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The Final Straw Radio is a terrestrial radio show and podcast started in 2009 featuring information by, for and about anarchists and other anti-authoritarians. The show airs weekly on Sundays from 2-3pm EST out of Asheville, NC, USA.

Grad Student Strikes In The University of California System

Grad Student Strikes In The University of California System

"TFSR 11-27-22 | Grad Student Strikes In The University of California System" and image of people at a rally at UC Berkeley in 2020 holding a sign reading "Pay Us Enough To Live Here" with a sabo-cat image (original pic by Jintak Han for DailyBruin.com
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This week, Scott spoke with Rebecca Gross and Robin, Teaching Assistants at University of California Santa Cruz and members of UAW 2865 at the uni, to get informed about the ongoing strike in the UC system for, among other things, a cost of living increase demand for grad student employees and TA’s.

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The strike has extended throughout the UC system and picks up where the wildcat strikes of 2019 at that campus left off before the corona virus pandemic put so many things on hold. Similar strikes occurred earlier this year at Indiana University in Bloomington, are occurring in universities like New School in New York, as well as the system across the UK where the University College Union’s 70,000 members have voted to strike. These labor actions also touch on issues of housing affordability, tuition costs, as well as non-academic staff and employees. Check our show notes for links and social media to learn more or see how you can support or get involved.

Next week…

Next week, we hope to bring you an interview with someone involved in the UCU strikes planned across the so-called UK. Here’s an article sent by a comrade from before the strike votes started.

Sean Swain segment

Just a correction to Sean’s segment on Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, he split with the United Panther Movement and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) to go on to co-found the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party of which he’s Minister of Defense. [ 00:57:37 – 01:05:14 ]

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Featured Tracks:

  • To Hell With Poverty by Gang of Four from Another Day Another Dollar EP
  • Fuck Society by Mac Quayle from Mr. Robot, Vol. 1

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Transcription

TFSR: Can you all introduce yourselves with any names and pronouns that you want to use and any affiliations that you have?

Rebecca Gross: Yeah. My name is Rebecca Gross, my pronouns are she/they, and I guess for the purposes of this, I’m a TA at UC Santa Cruz, and I’m also a Head Steward with UAW 2865 for Santa Cruz.

Robin: My name is Robin, I use he/him pronouns. I am a grad worker at UC Santa Cruz. I am currently working as a TA…well, I’m currently on strike, but I have been working as a TA. Yeah, I’m a rank and file member of UAW 2865. And yeah, I guess I’m also a DSA member, if that’s important as well, I don’t know.

TFSR: Cool. Thank you so much for coming and talking with us today. So we’re talking because there’s a strike going on — I think it’s general in the University of California system, not only at Santa Cruz, right? Yeah, so multiple campuses. But maybe we can just start with a little bit of background, what led to the strike? Who’s involved, what kind of workers and what the workers are looking for?

RG: Yeah. So the strike has been building at UC Santa Cruz, specifically, for a long time now. Although this is currently a larger strike than just UC Santa Cruz, the COLA Demand, the Cost Of Living Adjustment Demand, has been brewing at Santa Cruz for three plus years. And back in 2019-2020, we had a wildcat strike that started at UC Santa Cruz.

So when I talk about what we’re demanding, COLA is at the top of the list, because currently our baseline pay is pitiful, it’s $24,000 a year, and that is taxable income. We ended up taking home less than $20,000, after student fees and things like that. We’re asking for $54,000 a year to keep up with inflation and rising rent costs. And the idea is that this would help remove rent burden, and would make it so that grad workers don’t end up spending more than 30% of their wages on rent. And at UC Santa Cruz 54k probably won’t even do that, because Santa Cruz is so expensive, but it will make it so we’re not severely rent burdened. So that’s really what I’m passionate about right now, and why I’m here fighting for this. But Robin, also, you’re an international student, so maybe you also have a different perspective with some of the other demands on the table.

R: Yeah, I mean, just to jump off of that, with the COLA Demand to start out: I think the issue of rent burden is very deeply felt on this campus. I moved here last September, in order to pursue my PhD program and to work here as a TA. I quickly noticed that many of my friends here, particularly, international students, and people coming from further afield, were ending up in these really bad housing situations. In some instances living in the same space as the landlord, and often dealing with, at best, kind of weird living situations, but at worst, even more abusive type scenarios. I had friends who moved out of that situation and ended up living in the Best Western hotel. And this was kind of one of the “solutions” that the university offered to address the housing crisis.

But really it’s not a solution at all because the folks who are living there are still in rent burden, still spending large percentages of their wages on rent, and also not having access to a kitchen. I had one friend from my program, who’s an international student, he moved here from Turkey, and he ended up in the Best Western and was dealing with bedbugs in his room. So, I think this demand, the demand for a cost of living adjustment to increase our wages, such that they’re commensurate with the rise in rental costs here in Santa Cruz, it’s very deeply felt here, but it’s also one that has gone statewide. And I think people on other UC campuses are also feeling a lot of the same crunch that we’re feeling here. I think that’s been really important to how the strike is going to play out, the kind of widespread resonance of that demand, and how the rent burden issue is affecting us all.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you for all that background. And yeah, you think about Santa Cruz and that area and imagine the rents are pretty high. I’m also in academia and whenever I look at contingent jobs, I’m thinking “Will the salary be able to pay my rent?” and it’s obviously even a worse situation for grad students who don’t make even a baseline salary that a one year contract faculty would have.

You know, one thing that just came to mind when you were talking about this is also the connection — I don’t know if you have thoughts on this — but that a lot of these cities now are kind of waging war against unhoused people. And it seems to me this situation that you’re outlining in terms of what students are experiencing is connected to that issue, because I’m imagining certain students are unhoused, living in cars, too. Have you made any kind of connections with people off campus in terms of like work going on to protect unhoused people?

RG: Yeah, I mean, you’re totally right about students experiencing housing and food insecurity and not having, both undergrads as well as grads, deal with this. I can say that a lot of support has come in from the community, because I think that they see this struggle as related to their own. Food Not Bombs, which is huge in Santa Cruz, they are always some of the folks that come out to help us when we need to feed people. People on the picket line will invite other community members from other unions to come speak. Faculty have been very supportive, by and large, because they understand that we can’t afford to live here, and that this could be this is really a pivotal moment, I think the way they see it.

