in the Indian law and tribal courts.

TFSR: Should they reach out to Sandra and the Water Protector Legal Collective? Or is there a better place for them to put their attention?

JJ Ayers: Sure, I think that’s a good start. They can talk to Sandra, my lawyer, or the WPLC in the Nevada legal systems. They’re representing some of the elders on the Indian colony.

TFSR: I can definitely direct folks to the resources that I did last time, and then check in with Sandra too, because she’s connected.

You were saying before that you’re having to move all this stuff and pack stuff up and keep vigilant. So it’s got to be real hard to think about those extra things.

JJ Ayers: I don’t got no help with gas money. I don’t even have no muscle help, because they won’t let nobody go into the Indian colonies to help me. And yet, they want me to move everything out in a couple of hours. They’re like, “We’ll give you a couple hours to move your stuff.” I lived there since 1980. How could I move my stuff in a couple of hours? There ain’t no way.

TFSR: Since the stay on house destruction and eviction, have they been destroying more houses? Or are they holding off until the courts?

JJ Ayers: As soon as they get us out of our houses, they’re going to bulldoze down all of our houses and probably build condos and rent them to the lithium miners. Probably that’s my guess. That probably won’t even be in Indian colony after they run all the Indians off. They’ll probably change it to a white man’s “Water Canyon Estates” or some BS or something like that. A close gated community. That’s what I’m thinking they’re gonna do.

TFSR: Is something like this happening on their reservation too, or is this just the Indian colony that you can tell?

JJ Ayers: Well, I don’t know. I’m not on the reservation. All we have is an Indian colony.

TFSR: I guess, I thought that was the larger place that Kyle was mentioning.

JJ Ayers: 320 acres. They didn’t let nobody move up there. They just got a construction business that sells gravel. They are trying to build an administration building. They got a $900,000 grant to build houses. They got six houses up, they’re starting to build. They already built two on the 20 acres. The 20 acres is smack center in Winnemucca, Nevada. It’s right in the center of town. So that’s some prime land that those guys are trying to take from us.

TFSR: They aren’t even offering like, “Hey, y’all can move over to this other spot.” It’s just, “You’re not our problem. Get out!”

JJ Ayers: Those 320 acres up there, they don’t got no water, no power, no sewer, nothing like that. But where we’re at, all of us have that hooked up already. So that’s why they want to build where we’re at, because they got power, sewer and water. So they could slap those condos up real quick, start renting them out and make more money. So by us sticking around there, messing them up, messing up their plans. You know what I mean? I’m gonna mess up their plans because I’m not leaving. I belong there. I got proof: I got birth records, I got death certificates of my Indian heritage and my family. Those guys, that Judy Rojo, the tribal council lady, claims she is related to me, but she isn’t. That’s what she claims. She claims to be related to me and then tells me I’m a non-Indian, a squatter, a trespasser. Ain’t that something.

TFSR: People have been asking you in court scenarios for her to prove it, right?

JJ Ayers: Yeah. She won’t prove it either. That’s what we need. That’s how we won the Ninth District Court and the Supreme Court. Because those guys asked her, “Where’s your blood? Where’s your Indian card?” And asked if she ever lived on the Indian colony. She answered no to all those and then we beat them in the Ninth District Supreme Court. They were supposed to shut down and they never did. So, by all rights, Judy Rojo and her tribal council have been in contempt of court for three years now, because they never stopped doing their business.

I have a restraining order against Judy Rojo, Bob McNichols, and all their tribal council, and the BIA police. They won’t recognize it, they say it’s no good. I got that from a judge in Oklahoma City. She was an Indian judge. Her name was Marsha Harlan. She gave me that restraining order when we first started fighting with these idiots. I still have copies of it, but nobody abides by it. They just come and do whatever they want. They don’t give a shit.

See it’s funny. Those guys don’t have to abide by the law, but we do. And I don’t get it. How come Judy Rojo and Bobby Nichols and their tribal eligible members don’t have to abide by Indian law? But the elders that lived here all of our lives, have to abide by it and move out. That just don’t make sense to me at all. I don’t get it. Nobody else gets it either. But these guys are just doing whatever they want. And we need to stop them in their tracks because this ain’t right. This ain’t human. They’ve violated every civil rights we have. They’re still violating more of them right now as I speak.

TFSR: I’m really sorry that y’all are going through this.

JJ Ayers: I really appreciate your help.

TFSR: Good luck, JJ.

JJ Ayers: Thanks for listening to me.

Evictions and Domestic Terrorism Charges in Atlanta Forest Defense

Evictions and Domestic Terrorism Charges in Atlanta Forest Defense

Green-tinged image of cops trying to stop photo while arrests happen in background at Atlanta Forest protest
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For this week’s main podcast, we spoke with an activist of the Atlanta Anti-Repression Committee about the recent police raids and arrests in the Welaunee Forest, aka Atlanta Forest, which have brought charges of domestic terrorism on 5 people for allegedly building treehouses and throwing stones at cops. These arrests come after police entered the forest and used less lethal weapons on people in the forest, ostensibly participating in the #DefendTheAtlantaForest and #StopCopCity movement to defend the forest from the building of what might be the world’s largest movie studio sound stage and a police training center. Again, be sure to check the show notes for more info sources and ways to support those being repressed. Check out our past coverage of the movement to defend Welaunee Forest in Atlanta by listening or reading our July 3rd, 2022 episode.

Be sure to check out our podcast released December 14th, 2022, where we shared perspectives from Kyle Missouri, resident of the Winnemucca Indian Colony in so-called Humboldt County, Nevada, about evictions, banishment and house razing in an escalating process heaidng through courts by the Winnemucca Tribal Council. Check our shownotes for places to find more info & how to offer help through & beyond. Last minute the court changed the link for the zoom call, ostensibly to lower participation. We heard news on Thursday that Kyle was tased and arrested by Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, pigs while trying to get to the house he shares with his grandmother, and that he was hospitalized and then transferred to Reno. You can find ways to support and more links in our show released December 14th and we hope to air more voices from Winnemucca on our next episode.

Sean Swain

Sean’s segment on Fusion begins at [ 00:30:59 ]

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Featured Track:

  • Eleva Tu Mente by Los Comandos from Back To Peru (The Most Complete Compilation Of Peruvian Underground ’64-74)

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Transcription

The Final Straw Radio: Would you please introduce yourself for the listening audience with any name, affiliations, preferred pronouns, location or other information that makes sense for this interview?

Sarah: Hey, everyone, I’m Sarah. I am a resident of South Atlanta. I’m involved in the movement to Defend the Forest and to stop the construction of Cop City for about a year now. And I’m involved with the Atlanta Anti Repression Committee organizing in support of people facing political charges.

TFSR: So we’re talking about the recent police violence that occurred in the Weelaunee forest, aka Atlanta, in the state of Georgia. First step, can you briefly remind listeners about the movement that’s been coalescing there for over the last year or more?

S: Yeah, absolutely. So since May of 2021, there has been activity organizing in a section of the South River Forest in South Atlanta, or southwest DeKalb County, that is threatened by two projects: Cop City, which is the construction of a massive new training center for the Atlanta police being built by the Atlanta Police Foundation; as well as an expansion of Blackhall Studios, which they’ve renamed to Shadowbox Studios. It’s involved a dubious, possibly illegal, land swap between the county and private owner of Blackhall Studios, Ryan Millsap. And these projects are on adjacent plots of land and they’re threatening a huge, much beloved section of urban forests, including the public DeKalb county park, Intrenchment Creek Park.

For the last year, since October or November of 2021 there’s been an ongoing series of encampments in the woods in order to prevent the construction of these facilities — and for people who care about the the forest and have a desire to stop these projects — to coalesce in the space, to gather there. Many people have come to live in those woods in an ongoing series of protest camps.

Those encampments have included tree sits, which have been a contentious ongoing aspect of the protests for almost a full year, actually, since January of this year 2022. But the physical encampment and obstruction in the woods is just one element of a much broader movement that has involved a wide range of people. There’s lots of different organizing efforts. There’s really seen to be something that has mobilized and galvanize people from all across the city, and especially from the area. People who live in the area around this forest and who have been involved for many years in the fight for Intrenchment Creek and the South River, which are both heavily polluted.

TFSR: So news sources are saying that six people were arrested and are being charged with Domestic Terrorism. To your understanding, can you talk about what happened?

S: Yes. So on Tuesday, December 13, there was a large multi agency police operation in the area surrounding the occupied section of forest. And so this is commonly called the Weelaunee forest, or also the South River Forest. Weelaunee is the Muskogee name for the South River, it means brown, green, yellow waters. And so this past Tuesday, and then again, on Wednesday, there was a large scale police operation. This involved the Atlanta police, the DeKalb county police, the Department of Homeland Security, who are actually building a department within the Atlanta police. They’re horizontally integrated with APD. It also involved Atlanta SWAT teams, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigations. And those are just some of the agencies that we know are involved in this operation.

And so this is one in a series of raids. This is the most recent in what has been a long arc of police efforts to control the forest and to capture and charge activists. The difference in this raid is that the police came prepared to extract people from tree sits. Like I said, there have been tree sits ongoing for many months now, since January, in several different parts of the forest. And the people who were occupying those trees were surrounded on the ground by Atlanta police officers, and then essentially threatened. This is not the first time that this happened. Actually, I can go into more detail about that later about the history of violent threats of the Atlanta police against people who are occupying tree sets.

But these tree sits are makeshift shelters that are constructed within the trees and people live in them in order to prevent ongoing construction. The cops surrounded them on the ground, threatened them, asking them to come out voluntarily and then pretty immediately began shooting pepper balls and tear gas canisters at the treehouse occupation. So, people are in small confined spaces, that are having tear gas shot into those confined spaces, and then also. My understanding is that there were just hours of pepper balls, these crowd control weapons being used on the people in these tree houses, who were eventually extracted after several hours of this and were arrested. And so we know that there were arborists that were working with the Atlanta Police Foundation. This is historically how tree sits are disrupted and people are extracted from them. The result of this is that there have been five people who were tree sitters who have been charged with, well a litany of charges, but the most notable being domestic terrorism. We’re seeing that the big accomplishment for the police is to bring forward this charge of domestic terrorism.

TFSR: Yeah. Could you talk about the charges of domestic terrorism? Journalist Will Potter, author of Green Is the New Red, pointed out on Twitter that they’re being accused of throwing stones at police and building makeshift treehouses, like I mentioned. It seems a bit of an escalation to charge them with terrorism for these activities. What do you think is going on here? And could you reiterate what agencies do you think are involved in the policing of the space?

It feels like a new generation of anti infrastructure occupations on Turtle Island since No DAPL, and I’m thinking particularly also about Camp Grayling, that this is an effort to cause a chilling effect.

S: Yeah, so we understand that six people have been charged with domestic terrorism, all of whom were arrested in the site of the proposed construction site for Cop City, as well as for the Shadowbox Studios expansion. And so they’re charged under a specific bill, which was passed in 2017 in Georgia, and that is House Resolution 452. And there’s some good articles that are coming out exploring this. It’s really notable because this is the first time that protesters have ever been charged using this law. It’s a new use of a pretty new law and yeah, you accurately indicate that they have been accused of things that are sort of like minor crimes, many of them. Our understanding is they were arrested after being extracted from tree houses, like sitting in the tree houses, which is a historic tactic of the nonviolent direct action, strain of the environmental movement.

They were arrested, extracted outside of these tree houses and now are being charged with domestic terrorism along with a slate of other other charges. These are mostly blanket charges, it seems like they were all hit with pretty much the same thing. There’s a few differences between them. But it does really seem like this is an effort at a scare tactic to implement a chilling effect across the movement to say, “if you are an activist attempting to block or stop construction of a facility to fight for a more livable world, that you’re at risk of being characterized as an “enemy of America”, of the United States”.

What else is notable is that this law was actually voted on by the Georgia legislature in response to Dylan Roof’s, murderous shooting spree at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. So, following this hate crime where a number of Black people were killed by a white supremacist who took violent, deadly action, there is the use of this law now instead to target anti-racist protesters who are fighting against an expansion of carceral and police facilities. That’s something notable about this law. It does seem — and I think that there’s like a lot of the initial legal opinions, there’s an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution quoting the ACLU — to indicate that this is a really broad and overreaching use of the law. Not only is the law possibly unconstitutional, this use of it as well, seems really blatantly illegal, according to the other laws locally.

But this isn’t the first time that terrorism has come up in environmental struggles, in political struggles. There’s all of these instances coming out of the Green Scare, and also recent ecological struggles of the use of anti-terrorism laws, the designation of domestic terrorists and the use of the terrorism enhancement. And so we have the RNC 8, and the NATO 3, both of whom were charged and the terrorism enhancement was applied to their cases, but ultimately didn’t stick. There’s people like Daniel McGowan in the early 2000’s and then more recently Jessica Reznicek, the valve turner, who took action against the Dakota Access Pipeline, who was recently convicted with a terrorism enhancement for interfering with critical infrastructure.

But this comes also in the context of a wave of struggles, as well as a push from the center, the federal government, against what they see as domestic terrorism in the January 6 attempted insurrection at the US Capitol.

What else is is notable here is that it doesn’t appear — we know that there are ongoing investigations happening around the forest struggle, as I said earlier, this is a really broad struggle, there’s so many different parts of it, that have been involved in different groups that have been organizing and taking action to pressure people to stop this project, as well as organizing and camping out in the forest itself… But it’s not like there was an investigation and then some people were targeted and then had charges brought against them that would make sense for something as high level and as serious as domestic terrorism. Instead, it really seems like there’s a political motivation, or a narrative motivation, and the authorities are acting with some desperation to cut off what is a really robust and successful protest movement. As of this month it’s been one year since they first evicted the initial occupation in this forest. And people have been resilient to a number of raids, to police intimidation tactics, to investigations, arrests, etc because there’s a lot of determination in this fight.

And so, what they’ve done is just come into the woods, conduct a raid with a massive use of resources, really just disrupt life in South Atlanta here and then just arrest whoever that they captured with blanket charges and the people who they captured were tree sitters. We’re seeing them use a lot of old tactics from the repressive playbook. There’s the statement of really high serious political charges in the bonds hearing, that initial denial of bond, an attempt to redirect resources and attention away from the movement, away from the enemy and towards the focus of simply anti-repression efforts, getting people free. And obviously that is the priority and desire of the broad movement at the time.

Luckily, this is a national movement. There’s been actions and information nights and awareness spreading all over the country. The activism on this issue has really been something that people have participated in from all across the country, because it is evident to people who live everywhere what the stakes are of the expansion of police resources, police authority, following mass movements, to confine the role and the murders capabilities of the police. What we’ve seen is just increased investment in the police and this is something that is obviously widely widely unpopular. Though we believe that prosecutors and the police agencies, including the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, Atlanta Police Foundation, the Atlanta police department, are attempting to spread fear, just aggregate the movement, to punish people who have taken part in this.

Which is something that we’ve seen repeatedly, is just arrest and imprisonment on charges that will have no basis sticking in court. It’s been something that the cops have been attempting with this movement over and over again. And this seems to be more of the same, but just on a much higher level. And so it seems like a real overreach to apply domestic terrorism to a local defense of a public park really.

TFSR: Meanwhile, how are you seeing the media and social media engaging with what’s happening in the Weelaunee forest in Atlanta, and the rising state repression?

S: We’ve seen a pretty interesting media response so far. There has been an increasing local news narrative that’s been building, kind of supporting a lot of the paranoid ideas of the police, about the movement, and that certainly is now being taken to a really high level. There’s these really nasty stories coming out on the Daily Mail and the other sensationalized media. Media has been a big point of conflict in this campaign, the local outlet in Atlanta, our major newspaper the Atlanta Journal Constitution, is Owned by Cox Media, which are one of the major funders of the Atlanta Police Foundation and of the [Cop City] project. And so, actually the CEO or the head of Cox Media sits on the board of the Atlanta Police Foundation.

So it’s a really serious, tight interest, and only through many months of pressure from Atlanta residents has the Atlanta Journal Constitution finally been open and stating their affiliation with the Atlanta Police Foundation and the contradictory interests in the project. And the Atlanta Journal Constitution has been calling for more serious legal action against the protesters for months, and helping to generate this media consensus among local news that really over represents certain aspects of the struggle and attempts to divide people in a way that the movement has refused to allow it. Characterizing the movement as violent, as extremists, as all outside agitators, all of these tired narratives are things that the AJC has been part of helping produce.

