Stop Cop City + Intl Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners

Stop Cop City +David Campbell on Antifascist Prisoners

This week’s episode features two interviews. If you’re listening to the radio edition, we suggest you give a listen to the podcast at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org for a bunch more discussion with David.

Stop Cop City / Defend the Atlanta Forest

"Support Antifa Prisoners | #J25Antifa | Defend The Atlanta Forest | TFSR 22-07-03"
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First up, the struggle to Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City has been gaining momentum over the last year, in opposition to the building of what would be the largest police urban training center in the so-called USA in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd Uprising, alongside the construction of what would be the country’s largest film sound stage for Blackhall Studios. Coming up, you’ll hear Tony Lane of Defend Atlanta Forest talk about some of the issues involved, the ongoing organizing to stop the destruction of dozens of acres in this forest in the city in the forest, the ongoing info-tours around the country and upcoming week of action from July 23-30th, 2022.

David Campbell on Supporting Antifascist Prisoners

Then, you’ll hear an interview with formerly incarcerated antifascist prisoner, David Campbell, about his experience of incarceration for participation a street melee against fascists in January 2018 in New York City and about the importance of prisoner support and the upcoming annual International Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners on July 25th.

David’s former celly who could use some love:

Bruce Williams #21R0721
Orleans Correctional Facility
3531 Gaines Basin Rd
Albion, NY 14411

David’s links:

Antifascist Political Prisoner Support Sites:

Specific Antifa Prisoners Mentioned:

David also mentions the Resistance Committee in Ukraine and Operation Solidarity which include participation of anarchists and antifascists resisting the Russian invasion.

Announcements

Jason Walker Transferred, Needs Support

Incarcerated journalist, author and activist, Jason Renard Walker has been transferred to Connolly Unit in Texas’s TDCOJ prison system where he has a reasonable expectation of danger after credible threats of violence of which authorities are aware. There is an article explaining Jason’s situation and how to help at MongooseDistro.Com.

Comrade Z Transferred

Comrade Z, anarchist and IWOC organizer in Texas has been transferred and could use a few letters to make him feel at home in the new digs. You can write him at:

Julio A Zuniga 1961551
Wayne Scott Unit
4 Jester Road
Richmond, Texas 77406

Hunger Strike at Granville Correctional in NC

"Support Antifa Prisoners | #J25Antifa | Defend The Atlanta Forest | TFSR 22-07-03"Prisoners at Granville are urgently asking for a mass phone zap to pressure NC DPS and the administration into granting their demands. There is a new phone zap on Tuesday, July 5th as the conditions remain terrible. You can find a great writeup from the end of June on earlier stages of the protest and hunger strike at Granville (formerly Polk CI) here: https://itsgoingdown.org/nc-prisoners-organize-juneteenth-protests/

Contact:

  • Warden Roach, 919-575-3070, or michael.roach@ncdps.gov
  • Loris Sutton, prisons’ central region director, 919-582 6125, or loris.sutton@ncdps.gov
  • Todd Ishee, commissioner of prisons, 919-838-4000, ask to speak to Todd Ishee, or todd.ishee @ncdps.gov

Demands include:

  • remove Sgt. Couper, stop the police brutality and harassment
  • Ask what is the condition of Anthony Harris (#0957565) and the hunger strikers?
  • Why are hunger strikers and people on self injury watch being isolated with no bunks? does the commissioner know?
  • Why is Sgt. Couper assaulting prisoners every week or in altercations every day?
  • Why are you housing people with cancer?

A few tips for calls:

  • you don’t need to give your name or other info
  • record calls if possible
  • leave long messages on voicemail
  • call using *67 to block your number
  • call multiple times and disrupt their operations
  • remember that denial and obstruction are standard procedures for those that work there
  • report any and all info received and forward any questions to: atlantaiwoc@protonmail.com

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Featured Tracks:

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Stop Cop City Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself with whatever name, pronoun, or other identifying info you’d like to share?

Tony Lane: Sure. My name is Tony Lane. I live in Atlanta. I’ve lived here for about 15 years and yeah, I love it.

TFSR: So we’re here to talk about the effort to defend the Atlanta forest. Listeners may know Atlanta to be one of the largest urban centers in the southeast of Turtle Island in the so called US state of Georgia. Thoughts of a cityscape with honking horns and traffic, large buildings of commerce, busy pedestrian streets, may not fit into the idea of verdant and lush scenes of natural beauty. Can you talk a bit about the city, about the forest, and how they interact? And how does this shape the life of those who are living in Atlanta?

Tony: Sure, well, it’s immediately noticeable if you’re flying or driving into Atlanta that there’s trees everywhere. I mean, Atlanta has the largest tree canopy compared to any other major city in America. I think about 48% of the city has tree coverage, which is pretty incredible. So in a certain way, it’s a city like any other, but there’s 1000’s of acres of forest that you can explore here as well.

TFSR: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the history of the forest? Maybe the size of it, but also its former uses. I understand there was a jail there at one point. And also sort of what having such a canopy in a big city means for things like ambient temperature, water absorption, versus runoff and erosion, the air quality, and the general health of urban populations.

Tony: The parcel of land that is under threat is in the South River Forest, which is about 3500 acres of forest and that is beneficial ecologically to the city in a variety of ways. It mitigates flooding, it contributes to the quality of the air. Atlanta is shielded from the urban heat island effect much more than other cities, at least, because of this large tree canopy.

To speak on the history just a bit. It was Muskogee land, stewarded by the Muskogee until the early 1800’s When they were forcibly displaced. I don’t know how much history you want me to go into here, but it was sold in a lottery auction and run as farmland up until the early 1900s, when it was purchased by the city. It was run briefly as a municipal dairy farm and then turned into a prison. It was run as a prison up until the 1990’s. I think 1990 Actually. The conditions in the prison are totally horrid. There’s a lot of good research on this done by a local amateur research collective called the Atlanta Community Press. I highly recommend looking into that.

TFSR: You can ramble if there’s other pieces of history or other experiences, if you feel like sort of painting a picture of some of your favorite parts of the forest, having lived in Atlanta for a bit and being intimate with it.

Tony: It’s funny because there’s obviously a huge focus on the ecological aspect of the forest. It does help to filter the air and mitigate flooding, and so on and so forth. But it has a lot of use in the city outside of that too. The forest itself is like a huge place of importance for the ‘Bike Life’ community in the city. I would say probably up until the movement began at least, it was very common to see people riding dirt bikes and four wheelers through there, to see people riding mountain bikes are there. It’s also just a place that teenagers get away to to smoke weed and make out or do whatever teenagers do, walk their dogs, so on and so forth.

TFSR: Can you talk about what the proposed plan is and why people are up in arms about it?

Tony: Of course. So, the project is kind of two pronged. The city, and specifically the Atlanta Police Foundation is planning to build a police training facility on a large swath of the forest. Specifically, they want to build a mock city to train in urban conflict. The other side of the project is movie studios called Black Hall. Actually, they just recently renamed themselves to Shadowbox. They make movies like Venom, Jumanji, Godzilla, stuff like that. They want to expand their operation to build one of the biggest soundstages in America.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit more about the Police Foundation. Is that a collaboration between some of the counties around there and the city police? Or is that just the Atlanta Police as this huge entity that that would be holding this facility? Would it just be local police that are training in that facility? Or are there like bigger implications to that?

Tony: The Atlanta Police Foundation is a slush fund. It’s run by private companies. Basically, it’s a way for private companies in the city and state to have kind of influence and say over city operations. So, the project is actually being built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is actually companies like Bank of America, Home Depot, Waffle House, even. The project is estimated to be about $90 million, and $60 million of that project is coming from private donors.

TFSR: What makes it a profitable venture? If these companies are pouring in this amount of money, it’s probably not just out of the fact that they love the cops. Where’s the money making for that part of it?

Tony: Of course. Atlanta, is really structured around these kinds of backdoor clientelist deals between private companies and the city. I think it’s a pretty straightforward way that these companies can buy influence and buy protection in the city. Ultimately, I think the city really has no other plans to mitigate some of the problems that it faces other than investing in police activity. I can say more about that, too.

TFSR: Would you? What kind of problems you’re talking about or alluding to?

Tony: Well, a big justification for this project is explicitly tied to the movement and 2020. So there’s plans for this project as early as 2017. But throughout the movement here in 2020, if listeners don’t know, the movement here was particularly strong.

TFSR: This is just to clarify, this is the uprising that came up after repeated police murders at the beginning of COVID. Like the COVID pandemic, right?

Tony: That’s correct. In Atlanta, an unarmed black man named Rayshard Brooks was killed by the police later on into the movement after the kind of initial phase of rioting and looting all over the country. That led to more clashes in the city, and nightly demonstrations at the third precinct here in Atlanta. Throughout the movement, there was internal strife between the police, mass sick outs, roughly 200 Police quit their jobs during this time. So the ‘Cop City’ project is among other things, is meant to explicitly address this kind of loss in morale amongst the police here.

TFSR: That makes sense as a recent need for the city to feel like it needs to do some sort of like urban combat. Can you talk about how the police interact with the city, like the population of the city? Sort of like a brief history of recent events. Do the police do a lot of raiding of homeless encampments? Are they going in and doing ‘no knocks’ in neighborhoods? What does it look like, the policing of Atlanta?

Tony: I’m not exactly sure how to address this, but maybe it makes sense to talk about the recent development in Atlanta. Especially since 2008, the city’s been pretty rapidly gentrifying. So that’s led to an unprecedented amount of evictions. Basically, the police, play the same role here that they do everywhere else, which is to protect the interests of the wealthy, to protect the interests of the business owners here.

Atlanta kind of has a unique relationship to the police and to the business class here. There was an intense amount of activity concentrated in Atlanta during the Civil Rights and Black power movements of the 60’s. Out of this struggle grew a particular model of social management that’s colloquially referred to as ‘The Atlanta Way,’ which entails cooperation between white corporate power structures and the Black Business Class. After the 60’s, the majority of the police department became Black, city council is majority Black, so on and so forth.

Since 2008, Atlanta has seen unprecedented gentrification and development due to investment from the tech sector, from the film industry, specifically, and that’s resulted in unprecedented amounts of evictions and repression of kind of low level criminal activity to make space for luxury condos.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a really good answer. I’m glad that you could go into some of the history. That’s super interesting. Can you talk about where the development of the or destruction of that space is at?

Tony: I might back up a little bit if that’s okay. Before the movement around ‘Cop City’ began in the spring of 2021, there was a few different efforts to combat what was already happening there. There was ‘Stop the Swap,’ and that was in reaction to the Black Hall Studios swap of private land for public land. There’s the work of the South River Watershed Alliance. They specifically work around the river and how the city engages with it. Then there was ‘Save the Old Prison Farm.’

So like I said, there used to be a prison in the South River Forest that was closed in 1990. Since it’s been empty, there hasn’t been a clear trajectory for it in the city. At different times, the city has proposed turning it into a park. But otherwise, it functions the way that it does now, which is as a place where people walk their dogs, ride bikes, so on and so forth, and also dump trash.

So after it came out that APF was planning to build this massive police training facility, two times the size of the police training facility in New York City, for reference, local activists came together and kind of tried to create an umbrella platform so that all these kind of different initiatives that were already in the works, could link up with each other, as well as to produce new energy around this specific project.

TFSR: So you’re placing this in the context of existing struggles to defend and protect these common wild spaces in the city that people are benefiting from in all sorts of different ways, and past efforts at the announcement of the APF that this this destruction in this construction was going to be going on?

Can you talk a bit about when the actual attempted clearing of the forests started? And what the movement in the Atlanta area looked like? What were people doing to blockade it? I’m sure that there were a bunch of different things, whether it be like protests in front of corporate headquarters, or I’ve heard about forest blockades. Can you talk a little bit about what that looked like and how the how the police have reacted?

Tony: Sure. There’s been no mass clear cutting of the forest to this day. Luckily, activists have been able to take initiative every step of the way during this movement. So when the project was announced by us, it was never really publicly announced by the city or by APF, almost no work had been done. So the land that Black Hall wants to swap with the city has been clear cut. They’re in the process of turning it into a park. Michelle Obama Park is what they intend to call it. But so, activists, people who are interested in defending the forest have benefited greatly from taking the initiative here. Before really any big machinery was in the forest, people have been able to circulate through it and to learn the lay of the land.

Starting in the spring of 2021, people started doing barbecues, info shares, and all types of different events in the forest. This was before the city had actually approved the land lease to APF. So a lot of the early moments in the struggle, were oriented around putting pressure on city council to not approve this land lease. But anyways, all throughout this time people are circulating throughout the forest. Actually, a lot of DIY shows and parties had started to happen in the forest. Partially due to the pandemic, partially due to gentrification, a lot of DIY venues in the city have shut down recently. So that milieu has kind of found a new home in the forest where they are able to do shows for free without any type of intervention from landlords or the police.

TFSR: That’s pretty awesome. When you’re referring to DIY, some listeners, depending on their context might think that that’s specifically like punk. But just out of curiosity, what sort of shows or what sort of dance parties happened?

Tony: Yeah, all types of music really. The dance scene in particular has found a home here. There’s an array of different crews in the city who have hosted parties in the forest. The DIY scene here isn’t so structured around a particular style of music. There’s a lot of different stuff that’s happened there. The major way that we’ve been able to find out about the companies working on this project is through being present in the forest. People have been able to identify the companies actually involved in the destruction of the forest and in the construction of ‘Cop City’. That includes Brasfield and Gorrie, who we believe to be the general contractor, Long Engineering, which is one of their subcontractors, Specialty Finishes Incorporated, Quality Glass, and formally Reeves Young.

Reeves Young was one of the big companies involved that was targeted early on in the movement. They were subjected to call-in campaigns, people did demonstrations at the homes of people involved in the company, there was a demonstration at their office in Atlanta. Then a specific campaign arose against them called SRY, or stop Reeves Young. Within two weeks of that project starting it came out there Reeves Young had dropped out of the project.

TFSR: That’s awesome to be able to point to a success like that and be able to say ‘we did that.’ Are these companies that you’re referring to, are they all local to Atlanta or do they have subsidiaries or are they subsidiaries of other corporations that are in other places? Like I remember when we’ve done interviews in the past about the ‘Zone to Defend,’ the ZAD in France. Vinci was the big company that was pushing a lot of the construction and they had subsidiaries in different places. In fact, there were direct actions against I think a street car company or street street car manufacturing company, something like that, and also a highway extension that were being done by Vinci related company around Atlanta in solidarity with ZAD.

But yeah, can you talk a little bit about where these companies are based and how people have been drawing attention to them?

Tony: These companies, for the most part, are not local to Atlanta. They’re regionally based companies. Some of these companies have offices and projects all over the US. Atlas Technical Consultants has projects all over the US.

TFSR: I guess bringing it back to the defense of the forest, there’s a speaking tour right now going on on the West Coast, as well as various one offs around the country around the so called us that I found on the website ‘Scenes from Atlanta Forest,’ which is scenes.no blogs.org. I’ll link that in the show notes if if anyone wants to get in on one of these discussions locally. I think that’s an interesting approach to the idea of diffusing out the struggle against this one specific locality by informing people of what’s going on. This has been a longtime strategy in mass mobilizations or an eco defense struggles, has been to go to places and say, “Hey, here’s what’s going on. Here’s why you need to know about it. Come get engaged if you want to in various ways,” but also because of the diffusion of these companies that are profiting off of this and actually doing the on the ground work, because you’re not focusing just on the city of Atlanta or the APF or what have you. It’s sort of like, lends to an opportunity for people to bring home to different places where those companies are present or other projects that they’re working on to do solidarity in the communities that they’re in. And also, because these companies are engaged in this sort of destructive practice in Atlanta, if it doesn’t happen in Atlanta, if the project does not succeed to build Cop City, they’re just going to try to put it somewhere else. Those corporations that you mentioned, Waffle House, Bank of America, etc. They’re not local, just to the Atlanta area.

So yeah. Can you talk about what sort of solidarity actions have been taken or other locations that you’re aware of?

Tony: Well, I just want to reiterate that there is a speaking tour happening right now up the West Coast and up the East Coast. There’s a few dates in between those places. Definitely get plugged into those if there’s one happening near you. We want people to come to the forest. Like you said, we do not believe this is a local struggle. Police will be trained here from all over the country. It’ll be the biggest police training facility in the US. If you can’t come to the forest, then like you said, these companies have offices all over the place. So it should be easy to participate in whatever context you’re in.

There are so many actions that have happened outside of Atlanta. It’s hard to recount them. There’s been actions at the Brasfield and Gorrie headquarters in Alabama, there’s been solidarity actions in California, in New York, and Columbia. All over the country really, and outside the US as well.

As an aside, I think one of the novel things about this movement is that there’s an equal emphasis on the defense of the forest itself here in Atlanta, as well as an offense against the companies involved, and against the Atlanta Police Foundation. So we would like people to come to the forest and we think defending the forest physically is a big part of the struggle. But equally important, is to put pressure on the contractors and the subcontractors involved. Does that make sense?

TFSR: Yeah!

You mentioned there’s been blockades, occupations, and tree sits in the forest. Are they ongoing? I guess you may not want to give the cops a tip off by answering that question. I don’t know. But are these standoff occupations or are these the sort of thing where contractors are expected to show up to start doing work or cutting and then suddenly those trees have signs that maybe they’re spiked? Or that there’s someone up in the tree very clearly or suspended between two. What has that looked like so far?

Tony: So, the forest is continuously occupied. The activity of the police and the contractors changes almost on a daily basis. Months ago there would be maybe a week of work, or week of attempted work, and then nothing for several weeks. More recently, there’s been a lot of police activity every other day, maybe, the police do sweeps through the forest. Mostly just trying to find and destroy encampments out there. There’s been very minimal work recently. We think that’s due to the presence of people in the forest basically continuously.

TFSR: Are the cops employing a lot of the same infrastructure they’d be using to evict homeless encampments? I mean, around here, forested areas are often, if they’re near enough to the city, places where people camp because there’s shade, and there’s some protection from the elements and a little bit of like, privacy.

Tony: Yeah, exactly. And as a matter of fact, there are houseless people who live in the forest. Generally, there’s people in the city who circulate through the forest. So the police will come in and rip up tents, slash sleeping bags, dump out water, so on and so forth. Sometimes this is houseless people just living in the forest. Also it would it be right to imagine bikers using the paths in the forest while this is happening, I think generally that’s worked to our favor, and kind of lends itself to the novelty of the struggle unlike other land struggles is that there’s kind of an ambiguity of use in the forest. The police will find someone in the forest and there’s a good chance they’ll just tell them to get out of there, because they don’t know if they’re a part of the movement or if they’re just some kids or what.

TFSR: Yes, so that’s an interesting opportunity to make the job of clearing the forest by the cops as an action of urban cleansing, or gentrification. It’s sort of complicating the job of the cops doing that sort of thing in multiple ways, including by actively being in solidarity with folks that are trying to reside in that space.

Tony: Definitely. Another big tool that the movement has utilized that we haven’t talked about is the Week of Actions. So since the start of the movement, there’s been three weeks of action, not including the most recent one. Basically that’s just a kind of invitation to come host events in the forest, come be in the forest, and that draws out a lot of local people into the forest. So not necessarily people who are sleeping there every day, or who are coming out to police raids, but people who want to do fungi walks or people who want to do shows. Things like that.

TFSR: That’s interesting, because it’s also actively creating… I was listening to some podcasts that was like the socialist about city engineering and about reshaping cities in a non capitalist manner. I can drop a link in the show notes if I keep this. It was kind of interesting. I just listened to the first episode of it. But one of the things, one of the points that they made was how American culture didn’t develop around, I guess in some places in the northeast, it did, but like “American Anglo hegemonic culture” didn’t develop around having squares in the middle of cities where people would come and share space and share food and whatever else. A lot of it was based off of people living on the streets together and being neighbors. So you know, you’ve got your Sesame Street model where everyone comes down and shares space and what have you. So by redirecting folks into this space that maybe they didn’t even explore before, like you said, people are learning the terrain, learning the residents of the forest, making relationships, but also integrating it to some degree into their social life and into this cultural resistance that they’ve got going on. I think that’s pretty cool. That’s kind of novel.

Tony: Totally, I jokingly refer to the week of actions to our friends as our Woodstock. I think if you come, if you’re there, it makes sense. You know?

TFSR: There’s a week of action solidarity between July 23 and the 30th announced. What do you think’s gonna happen? Sort of more the same of what you’ve been expressing is going to be happening? How would people join up and participate in this?

Tony: We strive the whole time to create as open a model as possible for participation. The Week of Actions are kind of our attempt to do that in a certain way. If people want to host an event, they’re totally more than welcome to. If people just want to come and experience the forest, that’s fine, too. Generally is is a time where people stay in the forest. I think at the last Week of Action there was maybe 200 people staying in the forest throughout the week.

TFSR: Often when ecological, anti fascist, anti capitalist, and other struggles engage in a location, there’s a narrative that’s drawn that participants are outside agitators getting funding from some shadowy group and are often white middle class folks who have the time and the resources to engage. I wonder like, has this dynamic come up? Can you talk a bit about the wider who’s participating in the local struggle there?

Tony: There’s widespread local participation in the movement. There’s so many facets of it, that it’s impossible to be connected to all of them. There’s this narrative that, like you said, that it’s outside agitators or something of the like. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I mean, if you drive around South Atlanta, there’s ‘Defend the Forest’ signs in people’s yards, there’s ‘Defend the Forest’ signs in businesses windows. I don’t know how else to put it: widespread local participation in the movement. Like I said, from the various kind of DIY cultures, to the kind of broader left. There’s new participation also frequently in the forest. It’s not uncommon to see people you hadn’t seen before or at various events to see groups or people who haven’t participated before. I don’t know what more I can say about that.

Just to speak more about local participation in the movement. The narrative from the police about the movement being made up of outside agitators, comes after the forest was violently raided by the police and a number of the people who are arrested had IDs from outside of the state. That day, I would say within two hours of the raid, a press conference was called by people in the neighborhood, maybe 50 people showed up. As soon as the press showed up, the police left and there was speech after speech from people in Atlanta, from people in the neighborhood, about support for the movement, denouncing the violent activity of the police, and so on and so forth.

It’s also worth mentioning that there’s been a meaningful engagement from the Muskogee in the struggle. There’s been two Muskogee summits in the forest, which is historically referred to as the Weelaunee forest. I believe both summits brought out hundreds of people, Muskogee returning to their ancestral lands.

TFSR: For folks that are considering this or considering seeing if there’s a local event that they can attend to learn more about it, or they want to just do their own research about it. Do you have any resources that you would direct people to on the topic?

Tony: Yeah! You can follow us on social media on Instagram or Twitter @DefendtheAtlantaForest. If you’re interested in the campaign about the contractors, you can visit, StopReevesYoung.com. And if you’re interested in donating, you can visit Opencollective.com/ForestJusticeDefenseFund.

TFSR: Again, that list of upcoming events is at least partially compiled on Scenes From the Atlanta Force, which is scenes.noblogs.org

Tony: Yeah, thanks for saying that.

TFSR: Well cool. Was there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you want to mention during this conversation? I was stoked to get to check out the folks that are putting on a presentation of it upcoming, I think in early July, in at the Lamplighter in Richmond were going to be showing this documentary Riotsville. It looks like it just came out last year or whatever. That’s super fascinating. Considering the tumultuous history of civil rights and Black liberation movements that you’ve mentioned, and the importance of locality of Atlanta in that struggle. It’s cool to look back 50 years and see this this bit of history that definitely leads into today. Especially the US training facilities, that there’s so much footage of there were military. Well, maybe you could talk about the documentary. Have you seen it?

Tony: I have seen it. Yeah, it’s a great documentary. Definitely would recommend checking it out. It shows firsthand, dated 50 years ago, what the type of training will look like that will be occurring here in Atlanta, which is basically just simulated riots. It’s fascinating.

TFSR: Yeah. Like the contextualized decision by the federal government to take the approach, even after these multiple Commission reports that would say, “Here’s why there’s urban unrest, here’s why there’s unrest in Black communities sparked often by the killing of someone by police or by the assassination of a civil rights leader. Here’s what happens. Here’s why it happens. Here’s how they could, if they had the interest, make sure this didn’t happen,” including some of the reports talking about how basically, people need food, shelter, housing, educational opportunities, job opportunities, just all these different social program type stuff, and administration after administration, just saying, “mmmmm or we could just train more National Guard to go out and bayonet them in the streets.”

Tony: I mean, from our perspective Black Hall Studios, action movie production, and police activity is kind of the state’s idea of the future. It’s like, people should sit at home and watch Netflix. And if they don’t, then we have a massive militarized police force to make sure that they do.

TFSR: Batons and circuses. Well, awesome. Thanks a lot, Tony, for having this conversation and for the work y’all are doing and it’s been great to chat with you.

Tony: Yeah, thanks so much.

On Nurturance Culture w Nora Samaran (rebroadcast)

On Nurturance Culture w Nora Samaran (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Turn The World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture" + "TFSR 22-06-26 Rebraodcast"
Download This Episode

This week, we’re re-airing a 2019 conversation with Nora Samaran, author of the essay “The Opposite Of Rape Culture Is Nurturance Culture”, which became the seed of her book “Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture.

We talk about harm, entitlement as relates to positions of power like masculinity or whiteness in our cultures, the need for connection ingrained into our biology and sociality, accountability and healing among other topics.

You can find further reading up at norasamaran.com, plus a list of suggested further reading by searching “How To Not Re-Injure Survivors.”

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Featured Track:

  • Queer by String Quartet from Tribute to Garbage

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

[00:10:35 – 01:45:30]

Mostly women carrying "Stand Up For Rojava" banner with a small girl and a sign picturing world leaders leaning in on a small Kurdish child
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Emre, Rimac, Xero and Anya, members of the Emergency Committee for Rojava join us on the show this week to talk about the escalation of violence and threats of invasion by Turkey into northeast Syria, updates from the region and their thoughts on how people in the West can help folks living under the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria. You can learn more about their work at DefendRojava.Org and find related interviews covering some of the subject matter discussed and past events on our website by searching for Rojava.

You can keep find Xero’s upcoming podcast, a member of the Channel Zero Network, at ManyWorldsPod.Github.io and you can find the latest of Anya’s co-authored pieces at The Nation (though it’s paywalled).

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

[00:01:07 – 00:10:35]

Justice for Greg Curry Update on Greg: He has currently been moved to a hospital due to the weight loss he has sustained during the hunger strike. It also seems Greg's mail is being withheld or stalled coming in and going out. Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email (stephen.gray@odrc.state.oh.us) or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at annette.chambers-smith@odrc.state.oh.us Suggested script: "Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg's RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O'Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg's appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike."First up, we’ll be sharing a message recorded a week ago by PAPS Texas of incarcerated activist and survivor of the Lucasville Uprising in 1993, Greg Curry, about his hunger strike for the ODRC’s retaliation to his organizing behind bars at Toledo Correctional. Greg’s support is asking folks to contact ODRC officials as he’s entered over a month on hunger strike, had his communication meddled with and has been hospitalized.

Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email (stephen.gray@odrc.state.oh.us) or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at annette.chambers-smith@odrc.state.oh.us
Suggested script:
“Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg’s RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O’Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg’s appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike.”

You can find a recent interview with a member of Prison Abolition Prisoner Support on Greg’s case at 1 hour 2 minutes into the episode (mislabeled as September 3rd 2020) at NewDream.US. You can hear our 2016 interview with Greg Curry.

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Featured Tracks

    • Beritan from Jîyan Beats (dedicated to fallen PKK fighter, Gülnaz Karataş aka Beritan, who threw herself from a cliff after a fierce battle in Xakurke rather than surrender to Turkey on October 25, 1992)
    • Instant Hit (instrumental) by The Slits from Cut

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Transcription

TFSR: So I’m speaking with folks from the emergency committee for Rojava. Would you all care to introduce yourselves with whatever names gender pronouns, where you’re based, and any other info? And any other info about yourself, and it’d be cool to hear about how you became a member of ECR and an advocate for the Rojava revolution.

Anya: I could go first. Hi, everyone, thank you so much for hosting us. My name is Anya, and I’m originally from Ukraine but I have been living in the United States for the last 11 years. And I discovered Rojava and the Kurdish movement around 2017. And I found their project of direct democracy, you know, social ecology, women’s liberation, quite appealing in that they managed to, you know, theoretically, but also in practice to put together all these different struggles on different fronts. So once I discovered it, I started looking for ways to get involved and support the revolution from the United States and have been a member of the Emergency Committee for Rojava almost from its very founding, which was in 2018. And so, you know, the struggle in the United States goes on. Thank you so much again.

Emre: I’ll go next. Hello, everyone. I’m Emre Şahin, I’m a Kurdish scholar from Bakur, Northern Kurdistan. Was based in the US, I’m a PhD student of sociology at Binghamton University. And I’m working on Rojava revolution, particularly woman’s autonomous organizing in Rojava. I did some fieldwork there three years ago, for two months, and I’m excited to be here.

Xero: So I’m Xero I use I use he/they pronouns. I’m based in the US, I’m based in Northwest Pennsylvania, kind of on the southern edge of unseated Erie territory, just south of Lake Erie. I guess what brought me to this revolution was I, you know, kind of have always been, I guess more of a libertarian leftist without really knowing what that meant, or even having a coherent idea of what it involved. I’ve never had much of a patience for reading theory or anything like that. And so when I first learned about the Rojava revolution, it was, god it was in 2020. It was right after the Coronavirus pandemic, and right before the George Floyd uprisings. It was in that kind of a really weird moment where anything kind of felt possible, and this really made a lot of things come into sharp focus for me. It was this example of something that could work at scale. And that was really compelling to me. And so I just didn’t really have much of a choice after that, I kind of went full hog into studying this revolution and kind of similar revolutions around the world. Including the Zapatistas in southeast Mexico, in the state of Chiapas.

And so that, as you’re probably aware Bursts, we’re working on another show that is in conversation with those revolutions, and also talking about land back and other other Indigenous issues here on Turtle Island in a North American context. That show is called Where Many Worlds Fit. And we’re getting very close to being able to start publishing there.

Rimac: Hi, my name is Rimac, I use they/she pronouns. I’m from the Netherlands, I live in a town between Amsterdam and The Hague. And I started supporting the revolution when I started hearing about it in 2015-2016, I was going through a really rough time, personally. I was struggling a lot with my mental health and with taking care of myself, like being able to keep a job and keep an incom because I was struggling with traumas from my youth. I was sexually abused, or sexually attacked, by a close family member as a child and that really kept me in an isolated place where nobody could really stand with me and take care of me. So, I was left really alone. And that’s also when I found out about the women’s revolution, and about the defense against Daesh.

And I also got introduced a little bit to the politics of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan And the revolution gave me so much spirit to persevere through my traumas, and to not give up and to understand that what I experienced was not a single event happening to one person, but a lot of people experience things like this, and that it’s partly because of the patriarchy. So for me, it was really a medicine to learn about a revolution. And then I started looking for people in the Netherlands, for the Kurdish movement, but after the pandemic came and lockdown came it was really hard to maintain contacts. So that’s when ECR came on my path. First, I joined as a member of the study group, which I really enjoyed, because I feel at home at ECR and I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and learning from others. And then I was also invited to start organizing with them. And I have done this for a year now.

TFSR: Thank you all so much for sharing and it’s really nice to meet you. And as kind of a side note, Emre, I was lucky enough to get to hear an interview that you did with Xero for Where Many Worlds Fit and I’m very excited for the content to start flowing.

E: Oh, great to hear that. I’m excited as well.

TFSR: So, in the January chat with a member of Tekoşîna Anarşîst that we conducted, our guests talked about ongoing rocket and drone attacks across the border into Syria since the Serê Kaniyê invasion of 2019. Could you all, are one of you, please speak about the threat of Turkish invasion looming over the autonomous administration of Northeast Syria, aka Rojava and what’s being expected right now?

E: As an introduction, my comrades and I collectively decided that I would initially begin responding first, and we would follow each other. So I’ll start with some of the questions and others will, hope I won’t be taking too much space.

But in response to the attack, the Turkish threats of invasions have intensified in 2019 but they have actually, we can date them back to the collapse of the peace negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish state near the end of 2015. Between 2009-2010 and 2015, the Turkish state and the PKK had began negotiations to work on the current issue. But that came to an end in 2015 when Tayyip Erdoğan power holding party, AKP, lost the elections in June 2015. And to continue its power it decided to team out with the Nationalist Party in Turkey and ended the peace process. After this Turkey’s relationship with the Autonomous Administration in Rojava became extremely hostile.

There were voice recordings from secret top level Turkish state meetings where the Chief of Intelligence was recorded saying, “Oh, don’t worry, we can start a war with Rojava anytime, we’ll just have a few of our agents throw some rockets over the border to the Turkish side and use that as a excuse.” And from there on the Turkish state began to increase its hostility. Before that Turkey had hosted Saleh Muslim, the former co-president of the Autonomous Administration twice in Ankara for diplomatic talks. This was back when the peace negotiations were still on the table. But after that threat of lost power, and, you know, regional political re-alliances, when the peace process ended the Turkish state initially increased its hostility and then proceeded to invade Afrîn‎. And soon after Afrîn‎, invaded Serê Kaniyê in 2019 and it continues its hostile approach to this day.

A: I can add a little bit to that, in particular, what’s happening right now. So Turkish President Erdoğan just announced that Turkey is preparing to launch, and now the invasion, which will be the third invasion, as Emre mentioned the first two. And to basically complete the so called “Safe Zone” that Turkey was negotiating to create with the United States in 2018, before it invaded and occupied more parts of northern Syria. And now, Erdoğan stated that Turkey wants to complete that project and occupy more territory along its southern border with Syria. And at this point, I think we’re quite anxious and, you know, there have been a lot of threats coming from Erdoğan because he and his party AKP, they are using the threats of invasion and actual invasions of different parts of Kurdistan and attacks against Kurdish population within Turkey, but also in Syria and Iraq, as a way to prop up their authoritarian regime and rally support of a broader chunk of Turkish population.

But right now there is this conjuncture of international and domestic factors that makes it quite possible that Turkey, you know, that Erdoğan will actually realize his threats and invade once again. So internationally what’s happening is, of course, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Turkey’s role as a NATO member in stalling the process of NATO accession of Sweden and Finland who just applied to join NATO. Turkey stalls their entry through its demands of lifting a ban on an embargo on arms sales to Turkey and demanding extradition and the crackdown on Kurdish movement and Sweden, and Finland, and termination of any diplomatic relationship that Sweden in particular has with the autonomous administration of Syria. So, you know, Turkey is demanding what’s in its own a geopolitical interest, and it’s quite likely that it will get, at least partially, its demands met.

We have already seen some concessions coming from the United States, the Biden administration has recently requested Congress to approve the sale of F-16, jets and modernization kits for warplanes of Turkey, as well as missile upgrades, you know, various military equipment, despite the existing US sanctions against Turkey, and despite the opposition to it within the Congress. So we are seeing that the United States is granting certain concessions to Turkey and, you know, green lighting another invasion, as the United States did in 2018, you know, could be a likely scenario.

X: I can add a little bit more to that, too, at the risk of making this a little bit more complicated than maybe you were wanting [laughs], because it’s a very messy situation, and there’s a lot of very muddled history here, even in the last 10 years, because the Syrian Civil War is, you know, devastatingly complex. But there’s also two other factors to consider which, one is that there’s the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the AANES — which is kind of the recognized term for Rojava, this is the administration that kind of runs things. It’s like the decentralized thing that’s based on democratic and federalism. And we’ll get into this later when we talk about the carceral situation as it exists in the region — but one of the things that they have is a set of ISIS prison camps where a lot of former ISIS fighters have been kept. And there’s a there’s a number of danger points there, including recently there have been a lot of mass escapes from these camps. And that’s going to also be a factor when it comes to stability in the region that I’m sure Erdoğan is going to want to exploit somehow.

And then over on the Iraqi side of the border, there’s also a number of things that have been escalating in violence, which is even involving Turkish forces in some sense. Which is that the political situation in Iraq, especially in north Northwestern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, remains a little bit unstable — or not a little bit, that’s putting it mildly — but it remains pretty unstable. And there’s the local ruling Barzani family, which is a Kurdish family that’s much more sort of hyper-capitalistic, and you know, they just have very different political goals.

And there’s been a second route of genocide, genocidal action taken against the Yazidis, and the Yazidis are a local — I personally am not knowledgeable enough to get into whether the Yazidis are Kurds, I’ve heard very firm yeses on that question — but however you classify them, the Yazidis are one of the oldest religious groups in the world and they’re definitely part of this broader Kurdish diaspora. And so they’ve been targeted for genocide by ISIS over the last, you know, 5-10 years. And they’re coming under the threat of genocidal actions, again, by Turkey, and, you know, by these coalition forces in the region. And it’s really devastating to be thinking about things like this, because it’s a very dark situation. But there is some light, you know, kind of buried beneath that, which is that the Yazidis are also taking on Democratic Confederalism, and they’re, they’re realizing their own revolution, which is pretty inspiring.

TFSR: So that was a very complex answer [laughs] it covered a lot of things that I’d like to unpack it in further questions, but very, very informative, and I really appreciate it.

Yeah, and for listeners who maybe don’t recognize the name Yazidi, they may recognize the harrowing situation a number of years ago where ISIS had trapped a number of people in Mount Sinjar, and we’re approaching and genocided them and this is one of the instances where SDF forces were able to come in and help get those folks to safety as as I understand and correct me if I’m wrong, but those were Yazidi minority being attacked by Daesh, specifically.

So, Turkey is the second largest military in NATO, thus a United States ally. And as was pointed to by Anya, there’s ongoing arm sales that are being proposed and engaged right now between the US and Turkey. I wonder if you all could talk about what you understand to be the motivations of the Turkish state under Erdoğan’s AKP and now aligned with the Nationalist Party? What is Neo-Ottoman ism? And can you say some words on transformations of life in Turkey over the last 20 years of AKP rule, and how this relates to the war on Kurdish people within and outside of Turkish borders? Yeah, if you can make mention also of, during this time support for groups like the so called Free Syrian Army, and as well as ISIS or Daesh.

E: Absolutely. Turkey, since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, has had a different sort of political dynamic and diplomatic presence in the globe throughout the 20th century, with the, you know, Republican Party in power for most of the 20th century, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It didn’t have this Neo-Ottoman strategy and the Turkish state, for the most part, spent the 20th century trying to modernize the population, modernize the country, so-called “separation of church and state”. And turning its face towards the west, you know, aspiring to be modeling itself after European countries. And this was quite unique in Muslim majority countries, because in Turkey too, majority of the population being conservative, Turkey had had that sort of identity crisis with Western-facing, but Eastern-being [chuckles] population and geography.

However, Erdoğan’s AKP, when it came to power in 2002, adopted a different approach. It’s a populist Islamist party, neoliberal Islamist party, which said, “I’m not going to just face towards the West I’m gonna face towards the East too, I’m gonna reconnect with the East, with the Middle East” you know. But this is only a part of Neo-Ottoman policy. Another part is trying to resurrect the Ottoman Empire’s sort of legacy. Turkey had this trauma of shrinkage, you know, after centuries of ruling over the eastern Europe, Middle East, Northern Africa, after shrinkage to the Turkish Republic. Now with Erdoğan’s AKP in power and cementing stuff further and further into the turkey state, it tried to increase its influence in the Middle East. And many of Turkey’s diplomatic maneuvers over the past 20 years can be read from this lens, you know, from Turkey’s presence in Rojava, in Syria, to actions in Libya and Qatar, there’s this diplomatic shift.