Of course, you have the fringe folks that are like “well, I have to go through it so you should too”, but by and large, I think that this is seen as a community struggle, and one that is dealing with rent burden in California as a whole. And hopefully, once we get our COLA, we can help others get theirs at their workplaces. So, like Robin mentioned, he’s a part of DSA, I’m also a part of DSA, and we’re doing a lot of work in our labor working group to unionize various institutions and make sure that we can share what’s going on at UC Santa Cruz in the COLAs struggle with other members of the community and other workplaces.

R: Yeah, and just to add to that, many of us from UAW 2865 here at Santa Cruz were out there on the picket lines a few weeks ago when the city workers in SEIU went on strike. And that’s really like being reciprocated as well. A number of other unions have come out in support of us, including the bus drivers here in Santa Cruz have refused to cross the picket line. I believe UPS [drivers, as well]. We’ve been trying to link up with other organizations, especially labor organizing, going on in the area to make sure that the COLA isn’t just something that we win as grad workers, but can be something that we sort of help other unions and other movements fight for too.

I could also say that myself and some other people from from our union were out in the past few weeks canvassing for the “empty homes tax”, to try to tax the second and third homes of very rich people that they don’t actually live in these homes, and use that money to try and address the housing crisis and issues of that unhoused people face here in Santa Cruz. So, we’re trying to sort of link up with other movements, struggles, unions, and we’ve seen a lot of that reciprocated, I think, in the past few days, as we’ve gone on strike as well.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Thanks for pointing out all those connections. It’s really interesting to see the solidarity and the ways that you all are moving outside of the campus to do other projects. I imagine also, like you’re saying, if UC does a cost of living adjustment that’s a huge win for all workers, especially in the state, because UC is such a huge employer. But yeah, I guess maybe some more specific questions about the strike, like: how long has the strike been going on? And what has it been like on the picket line? Has there been a lot of repression? And you’ve talked a little bit about the support, but what’s going on there?

RG: Yeah. Well, we’ve officially withheld labor for the last five days. Well, we’ve had a picket Monday through Friday, but the labor itself now has been withheld for I guess, seven. Which is really exciting. This is an open ended strike, which means sometimes when people go on strike, it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna withhold our labor for three days, and then we’ll be back just to give them a piece of our mind, show them what we’re worth”. But we actually are in a real position of power here because we have no plans to go back to work. And it’s really exciting. I’m kind of getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Because this week is a short week because of the holiday on Thursday and Friday, and so we are going to be at the picket Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and plan to go into the long weekend continuing to withhold our labor.

In terms of the length of the strike and where it’s at, there is continuous bargaining happening between the university and the bargaining teams, and it doesn’t seem like a lot of movement has taken place on the university side. They’re not willing to give us an offer of more than 7% increase in our wages, which would be like $250 extra dollars a quarter, it’s ridiculous. That’s not going to pay the rent, you know? So we’re sort of stalled and just going to continue doing what we’ve been doing until they actually start taking our demand seriously. And this is 40,000 people to be clear, that are on strike, because it’s four different units across UAW: we have student researchers, we have the 2865 unit, which is like TAs, grad student instructors, tutors, then we have the postdocs and the academic researchers. So the huge contingent of the university spread really widely.

R: Yeah, to echo what Rebecca was saying, we’ve just been out there for one week now and we really haven’t seen any movement on the administration’s end toward coming up with a more reasonable proposal to address the rent burden issue that we’re facing. And I mean, my thinking is that we need to dig our heels in and prepare for the possibility of a much longer strike, a more sustained strike, in order to actually force the concessions that we need to see to address the rent burden here.

TFSR: What labor are you withholding? And also is the timing strategic in terms of it being towards the end of term?

RG: Yeah, so currently, the labor that’s being withheld is, for me personally as a TA: I’m not teaching my section, I’m not going to the lectures of the class that I TA for, I’m not communicating with my students about course materials, although if they do reach out with a question about the strike, or about when they can come to the picket line to help, I will respond. And I would say it is strategic in terms of when we chose to go on strike. We had a lot of meetings over the summer and through the first part of the quarter, about this potential strike, having a feeling that this is where bargaining was going in terms of a stalemate. We chose mid November, as Robin mentioned, a lot of us were working on things like the empty homes tax, and we didn’t want to be distracted, or anyone else to be distracted by the midterm elections.

And we also wanted to situate this in week eight of the quarter gearing up for this Thanksgiving break that was coming, and then all of a sudden we’re in week 10 after that. And then week 11 is finals week, right? So this gives us, hopefully we’re not too tired by the time finals week comes and there’s still good energy on the picket line feeling like we can still be there, and we can still withhold things like teaching and grades, and for researchers it’s things like not going into their lab, not reporting their research results, similar things for post-doctorate students as well.

R: Yeah, I’m also withholding my labor in terms of not teaching sections, not attending lectures, not doing the readings for the class that I’m TAing for, and not responding to course related questions from students. Again, we’re trying to keep open like a line of communication so that students have information about the strike, they know how things are going, and they know how to come out and support us if they want to do that. And, yeah, I’ve been really happy to see many of my students out on the picket line over the past five days coming out to support us.

TFSR: You know, you’re talking about how you had support from faculty. I’m wondering, in particular, if you’re TAing, what that means in terms of the person teaching the class that you are an assistant for?

RG: Yeah, it’s a good question. And it’s really different for every single individual that is a TA. Like I’m TAing for a lecturer, which means that he’s part of AFT, the adjunct lecturers union at UC statewide. It’s different than…he’s not on a tenure track, and he teaches like eight classes across four different institutions. He has it rough, right? In terms of shared struggles, I see his struggle as mine and I really do think he sees my struggle as his. They have a no strike clause, so he really cannot withhold his labor in terms of teaching classes unless he’s willing to risk a very real possibility of being fired. And so he’s still continuing to teach his classes on Zoom, which he agrees and he knows is indeed crossing the picket line. However, he has agreed to withhold other things. For example, he’s dropped the class attendance policy. So if a student decides that they want to go to the picket, instead of going to the lecture, he’s not going to discipline them or reprimand them for that at all. He’s also not going to pick up my labor of grading, he’s not going to teach my sections. So there are various things that he’s able to do in solidarity with us.