This is because they’re interested in also pushing the massive narrative we’re seeing nationally around “the crime wave” and fear mongering around police resources. They call it, you know, “first responder resources” and “a crackdown on crime”. This is part of the local media ecology, but in response to this repression, as I mentioned earlier, the AJC just put out an article questioning the legitimacy of the application of domestic terrorism in this instance. Also, we’re just seeing this type of coverage coming out from a lot of new sources. There’s been a really massive influx of interests, Al Jazeera, or AJ+, [who] just put out a really good video where they explore some of the local political dynamics. On social media there’s been a huge outpouring of support for the struggle. It’s been really beautiful to see a lot of outrage on behalf of the arrestees, and people really being galvanized by this level of undue repression. The tree sitters, who have been a really massive symbol, and really an inspiration to so much of the movement and to its supporters, being attacked by the police is really outraging people. It seems like that’s translating into a lot of support.

But on the other hand, we’ve also seen on Twitter which is really having this whole moment with Elon Musk, dictatorial banning of people who are talking shit about him on Twitter, and his collusion with the right wing, with Andy Ngo, namely. We saw Andy Ngo — who’s occasionally tried to drum up some animosity towards this movement on Twitter, directing information about it to Elon Musk. And actually this happened on Wednesday or Thursday of this past week and then, just a few hours later, It’s Going Down — which has been one of the platforms that’s shared a lot of information about the movement, and published articles that people have written and perspectives on the struggle for many months now — It’s Going Down was was banned from Twitter and their account was taken down. And then this is the same period of time that Twitter is banning all of these different journalists that report on technology, that report on financial interests and how decisions get made. It’s definitely of concern to us as well, about what type of attention this might bring towards political activists and platforms for media, similar to It’s Going Down.

In addition to that there is a whole aspect of this movement which is positioning itself against the world offered to us by the tech giants and by the interests of the billionaires. There is also this part of it. The fight has been largely about cop city, but just also massively people mobilizing against the interests of Hollywood, in gentrifying and displacing people in Atlanta in the same way that giant tech companies have done in other major cities, especially in majority-Black cities across the country.

Beyond the displacement of people from their physical homes, from their neighborhoods, from patches of a forest and parkland, in cities across the country, we also have an aspect of the struggle which says, “We reject the life of the virtual reality of just, like, ‘Netflix and zone out’ that’s what life is confined to”. And this is all that is offered to many people in exchange for selling all of your life, your time, your data, your labor, and in an economy where this is enforced by a racist policing apparatus.

So, that’s a kind of interesting convergence of different aspects of the struggle. I think, there are so many different things that have spoken to people and we’re seeing this overreach by the police investigations, really, likely at the request of their funders and actors of the project, is backfiring or are really fired up about.

TFSR: This movement has grown pretty wide and gotten a lot of coverage inspiring resistance in other places, like I mentioned. And I’ve heard that some of the investors have backed out of the project. You mentioned that the police are going hard now because it seems like they’ve been embarrassed by the movement’s success. Can you talk a little bit about the success of the movement to defend the forest?

S: Yeah, so I think that this movement has drawn out the lines that connect the issues that many are deeply familiar with. Between ecological struggles, anti racist struggles and abolitionist struggles, struggles against the police, and also against displacement and gentrification. One of the successes of the struggle to defend the forest has been articulating how all of those things fit in together, and also from drawing on a really broad understanding of what the movement can be, and all the different people that have a stake in this fight. To push back on the narrative that we see used for counterinsurgency purposes, time and time again, that says, “the only people who can fight in protest, in a struggle are this narrowing set of people”. It promotes the false idea that there are the “right” actors to fight for issues of justice.

In fact, issues of justice and injustice are of consequence and importance to everybody. It’s a lie that there are some people who have more of a right to struggle than others. In fact, the construction of Cop City is something that concerns everybody and the movement has been really clear about inviting participation from anyone who feels moved to defend the forest and to fight the expansion of the Police Training Center and the Hollywood studios.

Some of the other successes have been really broad participation, sustained resistance that’s been resilient in the face of heavy attempts by police to control the forest, to displace people from the protest encampment and to discourage participation in this movement. We’ve seen time and time again that when the police act to suppress this movement it strengthens and it grows. That is a testament to how seriously people take this issue, the willingness and bravery in the face of police intimidation and violent tactics like what we saw in the woods this week. There’s a really strong sense of determination from participants in this movement to fight for what is right. And I think that that is a huge success. I hope it only grows from here.

TFSR: So how can listeners be supporting those who caught charges in the wider movement against Cop City and the film studios and for the forest? I’ve seen on social media posts that there are ways to support the arrestees — sending books, sending letters and such, and I’ll definitely post some of that to show notes — what are some good news sources to keep up with, in your estimation?

S: You can support the movement by following what’s happening, there are a few different platforms to follow. There’s wDefendAtlantaForest on Instagram, Telegram, Twitter, it has a website. There’s StopCopCity also on Instagram and Twitter. Community Movement Builders, a local organization in Atlanta that’s heavily involved in the movement, they have their own information. The Stop Reeves Young campaign, or the SRY campaign, has information about those who are involved in the construction of Cop City and contracted by the Atlanta Police Foundation. So there’s information on all of those.

The Atlanta Solidarity Fund is providing information about the arrests, and financial support for the arrestees can go to the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which is a politically oriented bail fund and legal support fund here in Atlanta. They’re amazing, they do really good work. You can also support by raising awareness about this issue, about the arrests and repression of environmental activists in Atlanta in your own context, having an info night, organizing a letter writing. There are prosecutors and district attorneys, the Georgia Attorney General who have purview over this case, and I’m sure would hear from people who take issue with the broad application of domestic terrorism go apply to these activists.

Stop Evictions at Winnemucca Indian Colony

Stop Evictions at Winnemucca Indian Colony

Kyle's family home boarded up by order of Winnemucca Tribal Council, snow surround it
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On Tuesday, December 13th, I spoke with Kyle Missouri, a resident of the Winnemucca Indian Colony in Humboldt County, Nevada where a longstanding conflict between residents and the Winnemucca Tribal Council has come to a head recently with the evictions of elders, youths, and other residents into the snow. We talk about his family’s roots in the Indian Colony, some background on the place and the conflict with the so-called Roja Council, the contested lithium mine at Thacker Pass and the court challenge to evictions, banishment and house demolition this Thursday, 12/15/22. Check our show notes for links to other sources of information, ways you can show up and places you can donate.

  • You can follow Kyle on facebook under the name Kyle Missourii (like the state with an extra ‘I’ at the end)
  • Also see interviews with Elders who’ve been evicted and updates on Instagram at @Neweneensokopa
  • Learn more about background and legal support by following Water Protector Legal Collective on social media and more at linktr.ee/waterprotectorlegal
  • And donate to the cashapp for supporting displaced families at $defendWIC. They’re looking for more lawyers who can support the efforts as well as journalists who can be on the ground and talking about this situation or reaching out for interviews.
  • You can watch the court hearing this Thursday linked in the latest update at Water Protector Legal Collective’s website, waterprotectorlegal.org
  • Kyle’s recent interview with The B&B Indigenous Podcast (appearing about an hour 8 minutes in)

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Featured Track:

  • Skirmish (Niveau Zero Remix) by Filastine from Looted

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Transcription

The Final Straw Radio: Could you please introduce yourself for the audience with any name, location information, preferred gender pronouns, anything that will help get the audience awareness of who you are?

Kyle Missouri: Yeah, no problem. My name is Kyle Missouri. I was born in Winnemucca, Nevada. The first few years of my life, I lived in McDermott. But then I moved back to Winnemucca because that’s where my grandma’s lives, and she has a house there. So that’s where I grew up. And at the moment, I’m unemployed, because it’s been stressful and I’ve been worried about leaving my house, because there were points, with this whole thing going on, that people were afraid their house might just get destroyed when they’re gone.

TFSR: Yeah. And so like, this is kind of just going to be standing alone, I can do a little introduction, but for the sake of introduction to what’s been happening, can you talk a bit about why you’re afraid of house destruction or eviction going on? And, yeah, you’ve already mentioned that your grandma lives there, but you also live there as well, right?

KM: It’s actually considered her main residency, because it’s her house, that’s where she gets her mail and stuff, too. But she stays in Reno, but in her daughter’s house, for medical reasons, because she’s 88 years old right now.

TFSR: But what happened this week, to make you afraid that a house is gonna get destroyed?

KM: Okay. Well, I mean, there’s a lot leading up to it. But specifically this week, what I believe it was December 2, we had a court appearance, which I didn’t know about until afterwards. And I assumed it was a status update on the ongoing court case that’s been going on. But to my surprise, I learned later on, from Facebook, that there was an order put in place for evictions, banishment, and a fine of $100 a day starting from December 11, 2021. So right now it’s over $36,000. And they’ve known just to come in and do whatever they want, make up rules and just go by him.

TFSR: So can you give some context for the Winnemucca Indian colony? Like, what the deal is with it, how it came to be? Who all lives there and the like?

KM: Yeah. See, the Winnemucca Indian Colony has been there for a long time, even before what they’re saying. It’s a spot where Native Americans have always been, but they didn’t take a census on it and try to establish a colony until I believe 1916, where they had a list of people who are living there and names. But originally, the colony — or reservation I believe it was at first — was a two spots that was purchased outside of the town of Winnemucca. But there was nothing out there, people couldn’t live out there, and it was too far from town to work. So later on, I believe 1928, around that time the president bought a parcel of land from the railroad company for homeless Native Americans in Nevada.

TFSR: Can you talk about some of the nations that live around there? And like when you say “homeless Native Americans” does that mean that folks that were kicked off of reservations, or that whatever lands were “given” were sort of retracted for the railroad? Or how does that work?

KM: Well the biggest reservation closest to Winnemucca would be Fort McDermott, which was originally a US Army fort during the roundup of Native American people. So they settled a lot of them there. And then once things kind of eased up, you know, from the government, Native Americans kind of just spread out, looking for work and places to live. And a lot of them ended up in McDermott. And there was a people, originally they called them the “sagebrush eaters”, and they used to live in that area, because it’s a range called the Santa Rosa mountains. They have the Humboldt River right there where they fished and caught ducks and stuff like that for nutrition. But in this area, it’s mostly Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute. And that’s a majority of this area, the Great Basin Native’s,

TFSR: If you have an answer to this, that’d be super helpful, but in terms of like, what’s the difference between a colony reservation? Is there one, or is it just like the size?

KM: See for my understanding is a reservation is like a larger land spot given to the Native Americans to establish a settlement basically, and a colony is something like within city limits,

TFSR: Oh okay.

KM: Because like, there’s a few colonies here in Nevada. One of them is in Reno, which is the Reno-Sparks Indian colony, and it’s like, right inside town and city limits, just a certain little spot that is established. And another good example is Ely, Nevada. They have two separate portions kind of like Winnemucca does, they have a reservation and they have a colony. The colony is right there in the middle of the town by the main street. And the reservation is just on the outskirts of the town.

TFSR: You mentioned the lawsuit at the beginning and that being the cause of these evictions that are happening and that have been escalating recently. Can you talk about what the lawsuit revolves around and who’s engaged in it and against whom?

KM: Okay, well, the main lawsuit, I believe, is just for the right to who controls the Winnemucca Indian colony, who has been established as the council and trying to find who actual members of the colony are. Because they’re basing the registration — I haven’t seen the registration — but they’re saying that it’s based on people who descend from the Native Americans who were here in 1916, who took the census, and who are at least a quarter blood Paiute or Shoshone, who don’t have any lands on any other reservation.

And the people who are fighting us as the residents, her name is Judy Rojo, her daughter Misty Dawn Rojo, and they have a contractor by the name of Bob McNichols. And apparently he was a longtime employee of the BIA, and he owns a company called RezBuilders. And they’re against the residents who’ve been here, and some of these residents were provided agreements with the council to move here. Because they were trying to fill the spots up to establish a government for the Winnemucca Indian colony.

TFSR: And so you mentioned the BIA, so that’s the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and that’s kind of like, the management agency by the federal government of Indigenous communities that are recognized, right?

KM: Yes.

TFSR: And police force, and whatever, that imposes federal law.

KM: Yes.

TFSR: So for instance, I think, to give an example of your grandma, you had mentioned in that B & B Indigenous podcast the other day that she had gotten the opportunity to buy her residence in the colony, and had paid that off, had lived in the community for over 40 years, had raised your father and raised you all, and now you’ve been taking care of her since then on that property. So she has her roots there. She worked in the hospital, as, did you say she was a nurse for a long time?

KM: Yeah, she was a nurse at the Humboldt General Hospital in Winnemucca.

TFSR: A lot of this activity revolves around representation and supposed autonomy within relation to settler colonial authorities. For the audience to understand about the question of “legalism” around that: can you talk about the Winnemucca tribal council? You’ve mentioned Rojo, she sits on it, but sort of like, anyone else that’s memorable, how they got to be there and where they live, and if they’re residents of the colony itself?

KM: Umm, with Judy, and Misty Dawn Rojo, I believe, originally from, not originally, but they have a property in Chino, California. There’s a guy named Shannon Evans, I’m not sure, I’ve never met him — I’ve never even met Judy Rojo or her daughter. And there’s a couple other people by the last name Magiera and I can’t remember the last one. But as long as I’ve been in the colony and I’ve been living there for almost 30 years, I’ve never met those people. I’ve never seen them. I don’t know who they are. I’ve heard stories of Judy Rojo, saying that she’s full blooded native, but then I’ve heard other stories saying that she’s a Hispanic woman. And the Magieras and I think Shannon Evans were considered caucasian.

TFSR: But somehow they came into the leadership of this government recognized tribal council that makes decisions on the property?

KM: Yeah, exactly. And to my surprise, every legal court we’ve gone to we’ve always asked, “Hey, can we get proof that she’s Native American?” Because as a Native American, when you’re born into the reservation and enrolled, they give you a CDIB, which stands for “certificate degree of Indian blood”, and it shows your blood quantum. Because a lot of funding and stuff like that — federal funding that goes to the reservations — goes by percentile. There’s a school in California called Sherman Indian High School that only allows Native American students in but they actually have to be at least a quarter blood of Native American.

TFSR: So like, I understand that to be kind of a way to prevent other communities from taking advantage, like making claims towards the resources — as meager at times as they are — that are provided, but like access to/profits off of businesses that are run at times, casinos or medical programs that are offered to members of the nation, right?

KM: Yes.

TFSR: So I think I read somewhere that the colony is about 20 acres. How many people have been living on the colony? How many people have resided there? Roughly.

KM: Right now, maybe a little less than 30. Because like I said, the colony’s broken up into two parts. The 20 acre spot is in the middle of the town and then I think it’s 320 acres on the outskirts of the town.

TFSR: The Tribal Council is technically in control of, in terms of how the federal government looks at them, both of those or they just for the, for the colony, like the small 20 acre.

KM: They’re actually looking at both of them but our concern is 20 acres because that’s where we live. That’s, you know, where we’ve been established for years.

TFSR: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense.

KM: And on the other outskirts they opened up a marijuana dispensary through federal funding. And like I said, with the blood quantum, it’s usually supposed to help cases like this. Fraud, basically. Receiving money under false pretenses.

TFSR: Did they open the dispensary as a tribal business that would go to benefit the common needs of people in the community, such as elders?

KM: Yes. Yeah, they even had a vegetable garden, too. Because there’s certain residents that are allowed to stay in the colony then. And then there’s us, the residents who are evicted and banned.

TFSR: Is that banishment and eviction based on their claim that folks don’t have a paper trail or that you’re just on a place that they have eminent domain over? What are they claiming with that?

KM: Well, a lot of times that they’ve asked us in court is if we’re enrolled in another reservation. Most of us are because there’s no enrollment in Winnemucca. But there’s no rule against dual enrollment in Winnemucca. But most of us are enrolled in McDermott, which is 69 miles north of here. A couple of people are in Lovelock, and I think there’s some from Summit Lake. But the people who are on the colony — I’m related to pretty much everyone there — but they’re allowing certain individuals to stay while evicting others who are against what they were doing.