But of course, Erdoğan’s coming into power had political implications and impacts inside the country too. Life has become more and more conservative, public life has been shaped more and mor. The Turkish state has been investing in religious schools, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which, by the way, even though it’s not a ministry, it’s annual income is higher than the sum of 7-8 different ministries in Turkey. That’s why I said the so called “separation of church and state” even though Turkey is a secular country, the state has tight control over religious affairs. So life has become more and more conservative in Turkey. And these developments at home and abroad, Islamification, went hand in hand of course, as we saw from Turkish involvement in Syria, Turkey has been cozying up to lots of Islamist groups. Like you mentioned, the Free Syrian Army and many factions, which are basically run from offices in Istanbul or have ties in different Turkish cities. Free Syrian Army, you know, their political wing’s representatives residing in Turkey.

However, this is only acknowledged, openly available information. Turkey also had deep connections with extremist Islamist organizations in the past 10-20 years. From al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, to ISIS which it later transformed into, Turkey has had close ties. There have been many cases where Turkish journalists have uncovered hundreds of hundreds of trucks of ammunition and guns sent to al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, by the Turkish state, from Turkey, sent off to Syria. And Turkey still has significant presence in Italy, which is part of a Northwestern Syria, which is not under the control of TFSA, Free Syrian Army actually, it’s under the control of al-Qaeda in Syria, and Turkey works closely with al-Qaeda in Syria.

Also ISIS, there are many reports from the past 5-10 years where ISIS leaders freely reside in Turkey, recruite Turkey, when they’re caught, they’re only caught for show and immediately released. There were reports that even Putin back in 2015 hinted that, when they were not so close with Erdoğan, of oil trade between ISIS and Turkey. And Turkey has maintained close relations with all these Islamist groups from the most, you know, lightweight version such as Free Syrian Army to the most extremist versions such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. And, you know, Turkey’s tried to instrumentalize these Islamic groups in its project to expand, you know restore, Ottoman glory. You know, establish more and more direct influence over the Middle East and North Africa.

Turkey used mercenaries that it recruited from these Islamist factions and sent them to Libya, in its presence and fight in Libya. The same goes for Nagorno Karabakh, as you remember, a year ago, there was a two month war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Turkey was actively participating in the war on the side of Azerbaijan and hundreds of Islamist recruits were transported from Syria to Azerbaijan via and by Turkey. So Erdoğan has been Islamitising both life at home and, you know, Turkish diplomatic approach to the Middle East, and instrumentalizing these Islamist factions and groups.

Anya: I actually don’t think there’s much to add to Emre’s comprehensive response, I would just want to reiterate that Syria, as Emre mentioned, is a blatant example of Erdoğan’s pursuit of Neo-Ottoman Imperial agenda. Because what they’re doing in Northeastern Syria, you know, Turkey, is not just trying to prevent any existence of an autonomous Kurdish polity, but basically preparing a basis for annexation of those territories that are currently occupied by Turkey and its proxies, described by Emre. Usually referred to as Syrian National Army, because there is a process of ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering going on, there is a process of establishing direct Turkey’s administrative and political control of those territories. And I’m referring to the territories that were occupied in three steps in 2016, in 2018, and 2019, with the last two occupations, those were of the territory that used to be under control of the Autonomous Administration. So, you know, they are basically creating a reality that this part of Syria will become Turkified and Turkey will have, you know, an excuse, a pretext to, perhaps not officially, but basically annex, in practice annex that territory.

TFSR: I was wondering, as a follow up, Anya had mentioned the Turkification, if that’s a word, of the so called “Buffer Zone” area, and the area that is Rojava and that part of the world is Kurdistan, is not just made up of Kurds. It’s made up of lots of different languages, ethnicities, religions, that have lived there for centuries and centuries and centuries alongside with each other under various regimes. But, it’s a very complex and diverse area and my understanding is that the Turkish state is moving out Kurds from that so called “Buffer Zone” between Bakur and that part of Syria in Rojava, so as to create discontiguity between different Kurdish majority populated areas that fallt within the borders of these different nation states. I’m wondering if that’s sort of what you’re pointing to, and also if anyone has any knowledge of how the Syrian state is dealing with the destabilization of its borders by Turkey.

E: Turkey has been forcing Kurds to move out through torture, through, you know, pressure from these parts of Rojava that have been under its occupation over the past 10 years. And this is actually an old policy that the Turkish Republic had used in the 1920s and 30s after the transition from Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic, in parts of Bakur, that are at the sort of borderlands between Kurdish majority and Turkish majority regions. The Turkish state would force Kurdish populations and bring in Turks from Anatolia, western Turkey. And Bashar al-Assad, current Syrian president’s father in the 60s took from the Turkish playbook and created this Arab Belt policy. Over a decade, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father, would force Kurdish communities in today’s Serê Kaniyê, Girê Spî‎ and others parts of Rojava. Kurds were forced to move out, their citizenships stripped, unable to, you know, have their lands, are unable to hold any property, unable to even have official documentation, and forced to move to the Syrian urban centers such as Damascus and Aleppo. Hence, we have Kurdish ghettos in Damascus and Aleppo. And Assad moved Arab families from majority parts of Syria under this Arab Belt project, which was inspired by Turkish Republic policies of the 20s and 30s. So Erdoğan is playing from that playbook, and continuing this demographic engineering. And there’s numerous evidences from Efrîn all the way to Serê Kaniyê of this happening, unfortunately. Which is a direct contrast with the pluralist and harmonious, direct democratic model that’s implemented by the Autonomous Administration in Rojava.

A: I think you also asked about the Syrian government’s attitude, visa vie, Turkeys occupation, and the process of demographic engineering. And I would say that the Syrian government is not an independent, autonomous actor. It has survived all these years of civil war, just because of Russia’s support. So whatever its interests are, it has to balance them off, and ultimately follow Russia’s lead what whatever is in Russia’s geopolitical interest. Whatever Russia is gonna see is profitable for itself in terms of Syrian future. So while in it’s discourse, right, the Syrian government opposed the Turkish invasions and ongoing occupation and its ongoing presence on the Syrian territory, what happened in 2019 was that after Turkey invaded there was a deal made, actually two deals. First, a ceasefire between Turkey and the United States, and then a deal between Russia and Turkey. And according to that deal, Turkey was allowed, by Russia, to basically keep control of whatever territory it had occupied by the time, and that’s the territory that’s currently occupied between Serê Kaniyê and Tell Abyad.

So basically, at that moment, for Russia, it was convenient to make the deal with Turkey and let it, you know, keep its presence and continue establishing all the political, administrative, economic structures and bringing in families of the Syrian National Army fighters to change the demographic, all the processes. And at the moment, it looks like that Russia may greenlight another invasion by Turkey, again, because of the situation in Ukraine. So, Turkey all this time, has managed to sort of play off both the West, you know the United States, NATO bloc, and the Russian bloc, right? Like Emre mentioned that it’s sort of in between the West and the East in its policies. And same when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine happened Turkey didn’t really support any of these two blocs.

So, it’s sort of managed to carve out a position in between, not breaking off completely from Russia but at the same time it’s, I think people know, supporting Ukraine militarily, you know, by providing drones, right? They have been key in Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. And, you know, at this point, some of the latest statements made by Russia’s high officials sort of indicate another potential deal in which Russia could greenlight another invasion, in return of Turkey’s of certain concessions, visa vie the situation in Ukraine.

E: Thank you for that reminder, Anya, and I’d like to quickly add to the question about the Syrian states responses to Turkish threats and practices of invasion, both during the invasion of Afrîn by Turkey, and during the invasion of Serê Kaniyê, all the official statements coming from the Syrian government were along the lines of, you know, “this is a breech of our national sovereignty, and we will fight for each square meter of our land, etc.” But in Afrîn there was no Syrian Army resistance to the Turkish invasion, because in practice, you know, torn with the civil war, Syrian state did not have any sort of capacity to wage some sort of resistance to Turkish invasion. With the invasion of Serê Kaniyê things began to change because the Autonomous Administration — still unrecognized and fighting for its survival — unable to resist Turkish invasion by itself and unable to garner American support, enough American support. Because Trump basically sold out Rojava in 2019, over the phone conversation with Erdoğan and he ordered his troops to leave and allow the Turkish states to send in his army.

So, Rojava caught in between this situation, unable to garner enough US support, agreed to open up the border areas of Rojava where the northern area was, you know, along the border with Turkey, the majority of those border areas for all the way from Minbic / Serê Kaniyê in the West, to Dirik in the most eastern part of Rojava. Syrian Army troops came back in a smaller presence but still, there wasn’t any resistance or any fight against Turkish invasion, Al-Assad’s strategy is basically this. Al-Assad views Rojava, Autonomous Administration, as traitors who are working with the main enemy, the US, you know, using US support to carve out some sort of autonomy, and unable to finish off Rojava attack and finish off Rojava by itself, unable to do that. Al-Assad has been using this strategy of showing that so that Kurds, or peoples of Rojava, accept some sort of slightly worse result.

So Al-Assad is basically saying, “I will only come and work with you against the Turkish State, if you give up on this project of autonomy, and come back into the control of the Syrian State. So Assad’s strategy has been pretty much this, and this hasn’t been really working, because, you know, the Autonomous Administration and the peoples of Rojava do not want to give up their autonomy and the model of direct democracy and Democratic Confederalism that they’ve been establishing there.

TFSR: So we’ve mentioned both conflicts in northern Syria in terms of actors like the United States, Turkey, Russia, Syrian government, and the Autonomous Administration, and also the conflict in Ukraine has been mentioned. And the US shares membership in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with Turkey, so therefore armed allies to each other. Which I mean, for anyone listening right now, unless you’ve already heard some of this before your heads probably going to be spinning about all the different proxy situations that are going on right here…

But so in terms of the amplification of the war between Russia and Ukraine since March of this year — the war that’s been going on since 2014 — there’s been a lot of coverage and we’ve we’ve talked to folks both from Russia, and folks in Ukraine about the experience of the war there and the US has been providing weapons to the Ukrainian government to fend off the invasion from Russia.

So as an anarchist personally, I have to say I condemn the existence of NATO, as I do with all states, but I also support the right of communities to to defend themselves from violence, including from invasions, particularly when they’re attempting to grow a feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and ecological revolution is one season Rojava. I wonder if y’all could talk about these two situations and correlation between them? The use by Ukraine of Turkish drones, for instance in this circumstance, is, you know, just kind of mind boggling, but you know, you do what you can to fend off invasion. But do you feel like the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has kind of overshadowed conflict points in other parts of the world? And how do we do a better job of spreading out and expanding our solidarity into places like Tigray in Ethiopia or other conflict zones that are ongoing?

A: I’ll start off since I’m actually from Ukraine, as I mentioned, so this is a topic close to my heart, even though I haven’t been living there for last 11 years, I still have family in the East in the Donbas region, so I’ve been quite emotional and personally affected by this situation.

But more generally, I just want to point out, and I think it has been quite obvious, that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once more revealed the hypocrisy and double standards on part of the United States and other international actors, you know, the so called “West”, because we have seen huge outpouring of support, of military support, of discursive support, you know, incredible coverage in the mainstream media for the resistance of Ukrainians, right? I mean, we’ve seen pictures of grandmas with molotov cocktails and all this cheering for that resistance.

However, many people have pointed out that you know, that unconditional support is not usually granted to other instances of armed resistance going on in other parts of the world. I mean, you name it, can we can Palestine or Tigray that you just mentioned, or even the PKK, right, which is sort of an armed insurgency against oppression by the Turkish State kind of justified, right? But the PKK has been on the US terrorist list for more than two decades now, as well as on the terrorist list of other countries. And even though the United States have been supporting the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, it has not, you know, as far as we can see, it’s not planning to take off the PKK off that list, right? While at the same time supporting unconditionally, the resistance of Ukrainians. So you know, this situation is just another example that, you know, when it comes to resistance, it’s only supported when someone’s geopolitical interests are on the line, right? That’s what matters and not resistance itself.

And, you know, another parallel that we can draw is between the invasion of Ukraine as a sovereign state, and then Turkey’s several invasions of Syria, which is a sovereign state. And Turkey’s committing egregious war crimes and human rights violations, which are right now covered in the mainstream media, that are committed by Russia in Ukraine. I don’t think we have seen that much coverage when Turkey invaded Syria, Northeast Syria, repeatedly, right. Again, in terms of kind of material response to the invasion by Turkey, in particular, the last one in 2019, as I already mentioned Turkey was basically allowed to occupy the territory that it invaded. And yes, there was discursive opposition by some parts of the United States government, there were some sanctions implemented in response to that invasion in 2019, but those sanctions were removed almost immediately once the ceasefire was signed and Turkey basically remains in the occupied territories. Again, I mean, I think we see a drastic difference, kind of whose invasions are permitted to take place and who’s opposed?

And just one last thing, I think, you know, the invasion has definitely overshadowed other conflicts, at least during the mainstream media. And I think Turkey has been taking advantage of that. I think later on that we were going to discuss more in detail the military operation that Turkey launched into northern Iraq, which is the Kurdish region of Iraq earlier this year, in April, which recently mentioned, and right now, Turkey is trying to capitalize on the invasion and launch its own invasion, another invasion into northeast Syria. And I’m sure that the Turkish government has taken into consideration the fact that right now kind of the media coverage and sort of the government actions are focused on the situation in Ukraine and may get away with another invasion with less coverage.

X: Anya, that answer was beautiful and I really, really appreciate it. I think that there’s some things that I feel like I can add to that answer. Which is, I think that a lot of what I’m going to have to say, like this entire conversation has been, is going to be really complicated and people’s eyes are probably already glazing over. And so I do apologize for that.

And so I feel a responsibility to start with this, which is that: if you’re somebody in the US, and you’re feeling kind of powerless, the really important thing to remember is that our fates are tied. There is no freedom for us without freedom for them. There’s a number of different ways to express this idea and there’s a number of different ways that it manifests — like we in the Imperial Core and people on the periphery or in the Global South, or whatever euphemism you want to use to describe it — I definitely do mean that we’re in the same struggle together. But I also mean something a little bit more specific than that.

So a lot of hay has been made in the media, and in a lot of so called Western sources about the wheat harvest in Ukraine. Because it is definitely true that Ukraine is the world’s breadbasket, basically, even more so than the American Midwest, which is where I live and we have, you know, wheat crops everywhere. And these global supply chain issues that we’ve already been dealing with during the Coronavirus pandemic, again, are extremely complicated, and there’s a lot of fuckery that’s going on everywhere. But a really, I think, underreported aspect of this, is that Turkey as a polity, as a political entity, the Erdoğan regime in particular, has been fucking with the water supply going down into Rojava. And so before this year even, Rojava was already well under what it needed to be for its wheat supply. A lot of its supplemental wheat supply does come from Ukraine, and there’s a lot of different issues that go along with that, too. You mentioned Ethiopia and the Tigray people, they also are pretty affected by the war in Ukraine and the the kind of serious shortage in the in the wheat harvest. But in Rojava, the way that this, you know, is kind of looking on the ground right now is that they don’t have as much water as they need, they definitely cannot produce all of the crops that they need to produce in order to feed all of the mounds that are there. But things are so bad in the region I think that talking about the Coronavirus pandemic, and the way that that looks on the ground in Rojava, kind of is an afterthought almost, as fucked up as that is.

But one of the things that happens there is because the the AANES, the Autonomous Administration, because they don’t have international recognition, that means that the doses of the vaccine that are meant to go to the people who live there, don’t. They go to the Al-Assad regime, right. And so if you’re looking for something that you can do, and you’re in the US, or you live somewhere in the Imperial Core, one of the things that you can do, as frustrating as it is, is lobby your representatives. As fucking frustrating as that is, believe me I understand, but that is something concrete that you can do is, is contact your representatives, and try to lobby for recognition of the Autonomous Administration as a separate polity. I think that it might be a long shot but it’s definitely something that would help the people there more than any other direct action that you can take from the Imperial Core.

If you want to take a personal step — maybe this is oversharing and maybe you can cut it — but there’s ways to make friends online with people who are in pretty desperate situations. And there’s ways that you can, I don’t want to say leverage, but there’s ways that you can take those personal friendships and make those into a kind of mutual aid. So an example of what this might look, is right now on Onlyfans, there’s a ton of sex workers who are based out of Ukraine or from Ukraine or are fleeing, you know, persecution or, you know, fleeing violent conflict. And the only way that they have to really make money very quickly is to turn to sex work. And so this is an example of an area where there’s a ton of things that overlap with a lot of the struggles that people are familiar with in the US, and it’s even on a platform that’s pretty common and popular in the US. And so if you’re looking for direct ways to directly support people, and you’re not, you know, there’s definitely mutual aid funds and all kinds of other stuff that you can get involved with, but if you’re looking to make friends and kind of have a personal bond of solidarity with somebody, you could do a lot worse than something like that. I think I’m talking a little bit too much. But that’s that’s basically what I wanted to add.

TFSR: So in an interview last year that Duran Kalkan of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, which was conducted by the group Peace in Kurdistan, Mr. Kalkan spoke about his view that while Western governments like the US may strategically partner with the Syrian Democratic Forces under Rojavan control, in the fight against Daesh, or ISIS, they’re not committed to the project of democratic confederalism, but only destabilizing Turkey and opposing Russia and Iranian influence in the region. So as someone who’s based in the US, such as myself, I find this to be a really poignant point of interaction with what’s going on in AANES and within Kurdistan more widely and with the Rojava project. Could you all speak a little bit about the the US relationship with Rojava, the ilegalization of the Kurdish Workers Party or the PKK, as well as the KCK, which I just mentioned, the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, and what impact that has on the ground in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration?

E: The US has had quite contradictory approach towards the PKK and Rojava revolution. Since 1998 the PKK has been on the terrorist list of the US, and the US has actively been supporting Turkey in its war on the PKK. However, when the time came around 2014, around the time of Kobanî resistance, where ISIS had encircle the city, the US’s relationship with the Kurds began to change slightly. And this was mainly due to the fact that the US has plans to fund the Islamist factions and Free Syrian Army, actively supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had backfired. The Free Syrian Army was losing ground to ISIS, the US didn’t see it as an effective partner, but it wanted to continue its presence in Syria, you know, due to several reasons, serious geopolitical position, the proximity to Israel, the US’s closest ally in the Middle East… The US wanted to stay on the ground, but it was finding itself less and less able to do so only through the use of Free Syrian Army. It needed another partner on the ground, and the only option that was available was the Autonomous Administration. And with lots of international outrage, with solidarity from comrades all over the world, public opinion was shifting, you know, people were becoming more and more aware about ISIS atrocities. And, you know, combination of this urgency and the ineffectiveness of the FSA resulted in Obama sending military equipment initially to the Autonomous Administration, and then the US establishing ties with the Autonomous Administration.

I would agree with the analysis and the statement to Duran Kalkan; we have many examples from recent past that support is hypothesis that the US is not committed to the project of democratic confederalism. And it’s only approaching AANES, the Autonomous Administration, as somewhat of a proxy without really supporting it, without acknowledging it fully, without, you know, limiting its support only to military so that it keeps holding that area and ISIS doesn’t come back. We know that Democratic Confederalism is a sort of antithesis of American hegemonic policies and practices. It’s completely reverse of the US states approach, you know, from neoliberalism to questions about women’s rights, and you know, gender equality, to ethnopluralist understandings of life and politics, to decentralized community control over everyday life and decision making in different areas. These are, of course, very threatening for the US, the US has always been hostile to left wing movements. But this has been highlighted during the Cold War era, and even up to this day, its political approach to left wing, any left wing resistance across the world, is destabilizing and destructive.

This has had a tremendous and terrible effect for the peoples of Rojava because of this lack of recognition, this lack of understanding of Rojava’s political, economical, social organization, and only focusing on the military and geopolitics of what’s going on in the region. The support has been shakey and as we saw in 2019, I mean, this invasion of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light given by Russia because Russia and the US have this unspoken deal where they have shared areas of influence in Syria. In areas that fall to the west of the Euphrates River, Russia has military control, Russian warplanes roam the skies in the areas to the east of the Euphrates and Syria, most of which, all of which are under the control of Rojava and the Autonomous Administration, the skies are controlled by the US. And because of the dynamic the occupation of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light of Russia.

However, the occupation of silicon in 2019 was made possible with the green light of Trump and the US government. And with that invasion alone, 400,000 people were displaced in the region. And that’s close to 10% of the entire Rojava population, Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî‎ were instrumental in the storage and processing of agricultural products. So there’s been a major hit in that sense to people’s education was disrupted, schools were closed. So this sort of contradictory, shaky approach of the US towards the political project in Rojava manifests in hundreds of lives killed, hundreds of thousands of people being displaced, three or four towns being semi destroyed, and people access to water and food being extremely limited. And it’s been devastating to the region, which is why we need not just military support from all around the world, but also political support and a deeper understanding about the political project that’s going on in the ground.

TFSR: As was mentioned already, I think Xero mentioned it in January, there was massive breakout attempts by members of ISIS, or Daesh, fighters and families from the prison and refugee camps at Hassakeh and al-Hawl, where the SDF had been holding them and international condemnation was broadcast about the conditions there all over the media. I think there was a lot that was lacking from the discussion about the fact that a huge number of those Daesh prisoners, captured after the destruction of the attempted creation of a theocratic state, or caliphate by ISIS, are foreigners whose home countries won’t relocate them. Can you all talk a bit about what happened to Syrians that were held as Daesh, and sort of break open this topic a little bit more about the difficulties of not being recognized as an official state formation and yet being in some ways held to the same humanitarian requirements as state structures that don’t have an interface with you? Like how has international scrutiny caused differences in treatment between people internally displaced by the conflicts in Syria (sometimes you can shorten IDP – internally displaced people) versus those internationals who traveled to Syria to join Daesh?

E: This has been a sore spot. In July of 2019 while I was doing my fieldwork, I attended a three day conference which was held by the Autonomous Administration on this particular issue, on how to deal with ISIS prisoners. Guests from all over the world were present there, along with a couple of people from the US too. And there is this discrepancy. So currently, there is a little over 2,000 former ISIS members imprisoned in the Hassakeh and the whole camps that you mentioned, and a little over 10,000 relatives, you know, family and children of these people, held in these camps. A little over a third of these prisoners are foreigners. Interestingly, Central Asian countries have a much, much more constructive approach and have been repatriating their citizens who went and joined ISIS and were captured by Rojavan forces. For example, Uzbekistan has has taken back more than 300 former ISIS members that are Uzbek nationals. However, many of the Western countries refrain from doing so. And part of part of the reason is that they are working closely with Turkey, but another part of the reason is this instrumentalisation of Rojava’s lack of recognition in the international arena.

However, close to two thirds of the ISIS prisoners and their family members are either Syrian or Iraqi, a majority of the people held in Rojavan ISIS camps are either Syrian and Iraqi. And the Autonomous Administration has different policies when it comes to the nationalities. If the former ISIS member is from a country anything other than Syria and Iraq, they are able to repatriate only if the country is willing to do so and very few Western countries do this. And if the former ISIS member, is Iraqi, the Iraqi government has direct communication channels with the Autonomous Administration of Rojava and takes back, you know, takes back the Iraqi citizens and places them in the camps that they have inside Iraq for former ISIS members.

For the Syrians, the situation is complicated. The majority of the former ISIS people in Rojava camps are of Syrian nationality. And on the one hand, ISIS prisoners are treated differently in the semi carceral system that they have their. You know, all other prisoners are held in general prisons, where if you’re trying to relate it to something that is tied to ISIS, you go to ISIS related courts and prisons that are reserved for ISIS members only. And former ISIS prisoners lose their properties, you know, the only type of people that get their stuff confiscated by the Autonomous Administration are former ISIS members. So there is this sort of harsh approach towards former ISIS members that are from the parts of Syria that have control by the Rojavan Administration.

However, there’s also this attempt to not have this solely carceral approach to crime and punishment. And there is some sort of community arrangement. Over the past 10 years, a few hundred former ISIS linked people have actually been set free but through these processes of alternative justice models — that I know my comrade will go into more detail in a minute. If let’s say you’re from Raqqa, and you were involved with ISIS, somehow, if you and your community can prove that you weren’t a gun wielding member that participated in the killing — you know, many people, when ISIS took over and ruled over a large swath of land for a few years, many people worked with ISIS, but not zealously, you know, driving stuff, because they’re told to or doing nonviolent acts. So, if you can prove that you weren’t violent in ISIS, and if your community, your neighborhood from Raqqa, your relatives and community vouch for you, and [would] go through this alternative justice process, then there is when you would get released. Or, like I said, this depends on, this is a complex matter that depends on sort of the communal vouching and the ability for the Administration to arrange with the community so that this person’s released won’t risk life in the region but will ease the burden on the camps and the maintenance of these camps, because that has been a difficult issue. ISIS, former ISIS members, and their relatives still are trying to resurrect the caliphate inside these camps. One of the main reasons for these breakouts that happened periodically, and they can kill one another when if someone held in these camps is willing to talk to administrative officials, or is willing to somewhat cooperate or show regret, you know, these imprisoned other ISIS people come and kill them. So, it’s very complicated. And my comrades go into more detail.

X: Yeah, thank you, Emre, that was a really good answer. That was pretty comprehensive answer. And I think the only thing that I can add to it is to kind of reframe it a little bit for a US audience who might be used to the way that prisons and the carceral state work here, and just kind of compare and contrast a little bit in order to make it a little bit easier to understand. Because that’s, that’s generally the way I think of it. And so, I think that that might be a good communication strategy. And so the thing I think that is the first thing to say about that, is that the the, the Autonomous Administration isn’t really a state in the conventional sense. And I think that fact alone is low key one of the biggest barriers in in terms of getting international recognition. Because obviously, we have NATO countries and stuff, these are all nation states. And so if you admit somebody who’s not a nation state, it’s kind of a threat to your control over the worldview of the planet. And so this I think is one thing that people, perhaps rightfully, see as kind of threatening.

And so that’s the first thing, is that is that the Autonomous Administration isn’t really run like a state. And so the way that things are enshrined here, where there’s endless bureaucracy, and there’s kind of this cultural attitude that we have laws, and you have to do exactly what it says, by the letter of the law, and you can’t stray a single millimeter outside of that, or else you’ll be put in jail and that’s the right thing to do. The kind of cultural attitudes that you would find in Kurdistan are very different from that. And this isn’t just Kurdish culture, but Kurdish culture is what I know the most about so that’s what I’m going to go into.

There’s a different attitude that comes out of centuries of Kurdish tradition, and Kurdish attitudes about law, which is that if you’re resorting to a law you’re kind of already lost, it’s kind of already too late. And so before they do that, what they prefer to do instead, kind of as a culture, is to look around and just kind of see what are the problems that we’re facing and what can we do about those problems? And so it’s kind of, it’s not prescriptive in that way. It’s much more for example: in Rojava there’s a lot of issues with retribution killings. It’s similar to the mafia, the way that the mafia works but it’s definitely not the same. Where it’s like “someone from my family killed your family and so someone from your family has to do a retribution and kill someone from my family”, and the cycle of violence just will continue. And so the way that they would approach that is to say, “Okay, well, instead of that, how about we just have this neighborhood council of people who live on the same street, or people who live in the same area” and often it’s the grandmas, it’s the neighborhood grandmothers, who would be the first responders to some kind of event, to some kind of, what we would think of as a crime.

If there’s one of these revenge killings, the first person who comes in response to that is a grandma from the neighborhood. And then what happens after that is they wouldn’t consider the crime to be solved when the perpetrator is found and then tried and executed or whatever; they consider the crime to be solved when there’s a truth and reconciliation consensus. Like there’s a truth and reconciliation process, and then that process will reach some kind of conclusion, and the surviving parties will usually agree to some kind of public show of okayness with this. Like there’ll be some kind of neighborhood feast, or there’ll be something. And it doesn’t necessarily make things, okay, between those families but it does make it so that the people who you live around, you’re held accountable to them. If somebody breaks the kind of conditions of this truce, everyone in the neighborhood is going to know who did it and how, and so there’ll be consequences in that way. So it’s much more about social reinforcement than it is about any kind of rigid agent of the state coming after you the hand of God or whatever.

That being said, there are definitely prisons in Rojava. And like Emre was talking about, those prisons are usually reserved for people who are a real, direct safety threat to the people who live in a community. And the name of the game is not really to punish those people, it’s to remove them as a safety threat. So you take them to prison, not to punish them, but because they’re their presence creates some kind of unsafe condition. The goal of taking somebody to prison is much more focused on rehabilitation than it is retribution.

I think there’s a global cap of 10 years that somebody can be in one of these prisons and often it’s much less than that. And so the incarceration rate among the general population is much lower. And in fact, during, I think it was early on in the pandemic — this might have been at the end of 2020, I might need to fact check this — but there was definitely, I’m blanking on the word, but there were people who were released from prison, and they were just forgiven and said, “Okay, you can go home, because we can’t keep you here because there’s an active fucking of plague and that that creates an unsafe condition for you.” “Amnesty” is the word that I was looking for.

Carceration is not the only piece of this, there’s also, for example, there’s the whole women’s revolution and one of the aspects of the women’s revolution in Rojava is that there are women’s communities where anyone, any woman can come with her children or with her immediate relatives or whatever, her friends, what have you, and they can come and they can escape from a battered household situation. And just come and stay and live for however long they need to live there, and learn a skill learn something that can then be used to economically sustain yourself. And that’s also a really important piece of this. And so that’s civil society. That’s kind of how things work in normal circumstances, where you just have a neighborhood and there’s a, for lack of a better word, a crime rate in that neighborhood.

That is very different from the ISIS problem. And so, the reason that very different, and the reason that they don’t resort to laws in order to solve this problem, is because it’s a systemic problem. And it’s the Syrian civil war, and so there’s everything is really complicated and everything is really dark and bleak and depressing. But one of the things that made ISIS possible is that civil wars create these really unstable conditions where you’re not really sure where your security is going to come from. And so if this armed group shows up, and they say “you have to abide by whatever we’re doing, or else” that doesn’t excuse what you then do as a result of that, but it does change the way that you treat the problem. Because many of the people who were, what you might call “Syrian civilians” who came under the control of ISIS, or who was part of ISIS or whatever. A lot of those people weren’t really true believers, they didn’t join ISIS because they wanted to, they joined ISIS because they were forced to under nightmarish circumstances. And again, that doesn’t make it okay. But it does change the way that you treat the problem.

And so there’s a population of people who do stuff that. And then there’s a separate population of people who are generally true believers who come by choice from abroad, and Emre was saying, that accounts for about a third of the of the population in these in these ISIS prison camps in al-Hawl, particularly. And so what you do with these people, the third of the people who are who are coming from abroad, that’s a really thorny problem, because the Autonomous Administration isn’t recognized, and nobody wants to take these people back. And so again, I’m not making excuses for the conditions or anything that, I’m just saying that there’s there’s a context here, and that context is really important.

TFSR: Cool, I found that very helpful. Between the two of you.

As was mentioned earlier, the Barzani governing Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq has a contentious relationship with the Autonomous Administration and the democratic movement. Turkey has also been leading attacks into Iraq since last year, at least, including allegedly using chemical weapons in the northern regions against what they are calling “PKK militants”. But that hasn’t really been making the news from within the US. Does anyone want to address these activities?

R: I want to share a little bit about my own experience. I don’t know the details about the allegations of the chemical weapons but I was at a demonstration in The Hague in mid-May, where a British delegation, and among them Steve Sweeney, a journalist who has been in the region himself for one year to investigate. He has collected samples of soil, hair and clothes that contain evidence that banned chemical weapons have been used by Turkey. And on May 17, he and others would join the local Kurdish movement to go to the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to hand over this samples, and to urge for a fact finding team to go to the region to start their own investigations. But very unfortunately, the flight got canceled, so they could not make it to the Netherlands in time, which was very disappointing and frustrating. And then some other people from the demonstration, they took their place. Of course, they didn’t have the samples but they did have the letters and the files, so they went to the building. The police was escorting them and it was so painful to see that they weren’t even let inside the gates. They could not even enter the building into the reception [area] to hand over these documents, but they were just left outside the gate. And I think they handed it over to somebody who would take it inside. And that was so painful to see that it’s not taken seriously, that even with such a big demonstration and action and a call out for supports, that they are just not responding at all.

E: To add on to Rimac’s point, Turkey has been using chemical weapons such as phosphorus bonds and cluster bombs, not only in northern Iraq, not only in partial southern Kurdistan against PKK militants in the Qandil Mountains area, but also in Rojava during its invasion of Serê Kaniyê. Many families were affected by phosphorus bombs that were used by Turkish warplanes. And there was this iconic image of a 6-7 year old boy with all sorts of chemical burns on his body, and samples collected in Rojava, too. And the so-called “international community” that result has been silence in the face of these attacks. And I think this is primarily due to the hostile approach that many countries have towards the Kurdish movement, you know, both in Rojava and in other parts of Kurdistan. Like we said several times today, the recognition of PKK as a terrorist organization, and the criminalization of ALL Kurdish people basically, not just the PKK through this logic, and the PKK is the biggest, is the strongest Kurdish party with the biggest base in Kurdish society. We’re talking about 30-35 million Kurds in Kurdistan, and more than half of Kurds in Kurdistan make up the base of the PKK.

So the West’s contradictory political approach towards the PKK and the Kurdish movement, I believe, is one of the main reasons for this turning a blind eye towards the use of active use of chemical weapons by a NATO member country. And this only serves to illustrate the hypocrisy is about all the Western officials preaching about human rights and sort of democratic measures to be employed in warfare, including the banning of chemical weapons. I guess, as long as you’re a NATO member or a NATO ally and you’re dropping chemical bombs on marginalized, criminalized communities such as the Kurdish movement and the Kurdish people, you get a free pass in chemical warfare.

TFSR: Over the last 10 years of the Rojava revolution, radicals, anarchists and feminists in the US and abroad have attempted to raise awareness about the project in order to grow solidarity, but the only times, at least in the US that I’m aware of, that the topic seems to come up are in the context of emergencies, invasions and war. How have we in the US, in particular, failed at engaging lessons taking inspiration from and building solidarity with the revolution in Rojava? And what has that lost us and our comrades over there and abroad?

R: I would like to answer this question by really zooming in on my own journey, how I became involved, not because my journey is special, but I think that it explains a lot about how difficult it can be to navigate. As I said, in my introduction, that I experienced sexual violence as a child from a family member and I was actually invited by another family member to join them for a vacation in Turkey, in 2015. And I wasn’t aware of the strike of the Kurdish struggle yet, then. And I remember that, at the time, there were some alerts about Turkey that you should not travel too close to the border with Syria, because there was unrest.

And at that time, I only read about Syria in the headlines. I only saw headlines and I didn’t know personally what exactly was going on. But because I was traveling there, I wanted to read up and research what’s going on, what’s happening in this part of the world that I’m very ignorant about. So of course, one of the first things I learned was about the Civil War. And then I learned about the PKK, and about the women’s revolution, about SDF and the YPG fighting against ISIS and also being successful and pushing back against them. But I was I was researching this alone, I was not connected with with organizers or anarchists at that moment yet. So it was very confusing for me to find out who is who and who is fighting for what, in the beginning, I could not even distinguish between like the PKK and the YPG and the Free Syrian Army. I was not aware of it. So I had to research that even further.

And then, as soon as I started leaning more towards understanding that the PKK and the YPG that they were struggling for values that I hold dear as well, I started wondering, but if they are fighting this good fights, for human rights and for liberation and against oppression, and if they are actually like the heroes of this moment in the sense that there are so many parts of the world where the governments and the people are so terrified of ISIS, that they are paralyzed by fear and not doing anything and people on the streets being afraid of each other. And then I thought “if they are so successful in fighting against ISIS, then why are they not celebrated? Why is this not shared?” Especially in the country where I’m from in the Netherlands there’s a really big ISIS scare. And I didn’t understand why there there wouldn’t be more attention to this.

So I came in the struggle of like, “it’s everybody’s word against everybody’s word.” And I stuck with it because I really wanted to find out what was going on. And then I also went at some point to a Kurdish culture event in my area and that’s when I really started to embrace the Kurds and the revolution in Rojava. So, by that time, it was more clear to me who is playing what role, and also that Turkey’s role was not dubious, but just evil. That Turkey is really betraying all the values and out to commit genocide, that they’d have no excuse for their attacks.

But then when I started joining the Kurdish community here in the Netherlands, that was also a bit of a culture shock. Because even though I was aware that we were living in a capitalist society and patriarchal society, and that this was causing a lot of injustice, and unheard voices, even though I was aware of it, and already, like fighting the status quo as much as I could, in my way, it was a culture shock to become accepted by the Kurdish community. Because then I felt that I became a part of the struggle and after revolution. And it’s also because the message of the revolution is what I hold really dear, I think that’s a really important message. And that’s why I am also really glad to participate today in the podcast, because the message is that it’s not only a revolution in Rojava, and in Kurdistan region, it’s not their revolution, it’s from all of us.

Because the way how the PKK decided, at some point, that they are not after their own State anymore but they are instead going after a Stateless world. When I really find out about it, and I started sitting with this, that’s when I felt that this is really also my revolution, and that I have a job to play here in the Netherlands. But it was a big step to start getting to know the Kurdish movement here and understanding what role I can play here. Because I even though I fight against it, I do have a European and a Dutch background, I’m not a Kurdish person. So I have a lot of work to do to change my mindset.

And that is also where, because of the pandemic, we could not organize anymore. And I lost contact with my Kurdish friends. So that’s where I started looking on the internet, to find a community and to find resources and to keep on developing myself, and to really become a student of the revolution to understand what can I do here in the Netherlands. That is how I found out about ECR, I joined a reading session of them. And this is also my message to listeners who feel like they want to do something, but they are looking for ways to get involved and to make an impact: the ECR we have reading sessions, one of the topics we discussed was — and that was over like five or six sessions — we discussed similarities and differences between the Zapatista revolution and the Rojava revolution. And for the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, we had a session, of course, about women struggle and achievements. And before that, we had really interesting sessions about political economy and the cooperative economy in Rojava.

And these are sessions where we exchange equally, where we get to know each other. And then we also have once a month, the organizing meetings where we try to practice what we are learning, try to inspire each other, we have updates from the region. And for me, it helped a lot to be connected with people who are very aware of what’s going on, because that helps seeing the forest through the trees again. Because if you’re insecure about what is going on, that also makes you insecure to act and to speak out and to take action. So ECR has really helped me to stand stronger, and form my own opinion, and choose a strategy for myself to be a part of the revolution. And so I would like to invite listeners to join us for organizing meetings. You’re welcome to join. However, whatever your background is, or how much you know or don’t know about it, you’re always welcome to join us. You can get an update from the region. We also share news about what’s going on in the United States, revolving Rojava and Kurdistan. We share actions that we are taking to build a broader solidarity, because this is, as I said, it’s not only a Kurdish revolution, it’s not only Rojava, it is a struggle and a resistance at this worldwide. That we are connected in our struggle against capitalism and patriarchy. And then at the end of the meetings, we also have the phone banking, where friends of ours from ECR they always do a really great job of putting together a message of concern. And they have all the phones numbers from relevant people of the government in the United States, and we make the calls and as Xero said it might be a bit boring or even like, doesn’t feel good for people, but it is a really important part, especially as European or American people to really raise the noise in our own countries, and to bring our message because they need to hear our story. And you can find us at DefendRojava.Org. There, you can also sign up to get notifications about events and news.