Faculty have it a lot easier, in that they have nothing to worry about if they’re on a tenure track, or they’re tenured. So I think we’ve had pretty widespread support from faculty, they’ve been marching down everyday with a banner. They’ve been there singing songs, they’ve been leading reading workshops on the line and talking about labor. So it’s been great to see them there and to have their support.

And Robin, I know that you are actually a TA for another grad student and an organizer. So how’s that? I don’t know. How’s that for you, Robin?

R: Yeah. So, in my case, the course that I’m TAing is being taught by a graduate student instructor, or GSI, so he’s been on strike with the rest of us, actually. He’s actually one of the core, kind of most involved, organizers in our union here at UCSC. What’s interesting about those positions is that, so essentially when graduate students here at UCSC have completed their coursework and their qualifying exams, we are actually eligible to teach our own courses in certain instances, in certain departments. My department is one of those. However, the pay for doing that is actually, it’s not a whole lot higher than a standard TA salary, but it’s quite a bit more work. So, graduate student instructors, by and large, have been out there with us, alongside us on the picket line.

We’ve seen a lot of support from faculty, as well, as Rebecca was mentioning. I think it will just be important for faculty to understand that the potential for this to go on for a more extended period of time — if the UC continues bargaining in the way that they have and basically stonewalling and ignoring our demands — that would mean a longer and more sustained strike. I’m confident that faculty will understand the reasons why this is happening. It’s not because we want to be on strike forever. It’s because we need to, to make real concessions.

RG: And I’ll just add to that: if they don’t and they go back to teaching their classes — and I’ve heard some rumors that that might happen in my department, the Literature Department — they’re scabs.

TFSR: Classic.

RG: They’re not standing in solidarity with our struggle and that’s a shame. So we’re going to keep organizing our own folks and other grad workers, and hope that we continue to have the faculty support, but in the case they don’t…it’s not our job to organize them. It’s their job to do that amongst themselves. So I hope they continue to withhold their labor as well in solidarity with us, but at this point we’re really just worried about connecting with other grad workers and saying “Hey, how are you feeling? Are you experiencing retaliation? Like, how can we support you? Can you come to the line today? There’s free food here for you. There’s a community here.”

TFSR: I was just joking that literature professors as scabs is classic. I guess one difference that I hear listening to you is that you already have unions. I know at other campuses where people are trying to unionize, the tenure faculty can often be a huge obstacle to that because they don’t see themselves…I mean, there’s like a real caste system between, tenured, tenure track, contingent faculty, postdocs, all the others that you’ve mentioned who are going on strike at your campus. It seems like you’re saying you don’t have to deal with the faculty because you have your own union, and so they can’t really stand in your way, they can only just show support or not. I wonder, though, what kind of talks have you had with people in advance of the strike to prepare for it? For the faculty.

RG: Yeah, well, my department sent out a letter to our faculty as soon as the strike authorization vote went out, saying that everyone who voted, signed this letter, and basically was like “we really want your support, we would really like for you to cancel your classes”. You know, so there was communication channels there. But just recently, this past week, we saw in the STEM {Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics] departments, in STEM division, some faculty members were basically strike busting, sending out emails to grad workers saying “you’re not allowed to be on strike, because part of your duties are your student duties, and this is a student conduct issue”. That’s strike busting, and that’s not lawful. We were able to really organize around that, because we have our union, and because there are protections when you have a union and you’re on strike. So we are definitely in a privileged position on that front, to have the good union lawyers and all of that. But yeah, Robin, what do you think about that question? I feel like that’s my orientation around it.

R: Yeah. I want to emphasize the faculty within my department have been really supportive so far and have been canceling their lectures and refusing to cross the picket line, and have written letters in support of our demands, in solidarity with us. Yeah, I mean, our focus is definitely on what we can do as grad workers, and getting people out to the picket line, talking to people who are on strike, talking to people who for whatever reason are still working and trying to convince them to join us. That’s sort of been our focus and so far, the response for faculty, I think, has been really good. I think that will continue.

TFSR: The obstruction from STEM is another classic thing I’ve heard in terms of unionizing struggles. But I was wondering, with that kind of argument that they made to the students — maybe you haven’t had to deal with this, because you already have the union — but one of the issues that I think comes up when you’re talking about grad student striking, and even faculty, is the kind of mythology or the cultural ideas about student that that is not work that it’s something different than than labor that can be withheld. That you all are following a vocation that you’ve made the deal to live an impoverished life or something [laughs] so that you can read books all day. I mean, have you had to deal with any of that kind of baggage in the discourse around the strike?

RG: You know, I think it’s really rare if that does happen. I’ve heard a couple folks that sort of reinforced what I call the “hazing model”, which is just the “we all had to do it, so you should, too”. But as Robin mentioned, and to reiterate this, the faculty support, by and large, is huge and it’s there. And also the lecturers support, the adjunct support. In the case of the adjuncts, when you say, “Hey, once we get our COLA, let’s help get you one. Let’s negotiate, let’s help you all go on strike”. The AFT contract last year was in the works of renegotiating and they took a less than great deal at the 11th hour. And when I talked to other lecturers, I’m like, “you know, you shouldn’t have had to deal with that as a grad worker, that sucks. No one should have to deal with being rent burdened and struggling.” So let’s help change that, at any level of someone’s career.

And in the case of the faculty, they’ve been really supportive. These few people that are doing this strike busting stuff… Like we had a huge March and rally and picket in response to that on Friday afternoon. I would say probably 350 to 400 people were marching through the streets and then it culminated in a blockade for a little while that was very peaceful and a great rally down at the base of campus. That’s the energy we need to bring to show them that’s not acceptable behavior. We have more bodies on the ground then than they have, entirely.