Her basis is saying that we have no claim, that we don’t have any eligibility to be part of the tribe. Even though we do, my grandma was just telling me stories about her mother, who when she was a child, she’d come to Winnemucca and spend time with her brother who lived on Winnemucca, and their mom. And my great grandmother was born in 1899, so you can only imagine how far back it goes.

TFSR: Yeah, that definitely would predate the 1916 or 1928 dates.

KM: Yeah, exactly. And then she talked about other relatives, because there’s a list of actual people on the census. And she’d look at it and say, “oh, yeah, we’re related to them, we’re related to them”. And I’m like, “of course, it’s a small area”. We’re pretty much related to everybody in this area. I mean, I got family in Owyhee, another reservation up by Idaho, Pyramid Lake. I have family, Reno Sparks, I have family and Lovelock. I have family in McDermott. I have family in California, in the Pitt River.

But what she’s doing, it amazes me, it really is colonization unfolding in front of everybody. It’s non-native people — and we’re assuming non-native because they refused to prove it, even though every member on the colony could prove because we were given an ID card saying we are — but it’s non natives coming, taking Natives off Native American land to use for their own funding, for their own good. Because I don’t know what the money is, they got COVID money too from the American Health Program. And then they got an EPA funding to clean up the reservation and I’m not even sure what else they have.

TFSR: This conflict has been going for a long time, and it seems like the conflict around questions of legitimacy and tribal governance has been going on for a couple decades in terms of that tribal council. But the Winnemucca colony lies near to Thaker Pass, which is a traditional territory, as you said, like a number of Indigenous nations in and around so-called Humboldt County, Nevada. Importantly, there are deposits of lithium clay, and that industry and the settler state want to be used for things like phones, for laptops, for electric cars, home solar relays, like those are just the things that I can think of off the top of my head that lithium is getting mined for on large scale, and other so called like “green energy” things. Is there any relation do you think between the push to “cleanse out” certain people from the colony? Do you think that there’s any relation to the push to open this mining process, or do you think it’s just another tension in the community?

KM: I’ve never haven’t seen anything like that. But I’ve heard rumors and, you know, just speculating, just kind of seeing things that are happening, it did seem like that. Because there were rumors going around that she was going to destroy all the houses and then she wanted to build condos and stuff to help the miners go back and forth from work.

And then the timing was kind of weird, just recently, because next month they have a Thacker Pass argument going on. And we just get hit with this out of nowhere. At one point — I believe that they said, I can’t be 100% — but they said that they were for the mine. Then later on, when this started getting more outreach, they were saying, oh, no, they’re against the mine. And that the BLM didn’t confer with the Winnemucca Indian colony, because a lot of the people from the colony are from McDermott, who are fighting against Thacker Pass.

But like I said, we’re all related. So, it’s a whole family thing, everybody. We got people from Hawaii at Thacker Pass, we got McDermott, we got Pyramid Lake. AIM was out there. There’s a bunch of different organizations trying to go against that. But to me, it’s oddly suspicious how it’s happening. Because when you’re going to the mine that they’re building, or they want to build, Winnemucca is the biggest town to it. Because there’s Winnemucca, then there’s actually the town of McDermott. And it goes right to the mine, so either they’re gonna stay in McDermott, or they’re going to stay in Winnemucca?

TFSR: And it seems funny if the council, like, government that’s supposed to be representative of the community…there’s no consent discussion around like, “Well, what do you all think about this thing?” Doesn’t sound very democratic.

KM: Oh, no. I’ve seen a couple of meetings in McDermott when they’re talking about it, and it just seemed completely, from what I saw, it was everybody against it. Except there’s a certain couple that were trying to vouch for it. But usually what it all comes down to is just money. That’s the, that’s the main thing that happens.

I’ve read articles on the Thacker Pass, and out of curiosity I go and look at the comments. And then maybe 90% of the comments were just talking about money, or how much someone invested or how much they think they should invest or asking why it’s being postponed, “it should be open already”. And that’s everybody’s concern. They don’t care about, you know, pretty much tribal sovereignty. Because they’ve had an appeal set in for considering it a historic land spot for the Northern Paiute Shawnees. But that was denied by the federal court.

TFSR: Like they don’t recognize it.

KM: Yeah, they said there’s just not enough evidence to base it on that.

TFSR: In that same interview that I was mentioning, the Facebook Live that you participated in, I think it brought up the display of red dresses symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous women that were being displayed that were removed by either private contractors or law enforcement or something. And you talked about rumors, at least, that the land that’s cleared that people are being evicted from now, could be condos that would be used for housing miners. I mean, that’s basically what they call a “Man Camp”, right?

KM: Yeah.

TFSR: Can you talk about some of the concerns to your understanding of, like, why bring in the missing and murdered Indigenous women symbology to this and like, what people are afraid of with a Man Camp coming into the neighborhood?

KM: See the man camp, I think, I’m pretty sure that was debunked. There was a guy who actually had a record of showings where they actually wanted to put it. They do want to put in a Man Camp, but it’s not going to be on the colony. But I believe it’s going to be somewhere else. But it’s still dangerous. My brother used to work in the Dakotas, he worked on the pipelines there at one point, and he said guys will just get drunk on their days off, go cause problems on reservations and leave. He said they take advantage of the women there and abuse the guys and all that kind of stuff. He said he got tired of it. He quit and came back to Nevada.

But what the red dresses were up just to show solidarity for us supporting the missing and murdered Indigenous women. Because it’s a sad thing and it happens in these situations do lead to it. And the residents are ones who told me because I’ve missed it, but the residents are saying they’re tearing down the red dresses. And for what reason? If Judy Rojo is saying that she’s Native American, why would she do that? Why wouldn’t she approve of that? And we put it on the fences to show another sign, because Judy Rojo actually built a barbed wire fence, a six foot fence around the colony blocking people. Then at one point, there was a gate up there. I got locked out one time when I was coming home.

TFSR: Who was manning the gate?

KM: Bob McNichols.

TFSR: This private contractor who works with Rojo?

KM: Yeah. Like I said, he’s the owner, CEO, whatever he’d like to call himself, of the RezBuilders.

TFSR: Mhm. So getting back to the folks that were evicted — you don’t have to name anyone you don’t want to — but can you talk at least about the kinds of people that have been evicted? What’s happened to their property? And a little more about where are they at right now and what kind of conditions are they in?

KM: As of right now, they are surviving on donations that people have sent because of stories that they’re hearing or they see it firsthand. Right now they’re staying in a motel, in the casino, I believe. And they’re all there just trying to wait to see what happens.

From the beginning, one person last year, I believe it was, [her] house [was] completely destroyed. They gave her, like, a couple hours to get what she wanted and they destroyed it pretty much right in front of her. And in doing that, they actually punctured a fuel line, a gas line, and they left it open. Another time they were ripping a railing off someone’s trailer. They shut off people’s power, they shut people’s water off. They tore someone shed down. They just tried to clear everything out. And they kept saying that they have the authority to do it when they actually never did. And most of these people, like I said, are elders. They are older people that are on disability, they can’t work. One of them, he had a generator hooked up to his house to keep himself warm. I gave him firewood, when I had a tree that I cut down, I gave him firewood.

They’re usually on disability, Social Security. My neighbor’s on disability, but at least he got to stay because he’s not very mobile. And then there’s small kids. And I know a couple of them are on the spectrum, I believe. And they don’t know what’s going on, you know? They’re just wondering why they can’t go home. They destroyed a house last year — which was put on Facebook, a lot of people saw them while they were destroying the house — they destroyed it and they kicked the guys out. And then they didn’t allow them to get all their stuff, but they threw all their stuff on the ground and told them they could pick it up later.

Then there was a building on there for tribal meetings, stuff like that — they’ve had court there at times before — that they turned into a jail. They put in a wall, they put in cells. And I don’t even think there would be any kind of regulation on that. I don’t think that’d be approved by any kind of authority. Because you have to have certain things to be able to be considered a jail, and government operated. And I don’t think they’d even be able to do that in that small area.

TFSR: Otherwise, it’s just kidnapping.

KM: Yeah, it’s just locking someone in a house, basically. Or a building.

TFSR: I think it’s worth noting that, I mean most people are not homeowners, most people are renters in this country, to my understanding. That causes a lot of destabilization, and a house is a way that working class people can actually save some money for themselves or maybe build up a little bit of economic stability. And so going in and demolishing people’s houses without recourse is a terrible burden on people that, as you said, in a lot of cases are already on disability or unemployment or on social security because they’re retired, because they’re too old to work. Yeah, that seems like a really dangerous position to put people in.

KM: Yeah. And specifically with my grandma she was part of a program called the Mutual Help and Occupancy Program, and it’s for low income Indigenous people to actually purchase a house. And that’s what she did back in the 70’s, she got approved for it, she started paying for the house and once all the payments were up to pay for the house, the deed was signed over to her. But they’re still saying that nobody’s allowed on there but her. I was like, how does that work? She has family, she had three kids. And then right now I just found out today that they boarded up my windows and my door and my house, because I’m out of town right now. So I am going tomorrow, which is Wednesday, I’m going back, because that’s my expected time, and I’m going home. I don’t care what they say, I’m gonna go take down all the boards, whatever they did and go home. That’s where I pay my bills. I was raised there. I was born in Winnemucca.

But other people are probably gunna get it worse because they brought their own trailers here. Some of them did, some of them brought their own trailers here because they were told they could stay here. And the then-counsel said, “Alright, here’s your spot, hook everything up, and you should be good”. And that’s what they did. And now they’re just destroying them.

And the thing is, everything that they say is lies. And it’s amazing how they go through court. Because at one point, Miss Judy Rojo was saying that she was related to the past chairman [JJ Ayers], then she was just saying that the chairman was her mentor, then she went back to saying her chairman. Then she was saying who she’s related to on the roster from 1916, then it kept changing. And she just refuses to give up information to prove it.

And the thing is, that was asked by the Ninth Circuit Court before, they still never answered. And they lost in the Ninth Circuit Court. So, we’re still amazed on how this is still going on with these lower courts, because we just got lowered to another court from a CFR court, because there’s different levels of courts. Then I got the update yesterday that we have another stay on the order of eviction, on Thursday, which is the 15th, in the morning for oral arguments, to say this is wrong.

TFSR: Yeah, cuz the last day order was denied by a court and then they basically said, “Alright, it’s out of our hands until it gets argued in the next court”.

KM: Yeah.

TFSR: And in the meantime, people’s houses are being destroyed while it’s still being argued.

KM: See, I’m not sure if they’re being destroyed yet. They might be waiting, but they’re restricting access to the colony. Even the people who live in Winnemucca, the BIA was pulling people over without no probable cause, just because they drive on the colony to get pulled over. And they were arresting people. I’ve seen him tow someone’s car.

TFSR: Like, obviously things are going to come to another head on Thursday when there’s these oral arguments court proceedings. Stopping the permanent eviction of people from homes is paramount. And it sounds like from what I understand, during the evictions, the Feds from different agencies were brought in and some people are already facing charges, who maybe can’t be on the ground without facing additional charges. So, there’s already a bunch of people who would be there, at least protesting or whatever, trying to stop these evictions or destruction of houses if the tribal council decides to move forward with that.

How can people who are in the area who are not already engaged offer help? What would you like for them to do?

KM: Well, like I said on my podcast, the B&B Indigenous [Podcast], right now the biggest thing that we need is legal help. Because what we have is NLS, Nevada Legal Services, which has been fighting this case with us this whole time. It’s basically a public defender’s office. So they’re probably overloaded on cases, they got to go to different areas just to defend other people. So they don’t have time, especially in case of this scope because this has been going on for decades. Legal help would probably be one one of the biggest things so we can actually fight, even if we lose the stay, or we could still file more motions.

Which, I’ve filed some motions on my own when I first got involved in 2020 again, because I was gone for a little bit, and I wasn’t actually representing till last year. So a lot of the time I was getting advice from the NLS on how to do my paperwork. But now it just seems, like I said, they have case overloads. We just needed a lot more legal help.

And, of course, we need a place to stay for them. They’ve contacted Winnemucca, like indigent services, and they said they could help to a certain point. And we’ve had people donate already. But the thing is, I don’t know if the money’s being distributed equally. Not equally, but you know, but who needs it most and who needs what. Because they do have a Cash App, but I’m not sure who actually manages that, because I’ve never needed help with the financial side. But right now, they don’t have anywhere to go so they’re staying in motels and you know how motels are, they could be expensive. You know, they need food, they need water, shelter. They probably need gas because someone’s still got to go to the store and do stuff and with the price of gas nowadays…

But I do have a Cash App, and they’re saying that it’s everybody’s, so that’s all I have right now.

TFSR: And if you want to name that Cash App, then that’s great, I’ll put it in the show notes, too.

KM: Yeah, it’s $defendWIC

TFSR: And I saw that the Water Protectors Legal Collective is helping out on this and they’ve been doing some updates on their site, which is good. Which doesn’t mean that you don’t need more legal help.

KM: Yes, that’d actually probably be the better place to reach them because they have different setups due to legal reasons. I think there’s a link on there to show exactly direct support for the elders.

TFSR: Oh awesome. Cool, cool.

KM: So, people could just go to that, too.

TFSR: I saw one thing on social media requesting for people to come and witness, especially video videographers, people who could record it. And it sounds like you’ve been doing a lot of work to talk and get the word out about what’s going on. There’s also this this Instagram page where you can see short interviews, it’s @Neweneensokopa (Newe’neen So’ko’pa), that has a lot of interviews with folks and photos from the colony. But interviews with folks who are in hotels who have been evicted talking about their story and their struggle.

And so do you need journalists to go out there? And do you want other media to be contacting you? Like, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t heard something like this on Democracy Now! which has a pretty big reach.

KM: Oh, yes! Yeah. Last year we had a member who contacted KOLO 8-TV news which is out of Reno, Nevada — he contacted them to try and tell our story, but Judy Rojo kind of shoved her way in and just told her side of the story, and didn’t listen to any of the residents and then KOLO 8-TV just ran a story on it. And then even with the local newspaper, it was Humboldt Son at the time, I think it switched, but they ran the article too which basically showing favoritism towards Judy Rojo. With false claims of drug addicts and violent people and stuff like that. And I went on there and said “how are you going to say these people are violent and stuff when they’re old? They could barely get around, what are they gonna do?” But Judy Rojo insists that they’re violent. When that gate was up, she was insisting that they were ramming into the J rail or threatening people with a gun when nobody was even there.

TFSR: Yeah, there’s a couple of stories on the Nevada Independent that are pointed to from the Water Protectors Legal Collective, which I think seem pretty even handed, and sort of point out some of the points where the conflict is stemming from.

KM: Yeah. Because I’ve tried to ask the newspaper to run something and they were going to do it until Judy Rojo sent them another letter of what she wanted to publish, and then the newspaper said they don’t want to be involved with this.

TFSR: Yeah.

KM: They’re not going to run stories either way. So that silenced us at the same time with the community. We didn’t get an opportunity to say who we are and what we do. We didn’t get to tell our story, even though they just painted a bad picture saying lies and everybody seem to be believing them.

TFSR: Or the media platform was just like, “This sounds complicated. We don’t have the resources or interest in order to try to figure out who’s telling the truth in this”, or some sense of “fairness” of hearing both sides of a story, or whatever that is.

KM: Yeah, see, I was kind of assuming that too. And then that’s what I was thinking with the whole lithium mine thing too, because I think more eyes are going to be on that than anything, especially Nevada. Because they’ve had tons of supporters. And I’m, you know, I’m glad for that. And I hope they could get more because that’s wrong too. All this is going down and it’s wrong. And it’s all for money.

Native Americans, we didn’t have money like that when we were first here. We lived by what we had, what we took from the land, we only took what we needed. We didn’t try to take more than we needed to destroy the land because we’re a part of it. We don’t live to conquer, we live to be with it. Because that’s what we do. The earth takes care of us and we take care of the earth. But now it just seems like people are just destroying everything, destroying homes, destroying connections, destroying the land for personal gain.

TFSR: Yeah. Yep. And extraction and displacement are really, really tightly connected, right?

KM: Yeah.

TFSR: So, you said there’s the InterTribal Court of Appeals of Nevada hearing in the morning on December 15th. There’s information about how to get onto the Zoom call that’ll be in the show notes for this and that also is up on the Water Protector Legal Collective website for folks who want to see that, which is calling for a stay of the eviction and banishment, which that lower court already denied.