E: I’ll follow Rimac’s example and begin with explaining how I started to become involved with ECR. Soon after its establishment in 2019, I was already in touch with one of co-founders such as Anya and a couple other comrades. And I’m working on women’s autonomous organizing in Rojava in my dissertation, and particularly in the economic arena, you know, cooperatives, collectives, communes. And, you know, in addition to all the wonderful things we do at ECR, we’ve been doing over the past three years that Rimac mentioned just now, I’ve been involved with Anya and a couple comrades with trying to establish connections and increase solidarity with different cooperatives across the US. We’ve been meeting with representatives from cooperatives in and around New York City, but also from different parts of the US. We’ve been in communication with Equal Exchange, Fair World Project, Colab Cooperative, and USFWC Peer Tech Network, among other cooperatives. We’ve been trying to build connections with cooperatives and collectives in Rojava. As an anarchist, myself, I value this growth of international solidarity among different cooperatives in different parts of the world.

However, you don’t have to be an anarchist, you know, whatever excites you in life, whatever you’ve been working on more, there are options to build solidarity with your comrades in Rojava. I know, for example, if you’re an active feminist, in the US, or in Europe, an organized active feminist and you want to build solidarity that’s also much valued and possible, both through the ECR, which, you know, tries to contribute to this growth of solidarity, but also Kurdish Women’s Movement, which is very well established, internationally, particularly in Europe. And I know, there have been meetings with, you know, different women’s organizing from North and South America. So whatever you’re working on, whatever moves you in life, there is possibility of growing solidarity and connections with corresponding similar organizations and people in Rojava. And the Rojava Revolution’s Democratic Confederalism is an anti-nation-state, internationalist vision that does not only limit itself to the Kurdistan or the Middle East, but for the entire world. So any collaboration, in that sense will be much valued and appreciated.

X: Yeah, I would echo what I heard both of Rimac and Emre say, which I thought they were really beautiful responses. So one of the things that I personally have learned — this is gonna sound really contradictory — one of the things that I personally have learned over the course of my organizing as I get closer and closer to Indigenous movements here on Turtle Island, is the importance of not centering yourself, but also, the utility of centering yourself and when it’s appropriate to and when it’s not appropriate to. Things have to be balanced and I think that’s something that’s really important that I take away from all of this. So I had the good fortune to sit down with a Kurdish journalist Khabat Abbas — who you’ll hear the interview that I did with her, we’ll be dropping an episode after we start dropping episodes — but that was a really wide ranging conversation. And one of the things that I really took away from that was this notion of trying to sit with all of the many, many contradictions in life and not just contradictions of ideas or whatever, but contradictions of feeling and thought.

You know, the way that really intense genocides tend to all also happened at the same time as incredible social movements towards progressive ideas of feminism and liberation and stuff. And the way that you can’t really separate the two. That was a really powerful idea. I think that some cultures might call that, if I’m, again, forgetting the name, non-dualism, I think that Buddhists would have a lot to say about this idea of the yin and the yang, and how good and evil aren’t really opposites. They’re two sides of the same coin and stuff like that. I’ve come around to the idea that these are all things that are too important to carry just one name and we have versions of them in our own culture. And so trying to see these things as a gift, and the gift comes in the form of a seed, and you can choose to plant that seed and you can even tend it like a garden. Because the way that culture works, a lot of the time, is a lot soil. You have to look at the nutrients that are in the soil and you can maintain the soil, and you can change what the nutrients are over time, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen with a lot of work and a lot of really hard, dedicated effort over the course of generations even.

And that’s what the Kurds and other people who live in the region have achieved. Because the Rojava project as a polity didn’t come about because somebody woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s let’s fundamentally revolutionize everything that we’re doing in civil society”. It came about because these cultures, or these traditions, have been practiced for centuries. And there was a lot of dedicated organizing that happened in the years before the Syrian civil war. The PKK is definitely a factor, the early stage of the YPG, and YPJ, which are the People’s Defense Units, and the Women’s Defense Units, these self defense militias in the region. Those also didn’t come out of nowhere, they were trained with the help of the PKK. And in many instances, they have, you know, overlapping membership.

But these things don’t just happen in a vacuum, they come about because there’s a need for them, even when there’s not a civil war going on. And so I look around at the situation in the context where I live and I see that there’s a dire need for that. And I’m not the first person to notice that, this is not an original observation in any way. But things in the US right now are getting to a dire point where I really worry a lot about, you know, the possibility of genocidal violence in the near future. And the violence that is going to be perpetrated against queer people and trans people over the summer, and how that’s actually about racism, when you boil it down, and how nothing is new under the sun. Everything that happened before will happen again, you know, whatever you want to bring out to say that.

But all of that is to say: that you have these dark things that are happening at the same time as you have incredibly positive things. And the incredibly positive things that I take from Rojava, the things that really stood out to me and the things that I really connected with immediately, were the Women’s Revolution, and the structure of civil society, those are the things that made me realize that I’m an anarchist, I just didn’t put the word to it for a long time. And realizing those things, it was a very non-linear process where I just kind of made all these realizations in my own life and started realizing that I fit into that context, too, and I can be part of those organizing efforts. And that’s a new commitment that I have in my life that I feel more myself than I have in a very long time. Because I’ve was introduced to these ideas.

And so I think there’s a lot there that’s on the personal level, on the societal level, the structural level. And a lot of it goes off in very different directions. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, is that all of that is part of it, all of that has to be part of the whole. That the opposition has to be part of the system. Yeah, and so when I think about what can be done, and how the US has failed, I think those are important questions to grapple with. And there’s a lot of very serious critiques to be made. I think that what it distills down to, for me, is a reaction of an interaction that I had with somebody on Twitter recently, somebody that’s based in the UK, but that does a lot of anarchist organizing and stuff. And they kept complaining about “what the fuck is in the water over there in the US? What the fuck are you people talking about all the time?” And that got me to thinking very seriously about, you know, the context that I grew up in. Which was small towns in the Rust Belt, and just kind of what it is like emotionally to grow up that way, in that area, in that context, and how that plays differently from people who grew up in different contexts, in different geographies and stuff. Yeah, I’m rambling now, but I just, it’s all of this. It’s really complex, and it’s really nuanced, and I just love every minute of it. That’s basically my answer.

TFSR: That’s awesome. All those answers were really, really enlightening. I really appreciate them. And so Rimac already mentioned the website and how to get in touch, and invited listeners into the project. I wonder if any of you individually have projects. I mean, Xero mentioned the podcast, but if any of you have places where listeners can reach out to you personally over social media, or if you have collections of writings that you’ve done, anything like that you want to share? It’s okay, if you don’t.

X: I guess I can start. So the podcast that I mentioned is called Where Many Worlds Fit. You can find, I guess, me on Twitter and on Instagram, the handle is Many_Worlds_Pod spelled just it sounds. I think the there’s also an email, which is Many.Worlds.Pod@protonmail.com. And so if anybody wants to get in touch or if you want to, you know, follow along there. There’s a couple of articles that have been posted on the website, which is ManyWorldsPod.github.io. It’s hosted on GitHub, because I don’t paying for software, and I’m a software developer by trade, and so I just did all of that myself. Yeah, that’s where to find me.

TFSR: Well, thank you. Thank you all for having this conversation and for taking all this time out of out of your busy lives to not only do this work, but to share with the audience and with myself. Yeah. And thanks again.

R: Can I share one thing?

TFSR: Yeah yeah yeah!

R: Well, the examples I gave earlier, that people can do on an individual level and get involved, speak for themselves. But what I also love about being involved with ECR is that they are really taken the steps necessary, and really big steps in the United States, to bring the message of the Rojava Revolution forward. And to also approach Congress, because they’ve now drafted a resolution with legislation that they want to see changed so that people in the area can be protected, because they would, they have to have political recognition. But also because Turkey has built dams, causing whole areas to be without water, so daily life is obstructed in a pandemic, that was really a catastrophe on catastrophe. Not to mention the effects on food supplies. So even though ECR is a relatively small organization, they are really owing up to the revolution and to making the change and impact they can do. So that’s why I also love to organize with them, because you can learn so much from them. And I want to thank you for taking the time because we’ve spoken over two hours. I don’t know how long your podcast usually is. But thanks for taking the time and listen to us and not feeling any rush.

X: Yeah, thanks a lot for having us, Bursts, it’s been a great conversation.

TFSR: Yeah, I’ve appreciate you getting to getting to chat with all of y’all. And I’m glad there’s some promotion here for your podcast, which I’m pretty excited about [laughs].

X: Yeah, me too [laughs]. I think we just need to knuckle down and do it [laughs].

TFSR: Take care, Hevals!

R: Serkeftin!

Support Jessica Reznicek and Navigating Conflict in Movement

Support Jessica Reznicek and Navigating Conflict in Movement

This week on the show, we’re airing two portions.

Support Jessica Reznicek

[00:02:06 – 00:36:33]

Photo by Cristina Yurena Zerr of Jessica Reznicek sitting among green plants and purple flowers next to a banner reading “We Are Here To Protect | Water Is Life”, other text reading “Support Jessica Reznicek & Navigating Conflict In Movement | TFSR 22-06-11”
Download This Episode

First up, Charlotte speaks about their friend, political prisoner and water defender Jessica Reznicek who just had an appeal denied of an 8 year sentence and terrorism enhancement for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline with another Catholic Worker prior to DAPL. carrying oil. It’s estimated that the two cost $6 million in lost profits to Energy Transfer Partners and stopped the flow of 30 million barrels of oil. For the hour we talk about #NoDAPL, the movements that Jessica was involved in, including Occupy and the Catholic Workers, the increased criminalization of dissent as the climate heats up and how to support Jessica and spread the good work. You can learn more about Jess and her case at SupportJessicaReznicek.com and you can purchase benefit t-shirts here: https://www.eaglescreenprint.com/shop/p/free-jessica-reznicek-tee

Navigating Conflict In Movement

[00:37:52 – end]

Then, we do something a little experimental. We present a conversation with a member of an anti-authoritarian movement in Europe. We don’t say what movement. We talk about conflict internal to their movement, but we don’t name the parties involved. The conversation was conducted from an anti-authoritarian perspective, in the interest of creating heterogeneous communities of struggle. The purpose of this recording is to promote a mental exercise on the part of the listener to plug in their own experiences in movements with many different trajectories inside of it. The anonymous nature of the conversation was in part to not contribute to internal conflict to the movement, conflict is better addressed between parties involved than with an outside party (our radio show) who’s interest may not be the same as the movement. I hope that this conversation is helpful, for all of it’s purposeful vagueness. This originally aired in 2017.

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Jess Reznicek Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself with any name, preferred pronouns, affiliations, or anything that you want to share?

Charlotte: Sure, I’m Charlotte, I use she/they pronouns and I am a member of the Free Jess team.

TFSR: We’re gonna be talking about Jessica Reznicek Catholic Worker, and land and water defender facing eight years in prison for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline without causing a drop of spillage and succeeding in losing Energy Transfer Partners a good amount of money, which is pretty awesome. In the first step, I wanted to ask if you’d mind sharing how you became a supporter of Jessica, if you come from the prisoner support world or eco-defense support, how you came to this?

C: I met Jess in Iowa, I had spent time at Standing Rock, and then things were getting so militarized and crazy, and I heard that they needed extra hands, there’s a small scrappy group in Iowa, so I went down there. That’s where I met her. We were part of the same direct-action caravan called Mississippi Stand. Jess had really started the resistance movement to the Dakota Access Pipeline DAPL. In Iowa, most people think of DAPL with Standing Rock, but the pipeline also went through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and then there is the end in Illinois. She really galvanized the Iowa base to care about this pipeline and its pollution into the waters there. Personally, I’ve been doing climate justice work pretty much since Standing Rock. That was a big moment for me personally, I do direct action, do prison support of different kinds. I’m an abolitionist. So for me with Jess, there’s a lot of things that intersect and at the end of the day, just being her friend and not wanting her to be locked up and wanting to support her and share the pieces of this fight and legal situation that we’re all really terrified about.

TFSR: Can you tell us a bit about Jessica’s story, who she is, and how she approaches political engagement? Just a quick aside. Before we talked, one of the things that I just very basically did was to look at the Wikipedia about Jessica, and there’s just so much stuff in there. She has been so active, I’m sure she keeps it up even from behind bars. Could you tell us a bit about your friend?

C: Jess grew up in Iowa, and has a really deep connection to the waters there. And I think her actions were definitely motivated from that place of just holding those waters really sacred to her. The very formative political moment for her was being involved in Occupy about 10 years ago, she was really involved with that, she’s really involved with the anti-nuclear movement and doing a lot of actions against the proliferation of nuclear missiles. She is an active member of the Catholic Workers Movement, which is a really big part of who she is. And within that, the Plowshares Movement, and that flavor of direct action. She is also really place-based. I was really struck by her connection of place to Iowa and connection to the rivers and really forming these relationships with everyday farmers and residents and people on the street. This was very much not an echo-chamber vibe. I think different political movements like Occupy, a lot of people there were already radicalized, or we’re talking within circles, but what I saw was always her reaching across and finding ways to bring people in and educate them on these really oppressive systems.

TFSR: So we featured the voice of folks involved in Catholic Worker struggles in the past on the show a few times, actually had Martha Hennessy of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, comrade [4:36] had passed us audio of an interview with Martha before Martha went inside. But I must admit the movement is marginal, a lot of people have not heard of them. I grew up Roman Catholic and had Catholic parents, but I only learned about the Catholic Worker Movement because of things the SF Bay Area Book Fair having its pre-Book Fair Cafe funded either at a Catholic Worker space in San Francisco in the late 90s, or early 2000s, or from stories from Utah Phillips, the musician, the storyteller of his teacher, Ammon Hennacy. Now I know the Plowshares Movement has had a long direct action history connected to the Catholic Workers. Would it be possible for you to give a little intro to the milieu that Jessica came out of and would you say some words about the Catholic Worker Movement?

C: Sure. The Catholic Worker Movement was created in the 1930s. Dorothy Day and Peter Martin are the two – I don’t know if officially – founders but those are really big figures in the early days. And a lot of their tactics and approaches to injustice are focused on non-violence service, and redistributing wealth and resources. This was started with people feeling really disenfranchised from the industrialization of Europe, and especially a lot of young workers seeing those inequalities rise really drastically during that time and serving those on the margins of society. They’re also very anti-war. A lot of their actions are focused around service, I don’t know if they use the words mutual aid, but it’s very mutual aid in orientation, about just supplying basic needs to people and making sure those resources get to folks. So in a lot of the different regional houses, they have kitchens, which was definitely a part of Jesse’s life for years in Iowa, in Des Moines in the Catholic Workers house there, they feed a lot of houseless folks and whoever just wants some free food. A lot of distribution of wealth, a lot of service, sacrifice, and worship are also pretty big parts of that.

I guess that sort of strain connects to the Plowshare Movement, and that’s a little bit more specific. That’s part of the Christian pacifist movement. They’re very anti-nukes, and they really came about in the 80s. There was, as you mentioned, the Plowshare 7, there’s the Berrigan Brothers and some other folks that they got their name, they beat swords into plowshares, and trespass, allegedly, into this place where missiles were made, and they poured blood on the documents and offered prayers for peace – those kinds of actions of sacrificing themselves to highlight this injustice in this issue is very much what they’re known for. A lot of times, it’s also oriented around prayer. That is also something that Jessica really related to, and she joined the Dakota Access Pipeline struggle and Standing Rock, I think, the overlap was prayer. She was really standing in solidarity with a lot of indigenous communities where their resistance was rooted in prayer and this deep connection to the earth and integrity and a sense of what’s right and being on the right side of history. So I think, for Jess, the indigenous sovereignty and Catholic Worker Movement had that overlap. And then obviously, the direct action piece is a really big part of the Plowshare and Catholic Workers Movement as well.

TFSR: As a reminder for folks, especially younger folks, the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline was huge. It was a moment of bringing together indigenous sovereignty, climate justice, direct action, and land and water defense, as well as an anti-capitalist activity against a lot of the banks investing in this mega project. And it was eventually completed. And oil is flowing through it. But I’m wondering if you, as someone who was involved in that struggle, could give listeners a sense of what was going on at that time and your experience of it a bit.

C: That Dakota Access Pipeline is about a 1200 mile-pipeline from North Dakota that ends in Illinois. It has the name Standing Rock because it was next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but it also went through a lot of other lands. It just became an enormous movement and big flashpoint, as you mentioned, for climate justice, anti-fossil fuel work, indigenous rights, sovereignty, decolonization, the land back movement – a lot of seeds were really planted for that there. It’s hard to predict when these moments will happen. But a lot of people really resonated with the injustices that were happening. And one of the main things was that the pipeline was originally supposed to go through a more populous white town, and it was rerouted in the permitting process because they realized it was so dangerous to go through the reservation, and then it ended up going through very sacred burial grounds. And that very clear environmental racism really struck a chord with a lot of people. And then a few people showed up, and it grew to about 15,000 people. Lots of direct action, there was a ton of skill-sharing, there were a lot of different camps there and, of course, politics and different vibes with different camps, but there’s definitely a strain of self-sufficiency and autonomy and skill-sharing in a lot of ways that I don’t think a lot of people had experienced before, that was really empowering. It was this incredible moment for movement building and relationship building. And really having a firm indigenous-led decolonize really rare resistance movement. Then you add the climate change piece on top of that. And it really became this lightning-in-a-bottle moment for land defense and people banding together and doing these really enormous direct actions of hundreds of people occupying sites, where different construction equipment was doing at different stages of constructing a pipeline, welding equipment together, boring under rivers, stringing pipe along, digging underground – people were interrupting that process.

There was a range of how that was happening and sometimes people were occupying it and planting native seeds, and there was song and prayer. Other times, people were locking down to equipment to physically stop the construction from happening. From that, it led to enormous costs for Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline company that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline. They had to increase their private security costs. We saw this huge increase in surveillance of resistance. I would encourage folks to read the Intercept’s articles on Tiger Swan, their whole oil and water series covers this super in-depth. So it was this brilliant moment of coming together and movement building. And then it also led to this whole private security surveillance apparatus being exposed. And the increase in the expenses for Energy Transfer Partners led to a lot of banks divesting. So it also sparked the divestment movement. And investors realized that these are actually really risky financial operations or investments at this point. We also saw, in terms of suppression of protests, these critical infrastructure bills that came out of Standing Rock, so the oil and gas industry was really scared. And that’s evidenced by the fact that they lobbied and put together a whole series of critical infrastructure bills after this that is now active in 15 states. That was a direct response to Standing Rock. It really elevates a lot of the charges associated with tampering with fossil fuel infrastructure. And so simple trespassing, which would otherwise be a misdemeanor, is now a felony in a lot of states and really upped the ante on those charges. A lot of things came out of that movement – a lot of power and a lot of suppression as well. And I think what we’re seeing with Jessica is a result of that fear from the oil and gas industry and this real desire to deter people from trying to stop them.

TFSR: I think another set of laws that came out of the state’s reaction to Standing Rock, were these ones that decriminalized driving into crowds of people because there were such large marches or blockades of streets, that they basically wanted to make sure that pipeline workers weren’t going to get any charges for just forcing their way violently through a crowd of people in this huge metal object. Really scary.

C: Yeah, totally. You think of the Charlottesville attack of Heather Heyer, and it’s not out of the question to think of someone plowing through a crowd with a car and killing someone. It happens, and exactly what you’re saying, bills like that that decriminalize that activity are directly connected to this apparatus to deter people from any resistance and fighting these systems of power.

TFSR: Could you say a bit about what Jessica pled to, how she ended up getting caught, what she was convicted of, and just nuts and bolts of the case that the US government brought against her, and how she came to be labeled as a terrorist?

C: Jessica acted in 2016 with another woman to disable pipeline equipment. Nobody was harmed. In 2017, they publicly admitted to this. Three months later, Jess’s home was raided by the FBI. There was this waiting period of two years before she was indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple charges and placed on house arrest. So there’s this spooky two-year period, that was really stressful, of course. This led to her sentencing hearing in June of 2021. And that’s when she received the domestic terrorism enhancement. She pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to damage an energy facility. That was the only charge without a mandatory minimum. She also has to pay 3.2 million to Energy Transfer Partners in restitution. She will also be on supervised probation for three years.

TFSR: You talked about the increased penalties for things that would be considered necessary infrastructure or attacks on that, which, when I hear that at first, that makes me think of foreign powers or a terrorist organization that might try to take down the electrical grid that could harm a lot of people. But how did terrorism charges come into this? I guess it wouldn’t be a byproduct of those enhancements that you were talking about after the last question because that was a state decision to talk about the infrastructure. But it seems to be directly in the lineage of stuff that happened during the Green Scare from the mid-90s up through the early 2000s, where terrorism enhancements for Marius Mason were applied to nonviolent sabotage actions, for instance, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act put in an enhancement at a federal level, if anyone were to interfere or call for a boycott even of animal-related industries, this feels it’s in that vein, is that a fair way to look at it? Can you go into a little detail about that?

C: Yeah, definitely. We know exactly where the label of domestic terrorists for something like this started in 2017, 80 Republicans and four Democratic members of Congress pressed the Justice Department, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to treat all people who tampered with fossil fuel infrastructure to label them as domestic terrorists. And they wrote this letter. That’s exactly where this started. This is a direct answer to that call. And that was in 2017. That was in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fear that the fossil fuel industry was failing. And those Congress members together received a total combined 36 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. So this is being led by the oil and gas industry as a way to protect their assets. That’s one of the reasons why we’re really scared about this we’re seeing this collapse of the government and an oil and gas company. And then specifically the domestic terrorist label is really a sentencing guideline and so it has to do with harming an individual, harming human life, like people like Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people. He’s charged as a domestic terrorist. And then the specific clause that Jesse’s label rests on is whether or not she influenced the government. And it was the prosecutor back in her sentencing hearing that suggested that she was labeled as a terrorist. Her guideline for the charge that she admitted to, originally the sentencing guidelines range from 37 to 46 months, and then when Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger responded to the prosecutor and applied this domestic terrorism label to Jess, that automatically increased her sentencing guidelines from the range of 37 to 46 months to 210 to 240 months. That five-fold increase obviously has led to Jess being in jail now for eight years. Judge Ebinger claimed that the lengthy sentence that she gave to Jessica was necessary to deter others. That is all on the record.

TFSR: Well, that leads me to this question. So Jessica just lost a recent challenge in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to the terrorism enhancement. Can you talk about this and what the next legal steps are for her?

C: We were arguing in the appeal that the terrorism enhancement should be dropped. That would lead to a re-sentencing of her. That definition of being a domestic terrorist, that legal language hinges on whether the actions must be “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of a government by intimidation, or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” So we were arguing that her actions targeted a private company, not the government, and therefore this label was misapplied. In the appeal decision that came out a few days ago on Monday, they basically didn’t go into the merits of whether the domestic terrorism label was accurate or not. They said it’s irrelevant and any error was harmless. This harmless error is something that’s used in courts a lot. They’re basically saying that being labeled a domestic terrorist is irrelevant, she would have received the same sentencing either way, which isn’t true, her sentencing guidelines went from 37 to 46 months to 210 to 240, when she received that label. We’re really worried about this for a lot of reasons. Number one is that those who critique the government in a regulatory process can be labeled domestic terrorists for critiquing the regulatory process. That is the prosecutor’s justification, that Jess read her statement in front of the Iowa Utilities Board. And in critiquing the regulatory process – which later was found by a federal judge to be illegal – it’s an illegally operated pipeline at this point. So Jess was right. Number one, the fact that people who critique the regulatory process can be found as domestic terrorists is terrifying.

Number two is that judges can label a land defender a domestic terrorist and then go back and say it was a harmless error, that it was irrelevant to apply that label. So it’s a pretty terrifying precedent that’s being set. We’re being supported and talking a lot to different civil liberties groups who are really worried that this is not random. This is part of a much broader, politically orchestrated set of decisions and bills – the critical infrastructure bills, the letter to Jeff Sessions, the funding of these Congress members, and then even the judges or Trump appointees. They have a lot of ties to different big industries, pharmaceuticals, and Big Ag. We’re just really worried about this precedent this sets for a lot of activists, and this is part of a much broader movement to suppress protests, not just in the US, but internationally as well.

TFSR: To the question of what the next legal steps are, you said that Jess’s support has been talking to various civil liberties groups. But is there a next legal step? Maybe I missed that in the answer?

C: No, you didn’t. The next legal step would be asking for a rehearing by the entire Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, appealing to the US Supreme Court, and/or seeking presidential clemency. So we’re figuring out what is next.

TFSR: How can listeners help Jessica out at this point? And do you have any suggestions on how they can support the movements and activities that she put herself on the line for in moving forward? How can people continue to support indigenous sovereignty land back, stopping the destruction of the earth, and water defense?

C: Great question. In the big picture, I would urge people to examine their privilege, and how high the stakes are. In part, why just did such a bold action like this was her connection to the waters, but it was also trying to highlight how high do the stakes have to be where we act outside of the sanctioned forms of protests or resistance to the state, to capitalism, to the fossil fuel industry. The appeal came out the same day that NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that carbon dioxide levels are now 50% higher than during the pre-industrial era, and carbon dioxide has not been this high in 4 million years, and it’s not dropping fast enough to avert catastrophe. We all see wildfires, sea-level rise, and all kinds of stuff from climate change. We know, at this point, it’s real. This state wants us to submit our comments to an environmental impact statement and then go back to our lives. And that’s our only avenue, or maybe stand with the sign outside. Now we can’t even trespass, according to their rules. I would encourage people to act outside of what the state allows us to do. And the stakes are really high right now. The climate is burning. I would encourage people to take bold action, whatever that means for you, to get engaged, to examine your privilege, to get to know where you are and what native land you’re on, and get involved in different solidarity with Native communities where you are. Also, learn skills and don’t be afraid to ask questions, if you want to do something more than holding a protest sign. Connect with groups, there’s lots of direct action trainings all the time, and people can find ways to plug in and skillshare. There’s no stupid question, show up as a student.

More specifically, to plug into the campaign, people can follow us on social media. Our website is SupportJessicaReznicek.Com. It’s a pretty simple website run by a few volunteers but it has all the details there. There’s all the legal details, there’s tabs to get involved, and there is also information to contact Jess and write her a letter. You can also sign the petition. There’s over 100 organizations that have signed on the organization petition and there’s also individuals, over 15,000 people have signed on. Especially now after the appeal was denied, we’re definitely in a new stage of the campaign, we’re going to be leveling up. So we definitely need the support of folks. You can sign up for our email lists. You can also follow us on the socials, we’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @FreeJessRez. We definitely don’t want anyone to do an action outside of the facility that she’s in, but I’d really encourage people to take whatever actions they feel inspired to, if that’s a banner drop, or a kitchen or getting together to write letters to her, that is great. We’re going to be doing an international day of action at some point coming up. We also had a webinar about a month ago, and we had some really bad-ass speakers – Cherri Foytlin, and Cindy Spoon from the L’eau Est La Vie resistance camp from the Bayou Bridge pipeline. We had folks from the Water Protectors Legal Collective, who were awesome folks from the Climate Defense Project. That was a really comprehensive look at Jesse’s case with some friends who are on the support team just speaking more personally about Jess’s personality. There’s a lot of material with Jess’s words that we have on this site. So I would encourage people to watch them and become more familiar with the case because what happens to Jess could happen to all of us. Protecting the water should never be terrorism.

TFSR: I was just looking at the really neat T-shirts by Kat Eng that are on the website for sale, which is pretty cool.

C: Yeah! Buy a T-shirt. Kat has been awesome. They’re really cool T-shirts, it’s Eagle and the Condor myth. Buy a t-shirt and support Jess, the money will go to her and her education in prison.

TFSR: Are people invited to send books or write letters to Jessica? If so, what are some things that Jess likes receiving or talking about?

C: I love that question. On our website, you can click on the Contact tab, which has the details to write to Jessica. Prisons are horrible. You can’t have any stickers, there’s just a lot of details about what is allowed and what’s not. So those details are there. Definitely make sure to follow those details. Talk about whatever you want. But I think her feeling solidarity, not feeling this was for nothing, hearing about dogs, she’s taking care of a puppy in there. Any puppy training techniques or tips. Just hearing about people’s connection to place and maybe how they inspired her, or she inspired them. I think all of that would be super welcome. Just telling her she’s not alone and people are really thinking about her and keeping her in their hearts.

TFSR: Cool. That’s super helpful. Charlotte, was there anything that I didn’t ask about that you wanted to touch on?

C: I think I would just encourage people to get involved in some way. There’s so many ways to get involved. If direct action feels too much for you, show up to a support camp and help in the kitchen doing dishes, provide research or legal support to folks, or organize a letter-writing party. I’m a firm believer in a diversity of tactics. We need it all, we need everyone, I think the worst thing people can do is just sit back as the world burns. So I would just encourage folks to push their comfort zone and find a new group, find a new friend if they’re not in the circles already. And just find some ways to plug in in a way that feels exciting and nourishing for you, too, because we need to sustain ourselves, sustain others, and stand together in this fight against the fossil fuel industry and the state.

TFSR: That’s really awesomely put, thank you for that. Thanks a lot for having this chat and for supporting Jess. Share our love with Jess.

C: Thanks for having me, I am really glad that you all are interested in her case.

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Conflict In Movement Transcript

TFSR: And now an uncomplicated conversation about conflict in movement.

So I was hoping that you could speak a bit about experiences that you have inside the movement that you’re involved in, or in a political space, difficulties coming up or stoppages in communication between yourself and others or in processes, whether it be individuals or groups that you think make working together difficult.

Anonymous: One thing that pops in my mind is the question of time. Here, I see a big difference between people in terms of efficiency and the time we take to make a decision or make a project. Often people use the excuse of emergency to go quick, to take a decision only by a few people. And then other people that were not involved in the decision-making process are asked to be part of the project, but after everything has been decided. And I feel people always reproduce the same thing because of an emergency.

TFSR: So is that like making a decision before people get together sometimes, and just go into the meeting with a conclusion, rather than a proposal?

Anon: They see the big assembly not as a place where you discuss, but a place where some groups arrive with a decision or project they discuss only among them. And you as an individual don’t have the time to think about it, about other ideas. So at the end of the meeting, they ask if there is any idea at this moment to make something different, but you didn’t have the time to think about it or to feel confident enough to expose your own idea. So in the end it’s the project of the people that talked about it before in their groups that gets implemented.

TFSR: Is that the dynamic that could be changed if someone wanted to come up with a general agenda beforehand, give space and time, a few days before and say, “Hey, we’re going to formulate things to talk about proposals, the meeting, we’re gonna give 15 minutes to talk about this, bring your proposals, 15 minutes to talk about this problem or this project, bring your proposals.” Does that sort of thing happen in the assembly? Or is it less organized than that?

Anon: It’s less organized than this. You know that there’s gonna be an assembly every two weeks or every month, but the subject of the assembly is sometimes set in advance, sometimes not. If you know the subject in advance, maybe you can organize to think about what you want to do. But it’s not that easy to put people together and find what you want to do.

TFSR: Do you think that when you experience that that’s because people are trying to push something through the process, or because they literally just thought about it beforehand, so it’s a weakness in their communication strategy? Maybe a mix?

Anon: Sure, it’s a mix. But I often see people who want to push something. They have an idea or a common view of what should be the trigger here and what is strategic or not, what is good or not for this trigger. On a bigger scale, it often responds to the way of imagining what is strategic and what is good.

TFSR: Do you imagine that the people that push through things don’t trust the thinking of the other people in the assembly or just view themselves as having a different political perspective and so in competition, and that’s why they push it through, or is it simply may be for, in terms of efficiency, we have a really good idea, no one’s going to disagree with this, so we just need to make a quick decision?

Anon:I feel it’s a bit paternalistic. Here, it’s really difficult to have a common decision because of so many different ways of thinking. So at some point, if we want to do things here, we assume that some people need to take the power, it’s too complicated here to do with everyone involved. We agree on the same strategy as a group and we push for our decisions. If you want to do the same, you can do it. Actually, it’s not really the case. If you want to do it as they do and if you are anti-authoritarian, you can’t compete, because you don’t want to make a closed group that nobody knows about, a closed group with many people with lots of privileges, like class privilege, people that went to a prestigious school, people that have no problem was money, no problem was alcohol. So actually, if you want to do the same in a more horizontal, anti-authoritarian way, it’s not possible.

TFSR: Can you talk about other dynamics that make it easier for people to take advantage of a stage or a platform during discussion/debate? Like education and access to money or things. Coming from a different society, but also a patriarchal society, I understand, that gender often has to do- Being male-assigned, being cis-gendered, you identifying as you were assigned at birth. Is that something that you experience like a level of comfort with taking space because of that?

Anon: Yeah, in the group I’m thinking of, the majority of people are male-assigned people, able-bodied people, people with the capacity to go to many meetings, write texts. Sometimes it’s one person writing text and then saying this is collective, while it’s not. It is not the same when this person is quite confident, and we are used to listening to them, because of their gender and their role in the community. Their voice is much more heard or taken into account than someone who is not in this category. If you want to be here the same way, as a woman, you have to speak loudly, and people think you’re aggressive or stuff like this. It’s much more difficult to give your voice the same importance.

TFSR: Does ethnicity or nation of origin have any play in the dynamics too? Or language access? Ease of speaking a language?

Anon: For sure. The question of ethnicity plays a role here. The majority of people are white European people. And I think it’s not that easy for people seen as not white. But in the groups that are having much power in their hands, no, I don’t know. It’s complicated. And the question of language is really important. The words you can use. Sometimes texts are written by this group of people. The vocabulary is a really high-level language. And if you don’t understand, you don’t feel that this text is for you, it makes a barrier between people who are concerned by this text or proposal and who are not part of this.

TFSR: Have these criticisms been brought up to the group of people you’re talking about? Have they been willing to hear feminist critiques, for instance, or class critiques of how they take space, or how they engage with the rest?

Anon: About feminism, there has been criticism and an important moment where this group of people wrote a text about women saying that women just have to take the power as well. And they just have to be as strong as men. There was a big event and after this, people realized how authoritarian this group can be. I think they’re able to hear the criticism and change before it’s too big. But often, if you criticize this organization, they would say that you are against everything, this is only in your imagination. And you want to just be critical for the sake of it. As radicals and anarchists in the real world, we have to fight and be strong, and we don’t have the choice. Sometimes we have to be strategic and go quick. So at the moment, there has been a lot of criticism. Some people try to make visible this organization and the power they have in their hands. There is more and more discussion about it. And maybe there will be a change. But until now, they would deny, the people are taking power and domination, people try not to see it or don’t see it really.

TFSR: Do you think that group is being strategic? Is approaching these critiques methodically, looking at them and saying, “Okay, somebody has proposed this critique, how do I step around it?” I know that, for instance, for me to hear feminist critiques has taken time because society teaches me to think in a certain way. And so I need to have conversations to be like, “Oh, I see. I didn’t realize I was doing that.” That takes a lot of patience from people. But do you think that this is a part of a strategy?

Anon: In this group, I see that people are quite different. It’s not a heterogeneous group. Some people really think they want to do things here and this is the way, but they don’t see how this means that many people are out of the way, it’s not so easy for other people to join this group. If they are not able-bodied, if they’re not middle class, if they don’t have to do something in this in this group, if they slow the process, things like this. And other people – not the majority – really think in terms of strategy, of party style of politics, and sometimes I see that they come and just listen to our critiques. If you talk with some people for one or two hours, they will not change their way of thinking at all. But they will listen to have all the information they need to see what the opposition to their way of doing is.

TFSR: Do you see any options moving forward to address this dynamic and change it or block them from doing this sort of thing?

Anon: I think to make it visible, visible that this group exists, what it means in terms of poor concentration, and to talk with people that are close to this group or inside this group, person to person, as you said before about feminists, talk about anti-authoritarianism and think together. This is possible, too. I don’t want to talk with some people, I don’t feel confident enough. I don’t know what else to do. But I think if more and more people are aware, we can change something in the structure of the community so that few people may not have so much power in their hands about communication, relation with media, and money. So it’s something we need to discuss with many people, but the first step is to make it visible and talk with people about this.

TFSR: Are there other points that I didn’t ask about that you’d to get out or that have been on your mind?

Anon: Something special here is that we all live in the same place, maybe 200-300 people, and there is a big focus on the relationship between people. This is what makes us really strong. Because we do many things together, even if I don’t agree with you during the meeting, the day after, we will make some agriculture together. But the other thing is that the conflict is something we are afraid of, we are afraid that we’re not gonna get along if we talk about conflict. And it’s like social peace when you need to keep a good relationship. We are afraid to go too far into the conflict and prefer to look aside and go on like this. I don’t know if it’s special here, but I see it as a barrier to talking about conflict.

TFSR: Someone else that I talked to had brought up that same point, that it’s difficult. It’s difficult conflicting with people who you share space and struggle with. Because you don’t want it to become war, because then it’s easy to escalate. And then not only because of the toll that it has on the individuals involved, but also because if factions go to war with each other within a movement, the movement collapses. And then people are damaged for the rest of their life. Do you see that there’s a non-lethal way of engaging, just the one-on-one conversations about “When you do this, it makes me feel this way. And here’s what I think about how you’re doing this”? Would that be the solution?

Anon: People here are really egocentric, not thinking collectively and not being self-conscious about their privilege and what place they take in the violence they cause for other people. We need a lot of capacity to listen to people and take as much time as they need. The conflict can be something really interesting, and we see it as something terrible. This is imagination around conflict, that it is terrible and this is war. Well, people don’t agree, and this is political and interesting.

TFSR: That seems really important, too. If things are going to move forward because the project, the struggle that you’re in right now isn’t in a state of war immediately, like it has been in the past. It’s not that the idea of peace at all costs internally is a good idea. People are going to disagree, like you said, because it’s heterogeneous and people need space for that, for conversations, and for disagreement. But if the state comes in and tries to evict again or if something big happens since elections are coming up, for instance, and people that are conflicted internally, it seems it’s easier for everyone to be broken.

Anon: Yeah.

TFSR: Thank you very much.

Anti-Repression, Supporting Uprising and Anarchist Prisoners

Anti-Repression, Supporting Uprising and Anarchist Prisoners

Pictures of anarchist prisoners, "TFSR 06-05-2022: Anti-Repression, UprisingSupport.Org and June11.Org"
Download This Episode

This week on the show, we’re featuring a few segments. First up, Chazz speaks about the website UprisingSupport.org which shares the names and cases of people criminalized in relation to the George Floyd Uprising of 2020 across the so-called USA, as well as the importance of growing a culture of anti-repression and resistance. Then, for this year’s June 11th Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason and All Long Term Anarchist Prisoners, you’ll hear supporters reading statements by Toby Shone in the so-called UK & Dan Baker in the so-called USA. You can find more on June 11th, announcements of celebrations, interviews with and about some of the featured prisoners and poster and sticker designs at June11.Org.