R: So I guess in terms of perceptions around intellectual labor versus other kinds of labor, I think we’ve seen a lot of support from, for instance, people involved in the Starbucks unionizing campaigns. Obviously, as I mentioned, from the bus drivers, and from people in the city workers union, who saw us come up to their picket, and now they’ve come up to ours as well to show their solidarity. I think my perception is, yeah, okay, some people may have these ideas about what it is that academic workers do, but by and large, I think other workers in different sectors, different fields, understand that a victory for us will only benefit them as well. And that it’s one struggle.

This sort of question of STEM departments and getting them more involved: I think, compared to — I wasn’t here yet for it — but compared to the Wildcat strike back in 2019-2020, our STEM departments have done fantastic work to get themselves a lot more organized, especially with the formation of Student Researchers United across the UC. Research positions in certain STEM departments that previously would not have been under a union now are with Student Researchers United. I think a lot of the divisions that may have previously existed or unevenness between STEM and Humanities and Social Science departments, some of that has broken down. And we’ve managed to do a better job of organizing across different fields and different different types of work as well.

TFSR: That’s really good to hear. I want to ask maybe a little bit more about the previous strike. But before that, I did have another question about how you’re connecting with other workers on campus who are not professors or students, like the facilities workers, the people in the cafeteria, or even administration?

RG: Yeah, I believe that the folks that are custodial workers and working in food services on campus… there’s a couple tricky things there. One, I think some of them are represented by AFSCME [American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees], and I think might have a no strike clause. This is something I would love to double check with some folks after this meeting and just make sure that I’m correct about that. The other thing is that student workers that work in places like cafes, and cafeterias on campus, they actually are not unionized and have not been allowed to be unionized. So that’s really challenging in terms of enabling them to feel like they can stop work, because, as we’ve already said, they’re also experiencing things like food and housing insecurity, and these exorbitantly high tuition costs. So that’s a challenge. And I don’t believe we’ve been able to effectively organize, getting solidarity strikes from folks that work in cafes and cafeterias.

However, we have succeeded in getting all of the Metro buses that normally go through campus to stop doing that loop. So they essentially get to our picket, they take a left, they go up the road, and then they turn around and go back down toward downtown, instead of going through our campus. So that’s a huge disruption. We also have prevented UPS from going on to campus and sending deliveries during the picket hours. And the last thing we’ve been recently working on is getting construction halted on our campus, and that’s huge. So that’s really an exciting development. I’m trying to think of other kinds of spheres of campus activity, but those three ways have been really, really primary ways we’ve shut it down thus far. Robin, did I miss anything there?

R: I’m not sure if I know enough, honestly, on this question to speak on it. Sorry about that.

TFSR: That’s cool. That was great.

So yeah, I mean, going back to the Wildcat strike in 2019-2020, that was really inspiring and amazing to hear about. And then the pandemic kind of hit and everything seemed to sort of come to a halt. That also was a strike, maybe it’s because it was Wildcat — I don’t know if you have information about it — but it had a lot of violent repression from cops. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the relationship between your action now and what happened before? I mean, you’ve talked a little bit maybe about some of the lessons you’ve learned, but maybe what’s going on, what’s different? Because it seems like you aren’t facing the same kind of repression, at least now.

RG: Yeah. Robin, do you want to take this one first?

R: Sure. Yeah. So I wasn’t here yet for the Wildcat strike — I started my program the year after — but my understanding is that that action really set the tone for demands that are now just more familiar to us all. I think the language of “rent burden”, this kind of understanding that we shouldn’t be spending half of our wages or even a third of our monthly wages on rent, that this is not a sustainable situation, the cost of living adjustment or COLA demand, I think the Wildcat strike was really seminal in creating awareness of these issues, and setting the tone for a statewide strike on all the UC campuses.

I think, from what I’ve heard from organizers who were involved in the Wildcat, is that essentially things just happened very quickly and almost kind of organically in a sense. A small handful of people had been launching a campaign, throughout the fall quarter around the rent burden issue, and all of a sudden the language really connected with people, and the COLA demand really took off. And basically they were getting emails from people that they didn’t even know saying, “we need to withhold our grades”. People were turning up to union meetings and saying, “we need to take action, we need to go on strike now.” What I think is really great is that the organizers who were involved in it reacted to that, they seized the moment and they realized that the time was ripe to withhold labor to go on a strike.

At the same time this time around we just had much more time for preparation and organization. We’ve coordinated it across many different campuses. That gives us a lot more power because it’s not just UC Santa Cruz, it’s across the UC. We have certain legal protections that we didn’t have last time around because it’s a union endorsed strike. That gives us a bit of an advantage and just talking to other workers and addressing concerns that people might have, particularly international students or students who are otherwise more vulnerable. think that action, which is really just kind of a classic instance of workers self organizing at a moment of heightened intensity, and something that just happened very quickly, has really set the tone for what we’re trying to do now. Which I think can be a longer, more sustained strike, involving not just withholding grades — which was the big thing last time around — but withholding all of our labor. I think this time around, we’ve got an even better chance of actually winning a COLA.

RG: Yeah, I agree with everything Robins said and I’ll just add that, in terms of the police presence, it’s been really great to not see the police get lined up in their SWAT gear, which is terrifying and really scary, particularly, as Robin mentioned, for folks that are undocumented, for Black and Brown folks in the community, for undergrads that are just there in solidarity with us. And we’re hoping to really keep it that way. I understand there’s a lot of folks that are really excited about prospects of physically shutting campus down, and that’s fair, and that’s exciting and I’ve been there too. However, because this is such a long, sustained effort, and we’re hoping to be on the line for for as long as it takes to get this cost of living adjustment, we don’t need people that are brutalized by the cops, we don’t need folks going and having to spend their energy doing jail support. We will be there, we will be there if we have to. But if we can avoid it and use another tactic to contribute to our strategy I think that’s really important right now.

Something I’ll also say, this is the cops strategy too. It looked really bad for them last time when they were photographed brutalizing people. So this is, I think, a concerted effort and strategy on the UCs end and on the cops and to not do that right now, and that could change at any moment. So we’re prepared for that to change. We really hope it doesn’t.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, it’s always the cops decision to escalate it to violence. Not like, yeah that would be the strategy to try to pull the cups out, because that doesn’t really help anyone. In terms of that strike, in relation to this, were there gains that were made? And how do you think the pandemic affected that, and also since it’s ongoing, your current strike action?