You’ve mentioned Cash App and sending donations, I’m sure that there’s information about donations for legal support for funding the lawyers, because it does cost money to file paperwork and do research. And getting videographers down there and media to cover this. Is there anything that we haven’t talked about in this, anything at all that you want to bring up?

KM: From the legal sense not really. There’s still, to me, there’s still a lot of hearsay. And I’ve tried to stay out of this for so long, like just lay low. I wasn’t trying to play the social media game, I was trying to go by the legals, get the paperwork in, get evidence, and hope for the best. But at this point it seems like that’s gone nowhere so that’s what I’ve been trying to do, is just get this out in the public. To let people actually see what’s going on, so they actually see what colonization actually is. And what it does. Right now it’s destroying these houses and these families. They’re living in a motel right before Christmas and it’s heartbreaking. They don’t know what to do. They don’t have the money, they don’t have the legal assistance, they don’t have much of anything.

The best thing to do is just get the word out, and maybe the right attorney, or anybody, could hear something and see what they can do from their point. Because I’m not a professional in anything. I’m not a host, I’m not a journalist, I’m not a lawyer, I’m none of that. I’m just one guy who’s just trying to live in peace.

But I think the main thing right now, because it’s snowy in Winnemucca, and it’s cold, it’s just to make sure they have a place to stay where they don’t have to worry about being in the cold, because they don’t have a homeless shelter in Winnemucca. It’s just Indigent Services. And sometimes they don’t even approve you for that. And the people in Winnemucca just kind of stood by and watched it. Probably expecting someone else gonna do something. But it didn’t work out that way and now look at it. They closed up the colony again, they evicted these elders, they evicted kids, and they kept a certain specific few who they like to stay on the colony, even though they’re in the same position as us.

They have no tie to the colony or this and that and they’re allowed to stay. Just because we spoke out against it, we’re the ones evicted. Just like any kind of tyranny or dictatorship that happened, you start speaking up against something that’s more powerful than you, they try and silence it.

TFSR: Yeah, and once people’s homes, with all of their family heirlooms and their, whatever, get destroyed, that’s not something that can just be replaced with a court order. A stay of demolition won’t bring back someone’s family photos, or the walls that have kept them sheltered for so long that generations have lived in together…yeah, it seems super time sensitive.

KM: And like you said, yeah, there’s no price on that, you can’t pay a price on a memory. I go through my house still and I remember all the old stuff that I had when I was a child. I remember when it looked like this, or when this changed in the house. Who was staying where, because several people live in the house: me, my little cousins, my dad, my great grandmother, my grandmother, my brother. Pretty much all my family has stayed there at one point. And that was the house that we all went to as children to play, that’s the place we’d go to spend time with family. It was always home. Now we’re in the process of losing that. Which we shouldn’t be able to legally anyways, we have all the paperwork but they keep denying them.

Because every Memorial Day, when I was a kid, we’d go to McDermott to clean our graves and pay respect to the ones that passed. Then we’d stay in McDermott a little bit, then we come back to Winnemucca and then all just sit there and eat and talk and catch up. Thanksgivings, we’ve had Christmases, and I’m sure the same goes for the rest of the families. They’ve had their Christmases, they’ve had family arrangements, they’ve had losses. Now they’re losing more stuff they might hold dear that that person left them.

TFSR: Yeah. Well, Kyle, thanks a lot for talking. I’m gonna get this up and out as soon as possible, probably won’t be before tomorrow morning, but I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me and I hope that this helps get word out. Wish you good luck and please keep in touch if you have other things you want us to pass along.

KM: Okay, I appreciate it. Like I said, anything helps at this moment. Just hope someone could hear it. I’m going back tomorrow and I’m gonna film it if they try and arrest me. I’m gonna put it on my Facebook Live.

TFSR: We’ll definitely link to your Facebook then. All right, have a good night and good luck.

KM: Alright, thank you. You too.

Defend Kevin “Rashid” Johnson + Anarchist News Segments

Defend Kevin “Rashid” Johnson + Anarchist News Segments

This week, you’ll hear four segments to the show. To hear the latest Sean Swain segment, you can find it at archive.org.

Medical Neglect at VDOC

Rashid smiling "TFSR 12-11-22 | End The Medical Neglect of Kevin 'Rashid' Johnson + Anarchist News Segments"
Download This Episode

First up, you’ll hear updates on the situation of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party by Shupavu wa Kirima, General Secretary of that formation and partner of Rashid. Rashid has been showing signs of prostate cancer for over a year and his medical visits and care have been clearly delayed and avoided by Virginia Department of Corrections staff and administration. There is a call for phone zaps on the VDOC, Warden McCoy & the rest of Sussex 1 prison to demand that Rashid get the treatment that he needs to stay alive. Updates can be found on the RIBPP instagram & twitter accounts, on Shupavu’s personal social media and RashidMod alongside his writings. You can contact the RIBPP about this effort via defendrashid@protonmail.com . Check the show notes for more links. [ 00:02:26 – 00:21:56 ]

Bad News Segments

Then, we’ll be featuring a few segments from recent months episodes of Bad News from the A-Radio Network:

You’ll hear an interview from the November 2022 episode by Frequenz-A with Lölja Nordic a leftist anarchist from the Feminist Anti-War Resistance from St. Petersburg, Russia, to speak about the international, feminist, anti-war movement against the Russian war in Ukraine. You can find that telegram channel at t.me/femagainstwar in Russian. [ 00:22:42 – 00:35:44 ]

We share an interview by A-Radio Berlin from October with ABC Belarus on the infotour they were conducting at the time. [ 00:36:08 – 00:49:06 ]

Finally, back to Frequenz-A with someone about the squat opened this fall in Slovenia known as PLAC, the acronym meaning square and standing for Ljubljana Participatory Autonomous Zone [ 00:49:24 – 01:02:40 ]

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Featured Tracks:

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Rashid Transcription

Shupavu wa Kirima: My name is Shupavu wa Kirima. I am the General Secretary of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party. I’m also Rashid’s wife or partner, whichever term you prefer. My pronouns are she/her or they/them. I just really appreciate the opportunity to sit down and talk with you and share some of what’s been going on with Rashid.

TFSR: Thank you. I appreciate you. I know this is obviously important to you as being partners and also being comrades. This has got to be a really difficult but obviously important thing to speak about.

Listeners to the show may have heard a couple of weeks ago, Sean Swain, a regular commentator, talking on the show about Rashid’s health situation. We were lucky enough to speak with Rashid here on the show some years ago. But I wonder if you wouldn’t mind reminding listeners a bit about Rashid, his work, his organizing, his writing, and just who he is.

SwK: Absolutely. Rashid is such an amazing human being. He served as Minister of Defense of our Party. He’s also a very prolific writer, he wrote essays and articles on issues that directly affect oppressed people. He has been a tireless fighter and organizer for prisoners and prisoners’ rights. And, as I said, just a revolutionary, is what he is. And what’s happening to him is something that is, unfortunately, very typical of what they do to our leaders, particularly our incarcerated leaders. And I just want to shed light and get as much attention on him to protect him and hopefully get him the treatment that he needs.

TFSR: It’s been cool – circumstances pending – that he’s been able to give updates on his situation via YouTube recordings in his own voice, which is great. But can you talk a bit about this health condition that he’s suffering from? How long he and his captors have known about it? And where he is or what that health condition is, what timeline do people need to act on that health condition?

SwK: Sure. Right now Rashid is currently located at Sussex I in the Virginia Department of Corrections. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer on July 1 of this year, after a biopsy that was performed on June 23 of this year. The problem being Rashid has shown elevated PSA levels in his blood work for at least a year before that, and no one said a word. No one has said a word to him. And we have been in a constant struggle, since understanding on July 1 of this year that he has prostate cancer, to get him cancer treatment. To date, he has not had any treatment for his condition and he has now reached the point where he is actually experiencing pretty severe symptoms and signs that cancer has moved beyond his prostate: bleeding and swelling of extremities, particularly his legs, to the point that he was not even able to walk for a while. He has been refused medical care at every turn. He won’t be seen inside the prison, and the medical professionals that work inside the penitentiary will turn him away and actually begin to be punitive in their response, throwing out his grievances, penalizing him for trying to seek treatment and to reach out to his outside supporters for help. So we’ve been engaged in a battle since July 1, when we understood that it was prostate cancer.

What they’re doing now is particularly evil. They are going through the pretext as if they’re trying to get him to his appointments. But each time they arrive late, so the appointment is missed. And this has happened four times now. Back when he first found out that he had cancer on July 1st, the doctor told him that he would be brought back to them within a week to two weeks, so that he could begin the process of figuring out his treatment plans. He would see a radiologist and an oncologist to determine if he wants to operate or do the radiation route. That was months ago, and nothing has happened. The last time that he was actually able to see the doctor was a useless visit because the doctor thought that he had had a PET scan and that was a scan that was going to see if cancer had spread outside of his prostate. Of course, he missed that appointment. So we still have no knowledge, and nothing has been able to be done. There has been no surgery scheduled. There has been no radiation treatment chosen or scheduled because we simply don’t know what’s going on. It’s become clear at this point that it’s the Virginia Department of Corrections’ intent, as well as the staff and officials at Sussex I, their intent to let Rashid die from this. I don’t know how else to put it, but it’s clear that that’s what’s going on at this point.

TFSR: To contextualize, you mentioned that he’s a prolific writer. He’s an artist, he communicates inside-outside. He’s a revolutionary. One thing that I know about Rashid that I think is interesting and that contextualizes this, it is not an irregular thing for people, let alone political organizers, let alone organizers of color, to be denied medical treatment. When we were talking before the call, you reminded me that Mumia has been systematically denied treatment for all sorts of issues related to Hep C from his blood transfusion in 1981. As well as diabetes and other things that are really easy for people to develop inside the prison with the terrible diets that they have. Maroon Shoatz languished with cancer for a long time, Dr. Mutulu Shakur is just getting out as a reprieve, probably nearing the end of his life, because he’s been sitting with bone marrow cancer for so long. And I think that it’s important to point to some of the reasons that the VDOC is choosing to make this decision and have this inaction. It’s an act of blocking him from getting medical treatment or getting the word out about it.

And so when I was lucky enough to speak with Rashid some years ago, I think he was in Indiana at the time, I might be incorrect? But if you could speak a little bit about the path of how he ended up leaving Virginia, maybe not the specifics, but this Interstate Compact System and the reason that state prison systems did not want to hold on to him, because that’s definitely a reason that I’m inspired by Rashid’s activities and organizing – his relentlessness.

SwK: Absolutely. Rashid has an overwhelming love of the people, more so than anyone I’ve ever met. And he has tirelessly fought for the rights of prisoners and poor and oppressed people. He is a Maoist, the theory of our party’s revolutionary intercommunalism. We believe that people are going to have to become leaders in their own communities and spread this knowledge that we have of what the world is like. And that’s what makes Rashid so dangerous. If he were just going around, jumping on guards and causing trouble, and doing activities that allowed people to find themselves pushed into while incarcerated, then it wouldn’t be so much of a problem. But what Rashid is like and him trying to pass that understanding along to the people is what makes him so dangerous. They want to silence Rashid. Everywhere he goes with this Interstate Compact Agreement, he teaches people and he spreads the idea, this revolutionary science that we can change the system, that the system that we live under is not insurmountable, even though this is the only thing that we’ve ever known. It’s not the only thing that’s ever been. He challenges the system, he challenges the prisons.

He started off in Virginia and he was shipped out of Virginia, he’s been to Texas, Florida, back to Virginia, Indiana, and Ohio. Now he’s back in Virginia. Interstate Compact Agreement is a thing that they typically use for politically aware or politically active prisoners to frustrate their attempts at organizing and separate them from their families and loved ones and supporters. And so he has been bounced around a lot. And he has now found himself back in Virginia. And it’s interesting because when he first went back this year, he was placed at Nottoway, which is a very low-level, minimum-security facility, which is used for receiving and for people who are part of work programs. And he was told flat out, “Do you like it here? We can make it easy for you. If you stop organizing, if you stop writing exposés about what is going on here. Just keep your head down, mind your business, and don’t make things hard for us, and we make things hard for you.” And anyone who knows Rashid knows that that was out of the question. He does not suffer injustice, particularly when he sees it being acted out upon other people. He’s quicker to fight for other people than he is even for himself. That’s what makes this current struggle so difficult. That’s why we have to fight for him. But he did not accept that. And when he got this cancer diagnosis, he began to agitate. And he began to allow us to agitate for him to get him treatment. And it needs to be understood that this most recent transfer to Sussex I, which is maximum security, may even be a supermax, if I’m not mistaken, but this was a retaliatory transfer. They told him that because of his exposing them not trying to give him treatment, them actually refusing and frustrating attempts for him to get cancer treatment. So they’ve been very clear that this is their intent to let this progress to the point where there’s nothing we can do about it.

TFSR: And from the state’s perspective, he’s a very dangerous man. Every time that he was getting kicked from one state to another, he left behind seeds of his interactions, his relationships, and reading groups or inside-outside groups and just frustrating the ability of the state to bury a person without any recourse to it. I assume this is at Notto or Sussex I, he recently wrote that he was being put into solitary or segregation there. Is that right? Is he in that situation right now? Or is he in the general population?

SwK: The last time I spoke with Rashid, he had finally made it to the level where they would allow him to be in the general population, but they had not yet made the move. And that’s because the warden there, McCoy, who was warden at Sussex II, I believe, when they had Rashid on death row a few years back, not because of a death sentence, but because they wanted to keep him sequestered and away from other people. Because, as you said, he’s going to plant the seeds of a revolution wherever he goes. This guy McCoy has an axe to grind. Rashid suffered beatings and abuse at his hands. And McCoy was worried that Rashid would try to get some type of revenge.

I just want to make this clear, we believe in self-defense when it’s necessary, but we don’t do spontaneous attacks or violent acts. We want to teach people and organize the people so we can change the system. He was trying to keep Rashid in solitary, but there was no merit in it. I’m not sure if he’s in or out of it at this point, because one of the things that Sussex I did to stop this push for treatment and support was they put Rashid on a three-month phone and visitation ban, while simultaneously telling him that this was a retaliatory transfer and that he has to stop going outside to ask for help for his cancer treatment. This is obviously an attempt to isolate and silence him. So when you do hear those recordings from him, that he’s been making, he will have to use a prison phone, but someone else’s number, have to hop on a phone to record. But we haven’t heard from him. He was reaching out regularly multiple times a day, they’ve turned off his number, and you have to use your prison number to make phone calls inside. And so they’ve deactivated it. So we get information when we can the best we can.

TFSR: So what are the demands that are RIBBP making? And what are the demands that Rashid is making immediately to stop his health degradation? And how can listeners on the outside facilitate and help that support your efforts?

SwK: Our demands are simple: we want Rashid to receive treatment immediately; we want him to go to the doctor and we want his appointments to be kept immediately. And that’s non-negotiable. We want his phone privileges and his visitation privileges to be restored immediately. We want to be able to see our comrade and hear from our comrade and know for sure that he’s okay. Just to see the condition that he’s in. We’re also asking people to make phone calls demanding this. What you can do in your own local areas, you can have phone, banking, and phone zap sessions with your friends, your neighbors, make it a group thing, invite people over, make snacks and get on the phones and get on the computers and send emails and make phone calls. We have to make it a problem for them, we have to let them see that Rashid has the full support of the public and the people outside.

I just want people to really internalize that and come up with their own ideas in addition. What can you do in your area, hold a watch party or a reading group and read some of his articles? And then, maybe do a demonstration, things that. But phone calls and emails to the Virginia Department of Corrections and to Sussex I have to happen and have to continue to happen until we get him to treatment. We’ve seen what they do to our leaders, our elders. They will let them languish and die. And it’s up to the people to support our leaders. We have to. There’s no other choice.

TFSR: I’m going to put a bunch of links into the show notes after this and read a few into the script. But a lot of his articles are up and some updates from him are up at rashidmod.com. Minister of Defense, I guess is what MOD stands for? Are there any social media handles that people should be looking to for updates and for numbers, emails, script suggestions, and stuff for phone zaps?