Prior June 11 interviews by TFSR:

  • 2021 episode with Jason and Jeremy Hammond, Atlanta anti-repression activist and Fergusson Uprising prisoner supporters
  • 2020 episode with Jeremy Hammond behind bars and a supporter of Marius Mason
  • 2016 episode on Marius Mason with his daughter
  • 2015 episode with an Eric McDavid supporter and updates on prisoners in Ohio & Missouri
  • 2013 episode about Marius plus support for Jerry Koch resisting a Grand Jury in NYC
  • 2012 episode on June 11, Cleveland 4, Pax and the Green Scare
  • 2011 episode with supporters of Marius and Eric, plus an organizer with June11.org
  • 2011 interview with Will Potter about his book, Green Is The New Red about the Green Scare

Some Former & Current Anarchist Prisoners Supported by June11:

Anarchist Prisoners and ABCs:

  • Russian anarchist and antifascist prisoners, November 2021
  • Evcan Osman as presented by Istanbul ABC
  • Mexico City ABC from 2016
  • NYC ABC from 2016
  • Iranian anarchist prisoner updates, 2022
  • Fire Ant Journal interview from 2019

Grand Juries, Tech, Uprising Support

Announcements

ABC Belarus Fundraiser

Our comrades in Belarus are out of the funds required to support prisoners resisting the Lukashenko regime. You can learn more including how to support ABC Belarus at abc-belarus.org and finding the post titled “No one will be left alone

Fire Ant Journal

The June 2022 issue of Fire Ant Journal is now available! You can download for reading and reproduction at https://bloomingtonabc.noblogs.org

Get yourself a Fire Ant benefit t-shirt

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself for the audience with any name, pronouns, location or affiliation that you’d like to share?

Chazz: Hi, yeah. My name is Chazz, and I work with this website that we’re going to talk about today called UprisingSupport.org. That’s probably the biggest affiliation that makes the most sense in this moment to talk about. I have a background in anti repression and prisoner support organizing inside the US.

TFSR: I understand the term anti repression and it seems kind of self explanatory, but can you talk a little bit about how that is as a framework to operate from? Because some people go into prisoner support because they’re into supporting specific prisoners or hate a specific facility, but can you talk about the idea of anti repression work?

Chazz: Yeah, so anti repression work… Honestly, inside of a US context is a little bit ill defined, a little bit poorly defined often. The way that I tend to use this term, and I think is the most applicable to the context that we’re in is that when we say repression, we’re talking about state repression. By talking about anti-repression work, as opposed to focusing on a specific prison, or a specific type or group of prisoners that we want to support, or a specific facility or even a specific mode of repression, we’re able to more accurately define and be in conflict with a larger system of repression. So anti-repression work is like a broad based method. Kind of a network of methodologies of responding to, and also preemptively stopping state repression.

In our context we’re talking mostly about anarchists and left radicals, but in the context of the website, we’re talking about it in a much broader way and not necessarily limited to talking about people who are taking action in the more classical sense of a political framework. So we’re talking about things that are not just focused on a specific aspect of state repression. We’re not just talking about jail support. We’re not just talking about prisoner support. Things like digital security, or security culture, or trauma care, all kinds of go into this broader idea of anti-repression work. Because if the State is going to use an ecology of methods to repress us, we need a similar kind of response to that State repression.

So that’s kind of the broad based idea behind anti repression work, as opposed to talking about singular anti prison or prisoner support or jail support, or even a bail fund. It’s this whole broad idea of that network.

TFSR: Cool. Thanks for letting me just launch that at you.

It seems like abolitionism has been a term that’s been used a lot more popularly and a lot more discussed over the last few years. It means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Then people sometimes have to specify police abolitionism as if those two organizations or those two platforms didn’t interact with each other and support each other. I want to talk about this a little more in a later question when when talking about building anti-repression culture, but it seems like it’s kind of approached from this direction of counter-counterinsurgency. Which I think is pretty useful because it puts a lot of things onto the table, including what appear to be violent repression, like police raids, ICE raids, the border regime as a whole, and then also it can also bleed over into addressing softer counterinsurgency stuff, like copaganda and the like.

Chazz: Yeah, I mean, at the risk of being overly broad, that’s kind of what we’re talking about here. Anti-repression is not only a thing that we’re striving to see in the world, but it’s also a tactic. Anti-repression as a tactic. And anti-repression organizing is a tactic that people use in an effort to maintain and further anti State struggles. It’s just a necessary aspect. If people are going to be taking direct actions against State and capital they’re going to need people who are organizing to help keep them safe.

TFSR: So can you tell us a little bit about UprisingSupport.org? Who runs it? How it got started? What it does and who it supports?

Chazz: Yeah, so UprisingSupport.org is run by a very small collection of people who came together because of the need and hadn’t necessarily worked together before. And everyone has a background in anti-repression organizing and work and prisoner support. But there’s been a lot of stuff that we’ve learned just by doing this website that we hadn’t encountered before even with a lot of years of experience. The website specifically is set up to give a space for people to find the information. It’s primarily for people who are being held on charges related to the 2020 Uprising across the US. And that’s a pretty big task. The primary people who are up on the site at the moment are almost all federal prisoners, because the federal system is a little bit easier to navigate in terms of finding people. State and county systems make the process much more difficult to track people from arrest to conviction and possible imprisonment.

The way in which the website works is that there are some people on the site who have organized outside support campaigns, and that’s where the information is drawn from. People in certain places that either had like an active organizing presence like earlier in the Uprisings who created support campaigns and support crews or leaned on already existing organizing in 2020 to create these groups of people who are doing long term prisoner support for people criminalized during the Uprising. That’s where some of our information comes from.

Then the people who don’t have those connections to prior organizing or don’t have connections to a support campaign, are on the site because we’ve reached out. We found their information through a variety of means. A lot of it’s media. We read an article, note down someone’s name, and then continue to try and follow their case. Then once they are reachable in a system, usually the federal system, we reach out, explain what the site is, and ask if they want to be added to it. Those come with certain caveats and we try and be clear about exactly who the site is geared towards. The site is obviously geared towards a left[ist] audience and we want people to be aware that when they put their information up on the site it’s gonna get reproduced in places that are primarily trafficked by anarchists, and radicals, and leftists. So, some basic information about the site, and we asked if people want to be listed. It sounds pretty straightforward, but prison doesn’t make it very easy to interact with people on the outside.

So there’s actually a lot of roadblocks to be able to do this. Just tracking someone through the system is fairly difficult. Then kind of the scope and scale of the amount of people that were criminalized during the 2020 Uprising and into 2021. The Uprising was ongoing in a lot of places, so we had to come up with a timeframe. So, we talk about the Uprising itself, in many ways going from from May 2020, until the election. That’s kind of our timeframe that we talked about in terms of Uprising prisoners in an effort to keep the site scalable, keep it within our means, and to give some kind of periodized context for what we mean by the Uprising. Even though clearly there was many actions in the Uprising continued past that point for many places.

TFSR: Yeah, and police killings haven’t stopped and people continue to go out for Breanna Taylor and other folks.

Chazz: Yeah, we’re not trying to necessarily call in every single person who’s been criminalized in the wake of a police shooting. That’s an incredible amount of people with a much longer history than the site could possibly cover.

TFSR: Yeah, that seems like a really good lesson of putting down a boundary and not expanding past capacity. I think that’s a hard thing for, especially newer activists to realize. Like, how do we do the good thing and then also recognize that we can only do so much and do that well.

Chazz: I think there’s also a certain amount of responsibility that goes into doing work with people who are currently imprisoned by the state. Holding yourself to boundaries and holding yourself to a certain level of accountability to doing what you said you were going to do. The stakes are much, much, much higher when you’re offering support and a service to people who are incarcerated. That’s not something that you can go back on, it’s not something that you can really take a break from, it’s not something that you can renege because you’ve overextended yourself. That’s a really important lesson for people who are moving into prisoner support: small increments, babies steps, moving at a pace that works well for yo, because the project itself is actually another person. It’s not the same as other kinds of projects that we do.

TFSR: So what I’m hearing you as offering is, is you’re providing a spot where people can come and find information about doing support for prisoners, and keeping up updates as you can, or pointing people to resources that would help them along this trail of supporting prisoners, and maybe post-release support if folks are asking for it. Is that right? You all aren’t actually doing, as this project – as UprisingSupport.org, you’re not actually coordinating the immediate support of folks?

Chazz: No, and we’re pretty clear with people when we write them the first time that we are not providing support. We’re not providing a resource beyond basically this public listing. Our hope is that the people who are publicly listed on the site that have support campaigns, this will be another place for those support campaigns to put information so that there’s just another way for people to find those campaigns. The other hope is that people who are in areas where there aren’t active support campaigns, but there are active defendants and people in prison from the Uprising, can find those people and possibly initiate relationships and possibly support campaigns for those defendants.

That’s all based on people’s capacity, and people’s working relationships, and building those working relationships. That’s kind of a hope of ours is that people, possibly in places that people didn’t focus on during the Uprising but had strong moments and demonstrations and all of these things during the Uprising, in those places that maybe, especially if there’s less resources or less capacity, folks who aren’t necessarily already plugged in, this could be an opportunity for them to reach out to those locked up and plug themselves in.

TFSR: Cool. That’s awesome. For all of us, for our understanding, can you give us a sense of the scope of how many prisoners faced heavy sentences that you that your project is aware of, at least, as a result of being targeted by the State for alleged participation in the George Floyd Uprising?

Chazz: Yeah, the heavier sentences definitely came down at the federal level. And that’s pretty consistent with the scale of incarceration in the US also, in a certain sense. It’s really hard to say exactly how many people were arrested or charged, but the number of charges that were initially set at the federal level was around 350 people. At the state level, the arrests themselves at the State and city level were in the 10,000’s. So, partially because of the pandemic, and some States really did limit the amount of people that they were actually sending to prison for a brief moment, a lot of those folks ended up on in these kind of like e-carceration situations, which is like a whole different topic.

The vast majority of the very serious charges, when we’re seeing convictions, mostly what we’re seeing is pleas. There’s an extraordinarily high percentage of people in general at the federal level, that plead their cases out. Those cases that we’re seeing being the most serious, we’re seeing a fair amount of five to ten year sentences stemming from the Uprising. They’ve slowed down in the last six months to a year, the convictions have slowed down a little bit, but out of those 350 people across the country, probably more… probably closer to 400, who picked up these federal charges, there’s a really high percentage of them who sat in prison for a really long time. We’re two years in now. So a number of people sat in prison, were not released initially, and then eventually pled to a charge that saw a lot of their time already done. So we’re seeing a fair amount of releases for people who took prison sentences for less than three years because they sat in prison for two years, awaiting sentencing, awaiting trial, and most of them eventually pled out.

But there are a number of people who are still actually going in right now two years on and starting five to ten years sentences. So that’s not an uncommon thing to see currently. In terms of exact numbers, it’s really hard to say partially because the whole process is so well obfuscated by the State. It’s so well hidden in a certain sense. To know exactly how many Uprising prisoners there are, and how many of them were taken at different levels, would require a team of people and probably more energy and people power than most of us have at the moment.

TFSR: That’s an important point. It’s important to note that federal prosecutions are a thing that can take a very long time, even besides the way that COVID messed up the way that the court systems operated in a lot of ways and extended out periods that people were being held in pretrial detention. But obviously, because the Uprising occurred primarily during the Trump administration, most of the prosecution’s and most of the arrests would have happened during that administration.

But I think it’s also important to note that where the administration, the current administration, under Biden, the Democrats, does have some leeway to give instruction to federal prosecutors as to how they should move forward with prosecutions and the prosecutions have continued, or people’s sentences haven’t been reduced. Despite the fact that Trump has been out of office, people are still people are still suffering.

Are people still being picked up on charges that relate back to then, like surveillance being presented publicly and then people snitching out folks and charges coming down, that you’re aware of?

Chazz: There have been a couple of late in the game ones recently. Not a ton in this last 2022 era. 2021…. it’s crazy that we’re still talking about this. We’ve got two years on this now. In the 2022 era we’re not seeing a ton of new charges coming up. We haven’t tracked every case, so let’s keep that in perspective, and keep that in mind in terms of our ability to know the bigger trends.

2021 was a really big year for prosecutions. It’s important to remember that who was in office in 2021. So 2021 saw a ton of prosecution’s. A lot of the cases that involved like snitch hotlines, which is unfortunately a ton of cases. This kind of goes back to when we talked about anti-repression, because a ton of cases came from people accidentally snitching themselves out through social media. That’s just a really commonplace thing and that’s a big topic for anti-repression, talking about how people keep themselves safe digitally.

Then there was a lot of police and federal investigations that involve tip lines, or “do you know who this is?” campaigns. Where they put up a bunch of grainy photographs of people inside a Starbucks or something and they’re like, “Do you know who these who these people are?” and someone stitches them out. That was a really big problem in a lot of these cases. You never know who exactly is doing this work of the state, but it certainly is an element to keep in mind and to think about in terms of countering state repression when it’s kind of foisted out on the community. Talking about “what is anti-repression work,” when a lot of the cases you’re seeing are people who are being being sent to prison by other civilians, basically.

I think it is also important to remember that there was a consistent tendency for cases in certain parts of the country to start off as State cases. So a case gets prosecuted at the State level and they’re going through this process, and then all of a sudden, the Federal Prosecutor step in and they say, “Actually, this is our case, now, we’re going to prosecute this at the federal level.” They did that under a handful of reasons. But a really big thing that happened in in that 2020 and 2021 era was the Fed stepping in, in certain parts of the country and saying, “Because the alleged damage to this building was done,” or “because it was a cop car, we’re going to prosecute this at the federal level, because the thing that was damaged was involved in interstate commerce.” It’s basically them being like, “Because an aspect of the thing that was attacked or the thing that was vandalized or yada, yada, moves in between physical states,” the Feds stepped in and prosecuted things that primarily, honestly, are State charges. Basic vandalism became this thing that was being prosecuted at the federal level, because of the nature of the of the vandalism, because it was politicized.

So, we saw that and then we saw an incredible use of this of this ‘civil disorder’ charge. Which, it’s not in common usage in terms of federal prosecutions. So those two elements, really heightened the idea, of heightened the ways in which this Uprising was prosecuted, and also why we saw so many federal arrests for things that in a different context would have been state charges. Not to say that state charges are better, but they’re easier for communities to rally around, they’re easier for people to fight legally, they’re easier for people to be released pretrial. There’s just all these aspects to it. A federal sentence is like a really big deal in a sense, if we’re talking about the scale of repression.

TFSR: Yeah, for sure. Just a point to an interview, if folks feel like listening to it, that we did in June of 2020 with Michael Loadenthal, who was tracking some of the federal prosecutions. That’s a point in this mapping the state’s strategy of repression against rebellion article, so that was on IGD at the same time. We’ll link that in the show notes. Maybe I’m incorrect in this, but also another way that they were approaching the federal charges was claiming that because a vehicle was purchased by the police department based from federal funds that were offered.

Chazz: I mean, yeah. There are just so many cases with things like that. Like, “these officers were trained in a facility across State lines, so this is federal, or this gun that was stolen during this riot was manufactured across the state line, or this business that was vandalized does interstate commerce, so this is a federal charge.” The law and the State are absurd, but this was just really, really them showing themselves in this in this way.

TFSR: You’ve kind of pointed to a couple times, different elements of this anti-repression culture or this anti-repression approach, and the different ways, whether it be digital security, as you said… One way of saying it is “snitching on yourself on social media,” another one is “posting boastful selfies that do not have context on social media.” But, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about just personally how you conceive of cultures of resistance, or cultures of anti repression, and some things that you feel could be useful in starting the conversation about how to think about it with the people that we care about, and the people in our community who we maybe don’t even know we are struggling alongside of?

Chazz: The best way that I can think to think about or to talk about anti-repression work is to think about it as as holistic. So thinking about State repression, and attacks on communities in resistance in a way where we can understand that those attacks coming from the State are going to be multifaceted, so our responses need to be multifaceted. It’s similar to the concept of security culture, and the thinking that security culture is not necessarily a list of things to do or not do, but it’s a methodology of making decisions for yourself and inside and with your community, and to create a broader culture of keeping each other safe.

So anti-repression work can can mean a lot of different things. But I think the ultimate goal and the ultimate understanding of anti-repression work and how to fit it into whatever it is that you’re doing inside your communities is to understand why you’re doing it. Especially in the fast paced world of 2020, where it seemed like nothing was going to slow down ever, it really felt like the moment a lot of people had been waiting for, in terms of upheaval had come and there was no reason to ever slow down. It is really easy to get into a kind of like rut of jumping into action in terms of responding to State repression without necessarily having a long term strategy or long term thought process around why it is you’re countering that specific repression or fulfilling a specific kind of service that goes into responding to that repression.

So this concept of anti repression, strategizing and organizing, making those decisions like, “are we going to start a bail fund? Are we going to be doing jail support? How do we do jail support?” Thinking about always going back to this idea of ‘why are we doing anti-repression work?’ And for me, this is the best way that I know how to describe it, is that we do anti-repression work so that the rebellion can continue. We don’t go and pick people up from jail when they’ve been arrested, because we want to feel good about ourselves. But we do that in the context of like our revolutionary organizing, because we understand that if we take care of each other, the rebellion that we’re seeing, and the revolutionary organizing, and potential, and activity that’s happening, can possibly continue. And the only way communities can stay in revolt is if they take care of themselves. And there’s this network of communities taking care of each other. So that’s a really big part of anti-repression [work].

That’s built into this, for us, in this talking about this website. What does it mean, if this incredibly large, incredibly broad rebellion took place across time, it took place across space, it took place in this huge way that generationally none of us can really touch in any other way. And then, what does it mean if the people who go to prison during that rebellion don’t have support? It means like a part of the Rebellion has ended. But what does it mean if those people do have support, and what kind of connections across community and across communities can be made by doing that kind of support.

I think an important aspect of this is that anti-repression is also the recognition that State repression isn’t always a thing that you can keep from happening and it’s up to us to create communities and create cultures, where when you are the subject of state repression, when you are being repressed, when you are imprisoned, you’re not cut off from the community that you came from, you’re not cut off from a community of rebellion. Prisoners have, as a group of people in a broad way I can say, they’re not out, they’re not done, it’s not over [for them], they are just in a really different place than those of us out here walking around in the so called ‘free world.’ So a part of anti-repression is going to be also maintaining those relationships, because it’s another methodology for us to show care to each other, to show care, but also because we want the rebellion to continue.

So I think these are really good questions that people should be asking themselves when they start doing anti repression organizing. There’s a lot of basic tools. There’s a lot of ‘Know Your Rights,’ there’s a lot of digital security stuff, there’s a lot of ‘how too’s,’ there’s a lot of tips and tricks and all of those that are a part of it. But ultimately, a big question is coming back to the center of your work and being like, “why are we doing this?” And figuring out what it is about creating strong communities in response to State repression that is that is the biggest for you and moving from that position. That will help create a better culture as opposed to a set of rules or things to do or not do that don’t help us build beyond that moment.

TFSR: Chazz, how can folks support your project? How can they get started or integrate their own ongoing work into something like UprisingSupport.org?

Chazz: Yeah, please come to the website and take a look around. There’s a resources page that has like a lot of information about how to do prisoner support and these very kind of bare-bones very basic ways about how to write letters, how to how to start, that kind of ‘Tips and Tricks’ stuff I was talking about. That’s all on the site. But look through the site and for one, remember that each name on a page is a person with their own story, background history, community, family, and try and find ways that you think that you have capacity to interact with those people. If that’s organizing a letter writing night and picking a handful of names, that that’s great, or if that’s picking one person and writing to them.

For people who are doing support for Uprising prisoners, I think that’s logistically very helpful for us, is for us to have information sent to us about people’s incarceration and updates about their cases. We try and keep the website updated, but there’s a lot of people that track and there’s a lot of people that we are tracking that aren’t on the site because they haven’t reached that point yet. A lot of back and forth. Us not having to keep an eye on everyone’s cases, really cuts down on our time, and allows us to take this small amount of time that we do have. This is this is one of many things that we’re working on. So if we have the information sent to us from people who are doing support campaigns that’s really helpful.

If you do make a relationship with somebody based off of the website, whether you’re in a state and you’re like, “Oh, crap, I didn’t realize that somebody from the Uprising was in prison for my state,” and you write them, think about creating a support campaign for people. It’s not a light responsibility, but it’s a really important one. I think that the more people that have this kind of inside/outside connection. A lot of folks are supported by their close friends and their families, but a lot of people aren’t also.

A lot of people on the site have been the subjects of State repression coming from their communities for a really long time. The defendants on the on the website are overwhelmingly Black men coming from hyper criminalized communities. So a lot of the folks that we talked to have dealt with state repression for a really long time, but I don’t know if they’ve ever had the support or the backing of other people from either their community or other communities that that see commonality and their struggle. So building those relationships is really important.

If you’re doing support for somebody, and they’re not on the site, and you think that they should be on the site, please reach out. We try and check the email fairly regularly. Let us know and we’ll start working with you or with other people that you’re in touch with, or prisoners directly, to get people listed.

TFSR: Awesome. Well, anything else that you want to touch on? This is going to air alongside of some recordings of anarchists prisoners who are supported by the June 11 project? So as another tendency within anti repression more widely, I don’t know if you had anything to add? No pressure.

Chazz: Yeah, thinking about the Uprising prisoners, as long term prisoners is really important and so putting that in this context is also really important. It’s important to remember that not everybody shares a theoretical political background. So just keep that in mind in terms of thinking about people as this large group of people who took action against whatever form of the state was in front of them that they were criminalized for, but also keeping in mind that a lot of folks really are entering into this realm of becoming long term prisoners, especially in the federal system. And that’s a big deal. And not forgetting that even many, many, many years on there still will be Uprising prisoners. Five years from now there, there will still be Uprising prisoners and keeping that in mind as we move forward as people who care about this.

TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation for the work that you’re doing.

Chazz: Yeah, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about the site.

 

A History of Black Bloc, plus Bad News!

A History of Black Bloc, plus Bad News!

A picture of Autonomen approaching bulle van to apply damage from May Day 1987
Download This Episode

First up, we’re sharing a blast from the past blast from the past, an interview that we conducted in 2013 via our comrades from A-Radio Berlin with a participant in the autonomous anti-capitalist street movement in Germany in the latter half of the 20th century known as Autonomen. Specifically, the guest speaks about the context of anonymous street actions during May Day of 1987 in the district of then-West Berlin known as Kreuzberg and about the tactic that became known as Black Bloc. Apologies for the audio quality of this portion.

Then, you’ll be hearing portions of the May 2022 episode of Bad News: Angry Voices From Around The World by the A-Radio Network, of which the already-mentioned Berlin crew is also a member. You’ll hear:

  • comrades from Free Social Radio 1431AM in Thessaloniki, Greece with some updates from that country.
  • Then, friends at Črna luknja in Lubjlana, Slovenia, shares an interview with members of the autonomous social center in Trieste known as Germinal on the 10th anniversary of that space.
  • Finally, you’ll hear A-Radio Vienna sharing the call-out for the 2022 June 11th Day of Solidarity with Marius Mason and All Long-Term Anarchist Prisoners. You can find more on June 11th at June11.NoBlogs.Org

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcriptions

Kreuzberg 1987

Anonymous: I’d like to say right at the beginning that I will (and can only) describe this complex political context from my own perspective.

TFSR: For the American audience, can you briefly describe the partitioning up of Germany and of Berlin after the 2nd World War? What parties ruled and in what places?

Anonymous: After WWII, Germany was split into East and West Germany, corresponding to the sectors of the victorious allied powers: the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the US and France. It was the case at the time that the German Democratic Republic (the GDR) was under Soviet control and the later Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was controlled by the three Western powers. The capital city of the GDR was East Berlin but the capital city of West Germany was not West Berlin, which held a special status, but rather Bonn, a small city in West Germany

It’s important to know that there were border controls, there was the wall around West Berlin and there were strict border controls when you wanted or had to enter the GDR or if you were trying to get from West Berlin to the FRG or vice versa. There were special highways for this purpose. Going in the direction of the GDR, the bureaucracy and controls were stricter.

As far as political parties go, in the GDR the Socialist Unity Party (SED) was in power all the way until reunification, which can be understood as an annexation of the GDR by the FRG. And in the FRG there were changing coalitions between two large bourgeois parties and one small one, which were in power in different constellations. In the 80s a new, environmentalist and kind of leftist party joined the mix, but it was fairly small.

TFSR: What city were you from and/or based out of as an activist? What brought you into activism and what general sorts of activities did you participate in?

Anonymous: I come from West Germany but I’ve been in West Berlin since 1980 and was politicized and active in the squatters’ movement. But really only in the 90s, since in the 80s I was still a bit too young to really actively take part in the squatters’ movement, which began in 1980. I could also mention the anti-nuclear movement. As a teenager it was really in back then to hang out in the left alternative environmentalist scene, the leftist urban guerillas RAF in Germany were really in fashion and you saw the abbreviation everywhere. The circle a, the anarchy sign, was also somehow cool. That was kind of the ambience of my political socialization as a teenager.

I also took part in demos in West Berlin and West Germany but not only against nuclear power and so on but also against state visits by American presidents or, for example, the Secretary of State Alexander Haig. What I did in everyday life was neighborhood organizing, infoshops, hanging out in the Kreuzberg subculture, taking part in radical leftist campaigns, squatting. That’s me.

TFSR: Can you talk about the tendency known as Autonomen in Germany? What were its guiding principles and what sort of activities fit under that title?

Anonymous: I can say what it was like from the beginning of the 80s, before that there wasn’t really this concept of the Autonomists, anyway. Later I will say more to that, though. As far as the principles go, to shortly list some of the important ideas:

Consensus based decision making / deconstructing dominance, not denying it / internationalism: act local, think global / no representative politics but rather self-organization, starting with yourself instead of saying moralistically that “we have to struggle to win this and that for the people” / trust through social contact rather than through participation in an organization / rejecting and actively questioning bourgeois ways of thinking and living / building up alternatives and living for oneself instead of just saying “at some point the revolution will happen and then everything will be great” / self-determined choice of means in activism beyond legality: “legal, illegal, scheißegal” which means basically “Legal, illegal, fuck it” / using the experiences of 68 / opposition to organization / an anti-state position, antinationalistic, undogmatic, incalculable

As far as activism, we talked about it a lot at the time, and there was a consensus that non-participants should not be endangered. There were, of course, the two gray areas of Nazis and cops, though. There were also long discussions about where the border is, but the important thing was: no non-participants should be harmed.

Some other important ideas were:

Pushing the boundaries of the state, testing out how much leeway there was there and trying to hold on to whatever we gained / intervening in social struggles and problems: class struggle, sexism, racism, anti-semitism, etc.

We also took part in a lot of things that weren’t specifically autonomous: normal demos, sitting blockades or vigils, distributing flyers, organizing events or – as a realization of our own political aspirations – creating work collectives and communes, also in the countryside.

The things that were specifically autonomous, which other people tended not to do and it was rare that others did with us and so, as far as participation goes, stayed small were: squatting houses / having unpermitted demonstrations / so-called ‘scherbendemos’ where all the stores and the shop windows of companies, which were closely bound up with the capitalist or state system, were destroyed: banks, big chains. The whole thing was limited to the previously envisioned goals. Making actions out of legal demonstrations, for example attacking cops or spraypainting on the walls during a demonstration, or throwing eggs filled with paint, as a unified block during permitted demonstrations / clandestine acts of sabotage, such as setting fire to company cars or infrastructure like electricity poles, train tracks, in the case of nuclear waste transports or before nazi demonstrations / marking or outing Nazis and political representatives, finding their meeting points and where they live and marking those places, whether with paint balls or with public but unpermitted actions, where things also happened during the day, so-called half public actions, where people tried to show up somewhere with a lot of people that had organized amongst themselves and to give a speech, distribute flyers, spray paint, make noise, loot, throw foul smelling liquids, when, for example, a luxury restaurant or department store opened, hang banners, go into institutions or company headquarters or offices all dressed up and do a bunch of bullshit, create confusion in order to raise awareness in a campaign.

Organizing camps for and by radical leftist, for example on the theme of anti-racism, was also very important for me. For years, once in the year there was an anti-racist camp, a so-called border camp, at which many actions occurred without permission from the pigs.

Beyond that:

Autonomous plenaries, regularly or on relevant occasions. For a time there was an autonomous plenary once a month / doing presswork, such as the publication ‘radikal’, which was read across the country, although it no longer exists in the autonomous sense, as it was later overtaken more by Marxist Leninist circles and also no longer had its former importance. There was also the ‘Interim’, a city magazine in West Berlin and, later, in all of Berlin, which has been published weekly since the first of May in 1988.

TFSR: What was the significance of the border wall dividing Berlin to the Autonomen and how did that influence radical opposition to the state?

Anonymous: For those of us who lived in West Berlin, the wall was relatively normal, you didn’t push up against it especially and in everyday life it was not so strongly perceptible. Transit across the border was, however, very difficult. You hardly had contacts in the GDR. It was first at the end of the 80s that that changed a little bit. There were always groups that had contacts and also occasionally smuggled something over, which was important for the left in the GDR, but that was very marginal. It was first in the 1988 Anti-IMF / World Bank campaign, at which point there were also activities happening in East Berlin, that contact really occurred. That was also because there was not so much resistance from the radical left that was visible. And this was actually the case – it wasn’t just how we saw it. There just was very little organizing going on.

In West Berlin there was the specific situation that we had a special status. Throughout West Germany you had to do military service but the inhabitants of West Berlin were exempted from this and people who wanted to escape from serving in the German Armed Forces came to West Berlin. There were many students, since there were two big universities, cheap rent, no curfew and wages were 8% higher than subsidies in West Berlin. Because of that there were a ton of people who came here that tended towards being leftist. This was similar to in other university cities but more so because of West Berlin’s special status.

Then, there was also the situation in the houses, that is, in the occupied houses, which functioned as utopias, where a lot was developed. At the start of the 80s there were 144 squatted houses in West Berlin, which also had to do with the fact that it wasn’t the capital city, or anyway, wasn’t yet. Berlin first became the capital city at the start of the 90s after the annexation of the GDR. And because of this it was possible to have small islands within the city where a lot of organizing and alternative life became possible.

Another anecdote on the situation with the wall: In May 1980 the so-called Kubat-Triangle was occupied, a space that, because of its curious boundary line, wasn’t controlled by either the East or West, since it officially belonged to the GDR but existed behind the wall in West Berlin. The tent town that was erected there was called the Kubat-Triangle, named after Norbert Kubat, who was arrested on the morning of May 2nd, 1987. He was accused of disturbing the peace in the context of the first of May. But when his application to be released on bail was rejected, he took his own life in detention on May 26th, 1987. When the West Berlin pigs finally wanted to evict the space anyway, the occupiers scrambled away over the wall and were received by the GDR border guards with coffee and cakes. And in this way they escaped repression.

Another anecdote is that there was a pirate radio broadcast in West Berlin, which was produced in East Berlin and then smuggled over. Because the wall, of course, couldn’t prevent a radio or TV transmission from being received in East Berlin.

TFSR: What comparisons and differences can you find from the autonomist Marxists in Italy who predated the German Autonomen movement?  How do they compare to the Anarchists who now use many of their tactics in street battles?

Anonymous: The concept “Autonomous” originated in Italy, in the Autonomia movement and was first applied here in the course of the 80s – the autonomous movement existed in Italy in the 70s, already – there is this real connection, then, of course, but in the everyday lives of people who referred to themselves as ‘autonomous’ in the 80s and 90s, this connection wasn’t really perceptible. There were connections between people, West Berliners who spent a lot of time in Italy, but only among specialists. There was no big, conscious connection and also no synchronicity between struggles. For us that was relatively unimportant, at the start of the 80s in Italy repression became really strong again and it was first then that stuff really started happening here.

Purely factually, there are nevertheless connections and also differences. There were differences, since in Italy the movement was more Marxist oriented and concentrated on the workers’ movement and factory struggles. In the FRG autonomous scene, things were more undogmatic, against organization, subcultural, and the housing struggles and anti-nuclear movement were stronger.

One thing we had in common was street militancy, militant actions and the rejection of established parties and unions.

TFSR: Can you speak about the repression by the CDU (Christian Democratic Union party) in West Germany of the squatters movements in the early 1980’s?  How would you describe those occupying houses and what repressions did they face at the hands of the cops?  Did this help to build the Autonomist movement?

Anonymous: The repression against the central squatters’ movement – in other words, searches, surveillance, evictions – that existed regardless of what party was in power. In that sense the CDU wasn’t much different than the SPD, the Social Democratic Party. At the regional level there were very different interests. There were also individual deaths. For example Klaus-Jürgen Rattay died when he was driven into traffic by the pigs in the course of an eviction and was run over by a bus. That was only in individual cases, though, we didn’t have to continuously mourn deaths.

Almost half of the houses were evicted within a few years. That was the case both in the squatter’s movement of 80/81, as well as in the 90/91 movement that occurred when much of the eastern part of the city was squatted because of unclear property relations. About half of the houses remained. A part of them are still political, others exist in the pacified form of living projects without public spaces or major political organization.

There was definitely a radicalization that occurred through repression, at least for individuals. But I wouldn’t see that as a general phenomenon, especially as there were also some deterrent effects when people got beaten up – whether in evictions or on other occasions.

TFSR: May Day of 1987 in Kreuzberg, Berlin, is noted internationally as a point in history when people fought against the state ferociously in the streets and set a tone for future May Days in Germany.  Can you speak about May Day in Berlin, starting with that particular year? How did the day move from boring Socialist marches to street battles?

Anonymous: Starting with the riot on May 1st, 1987 there have been large independent revolutionary May 1st demonstrations, which usually turn out about 10,000 people. There was only one occasion, in 1994, when there was no demonstration, since in the previous year there was a conflict with a small Maoist Stalinist group, which we had to fight against at the demonstration. Then we just abandoned it the next year. Otherwise, every year there have been demonstrations and the participation also hasn’t fallen off majorly in the course of 25 years. At the beginning the participation might have even been a little bit smaller, but now the number is consistently around 10,000, I’d say.

A great self-consciousness occurred from the 1987 riot that we could also do something ourselves on May 1st, and not just always be small blocks at the official DGB demo organized by the federation of trade unions. Since the danger of cooptation by parties and unions was constantly being bemoaned this was also a good alternative. Just as an explanation: the unions in Germany are more the social partners of capital, in other words very bourgeois, established and hierarchically organized. An exception to that is the FAU, the Free Workers Union, which is organized anarcho-syndicalistically but which is very small although it’s been active since the 80s. There are always still small radical blocks at the big union demonstrations on May 1st but this revolutionary, or so-called revolutionary first of May demonstration is more relevant.

Since, for about ten years, the Nazis have also had demonstrations on the first of May, our demonstration doesn’t take place in the day but rather more towards the evening, when we’re finished with the anti-nazi activities and blockades. These also partly take place outside of Berlin, for example in Leipzig, which we travel to. My own assessment is that as an effect of the later time and also a decrease in the organization of people who go to a demonstration or who specially go to the first of May demo, as well as through a continuous increase in the use of cell phones and filming, that rioting has definitely become much more difficult as a result of that – that is, the attempt to give the pigs an answer to how he are harassed in our everyday lives or have to experience more state violence at smaller demonstrations. The conditions for that have also become continuously more difficult. That is also our fault, there are less and less solidly organized Autonomist groups of the sort that might have built and defended barricades on other occasions and would have agreed beforehand how to act and not have just started drunkenly throwing shit. That has changed. The arrests of drunken and overly curious individuals has definitely increased. That would be my own assessment.

In my opinion, the demonstration still has content, every year there is a new consideration of what should be taken as the motto, what is currently important. It is more and more organized by people, though, who have been active with the Anti-Fa, and less so by Autonomist groups. We have also pulled ourselves back from that. Partially, that’s because we’ve become weaker and the Anti-Fa has taken over more and partially because we were also annoyed by this approach that was always trying to be “bigger, higher, faster”: that is, huge trucks costing many ten thousands of euros when last year maybe we had an unpermitted demo, since we thought we could also manage that. The Anti-Fa groups are strictly against that, though.

Since the opening of the wall, the demonstration also goes through East Berlin or happens partly in the West and partly in the East. For example now on the first of May a few days ago we went to the city-center, Mitte, part of former East Berlin, although that is perhaps not so relevant anymore, rather that it is the current center of power. This year we managed, with 10,000 people, to make it there. Last year that was prevented by the forces of repression. That was definitely a really good success. At the beginning, when the first of May demonstration also wanted to go through East Berlin after the fall of the wall, there were critiques on the side of radical leftists in East Berlin and the GDR as a whole that since there had previously been state organized first of May workers’ demonstrations in East Berlin and the GDR and that was seen as a sort of thorny issue, since the people who lived there had no more interest in the GDR and would not initially find that so great. For that reason, at the beginning there were a lot of questions about what route to take.

But when dogmatic groups took part in the demonstration with Stalin and Mao flags, we as Autonomists felt that was really too much. The demonstration was also organized by radical leftist groups, not just by Autonomists, although we played a major role in it. The Stalinist Maoist ML-Groups had their own small demonstrations 10 years ago but they almost don’t occur anymore.

The second of May was always also the day of unemployment, since we naturally had no desire to work. That was then expressed by us having another action or demonstration on May 2nd. That hasn’t had such a big resonance for a while, though.

TFSR: What were the general goals of the first Black Blocs?  Were they ancillary to street protests, for instance as protection or break-aways, or did they exist as protests on their own?

Anonymous: The concept or phenomenon of the “Black Bloc” wasn’t a self-chosen concept but was, rather, used by the media when they were denouncing us and applied there as a label. Appearing militantly at demonstrations in blocks or chains was something that already existed in the 70s at anti-nuclear demos, when there were still no Autonomists labeled as such but rather communist groups that were also actionist and militant- there were some of those, not just groups sitting around bullshitting. The earmarks that you could already see then in the late 70s and early 80s were: black leather jackets, helmets, cudgels, masks, protection on the arms and shins, only walking with people in chain that you know – that helped bring about a feeling of identity and strength and to deter the pigs from singling out people, so it also clearly had a functionality and it was also an expression of the critiques that one raised against boring and unimaginative marches that you shouldn’t just appeal to the state but express a militant position. The concept ‘Black Bloc’ was first slowly adopted by us in the 90s. As it sometimes is that you eventually take up these kinds of concepts. By then it looked a little bit less diverse, though. Previously, in the 70s and 80s it was still a little bit more colorful. The group “Antifa M” from Göttingen, for example, played a role in that, and tried to get people to take on a sort of uniform with their unified appearances and their strong militant fetishism. But of course it is also the case that there is a pressure from lots of filming, since the pigs are constantly filming. People who are standing at the edges are also constantly filming. When an action really takes place on occasion, for example a conflict with the pigs, then it’s extremely dangerous to be so clearly identifiable. So for that reason this black, that is, the really black black, very unified, that is definitely a difference from the 80s. It was a lot more colorful then but it also wasn’t so dangerous.