R: I know that we won a small housing stipend last time around, so nothing in the order of magnitude that would actually address rent burden. Basically the administration just throwing us a little bone hoping that that would kind of deflate some of the energy that was arising at the time. I’m not sure if I know the timeline well enough to speak to exactly the impact that the pandemic had the last time around…

RG: My understanding is that the pandemic seems to be one of the things that shut down the strike. I don’t know, I think energy was probably also dwindling outside of that. I think it’s exhausting to be on an unsanctioned strike for a month plus, but at the same time, definitely the pandemic, I think organizers were starting to even get sick, not necessarily with COVID, because we didn’t know COVID was around, but people were getting bad flu’s at the end, in early February, which definitely could have been COVID, [sickness was] starting to go around even within the picket. So, my understanding is COLA happens, strike happens, and then COVID starts. But things did come out of it: we also have five year job security, and I don’t think that was across the board in every single department and last time. When I signed my contract, I’m in my second year of my program. I have five years of employment no matter what. Which is fantastic. And that came out of some of the discourse from the Wildcat as well.

R: I mean, I think the biggest thing that came out of it, certainly we did see some small wins, but the biggest thing that came out of it was networks of organization and struggle that were activated that time. Especially bringing students who they weren’t involved in labor organizing, or an activism before, kind of into the fold. Many of those same networks have persisted up till today. That’s been huge for us this time around.

On the question of the pandemic, I wanted to add one thing: I think something important that we’ve learned also, is that in the times of COVID, the picket line is not merely like a physical thing, right? So we are asking people to cancel their lectures, their sections completely, and not to just move on to Zoom, because we moved on to Zoom for a pretty extended period with the pandemic, and we know that the university can still run on Zoom. So thinking of the picket line as not just a physical thing, that’s one important lesson that we’ve probably learned.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s interesting. When I was at NYU, at one point, there was a strike that faculty, to try to stand in solidarity, would just have their classes off-campus. At that time the strikers said that was okay by them, but then looking back thought that that was not really a good decision. So, it’s interesting to hear that with Zoom, too. I mean first of all, it’s labor, but also, like you said, the university knows now that it can function perfectly fine virtually. So it doesn’t it’s not as much of a disruption.

RG: Right.

R: Absolutely. Yeah.

TFSR: We’ve talked a little bit about the tactic of withholding grades, I was talking to someone about that strike who was involved. And they said that that was really powerful. I wonder if you had thoughts on why you think that is. They were talking about it in terms of accreditation and what the university is actually bestowing on students, but I don’t know if you have thoughts on that, and how that fits into your overall strategy.

RG: Well, I will say that this time around there’s been, as Robin alluded to, so much planning, getting ready for this, and each day there’s so much organization that goes into it. So, we haven’t, to be completely honest, we’re not there yet. We’re not necessarily thinking this time around about withholding grades specifically, although I’m sure that in the coming weeks we will be talking about this. But from what I’ve heard about the Wildcat and what that did, it really also linked undergraduate tuition dollars with grades. And that’s not a great look for a higher ed institution to basically just be passing out grades and it really links grades as this commodity that undergrads are paying for.

So, I think from a theoretical point of view was really powerful. But in terms of like the material disruption, undergrads oftentimes need those grades for various things, right? Things that the university stipulates. So things like financial aid, and sure, me saying that could seem like it’s a huge disruption for undergrads — obviously that’s not our intention — but when undergrads come to me, and they say, “I need this grade, because I need to be able to get financial aid for next quarter. I need to say that I passed all my classes last quarter”, I’m like, “I hear you, I’m with you, I’ll help you figure this out. But really this is the university that is preventing you from getting your financial aid because you’re not receiving a grade. They want you to think it’s me that’s causing this problem, but it’s them”. So I think it also produces a tool for us to align with our undergrads and disrupt their business as usual, and say, “Hey, this is disruptive. This is rough. This is difficult. How can we work together to get the university to budge and give us what we need to be able to work and teach here?” So, I think that that’s where a lot of this power lies.

Also, as you mentioned, Scott, I think there is some stuff about the UC receiving certain funding and certain grants, and this making its way into certain end of the year reports and things like that, to clout “oh, we had this many students that passed with flying colors”, whatever. But I think of it more in terms of the ability to connect with undergrads and show them that we’re in the same struggle and this disrupting them is part of our need to collectively disrupt the university at large.

R: Yeah, I would add that, in many ways, I think we, as academic workers, believe in the university’s mission much more than the university itself does. I’m speaking in terms of the administration here. Part of what we’re fighting for is to have more time to dedicate to each individual student, to fostering productive spaces for discussion and that would mean things like smaller class sizes, more personal attention from TA’s toward students. I mean these are all things that we can’t do very well when many of us are worried about getting evicted, or having to choose between paying rent and eating well, or healthcare. And I think we increasingly see this kind of commoditized, or neoliberal model of the university as this product where you pay tuition and then you get grades, right? And I think it’s actually us as academic workers who are on the frontlines of fighting against that, and fighting to provide a much better model of public education for our students.

That being said, we’re gonna see how much the university actually cares about that, through this strike. I mean, it may be the case that they’re okay with sections not being taught. It might be that we have to take this all the way to the end of the quarter, and to the extra leverage that we’ll get from withholding grades. As Rebecca was saying, we don’t know if it’s going to go that far. But we’re ready for it if that’s what has to happen.

TFSR: Yeah. Thanks, both of you, for that. I like the way that you outlined it, Rebecca, in terms of this is a place of potential solidarity between undergrads and graduate students, but clearly the university would try to pin it on the graduate students and say “deal with them, they’re the ones who are harming you”, without at all referencing the way that they allocate their funds not towards supporting the people. I think the way that you describe that, Robin, too, in terms of the time that you have to give to the labor is completely used up by just trying to survive [laughs in an exasperated way]. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m waxing on that, I have a lot I could talk to you about [laughs], but I want to ask you just a couple more questions.