SwK: Absolutely. If you want to get involved, you can email defendrashid@protonmail.com. You can also check the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party’s Facebook and Instagram pages, the Panther solidarity organizations, Instagram pages, and our Twitter accounts. You can also follow my Twitter account. It’s @shushu_johnson. All of the scripts and all the contact numbers that need to be contacted will be listed there.

TFSR: Is there anything else that I didn’t ask about that you want to share with the audience right now?

SwK: Just the importance of really, really, really putting all of our power behind this and pushing for his treatment. It’s crazy that this person has just languished with all the complications of untreated cancer. I can’t even wrap my mind around that. Everyone’s had someone close to them, or that they’ve known, that struggle with cancer and everyone understands the importance of immediate treatment. And this is someone who has had this for at least a year, with absolutely nothing done, no treatment at all. So just imagine that. Wrap your mind around what actually happens to the body without any type of medicine, without any type of radiation or chemo, just cancer being allowed to grow in your body. And when you couple that with the conditions in prison, the food, the unsanitary nature of everything. It’s just a really, really, really hard place to be struggling with something that. And this happens on the daily basis. Unfortunately, Rashid’s situation is getting particular attention because of his prominence. But people suffer and die in prison every day. And no one cares. No one does anything about it. I wish I could say that this is a unique situation, but it’s not. It won’t stop until we do something about it.

But the good thing is that we do have the power, there are more of us than there are of them. But we have to use our voice and we have to use what resources we have, write those emails, make those phone calls. Reach out to us if you want to get involved, we hold actual meetings. We formed a Kevin Rashid Johnson Defense Committee. And like I said, anyone who wants to be a part of that, find me on Facebook, find me on Instagram, contact our Party through our social media, platforms, and we’ll get you involved so we can not just change things for Rashid, but for everyone.

TFSR: Thank you, Shupavu wa Kirima, thank you so much for having this conversation and the work that you’re doing and for solidarity.

SwK: Absolutely. Thank you. Thank you for the work that you do. And thank you for reaching out. This helps so much. It’s been comrades like you and publications and media platforms that have given voice to the struggle, and I can’t begin to express my appreciation for that.

TFSR: Thank you very much.

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Feminist Anti-War Resistance Transcription

Frequenz-A: We talk today with somebody from Feminist Anti-War Resistance from Russia. Maybe you can introduce yourself as you like, which pronouns you use and whatever else can be important for the topic.

Lölja Nordic: Thank you so much for having me. My name is Lölja Nordic. I’m a co-coordinator of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance movement. I’m from St. Petersburg, Russia. At the same time, I’m an anarchist, leftist anarchist, I would say, and I’m a contemporary artist as well.

Frequenz-A: For those who never heard that feminist anti-war resistance in Russia exists, can you tell us who are you? How long you’ve existed? What are you doing? What’s your aim?

Lölja Nordic: So we started our movement on the second day when the war escalated in Ukraine. And it was important for us to connect and unite different feminist grassroots movements all over Russia, and maybe even internationally. So now we are working as an international network of feminists and not only feminists, but leftists and queer groups who are opposing this war, who are fighting against this war in Ukraine. Our idea started when we realized that, as feminist activists and as people who have a lot of experience in terms of grassroots organization and grassroots networking, we already felt that we have the power of uniting people together and building systems of mutual aid. So, we thought that it would be a really important tool to start mobilizing people to oppose this war and to confront this war and that’s what we did.

And right now, it’s been already six or seven months that we’re working. We build a really large-scale system of different people with different skills. For example, some people are helping Ukrainian refugees. Other people are helping political prisoners and political activists inside Russia. Other people are creating independent media and spreading real news about what’s happening in Ukraine among people in Russia because there is a lack of information for a lot of people. After all, there is a propaganda issue in Russia, and Russian authorities try to block all independent media. For us, it’s important to create independent ways of spreading information so people could see it. For example, we are using partisan strategies, such as DIY newspapers, and self-printed newspapers, which our activists inside Russia are spreading all over the place, in their buildings, or at their student campuses. So it’s different large-scale work. And it’s all built on the grassroots level, with the people who have this activist experience. And some don’t have it, but they’re learning with the help of others.

Frequenz-A: On Wikipedia, you can read a part of your manifesto. It was written that you unite some 45 different feminist organizations. Did it get bigger, is there an actual number [that you can share]?

Lölja Nordic: Yeah, I think it got bigger by now. It’s difficult to say the real numbers because some people are still doing their work and organizing groups anonymously. For example, we have feminist anti-war resistance groups inside of Russia, but we can’t share information about them because it’s a danger to their life and their safety. And when we are counting ourselves, the groups who belong to this large moment, we’re counting not only the cells outside of Russia, we’re counting them inside of Russia. Approximately, I can say that it’s right now around 100 different groups, different sizes, and different amounts of people, but still, it’s growing. And we have our way to connect with people through anonymous telegram bots. People who are interested in creating a new cell, or a new group, contact us regularly. So we can see that the interest in making new groups is increasing.

Frequenz-A: Maybe you can tell us how your activity changed somehow after the 21st of September when the “partial” mobilization was announced? Do you make now something new? And do you feel that it has influenced society so that there is a maybe a way to stop this war?

Lölja Nordic: It was another trigger for people who are not identifying as political. I think this mobilization thing woke up a lot of people who were not that active before because mobilization affects everyone in Russia. So I think it was a good start to bring into the activist work, the anti-war work more people. We just figured out that we have to work with this issue and that we have another direction of our work in terms of mobilizations because a lot of people don’t know their rights and they’re panicking. They don’t know the laws, they don’t know how they can escape mobilization, how they can avoid mobilization without their consent. On the one hand, it is hard for people to understand what’s going on because they’re not used to digging into this information. And on the other hand, we have the authorities who keep threatening people and spreading misinformation to confuse people to get them mobilized. So our work as activists is to provide high-quality information about what is right, what is wrong, what the myth around the mobilization is, and what the real issue is. We’ve been doing this educational work.

A very bad issue is that authorities and the police started using mobilization as a new way of threatening activists, because when they first announced the full-scale mobilization. We had street protests all over Russia. On the first night of the protests, we faced situations when authorities and the police tried to conscript the detainees. So imagine a person getting arrested at the street protests. And in a couple of hours, an official representative of the army comes to this police station and tries to give these mobilization papers to this particular activist who was arrested. So they started using it as another threat. That’s when we realized that we also need to make our work of helping Russian activists to flee the country more serious because we had a situation where we had to rescue people who were at high risk of getting mobilized. After all, they were arrested at the street protests. So right now we’re doing it with other activists from other groups and trying to relocate people temporarily, so they won’t be brought to the war zone because of their activism.

Frequenz-A: I’m reading a lot about the situation in Russia and what’s going on with people after the arrest, and also the lot of torture which is going on there? And that often brings me to the question of where the limits are, what is possible, which kinds of protests? And at the same time, a double question is you’re called anti-war resistance. Does anti-war mean non-violence – even though it is unclear what non-violence is – but there’s lots of information about how military commissariats are burning, and some people destroy the railways. How do you position yourself? What are the edges of what are the anti-war protests in Russia?

Lölja Nordic: Yeah, I personally can say that I don’t consider these partisan strategies of protests, such as burning the military offices or breaking the railways as a violent kind of protest. We can make it clear by saying that those partisans in Russia and Belarus who are breaking the railways and burning up the military offices in Russia, are mostly anarchist activists, and those partisans are very clear about how to do this and how to do this right with no human victims in the process. So when they’re burning up the military offices, they’re doing it during the weekend, in the night, we’re when there’s nobody inside the building, so no person will get hurt. When they’re breaking the railways – there’s been already hundreds of cases during the last six months – and as far as I know, there were no victims because they’re breaking the railway before these exact trains that bring military machines to the war zone are coming. So these are not trains with passengers. These are the technical trains, so nobody got hurt.

In Feminist Anti-War Resistance, we support and we are standing in solidarity with the partisan movement. And I think that some of the partisans can also consider themselves as a part of the Feminist Anti-War Resistance movement, because of course, there are people of different genders who are doing this partisan sabotage work. Also, I think it is important to say that, speaking about nonviolent protest, it is difficult to say what is violence, because sometimes it’s self-defense. I don’t think that when you’re getting beaten by the cop or when you’re being surrounded by the armed police on the streets, and when you’re trying to protect yourself, people who are trying to fight back often get arrested, and they get serious criminal cases against them. But I don’t see opposing the cops on the streets as a violent protest, because I think this is self-defense. Because most of the people who are protesting on the streets are people who have no guns, they have nothing, they’re just standing there with their bare hands. And they have to protect themselves from the police who are fully armed. And there are hundreds and thousands of them.

Frequenz-A: How can people join you?

Lölja Nordic: Good question. We have our Telegram channel and Linktr.ee account, we don’t have a website, we have a Facebook page. The Facebook page is run in English. So it’s our main international channel of communication with other people because Telegram and Instagram are mostly in Russian. So if you want to join us, you can just type on Facebook Feminist Anti-War Resistance movement, and find our Linktr.ee and our manifesto and how to join a group of Feminist Anti-War Resistance in your city, or how to support already existing groups and share some of our materials and articles.

For me, it’s also important to say that, we don’t represent our groups in different countries outside of Russia, as some groups unite only with Russian anti-war activists. Our main goal is to interact with local activists in different countries and in different cities, mostly with feminists and anti-war activists to be able to think together about how we can oppose this war and how we can share our experiences, how we can build a stronger anti-war network where people share their beliefs in terms of gender equality and are against discrimination of all kinds. We also are having a big focus on decolonial issues. We’re supporting people of different ethnicities and indigenous people in Russia who are also getting twice as much oppressed when there are anti-war activists and when there are representatives of indigenous groups. So for us, it’s really important to find allies in different cities, in different countries because we think that only together, united internationally, we can do something to stop this war.

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ABC-Belarus Transcription

A-Radio Berlin: Anarchist Black Cross Belarus is right now doing an info tour through Europe. And our comrades also happened to give a talk in Berlin on 6th of October 2022. We quickly caught up with them after the talk about the situation that they’re facing and the current state of events and also tried to summarize some great parts of the discussion that happened after the talk. Some tips and tricks that the comrade who did the talk gave on how to win the next possible uprising that we find ourselves to be part of and turn it into a successful revolution.

Hello, Boris. So nice that you’re talking to us. Would you mind introducing yourself for a short moment?

Boris: Right. So as you said, I’m Boris and I’m from ABC-Belarus, I’ve been active in the group for quite some time. We’re doing solidarity work with arrested anarchists and anti-fascists in Belarus and people who are under different types of repression by the Belarusian regime.

A-Radio Berlin: We were following with great interest the uprisings in 2020. Now it’s 2022. What’s new, what’s the situation like right now?

B: Well, to make it short, the situation is shit. To make it a little bit longer, things are developing quite rapidly in the negative direction. There was some hope in 2020 and then 2021, that at some point, repressions will stop and we would get rolled back on how severe the Belarusian regime is or was. But this didn’t happen. Even two years later, there are still people arrested for participating in protests in 2020, and there are still people [being] tortured. And on top of that, the war in Ukraine pushed Lukashenka even further in the direction of Russia. And he currently completely lost political independence, Russians can go in and go out without any questions and this is also bringing the possibility of changes. So for us, it is now even more clear, although it was clear even in 2020, that without the fall of the Russian regime, it is hard to imagine the new political changes or political systems in Belarus or in other countries that are right now under a severe choke of Moscow.

This is another part that is affecting the situation a lot. Of course, the war is happening and the Belarusian regime is harshly responding to the people who are trying to protest or resist it in any way. People are also getting arrested for that, not like in Russia, where you have articles for defamation of the Russian army. In Belarus, you don’t have that. But you do have a lot of political articles and a lot of extremist articles that can be used to prosecute those who are opposing the war. And although Lukashenka is not really directly participating in the war, as it is, he is still putting a lot of effort into making this war successful, first of all, for Putin and for the victory of Russia. This includes also repressions against the Belarusian activists who are still in the country. A lot of people have heard about the railroad wars that were happening in Belarus at the beginning of the war, people who are sabotaging the railroad infrastructure to prevent the fast movement of the Russian forces. Those people are very harshly targeted. Some of them, for example, during detention, were shot in their legs. And there is a new article that was introduced that would allow the death penalty for those who are trying to commit terrorist actions. So, there is also a fear that those people will be prosecuted for those things as well.

A-Radio Berlin: So, dear listeners, everyone, keep donating tons of money to ABC-Belarus and keep writing tons of postcards, or even letters to imprisoned comrades and other imprisoned fellow workers in Belarus.

I have my second question, which happens to be the last one also. Comrades from Belarus said that they didn’t really expect the big uprisings in 2020 to happen. I was wondering, now that you have hindsight on the Belarusian uprising from 2022, if similar things, even with having different contexts, you’re obviously would be to happen, for example, this fall in Germany. I don’t know how, but people might just decide “We don’t want the regime, we don’t want capitalism.” What lessons did you learn? What should we be doing as anarchists in unexpected times of widespread uprisings in the society where we happen to live in?

B: I think what’s important is to be ready for everything to a certain extent, in the sense that those uprisings are not happening as a pure anarchist revolution, or socialist revolution, or whatever, even the fucking right-wing revolution. Although social movements are really booming, there was quite a mixture of political ideas and political thoughts. And quite often, the ideas that for some people took years to absorb, during those moments of uprisings, during those moments of social movements are getting taken up by huge parts of society very fast. People are interested in solutions. And to address that we actually have to be on the streets, to be with the people, and be also aggressive in our political ideas, not being afraid of us being anarchists, not being afraid of our political ideas and goals and dreams and actually present them to the people because I know that quite often, anti-fascists and anarchists and any progressive activists are afraid to scare away the people with their political ideas. You shouldn’t be. Actually, a lot of people are very receptive to anti-authoritarian ideas, they’re actually striving for an equal and free society. It is quite rare to find people in social movements who would be like “Yes, I am for a fascist regime, I actually want to go to the concentration camp, and I want to fucking die in the authoritarian regime.” People do want freedoms, and it is up to different political movements to define those freedoms.

So we, as anarchists, should present our version of freedom, how we see it, and what people can actually get from those social movements, from those social uprisings. And of course, this can happen anywhere, you never know. And the point here is not, again, to sit on your chair and wait for the perfect situation, but rather work with what you got, and be insistent and be brave and fucking active.

A-Radio Berlin: Another comrade involved in the uprising gave the following advice, in addition to that. We want to share it with you. Once revolution happens, be flexible, whatever you decided on collectively today, might not be the things that are actually working and/or needed tomorrow. So be able to find a solution on the spot for the situation that you actually encounter. Then print loads of leaflets, cause people are super interested in the moment of huge demonstrations to get some material that they can engage with. Share contacts, networks, whatever you have, if you happen to know a cool print shop that will help you print all the revolutionary propaganda, then print as much as you can and help other people who are doing revolutionary work to also do that.

Collect and spread as much infrastructure also, apart from context and networks, as you can, be it your sound system, be it loads of loudspeakers. Our friend and comrade mentioned that most people in Belarus were at a protest for the first time, they didn’t have a loudspeaker at home, but they were super grateful if someone was able to provide that, actually, for them and for everyone.

Another tip that we got was to learn how to talk to people. When you’re amidst a lot of protesters, learn how to approach people with what you think might be good tactics in a situation, or which might be a good strategy, advice on how to protect yourself from persecution and repression. Learn how to talk to people on the streets, but also, at the neighborhood assemblies, at the gatherings you happen to be part of, learn how to talk about the revolution, the uprising from an anarchist’s perspective, and learn to speak up.

Then, another tip that we got – keep doing what you’re good at. Don’t try to do stuff that you never did before. That was not part of your spectrum of action before the uprising because it might be that you happen to be not good at it. You might fail when trying the first time to arm yourself, but maybe other people who already have experience with that stuff are better at it, and can maybe teach you how to do it. Try to work with what you got. And be realistic with your resources and be content about what you can achieve with them. Keep doing what you’re good at.

But also, on the other hand, grab the moment of the uprising. Don’t follow too harshly on routines that you have that take a lot of time and space, but also see what possibilities the moment gives you and try to free resources from your everyday life to put in the revolutionary moment and the movement.