The goal of the black block organization is, on the one hand, a feeling of strength, but also deterring the nazis and pigs, breaking through police barriers, self-protection against singling out individuals, and creating actions during a demo, such as spray-painting or attacking fences and buildings.

TFSR: Accusations have been made that those participating in radical street protest in the United States are privileged males. What sort of people did one find behind the masks of May Day 1987, for instance?

Anonymous: There were discussions here, too, of course, inside the autonomous scene about macho dominance, about the masculine connotations of militancy that were started by women, by feminists. There’s still a lot of discussion about that, when something happens, but also just in principle. This led, as far as I have heard, to feminists making their own blocks at demos in the 80s, sometimes at the front, so that we managed to be the first block in the front of radical leftist demonstrations or had our own demonstrations, some of which were militant, sometimes with property destruction or actions by women only or later lesbians that led to squatting. Squats that were run only by women.

At this point I should probably say though that masculine and feminine gender roles are of course very deep inside of us, we don’t want to deny that at all. But a collective strength develops through group discussion, through a group feeling, so that in the context of organized militancy, in our public appearances, these gender roles, which are decisive in relation to militancy, since women don’t learn to go into the first row and throw stones and defend themselves against police brutality, through mixed but also gender separated discussions, it was always definitely possible to break through that: on the one hand to find new forms of action, on the other to take part in existing ones without following the social conventions we’re given, that men take over the job of being strong and throwing things – sometimes we could really get entirely beyond that. This is a discussion which is hardly new these days, but as far as realizing these ideas in our own forms of action and organization, I would say things have really declined. In my perception, that was a lot stronger in the 80s.

But just to say in general once more: we’re a mirror of the movement, we come from the middle class, are young, with more men organizing in our groups. That was even stronger in the 80s than today, but that’s no surprise.

As far as the first of May 1987 goes, when the cops in Kreuzberg couldn’t get into certain neighborhoods anymore, other groups took part in that as well, some individuals took part in street fights, in looting and confrontations with the police. We really broke through the limitation of militancy to Autonomists. A lot of people found their courage and participated, completely normal people, that had never done anything like that and probably never did again.

What’s kind of implied in the question, with the concept of privilege, I think, is that the population of poor people here in Germany isn’t a large enough mass, that you would have to say that they are staying quiet and it’s just us, who are acting as their representatives. I wouldn’t say that. Certainly, we are privileged from our backgrounds: most people doing radical organizing tend to come from the middle class but there’s not a large, impoverished population doing nothing.

TFSR: In your recollection was there a large Feminist movement during the Autonomous movement in Germany? What sort of activities did the Feminist movement participate in and was Feminism a trend within Autonomen or alongside it?

Anonymous: The feminist movement was definitely stronger in the 80s that it is today. Also stronger than it was in the 90s. In terms of the Autonomists, from 1987 there was a break between mixed groups and women and lesbian groups. That was during the preparations for the IMF/World Bank meetings here in West Berlin. We prepared for a long time, almost two years. And during that process there was a strong movement to organize separately, because a lot of people, relatively speaking at least, were just sick of the machismo in the discussions – I’m sure you’re familiar with that as well. The result was an independent organization during the IMF/World Bank meeting. There were separate actions by women and lesbians, but always in arrangement with the larger organization. There were also groups that developed out of that which existed for many years later. The women’s organizations from 68 were definitely the precursors. And there was still infrastructure, which could be used. And of course also consciousness, in any case, and women, who came from the offshoots of these attempts of the 60s, women’s groups, bookstores, or separate meeting places or days in mixed places. That has all continued over the years, but it has weakened a lot over the last 15 years. As autonomists we were definitely mixed until this break and after that, not all women organized separately, I didn’t, but it did shake things up pretty strongly.

One point of orientation was the Red Zoras, an urban guerrilla group of women, as a separate organization of the Revolutionary Cells, which were mixed. There were militant women’s actions about all possible themes, not just so-called classic women’s themes. But there was also an orientation on those issues, in the content and practically, for example in militant nighttime actions by women’s groups, which have definitely receded in the course of recent years, or even longer.

It’s worth remembering the Walpurgnis Night demonstrations, on the evening before the first of May. Since the 70s there were women’s demonstrations, which were quite large, with several thousand people. But they got smaller and smaller, until they didn’t exist at all. There are still very small actions, but Walpurgis Night hasn’t been just about women for a long time.

TFSR: At the time, Germany was a destination for huge numbers of Turkish immigrants. Can you talk about the problems they faced and what relationship the immigrants had with the Autonomous and squatter’s movements?

Anonymous: In Kreuzberg there are lot of immigrants, also from Turkey. As far as autonomous squats go, there was very little contact from the side of the immigrants. At the beginning of the 80s, there were maybe two or three projects run by immigrants, for example I know there was a women’s group with a squat for immigrants in 1980. But there was little overlap, little contact in general in the whole organization.

Mostly in the Antifa, which was already important in the 80s and not just after the fall of the wall. Fascists, who sometimes came to Kreuzberg and attacked people, but also state racism. But mostly it was because of organized fascists, that the autonomists got together with other groups, with youth groups like Antifa Genclik, a Turkish antifascist youth group. That was very productive and went on for a few years, but it wasn’t very fundamental for the autonomist movement, it was more of a peripheral thing.

One thing that has to be said here is that many people who came here, or whose parents came here, if they were leftists, often came from Marxist-Leninist groups or Marxist-Leninist influenced groups in their countries of origin, since there were often very few undogmatic or anarchist influenced organizations there. Another reason for the separation could be that the rejection of the bourgeois way of living and of the family, in which the 68 movement had at least started to take some steps, was much stronger here than in immigrant families. And the male dominance in Marxist-Leninist groups is nothing new. In the German movement it was like that in all the communist groups as well.

And on our side, you could say that there was not much openness with people that didn’t correspond to the scene codes, with so called conformists or normals, which comes from a kind of group identity. If you reject the prevalent bourgeois life, then it’s difficult to be open with people again, who obviously or seemingly go along with it. That concerns other parts of society though, people that live more in conformity or „aren’t like us“ It’s harder to make contact, because our idea of another life is not limited to just wanting another government or to organize ourselves differently, but rather includes everyday life and our own development and our own reflection, and so it is just harder to come together so completely with single issue movements or activities, like Antifa.

In the last few years, in my opinion, that has changed a bit, that people with an anarchist orientation from southern and southeastern European countries are coming here more and so friendships are formed, although always with the condition that they belong to the same subculture. It’s almost a requirement, since most friendships get started through subcultural events and things like that. Maybe it’s a shame, but it’s like that.

TFSR: Is it correct to use the past tense when speaking of Autonomen? Does the tendency still live and breathe?

Anonymous: I wouldn’t speak of the autonomists in the past tense. We are definitely fewer than we used to be, just as in general organizing in the radical left, whatever it’s called, autonomist groups or communists or anarchists, from my perspective since the beginning of the 80s has lessened. And the level of organization, the self-description is also quite different. Organizing together and accomplishing something, implementing it, doing collective activities, that’s all declined. So it’s no surprise that we, as Autonomists, also have decreased.

But I’ll add that we are still continuing, we’re still active in small campaigns, and can’t do otherwise, because so little has changed. There are still opportunities to get together and try to organize collectively with non-autonomists. And the self-identification as autonomist, as autonomist groups still exists, although it has decreased.

TFSR: Can you talk about other tactics and strategies employed by the Autonomen that have influenced movements in, for instance, the United States among Anarchists? I’m thinking here the refusal to dialogue with power, the refusal to separate the means and the ends, and a struggle against representation and representatives?

Anonymous: I can imagine that some things have crossed over, it’s definitely so in the other direction. 99 in Seattle was definitely a point of orientation for us here, or an impetus for militant summit actions, which we took part in here. Summit actions in the sense of organizing summit protests and traveling to various other European countries and participating in more or less militant actions with other European groups. Seattle was an inspiration. We always thought in the US, there’s not much going on, not much organization, not really any militancy in the streets. And in Seattle, it might have been more the bad tactics of the police that were responsible for that. But it generated a lot of excitement, I want to emphasize that. Especially since there wasn’t so much going on here at the time. In the middle of the 90s. The atmosphere was under the influence of the fall of the wall and emerging or intensified nationalism, racist attacks, Nazis on the street and so on.

TFSR: The use of masking up as a street tactic has prompted the passage of laws around the world against masks. In Quebec during street protests, for instance, against austerity last year. Can you talk about how this happened in Germany and what the response among the Autonomen movement was? How did the population view the use of masks during manifestations?

Anonymous: To the question of masking up and in general of legalism, I would say „whoever doesn’t defend themselves, isn’t living right“ That’s an expression from the 80s. And when you do defend yourself, you get a reaction from the state, from the state monopoly on violence. This is clear. To me the question sounds a bit like „can’t it possibly scare off people from participating in campaigns like the one ones you do or support?“ And I think that’s difficult, because we’re doing that for a lot of reasons. The orientation on the general ‘normal population’ isn’t actually decisive for now and shouldn’t keep us from using such tactics, in my opinion. We don’t want to end up being assimilated, in order not to be conspicuous or to look bad. For us that was more of a Marxist-Leninist idea from the communist groups of the 70s, and look where they ended up.

To the state ban on masking up that was introduced under Helmut Kohl’s government in 1985, I would say that, because of it, it became more difficult to mask up, of course. It was tried again and again, as on the first of May last year. It’s tolerated to some degree, because it’s not seen as being particularly important at the moment, or because the leadership has other priorities, but people still get pulled out, of course, when the cops don’t want it. Other alternatives have been considered, dressing up very colorfully, with sunglasses or scarves or fake noses. But then there’s always the question of whether that is really achieving the same goal.

There were the pink and silver actions, for example, where people dressed cheerleader-style in silver and pink and were no less masked up for it than if they were all in black, but that didn’t work very long, because the cops caught on quickly that this was also a militant block, that will go through barriers or police controls and does actions during the demonstration and then it wasn’t so functional anymore. But those were considerations, which came out of the context of the mask ban and how a block can still accomplish its goals.

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Free Social Radio 1431 Updates

Free Social Radio 1431AM: Greetings from Free Social Radio 1431am in Thessaloniki. After the evacuation of the squat in Biology School of Health on 31st of December 2021, while the ground floor where the squat was located remained demolished for more than four months, with bare cables hanging and the general situation being unsustainable, directorial authorities decided to start the restoration procedures of the new library on the first day of Easter holidays. Riot police, security guards, and various other kinds of rubbish guarded the building and guarding the ground floor debris. Obviously, this did not go unanswered with students and people in solidarity being gathered within minutes. The cops when they saw the crowd gain momentum attacked them with tear gas shot between the crowd and beatings. Eventually, the students pushed the cops back, which did not stop them from showing up on the following days where the reaction was the same.

After the end of these operations, we faced the ground floor as a completely sterile academic space. The response given to this renovation was clear, stating that this squat would not be easily written off. After this, on the ninth of May, the university authority ordered its uniformed garbage to once again guard the workers of the crew, blaming the people who oppose the evacuation of the squatted Biology School for the chaos that has been caused on the ground floor and in the university in general, calling them to take responsibility for their actions, and announcing that because of this, some faculties will remain closed.

Finally, once again this attack was collectively responded to with an immediate gathering of people outside of the squat in Biology School, and then intervention at the rectory of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The cops fired firecrackers and flash-bangs, this time in the inner enclosed area of the Faculty of Science in the University of Thessaloniki, and caused at least three injuries of students, with one of them having a ruptured eardrum and two arrests. One of which was made in a very violent way.

The student associations are calling for general assembly’s, marches, and have even decided to occupy schools with the main demand to remove the cops from the university campus. It should be noted that the bill for a permanent presence of University Police has been voted through by the Parliament, and they want it to be implemented on 17th of May, 2022 The day before the elections of the student unions.

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Germinal Social Center in Trieste

Çrna luknja: Yes, we are very happy in Çrna luknja to again have the opportunity to call to Trieste. We hear that you are in festive mood these days, we will come to this shortly. First, please, can you tell us just a brief history of the anarchist group Germinal. When it was established, where was it active in the past, about the new place, etc, etc?

Germinal: Yes, our group is an old group, a very old group. It is about 70 years old and began to make action and to make anarchist politics from the beginning of 1900. And so go on for many days. We had our own space in the center of the city of Trieste, and the forces of state order kicked us out.

Çrna luknja: Maybe can you explain a bit more? How did you reach a decision to get a new place? I mean, how did the whole process go? Were you able to do it on your own? Or how was it?

Germinal: We made a call to all of the anarchist movement in Italy and also in Europe to collect the money to buy a new space. Part of the money we collected with this call, as well as from a grant from Magaze who lend some money to social projects, or not commercial projects but solidarity projects.

Çrna luknja: So what impact did it have on your political work to have this new stability, having own social center in a city like Trieste? I imagine it makes a very big difference to have the stability to be able to plan for the future

Germinal: Now with a new place, we decided to take space in the street. So, its more open to public or to the people. Then we open it to a lot of associations, now we are more open than before. So for me it’s very good, a way of making anarchism in practice. We are in social struggles in the city, in all the social struggles. Also in Italy, we are in the anarchist federation.

Çrna luknja: So we can expect that also, your celebration will be very interesting. The celebration of 10 years of your new social space. So I think we want to visit. Can you tell us something about the program we can expect for the anniversary?

Germinal: Yes, sure. This year we have two days of celebration, on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th. On Friday, we will do a presentation of our library, social library named Umberto Tomassini after an older comrade of a group Germinal. And on Saturday, we will make a demo around the city zone and an after-party in our social center, and all you are invited!

Çrna luknja: Thank you for this little historical briefing and thanks for the update on how the new space is affecting the anarchist politics in the region.

Germinal: Okay, thank you. See you next week. Ciao, ciao.

Dunstan Bruce on The Untold Story of Chumbawamba

The Untold Story of Chumbawamba with Dunstan Bruce

Dunstan sitting by a wall with someone wearing the baby face from the Tubthumper album cover and cartoon hands from "Never Mind The Ballots" album cover
Download This Episode

Dunstan Bruce is perhaps most famous for his lead vocals and listing of libations in the Chumbawamba pop hit, Tubthumping. But there is so much more to him and that band than that one song. For the hour we touch on some of the band’s 30 year history, their relation as a collective, anarchist band to social justice movements around the world and how they used their fame and money to give back, Dunstan’s recently finished documentary “I Get Knocked Down: The Untold Story of Chumbawamba” and his accompanying one man show “Am I Invisible Yet?”, aging and the battle for relevance, staying involved in politics and more. “I Get Knocked Down” is still seeking distribution so not streamable, but keep an eye on the fakebook page for updates on that, and you can find his prior documentary on Chumbawamba published about 20 years ago on youtube, entitled “Well Done, Now Sod Off!

You can find a rather embarrassing mixtape from us years ago on archive.org, expect a replacement playlist for it soon.

Chumbawamaba-related:

Some hijinks from the era:

Other music related projects mentioned:

Dunstan’s Other Docs

Announcements

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

Greg Curry, a prisoner in Ohio serving a life sentence in relation to the Lucasville Uprising of 1993 for which he claims innocence, has just begun a hunger strike for being stuck in extended solitary confinement known as TPU at Toledo Correctional Institution. To voice concern, you can call 419 726 7977 and select choice 8 to speak to the warden during business hours, or you can select 0 to speak to the operator at other times. You can also mail Harold.May@odrc.state.oh.us requesting that his communications be re-instated and that he be able to re-enter general population.

You can find our 2016 interview with Greg at our website.

Social Media Documentary from SubMedia

Stay tuned to Sub.Media for a documentary film on the troubles with social media in early June

TFSR Fediverse Podcast

We’ve launched a temporary instance of Castopod podcasting app on the Fediverse at @TheFinalStrawRadio@Social.Ungovernavl.Org. Definitely a work in progress, but check it out if you care to.

Bad News, May 2022

The latest episode of the monthly english-language podcast from the A-Radio Network is available now at their website: A-Radio-Network.Org or here: https://www.a-radio-network.org/episode-56-05-2022/

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Featured Tracks (get ready):

  • Tubthumping by Chumbawamba from Tubthumper
  • Top of the World (Olé, Olé, Olé) by Chumbawamba (single)
  • Do They Owe Us A Living? by Crass from The Feeding of the 5,000
  • The Cutty Wren by Chumbawamba from English Rebel Songs 1381–1984
  • Timebomb by Chumbawamba from Anarchy
  • I Never Gave Up by Chumbawamba from Never Do What You’re Told (Live)
  • Heartbreak Hotel by Chumbawamba from Fuck EMI (compilation)
  • Shhh-it by Oi Polloi from Bare Faced Hypocrisy Sells Records / The Anti-Chumbawamba EP (compilation)
  • Her Majesty by Chumbawamba (single)
  • Knit Your Own Balaklava by Chumbawamba from The Liberator – Artists For Animals (compilation)
  • Song Of The Mother In Dept / Song Of The Hardworking Community Registration Officer / Song Of The Government Minister Who Enjoys His Work / Song Of The (Now Determined) Mother by Chumbawamba from A Pox Upon The Poll Tax (compilation)
  • Smash Clause 29! by Chumbawamba from Uneasy Listening
  • Homophobia by Chumbawamba from Anarchy
  • One By One by Chumbawamba from Rock The Dock (compilation)
  • Pass It Along by Chumbawamba from WYSIWYG
  • Bella Ciao by Chumbawamba from A Singsong And A Scrap
  • Here Now by Interrobang‽ from Interrobang‽
  • The Day The Nazi Died by Chumbawamba from Class War
  • So Long, So Long by Chumbawamba from In Memoriam: Margaret Thatcher

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So would you please introduce yourself for the audience with your name, preferred gender pronouns, location, and any other things that you’d like to mention?

Dunstan Bruce: Yeah, my name is Dunstan Bruce. I’m a 61 year old man, and I’m living in Brighton. Is that sufficient? Is that enough? Actually, that’s fine. I did a one man show and that’s how the… and a film actually, both start with me going “my name is Dustin Bruce. I’m a 61 year old man, and I’m struggling. I’m struggling with the fact that we all seem to be going to hell in a handcart, etc, etc, etc.”

TFSR: So we just got a preview of the introduction of the one man show then. That’s great. I’d reached out to you first, because I and my co hosts are, and have been for a long time huge fans of Chumbawamba, and secondly, because he recently released a documentary entitled “I Get Knocked Down: The Untold Story of Chumbawamba.” So congratulations on the film release at South by Southwest. And yeah, I look forward to seeing it.

DB: I was just gonna say, it hasn’t actually been released yet. We’ve been showing it at film festivals, but you can’t see it anywhere just yet. We’re in the process of making that happen. So hopefully, that will all happen this year. But don’t go looking for it just yet because you won’t find it anywhere. We’re still doing various film festivals and stuff like that trying to sell the film. It’s a long arduous process, or it is still being a long arduous process.

TFSR: So when you say, “sell the film,” you mean getting a production company to do distribution and everything? Is that kind of what that looks like?

DB: Yeah, no, we’ve got a sales agent who’s trying to sell the film to distributors, and broadcasters, and platforms around the world now. That’s just time consuming. So we’re at that stage. We’ve shown the film in quite a few film festivals, and it’s done really well on the festival circuit. What’s happened with the film a lot is the people have, we get a lot of feedback about people really loving the film. But it doesn’t fit into any category or genre quite easily. It’s a music documentary, but it’s not a traditional music documentary. And it’s not a music documentary about the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan or anybody else who sells millions and millions and millions of records, who have already made audiences for a documentary.

So we found it difficult to get broadcasters interested in the documentary because that world is so conservative and safe. People don’t like taking risks with stuff. And so I think we’ve made a documentary that’s quite challenging and innovative and fun. A lot of the feedback we get is that, “we really loved it,” but they won’t to take a risk with the documentary because it’s not a straightforward history of a band, really, it’s a bit more convoluted than that.

TFSR: I can imagine it’s kind of subjective. What is the format? Like how does it differ from, if any of the listeners have have have seen, “Well Done, Now Sod Off,” for instance, which was made 10, 12, 20 years ago?

DB: 20 years ago. So, “Well Done, Now Sod Off,” that was more of a potted history of the band. That told the story… a lot more of the band’s formation and goes through the history of the band up until 2000 when that documentary was finished. We didn’t want to remake that film. That wasn’t the point, going back to try and tell the story of Chumbawamba. This film is a bit more exploratory in what it’s trying to do and is less about the potted history of Chumbawamba and is more about my own story. Which means that the film has a contemporary element as well.

So we’ve taken the song, we’re using the song, Tub Thumping, you know, “I get knocked down, but I get up again” as a sort of a Trojan horse in a way. As a means of telling a larger story. So my time Chumbawamba is just part of the film, a very important part of the film, and a large part of the film. The fact of the matter is that we’re trying to explore more ideas about what can you achieve when you enter the mainstream, and what happens when that fame is over, and what do you do to carry on being relevant and being visible and being part of some sort of continuum of dissent or some sort of movement to try and still change the world? So it explores more those ideas about getting older and what do you do?

TFSR: Yeah, that’s really awesome. And I’m very glad to hear that that’s what it’s about, because that’s kind of the line of questions that I was hoping to go into. I think that one thing, like you mentioned, as a Trojan horse, it’s kind of perfect for that. There’s two big, in my estimation, there’s two big pop songs that I came across with Chumbawamba that standout aside from me delving into you alls discography ‘Tub Thumping,’ and then ‘Top of the World.’ Those really, if you say Chumbawamba to a lot of people, those are going to be the point of contact that they have. “Oh, that band that did that one song that was great in the pub, or whatever.” And that’s kind of what your earlier documentary points to, at the opening when it’s got all these newscasters saying, “Chumbawamba Chumbawamba Chumbawamba.” Yeah. Or the talk show circuit, that’s always the point of introduction.

It really allowed for the opportunity to, as other members of the band talked about, talk about politics on daytime talk shows in the US, at least in in the UK to a degree. Or be able to be featured as the opening performers at major musical events and also insert your critiques of how, for instance, new labor dealt with the dockworkers strikes or directly confront politicians or corporate individuals about their slimy-ness. I think that that seems to be one of the major positives to come out of the crack into pop music that you all made.

DB: Yeah, I mean, yes. That’s exactly right. Yes. You’ve answered the question with the question, really. I’ve got nothing to add on that. That’s like a perfect summation of it.

TFSR: I’m not a very good interviewer.

DB: [laughs] But a good critiquer.

TFSR: So, since I mentioned those two hits, and I know there were others. Like ‘Enough is Enough,’ hit the charts at some point, for instance. But can you talk a bit about the history of the band? I mean, it spanned decades. There were numerous musical styles that came up outside of what you hear in those two hits. Maybe talk about the band’s expectations of itself and how that changed with exposure and the scope, with the idea of fame.

DB: Yeah, so Chumbawamba started in 1982. We were, in those early years, those first few early years we were very heavily influenced by Crass, an anarcho punk band from the UK, who were huge, absolutely huge. They sold hundreds and hundreds of thousands of records, yet were never included in any charts or anything. They were absolutely massive.

We were really heavily influenced by what they were doing their daily lives in a commune down south in the south of England. We found their way of trying to express their politics at first really, really inspiring. They were talking about anarchism in a way that made it seem sexy and rock and roll and exciting, rather than having to attend endless boring political meetings. We just found that that was a much more interesting and exciting way of expressing our politics, and being involved in politics.

So the first few years, we were sort of influenced by what they were doing. But then we tried to make a conscious decision to step out of that movements that felt as a was increasingly becoming a ghetto of its own making. We always had this idea that we wanted to talk to the rest of the world that we weren’t particularly interested in staying in our little safe little bubble.

So our first attempt to doing that was by changing our style of music. We wanted to make a style of music that was a bit more accessible to people. The music that we were listening to was stuff that included three or four part harmonies and was pop music or it was music that used humor in a way of trying to get the point across rather than just shouting and screaming in people’s faces. We didn’t necessarily think that was the most effective way of trying to convince people that there was a better way of doing things.

So we started to change our music. We would always bring in any sort of influences that we had from the outside world. So, in the 80s we got into Irish rebel music and English folk music became a part of what we were doing. Then in the late 80s, dance music started to become a huge movement in the UK, in particular. We sort of embraced all of that. We started to make music that reflected the times a bit more. And at the same time, we sort of started changing the message of what we were saying within our music. We spend a lot of the early years complaining about everything, basically. I think we reached a point where we thought, “Look, that’s great, complaining about everything, but why don’t we celebrate some things as well?” There was an album in particular, an album called ‘Slap’ that came out at the end of the 80s that started to celebrate little acts of resistance or small victories. We changed the emphasis in the songs. We started to have a lot more fun on stage.

[Cat sounds in the background] So many cats trying to get into me bedroom, making a lot of noise and destruction. Sorry about that!

So anyway, we changed what we were doing, musically and lyrically, and started having fun being on stage and with our records. That carried on throughout the 90s. We were working together, we were a collective, and we were on independent record labels, various labels. We moved from one to another. That seemed to work as a business model, if you want to call it that. We found we were very self sufficient, very DIY, and we managed to exist as a band by touring constantly. We got to travel the world because of that.

When Tubthumping came along, that was not something that we planned. We didn’t reach a point where we felt, ‘right, we’re going to have a hit record.’ We were sort of like trundling along quite nicely. Things had gone a little bit off the boil just before we made that album. We had a couple of big meetings. We decided we were gonna give it one last shot, basically. We got to put everything into doing this album and out of that came ‘Tubthumping.’ So at the time, we didn’t realize what we’ve done, or what that song was, or what that song was going to mean to so many people. We just thought, “Right. We got ourselves back on track. We made an album that we really like. Right, let’s start trying to put this record out.”

The label we were on at the time was One Little Indian, which was actually run by some old friends of ours who used to be in a band called ‘Flux of the Pink Indians.’ They didn’t like the album. They basically told us to go away and rerecord the album or they’d get some producers in to produce it for us. So we were furious about that. We were like, “No, you’re not gonna do that. We think this album is great.” So we left the label. We just thought, “Right, we’re gonna go and put this record out somewhere else.” So we had to find a way of putting it out. So we had some old friends who used to manage the likes of Hawkwind and Motörhead back in the 70s. They took the album and basically touted it around various people and it garnered a lot of interest. So we ended up having all these all these offers from major labels from around the world to sign record deal with them.

What happened at that point was that we had no idea what we created and we made the decision, “Why don’t we take a leap in the dark in a way and sign to a major label and just see what happens?” Just see if anything amazing happens. If it goes wrong, we were about to get a huge advance, so at least we would have that money and we could do something with that and keep the band going for a couple of years just on that money. All those things happened. We signed a deal with EMI Germany, much to the chagrin of a lot of former hardcore Chumbawamba fans who obviously felt like we’d sold out because back in the 80s, or the early 90s, we appeared on this albums compilation album called fuck EMI. So it seemed like the most hypocritical thing we could have done was sign to EMI.

But that’s what we did. We had always believed that we should do what we felt was best for us and not what our audience expected of us. We always wanted to challenge everybody’s preconceptions about the band. We always wanted to do something that was interesting, and exciting, and different for us to keep us engaged in the whole process. So we signed to EMI Germany, and we signed to Universal in the States. Then obviously, the song was an enormous, enormous hit. And we had no idea that was going to happen, we had absolutely no idea. It was as big a shock to us, as it was to Chumbawamba fans. Suddenly, we had this song that was absolutely huge.

So once that happened, we had to think, “right, what we’re going to do now? What do we do with this success? How do you negotiate that?” The worlds that we were thrown into. We just made the decision that we had to make the best of it because we realized that that day would not last forever. It’s going to be a couple of years of sort of intense activity. We got to do something with our platform. Because as we thought, how often does anybody get that sort of global audience and that opportunity to speak to so many people outside of the fan base. You don’t get them opportunities, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. So we decided to try and use it to be as subversive as possible and to help as many people that we could and to use the position to amplify other people’s struggles and get involved in advocating and agitating around as many issues as we could and bring those things to the fore in that in that small window of opportunity that we had. And that’s what we did.

TFSR: So a few years ago, and correct me if I’m wrong remembering this, but I recall… I want to say a few years ago, COVID has done some amazing things to our chronological memory. Maybe this was up to 10 years ago? But some members of Crass had decided to challenge legally, some of their albums being distributed for free online, because these are people that had been making music 40 or 50 years ago and they weren’t making any money off of it. Suddenly, they were saying, “Well, our stuff is out there everywhere. It’d be nice to have a little bit of money for retirement because austerity has kicked in and nobody’s making money.” So a lot of people reacted to that like, “Well, these people are charlatans, these people are sellouts. They made this music this long ago. They were handing out albums for free. Why can’t we distribute it for free?” I’m a big advocate of distributing music and art for free and also choosing to support artists when you can afford to. But also there’s a commons of knowledge and a commons of creation and no one’s building in a bubble. But I guess I’m bringing this up to ask about the question of when people were saying that you all were sellouts. Like it’s obvious that you had critiqued EMI. But what was the studio system like at the time? And how was that shifting? And where was that value of DIY and small labels coming from? Was it that you were going to change your values in terms of what you were talking about or be less accessible?

DB: We didn’t change, if anything we amplified what we were talking about because we felt as though we had a bigger responsibility to use the platform and not abuse it. So when that album came out, that was just pre iTunes and pre Napster. So we were on the cusp of all that. That big shift, that huge shift. We were just before it basically. So we were still dealing in physical copies of records, in CDs and cassettes and vinyl and stuff like that. That was still our world around that time. I think we felt like we’d made a living up to that point, largely from touring and selling merchandise and selling records on tour.

So we already had a model that we were using to keep the band going. That model never was anything to do with selling records, weirdly, because we never sold enough records for that to be a way of us making a living. We always knew we could go on tour around Europe for six weeks and sell out every night 1000 capacity venues. We were huge on this underground scene. So we were making a living from doing that. It was a small living. It was dependent on quite a few of us having partners who also had jobs, which is quite a common story of a lot of creative people. Quite often they have other people in their family unit who helped support them in that. A lot of us in the band had that and we probably couldn’t have done it without that. So we had that model that we were making a living. When Tubthumping happened, we just thought, “well, it’s not going to change anything that we say.” And really, that’s why it ended in a way because we were so determined to carry on saying and doing the things that we’d always said and done.

So, what it meant was that, when you have a hit record, you get invited to join a club. You get invited to stuff. You’re expected to behave in a certain way. You’re expected to want to be at all these parties and all these events and stuff like that. We weren’t in it to do any of those things. And so what happened with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Brits, with Prescott, that more than anything put us in a category where people became very wary of us. We stopped getting invited to stuff and we stopped getting people wanting to give us free stuff and all that sort of stuff. Because we’d broken the rules of being a member of the club. We didn’t want to be a member of that club. That’s not why we were doing it. It was not to be to become famous for that reason.

When I was making the ‘I Get Knocked Down’ documentary. There’s a scene in the film, which us all discussing what happened to the Brits. When Danbert, Alice, and Paul chucked water on John Prescott. What was really refreshing, that discussion was just a couple of years ago, everybody still thought it was really funny, really proud of it, and nobody regretted it. I thought that was brilliant that, that we still stood by what we had done all those years ago and still felt as if we were in that situation, we would have done exactly the same thing. Because we weren’t careerists. It wasn’t our club. Why would I want to be a member of that club? I just didn’t want anything to do with it. We will never about just wanting to be hobnobbed with celebrities. That’s why we took a couple of dockworkers with us to the Brits. So, if we’d won the award that we were up to, they would have gotten up to pick up that award and have the opportunity to talk about their strike. As it was we didn’t win the award. But, because of what happened, there was a lot of publicity around that.

That felt really good. In fact, in the film, not to give you any spoilers, but I go and talk to Penny Rimbaud from Crass and he just actually said that that’s the moment at which he thought that we absolved ourselves, by doing that thing to Prescott. He said, “Nobody else would have done it, and nobody else could have done it.” He was like, “Yeah, I thought that was brilliant, and that made everything as you did feel worthwhile.” And it did to us as well, it really did.

You know, we were doing a lot of stuff as well that nobody knew. We were giving money away all the time to a lot of different people. We were raising money for different people and talking about different struggles all the time. So our politics didn’t change in the slightest. It just meant that we were in a situation where we could talk to a lot more people about us the music. To go back to the stuff about the the music for free and all that sort of stuff that never really became a thing in our world. We did put out a free CD or something that was critical of drummer Lars Ulrich trying to take somebody to court or something because they’d downloaded some Metallica music illegally.

TFSR: I think they were on Sony or something.

DB: I just thought that was ridiculous that they would do something like that to a fan. It was a fan and they tried to sue a fan. It was just the most hideous thing you could do. We were appalled by that. I think we’ve always been sort of early adopters of technology and acknowledged that once something like that starts, once the lids took off, you can’t put the lid back on. That’s it. It’s “Boom. That’s it.” I think it was like that with Napster and then what came after that. You can’t have any control about that. It took a couple of years for everything to settle down again. I think now people have a much more responsible attitude towards what you pay for and what you don’t pay for. Stuff like that. I think it’s a lot more. It’s just how it is.

I suppose I have a similar approach to you, there are some times where I will just ask a friend to find a film because I can’t find it anywhere and it’s been gone at the cinema and I just want to see it. I think, “Okay, I’m making a decision now to watch that film and not pay for it.” But then on the other hand, I buy stuff that I’m not even gonna listen to because I really believe in it. A friend will put out a record and it’d be a benefit record and or whatever. I just think, “I’m gonna buy that. I’m not bothered about listening to it.” I’ll listen to once, maybe. It’s not like something that I’m listening to over and over again. But I just think you make those sort of decisions, what you do, who you help, and who you support, and all that sort of thing. A lot of what I do now is live, either live music or live theater. So it’s stuff that you have to come to anyway to experience.

I think what I found when I got a new band together, Interrobang‽, one of the things I loved about Interrobang‽ was as much as I loved performing, and loved the music we were doing, I really believed in it, but what I really loved was getting back into that that scenario where you go to a gig and you’re part of a community again. I think now more than ever, because of what’s happened in the last couple of years, that just feels like really, really important that we come together and share ideas or just have fun together and have this sort of communal experience that we’ve been robbed of for quite a few years now. So the live experiences, I still think that’s one of the most… I don’t think listening to a record, for me, I don’t think listening to a record ever compares to a live experience.

So, and weirdly, I used to think that about Chumbawamba as well. I was never I was never that involved or passionate about the making of a records, or a Chumbawamba album. I knew that there was people in the bands who were brilliant at producing records, and I knew there were musicians in the band who were brilliant at putting all the music together. I was one of the vocalists. I really, really enjoyed that. But for me, nothing was better than Chumbawamba playing live. That, to me was where all the magic happened. It was in a live situation. I think we all used to really, really love playing live because of that, because the gigs were like, they were like huge celebratory events. And when I go and see bands now and you feel that it’s an amazing experience.

I’ve been going to see Patti Smith for over 40 years now. I still absolutely adore her. When I go and see her it feels more than just a gig to me. It’s like a place where you replenish your soul in a way. And for me, recorded music doesn’t do that for me in the same way, I suppose. So I sort of sidestep that big issue about Spotify or iTunes or Amazon, whatever, however people listen to music now, because to me, where I get my energy from is from performing live or seeing other people perform live. I think that, to me, is where the magic happens.

TFSR: It seems like, if the question is, “do you support an artist in their ability to create art and to share that and record it?” You can make that decision to buy a t shirt or send them some money or do whatever without actually going through the record company that makes a huge amount of cuts. And there are individuals that do the recording that work for the studios that get paid by the record labels and such, but it seems like through your experience, the studio system, or the way that musics distributed has shifted like two or three times and sort of changed the social rules.

I was kind of hoping to get back to that question of how you all related to movement and where money went from some of the success that you had. I mean, even before that you you all did at least one performance that’s in that documentary, the ‘Well Done, Now Sod Off,” showing you all performing at the miner strikes in ’84. So you clearly had been a part of movement, besides the content of your music, talking very frequently about issues around gay rights around anti racism, anti fascism, and definitely focusing on capitalism a lot. Could you talk a little bit about how Chumbawamba used its resources and its reach to support things like the 18th June Carnival Against Capitalism, or Indymedia? Could you talk a little bit about that?

DB: Yeah, I suppose. To catalogue Chumbawamba’s timeline, we started off in the 80s and we were doing lots of animal rights benefit gigs, anti nuclear war gigs, we were involved in a lot of small campaigns at that time where we would be doing stuff for anarchist groups. When the Miner’s Strike came along in ’84, that was sort of a massive shift in people’s politics. Because up until that point, I think we’d regarded ourselves as anarcho-pacifists in a way. So a lot of the causes that we were involved in were to do with animal rights and stuff like that. When the Miner’s strike came along, that was this idea that that was a class issue, and it was a class struggle. And we shifted. Our politics shifted, but also the sort of benefit gigs that we did started to shift and we widened our horizons.

So we found that that meant that we stopped being so isolated in our anarchist politics and started to get involved with working with other left wing groups and organizations and with people whose politics weren’t exactly the same as our own, but that we had enough in common with that we realized that there was some sort of common ground and that was sufficient for us to work together or to raise money for quite different organizations. Britain in the in the late 80s, there was all this stuff around the Poll Tax, which was this unfair tax that the Tory government were trying to bring in. We did a lot of gigs around raising money for protesting against that, and demonstrating against that.

Then, if you look at Chumbawamba’s back catalogue, in the early days there would be a single there was about fighting an abortion bill or a bill – clause 28, clause 29, which was basically anti LGBTQ. It’s sort of rearing its head again, nowadays. Both of those things are. We’d be touring a lot and things would come along and we got involved in the early 90s a lot in LGBTQ issues because that’s what people in the band were just like, it was part of their everyday existence. And so it just became a natural progression that we were then putting out singles. We did a single called ‘Homophobia’ in the 90s with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They were this gay nun organization. There was stuff like that. So, when Tubthumping happened we’d done a massive benefit for the dockworkers. So it only felt natural that we carry that on into a bigger platform. But, you know, we’d gotten involved in the Mumia Abu Jamal campaign and so that’s why when we went on Letterman, we changed the chorus to that. Stuff came along.

I don’t know whether you were alluding to this but it’s an interesting story anyways, this was after Tubthumping. We used to get offered stupid amounts of money for people to use the song in an advert. That was a new world to us. We’d never experienced that before really. General Motors wanted to use the song in an advert for a Pontiac car and we turned down loads of stuff. We turned down money from Nike, we turn down money from General Electric. We were making those sort of decisions all the time. But then this one came along. We just thought, “Look, why don’t we take the money for the advert and then just give the money away?” So what we did is we found Indymedia and CorpWatch.

CorpWatch was this organization who monitored the bad working practices of companies like General Motors. So it seemed really appropriate that we give the money to them to criticize the behavior of General Motors. That was quite an interesting process because we got in touch with both Indymedia and CorpWatch before we did before we agreed to give a song for an advert. It took a little bit of persuading for those two organizations to accept the money, to agree to accept the money once we got it. They were both a bit like… CorpWatch more than Indymedia actually, we’re a bit like, “I’m not sure. Is that ethical? You’re getting money for this, and then you’re giving it to us.” But in the end they both agreed to accept a share of this money.