There’s other actions going on other campuses right now. I know New School, I think part time faculty are striking there. I know people in the UK are about to strike. And there’s other unionization struggles on different campuses that I’ve been in touch with people, just wondering what connections you all have to people outside the UC system, if there’s any strategizing or collaboration that’s going on that you can mention.

RG: I haven’t personally been part of these conversations, but I know that last year, or two years ago I guess, when Columbia workers were on strike, there were a lot of discussions happening between folks that were here at Santa Cruz during the Wildcat and folks at Columbia strategizing and sharing stories and experiences and strategies. And then coming out of the Columbia strikes they have now shared their experiences and strategies and what worked and what didn’t work with us. So that’s been great. Also, over the summer, we did like a strike school series. So we had big Zoom rooms with panels of folks talking about their experience. We talked to the West Virginia teachers Wildcat strike that happened…I forget the year to be honest, I have to check that but…I don’t remember.

TFSR: Yeah I’m blanking on that too. Was it before COVID or during COVID?

RG: It was before, I think it was before.

TFSR: It was like 2019 probably.

RG: Had to be around then. And I mean, hearing their stories was super inspiring. So there have been these conversations with folks at different unions, at different institutions all across the country. Other organizers at Santa Cruz have really spearheaded that project. So I can, if you would like more info on that, Scott, I’m also happy to drop a line to some of those folks and ask if they can talk to you about that more.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, that’s cool to get as many voices in.

R: We had, throughout the summer especially, a few different Zoom calls with different labor organizing projects. The Columbia people and the West Virginia teachers, and I think there was maybe one or two more as well.

TFSR: I know that UC had a pretty strong Cops Off Campus campaign, has that connected at all to the labor strike?

RG: Um, I think it’s huge. First of all, it’s one of our demands.

TFSR: Oh ok.

RG: We’re bargaining for cops off campus.

TFSR: That’s great.

RG: I don’t think I’ve been in any of the Zoom sessions where this has been addressed, and that means one of two things: either I just haven’t been there, or the UC has not been addressing it.

TFSR: Likely.

RG: It could be a combination of both. So this is something we’re bargaining for. And I mean, I see it as huge, because when people ask me things like “well, where’s the COLA money?” I’m like, “it’s going to the cops”. And elsewhere, but if we are to effectively get cops off campus, that budget could easily be redistributed to to give grad workers COLAs.

R: Yeah, just to add to that, I think sometimes in their dealings with us the administration wants to separate out these different kinds of demands. Not that there’s been any movement on the wages thing, either, but to dismiss things like cops off campus, or disability demands around COVID as like “activist demands”, which I think is really quite patronizing actually. And, on our end, I think, as Rebecca was pointing out, we view these things as interconnected. Money that could be spent toward graduate workers and giving us living wages is being directed toward things like campus policing instead. So I think it’s important to keep emphasizing those interconnections even as the line of the administration is to try and separate these things out, sometimes.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s interesting there to make that distinction between a “labor” demand and an “activist” demand.

My last question is just what can people do to support you, from other places, or any ways to connect or plugin if there’s ways that people can help?

RG: Yeah, yeah. I will send you a link to post to the Statewide Hardship Fund, which is going to be something that people are able to apply for if they’re really in a hard place. If our wages get docked and people need a little extra, we do have a strike fund and we do have strike pay from UAW, which is really fantastic that our union has that. But for folks with children or folks that have medical expenses, things like this, we have the hardship fund, so I can send that link over. But in general, I think just finding ways to put pressure on the University. I’m a fan of taking to Twitter, taking to Instagram, you can follow us [on Twitter and Instagram] @PayUsMoreUCSC. And the statewide campaign at @FairUCNow [TikTok]. I think that’s what I would say, is just keep an eye on the campaign.

R: I would encourage people in the community to turn up to the picket line and just come talk to us. Talk to people about their living situations, about our demands, about what is exciting us, what is keeping us out here day after day. And I would encourage people to also talk to their neighbors, their friends, their community, about the strike. Raise awareness and think about what organizations you’re in, what networks you’re in, and can you talk to coworkers, for instance, or people in maybe a community organization, get a letter of solidarity out, that sort of thing would be huge. I would encourage people to just start where they are and try to build some support from there. Yeah, I hope to see people join us out on the picket line, and I’m really looking forward to talking to anyone who comes out.

TFSR: Awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time and maybe, hopefully we can get an update with some really good news about what’s going on. So, yeah, power to you all. Anything that you want to say in closing?

RG: I don’t think so. Just really thank you so much for taking the time and for covering this, having the support from folks with platforms is huge. And I just really appreciate you offering to do this.

TFSR: Of course. Yeah. And we’ll link to all this stuff in the show notes when we post this and yeah, thank you so much.

R: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much.

Matthew Lyons on Christian Nationalism(s)

Matthew Lyons on Christian Nationalism(s)

"TFSR 11-20-22 | Matthew Lyons on Christian Nationalism(s)" over a photo of January 6th 2021 participants carrying a picture of Jesus wearing a MAGA hat
Download This Episode

This is a conversation with Matthew Lyons, antifascist researcher, contributor to Three Way Fight Blog and author of, among other books, Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire and contributor to the recent AK Press compilation, No Pasarán: Antifascist Dispatches from a World in Crisis (edited by Shane Burley). For the hour, Matthew talks about Christian Nationalist and theonomic tendencies and movements like New Apostolic Reformation, Dominionism, reactionary Catholicism and Christian Reconstructionism to learn more about how they interrelate or conflict with other far right tendencies in the so-called USA and the ongoing assault on bodily autonomy, abortion access and cis-hetero-patriarchy. More of Matthews work can be found at MatthewNLyons.Net

Next Week…

We’re hoping to bring you voices from graduate student workers and other workers on strike in the University of California system and possibly beyond for this coming Sunday’s show.