The last piece of advice that our friend gave us is, since we have, for example, already some experience with being in demonstrations as an organized group, we might know how to move, how to make collective decision-making, how to act as a group of people, and that something that maybe the other 500,000 people that are on the streets next to you don’t. So just try and find a way of showing on the frontline how it should be an organized group of people moving through the protests. Thanks so much again for sharing these. We are happy to spread this knowledge. Anything you would to add?

B: Yeah, as you were saying, don’t forget to donate. Don’t forget to donate to ABC-Belarus, for our work is not financed by NGOs or states or the CIA, although some people tend to say that we are CIA-sponsored, which never made any sense. We are working solely on donations and we need those donations to actually cover the costs of lawyers, to cover the costs of food parcels. And we are here right now in debt. And we do not have a plan for how to cover those debts apart from just working even more, and getting even more stress about paying off those debts unless people are donating and supporting what we are doing, and actually making solidarity happen, because that’s what it takes right now. A lot of money, a lot of people who require that money, and those people actually feel the international solidarity, when the lawyers are coming, when the postcards are coming when the food parcels are coming. And even not only the people who are sitting in prisons, but their families, their friends, their relatives, and all those who are outside of Belarus right now, all of them who actually receive that solidarity, feel that they are not alone. And I think that’s one of the most important parts of solidarity that people should never be left on their own in those hard moments.

A-Radio Berlin: And please share your website with us. Twice, will be best.

B: It’s ABC-belarus.org. You can also find it in search engines and on social media. And if you make a little effort, you will find the Anarchist Black Cross Belarus. It’s not complicated.

A-Radio Berlin: It’s everywhere. So thank you so much for your great work. And good luck to all of us, I guess.

B: Yeah, thank you as well.

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PLAC Transcription

Frequenz-A: Thank you so much for finding time to talk with us. Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about the new squat. We know nothing and don’t know where to start.

Jan: Okay, sure thing. My name is Jan. I am a member of the coordination and PR team at the new squat that is opened two Saturdays ago on 3rd September in Ljubljana. You can refer to me as comrade Jan. In terms of the squat, it is called PLAC, it’s an acronym for Ljubljana Participatory Autonomous Zone. Of course, the acronym doesn’t work in English the same way as it does in Slovenian. But I think you get the idea. Now, the way that we decided to structure our presence in the media is to present this as an autonomous zone that serves as a critical response to the ever-increasing gentrification in Ljubljana, but also in Slovenia as a whole, and the mass shortage of places where young people can autonomously work to achieve their dreams of self-reliance and cultural process. It mostly serves as a place where you are free of self-censorship and free of the ever-commercialized market. It’s an open place for anybody to fulfill their dreams.

Frequenz-A: Is it also linked to the eviction of ROG or even in response to the things the City Council is now doing with the former building of ROG? Are they making a kind of social center run by the state or the city in a really restricted way?

J: Well, our connection to ROG is just that a lot of people that used to participate in the autonomous factory of ROG are also participating now in PLAC but they constitute a minority of people. It’s a completely new generation of squatters and people participating in such things. However, we do have a respectful attitude towards the legacy of ROG but we really try to avoid seeing ourselves as ROG 2.0. So far, in regards to how the city authority treated the former factory, we have a bit of an advantage since the place that we are squatting is not in possession of the Ljubljana authority, but rather it is in possession of the so-called Public Tender for Collection of Binding Bids which is this government-owned public caretaker that seizes abandoned property and then sells it off to the highest bidder for their own since their sustainability. Thus, we don’t have to interact with the city authority which has been extremely hostile to any autonomous zones or squats both in the past and also in the future. Instead, we have to lead talks with this Public Tender for the Collection of Binding Bids, which is a bit more favorable, fingers crossed.

Frequenz-A: You have already described the idea of the squat, but maybe you can describe what it is, how big it is, whether is it in the outskirts or it’s in the center of Ljubljana?

J: The place itself is a former restaurant/pub that was used by a trade union of road workers that no longer exists. And then afterward, it was just a pub that was used by the general community in the vicinity. Then it was abandoned for 10 years. Now we are using it. It is roughly 80 square meters of space plus a very large basement area with a lot of different rooms that will be repurposed for art ateliers [studios] or an MMA gym. It’s not exactly in the center, it’s a good 15 to 20-minute walk from the center. And it’s located on what is generally conceived of as a relatively big street. However, it’s off to the side next to an industrial zone, and surrounded by a high-density residential area. However, the building itself is also surrounded by a lot of trees. Sort of a jungle, but this is just a consequence of years of neglect. A good consequence of this is that any sound that we emit from the place itself is muffled by all this foliage. To answer your question, we are not really in the city center. We’re not in the outskirts, we’re just in between area, in a high-density post-socialist residential area.

Frequenz-A: Do you plan to have residents or will you only use it as a social center?

J: Well, people are already living inside it. Every day, we have a collective breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s at any point at least 5 to 10 people are sleeping in the place, however, we are trying to increase this number, because it is vital to prevent sudden eviction or police raids or raids of security workers that the Public Tender for Collection of Binding Bids has hired to protect the actual building. So, people are living there, but the primary purpose is for it to serve as a social center.

Frequenz-A: Maybe you can also tell a little bit about activities you carried out there so far since you squatted it some weeks ago.

J: Yeah, of course. We have conducted a lot of picnics. We’ve conducted picnics both for people who are passing by, people who occupied the place, and also for the surrounding community because we generally want to keep good ties to the community and avoid any violent confrontation or disturbance of public peace or whatever. But other than that, we have also organized several concerts, from various folk singers to a partisan singing choir, which is a local Slovenian phenomenon. One of them came and gave a concert. We’ve also organized performances by a circus group that used to work in ROG and Metelkova, as well as various learning basic dexterity and practical things like knitting, welding, and things like this. And also English tutoring for children that cannot afford very expensive tutors.

Frequenz-A: Sounds really cool. As the connection with the neighborhood is a really crucial thing if you are squatting, how is that connection so far?

J: The general response from the surrounding community so far has been very positive. We’ve had a lot of people come over and donate old mattresses and furniture and food. It’s been pretty good. It’s been good very peaceful.

Frequenz-A: How is it to squat in Ljubljana? What [problems] could you face? What are the eviction risks and what are practices you can do to fight the state’s reaction?

J: I would say that it’s too early to say that the squatting situation in Ljubljana has improved. We had a general election this year and the ruling coalition parties were once invited to answer some questions by a group of a hundred NGOs. And one of the questions was “Do you support squats and autonomous places like Metelkova, like ROG? And would you support an expansion of such places?” All of the ruling coalition parties said that they are in favor and that they support this activity. But so far, only one of these parties has very openly voiced its support.

The prime minister of Slovenia, actually, funnily enough, texted us from his personal account on Instagram and said something along the lines like “I’m following you, I support you as a person but I know that it is only a matter of time before the property owner will enforce his right to claim his territory or whatever, yada yada.” He used emojis. So he was very down-to-earth with us about that *chuckles*. Just generally in Ljubljana, the main risk of eviction is the mayor himself that has been in position for, I believe, over 10 years now and he’s running for another term. He has been extremely hostile to such initiatives, he has very often threatened to put an end to Metelkova. He was the one that fabricated an eviction notice for ROG where he claimed famously that nobody was occupying the building at the time of eviction. He is viewed as this force of perpetual gentrification of the city, and he definitely does not support us one bit.

But broader public support seems to be in our favor, of course, with notable exceptions, but, as I said earlier, the surrounding community is supportive. The general public attitude is that these are some young people who have nowhere else to go so they created a place for themselves to create and to live outside of the limits of modern bureaucracy and commercialized living and creation.

Frequenz-A: Okay, thank you so much. We need to come to the end of the interview. But maybe you can tell us how the people can get in touch with you and those who want to network, do some mutual aid come for a visit?

J: Yes, of course. I suggest that you follow our social media accounts. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Our name is avtonomni_plac. We post our activities, our program, and our location is also posted in the bio, if anybody chooses to visit.

But in terms of help, any donations of old cloth, mattresses or furniture or light bulbs, cables, electronics, whatever, are very welcome. But more than anything, food is necessary for the upkeep of the kitchen and for daily breakfasts, dinners, and lunches. If anybody chooses to visit and lend a hand with cleaning and organizing, they are very, very much welcome. Anything else that you can do is share and get the word out. Because so far, the response has been so positive that we are banking on the fact that public opinion is this positive of us reduces the risk of eviction by a lot, and it is crucial for the continued survival of our little place.

Frequenz-A: That’s really cool to listen to such a cool history and successful squatting. It’s hard to believe. We wish you a lot of strength in the ongoing struggle.

And a lot of fun!

J: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Frequenz-A: Good luck!

The Legacy of Ricardo Flores Magón

The Legacy of Ricardo Flores Magón

A sketch of Ricardo Flores Magón at Leavenworth Prison, writing while looking out the window with the US flag flying, "Ricardo Flores Magón, TFSR, 12-4-22"
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We just passed the 100th anniversary of the murder by incarceration and hounding of Mexican Revolutionary anarchist communist Ricardo Flores Magón on 21st of November. For this hour or so, I spoke with Mitchell Cowen Verter, co-author of the 2005 AK Press book, Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magon Reader (also free from archive.org). We talk about RFM’s life, ideas and legacy.

Apologies for the sound quality, Mitchell was on wifi at a hostel in Cambodia for the conversation.

Other RFM Writings

Other pieces by Mitchell Cowen Verter

Xinachtli

Chicano anarchist communist prisoner of war Xinacthli, held by the State of Texas on some BS charges, had a support rally in Austin, Texas, on November 21st this year. There’s a link in these show notes to a recording someone passed us of him telling his story like a decade ago. You can learn more on his case at FreeAlvaro.Net.

Sean Swain’s segment on marriage starts at [ 01:15:00 – end]

Next Week…

We hope to bring you voices on labor disputes in the University systems and on the rails in the UK. If you’re subscribed to our patreon, you’ll get an early listen to Scott’s recent chat with Sophie Lewis on Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation.

Support TFSR

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Featured Track:

  • Corrido a Flores Magón by Ignacio “Nacho” Cárdenas (translation)

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with your name, preferred pronouns, and any other information about yourself that would give context to the listening audience for this conversation?

Mitchel: Sure. My name is Mitchel Cowen Verter. My pronouns are he/him. And for this conversation, I’m the author of Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magón Reader, a book about Ricardo Flores Magón. I’ve also published some translations of his work independently of that.

TFSR: Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to write this book? Where were you at, what was going on in your life? What inspired that?

M: That came out of a weird period of my life. We were squatting in Boston, and our squat got closed down. So I ran off to Mexico. There, on the beach, I met two Chilango anarcho-punks, Luis Cardenas and Jorge. It was the año de Ricardo Flores Magón, and they were like, “Hey, you’re an anarchist. He’s an anarchist. We’re all anarchists. You should check him out. He’s a cool guy.” And I was like, “All right, yeah, totally.” These were great guys, I trusted and honored them. I came back up to the states and visited a Zapatista benefit and was like, “Oh, here’s a book by Ricardo Flores Magón, I should check him out.” And wow, I was really blown away by how beautiful and intense his writing is. It’s so over the top in so many ways, I really wanted to carry the message forward.

So, a couple of years later, I had some free time and I translated his first play. He wrote two plays, and self-published, I made bilingual translations in English and Spanish with grammar lessons between the two. The objective was to get a conversation between two languages, two cultures, hetero-didactic-teaching-each-other message. I scammed copies at Kinko’s, and put it out with the stapler. A couple of years later, AK Press approached me about writing a book about him. And at that time, I got on a tough job at Berkeley as a person who calls and asks terrible research questions. I got fired after a month because I wasn’t very good at it. But I was able to get a library card. And so with that library card, I was able to put this together.

I was really helped out a lot by Lillian Castillo-Speed at the Ethnic Studies Library. Also, Ward S. Albro wrote, in my view, a biography of Flores Magón, Always A Rebel, it was very helpful and influential. He passed away this past year, and I grieved. A tremendous loss for the world of radicalism, of Flores Magón scholarship. He knew Nicholas Bernal, who was one of the Flores Magón’s comrades. Also, we lost another great scholar Sol Neely, who was my philosophical compatriot, we’re both as students of the work of Emmanuel Levinas. He’s the philosopher of the Other person. And he combined that thought of otherness with a focus on Lingít culture and did a lot of really amazing work in prison education, in Lingít culture, as well as French and German philosophy, which is how I know him.

TFSR: Thank you very much for that. Would you give a framework for people to understand Magón? Maybe talk about Ricardo’s life, a thumbnail sketch of where he came up and what happened.

M: That’s a pretty large question. So feel free to ask me any directed questions. But the history I lay out in the book is– There’s the colonization of Mexico by the Spanish in 1492, 15th century. And that brings the church, that brings the imperial power of Spain, and it brings the economic depredations of, I think, pre-capitalism. And that went on for a good 300 years. Then in 1810, Hidalgo, a parish priest lead the revolution against the Spanish, and Mexican Independence happens. Then in the 1860s, Benito Juárez, this indigenous guy from Oaxaca walks to Mexico City and becomes president. And he brings in all these liberal reforms, and here liberal means a bunch of different things. It means, on the one hand, eliminating or curving back the power of the church, but it also means a neo-liberalization of property. So along with the curving back of the power of the church comes the expropriation of not just church lands and church property, but also community property. So those start to get privatized under his presidency. Not really his fault, there was a group of Científicos, positivists who were influential intellectually during the time.

And so he rules for a while. And then there’s this ambitious general Porfirio Díaz, who was the lead general in the Cinco De Mayo, unseating the French. He executes a coup against Juárez and becomes the dictator, essentially, and brings back the power of the church. His governing principle was whatever is good for business is good for Mexico. So he really ramped up the exploitation, the resource extraction from Mexico, invites in the US capital, allows them free access to the mines in the Sonora and the north and tobacco and coffee in the south. And there’s literally slavery among the Yaqui in Sonora. I’m not actually sure what the tribes are in the south. Those people, natives, were conquered in the wars that he executed against them, and transferred to these slave conditions where they perish in a year. And then, there was a ton of harmful super-exploitation of the peasants throughout the Díaz regime (1880 to 1910).

Flores Magón was born in an indigenous village in Oaxaca, where people work together to support each other. His father passed away, and his mother moved them to Mexico City and wanted him to succeed in life. He went to legal school, which is an undergraduate degree, to be a lawyer. And there he started to write this newspaper called Regeneración, which outlines the injustices of the Díaz regime. And that, again, was the enslavement of indigenous people in the tobacco fields. The mines are different, that’s different labor exploitation.

TFSR: You’re paid in scrip, for instance, right?

M: There’s the debt peonage, where you’re always paid by the company, and you live in a company town. And so you’re always in debt to the company. So you’re effectively a slave of the company, and when you died, it is passed on to your children. That was the newspaper against the system, corruption of the judges, and the hacendados would rape of women. Multifaceted exploitation throughout Mexico.

TFSR: Can you say a word about the sexual assault being systematized through the political chiefs that Díaz ruled with?

M: I don’t know the details of it that well. It’s a pretty common practice. The dueño, the lord of the property pretty much had absolute control over the peoples who lived on the land. Díaz’s rule was an autocracy. Whatever the boss, the political boss, the governor, the judge said or did or wanted to do was– His word was law, and you couldn’t get around it.

TFSR: So maybe it wouldn’t have been dissimilar in some ways to the systematized use of sexual assault in slavery in the US against people of African descent?

M: I don’t know if it was systematized per se. In Mexico, they talked about a lot of impunity. You could do whatever the fuck you want if you have power. That’s still the case today. But it was more autocratic back then.

TFSR: Okay. Thank you.

M: So around the time that Magón issued that paper, Díaz made a statement to some newspaper saying, “Hey, I’m giving the church all this power again.” So that inspired some reformist people to organize against Díaz. And they started the Liberal Party. And here again, the idea of liberalism is to take back absolute power from the autocracy, and the church, but not necessarily an economic reform.

So first, they had to form the movement. At the first party conference, people were giving these pretty mild-mannered critiques of the Díaz regime. And, Flores Magón goes up on stage and gives an eloquent speech. He closed the statement by saying that Díaz’s regime is a den of thieves. And there’s a harsh silence. He repeats it. People timidly clap. And then the third time he says it again, and people storm with applause. At least that’s how the story goes. Magón was very daring and outspoken. And this landed him in a ton of trouble. He was put in jail numerous times in Mexico for being so outspoken, for publishing articles, once about a political boss in Oaxaca, I think. And finally, there was a ruling by the Díaz regime that if anybody in the country publishes an article by Ricardo or his brothers, the press will be dismantled and the publisher will be put in jail.