So what happened on the back of that was we then turned that into a newsworthy article. It garnered press from the fact that we’d even done that. It was some clever Situationist prank that we’d turned that idea on it’s head that we’d got money for an advert and then given the money away to criticize the thing that we were advertising. So we liked that. We liked that idea. We got money for, I can’t remember what it was. It might have been a martini or something. It was some drink or something. Anyway, we gave the money from that to an Anarchist Italian radio station or something like that. We were always finding opportunities to use our position to further causes that we believed in. I think we felt in a lot of cases that we were giving voice to the voiceless in a way and were being able to use our position to further the causes and stuff that we believed in. People who would never get the chance to be on national television to talk about their particular cause.

On top of that, we used to give away a percentage of the money that we made to various organizations. We’d have these meetings where we’d have a list of all these people who had asked us for money and we decide. Then we’d split up a certain amount of money every three months and give a lot of money away. Just because we thought that’s paying back all these organizations and people who have supported us over the years as well. We were suddenly in a position where we can do that, and it felt worthy, it felt really worthy. But at the same time, it was just like, “this is brilliant. We were helping.” I still occasionally hear from people in Bristol. We helped these people in Bristol buy this building to set up a social center. And I still get messages from them saying, “Yeah, remember when you did that?” It’s funny, because at the time, it was probably just another thing that we helped. But to those people, it meant the world. It was amazing opportunity to do that sort of stuff.

So I think what was interesting about going back into that environment with a new band was that there was a lot of goodwill. There was a lot of goodwill for what I was doing. I was doing something DIY again and trying to be involved in a movement on a grassroots level again. And that was the level that when we had all that fame and fortune, it was the very people we were trying to help way back then. So it was a nice circular thing that came around, it felt really heartwarming.

TFSR: Do you mean with Interrobang‽

DB: Yeah. Because Interrobang‽ was always just a small passionate project that we had. For a few years shone quite brightly in an independent DIY music scene in the UK. That felt really great. There were so many people I met from years gone by, from during the Interrobang‽ It felt like such a positive experience being part of that community again. I’d drifted away from all that. This is the thing about making the film. When I started making the film, I was in quite a low place. I was wondering, “What I was doing with my self, how do I fit in to the world?” And what happened was that it then became quite a meta sort of thing. The making of the film itself became the thing that got me out of my quagmire, in a way. It was the thing that helped me. So it was in talking about the things that I was trying to resolve, that I resolved those things, if you see what I mean? It helped me just doing that. And that led on to me doing the ‘One Man Show,’ which is a very similar thing, you know. So the act of creating the film helped me move on. So that was a really positive thing for me.

TFSR: Yeah. And so you’re still doing performances of ‘Am I invisible yet?’ Could you talk about that experience and sort of like another way of reinvigorating this relationship with the audience by doing live shows and how it sits alongside of the documentary?

DB: Yeah. The One Man Show came out of the film in a way. The previous two years, when we were locked down or whatever, it was quite a creative time for me in a way because me and Sophie, who I made the film with, we managed to finish the film, editing remotely with various editors. We got the film finished. Once we finished the film, we did have a discussion about what we were going to do next. We had a brilliant time making the film together. She’s from a completely different background. She’s an amazing filmmaker. She brought a lot of her talents and skills to the making of the film. I brought a lot of my…just my history, and just having stupid ideas that she would then make work. That was a really brilliant process.

When we finished the film and I saw it. I said to her, “Do you think we’ll make another film together?” And she said, “No, I don’t think we will.” And at first I thought I was like completely shocked and offended. I was like, “why would you? Why would you not want to make another film with me?” And she said, “Well, because I think what we’ve learned is that you need to be on the stage or you need to be performing somewhere. You’re much better at that than you are being behind the camera.” And she’s right, she’s totally right.

At first I was offended that she didn’t want to make another film with me. But then what happened is that she said, “Look,” I said, “Right, well, what should I do? Well, I’ve started writing this, a one man show.” And she was like, “Look, I’ll direct the one man show.” She used to work in a theater years ago. She said, “I’ll direct it. You write it, you perform it, I’ll direct it.” And that’s what we did.

What the one man show enabled me to do was take a lot of the things that are in the film, about reaching a certain age about starting to feel as though you might be invisible and wondering what your place is in the world, and how relevant you are, and how do you keep on trying to be part of a movement where you try to change the world, and you keep on doing that. So we took a lot of those things from the film. I brought them into the one man show as well as combining a lot of the Interrobang‽ stuff. Because what had happened within Interrobang‽ was that that had sort of ground to a halt. And, for one reason or another, we had stopped. We couldn’t really do any more shows. Harry had stopped doing it. He was a member of Chumbawamba and was also the drummer in Interrobang‽. He had to stop performing because he had to care for his partner who was not well. Griffin just couldn’t find the time. Griff has a young family and he couldn’t find the time to commit to the to the band.

So I had to find a way of expressing myself still. So what I did was I took all those elements of Interrobang‽ in the film and turned it into this one man show performance, which is like music, poetry, prose, film. It’s a combination of all these different things and it’s me performing this thing that goes on for about an hour. It’s worked out really well. It has become a really positive thing. That is also something I’ve never done before, performing that way. I’d always been in a band. So the idea that I was stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that I thought was terrifying, meant that I was keeping that creativity alive. This felt really important to me.

When you get to a certain age it’s harder and harder to be part of a creative world. Just because there’s a lot of other things going on the take up your time. And there’s less and less of a place for you in the world that seems more towards youth and for the people who are well known anywhere, who have the have the funds to do whatever they want in a way. I didn’t solve up that, but I found a way of doing this that I’m really excited about and that really stimulates me. So the idea that we’re going out and doing this show, where I’m basically saying, “Look, am I invisible yet?” We’ve all had that feeling, everybody, that’s not just me, that’s all of us, everybody has had that feeling that they’re becoming less relevant and what do you do about it? So the whole idea of the show is to not feel alone, in a way, which I think is really important.

To feel as though you are still part of a movement or a community. I keep on banging on about movements and communities because I do think that in a world where it’s really hard to affect any sort of huge change in the world, I think we have to always find those small victories and those little things that really keep us going. The fact that we embrace different adventures and that we don’t give up and we step outside of our comfort zone, I think it’s telling us stuff like that. Part of the show is about this idea that we just have this one go at life. That’s it. This is our one go. I just feel as though you can’t waste a minute of it, you’ve got to do something with your time here. But you’ve got to enjoy it as well.

I think I got sort of depressed about the fact that there was a time when it felt that you were obliged to go on demonstrations, you were obliged to be part of various political actions, and you were obliged to be angry on Facebook or Twitter all the time. I think I took a step back from that, because I realized that it wasn’t a particularly healthy way of going about things. So I made all these decisions about approaching all of those sort of things in a different way. Which was really good for me, and it’s turned out really positive for me, I suppose.

You know, in making the film, what’s really encouraging about that is that there’s a lot of love for Chumbawamba in the world. Even though we felt at the time that everybody hated Chumbawamba. that there was only a small amount of people who actually liked us. I’ve sort of realized over the years that that’s not the case. There’s a lot of love out there for the band. And that’s a gorgeous thing for me. That helps me feel as though, “okay, I’m trying to do something now, but that still resonates for a lot of people.” That song was 25 years ago now, and that is still resonates for people.

Like, last week before we did the ‘One Man Show.’ Sophie and I went leafleting in Brighton to try and get people to come on to the show. It’s a thankless task, leafleting, there’s no fun in it at all. Sophie started doing this thing, where she’d give people leaflets for the show, and I’d stood behind her, and she just go, “Do you know who he is?” And then then they’d go, “No?” And then she’d go, “He’s the guy from the song. He’s the guy from the ‘I get knocked down’ guy.” And honestly just middle aged people just be like, “No way!” And they’d be absolutely delighted and they’d have a story about how that song was still resonating now.

There was one couple who Sophie did this to. One of them, in his phone, he showed us his phone, and he calls his son ‘Tubthumper’ on his phone, because 25 years ago, they were really laughing about when he was a little kid he just used to fall over and get back up again. So they called him ‘Tubthumper,’ and they still called him that. So it meant something to him, it was just really funny. Then we met these other two guys, and they were the same. They had this whole story about 25 years ago, what that song meant to them and stuff like that. It’s just that. To me, that’s really touching. I really liked that and it made that whole experience of doing something as excruciating as leafleting, I felt that day I’d sort of achieved something just by finding some common ground with these people. All they wanted was a selfie with me. That’s all they wanted was to take a photo to send to their mates and say, “look, look who I’m with! This guy.” I don’t mind.

I don’t mind about that in the same way that I’m not in the slightest bit embarrassed or ashamed about the song. I’m really proud of the song. I’m really, really proud of it. I know it ends up in lists of the 10 most irritating songs ever written. I don’t give a **** about that. I don’t care about that. Because I know that there’s people out there that that song just means something to. That is the power of music. I love that. I love the fact that music can be such a powerful force for good. You can bring people together in that sort of way. I think that’s a brilliant thing. So I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud of this song. I don’t think it’s Chumbawamba’s vest song. I don’t think in any way it is. But I love it for what it has enabled me to do on the back of it and the way it’s touched people’s lives in completely different ways. We get we still get letters from people saying, it seems really inappropriate, but people play at funerals. It seems like such a strange choice.

TFSR: Praying for the resurrection, I guess?

DB: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it was. But it gets played at all these weddings, birthday parties, all sorts of stuff where people are like, “oh, yeah, that was my song. I remember that song. blah, blah, blah.” I think that’s great. To enter popular culture in such a way, I think it’s something that Chumbawamba always hoped we would achieve. That we would be that we would be able to leave a footprint. If that means that people go off and find other stuff, other interesting stuff, or get involved in other things, I think that’s a really good thing. At its lowest common denominator point, people really enjoy the song and I have a really good time dancing to it and stuff like that. It brings back really good memories for people. In that sense, I’m really proud of it.

TFSR: I’d like to know a little bit around how you feel about, how mostly anarchists as a movement as a gaggle of freaks, we tend to sort of shun the idea of people taking space and being public. Fame is a weird thing definitely among anarchists, among punks, and these variant and related groupings. Some times we will revere an individual or group and their contributions, and at the same time, I think we have a pretty healthy aversion to putting people too much on a pedestal, or making too much out of them.

I wonder, for you, obviously you mentioned the contribution that it’s giving you a connection to people nowadays who you would not have met if you just stayed playing an anarcho-punk stuff that’s fun for me to listen to, but a lot of people like my parents would just kind of cringe a little bit at, then 20 years later, having a one man show called ‘Am I Invisible Yet?’ I guess I’m wondering what sort of insights you have about intergenerationality and social and political movements and how you keep involved and how you try to engage with younger folks and bridge that gap? I think social movements have to be, if they’re going to be contiguous, if we are actually going to change the world in the way that you described, It’s going to take not just one flash in the pan, one really good pop song. So how do you stay involved, or what sort of difficulties have you found of keeping engaged besides being busy with work and with family and stuff like that, with new people coming into movement?

DB: Yeah, I think what happened to me was that I sort of dropped out of all that. That was because I had kids, little kids. They became my focus, and trying to decide what I was going to do after Chumbawamba. That was quite a difficult time for me. I think what happened was that I started working with a band in Brighton called The Levellers. The Levellers were huge in their own way. They’ve never been particularly mainstream, but they’ve got a huge following. I made a documentary about them. I was sort of friends with them years ago and I met back up with them and then I made a film. I worked for him for a while and then I made a film for them. That sort of showed me that there was a lot of people out there who were growing old, disgracefully or gracefully, but still being involved in political movements and still doing stuff.

But what was interesting was that their children were coming to Levellers gigs as well. There was this whole new generation where these parents were bringing their kids to gigs. I found that really interesting, that they are influencing their kids and the kids are getting into their own their own stuff and finding something in this not in a nostalgic way. The parents are doing in a nostalgic way, but to this new generation, it was something new. So I found that quite interesting. But then, I met various people on the back of that, and then that led to me meeting other people and other bands that were still doing stuff that were my generation.

But then this movement sort of blossomed in London. Well, it felt like it started in London because a friend of mine, Cassie Fox, set up this thing called ‘Loud Women,’ and it was a response to the fact that festivals were like 90% Male performers and there was such a small space for women to get up and perform. So she basically set up her own festival with a few friends called Loud Women Festival. I didn’t become involved in the organization of the festival but I became involved in that whole thing that was going on and became friends with a lot of the bands that were getting involved in that.

I just found them really inspiring because it was this younger generation of women who were finding their voices and finding an outlet to express themselves in such a way that just felt really powerful. This was at a time, this was sort of post Pussy Riot getting a lot of publicity for what they did in the church, the Orthodox Church thing. And so I just thought, “This is this is amazing. These women are finally finding a push to kick open the doors, in fact, and have found a way in and are taking back control.” It just felt really ****ing inspiring. At that time, this idea of being an ally became a big thing and I just thought, “yeah, the timing of all this is brilliant.” I felt at that time that my role was to be an ally with everything, to help in whatever way I could and get involved in a way where I wasn’t trying to take the limelight. I completely felt inspired by these people.

Then, of course, there was stuff like Greta Thunberg, and Tamika Mallory, and Ella Gonzalez. There was all these young women who were becoming really vocal and visible. I just thought there’s something happening here that I felt hadn’t happened before. It felt like a moment where things shifted massively, where I was now an older white man who was now getting his inspiration from a lot of other other younger differently gendered people. I just thought, “this is brilliant, this is really great.” It really energized me. It really made me think, “yes. There’s a movement here, and there’s a lot of people!” It felt voluntarily underground and it didn’t necessarily want to be mainstream. I thought that was a really good starting point for people finding their voice and finding a movement to be involved in.

That ‘Loud Women’ thing is still going strong. A lot of brilliant stuff has come out of that. That’s brilliant. That was something that I bring up in the film and I also bring up in the One Man Show, that that’s happening. For once, what’s happening is we’re not looking to an older generation for the answers. We’re looking to the younger generation for the answers. This whole thing, a friend of mine coined this phrase ‘generation left’ which is this idea that the younger people are more likely to have left wing politics and express left wing ideas. It’s my generation that become more right wing and more middle of the road. All that made me think was, “Don’t ever let yourself fall into that trap of being middle of the road.” Just always be aware of what’s going on around you.

Lots of stuff that’s going on with that younger generation, I admit I can’t keep up with it all a lot of the time. My daughter is 19. She’s absolutely all over it. She understands the subtleties of it, of everything to do with that generation inheriting a world that’s an absolute **** show. The way she talks about stuff and the passion she has for what she believes in, I find that really inspiring. I like the idea that you never stop learning. The fact that you’re learning from a younger generation. I remember being her age and even a little bit older and just been been so idealistic. And so determined I was going to change the world. I find it inspiring that that the Zoomer generations who feel like that. All that climate change movement that came about a few years ago, I thought that was a brilliant starting point. It’s one of the biggest things that is is going to kill the planet. I just thought that was brilliant that that was such a huge rallying point. And seeing young people get involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, to me, it was just incredible.

When I was that age, we had anti Nazi League and Rock Against Racism. Those were things that politicized me back in the 70s. That’s where I found my politics, through the bands I was into and what their politics were. So it was stuff like The Clash doing Rock Against Racism gigs and me working out what that was all about. I thought, “All right. Yeah! Yeah, I agree with that. If Joe Strummer thinks that then there must be something there.” Then you go off and you form your own ideas and stuff like that. But the jumping off point was like bands who are saying stuff. Now I think there’s a new generation of bands who are doing that again. Sorry, I waffle on.

TFSR: It wasn’t waffling. But yeah. And I think for me, and I’m in my 40s, I’m no spring chicken, I think it’s super inspiring personally, to see for instance, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the Movement for Black Lives, the Anti Fascist organizing that’s been happening in my country visibly in this last wave for the last seven years or so. That stuff is built on what was there before. Before people were calling themselves Anti Fascist here, there was Anti Racist Action, there were other groupings, and you can just look back for inspiration. Though the struggle might look different at a specific moment, there’s so much still to learn from how there were people doing Earth First and ELF and ALF actions that you were talking about in the 80s and 90s in the UK. People doing XR, you can bring a lot of criticisms to it, but a lot of action to try to bring attention and stop the Ecocide that’s going on now. Just like you had National Front at a certain point, and then, National Action, people were fighting both of those movements.

There’s a lot that I think every generation can get from being able to tap someone on the shoulder from a prior generation and say, “you saw something like this, how did you fight? What mistakes did you make?” And sort of learning off of that. That that’s kind of what I feel when you’re talking about your daughter’s interactions and the current feminist uprising. It’s super inspiring to be able to look back and forth and see that we’re not just alone.

DB: Yeah, in all the stuff that’s happening. That feminist surprising that you talked about, to me, it’s really inspiring because I think there was pushback against that massively. An almost anti feminist sort of moment. I think there is people that have been vindicated in continuing that struggle. There’s so much stuff that’s happened. Even all the ‘Me Too’ stuff and what that has exposed. It’s incredible. My laptop is gonna die in a minute and it’s half past four now. I might have to go. Is that okay?

TFSR: Absolutely. Yeah, and thanks so much for taking the time I’ve really enjoyed it. I of course had more questions, but I could have gone on all day. I have work in a half an hour. So by saying, “I could go through all day.” I’m not going to ask you to. But Dunstan, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you and I look forward to getting to see the film once it has distribution. Where can people find out how to how to get a hold of it? Do you have a website or social media presence that you want to point people to where you will be announcing when it hits the screens where people are at?

DB: Yeah, I’m useless at all that sort of thing. I think there’s an Instagram? There’s a Facebook page or something like that. I’m really bad at social media. I’m even really bad at it.

TFSR: It’s terrible. It’s bad to us. I’ll find the links and then I’ll put them in. Well, hey, it’s been a pleasure. And I hope you enjoy the show tonight. And again, thanks a lot for chatting.

DB: Yeah, check out Bob Villain. He’s doing really well over here. But he’s quite interesting. I’m interested in seeing him tonight. I’m excited. Alright, Ok. Cheers.

TFSR: Cheers. Okay, thanks a lot. Ciao. Bye.

Mutual Aid Under Attack: a conversation with the AVL Park Defendants

Mutual Aid Under Attack: a conversation with the AVL Park Defendants

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This week on TFSR, we are presenting a conversation with three defendants who are in an ongoing legal battle with the city of Asheville. This group is collectively known as the Asheville Park defendants and is made up of 15 people, three of whom are speaking today. They are all facing felony littering charges in connection with a demonstration in December of 2021 against a targeted camp sweep in a local park adjacent to the downtown district. For this interview, we will talk about their case, the issue of the mistreatment of houseless people generally, camp sweeps and what they mean specifically, how the charge of felony littering is often deployed by the courts, the nationwide crackdown on mutual aid, their own activisms, and how to keep in touch with this situation and support the 15 defendants. You can read all about their case and keep up with this ongoing situation at avlsolidarity.noblogs.org.

Mutual Aid Under Attack: a conversation with the AVL Park Defendants

Follow this link for an FCC compliant version of this show!

To donate to these folks you can venmo @AVLdefendantfund. The defendants would also like to plug the venmos of another AVL based mutual aid group Asheville Survival Program (link shows an interview with participants of ASP with The Final Straw radio show in October 2021), which is @AVLsurvival, the local Anarchist Black Cross chapter Blue Ridge ABC and their venmo is @BlueRidgeABC, and Asheville for Justice (@ashevilleforjustice on Venmo) which is a mutual aid organization dedicated to combating systemic oppression by offering direct community support.

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Music for this episode is an edited version of:

  • Eyeliner by American Hairlines off of the Free Music

Archive on archive.org, editing by Amar.

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Transcription

Elsa: My name is Elsa, and I have been involved in mutual aid in the area for, gosh, about a year and a half now, I guess? I’m also pretty heavily involved in the anti-war movement in the area.

Nic: I’m Nic, my pronouns are they/them. I’m pretty like new to the movement. Honestly, I don’t, I don’t know what political affiliations I would call myself…just…fuck all the fucked shit, just as it is. That’s it.

Ant: Wow, Nic, I want that on a t-shirt.

My name is Ant, my pronouns are they/them. Yeah, just political affiliation wise have been involved in mutual aid here in Asheville, and just generally, anti-state, anti-capitalist abolitionist.

TFSR: Hell yeah, thank you all so much.

So we’re here to talk about an ongoing kind of legal situation that y’all are very unfortunately being made to be caught up in. To begin with, will you talk a little bit about the activism you were doing prior to your arrests, and what precipitated those arrests?

A: So first, I just want to say that the voices here, there’s three of us, but there are 15 people implicated in all of this. So everything that we say here is, for the most part, representative of the group, but also reflects our own personal opinions. So, take that for what it is. But the group, the larger group of 15 of us, really range from a lot of activism experience, all of us are fairly new to the scene in particular here in Asheville. But there are some of us that have been doing this for a while and have put in a lot of work.

But most of us, well, all of us for sure, are involved in mutual aid in Asheville. We are part of Asheville Survival Program, which is a mutual aid organization here that’s been around for three years now, at this point, since the start of the pandemic, organizing to do food distribution in the local parks. We have a free store that is in a nearby neighborhood that provides groceries and grocery deliveries to folks [for free]. But all of us are united around just solidarity with the houseless folks that are in our community, which is kind of like what brought us into the situation that we’re in is the work that we’ve been doing mostly for that.

TFSR: Could you talk a little bit more about the direct support you have been doing with the houseless folks in Asheville?

N: I can say a little bit about that, because I wanted to add on to what Ant was saying. They talked a bit about the Free Store, there’s also a part of the collective of streetside, which has been going on for – I don’t have the whole history, but as long as the Free Store has been open, since the beginning of the pandemic. So it’s like two and a half, almost three years, I think? And that includes folks doing gear distribution – so tents, blankets, sleeping bags – at Aston Park, every weekend. We provide coffee and food every weekend. And I think streetside has been a very big deal of literally having it be like, the start of creating a community and connection with people who are living in the streets. Because how are you going to actually make connections with people if you don’t show up and get to know people and talk with them? And also provide resources?

E: We also do sometimes respond to immediate asks. Like, you know, if somebody runs into somebody whose tent that got destroyed or something, then we can do emergency asks of like, “Hey, I just ran into this person who’s in crisis, can we get together some resources?” That type of stuff.

TFSR: That’s awesome. That all sounds like really, really important work. And also it sounds like a lot of work. And, you know, I just wanted to like name that.

The next question that I had was… I would really love to talk a little bit about homelessness in Asheville because like many, many places here, I guess in this so-called country it’s an escalating concern and an escalating situation that like a lot of people are faced with. From either your direct experience or from knowledge you’ve gleaned from elsewhere, would you speak on this and the elements which have made homelessness a more present reality for lots and lots of people?

A: Well, what a question. Yeah, Asheville itself has been really facing gentrification a lot lately, the housing market here is incredibly challenging. A lot of rental homes and things that were short term rentals, rental homes have mostly been at this point converted into vacation rentals and Airbnb’s. Because Asheville itself has kind of made a name for itself as a tourist town, and tourism has just really forced its way into the way of life in Asheville. And the local city government and local businesses are really focused a lot on tourism, at this point, at the detriment of people that are living here. What’s ended up happening is that like a combination of not having any housing and a lack of support systems for folks that are facing housing issues, or just in general, the lack of support systems that are like provided by the state has just made homelessness a really, really intense issue here.

On top of that — in combination with there not really being any available housing, because of that tourism based focus — the city has kind of made it a point to, what feels like, erase the existence of homeless people here in the city. Basically cover it up and make the city look good for the people coming in from out of town. What that has meant is that they’re increasing camp sweeps. They did I think 26 in this past year. The Asheville Police Department has really focused a lot on being present at these camps. A couple of recent presentations from members of the police department have really linked homeless encampments to the violent crime that we’re seeing in the area. Which is a narrative that, honestly is super not true and has basically taken advantage of a manipulation of a data set in a way that creates this narrative that the violence and the crime that is present is a result of the homeless population, which is just not true. So yeah, it’s fucking tough being here.

TFSR: And that sounds like it’s such a rough and manipulative line that I see being drawn here on the part of the government and the part of the business owners for the most part. So yeah, thank you for giving voice to that. You said that there had been 26 camp sweeps this year. Is that 2022 alone?

A: Sorry, that is within 2021.

TFSR: Oh okay.

A: Yeah, I forgot that it was 2022. Yeah, I believe it’s been 26 since January of 2021, up until the end of this month [May 2022].

TFSR: And has the frequency of the camp sweeps, has that gone up in recent years?

E: Absolutely. Yeah, it used to be that campers would get a notice of seven days to leave their site. They now have 24 hours and sometimes not even that long. There used to not be anti-camping legislation on the books for town government, for city government. Now there’s like actual anti-camping legislation. I think it came about in like 2010ish, like after the Occupy Movement, if I remember correctly.

N: Also to add to the number of sweeps, what Elsa and Ant had said earlier, it was for seven days, and then after all this bullshit, they were like, “Oop! We’re gonna like just change the policy.” Which by the way, like, fuck cops and they had this policy of it being seven days and they were able to like change this policy down to like 24-48 hours, whatever, without telling people about it because it didn’t require any type of budgeting changes. So they were able just to be like, “Oh, we’re just gonna make this policy change,” even though they don’t fucking abide by that. And even now, like Elsa said, they don’t even do the 24 hours, or the seven days, they never did any of that. I think it was like a week or two ago that they had swept another encampment of like 20 folks or so. And the 26 encampment sweeps that have been recorded and talked about specifically by, that I’ve seen, from Asheville Free Press, those are the ones that we hear about, or that there’s video or something. But that also doesn’t include the ones that we don’t hear about, or that we hear about weeks after, because then folks are finally able to be reconnected. I’m sure it’s more than 26 and it fucking sucks.

TFSR: Indeed, I don’t want to harp on this too much because, like, I think that lots of folks know what the mechanics of a camp sweep are. But for anybody who isn’t familiar with this term, or isn’t familiar with, like, how the cops usually roll in situations like that, could you describe what typically happens in a camp sweep?

A: Yeah, totally. It definitely depends on the location of the camp. Something that has come about a couple of times, particularly here in Asheville, is a dual jurisdiction, or like a question of jurisdiction of where these camps are actually located, whether it’s on city property, or whether it’s on DOT, Department of Transportation property. Depending on where that is it can look a little different, but it can range from the cops showing up and be like, “you gotta go, get all your shit”, or something that we’ve seen at other larger sweeps is them bringing in heavy machinery, like bulldozers, and just showing up with this equipment and telling people that they need to leave. For the folks that aren’t there and able to get their things, they are taking these bulldozers and literally leveling the camps, like people’s personal belongings and everything, with a bulldozer. Which is just absurd. Because if the people aren’t there to collect their things, they’re just taking it and destroying it. Honestly it’s violent. And it’s heartbreaking.

E: They also will sometimes try to use nonprofits that are supposedly there to support those communities to like, help push people out, which is really messed up and weird.

TFSR: Could you say a little bit more about that? I mean, I absolutely don’t doubt that this happens, like this sounds exactly like something they would do, I just would love to hear a little bit more about that.

E: It’s like, they’ll try to say “Oh, we’re gonna help you figure out somewhere to go”, or “we’re gonna do this or that” and there’s not really a lot of follow through. They might put people up in a hotel for a little while, and then suddenly that hotel room is just gone and there’s no support. Like there’s no acknowledgement that this is a long term thing that people struggle with, not just something that you can magically fix by putting somebody in a hotel room for a few days. They will try to have these social service organizations come in under the guise of caring, and sort of back the cops up in sort of a gaslighty, weird way that just messes with people. I think it makes it hard for people to feel like they get any support, because it’s hard for them to trust the organizations that are supposed to be there, as you know, support organizations.

TFSR: Thank you so much for going into that. I think that’s a really important kind of thing to keep in mind when interfacing with this issue, it’s not only the cops, like the cops do a lot, but it’s also like the NGOs and the nonprofits who are complicit in this. So thank you for like teasing that out a little bit.

So, I feel like we could talk about the issue of homelessness and houselessness for a really long time, so I don’t want to like get us too in the weeds here. But I’d love to like talk a little bit about y’alls arrest and what was happening at the at the moment or at the time. Would you talk about the circumstances surrounding y’alls arrest, you three and the other, did you say 12 people?

N: Yeah, 15 people. I don’t know if you had anything more to say, but I can start there.

TFSR: Oh, no, no, yeah. Like, I’d love to hear- I mean, I wouldn’t love to – but you know, would you talk about that a little bit?

N: Yeah. When I think about how this started, I really remember the total fear that waved over the community, when people we know started receiving door knocks at like, oh my gosh I don’t remember when they started, like maybe January people started receiving door knocks? And some folks have started getting picked up at work. Because we were trying to figure out what the hell was going on? And we heard…not stories, because it’s true, but of folks who were getting arrested or found at work, and it’s like, “oh, we don’t know these people.” Some folks were even getting picked up from their cars, like getting pulled over. And then, for me, personally, I had found out that there is a warrant out for my arrest. And I was just freaked out, like, “oh, when when is it going to be my moment that a cop is going to come knock on my door and scare my family and me?” Or, like, “when am I going to get picked up at work and have myself be completely villainized and made of a scene?”

So I just remembered that, whenever we talk about the beginning I’m like, “oh, that whole fear” because it was weeks of just being terrified no matter where I went, wherever people went. Yeah, if someone else wants to jump on, I’m getting teary.

TFSR: I’m so sorry. That is fucking terrible. I’m so fucking sorry that y’all had to go through that.

A: Yeah, the arrest period was pretty crazy. I just want to say — well, first of all, side note, I love you Nic —

N: [giggles with appreciation]

A: — I’m glad we’re not dealing with that anymore. Yeah, all of this…did you kind of want us to talk about, like, the events that are surrounding these charges? Is that kind of what you’re asking about?

TFSR: Yeah, yeah. As much as you can say.

A: Cool. Yeah. So just like narrative narrative wise, at the end of December there was an event held in the city that was made to bring attention to kind of the issues that we’ve been discussing up into this point. Basically, overall, the way that the city has been handling homelessness in Asheville. And it was really just drawing to attention to something that we have really been focusing on a lot, which is the issue of safe sanctuary camping. Basically asking the city to provide a space for people who want to camp, to camp and do it safely and do it in a way that has infrastructure for hygiene, like port-a-potties, infrastructure for trash collection and disposal and just overall just a place for people to be able to be outside, living outside in a camp community. Which is something that has really been coming up more and more with these sweeps.

And also this issue really got brought up a lot in the December months and things because of a lack of just overall shelter options for people who are living on the streets who are wanting a place to be inside during colder weather. And as of this point the city has not really provided a lot of infrastructure for shelters in “cold purple”, which is basically nights when the temperature drops below freezing, there’s supposed to be places for people to be able to go inside so that they don’t experience severe injuries as a result of the cold. And yeah, a lot of that kind of got brought up in the wintertime. A lot of people in the community started opening up their own shelters, like Trinity Church has done a lot of that work on their own. And really just to make up for the fact that the city has not been like doing anything to provide resources to people.

So, there was an event in December that was targeted on drawing attention to the lack of “code purple” shelters, the lack of a sanctuary camping infrastructure. And also it was just kind of like an event for people in the community to come together and share space with one another and bond with one another. Like Nic was talking about before, just like being in a park with friends. So that was something that happened in December. And as a result of those events that stemmed to these charges, where the charges at this point are associated with a code for “felony littering” or “aiding and abetting felony littering”. And I’m pretty sure I can, yeah, this is all stuff that’s on arrest warrants. Nic and Elsa, also, if something sounds not right, please chime in. But the arrest warrants all have a citation that an amount of trash was left in a city park exceeding 500 pounds, which is the amount at which it becomes a felony offense. So each of us have been served with arrest warrants that are either directly for the felony littering or aiding and abetting that felony.

E: Also the arrests happened in bunches. There was an initial group that received arrest warrants. And then there was a pause, and then there were more. And for me personally, I thought that it was all done, I thought all of the warrants had happened, because people were starting to get court dates. And then the day after my birthday I received a letter stating that I was banned from city parks for a felony littering charge. I hadn’t even been made aware of the fact that I had a warrant, nothing had been communicated to me, this just showed up at my house. And I made the decision to self-surrender, as well as the other two people that received letters around the time I did. And so it was very, it was very weird, and it was very jarring. Because it was like, two months after the initial activity had started. It was very weird.

TFSR: Yeah, that all sounds like super disorienting and really frightening. And also “felony littering” just sounds like something that was cooked up by a neo-liberal nightmare mind, you know? [scoffs] Do you all know anything about how that charge is usually weaponized against folks?

N: From what one of our lawyers has said, and from what I’ve heard…well first off the felony littering is really ridiculous. Asheville Free Press had done some research and saw that they have not used this type of charge in over a decade. So I’m like, “Yeah, y’all totally just brought it out of your ass”. But from what it was explained, and from what I heard from lawyers, is that it can be used for either businesses and commercial dumping, if they’re just throwing shit where they just shouldn’t be. That’s one example.

And then from what I was reading a little bit earlier today, it could also be used for people who are throwing their trash from home into a ravine or into a ditch or, I don’t know, any other nature part. And I guess doing so consistently? Because I think about like 500 pounds, how much home trash you got? But you know. And then it also clicks a little bit more in my head of, like, commercial businesses just polluting and throwing their shit in ravines and ditches.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you for speaking to that. I could see it being like one of those, you know, coded charges that they employ for their own reasons or whatever. So, thanks for speaking on that.

E: Yeah. From what I understand. It also is something that local municipalities like to leverage against activists specifically.

TFSR: I see. I see, I suspected as much! [laughs at the absu rdity of it all] Oh god.

A: Yeah, and like, to that specifically, a narrative that we definitely want to share is that employing a felony littering charge in this way when it’s not something like a corporation dumping all their garbage in a river, is an attack on mutual aid in the city. It’s an attack on the work that’s being done. It’s literally an act of state repression, because it is just them choosing a charge that technically maybe makes sense in their mind and employing it in a way that is completely unorthodox, for the most part.

TFSR: Indeed. And I’d actually really love to talk about the criminalization of mutual aid, because that seems like it is 100% a factor here. Can you talk a little bit more about what kinds of threats does this legal situation pose to mutual aid, not just in Asheville, but, you know, all over the place?

A: Yeah, I think, you know, this is something that is not a new issue, that there have been organizations like across the US, across other countries as well, that have been engaging in mutual aid and have come across state repression in some way in the form of charges that make no sense or, just in general trying to make the work hard. Because the goal of mutual aid is really to challenge existing society, and it is based on a model of community care, it is based on people looking out for one another, and people meeting each other’s needs. And that is a system that exists without the state. And so as a result, the state feels threatened by that and so they find opportunities like this one to repress that, because their existence is being threatened by it.

In this instance, in particular, Asheville, with not just this, but other things have come out that have really just felt like direct targets on mutual aid efforts. Something that came up a couple of months ago was the city was entertaining the idea of an ordinance that would ban food sharing in public parks — basically they were trying to criminalize being able to come to the park and share food with people. Which, honestly, when you say it out loud just seems ridiculous. But that, coupled with these charges, just really kind of paints a narrative of the city targeting these efforts of care because they’re feeling threatened. [That] is my conjecture at least.

And then on top of that, the park ban that Nic mentioned before, by issuing bans to the folks that have received these charges — despite the fact that they have not been convicted, this is like, an active criminal thing, nothing has been cited — there is still this ban, which basically takes 15 folks and prevents them from being in public parks. Which is a place that they know that this food sharing is happening, that they know that mutual aid is occurring. The more that you kind of tie it all together, the more it seems like, yeah, just a really fucked up narrative, I guess.

TFSR: It also makes me think of, just a complete sort of municipal, or whatever, government unwillingness in any way, approach the phenomenon of homelessness in a way that’s compassionate, or creative, or pro-human, or anything like that. I think that the more I look at cities’ responses to people who are homeless, the more I’m just like, “you have no other wish then for folks to just simply disappear,” you know? Which is just like, I mean, I’m not like expecting compassionate government

N: [giggles in agreeance]

TFSR: Because I am not wired that way. Maybe that’s too cynical I have no idea, but [inhales deeply] it’s just like come on, you know? That to me is also a huge, huge issue.

E: Yeah. You know, to tie the tourist industry to the attack on mutual aid, literally the cops are encouraged by city council and the mayor to make the folks that are living on the streets disappear. And they don’t care how they make them disappear. They just don’t want them downtown where the tourists are, or in certain other parts of the city. They don’t want them visible. Because Asheville is touted as this “progressive” town, this “quirky, fun, progressive town” that people can come visit and so they care very much for the way that they look. If people see other humans living on the streets, struggling, that makes the city look, in their eyes, that makes them look crappy. And they are very concerned about that image. And it’s 100% all about that they do not care what happens to these people. Honestly, if they were all to die tomorrow, I think they would be fine with that. Because they just want them gone. They don’t care how it happens, they just want them gone.

TFSR: Absolutely.

N: I also just wanted to add a little something about the attack on mutual aid. It made me think about how the attempt to ban food sharing, as well as the parks ban, I just think about, the progression of how that’s been going, and the folks that I know who have been — specifically, the way I was able to show up is through streetside and attempting to be consistent and making connection with folks. It’s through food sharing! That’s literally how I was able to be introduced to that, and fucking start my connection with people.

And now I know folks who, because of the state and because of APD and the city — Ashville Police Department and the city — it’s now constant threats and fears of people wanting to share food and make connection. Which is fucking rad! It’s just, just that in itself is dangerous and amazing and awesome and caring. Just thinking how people that I know that love and do that so much and put so much heart into that, can’t now because of these threats and because of APD and because of the city consistently stabbing people with all this stuff.

E: Yeah, I personally am not able to go to streetside anymore. That was one of the first ways that I was introduced to mutual aid was streetside, and I love streetside and I miss it. And I am the main person that earns money in my household. So, one of the conditions of my release is that I can’t go back to Aston Park, which is the park where we do a lot of food sharing. If I were to be incarcerated for any period of time, there’s a good likelihood that I would lose my job and potentially lose my license as a veterinary technician. I can’t run that risk because I could lose my home. So I haven’t been able to do something that I really like because of all this.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you so much for giving voice to how this entire situation is impacting your lives both personally and politically. It’s extremely disruptive. It sounds tedious and frightening, which is a really shitty combination. Is there anything more to say about this topic? Like how you have seen these charges, like impact the work around town?

N: Yeah, the last things I’m thinking of is, though these charges are fucked and it is so stressful and it’s taking such a toll, it has, as we’ve seen, definitely taken an impact on folks who are able to show up and do this work. You know, because it’s caring. It’s definitely made an impact because there are folks, like Elsa said, who can no longer show up because it literally runs the risk of their livelihood. And also from what I’ve seen from these charges, from the impacts and effects in the community, are a lot of people making efforts to connect more in the broader sense of folks who are doing other work in Asheville.

So I think a lot about how, since the attempt at banning food sharing, folks have also been meeting up with faith leaders who also do like shit ton of work in the community. That’s another connection that people have been making or have had, and just really have been pouring into that. We’ve also garnered a lot of support, and being new to this movement, I’ve been like, “wow, there’s actually a shit ton of people who are really, really down for this” as they should be. And, though, it sucks that I am witnessing this through this way. Because facing this repression, I am very excited about how much more I can, myself and others, can deep dive into the work of being stronger together.