Announcements

Phone Zap for Shinewhite

BACKGROUND: Joseph “Shine White” Stewart is a long-time incarcerated writer and organizer who is known, among other things, for promoting interracial unity among black and white prisoners in North Carolina as a way to forward their shared resistance against the prison industrial complex and for encouraging abolitionists on the outside to center prisoners’ demands and resistance in their work.  He has most recently been central to prisoners’ organizing efforts to combat racist CO brutality at Alexander Correctional Institution and the extended lockdown at Bertie Correctional Institution.  As one might imagine, he is no stranger to political repression, and he has been repeatedly transferred, held in solitary confinement for years at a time, and physically brutalized as the system has attempted to silence him.  On November 3, in response to his most recent organizing, Shine White was transferred to Granville Correctional Institution in Butner, NC, where he was placed in restrictive housing.  When he arrived, he was placed in a filthy, unsanitary cell which staff refused to allow him to clean and denied access to his property, including legal paperwork related to pending motions in a lawsuit his is pursuing which he was therefore unable to put in the mail on time.  Staff have even restricted his access to paper.  As of his last contact with Solidarity Beyond the Walls, Shine White is still being housed in unsanitary conditions and still does not have his property.  He has requested that SBW support him by organizing a phone zap on his behalf.

  • NCDPS Division of Prisons Central Region Director Loris Sutton 919-582-6125 (direct office line) OR 919-803-0713 (cell phone) OR 919-838-4053 (Central Region main office line);
  • Standard and Performance Director Cynthia Thornton 919-838-4000 (Division of prisons main office line)

Remember that repeat calls are welcome, as the more calls come in, the more likely it is that our demands on Shine White’s behalf will be met.

WHAT TO SAY: Here is a script you can use if you aren’t sure what to say when you call:“Hello.  I am calling on behalf of Joseph Stewart, OPUS number 0802041.  When he was transferred to Granville CI on November 3, Mr. Stewart was placed in restrictive housing in unsanitary conditions and denied his property, including legal paperwork that needed to be put in the mail no later than November 4.  Both of these are violations of NCDPS policy and procedure.  I am calling to demand that Mr. Stewart be released from restrictive housing, be placed in a clean cell with access to supplies to keep it that way, and that all of his property be returned immediately.”

Support Colombian Uprising Prisoners

There is still repression being felt by those swept up by the state during the 2021 National Strike in Cali, Colombia and there’s a fundraising effort for the Paso del Aguante 6 who are facing up to 50 years in prison for participating in the strike. The Colombia Freedom Collective is happy to announce that Christian Andres Aguilar has been released at 14 months of pre-trail detention, though he’s not out of danger yet. You can learn more about the cases of the Paso del Aguante 6 and how to support their defense efforts at: https://colombiafreedomcollective.org/christian-andres-aguilar-released-after-14-months-of-pretrial-detention/

Bad News #62

Check out the latest episode of Bad News: Angry Voices from Around The World from the International A-Radio Network. This month features two really good interviews you may not have heard from Frequenz-A: a chat with a member of Feminist Anti-War Resistance, a movement against the militarism of the Russian state and the war in Ukraine; a conversation with Berlin-based advocates for Alfredo Cospito, Juan, Anna and Ivan hunger striking in Italy against 41 bis. These are alongside shorter versions of our recent chats on heaters in Albuquerque, updates on Eric King & Oso Blanco’s situations and the struggle against Camp Grayling.

Suppport TFSR

We are entering a period of recording fury. Patreon supporters will get early access to interviews as we get them edited down, as well as behind the scenes conversations between the producers. Upcoming releases include Mitchell Verter, co-author of the 2005 AK Press book, Dreams of Freedom: A Ricardo Flores Magón Reader speaking around the 100th anniversary of the murder by incarceration by the US state of the Mexican anarchist communist revolutionary, RFM, and discussion of his legacy. Another is a conversation with Rhiannon Firth on her recently published book, Disaster Anarchy: Mutual Aid and Radical Action, out from Pluto Press. You can find our patreon at patreon.com/tfsr

Though we’re releasing some content early to patreon supporters, we won’t be paywalling it permanently. Our fundraising goes to operating costs, equipment, and paying our transcribers. We’ve been transcribing each interview we’ve conducted and making them available as zines on our website for coming up on 2 years now, and going back to transcribe past episodes to boot. This makes these important conversations available for translation, for easier access to folks who are more comfortable reading or for whom English is a second language, as well as getting the content more easily into prisoners, reading groups and passers-by’s hands so as to include more people in the discussion.

For other ways to support our project monetarily, there’s merch and donation options at tfsr.wtf/support. For non-money support, we could always use ratings on apple, google and amazon podcasts or mentions and boosts on social media (including on Mastodon and Castopod), examples can be found at tfsr.wtf. Telling others about the project is also a great way to help us expand our audience. If you have a story you’d like covered, you can find ways to contact us there we well!

Finally, if you have a community or college radio station that you’d like to hear our weekly, free, 58 minute episode air on for any weirdo with an antenna and receiver to pick up, help us out by visiting tfsr.wtf/radio to learn more. Thanks for the support!

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Featured Tracks:

  • Gods and Government by Snog from Dear Valued Customer
  • The Voice of God Is Government by Bad Religion from How Could Hell Be Any Worse?
  • Brazil by Django Reinhardt from Django in Rome

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Transcription

TFSR: I’m speaking with Matthew Lyons, Anti-Fascist researcher, activist, and author of multiple books including Insurgent Supremacists: The US Far Right Challenge to State and Empire. Matthew is also a contributor to the upcoming AK Press collection No Pasarán and is a longtime contributor to the blog threewayfight.blogspot.com. Thank you very much for joining. I really appreciate you having this conversation with me.

Matthew Lyons: Happy to be here. Thank you very much for the invitation.

TFSR: I’ve invited you on mostly to speak about the Christian far right, in particular, which is one of the focuses in your book, which has been behind increasing its sustained attacks around issues of gender, sexual equality, and liberation in the so-called USA, including these ramped up state by state erosion of abortion rights, education around sexuality, “CRT” and other topics, and also the recognition of non-cisgender folks.