So, Flores Magón fled to the United States and kept on publishing from there, and not publishing, but also doing his best to organize the peasants and the workers – both the agrarian people and industrial people – into a revolutionary assemblage. How they coordinated, it’s pretty fucking incredible. It’s pre-Internet social media, I guess. They publish these newspaper Regeneración and deliver it to these small, agrarian villages and industrial towns. And a lot of these people were illiterate. The person who could read would read the articles aloud to them, and they learned the message, its revolutionary fervor, and what was going on around the country. There was also a solicitation: “If you had any ideas for reform or something you’d like changed, send them to us, here’s our address in St. Louis, Missouri.” And through that channel, they were able to collect all these recommendations for reform.

While that was going on, Flores Magón survived a couple of assassination attempts and was put in prison at least once. This is 1904-1906. An agent from Mexico broke into his offices and tried to kill him, but he jumped out of a window. So, they moved it to St. Louis, Missouri, and were getting solicitations from there. Agents were always pursuing him. At first, the Mexican government was sending agents, and then the US government was – the Pinkertons, Thomas Furlong, and private agents. So Flores Magón went from Texas to St. Louis to San Francisco to Montreal to Toronto to Los Angeles, all fleeing persecution, and landed in jail, at least four or five times in Mexico and the US for his political activities.

Anyways, that’s a big part of the story. He spent a third of his life in jail because he was so outspoken against the depredations of the state and capitalism. In 1906, PLM, the Partido Liberal Mexicano, published a program for reform. It was a huge list of recommendations for agrarian reform, land reform, for industrial reform, which really was unseen until then. And parts of it were so forward-looking that they became integrated into the actually quite progressive Mexican Constitution. Article 123 of the labor laws in Mexico is drawn from that initial visionary document. So that was one of the initial steps or achievements of Flores Magón, Partido Liberal Mexicano, and his cohorts.

TFSR: And then also the method that they used to draw that from their readership is pretty amazing for the time and with the resources that they had available.

M: It’s amazing for the time. There’s this whole network, special delegates, who are these people who run messages between various clubs throughout Mexico, throughout the southwestern United States, particularly along the borders of Arizona and Sonora. Those were really the hotbeds. And some of those states are really interesting. There’s this guy Palomares who is Mayo Indian, who also grew up in this utopian anarchist community. He was running stuff between the mines in Cananea and Sonora, and the Yaqui who were enslaved doing timber production. He attempted to assassinate the dictator, a really interesting character. Another is Praxedis Guerrero who ran between the mines. Lots of interesting characters were delivering messages to and from.

And then, people were somehow transmitting messages to the center in St. Louis, Missouri, and oftentimes Flores Magón was not even there because he had to flee for his safety. Oftentimes, it’s only Librado Rivera, another member of the Junta, who was taking care of the manual compilation of all this stuff. This was also their downfall in certain ways. Because, as everyone knows, OpSec is pretty hard and that distributed information gathering leaves open the possibility for a lot of infiltration on the spine.

TFSR: Even when you’re encrypting, like they were.

M: Yeah. And twice he was thrown into jail for violation of the “postal code”, which was probably sending revolutionary messages by post or perhaps interfering with another nation’s politics from the United States by post. They were reading his mail and threw him into jail twice for that.

That takes us to 1906. There were a few ambitious but failed attempts at revolution throughout these small towns in Mexico. Flores Magón goes to jail again in 1907 and then in 1908, even from prison, the Partido Liberal Mexicano was able to spur another set of revolutionary attempts, but those also were too scattered to really be successful. The 1908 arrests brought him into the focus of US socialists and communists and anarchists. People in the US started to speak out about the way that Flores Magón was treated, and then John Kenneth Turner went down to the Yucatan and Oaxaca, a few different places in Mexico, and wrote this incredible book Barbarous Mexico, which described in very unsparing detail the horrible conditions that these people in the mines and haciendas, the tobacco firms were put under. This whole thing about Díaz, the dictator who would go to war against these Indian tribes to seize their lands and if they fought back, not only was the land expropriated from them but the people will be sent to these slave camps, basically, and would be worked to death. Literally, they would die within a year because they worked unsparingly.

So, John Kenneth Turner became involved, and a couple of other prominent socialists became involved, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman became involved in their movement. But Flores Magón was put to jail even more. And then in 1910, he gets out of jail with a huge uproar, a huge celebration. Emma Goldman was instrumental in raising the funds to help him get out, at least once. This is on the eve of the Mexican Revolution and Flores Magón knew that it is going to break, he wrote a bunch of gorgeous pieces about how not only do we have to struggle for political reform, we have to expropriate the land and industries from the capitalists exploiting, the working class, and the peasants… farmers…

TFSR: Campesinos?

M: The campesinos, thank you.

Díaz was polishing the stuff, but the Mexican revolution breaks out anyways under this guy Madeira, who’s an upper-crust rich family liberal and only wants political reforms for Mexico, curving back the autocracy under Díaz, curving back in the church’s power, but still leaving in place the economic exploitation. And Flores Magón was like, “No, don’t follow him.” But unfortunately, at that time, because Flores Magón had been in jail for so long, he wasn’t really able to muster the military forces, to spread the political message, to have the tools at his disposal. So much of the organization, not Flores Magón, but also the organization in large had been infiltrated, different centers had been attacked and undermined. So they didn’t have the wherewithal. When the revolution actually broke out, and they weren’t able to mount a resistance unit to their own.

There was an attempt to take over Tijuana. IWW came out in droves to support that effort to take over Tijuana, to set up a base for the anarchist revolution. That eventually was beaten back by Madero, the Liberals who’d fought off the dictator. So from then on, the Mexican Revolution trudges on without Flores Magón, they lack his influence. With the military defeat at Tijuana, Flores Magón doesn’t really have a fighting chance. He’s putting out articles all the time: “Don’t follow Madero, don’t follow a leader, don’t put your faith in a person, don’t put your faith in an individual, this personalismo. It’s not only about political justice, but also about economic one, the land is for all, Tierra and Libertad, land and liberty. The land belongs to the people who work it, private property is the President’s expropriation and violence by the rich and privileged. That [abolishing] that should really be our goal, not putting our faith in leaders.” I can’t even remember all of the clowns who take power one after another. Madero falls, then Carranza, and then Obregón, and there are a couple of other guys in there too. But each one of them comes to power and it is like, “I’m the figurehead of the revolution.” Flores Magón repeats again and again: “Don’t put your feet in the sky. He’s tossing a game, but he’s gonna fuck you over in the end.” And that happens over and over again.

There’s actually a really horrible story about Carranza. Carranza cut a deal with the anarcho-syndicalist labor union Casa del Obrero Mundial in 1916. He said, “if you pledge your loyalty to me, I will give you union bargaining rights” or something like that. And then he sends them out, these so-called Red Battalions saying, “Oh, there are these reactionaries in the villages being controlled by this terrorist Emiliano Zapata.” And so the anarcho-syndicalist affiliated workers went to Morelos and destroyed the Zapatista movement, a really horrible story. That’s under President Carranza. And then immediately after Carranza does that, he publishes this law saying that anybody who organizes a strike will be put to death. Immediately, he breaks his promise.

TFSR: It seems in that instance Carranza was really playing off of the anti-indigenism view that the people in the countryside are backward, the fact that they were carrying religious signage and talking about God and stuff, there was a split between the materialism of the Industrial Age versus the backward age that the church ruled, and all these other dynamics. It’s a really sad story.

M: It’s a horrible story. So Flores Magón is publishing that stuff during the Mexican Revolution. But at this point, what’s really getting him into trouble is not the Mexican government. They have forgotten about him, and they’ve cut off their attempts to assassinate him, to put them in jail, to coerce the US government to put him in jail. Actually, that’s not entirely true, but what starts to get him into trouble is the US government. And they become more and more aware that he is publishing this radical anarchist propaganda. And during this period he becomes more and more pronounced as an anarchist, and this British anarchist William Owen takes over the English language part of the paper. Voltairine de Cleyre started writing articles for Regeneración, and Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman became more and more involved in supporting them. Kropotkin also comes out and supports them in their movement.

He was jailed at least 5-6 times, he spent a third of his life in prison. What finally gets him into jail the last time is when World War I breaks out and Flores Magón writes this article saying, “Hey, don’t go to war. The only reason that you’re going to war is to protect the property of the rich. There’s no ‘your country versus my country’ that nationalist fervor is an illusion. And it’s the plotting together of the state and capital. And basically, you’re fighting for your own exploitation.” That happened at a really bad time. So that’s 1917. President Wilson published these anti-anarchist laws and anti-sedition laws. And then on top of that, there is explicitly anything that is given any talk or any propaganda promulgated, which is against the war effort, that will harm the war effort is punishable by imprisonment and whatever else. So, RFM was so outspoken against the war, against capital, against the state is finally what makes him land in jail for an absurdly long term. At this point, he had been imprisoned-

TFSR: It was a twenty one-year term, I think.

M: Oh, twenty-year sentence. He’s been in prison so many times, and then lived such a rough life that his health was pretty gone, he would not survive it. And so he eventually died and Leavenworth in 1922, in prison for his agitation.

TFSR: Announced November 21. So we’re about to hit the 100th anniversary.

M: Right.

TFSR: Thank you for that exhaustive account.

As you said, it’s such a long and storied life that that person lived. And like you said, with the position that he was in with his health by the end of his life, there were times when he and the others were living on the run from 1904, or whatever, in Mexico. And then in 1905, they maybe had a couple of years before they started getting really chased down and then they were jumping up to Canada, and across the United States and all over, not being able to carry jobs because they were in hiding from Furlong or the Pinkertons, or the US government, or from the Arizona or Texas Rangers. So, eating very little, sleeping very little, in prison. He got sick when he first got incarcerated in Belem Prison in Mexico City for his early activism against the Díaz regime.

One thing that strikes me from reading through the biography that you published at the beginning of Dreams of Freedom, and also I read Bad Mexicans by Lytle Hernández recently, but there are all these critiques of other revolutionary leaders from Mexico or from abroad, like the New Times from France or whoever, saying like, “why don’t you go down there and do the fighting?” And none of them seem to understand the fact that his body, his eyesight is going, he walks with a limp, and his lungs are super weak. All of these bits of incarceration in the US, whether it be in Washington state or Arizona, or whatever, there’s always this fear on behalf of his loved ones or supporters and expectation or hope by the authorities that he will die in incarceration. Thank you for telling your story.

M: It’s insane. He has a prison in Mexico again and again and again and then goes to Texas. I don’t know how long he was in Texas, when Díaz sent an agent to assassinate him, one year after he fled Mexico.

TFSR: I’ve got a couple of questions pointing back to some of what you’ve talked about or some of the points that you made in other articles that you’ve written.

So, to go back to the PLM, the Partido Liberal Mexicano. A lot of the Benito Juárez era was under the banner of this liberalism, and over the decades, they had the struggle with the conservatives, who were closer to monarchists, or were into the church having much more control. They were definitely reactionaries that didn’t believe in any degree of even representational popular control. And so they had struggles around a series of laws like La Reforma. And this is where things like slavery were abolished officially, which is why there were so many struggles in Texas with Sam Houston and his bunch because all these Americans were coming down and trying to take space where they could bring their Southern-held slaves down to these territories. And there had been slavery in the missionary system, too, under the Spanish in early Mexico. So, these are super important reforms to push.

But so the PLM was developing as a movement as primitive accumulation into the hands of Anglo magnates, and Mexican aristocracy under the Porfiriato, as they call it, the Díaz regime’s time cemented, and seeing the displacement, enslavement, and murder of indigenous communities around Mexico, notably, as you mentioned, the Yaqui who were moved for forced labor to Oaxaca to work in plantations, and also were moved around. But though the PLM itself started off fighting for enforcement of those reforms from the Reforma era, which were won by liberals to defend two-degree indigenous land titles and an end to slavery. Can you talk a little bit about how the PLM engaged with indigenous autonomy developing during this time? They were actively engaging, trying to get Yaqui and Mayo and other indigenous communities to join the focus of the PLM and foment revolution with them, right?

M: That is true. I don’t know the ins and outs of how that all worked. There’s a really distributed movement throughout Mexico and the United States. There were powerful or important liberal clubs, and PLM clubs in the mining towns and indigenous villages. I think Veracruz, I’m not entirely sure who was with the Yaqui per se. I know this guy Palomarez was an important agent who came from this indigenous Mayan background, and the Maya are adjacent to the Yaqui in Sonora. So there was a lot of communication between them. I know that Tarahumara and the Cocopah, I may have that name wrong, in Baja California, were very involved in the struggles in Tijuana, in the north of the country. In Veracruz, there were a lot of indigenous clubs as well. I don’t know the mechanics though, per se, and how that worked. Other than that, copies of the manifesto and the newspaper were sent to the villages into the mining centers, read to the people so they can learn about these ideas or learn about this program, work towards it, and they are constantly being solicited for their ideas and opinions. There are always news stories being published about their despoliation and degradation and exploitation. There were various agents and writers throughout all of these locales writing about and agitating for liberation.

TFSR: It’s funny to talk about the liberal movement and or the Liberal Party when talking about Ricardo Flores Magón, but no person is one set of ideas throughout their life. People develop, they grow, and they change for the better or the worse. But so RFM and his siblings and other comrades came up with this liberal framework – identifying the rights of the individual, the rights to have a say in governance, the right to a private holding of property as a defense against dictators or what have you. And his ideas – and those of everyone with him – developed over a long time. But they continued calling themselves liberal. You point out in private letters that Ricardo sent to his brother Enrique disclosing his anarchist ideas, but wanting them to keep them under wraps in Regeneracion and in the work of the junta of the PLM (the organizing committee of the Partido Liberal Mexicano) so as not to alienate the other junta members and the wider PLN membership. And this seems a double bind. It’s been pointed to by you, by other authors, and by people later on in his life. This also helped to keep RFM and the other junta members safer from prosecution under proto-“Red Scare” laws in the US, such as the 1903 Anarchist Exclusion Act, aka the Immigration Act of 1903. But if there’s this presumption that it’s going to alienate the members of the wider group, but if he wants to participate in this liberatory movement that he believes should be participated in by each individual in their communities as liberated individuals, it’s this difficult position.

How do we not alienate the existing people that have these ideas? And how do we also not put ourselves into undue pains of losing solidarity from a socialist left or getting imprisoned by the country we’re trying to agitate from. But simultaneously, they’re not actively by name planting these ideas in the Mexican consciousness… And yet there was an anarchist influence in the Mexican Revolution, whether it be the anarchistic ideas that Zapata and company promoted or tragically, their enemies in the Casa del Obrero Mundial and their syndicalism. A lot of these people had read Regeneración or its related papers for a long time. And this helped to plant the seeds of what would later become the Mexican Revolution. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about your views of where you think he was coming from. And what, in your understanding, the impact of that was?

M: It’s a complicated question. The liberal movement in Mexico – I’m not an expert in it – but it’s variegated. And a really important thing is, there was this guy, Benito Juárez, who was an indigenous, dark-skinned guy, who walked from Oaxaca to Mexico, became the president, and made popular education a right for all people, who really did struggle for the rights of the people. At the same time, though, the liberal movement came with other aspects. As well as, fending off authoritarianism and also promoted the acquisition of private property. So, it’s a complicated movement.

Identifying yourself with the liberalism of Juárez, the great indigenous president of Mexico, who really fought for the people, is a good thing. And you seem to be very aware of all the great things that the liberal movement and La Reforma did for the people of Mexico. So I don’t want to downplay that. Anyways, why did Flores Magón identify as a liberal and when did he? That is a good question. In 1901, the liberal movement per se restarted. It was the 1860s under Juárez, and then there was this dictator, the conservative Díaz Porfiriato. In 1901, there’s this coalition of wealthy liberals and more radicals, like Flores Magón. It’s a pretty broad-based movement, politically at least, and they were all dedicated to the singular goal which was getting rid of the dictator who was bringing this unimaginable suffering and degradation to the people of Mexico, expropriating the land, enslaving the people, etc, etc. So, I think that coalition was politically important for the immediate aim of getting rid of the dictator.