E: Yeah, I would agree, absolutely. And say that there have been people that have reached out to the defendants and said, like, “what can we do? This is so messed up, how can we get involved?” So it’s kind of amazing how, in some ways, this has helped us grow our community. And there has been more awareness brought to this issue, which is the exact opposite of I think what the state had hoped for.

TFSR: That is really, really great to hear. I love that there has been a lot of support from the faith community. What kinds of support that y’all are seeking from listeners, like, how can folk help support you? Are you asking for anything specifically?

A: Yeah, I think one thing that I just really want to name in all of this is that this has been really heavy, and it’s prevented folks from showing up in the ways that they have been showing up, but it doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop showing up. And mutual aid and like, the work that we’re doing is something that is going to shift and change and keep going because all of us are here, because we believe in a different world. And we’re all trying to build something. So we’re not going to go away, we’re just going to change the way that we’re doing things.

And I think like the number one ask that we’ve been having in all of this is for folks to show up, and be part of this, be part of this building work that we’re trying to do, and come out and meet your neighbors and share space with your neighbors and share food with your neighbors, get to know one another. Start to continue to deepen these networks of people supporting one another, and just knowing people. And yeah, just keep fucking showing up. That’s all we can really do. That’s why we’re here.

E: We also have a website and we are trying to raise funds. And some folks aren’t completely satisfied with their [legal] representation. And like, you know, most of us don’t really have the means to retain representation on our own so we’re definitely looking for folks to be willing to maybe help us out a little bit in that way. And we’ve been working on trying to really spread the word about what’s going on, to help further the issues of what is happening to unhoused communities, and try to pressure our local government, and the people in power in general, trying to pressure and elevate these issues. So that’s really important, too, is people elevating these issues in their own spheres and having these conversations about what needs to happen, how they can be there in supportive ways for their own communities.

TFSR: I love that. What is your website and how can people read your solidarity statement? And how can people keep up with what’s going on for y’all?

N: Yeah, so our website is avlsolidarity.NoBlogs.org. and our Venmo is @AVLDefendantFund. Also for ongoing mutual aid work, folks are totally encouraged to donate to Asheville Survival Program, that’s @AVLsurvival for Venmo. And then to resist future Movement repression is Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross, you know, as well there’s Asheville for Justice, who does direct fund distribution. And to what you had asked earlier about what support asks, also for people to keep talking about this, they can see our updates on Ashevillesolidarity.NoBlogs.org, as well as Asheville Survival Program’s Instagram. So keep talking about it, please keep talking about it. Please keep updated with us, you can send us comments and little cute notes on our website! [laughs] Or if you have something to offer or support in any kind of way, or whatever that looks like, please, creativity is everything! Please reach out.

And also, back to what Ant was saying, please show up, please keep showing up. I mean, this is what’s going to happen, this fucking sucks, and mutual aid is going to be attacked. But we’re getting through this together. And that’s how we will get through it. And so I’m only scared because of the state, like the state has brought this fear. But I’m gonna keep going. Like this is the only way, is to keep persevering and showing up. Also, if you got gear, please give us gear! Give Asheville Survival Program gear: tents, sleeping bags…I mean, that’s distributed every single week directly to people living on the streets. Give money.

TFSR: I love that so much. I think it’s no small feat to approach moments of state repression with “yes, this sucks, but like we’re still going to keep showing up”. And I think that that takes a lot, you know, and I just want to appreciate that so much, and name that as well. And we’ll link all of those sites that you mentioned with the Venmo’s and the websites and everything in our show notes. So those are all of the questions that I had scripted up. Thank you all so much for taking the time to have this chat. It’s been a real pleasure to get to sit down with you all and listen to what you had to say. Is there anything that we missed in this interview that you want to speak about in closing, or anything like that?

E: Thank you so much for just helping us elevate these issues and having this conversation. It was really, really awesome.

A: Yeah, I want to echo that. Thank you for taking the time to let us talk. Appreciate it a lot. I just want to say I would encourage anyone who is curious about any of this to research the sanctuary camp-related things that have been going on around the country. There have been cities that have been making it happen, and making it work and building this infrastructure, which is super cool. And I would encourage folks to do the research on that. And just, yeah, continuously encourage folks to hang in there and, you know, be in solidarity with one another and remember that there’s something better out there for all of us.

N: And thank you for having this interview with us. Also this has been going for like, oh my god, I don’t even know how many fucking months it’s been, four plus months, more! And how ridiculous this all is, and how much fucking money is being wasted on us right now [cracking up] to show up to court every single month to have these like… I don’t think we talked about it, but we had a parks ban appeal meeting, which was ridiculous. Also just a shit ton of money being wasted every single time they talk about us, show us and interact with us. While those, literally a fraction of that could be used for hygiene infrastructure in parks, public restrooms, hand washing stations. Did they open up any of those public restrooms again? I don’t know, not sure.

Also, that district attorney Todd Williams can drop our charges. Drop our charges Todd Williams, you can do it! Any day now!

TFSR: Yeah, we’re waiting on you, Todd. Come on. Step up.

Liaizon Wakest on Autonomous Social Media and the Fediverse

Liaizon Wakest on Autonomous Social Media and the Fediverse

proposed vediverse logo of multicolor pentagon/pentagram with logos for 6 different fediverse projects around it
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This week, we spoke with Liaizon Wakest. Liaizon grew up in an anarchist commune in rural America. They can be found climbing into dumpsters from Mexico to Kazakhstan looking for trash to make art with. In recent years they have been focused on research into ethical technology and infrastructural anarchism. For the hour we speak about the interoperable, open source ensemble of federated online publishing servers and platforms known as the Fediverse and its most popular component, Mastodon. This conversation takes place in the context of media hullabaloo about Elon Musk seeking to purchase Twitter, the paradigm in which a rich egomaniac can own the addictive social media platforms over which so much social and political life is engaged and what positives we can draw from alternatives like Mastodon and the Fediverse.

You can find Liaizon’s account on Mastodon (an analog of twitter) at @liaizon@social.wake.st or on Pixelfed (an analog of Instagram) at @wakest@pixelfed.social. And you can follow us on Mastodon by finding @TheFinalStrawRadio@Chaos.Social or by visiting https://chaos.social/@TheFinalStrawRadio in a web browser.

Another interesting anarchist media project engaging the Fediverse is Kolektiva, which has a PeerTube instance at https://Kolektiva.Media (analog of youtube) and Mastodon at https://Kolektiva.Social where they’re welcoming new users. Kolektiva includes participation from projects like Sub.Media and AntiMidia

You can find a real good interview by our comrades at From Embers about Mastodon which I mention in the interview from February 3rd, 2022 entitled Social Networks, Online Life and The Fediverse: https://fromembers.libsyn.com/social-networks-online-life-and-the-fediverse

Announcement

Eric King Arrives at USP Lee: call-in continues

As a quick update on the situation of Eric King, he has been transferred this week from USP Atlanta to USP Lee where he and his supporters are concerned he’ll be placed into solitary and isolated for attack. You can find info on his situation as well as who to contact to press for his return to a medium security facility to match his current security points, visit SupportEricKing.Org and find the May 3rd, 2022 post whose title starts “Eric Transferred

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Featured Track

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Transcription

Liaizon: My name is Liaizon Wakest. I’m involved in too many projects, I don’t even know where to start in that space. But, I am from a commune in Wisconsin that I grew up on and was there for the first large part of my life. So, I’m a second-generation freak. The commune I grew up at was involved in a lot of— Our two main points were hypermedia and permaculture: the convergence of plant stuff and weird tech stuff, and thinking of life as performance art. I currently live in New Orleans. I’ve been out here for about eight years now. I’m currently working on building a treehouse, which is a very different type of thing than doing weird anarcho-tech stuff.

TFSR: What do you or the commune mean by hypermedia?

L: The H from HTML also is hyper. So… hypermedia was an early term that fell out of vogue in the 90s. But it’s the idea that you break down all the walls between different types of creation. All art forms and all creation are one in the world of— When you start integrating new technologies that enable new types of creation, those walls start breaking down, and you can just think of life as art and life as creation. But especially hypertext and the idea of hypertext and of the internet came from some of the same rhetoric in the sense of breaking down the linearity of the different types of media.

TFSR: I guess, it means more than text in some ways, right? Because suddenly you can embed links to other texts and go down this weird rabbit hole that you wouldn’t have been able to with a necessarily linear published pamphlet or book.

L: In the sense of hypertext, but then in hypermedia, it’s everything. It’s audio and video and interactive stuff, and a noise show. It’s the term that is meant to embrace all creation.

TFSR: We were going to speak about anarchistic tech stuff. I guess social media is what I was hoping to speak with you about.

Recently, a big thing in the news — and we’ve been talking about having this conversation well before this hit the news — but this is just one specific set of ripples in the pond… Elon Musk is talking about purchasing, getting control over, and going private with Twitter. There’s a lot there: we can talk about the role that non-legacy media and, in particular, social media plays in the political landscape, in terms of government surveillance, corporate surveillance… In terms of the way that government functioned in the last administration, quite literally, where presidential edicts were coming down via Twitter posts.

A thing that the media does is to focus on an individual like Musk and all the companies that he’s owned, are the statements that he makes in the media or on social media, or whatever. And that becomes a story. The story that I want to get at and I’d love to hear your comments on is more about the fact that someone can decide to take this thing that has such big political consequences, insert their ego into it and control what happens in it in a way that’s consequential to politics and sociality in our society. I wonder if you have any comments about the implications of that.

L: I have lots of thoughts on the matter for sure. I think that in the long run, this will probably be a good thing because it puts more of a spotlight on how weak this system is that we have, the system of all of the news sources and mainstream media sources and social media, and these internet companies, all being these trading blocks between a handful of billionaires. And the more people realize how messed up that is, maybe the more visibility the alternative ways of organizing this stuff can have.

After this happened, we’ve gotten about almost 200,000 new people signing up on the Fediverse in the last week, from people being “Oh, fuck, no, I don’t want to be a pawn in Musk’s game, I need to find an alternative.” It seems anytime something this happens, it pushes more people to look for alternative infrastructure. And in a lot of ways, whether Twitter is owned by a bunch of venture capitalists, stakeholder companies, or some billionaires, it’s still a giant ad machine either way, and there are still a few people who have all the power. In the long run, I don’t think that Elon theoretically owning it really makes that much difference. Though, I guess that might be a little bit of the accelerationist take or something. It’s okay for something to get slightly worse if it pushes the future probabilities closer to actualization or something.

TFSR: I definitely want to get into a bit about what the Fediverse is, and what are its some of its constituents. Can you talk a little bit — before we go into the specifics of that — of what benefits do you think people are going to see crossing over to the Fediverse, for instance, over what they would be experiencing on Facebook or on Instagram or on Twitter?

L: There are a lot of different angles to go at it to answer that question. The Fediverse is a lot of things. It’s not one platform. So all of the other options or examples that you just laid out, other than the Fediverse, are companies owned by shareholders. Those companies decide exactly what happens and how it works and what it looks like and who’s invited and have complete technical control over how their network functions and what kind of activities can happen on it, how those things work, and how to collect money, how to exploit the people who are using it, etc.

If you’re familiar with the Fediverse at all, you’re familiar with Mastodon, which is the biggest piece of software that is a part of the Fediverse. But the Fediverse is much more than just that. Mastodon was made as an alternative to Twitter using an already existing protocol that has actually been around for about 13 years in various forms under various names. The Fediverse actually started about 13 years ago. And it originally started as an alternative to a very early Twitter, 13 years ago, Twitter was a very different thing than it is today. But there was an explosion of this idea of microblogging and Twitter was not the only one to do that. There were a bunch of projects and companies and people who realized that one of the stumbling blocks of blogging, which at the time was one of the biggest parts of the internet was that, it’s so structured that people— there’s this stumbling block in finishing something before you publish it. By removing the assumption that you need to publish articles, as opposed to snippets and thoughts and little blobs, you remove this thing to be scared by, which enables a lot more activity and a lot of different interactions that weren’t intended in the blogging space when people were designing blogging software.

So, the Fediverse, in its current state, is many, many different pieces of software that all use a common protocol which is called ActivityPub. It basically just lays out how messages and data are shared between distinct servers. The Fediverse is made up of about 6,000 servers right now, all run by different individuals around the world, and all with their own codes of conduct, policies, ideologies, and politics. And all of those servers have the ability, through this protocol called ActivityPub to talk to each other. And all of the types of interactions that you would expect in social media can be related in a standard way that any developer can then implement in whatever code and stack that they want to use to be able to share the standard way of communicating packets of data between servers.

Mastodon is the biggest one, or the biggest piece of software that is being used, but there are many, many other different pieces of software that are also part of the Fediverse and are also using the same standard. There’s PeerTube, which is probably the second biggest, for video sharing, as a project specifically to combat YouTube. It’s also anarcho infrastructure-minded in its formulation. All of the Fediverse is open source and there are almost no companies involved in the Fediverse. Now there are a few little ones that people have started to support themselves working on it full-time. But in general, it’s almost all individuals working on it out of passion and care for the future of communication. There’s one called WriteFreely, which is for more long-form blogging. There’s a new one that started pretty recently called BookWyrm for logging and sharing what you’re reading and updates about— Like GoodReads or LibraryThing.

But it’s also federated. I guess I should explain what Federation is. All of the Fediverse and the Fedi part of Fediverse (federated universe) is a federated network. The analogy that most people use and are familiar with is email as a federated network design. Any email address can email any other email address, and the servers don’t need to first know about each other. In an email, anyone can start a new server, like fluffycats@mouse.net. And that can, by default, using the protocol of email, send a message to any other already existing email account in the world. People don’t even really think about that inherent difference between email and modern social media. The mainstream social media today is everyone existing on one server. Twitter is just one gigantic computer that is sharing messages on itself. Whereas email is millions of computers that have pads between them and can share messages using a federated protocol, which in the case of the email is SMTP. The Fediverse is basically that same model but updated for the kinds of interactions that we expect in modern social media. Things like liking and replying and boosting and sharing and following — are all activities that one would expect in the case of social media, but everyone has grown up accustomed to— If you’re on Instagram, you can only follow other people on Instagram, whereas on the Fediverse, you can follow anyone using any different kind of platform and the data gets into your local stream of whatever you’re using.

TFSR: I guess there’s one potential benefit to draw out of that, because of the federated model there and anyone being able to start a server if they have the resources available to them, that leads to the creation of a lot of different potential spaces where it’s allowable to have certain kinds of speech that maybe you would be excluded from Twitter or Instagram or Facebook for. So to continue as we do with the example of anarchists, anarchists can talk about radical alternatives to the state, attacks that occur against infrastructure, or prison breaks without a fear that they’re going to get shut down directly necessarily by the host of their specific platform on the Fediverse. Unless it counters the terms of service that are agreed to or the social contract or whatever that thing is. That can be a positive, right?

L: On the Fediverse, you can host everything yourself. So if you’re running an anarchist instance, and you want to host 100% of your instance, you can get a used server for $100 on Craigslist and plug it into the wall in a basement and run a Fediverse server with 1,000 people on it, with really not that much. It’s definitely working. But it’s not that complicated. And there’s a lot of people who are actually able and willing and currently doing things like that, which hasn’t been possible in previous times for what we expect. It’s been possible in the sense of collectives running email or chat servers in the past, but this is a new leaf in that ability because you could have a very public presence and a very interactive presence through infrastructure that you entirely manage yourself if you do have— There’s definitely technical know-how, but there are enough people around who do have that know-how and the excitement to do that. There’s an anarchist collective in Italy, I can’t think of their name off the top of my head right now.

TFSR: Autistici, who hosts Noblogs?

L: They’re connected, but that’s not who I was thinking of. But they run a bunch of Fediverse stuff out of a squat, using all found and collected infrastructure. They probably have about 1,000 people using their server. It’s not just an analogy, the ability to do that is currently there.

TFSR: That’s definitely a positive— If that is something that you are seeking is to have the ability to have a space that is dedicated to the kind of interactions that you want to have, you can run it yourself, and you can look at the code or have someone you trust, hopefully, running the code and keeping up on it. But then also, there’s another side to a benefit that someone as a user could have of being one of these because it’s open-source, you basically know the information that’s being collected about the users, and there’s a lot more transparency than there would be, and it’s easier to find out, than, for instance, with Twitter or with Instagram or with Facebook. And with that data being collected, it seems easier to release information that people had the presumption of being private or didn’t even know that was being collected about them when those companies get hacked, or if they sell that data to someone else. Is that a fear that people engaging with the Fediverse should have about their data if they’re starting accounts on things like Mastodon, or is it just a thing that they’ll be more aware of because there’s no profit motive there?

L: That’s a whole discussion in itself. The Fediverse is mostly public, with people posting stuff publicly. There are different modes you can post, there are private messages and there are limited visibility messages. But in general, data collection on a large scale— If we’re using advanced encryption, your data is probably getting collected, nonetheless, somewhere down the pipeline, whether or not it’s in a format that’s usable by anyone. A lot of it just gets hoarded. But I think if something is publicly visible on the internet, someone’s collecting it, no matter what. So the Fediverse is very different than something like Signal in the sense that most of the stuff on the Fediverse is people talking to each other publicly. Though it doesn’t intrinsically need to be that, and there’s a bunch of people working on building advanced encryption into the Fediverse right now, but that has been somewhat of an afterthought and something very difficult to tack on later, because the Fediverse was entirely designed around public-facing content, and the security privacy part of it came later. But thinking about what you mean when you say security and privacy, the ability to control that your data is available is a separate issue, and control who can silence you and who can limit your visibility. They’re very connected topics to privacy and security, but they’re not the first things that people think about.

TFSR: Another thing that I could see as being a benefit to something that is parallel or autonomous infrastructure like the Fediverse is that these privately held social media corporations have designed algorithms for the way that people interact with their platforms that are meant to draw people and keep people, not just based on them wanting to read the content or look at the picture in and of itself, but increasing…

L: Making it addictive…

TFSR: Yeah. Refresh rates or populating certain kinds of content at different times. Is that a thing that people could expect to engage with at this point in Fediverse platforms?

L: Right now, on the Fediverse, there is no sorting whatsoever, and no algorithmic decision-making of what you see. Everything is chronological. Every different piece of software on the Fediverse is currently chronological. Mastodon just launched an Explore tab, which uses some ranking of popularity of posts in a specific timeframe. But, I think, each individual server that’s running the software gets to decide how their posts are being ranked, or whether to turn that on locally. And the algorithm, everything is open source, so you can see exactly what those ranking algorithms would be doing. That’s just a way of discovering content because in the Fediverse, when nothing is being pushed at you when you sign up for an account, you basically start fresh and everything is blank. It’s not like “Here, follow Elon Musk”. Fucking Twitter, even today, I get a notification, if I open Twitter on an account, like “Would you like to follow Elon Musk?” I’ve had the same account reminded five times if I want to follow. It’s really bizarre.

TFSR: It’s like Tom from MySpace.

L: Yeah, it’s just a popularity game, if someone’s getting a lot of interaction, then the system just keeps pushing that. That kind of interaction isn’t on the Fediverse at all now, but there are some very valid reasons for some algorithmic sorting of posts that you want to see, in the sense that if you’re following a lot of people, it gets overwhelming very fast. And your ability to look at everything becomes less and less, the more stuff you’re trying to consume. Eventually, there will be the need and the willingness to build in some mechanisms for that in the Fediverse. And the main difference being that it will be entirely open and customizable by the person who’s getting that. Probably in a couple years, we’ll start to see that thing happening in the Fediverse. And the conversations that I’ve seen people have are as long as it’s entirely opt-in, and you get to know exactly what those algorithms are doing and decide which ones you want to use, and you’re able to turn them on and off personally. That changes most of the negative dynamic around it.

TFSR: You had mentioned that these protocols are interoperable between different platforms and instances in the Fediverse, different servers that are running and have their own guidelines. I wonder if you have thoughts about how tools get used in unintended ways. That’s a part of hacking, playing with the thing, trying to break it in different ways or make it do things you didn’t expect it to do. But then open source and free software, for instance, also gets used… After Gab, I might be wrong, but there was some far-right platform that was taken, Cloudflare stopped protecting-

L: You’re talking about the Gab situation? This story got so over-reported that I’m somewhat bored by it, but I can give a quick synopsis. Gab being the first big far-right social media platform, they got a bunch of investment money early on, millions of dollars, they did a very shitty job of building a modern social media website. They built it with a lot of assumptions that turned out to not be true.

When it started getting a lot of attraction, early on, there were rumors that Trump was gonna move there and there was a bunch of prominent far-right figureheads, who were over there going on about some racist bullshit or something. The main thing is first they got kicked off of their main hosting, and they were able to move on to alternative hosting. But their app was kicked off of the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store and that put a new media spotlight on them. They started growing more because they were getting silenced by “big tech” with its “Californian neoliberal stance.” So what they did, which was an interesting move, was they basically scrapped all of the platform that they had built ready and had spent over a million dollars on and took a software that is open-source and free to use… They took Mastodon, forked it and rebranded it, and just launched their own Mastodon instance on their original domain and imported all of the old user accounts from their previous software as new users into their Mastodon instance. But they did a lot of things wrong, and that didn’t work very well.

Mastodon is made entirely by leftist and anarchists and queer and trans people and people on that side of the political spectrum. So the developers working on Gab, who took Mastodon and tried to change it into their own thing, basically just got squirted at every attempt by most of the people working on Mastodon. They didn’t really succeed in utilizing that base very well. The reasons for doing that were quickly squirted because the vast majority of other servers on the Fediverse just instantly blocked and muted and restricted any interaction between Gab and the rest of the Fediverse. Each server gets to decide that and of course, there are some servers on the Fediverse who are also run by other far-right folks and trolls, and people who just like shitty content. There were a couple pools of servers that were continuing to federate with them, but they ended up not that long after changing their mind again, and they’re [the far right] actually still running a strange fork of Mastodon with some of the original Mastodon code, but they turned off all federation and are not part of the Fediverse at all now.

TFSR: A little white ethnostate on the internet.

Even if over overblown in the media, I think it’s interesting though that there are baked into these opportunities for not just having to have whatever come across your way, because of the interoperability of the servers with each other, that there are ways to decide to block content from certain directions. Because if it is free and open-source and anyone can participate in it, there’s also the right to not have to engage with certain types of content. So the fact that it is technically interoperable between that Nazi server and Kolektiva or something that, the fact that they can burn that bridge between them and say, “You go play over there by yourself, you’ve got your own sandbox, you do that,” I think that says a lot about the potentials of the platform. You don’t necessarily have to deal with— If you want to run an instance that specifically follows Juche [ideology] or something that, you can do that. And when enough users on another instance find that obnoxious enough that they talk to the mods there. They can say, “Can you just stop them from being able to interact with us from that instance?”

L: Yep, so for instance, the Fediverse is built in a very modular way, so there are lots of different levels of different types of walls you can put up between different instances and individuals. There’s every different type of wall. So on an individual level, you can block any other account, or you can block a server from interacting with you. And then on a server level, each server gets to decide on… you can exist on the allow-list or deny-list model. So you can say, “by default, I talk to everyone,” or “By default, I only talk to these servers, and then I need to add who I talk to later on.” Or you can say, “I’m open to everyone.” And then if some server has too many bad actors on it, you can silence that server, which is slightly different than blocking, it basically says, “None of the content from that remote server shows up publicly unless explicitly requested or explicitly shared.” There’s a lot more depth and dynamic-ness in the types of interactions possible, and I feel it’s a lot closer to human interaction in physical space than what we’re used to in the “everyone’s in the same mall under the same mall rules” of the Facebooks and Twitters of the world.

TFSR: I wonder if you could speak about how autonomous infrastructure can actually be, like you’ve mentioned squats in Italy that are hosting instances and connected to Noblogs, or I know of a radio station, comrades of ours in Athens that have a squatted radio station that’s been running for two decades and stealing, sorry, re-socializing electricity. (They’re very particular about that) That is so autonomous. When you’re you’re not paying the state regulators for the electricity that you’re using and you don’t own the building that you’re in, you’re taking it from a public institution. And the airwaves, literally it is a pirate station. There’re limitations in different places around the legality of that activity. In Berlin, friends of ours have told stories about how you can’t really operate a pirate radio station for very long without a bunch of police coming in with guns drawn and raiding the space to take the transmitter.

L: Yeah, and there are still lots of pirate radio stations that keep popping up in Berlin even despite that…

TFSR: So I wonder, with the way that web hosting works, when we talked about the moment of Gab being forced to be withdrawn from these different platforms that allowed them to pass their information along, including infrastructure like CloudFlare, for instance, stopping DDoS attacks… How autonomous can these instances actually be? Is that a useful question?

L: I think, in something like what Gab was trying to do, they were trying to build a large platform-size— They were basically trying to use decentralized infrastructure to build a centralized place on top of it. One of the interesting things about the Fediverse is you can build a server. For instance, I run a server that’s just for me, and I’m the only user on that server, I make my own code of conduct every time I write something in my head because it’s just me deciding what I think is appropriate and morally righteous. No other admin is deciding what I can say, though everyone following me gets to decide whether they want to interact with me and my server or not. That ability, someone using the same software can then make one for themselves, and also invite all of their friends and have one that has 10 people on it, or 100 people or 1,000 people. I think the biggest server on the Fediverse has 700,000 people on it, it’s one out of Japan, pawoo.net that’s been around for a really long time. And actually, it’s all in Japanese, so it almost exists like a tiny centralized platform, because its users are all writing in Japanese. And it’s the biggest congregation of Japanese users on the Fediverse. Most of the rest of the Fediverse doesn’t speak Japanese. So they’re mostly just talking with themselves. But every now and then, I’ll make a post that suddenly blows up on Pawoo and has hundreds of Japanese people talking about it. And that post exists over in that world openly. So there are a lot of very interesting dynamics that exist in this space that just have never been really explored before. And there are a lot of things to try and to experiment with.

TFSR: Do you feel like Mastodon or are these alternative parallel— There are lots of reasons that people would choose to come on to these other social media environments, maybe because they don’t like what’s going on in the other ones, maybe because of the open-source arguments, or what kind of data is getting collected, or what kind of stuff’s getting shoved in their face from the platform, like how many times can you be asked if you want to follow Elon Musk. But does shifting over to these platforms create a silo-ing effect or is there a danger there where we just go into an environment where we’re just hearing from people that are similar to ourselves, and not really getting in touch with newer ideas from that. Because I know that we, for instance… I don’t like going on Facebook, I’ll do a post on Facebook every week that we have an episode for the show and hope that someone will find the content and then start engaging with it on their own separately, but it seems like an opportunity for overlap where people are going to first try the things that are most available to them and then maybe explore out from there.

L: I want to say that that silo-ing is happening already, everywhere. If you have an Instagram account, and you’re posting your events to your Instagram account, if you’re posting punk shows to a small Instagram account, Instagram will limit the fuck out of you. And you’re not actually getting this global audience that you think you are unless you pay to promote each post that you make at this point. You have the potential to have your posts go viral randomly if the right person interacts with them. But in general, anyone who’s not trying to be a social media influencer doesn’t actually have that much visibility and is by default silo-ed to just the people who have explicitly gone out of their way to find them on mainstream social media. In this new dynamic, in the Fediverse, people are explicitly finding you, or finding you through a chain of friends posting something, or friends of friends posting something in this natural way, as opposed to the algorithmic boosting of content that you can play with in the Instagrams and Twitters of the world.

TFSR: One instance or one punk show made me think of the conversation that happened on From Embers a couple of months ago, which is another podcast that I listen to, and that are friends in the Channel Zero Network. And the person that was the guest hosts an instance for their small anarchist and punk community in the city that they live in. And the way that they explained what they were expecting to get out of it as in they create this instance, a server, they allow friends that they know to sign up to it, they assume that all the interactions are going to be transparent to the rest of the internet. But as you said, with an Instagram post about a punk show, you may get to some of the people that are on Instagram and that are in your community or whatever. But there’s suddenly this microblog opportunity for anyone on the internet to just say, “I’m in X city, I wonder what punk stuff is going on, I’m going to find this publicly available RSS feed coming off of that instance that says when the upcoming punk shows that they want everyone to know about is.” Approaching it in this way makes a lot of sense in some ways. It’s also kind of weird — we’ve gone back to the time when people just ran websites for their scenes, going through the eye of the needle and back through the other side.

L: Yeah, that’s a great way of looking at the Fediverse. It’s a self-hosted indie website, but with the dynamics that we expect in the modern space of more levels of interaction.

TFSR: It seems that’s the thing that a lot of blogging sites have always had is this element of it’s not just about you as the poster, but there are ways to interact with other posters on that same platform. Like with Noblogs, we can chat with or follow or friend other people, we can send private messages through encrypted email through the servers to another user that uses that same email. But it’s not a thing I ever think to use. But I think because Mastodon is such a flashy and friendly and welcoming platform, it makes me feel like “Oh, yeah, I’ll interact with this, it’s Instagram or it’s Twitter or whatever else. I can message people, I can private message people, whatever else.” It’s pretty cool.

So with this surge of new users to Mastodon that you mentioned and that’s been written about — PC Mag has a big article about it with Musk’s announcement of purchasing Twitter shares — this seems to happen actually, frequently, when major corporate platforms are involved in the news cycle. Like when CrimethInc and ItsGoingDown were kicked off of Facebook a few years back as alongside a lot of other anti-fascist sites, a bunch of people migrated to some degree over to Mastodon or to other social media. But in a lot of these cases, people will be there and then they’ll cycle back. They’ll put their account on hibernate for a little bit, try the other thing, and then when it doesn’t hit the same part of their brain, they may move back. Do you have any ideas about what may be some keys to keeping people wanting to stay with this alternative?

L: Honestly, I think a lot of that is there are no addiction mechanisms built-in to keep you. You log in and maybe everyone’s just talking about what they ate for breakfast, and there’s no exciting drama that is being shoved in your face and you’re like, “Oh, this is boring, everyone’s just talking about eggs right now.” Drama and news and horror are really addictive. There’s an intrinsic reason right there why people go back to this thing that they hate because it has, as these mechanisms built-in, that keep them hooked. The Fediverse doesn’t have that, so unless you’re actively deciding what kind of people you’re interacting with and taking an active role in that gardening, you might just drop off. And I think that’s okay, I think that’s actually fine.. I think that it probably makes the interactions that end up happening on the Fediverse a lot nicer too because the people who are there are there because they want to be there, not because they got a notification that some celebrity just punched some other celebrity on their phone, or whatever.

TFSR: Getting involved in technical projects often takes a sharp learning curve. Can you talk a little bit about troubleshooting in the community and creating instances and how to get assistance, if someone decides that they want to set up a PeerTube where they want to— I’ve been messing with Castapod a little bit and have a lot of difficulties. But partially, that’s my lack of access to French and a lot of the developers are based in France, as far as I can tell.

If someone has a project in mind, where’s a good place for them to look for support and getting started?

L: I would say, technical support wise, if you just start asking questions into the void of the Fediverse, there are a lot of very smart people who are very excited to answer technical questions. You need to have somewhat of a following to get responses. But I would say, as someone new on the Fediverse, it’s a pretty open space. And if you just start talking to people, people want to help, even the main developers. In that sense, you have to be a little bit fearless to just be okay with asking basic questions, not being afraid that you’re looking like a “newb” and just ask. Just go ask the person who wrote the software directly, publicly and say, “Hey, I can’t figure this out? Will you help?” And if they’re like “I’m too busy”, if you ask the void a little bit more, you will get a good amount of response.

There are also a ton of Matrix rooms for all the different projects that are filled with people who want to help each other figure this out. And there’s a ton of different groups that are like “We’re trying to do this, or we’re trying to help with this.” And that’s pretty active.

TFSR: You mentioned Matrix, I was gonna ask about outside of the Fediverse, which is pretty big if you could name some other interesting parallel infrastructure. Matrix, if I understand, is an end-to-end encrypted version of Discord that’s open source. Is that a fair way to describe it?

L: I wouldn’t liken it to Discord that much, but I have heard people say that. Matrix is an interesting project and it still has ways to go before it’s really, honestly, ready for primetime. But it’s usable now. I have a lot of mixed feelings about Matrix right now that I won’t go into, but I am excited for following the development of Matrix. There are a bunch of communities that are using it as their main communication channel right now. And there are a lot of really smart, interesting people working on getting Matrix up to par for being more light. It’s a very similar project to the Fediverse with a few different goals, I think they’re trying to appeal to corporations and corporate backing a bit more than a lot of other open-source-y projects. They’ve gotten some VC money and the German and French and English militaries have all agreed to start using Matrix as their chat platforms into the future, which in some ways, looks good for Matrix because it’s like “Oh, our security is strong enough that we have governments wanting to use it.” But it also makes a lot of people really uncomfortable, when they’re releasing a press release that they just signed a contract with the German military or the French military.

Another very interesting project that I’ve been following for a long time that is of similar nature, is Secure Scuttlebutt, a very similar in goal to the Fediverse, though a bit more utopian. And ways further off in the ability for it being a non-tech thing. Some people are not super technically minded using it, but there’s a hill to climb for several reasons but the project is very awesome and it’s being done by a lot of really great people. Your question was just related to social projects?

TFSR: Not even social. I guess social in terms of the aims and goals of the production of it, but just other alternative parallel infrastructure that you use, you’re interested in, or you think people might find cool to check out on their own?

L: Delta Chat is another one that is mostly being created by anarchists and it’s also a chat protocol built on top of the email standard, or not chat platform, chat protocol / server sort of thing built on email protocols. So you can use your already existing email ability and there’s a layer on top of that that you can chat with using this open standard. It’s also encrypted. So it’s similar in security standards to something like Signal.

And then also, there’s the world of XMPP and Jabber. There’s a good amount of activity in that space. And that’s one of the oldest and original federated chat protocols. And it has somewhat failed many times through many takeover attempts by different corporations. But it’s another standard with a lot of people who are very excited about it, and there’s been some renewed activity in that space in the last two years or so. That’s pretty interesting to follow. And yeah, if you’re a more security-minded person, it’s worth looking into using XMPP.

TFSR: Cool, I didn’t have any more questions, Wakest. Are there any other topics that you want to talk about? I may reach out to some folks that I know that are working and Kolektiva and just see if they have any-

L: Oh, yeah, Kolektiva is an awesome project. I’m really excited to see that continue to grow. Shouting out some instances that are doing really cool stuff-

TFSR: What do they do? They seem to have their hands in a couple of different things, right?

L: Yeah. They’re doing great stuff. Another instance in the Fediverse that’s continually been doing really awesome stuff is Posts.Lurk.Org. They’ve been doing really cool stuff. Social.coop is another really good instance that’s a cooperatively run ?? Merveilles.Town is a very small community of really incredible artists. That’s invite-only and a lot of really inspiring people are working on stuff there. They’ve attracted a lot of interest into the Fediverse just by being a bunch of weirdos doing really awesome stuff.

TFSR: There’s the Mastodon instance that Kolektiva is operating, but I think they’re also doing— Since member projects such as SubMedia have had difficulties in the past with keeping their stuff up on YouTube, I guess the PeerTube instance, right?

So I guess if you’re involved in a media project you could look at either creating— We don’t have any hosting anywhere, we have a Mastodon account on chaos.social where we post our content, and is usually not very much more than that, but I guess if you’re approaching-

L: What is your Mastodon account, if you want to just shout it?

TFSR: @thefinalstrawradio@chaos.social, I’m still not used to vocalizing the address in the way that a Twitter profile gets vocalized.

L: Yeah, that’s just the learning curve of figuring out how to say and talk about these things is interesting.

TFSR: What about yours? What’s the instance if people want to find your work?

L: My account is @liaizon@wake.st. That’s just on my own instance of one.

TFSR: Your little island. Thanks a lot for taking the time to have this conversation. I really appreciate it and all that you had to share. So thanks.

L: Cool. Thank you so much for reaching out. It was great talking to you.

TFSR: You too.

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Download Episode Here

This week we are pleased to present an interview that Bursts did with two members of IWOC (the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee), Caroline works with Millions for Prisoners New Mexico (@iwocnm and @millionsforprisonersnm on the Fedbook), Incarceratedworkers.org and Xeno is with IWOC Sacramento (@sacramento_iwoc on Instagram).

For the little-over-an-hour they speak on what it’s like to be working with incarcerated folks during the coronavirus pandemic, how prisons and the carceral mentality impacts everyone to varying degrees, the varying conditions in the prisons they are most tangential to, ways to connect with and support IWOC and many other topics!

Announcements

Eric King Call-In Continues

Anarchist, antifascist and vegan prisoner Eric King who you heard from in our April 3rd, 2022 episode has been sitting at the federal prison in Atlanta since his transfer from Grady County Jail. Our comrade shouldn’t be behind bars, especially after all he’s faced at the hands of federal prison staff, but he’s stable for the time being but the fear remains that the Bureau of Prisons is trying to wait out Eric’s supporters so we’ll drop vigilance and he can be quietly shipped off to the high security facility, USP Lee where he could be isolated in a Secure Housing Unit and be in danger of further attacks. Eric’s support team suggests that folks check out the latest post at SupportEricKing.Org to find contacts for people and continue to press officials to not move Eric to a facility above his medium security classification.

Transcripts & Zines

This is just a quick reminder that you can find a printable zine of that chat and many, many more at tfsr.wtf/zines, alongside transcripts and unimposed pdfs for easy printing of all of our interviews dating back to at least January 2021. If you write a prisoner or run a zine distro or literature to prisoners project, check out the collection for new material. And if you can read and write in another language and want to translate any of the texts, you are welcome to with no permission needed, but please send us a copy and we’ll promote it as well. If you care to support our transcription process you can make a one-time or recurring donation or merchandise purchase, more information at tfsr.wtf/support

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: So could you please introduce yourself to the audience with any names, preferred gender pronouns, or affiliations that you’d like to share?

Courtney: Yeah, my name is Courtney. I use she/her pronouns, and I am with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, as well as the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.

Xeno: Hey, I am Xeno, I use he/him pronouns and I am similarly with the Incarcerated Organizing Committee here in Sacramento.

TFSR: Well, Courtney, could you talk a little bit about Millions For Prisoners? Could you talk about that organizations, like what that group does?

C: Yeah, for sure. So, Millions For Prisoners in New Mexico/New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is… we’re all impacted by incarceration in some way, shape, or form from folks who are family members of people who were formerly incarcerated or are currently incarcerated. We have jailhouse lawyers on our crew. Of course, myself who has formerly incarcerated family members, as well as I worked in a State Penitentiary at the penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe as the head librarian back in about 2014 to 2015. I have some experience in terms of seeing the way the prison was run, and a lot of the human rights abuses that took place there. And yeah, we’re an abolitionist formation of folks who have been dealing with the impacts of state violence in one way or another through our entire lives, whether it be by police coming into our communities and terrorizing our community members, to folks dealing with incarceration, to folks experiencing different states of poverty including being un-sheltered. So, yeah, our people are all impacted by the system in some way. So it helps to drive us to continue to do what we do and stand grounded in our values. That’s who we are.

TFSR: Cool, and Xeno? Did you want to say anything about the work that you all do?

X: Yeah, I’ll say that, like, we’re Sacramento IWOC on social media. But we actually have members across California that are not just on the inside, but also on the outside. We help facilitate the existence of the Union for prisoners in every state prison in California. At some point we’d like to expand beyond that to additional facilities in California and help people do that across the country and the world, as well. I will say that we are a very wide ranging group of more than 20 people just dedicated to IWOC, not including more worker organizing focused stuff. The way in which we are least diverse is age in that were almost all under 30, but not entirely. I can also add that I have experienced a form of like mental health incarceration in my life, that was brief but truly terrifying.

TFSR: Yeah, who would one of y’all want to speak a little bit about what IWOC is and it’s relationship with the IWW? I know that it sprang out of the Industrial Workers of the World, which historically it’s a syndicalist labor union. Well, you can tell more about it than I could for sure, being affiliated with it.

But yeah, if you could speak a little bit about the history of IWOC and its relationship to the IWW. I seem to recall that during the Trump administration era there was tension between national leadership and other formations such as GDC, or General Defense Committee and IWOC.

C: Yeah, what I wanted to say about the matter is that we are definitely part of the IWW. We do have an active relationship with the IWW. They not only fund our work through a built-in dues model which is aligned with anti capitalist values, but we also continue to make gains with people who aren’t necessarily impacted by systems of oppression and violence, the way marginalized folks who have constant ordeals with the prison system or with police are. The working class solidarity in being in solidarity with folks who are behind the walls, who often may not have the choice to not work, which is often the case throughout the United States from coast to coast, that is leading to people in the IWW very much being in community with us and wanting to contribute labor administratively to what we need to have done for people on the inside since they can’t really do the same kinds of things that we can in terms of administrative work with computers.

TFSR: Courtney, how did you end up becoming employed as the head librarian at a prison? Did you just get your MLS and that was one of the options that was open to you? Or did they even require that? Can you talk a little bit about that experience of working in that facility?

C: Of course. Yeah. So, I actually got a bachelor’s in biology and worked in libraries. I worked in one in the community college for a number of years, I worked at one at the university out here for a number of years. And I was just putting my application out to everywhere, kind of broadcasting all over the place to get a job. I came across the State office and applied, I saw librarian positions and I kind of applied for those. But I didn’t really realize that I had applied for a prison until I got a phone call from who became my boss who was in the Department of Recidivism Reduction Division. I went in, because I was just interested because I was told you’re going to be giving books to people who are in solitary confinement.

What I had expected was about maybe 2, 3, 4 prison cells would be solitary confinement and it would be a punishment, or whatever the case may be. Although I did have very close family members who were locked up, I didn’t really know a whole lot about the experiences that they had, truly, until I actually went into the facility. But to my surprise, the facility was the supermax prison with about 600 people in various stages of solitary confinement. Of course, 300 being in the supermax facility. It’s all one great big compound is what it is.

The people in the supermax were at the time on 23 hour lockdown with one hour that they’d get in a cage with a two man escort that would take them out to the cage to have their exercise for an hour a day. Then at the level 5, which was on the other side of the facility complex, I’ll call it, it was a little less restrictive but still kind of the same content context. They have got to have what was called ‘tier time,’ where they would be in a certain pod and get to kind of be among each other, but were classified in different states and placed in different pods depending on whatever the case may be. If they were Seurity Threat Group classified or whatever. Then of course, there was a level two unit which was in the front. People could move and have access to the library and so forth.

When I went in to interview for the position. I wanted to see what the facility looked like because I had actually watched a documentary and a subsequent really disgusting thing that they did, which was a haunted house that they had at the Old Main. The facility I worked with was the site of what is called “the worst prison riot in US history” at the Penitentiary of New Mexico Old Main Building, where there were conditions of overcrowding, and physical and psychological abuse and terror that were employed on people that were incarcerated there. It basically blew up into a prison riot in 1980, where 33 people were killed and the National Guard was called in. As a result New Mexico had made that facility into a supermax where they put everyone there in solitary confinement with the exception of the level 2 that’s in the front that I was mentioning.

But I went in I found this little library that was in a chapel at the level six and it was this completely sterile environment. No wildlife, no trees, you’d see a bird on the barbed wire once in a while. It was almost like a religious experience seeing life in something positive and beautiful in such the horrible conditions. The human rights abuses, the torture, seeing people hurting themselves. Every moment being on your feet, it changed my life completely. It breaks my heart that I’m not there anymore, because through books and this is the thing about literature in prisons, books were the only escape that people had.

It was heartbreaking because a lot of that was taken away. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, people were allowed to have three books. We had to carry them out in an ATV to the different parts of the facilities, handing people their three books a week. People would get punished and their books will get thrown away. I would just buy more books to supplement. Right when I walked in, I just felt like I needed to be there. The connections that I made with prisoners…

Of course, the administration pummeled me into probably what could have been the worst experience of my life. As a woman, just the sexual objectification of me by corrections officers, and just the afterwards terror that I had resulted in me literally being afraid for my life, questioning whether I should move out of the state and change my name, and everything. I mean, it was the worst thing that I’ve ever really experienced in a workplace. I didn’t know who to tell who to talk to. But I had just randomly and with a lot of fear in my heart gone to, I was forced into resignation by the way, but I had gone to a Million’s For Prisoners park event that was commemorating Black August. I went to this big event and I heard a person who had just released from prison, but had a large sentence, I believe, an 18 year sentence on his head, named Justin Allen, who does a lot of incredible legislative advocacy work across the board with Right To Vote and stuff like that among so many other things. He was speaking about his experience in prison at this event. The courage that he had and that other people had, who were speaking that day in the park, helped me to go to another event and another event.

Then eventually I was approached, and I told my story to who became more than comrades, my family, with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico/IWOC and helped me to ground myself and have courage to even speak at all about anything. I just didn’t feel like there would be anyone that would believe anything beyond that a person who is in prison deserves what they get. That concept of vengeance on every level. People don’t really know what that looks like until they step into that situation and see the way humans are treated. You see people pacing back and forth, you see people harming themselves, you see blood, you see fights, the things that people confide in you. It’s heartbreaking whenever I think about it because I do want to be there to support people. I felt like when I was there I was providing a good heart in this ultimate darkness. People that rely on violence, when violence is how you operate as your baseline, it changes a person. Everyone that is involved in oppressing people as a career, police and prison CEOs, or whatever the case may be, they adopt that. That becomes the every day and they become addicted to that.

So just to answer your question, it was a fluke. I ended up just wanting to see what it was about, because I had heard about all that stuff that happened during the riot. They actually, the prison itself had a haunted house at the time where they were having people come on tours. They were paying like 30 bucks or more to go on tour so that you can experience someone talking about everything that happened during the prison riot. I don’t think they’ve resumed that as of now. I thought it was really disgusting that they were doing that when I first heard about it. A friend of the family son had died during the riot as well. So I was just curious and it led me into a rabbit hole and here I am today. Someone I never would have thought I would have become. I’m very introverted. I have really blossomed with the help of people who are behind the walls and people who are organizing who have experienced State violence. They’ve helped me to blossom into somebody that I feel like maybe I was meant to become as weird and kooky as that sounds.

TFSR: Courtney, can you talk about how access to literature has changed since COVID?

C: Yeah, for sure. Since COVID, one thing that’s happened is the distribution of literature. It used to be mandated by the ACA, or American Corrections Association, that people will be delivered books at least once a week and the limit was three books per person that they could have in their cell. Regular deliveries of three books per week if people request them. That of course, due to the pandemic, due to the excuse of staffing shortages, but really was, “we don’t want to do this labor because it’s hard labor to physically take books and physically sort books and get them out to people.” But under the guise of, “it’s the pandemic,” people haven’t been getting access to books.

Another thing that we’ve seen that is just outrageous in New Mexico is that the mailing system had changed. Of course, we were sending literature into our folks in New Mexico and really all over the Southwest, This is kind of a hub for the Southwest here in New Mexico. Just as of recently, New Mexico is sending mail to a third party that scans it and then sends it back depending on if it’s considered to be appropriate. That not only impacts the ability to send newsletters or literature from orgs or friends or family, but it also impacts folks who want to get drawings from their children, cards from their children, things from their family. It takes the personalization of a handwritten letter from one human being to another and it’s just another form of dehumanization and oppression.

They want to find any way that they can stamp the human being into ultimate hopelessness. The reality is that we’re going to continue to keep fighting against these forms of oppression by the state and these forms of hate. It’s just that they have so much hate pent up at every level. You can’t meet someone that works within these systems that’s going to be wanting to help people. That’s not what it’s about. It’s sick. There’s there’s nothing about it that is helpful in any way.

TFSR: Xeno, you mentioned that a lot of the work that Sacramento IWOC does is helping to distribute literature and getting it on the inside. But I wonder if you could talk about that and talk a little bit more about the Wobblies and about the idea of organizing. It has not the first time it’s happened in the US, we played a recording of Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin talking about in the 1970s organizing union of prisoners in North Carolina when he was being incarcerated there, but I wonder if you could speak a bit about the idea of addressing incarcerated folks as workers? I think that Courtney mentioned that people oftentimes don’t have a choice to not work and that varies state by state.

X: Yeah. So it definitely varies a lot in California. For starters, only a select few people get to work in California. Even if your work is firefighting for like pennies an hour, that’s considered a very enviable position to be in as a prisoner. As an incarcerated human being people want to be out of their cells doing something. And if that thing is almost completely uncompensated and life threatening, at least it’s an adrenaline rush. It’s better than just like sitting around doing nothing and talking to the same group of people day after day after day for decades.

I think that as far as revolutionary unionism, I don’t generally prefer the vernacular of syndicalism, snd officially the IWW doesn’t either. We are revolutionary unionist. Do I think that a labor strike in prison is going to cripple the state of California? Fuck no dude, they have so much money and one of their main taxes is just on capital gains. So that means that whenever the stock market’s going up, they’re flush. And whenever it’s not going up, they’re not, basically. We know that that’s not what we’re expecting to happen in California. Like, “oh, yeah. Let’s just talk to the union rep of the yard.” That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not trying to be like SEIU for prisoners. We are revolutionary unionists.

I think some people might enter union spaces not really understanding the key differences between a revolutionary union versus not. And that’s something that the IWW consistently struggles with. But aside from that, basically we don’t hire staff, we don’t hire lawyers. This is something that sometimes people inside are not happy to hear either. That we’re not here to do like their criminal case or their civil case for them. But we’re here to organize, which is about collective power. Whereas the legal system is about atomization and addressing individual problems, or “addressing them.”

So we seek to facilitate collective power in lots of different ways around the nexus of incarceration and that means doing lots of different things. We have a formal structure. I think this is what makes us different from an “informal group” or whatever. We recognize that the power dynamics inherent in our existing society are going to splash up on the shores of our group whether we like it or not and that the best way to actually ensure non hierarchical dynamics prevail is to have structure. I encourage folks to think differently from that, that having less structure and also means less hierarchy. I have deeply considered that point of view and come away thinking otherwise. I would just refer folks to the 1970 essay by Jo Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Jo Freeman, awesome person, clearly knew what she was talking about. She’s still around. Shout out to Jo Freeman if she’s listening… I liked your essay.

We have structure, we have people who are in charge of specific things. What we do to combat the horrendous system that I’ve been describing is that we keep people sane and by talking to them, writing them, building relationships inside and out. We do that however, in a systemic way where we also already know people on essentially, almost every yard in the California State Prison system. Yards are kind of separate facilities, really. So people don’t tend to necessarily see people on other yards in the same facility. but like I said, we have people on almost every yard. And we try coordinate putting those people in touch with each other. And then also coordinate whatever people on the inside are interested in that we’re about and that is not budget busting, we work with them to do.

So, we’re working to do a program where instead of hiring lawyers, which we can’t do, we help jailhouse lawyers build a structure to oversee and advise other jailhouse lawyer to help people build institutional knowledge and less time learning to do prison legal work, and make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts across different facilities, and so forth. Then also, when there’s a struggle that breaks out that’s collective, we would help amplify whatever kind of public message that the people involved with that want to put forth. As we’re building relationships with folks on the inside, we try and like help them get in touch with one another and decide what kind of group activities they want to do. Which sometimes revolves around either political education or more legal work, or it might be something different from that. But those are the kinds of things that we got going on. We’re looking to do like more on different things all the time.

But fundamentally, we’re happy to be a part of the IWW and we see this very much as a part of the historical tradition and historical mission of IWW, including the literature aspect. Back in the day with the IWW there were always people who were writing about what they were doing whether it’s Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, writing the first half of her autobiography, and then writing about going to prison, she wrote a whole book about going to prison. And then other people doing these struggles and also writing about them. Writing is a key essential part of real serious working class struggle, because everyone’s constantly reinventing the wheel. In the modern circumstance, people are also getting fucked up and fucked over by these business unions. If we’re not learning what we’re doing as a revolutionary union, and we don’t have an intergenerational knowledge base. We’re no match for SEIU. I’m picking on SEIU a lot but it all applies to all the major unions essentially.

Also I’m not speaking as the IWW when I talk shit on other unions. But if they were that real they’d be unionizing prisoners, not us. Not meaning to start any fights with other unions, but I think that what they do is pretty real on the ground, but maybe their president’s salaries shouldn’t be exactly what they are and maybe they shouldn’t be so subservient to the Democratic Party, frankly. I think that’s kind of known to be the IWW position. So I won’t go off a whole lot beyond that. But we know that just a strike isn’t going to stop the machine of incarceration, at least in California. It maybe a different story and someplace like Louisiana or Alabama, I don’t know, I’m not from there. I could be wrong. But we seek to facilitate making prisoners collectively powerful in all the ways that we can, and literature is completely 100% central to that. It’s not just like a pastime. Although a lot of people have different tastes. People like to read stuff to feel a sense of escape, or live vicariously in a cell, but there’s also political books and political zines and stuff like that, including the one of your guys’s interviews that we like to send all the time and also including stuff from other past movements, whether it’s Emma Goldman’s essay about prison, or whether it like stuff written by the Black Panthers, or Lorenzo Ervin’s writings or other stuff like that.

All of that stuff is really essential to the movement that we’re building. This isn’t all that we do. One of the things that we do, is we help guys in prison. I mean, we help everyone with this, but we kind of have a focus on radical feminism and radical feminism has like a specific meaning for some people. I don’t mean that specific meaning.

TFSR: Not the TERFy stuff.

X: Yeah, no, definitely not that. I just mean men being in touch with their emotions. Bell Hooks and stuff like that. You know, the reality is that people put in prison are there for all kinds of different reasons and some of them are like, “whatever, I didn’t do anything wrong.” The whole society is telling you you did something wrong, most of them end up feeling that they did do something wrong, even if maybe some of it really wasn’t. And a lot of it frankly, is stuff that is regrettable, and it’s stuff that people genuinely really regret and would even if they weren’t in prison. Moments of their lives that they really, truly wish they could take back. But a lot of times, it’s because people acted in anger. I think teaching guys on the inside and outside to be more in touch with their emotions and less quick to anger is really, really essential and revolutionary work, even if it’s not as fetishized by the very macho impulses that it seeks to undermine.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s really well said. I’m super stoked personally that if you listen to our episodes, every episode I’m just like, “hey, hey, hey, we do zines. Send them into prisons. Please, please, please!” I’m really glad to hear that y’all have found good use of those.

X: Yes, we most certainly have. Keep it up.

TFSR: Hell yeah, I will do my best.

Initially, I thought Courtney and I were just going to be talking. So I’m really glad that you’re here, Xeno. Maybe the two of you can compare and contrast in this next question. I feel like there are a lot of through lines between prison systems from state to state in the US. The political, historical, and economic flavor of a specific state is often reflected in the Department of Corrections in that state, and how the prisons look. For instance, states in the former US South have lots of chain gangs, guards tend to be on unionized often on horseback with shotguns and have low pay, creating more wild and baldly corrupt places where the majority Black prisoner population have been able to organize and use some of that corruption to an advantage of accessing forbidden tech like cell phones for the organizing process. That’s clear with things like the Free Mississippi Movement, the Free Alabama Movement with prison organizing in Georgia, with folks affiliated with Jails House Lawyers Speak, and voices coming out of South Carolina at times, like it’s all super amazing.

In California, as I understand, having spoken with some folks inside there, which is one of the largest economies in the world, prison guards have a very strong union, the facilities seem to be more updated and more locked down. The struggle against long term solidarity and arbitrary gang designations of shaped a lot of notable struggles inside of the prison over the last couple of decades. I was wondering Courtney and Xeno, but in particular, because I don’t know very much of prisons in New Mexico, that was really enlightening to hear about the prison riot in 1980. But can you talk about the prison systems that you most interact with and some of the characteristics?

C: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So New Mexico employs a system of human warehousing. So prisons are scattered about the landscape in remote areas that are often really difficult to access for folk’s loved ones. In fact, one of my comrades and mentors, Solinda Guerrero, before I had ever joined Millions For Prisoners used to have a transport van to have families access to these facilities by driving them out to go see their loved ones, because a lot of them are out in places that are hard to get to. That’s kind of what we’re looking at as a system of human warehousing, a lot like what I was mentioning with the penitentiary of New Mexico being a warehouse for human beings who are in confinement conditions.

Now, in terms of refusing labor, on that front I did find a handbook from corrections industries, which is also called Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility, but it’s run by a private corporation. They can actually issue disciplinary action for folks failing to report for their assigned work. We also see in interstate run prisons that people are punished by being removed from Gen Pop [general population] and then moved into restrictive housing units, aka ‘solitary confinement.’ We also see that from coast to coast prisoners reporting being punished if they refuse to work.

Now, also from a person that I was speaking to about this issue before coming on, my friend Justin, who also spent 17 years incarcerated and also did some firefighting work, etc. He was mentioning that you can get written up, lose good time, go to seg if you refuse to work. Now in the facility that I was at jobs, well, they were kind of considered as a ‘privilege’ by the administration. So they were often taken away. Like if someone had a work duty, let’s say, one of the porters in library, for example, at the level 2, they could get punished by having their work assignment taken away. They kind of do it a little bit differently in places that have group labor, like farms and so forth. I guess they also had something where people were raising cattle, but yeah, for that kind of thing you will get punished if you don’t report to it. But then they can also turn around and take the job away if it’s something that’s considered to be a privilege.

But yeah, we we had a porter at the level 6 facility, the supermax facility, whose job it was to clean blood that had spilled from people fighting or getting stabbed or hurting themselves, or whatever the case may be. In New Mexico workers make about anywhere from 10 cents to $1 an hour. So it kind of varies from place to place. But people that are in prison are also not considered as employees of the penitentiary for purpose of filing Occupational Health and Safety complaints with the Environmental Improvement Division. I took that from a corrections industries handbook. So we also see that in other states where people aren’t considered as employees who are working for the prison. It’s a very mucky situation, when your workplace is also serving as the place that you live and the place that you get your food from, and the place that you get your punishment from. When it’s all kind of merged into this soup of punishment, people don’t have the same inherent rights that workers do. Not to say that workers across the US are having that great of a time, of course, which is why that solidarity between the working class and people who are literally under the exception clause of 13th Amendment considered to be slaves [is important].

X: Yeah. So this is just like, what I think from having done this for a few years now. So when I’m talking to prisoners, the most effective thing that they remember happening against the prison system was the 2011 and 2013 hunger strike. Which are kind of known as hunger strikes, but also included labor strikes. That also is heavily intertwined with the power of shot callers of various groups on various yards. And the state uses certain terms that I think people can probably guess for these groups, but I just want to say they’re all different. They ranged from literal Nazis to people I’m proud to call comrade. But I would say that the dominant formations that are like that in California prison are…

First of all women’s prisons completely different and separate, nothing I say right now applies to that. For the men’s prison, which is 98% of the prisoners, right? Something like that. There are these groups where there are shock collars. If anyone makes trouble, their life could be in danger. Making trouble could be something as simple as filing a grievance when the shot caller has said, “Hey, you’re filing these grievances frivolously don’t do that.” So basically, the way things work is shit rolls downhill. So the administration will have a DL but everyone knows what’s happening kind of relationship with the shot callers on the yard. And they’ll be like, “if anything happens on this yard that we really don’t like, it’s your fucking fault and we’re gonna punish you like it’s your fault.” So then that person enforces the State’s discipline through extra-state means.

People who “investigate gangs” for the State of California inside prison, which is basically the state’s little FBI, but just for its prison system, or you can say they’re kind of like Stasi almost, if we’re gonna think of prison as like a police state society within Republic. These people are like the Stasi of that little micro society. There they have a lucid understanding that they are not actually out to suppress these groups outright. They are here to facilitate their usefulness to the state. They don’t say that out loud, obviously, but they do actually say it perhaps in setting with prisoners, they will let onto that. I’ve talked to people who are aware of all of this and have served long sentences for our survey.

So we have a pretty lucid understanding that the people at the top of most of these larger para-State criminal organizations. They are not the friend of the State and they’re not really the lapdogs of the state. But they nonetheless operate a little bit like the leaders of a business union might operate. They want things to improve for themselves, and for their folks inside, but they do not want revolution. Even if they sometimes strategically embrace revolutionary rhetoric, to further their end, those ends are to exploit people to make money, except that when a corporation does that, they’re supposed to abide by certain rules, which of course, sometimes they break anyway. But these people have absolutely no rule. For these organizations that are more or less explicitly about patriarchy first of all, and second of all, making money, there’s very little that they won’t do to you if they decide that you’re in the way of their goals.

They’re not a unified whatever. They’re not obviously as centralized as like the State is. But we’ve had people who are doing stuff as simple as trying to get people clean needles who are using on the yard and that has been deemed a sufficiently non business friendly activity to get that person rolled up on and stabbed by multiple people on the yard and nearly killed. That was a real thing that happened. Because someone was doing something that the shot callers didn’t want.

Then you also have this other system of yards in California called the ‘SNY.’

TFSR: Is it SNY?

X: yeah, it stands for Special Needs Yard, like GP is ‘general population.’ Sorry if that was unclear.

TFSR: Oh, no, no, that’s good clarification, though.

X: In SNY there are people who are not able to get along with the rest of the prisoners, but that has become larger and larger and larger over time and is now essentially 50% of the system at least. If you ask a person in general pop, “what is SNY?” They will say to you, “Oh, yes. The snitches and child molesters yard.” That category ‘snitch’ can include a lot of shit. If you roll up onto a yard but say you’re a white antifascist. Well, guess what? The white group that you’re going to inherently be scrunched into in a men’s prison in California is the Aryan fucking Brotherhood. If you’re Anti-Fascist you can do that, but you better do it really quietly and not in a way that’s actually practicing those values on the yard or they will kill you. If you’re lucky, what they’ll do is they’ll kind of just like push you towards the guard at yard time and say “this guy’s no good.” Then that means you go to SYN.

It’s different for different groups. Like I said, that’s just the dominant group for white men on GP yards. But the other groups are varying degrees of more cool than that. I’ll also add that unlike the other group, the Aryan Brotherhood is officially suppressed by the State of California and they do very much at least make a convincing show of trying to outright suppress that organization, and yet are unable to do so. But they don’t really do that with other groups. Except for Black Guerrilla Fam, which is like not a real group. That’s just something they accuse random Black radical people as being affiliated with. So that’s kind of an exceptional thing.

TFSR: What do you mean that it’s not a real group? Just that it’s a thing that gets hung on people, but most of them aren’t affiliated.

X: It’s something that George Jackson called for in his writing, but as far as I could… and I don’t know. I don’t have a complete unbroken history of what’s always happened on every yard of every prison in California. But I do not know of any yard where Black Guerrilla Fam, I’ve never heard of that. But there are there are radical Black groups, but they don’t call themselves that.

TFSR: This is a little bit off topic, but kind of not. But there’s a book that I read last year that I really want to get ahold of the author of. I should just reach out. It’s called ‘Chronicles of a Prison Dirty War: California Prison Politics.’ It was published last year, but it was a lot of experiences from like the 70’s 80’s and 90’s about the creation of some of the racial dynamics and organizations in the California system.

X: Yeah, I really, really want to read that, by the way. I’m gonna get around to it.

TFSR: So IWOC New Mexico is is a group that I became aware of from some of the writings of Julio A. Zuniga AKA, ‘Comrade Z,’ who’s being held by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at the Memorial Unit, formerly known as ‘Dirty Darrington.’ We featured an interview a few years ago with Z. But I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the circumstances currently at the Memorial Unit. There’s a cool interview that Z conducted with another person behind bars, that’s up on Mongoose Distro’s website, and talk about the work that incarcerated workers there such as Z are doing to organize

C: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I wanted to start, since you did mention Mongoose Distro that please check out MongooseDistro.com There is so much awesome material from Comrade Z, other comrades behind the walls, as well as zines that you can print out. Definitely a good resource for information and really awesome folks there.

So, right now it looks like the conditions in Darrington have continued to get worse, with folks not having access to air conditioning, which is a big issue in Texas, there’s water quality issues, workers have been getting sick with H. pylori infections and being forced to work regardless of being sick. Folks are suffering from retaliation with bogus write ups being written up on them. Also, there was a death of a member under suspicious circumstances which were labeled as a suicide. Currently working on trying to talk to folks to try to get more information about that specifically.

Now, currently IWOC members in Texas have filed a civil lawsuit with the United States District Court Galveston division and it has close to 20 IWOC members on it. I was also going to share some words that Comrade Z had provided to us. It’s on Mongoose Distro and he also sent me a letter. So yeah, folks dealing with retaliation, bogus write ups, mail room items being tampered with issues with getting folks on to the prison phone list to talk to folks.

So yeah, I was going to share a few words from Comrade Z in a letter that is posted as I mentioned on MongooseDistro.com he states:

“I have to suggest as a militant anarchist, for the brothers and sisters listening to us, the real problem is the policy makers. All comrades and jailhouse lawyers need to file U.S. §1983 on every single TBCJ member, as I have already begun to do. Bobby Lumpkin, Bryan Collier, Guistina Persich, Tammy Shelby are on my lawsuit, including the chairman of TBCJ Patrick O’Daniel. I am filing a motion for leave to supplement defendants and add the remaining eight members of the TBCJ into our class action suit. If you are with IWOC-Texas, file your lawsuit in the same fashion. We have been distracted by their psychological games far too long, and the culprits have been sitting pretty playing God for far too long. The Wizard of Oz has been discovered in Texas. Corruption is being exposed by me, X386969, and it is going to take the solidarity of all of your resources in the free world to help us bring the changes we all need, by any means necessary.

The more lawsuits filed on the policy makers will not only bring us into the political arena as activists for an overdue overhaul of the Texas government and it’s institutions. I do not believe in authority, nor do I believe in prisons. However, this cannot be said about everyone I come in contact with, therefore I am rolling with what I have, because progress is made by stepping forward, not back.”

So yeah, just you know, an example of using different strategies to fight against the oppressor and Comrade Z and the continuously growing group of members in the Texas branch are filing a civil lawsuit, class action lawsuit right now. Just due to the conditions that they’ve been undergoing.

Comrade Z has been reaching out to me and I’ve been in communication with Z for at least the past year to year and a half. Definitely I know that, as we were mentioning earlier, in the discussion about getting transcripts of y’all’s radio program, I know that Comrade Z was mentioning not on our last phone call about appreciating getting transcripts from y’all’s radio interviews, and hopefully he will also hear this one or be able to read this one rather.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome.

I was wondering also Courtney, in terms of you had mentioned that New Mexico IWOC and Millions For Prisoners kind of acts as a hub for a lot in the Southwest. There have been ABC chapters, I know in various parts of Texas, at least, and I also know it is an absolutely huge place. But I guess in the Southwest, I want to ask about specifically how it looks like in Albuquerque and in New Mexico, the inside outside part of it. But is there much of an inside outside organizing framework in other parts of the Southwest? Or is it kind of just a few spots where people have coalesced?

C: Yeah, that’s kind of a good question. It is kind of a few spots where folks have coalesced. I’ve noticed a lot of activity. Specifically with Arizona, we have still a budding relationship with folks in Arizona. It started with some comrades who were building relationships with the people behind the walls with the Anarchist Black Cross. During the pandemic, a lot of dynamics have changed. But yeah, right now as it stands, we are a hub for folks in the Southwest, in Texas, I have some folks in Nevada. In Nevada, I don’t really know of a lot of outside orgs who are supporting, but I do know that in Texas, we collaborate a lot with folks in Fight Toxic Prisons, as well as people with Anarchist Black Cross. There is actually an IWW chapter in Texas that is working on kind of building relationships with Comrade Z and other comrades. And we have other folks that are popping up along the way.

It’s kind of interesting, too, because the pandemic led to a lot of people working remotely in terms of organizing. So that’s kind of what happened when there were just a lot of correspondence from people in the southwest. There weren’t IWOC chapters per se that were as active or maybe not active at all that New Mexico started adopting on more regional requests from people that are experiencing issues and trying to figure out how similar are the systems that people are facing. We also organize with folks in Louisiana and have a partnership with folks that are in the Save the Kids From Incarceration and the 10 to 2 Unanimous Jury Campaign. I haven’t heard from those folks in a little bit. But definitely have some relationships with folks in the South who are experiencing the conditions that they’re experiencing.

So yeah, we get reached out to from people from other places too. I just kind of get letters in the mail and folks have heard about us. A lot of stuff is spread through word of mouth. So as you notice with Comrade Z, he passed along my information through word of mouth, and that’s kind of how things operate. I think it’s a successful way to kind of work the administration by doing it that way.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. On the topic of ‘Inside Outside,’ I’ve noticed that on the Facebook account for New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, there’s mentions of being involved in not only supporting people on the inside, but also in relation to supporting people on the outside resisting police brutality. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that link is right there. People hate the pigs, and a lot of people on the outside when they make that connection that it’s the same repressive institution on the inside the outside. It may look different and the level of boot on the throat is different between living in an overly-policed neighborhood or what have you. But yeah, I’m wondering if you can talk about how you’ve seen those two things tied together?

C: Oh, yeah, yeah. And we absolutely amplify and are always anti-police in every fiber of our being in all the work we do because it it all goes together. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, for example, a lot of people were swept up by the police and put into prisons. Structurally, it all has to do with structural racism, and oppression, pulling entire segments of our society and of our culture and of our people out of our communities and putting them into prisons. Also, we were a part of some federal sting operations, including Operation Legend that was enacted by Bill Barr back in the Trump administration, where so much funding and so many federal police officers were put into the streets of New Mexico. Basically, we had police on horseback in our International District where our communities are struggling. In the place where I live, in the South Valley, we were doing block by block events where we were going to different neighborhoods as part of our strategy and just building was community who have been impacted by police.

When you go into any community that’s heavily impacted by a heavy police presence, with tanks in the streets, doing stop and frisks, harassing community members, harassing our youth, detaining people, you’re going to see that solidarity and you’re going to see a lot of people that have experienced the system, who have family members who are in prison. It’s all connected. We go out into our communities and we all understand the violence that we face every day, whether it be out on our streets or in the prison system.

In the prison system. It’s very much this extreme concentration of violence. But yeah, on the streets, it’s it’s very much the same. We have so many police killings that are happening here in New Mexico. It’s part of who we are. We’re always going to be fighting against the police and the prisons, because it’s all one and the same system. It’s all based on patriarchy, systemic racism, violence, and it’s rooted in slavery. These are all issues that we have to face when we’re living in our communities every day. Some of us more than others, of course. Yeah, we’re just gonna keep up the fight.

TFSR: Xeno, do you have anything to add?

X: Yeah. So the way that these kinds of shot caller led groups, which again, I’m not trying to make any universal statements here. Not every person who might call shots is that bad necessarily. It’s hard to kind of speak in universal terms about this kind of stuff, because it’s, it’s always moving around and always changing. There’s very few formal rules. But basically, the way that some of these structures tend to operate in times of struggle in a similar way to a business union. It’s that it’s very common during a really militant strike. I heard someone talk about this. About the Teachers Association in Arizona, where after a week of teachers being on strike in Arizona, some staff from this, not even a union, actually… it’s an organization that associations are allowed to have that’s not a union. They went to the press, and were like, “yeah, the strike is going to be over on Monday, everyone’s going back to work.” They did not consult the teachers in that at all. There was no vote or anything because they’re not a union. So they can’t do that.

I just want to say that first of all, not every non IWW union is definitively a business union. IWW itself isn’t immune to that temptation of like business unionism, either. But that being said, a lot of these like hierarchical organizations in prisons will make strong attempts to shut down struggle, at the point that it gets too hot to handle, even if they also play a role in initiating it on the front end. That in the makes them very reminiscent of a businessman, which will channel workers righteous outrage and then cut it off at the knees when it gets too radical or revolutionary, or threatening for the system. Unions are a lot more bureaucratic about the way that they do that. But these other structures do a very similar thing, in my view.

About the SNY, if you are a person that the State determines is male enough to go to a male prison in California, I’m sorry that that happened to you. Second of all, they will put you on GP normally by default, unless you say otherwise, I suppose. If you get to GP, and you’re just not cool with some stuff that you see going on. Or you see, “Oh, this group is clearly deeply invested in making profit off people’s heroin addiction, and I’m not cool with that. And I’m not cool with them. And I don’t want to be part of this group that I ‘have to be a part of’ because of my race.” And you don’t want to peacefully coexist with people involved with that. You need to go to SNY. You can make that explicit and tap a guard on the shoulder and say, “I want to go to SNY.”

I’m not saying that SNY is that great. It’s legit where they put sex offenders. So you’re going to hang out with them. SNY is where people would have to go if they’re not going to get along with the group that they’re shunted into when they get onto a men GP yard in California prison. Any interaction that you have with a guard without another prisoner present could be considered snitching, full stop. So whether that’s seeing a counselor that’s part of the staff that could be considered snitching. And so if you are ‘not good’ before, you’re definitely ‘no good’ now.

So with that category, those two shunted together categories, snitches and child molesters. Those two things are not the same at all. It’s very easy to be considered a snitch. The state is very much involved in like pitting SNY and GP against each other. If you read the agreements and hostilities, it’s explicitly like solidarity between GP prisoners only, and it talks all this shit about SNY prisoners. Because the state will send people from SNY undercover into GP, and try and spy on people they want to spy on and do all kinds of shenanigans like that. There’s a lot of distrust between GP and SNY.

Now the state’s trying to reformulate those designations, and create a new structure within the prison system that involves mixing people from GP and people from SNY who’s agreed to get along. But that doesn’t always work. Then sometimes you end up with groups of people defending each other who are just kind of like SNY solidarity in response to GP solidarity aggression. So it’s all very messy, and very different from other places. I was talking to some folks who are saying that in the Chicago-land area, any person of any race can be a member of any group on the street or in prison. That’s certainly not the case in California prisons.

TFSR: I know that in the strikes in 2011 and 2013, one of the main demands was an end to requiring debriefing for people who were stuck in solitary. I don’t know if that sort of is a continued issue with this issue that you’re bringing up with it. I don’t know if that relates to what you’re talking about, exactly. Or if it’s like another iteration of it or if it’s a different issue.

X: It is a related issue. Briefing… If you know anything, if you were legitimately part of one of these groups in a participatory sense, and you are now going to SNY they will absolutely try and get you to debrief. Ie, spill your guts about everything you know about that group. Like I said, a lot of people don’t think that the State is really out to dismantle a lot of these groups. They’re out to make sure that these groups are malleable to the State’s intentions, and goals. They’re very successful in that, in my opinion.

Briefing, is the thing that they probably try and have people do all all sorts of times. The State, when it decides it’s going to do something, never really gives up on it. So unless there’s like some kind of world historical disruption to cause that to happen. I’m sure they’re still trying to brief people coming out of solitary. I know for a fact that they brief people as they move from GP to SNY particularly people who they know would know stuff.

I didn’t talk a lot about what it’s like on SNY. So I will say that it’s absolutely hellish there, too. Like I said, you’re hanging out with all the people that people are afraid that they’re going to have to hang out with and they go to prison. And on top of that, some of those yards, if they determine that you have ‘mental health problems,’ or whatever that means. In our society, I think everyone has mental health problems, pretty much. It’s kind of interesting to just go on a side note, the people who created the DSM-5… I think one of them was very vocally regretting that and said, “oh, everyone’s in the DSM-5 and I’ve created a monster.” I don’t know a lot about it, I’ve heard of it.

So basically, if the State determines you have mental health problems, which assuredly if they say you do, they will make sure to find evidence that you do. They will place you on one of those types of yards. This is largely in the SNY. They might also just involuntarily give you drugs. One of our members describes how they can give you drugs involuntarily, that will ‘separate your soul from your body.’ He doesn’t mean killing you. It means just completely spacing you out so much that you’re not yourself. You’re basically like a person with dementia, but at any age. That’s like a level of control. I don’t know a lot about health in general, to be honest, but that’s how it was described to me.

That’s just a level of control that’s unimaginable anywhere but prison or like a dystopian future TV show or novel. It’s really terrifying that the State submits people to that, and then also has the gall to be like, “we’re helping them and this is all for their own good.” Everything is always framed in terms of progressivism in California politics in general. That also applies to the prison system. I also would say that beyond that, a lot of people in prison who are in touch with us also very much want us to be involved in the political process and stuff like that, and pushing for various different reforms.

I think that just within that atmosphere there’s reforms that would really help a lot of people. Then there’s the ‘reforms’ that the state and the bourgeoisie want. The reforms would probably help with that kind of people in California, for example, would be retro actively abolishing Three Strikes. I know someone who is a Black woman who picked up a $20 bill off the ground and was convicted of robbery, and it was her third strike. She’s a grandmother. So those are the kinds of things that are bureaucratic so called democracy facilitated, and makes it almost impossible to fix. There are some interesting attempts that radical reform coming from the legislature but the CDCR is just a monster that the legislature doesn’t truly control. So when they pass well intentioned laws, the entire bureaucracy goes into overtime trying to twist the intentions, and keep milking the system for themselves.

Part of what’s going on with that also has to do with SEIU, which represents non-militarized prison staff, and how they don’t want prisons closed, basically. Those people who are a large constituency for SEIU elected this dude Richard Lewis Brown is basically the Donald Trump of SEIU 1000, which is the State Workers Union. He had a huge series of scandals, and was in court to determine if he got righteously kicked off of being President of SEIU 1000 or not. Basically, his huge base of support is the civilian workers from CDCR facilities. That’s the California version of the DOC. The R stands for ‘rehabilitation.’ A lot of times you might see people just call it CDC and disregard the R.

TFSR: But that’s the Center for Disease Control.

X: Yeah, yeah. Well, California Department of Corrections would also be the thing that people might call CDCR or CDC. The difference is that it implicates the fact that they’re not really rehabilitating people. Then they might also say CDC and capital letters and then a lowercase ‘r’ to indicate that same thing.

TFSR: Could you all, tell us a bit about where we can find out more about the work that you’re doing and the organizing that you’re involved in?

C: You could check us out on IncarceratedWorkers.org or check out our Instagram @incarceratedworkers for more about Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, you can visit @IWOCNM and @millionsforprisonersNM on Facebook. Also, please check out Mongoose Distro at MongooseDistro.com

X: For Sacramento IWOC, which again is not really just Sacramento, but it was when we started the page, you can check out our Instagram @Sacramento_IWOC. For the website, we’re part of the national organization. So the national website is also ours.

TFSR: Awesome. It was really a pleasure to meet you both Courtney and Xeno, and thanks a lot for taking the time to have this chat. I really appreciate it.

C: Thank you so much.

X: Yeah, thanks for doing this