By at least 1902, Flores Magón was publishing the Conquest of Bread in translation, or he commissioned a paper to do so. By 1901, not Flores Magón but other so-called liberals had read and were aware of anarchists thinking from Proudhon and Kropotkin and others. By 1906, Flores Magón published a manifesto of the Partido Liberal Mexicano, compiled all this stuff from all these campesinos and industrial workers, these broad-based and not only reformist but also nationalist plan – credible, progressive things and details that really would have benefited in a very dramatic way the rights of the people, the labor rights, land rights, etc. It wasn’t an anarchist document at that point. It was focused on reforms and making concrete changes in people’s lives that would have really benefited their material condition. That’s decent. I have no problem with that.

At the same time, though, Flores Magón was becoming more and more anarchist or maybe always was anarchist. But he wasn’t open about it. In 1908, we have proof of this. He writes this letter to his brother and to Praxedis Guerrero saying, “We have to keep on with a revolutionary agitation and everything we do has to be anarchist. We have to be always promoting the expropriation of property, the destruction of the state, and the destruction of the church, but we have to go under the guise of liberalism. Because if we are too open about our anarchism, we are going to frame off our supporters who think of anarchism as violence and destruction.” Maybe today, anarchism has a better reputation than has had for a long time but anarchism is commonly associated with mindless destruction.

Now, why did Flores Magón do this? Was it a bad call or not? At this point, Flores Magón had already alienated the rich liberals. Camilo Arriaga, who is this rich landowner, and Francisco Madero, who was also a rich landowner. They were already like, “This guy is radical wacko.” So, why did he hold it back from the workers? Why did he hold it back from the campesinos? Was it a good call or not? A lot of people have said, “No, actually, the people were ready for more radical messages. People had suffered the depredations of capitalism, of the state, of the church. There was literally enslavement, there was dead slavery, slavery in the company stores, and slavery on the plantations. People were perhaps already ready for these messages.” But not all the people, and there’s such a goddam broad scope of membership distributed across two countries that not only am I sure that it would have alienated people, but it did alienate people. When he came out as an anarchist or at least became more forward in his anarchist ideas, he lost a considerable amount of support from the US socialist left. Eugene Debs and Samuel Gompers backed off from him. And then in Mexico, too, there were some key figures, Juan Sarabia, Teresa Lara (I think, but I might be wrong about that )backed off of him and said, “No, you’re a little bit too radical.”

So, in the end, I would hope to believe that he should have been more forward, and more open about his actual political aspirations, and people would have responded to them. And, as you bring up yourself, the Zapatista movement did pick up on it. There were channels of communication between the Magónista movement and the Zapatista movement. They had read his literature, they were using his language. Other people throughout Mexico had read Regeneración and were ready for it. And when the Mexican Revolution did break out under Madero, there was a significant amount of confusion about Madero’s relationship with Flores Magón. Madero actually put out this myth that it’s the same movement that worked for the same aims. “Flores Magón is going to be my vice president.” So there were actually anarchists fighting for Madero, because they believed so strongly in Flores Magón, fighting for liberal reforms on behalf of personalismo. That’s why all these articles about personalismo – don’t follow a leader, become important – it was a little bit too late to make that distinction once the Revolution had broken out. He did it even before. Think about “Don’t put your faith in politicians.” But, at that point, I hink he hobbled himself in his own possibilities for his own anarchist vision of the Mexican Revolution by not sufficiently propagating his message beforehand.

TFSR: Yeah. I guess I can only speculate so much. But as a media producer, myself, I can see this idea of “Well, I gotta curate the message so that I don’t push too many people away, don’t blow their minds too much. But, you’d wean them on this,” which is patronizing.

I wonder if you could talk about the personalismo, it’s a patronage idea. It seems to carry a lot of elements of religiosity to it. And the term “Magónism” is used by historians all the time when talking about him and was used by contemporaries to talk about adherence to or affiliates of the PLM, or to the anarchist movement. In the version of the essay “Persons die, but noble ideas are eternal” that appeared uncensored on the Anarchists Library, you make the point that this is what competitors of the PLM did during the life of RFM. Madero was saying, “We’re gonna announce that Ricardo Flores Magón is going to be the vice president, and we are Liberals, you’re already a part of our army.” And then also what his co-opters did – in the Mexican state, and historians have done frequently – but co-opters since his death attempting to bring him into the fold of the history of revolutionary Mexico that they claim the mantle of and that they present that they are in the long line of– Does that make sense?

M: Yeah, a lot of stuff to say. So, in his second play, there’s a character in the play. And he makes the declaration about how the people should be freed from capitalist enslavement, what have you. And the villain is like, “Are you a Magónista?” And the character says, “No, I don’t follow anybody. I believe in human liberty. I believe that people should be free. But I’m not a follower. I read Regeneración. It’s a great newspaper. But I don’t idolize this man, these are great ideas.” Flores Magón really had to make this point again, and again, especially during the Mexican Revolution, there’s figure after figure – first Madero, Carranza, then Obregón, Huerta, and a couple of others. And everyone was like, “Hey, I’m the leader of the movement. Trust me and I will put into place all these reforms that will liberate the people. Again and again, he said, “Don’t trust individuals, that’s like putting your faith in the state, in the church, in representationism. Don’t trust someone to represent yourself. Fight for the liberation of the people, fight for the reform of the land, fight for the justice of labor, fight for the right of people to live an equitable, happy, decent life.”

And a great example of this is the Zapatista movement. Marcos was the figurehead of the Zapatistas for many years, and people viewed him as the leader of the movement. And he had done a pretty excellent job of trying to fade himself out and be like, “No, it’s really not about me, I like to write these wacky essays. The movement is the people making their own lives, making their own autonomy, it’s not about individualism. We are not about the individual.” I think it’s very easy for us to fall into this habit of representing movements as being around a single person. But it’s an authoritarian habit of thought to always rely on representation, or to think that we can represent a popular movement by a single person. That’s a dangerous shorthand. It’s pretty widespread. You could also make the argument that certain aspects of identity, the idea of identity itself, as encompassing the complexity of popular movements, popular desires, the variegated forces at play. That’s also a dangerous habit to fall into. So, the idea of personalities, is actually a pretty broad concept, not only in politics, but more generally, in how we think about ourselves, about the world, about identity, and so forth. At least politically, it’s important: don’t follow leaders, fight for the people, fight for freedom, fight for dignity.

TFSR: This is a point that you’ve written about, too: in the 1906 Platform of the Liberal Party junta, there was a clear nationalistic tone against the holding of lands by foreign investors. But it also included a call to deport Chinese laborers for “undermining the wages of Mexican citizens,” mirroring anti-Chinese populism wielded in the USA. This runs very counter to the PLM’s later allies, like the IWW and WFM (the Western Federation of Miners), which helped to found the IWW. And as your pointed out in the bio at the start of Dreams of Freedom, the penning of this became a point of regret for Magón later in his life. Maybe you didn’t put it that way. But it seems to run counter to the perspective that he expressed in his internationalism later on.

Can you talk about shifts from nationalism to internationalism in RFM’s views and the ideas carried by the papers that he worked on? What impact do you think it had on the Mexican revolutionary movement?

M: That 1906 document, it’s the potential perils of anti-colonialism in general. The American industry was expropriating land, and labor throughout Mexico. The Díaz dictatorship actively encouraged American industries to come and expropriate land from the people, expropriate resources, and labor. So an absolutely good point. However, there was this nationalist tone, which carried over to the anti-Chinese sentiment, and there’s this language throughout the text like “la Patria”. La Patria is the country, but it’s also the fatherland. It’s very much the language throughout the document. It’s like foreign capitals kicking us down, we’re a bunch of woosies, and we get to stand up for our manhood and push back the foreigners. That was a thing.

Also, his brother Jesus married a woman named Clara Hong, I don’t know if that one was Chinese. I don’t know if Hong is a common Mexican name. So there might be something else there, too. Not personal but something weird about the anti-Chinese part. And that anti-Chinese provision may have not emerged from the mind of Flores Magón himself. It probably was solicited from the readership. And it is true, we all know that surplus population leads to lowering your wages and that importing people who work for less is hard on the economic welfare of [segments of] the working class. But the answer to that is not to insist on their exclusion, but rather to fight for the internationalization of labor rights.

Later in his life, as Flores Magón moves from Mexico to the United States and becomes involved with the US left, the US socialists are helping him out, the IWW is very involved in organizing the mines in Cananea, in Sonora and Arizona, which is exactly the same places where the Flores Magón party is. So, those two movements flow together in a lot of interesting ways. A lot of the people who were special delegates for the Magónista movement were also members of the Western Federation of Miners which was the early version of the IWW. So there’s that aspect of internationalism.

As time goes on, he becomes more and more cognizant or pronounced about realizing that the scope of the struggle is not this national elimination of the church, state, and capital, but an international struggle. That really comes ahead during World War I. “Why are you going to war against people from another country? They’re not your enemies, the enemy is international capital, the state system. All men are brothers, all people are exploited. And we all have to fight together to liberate humanity as a whole.” That’s an important trajectory, the movement from his early– I don’t know if it’s his early or if it’s the party’s early – nationalistic tenor to his internationalist statements.

TFSR: So I guess I had one other question. And that would be about Ricardo’s legacy. I became aware of Ricardo Flores Magón when AK published this book, and simultaneously was learning about the Magónista groups – there I am using that term!

M: It’s hard not to.

TFSR: So they were involved in the 2006 uprisings in Ricardo’s home state of Oaxaca, particularly the one that ringed out to me was CIPO-RFM, but they were APPO affiliated groups organizing in Northern California among people in solidarity, but there’s a lot of Oaxaqueños or various nations living in that area. There was a group called CAMPO (Centro de Apoyo para el Movimiento Popular de Oaxaca). So the timing of the publication seemed pretty perfect. And it is cool that you were able to reference that right now there are these struggles against Ulises Ruiz [Ortiz]. During the teacher strikes in those periods that were brutally repressed, but also seemed they created an opportunity for the amazing flourishing of organizing and people creating alternatives to the existing world around them. And obviously, a lot of people were pulling from this really strong revolutionary legacy of– You mentioned that Juárez was from there, RFM was from there. Could you talk about RFM’s legacy to your understanding? Where have you seen ripples from that?

M: About the CIPO and all that in Oaxaca 2006… Unfortunately, I was not down there. I was there in 2005 and missed everything in 2006, but I did some activism with them. I got busted by the government for doing that. I wound up doing journalism about it instead. And dude, it’s the same shit. It’s the same fucking shit. 100 years after Flores Magón. It’s the same stuff as always. Capitalism and the state is down there creating misery in manifold ways, enslaving people at tobacco firms again. I think that has moved on to the narco-terrorists, and drug manufacturing as well. There’s impunity [impunidad] by the government. There are miscarriages of justice, there’s the murder of activists, and all kinds of crazy shit happening all the fucking time down there. That is really the normal state of affairs, I think maybe throughout the world. This ongoing horror, resource extraction, and human degradation is constant. I was amazed to see the same shit that Flores Magón was writing about 100 years ago still goes on all the fucking time in Mexico.

Anyways, to the point of Flores Magón’s influence, he was a brilliant writer. He’s so ardent in his belief. His body might have been worn away from imprisonment, from running around all the time, but his belief is so beautiful, so strong, so pure, and his language is magnificent. It’s over the top, at least for our whitebread ears. It’s gorgeous language. It’s gorgeous thinking. And people have read it, and they love it. It’s a powerful message. It’s wildly influential. Sandino in Nicaragua started off reading a lot of this stuff. The constitution of Mexico and the labor reforms came from the Magónista movement. In 1968, there were student uprisings in Mexico City. They quoted “Was Flores Magón a sell-out? No, he fought for human dignity.”

The anarchist scene in Mexico helped me learn about it. I was hanging out on the beach in Mexico. And these Mexican anarcho-punks told me. It’s a great scene there, there’s a lot of very interesting and powerful anarchist energy. And it’s outright, it’s in the open, it’s not awkward and self-questioning as it is in the United States. And a lot of that comes from the strength of the tradition, which comes from the writings of Flores Magón and other members of the PLM. As far as the Oaxaca, CIPO, and CODEP, it’s important for people to be able to draw on that writing, to draw on those ideas, that tradition of thinking, and to point back to it and be able to reference it to be able to quote it.

But, honestly, at the same time… Flores Magón came from a small village in Oaxaca, Eloxochitlán. And so the story goes, his father, who was probably indigenous, but I don’t know 100%, made the point that people help each other out, they support each other. And I visited Eloxochitlán in 2005. And they were doing Tequio, which is community labor, and people all get together when a road needs to be built. They get together as a town and they all do communal labor together. They don’t delegate it to the government. People are organizing, but it’s not an elected government that orders people do things there. [Something like] tequio’s a common indigenous practice throughout Mexico. And Flores Magón writes about this in one of my favorite essays: The Mexican People Are Ready For Communism. And he makes this point that for hundreds of years, people in Mexico got along. When Pedro’s house needed to be built, everybody in the town would get together and build Pedro’s house.

I’m now in Cambodia. And a guide made the same point: there are all these rice fields, it belongs to the community, and people go out and harvest rice. It’s out there and people take it, nobody owns it. It’s everybody’s, anybody’s, and nobody’s. That’s the normal state of things. That is how people live together. That’s how it is in indigenous communities and a lot of the world. I don’t want to mystify this idea of indigenous, it’s how people get along. And Flores Magón makes a point in his essay that people only were aware of the government, when the taxes were levied, or when Díaz would come by looking for soldiers for the army. But for most of their life, they were sustaining themselves, their family, and the community, they’re being supported by their community as well. That’s the normal state of affairs. So that’s a way of saying that, yes, Flores Magón has significantly influenced indigenous movements.

But also, the roots of his anarchist thinking are already indigenous, at least in Flores Magón. It’s not a complicated idea. Anarchism isn’t a complicated idea, just help each other out, don’t be greedy, and don’t be a jerk. The declaration that this is mine, this is not yours is a weird move to make. It’s an imposition of force by the State, by the Capital, by the Church. And most of humanity doesn’t actually think and doesn’t actually act that way. It’s a weird imposition of power, and we need to get away from that. And for most of human history, people have lived that. And those are indigenous communities, but there’s nothing magical about indigeneity. That’s the way people are, they work together.

TFSR: Thank you for that. That makes a lot of sense. I like the way that you ended that with simplicity. Mitchell, are you working on any other projects now? Or is there a place listeners can find more of your writings that you’d suggest?

M: I have a bunch of stuff on the Anarchist Library. My actual project is called “The Anarchism of the Other Person.” It’s the idea that our liberation, our being, and our existence are actually constituted in and through other people. Even the idea of the ego, I myself, I am for myself, this Stirnerite line is weird and authoritarian It’s autarchy, it’s self-rule. It’s not anarchy. Anarchy is the destruction, even of egoism and individualism. Our existence is materially and genetically produced from and through other people. Kropotkin makes this point a hundred times that we’re born into this world made by other people. So how could we even begin to think “this is my thing”? I’ve been working on that project for a super long time, and I published things about it.

About 10 years ago, I started to combine that line of thinking with feminist writings, particularly around care ethics, mothering ethics, and nurturing ethics. I wrote some work on anarchism as a practice of care. I wrote it a while ago and then my colleague, friend, and teacher, Chiara Bottici who published his book on anarchafeminism, wrote me a couple of years ago saying, “Oh, Mitchel, that work that you were doing about anarchism and care is really important, especially now there is COVID. You have to get back to work on that.” So I have been working on that. I’ve written a couple of essays and a couple of talks on anarchism care ethics, mothering, nurturing, and still working on it in the background of a lot of other stuff going on in my life, but I hope to someday print something wonderful. There are a couple of essays in the Anarchists Library, there are a couple of videos on YouTube. You can google my name, you’ll find that stuff.

TFSR: I’ll put some links in the show notes for sure. That’ll make it easier for folks. Thank you so much for being, as you mentioned, that you’re in Cambodia. Thanks for being willing to make this work. This is awesome.

M: Yeah, definitely.

TFSR: Keep in touch. Take care, Mitchell.

M: Take care.

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