In May, you published an article on ThreeWayFight entitled “Abortion, the Christian right, and Anti-Fascism” that rehashes some of the content of your “Theocrats” chapter in Insurgent Supremacists. You began this blog entry with the line “It’s time for anti-fascists to stop treating the Christian right as a secondary threat.” I’d like to take this as a starting point. When you’re talking about the Christian right, or the Christian far right, what tendencies are you talking about? What are some overlaps and distinctions in particular in how they understand patriarchy, gender, and sexuality? Broad brush.

ML: Well, the reason I lead with the comments about the need to stop treating the Christian right as a secondary threat is I think that, on the one hand, a Christian right represents a serious force for right-wing authoritarianism in the United States, but it doesn’t fit into the standard categories that people think about when they talk about fascism or fascistic politics. And so it does tend to get less attention and less of a focus from people who see themselves as anti-fascist.

In very broad terms, when I talk about the Christian right in the US, I’m talking about a constellation of movements or organizations or networks that came together starting in the 1970s and have really had very impressive staying power, and have done a lot of work to build a multi-dimensional movement that includes everything from lobbying groups and thinktanks to, just, very grassroots prayer cells and neighborhood church networks. So it’s very much of a full-scale social movement. In political terms, the Christian right is unified by a broad goal of making their interpretation of Christianity central and dominant to the US. But that certainly means several different things. And I would say that in broad terms, there’s a division within the movement between what you could characterize as “reformist” versus “revolutionary” branches where there’s a majority that wants to bring about certain changes within the existing political systems such as banning abortion, suppressing homosexuality and gender nonconformity, reintroducing prayer in the schools, bringing back Creationism as a supposedly legitimate field of study and things like this. And then, on the other hand, there is a minority faction or current that is very powerful and influential. It says that it’s not possible to bring about our vision of an ethical Christian society within the existing framework so there is a need, they say, to replace the existing framework with what essentially amounts to a theocracy.

This, in contrast to, say, white nationalists who center their political vision on race, the Christian right vision of a theocratic future really puts gender and sexuality at the center, rather than race. And it is very much a patriarchal, heterosexist, and transphobic vision that is pretty scary. They have a romanticized image of the past, of how men and women’s supposedly lived in a harmonious but hierarchical manner, with women very clearly limited to homemaking roles, wife and mother kinds of roles, and sex being defined as something that is for procreation, these standard traditionalist patriarchal ideas. So there are different versions of the theocratic model that they advocate. Some of them are very much based on a centralized big state, while others are actually based on a very decentralized model of state power, which nonetheless is extremely authoritarian and repressive. so it doesn’t necessarily all fit together in terms of people’s preconceptions about what far-right authoritarianism looks like.

TFSR: So it has quite a spectrum. But as you say, the central Crux around which a lot of the political organizing occurs counter-poses to ethno-nationalists who focus on nationalities. This idea that sexual reproduction, the expansion of the Christian population in the country, the pushing out of ideologies or belief systems that they view as standing in counter to that and imposition of the accuracy.

One of the umbrellas that come up throughout your book is Christian Reconstructionism. And at first, I was going to glibly compare this to a vision of The Handmaid’s Tale, but maybe that’s a bit flat. Can you talk about some of the roots of Christian Reconstructionism? Are there analogs with other theocratic or theonomic regimes around the world? And also, what’s Dominionism and how does it relate to Christian Reconstructionism?

ML: Okay, Christian Reconstructionism is a particular ideological current within the Christian right that was founded in the 1960s by R.J. Rushdoony, who was a Presbyterian. In theological terms, it’s rooted in certain versions of Presbyterianism, which is originally a branch of Calvinism. But over the decades, it’s certainly spread and it’s not limited to Presbyterians, in terms of who its activists and leaders have been. In political terms, it is based on the idea that, as I said, we need to replace the existing political system with a full-on theocracy, or they call it theonomy, based on their interpretation of biblical law, and it is a pretty grim interpretation indeed. This would involve disenfranchising women, relegalizing slavery, and making the death penalty punishment for homosexuality or adultery, heresy, and many other crimes. And it is a current that has never been a very large movement in its own right, but it is very influential in terms of helping to shape and guide larger forces within the Christian right.

For example, Pat Robertson, who was a longtime televangelist and founded the Christian Coalition, which was a major force starting in the 1980s. His approach to politics was very much influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. Similarly, Randall Terry founded Operation Rescue, an organization that used civil disobedience tactics in the service of trying to suppress abortion providers and the availability of abortion. He was very much influenced by Christian Reconstructionism. It’s a movement that has been particularly influential in the most violent and terroristic wing of the anti-abortion movement. A number of the leading figures in that movement have themselves been proponents of Christian Reconstructionism. Another person of note is Larry Pratt, who was the longtime head of Gun Owners of America, which has been described as a gun rights organization to the right of the NRA. And Larry Pratt also, somebody who played a significant role in helping to launch the Patriot militia movement in the 1990’s. These are some examples of the ways that the movement has played a larger role.

You also asked about Dominionism. One of the things that Christian Reconstructionism in particular has advocated is the notion that Christians have a duty to God to “take dominion” over society at large and to basically take control over all of the leading institutions of society, from the government to the educational system, the media, and so on. You started to see, in the 70’s and later, this notion of taking Dominion spreading to other forces within the Christian right. That’s where the term Dominionism comes from. There are different versions of that: some people make a distinction between so-called Soft Dominionism and Hard Dominionism, depending on how intensive and how comprehensive your notion of imposing theocratic rule would be. But these are all notions that have become central and defining for the Christian right as a whole in one form or another in Christian Reconstructionism. Certainly, it’s not the only place that they come from, but it’s been one of the major influencing pieces of that picture.

TFSR: Another main wing of the Christian far right that you spend some time on and Insurgent Supremacists is the New Apostolic Reformation. Could you talk a little bit about this tendency, and how it relates to other branches of Christianity?

ML: Sure, New Apostolic Reformation is a movement that has different names. It’s been called Kingdom Now, Seven Mountains Theology, and other names. Again, in theological terms, it’s actually rooted in the Pentecostal and charismatic tradition. So, this is a whole subset of Christianity that, among other things, believes in the current-day practice of miracles, such as faith healing and the availability of prophecy to leaders within the movement, who claim to be able to basically give voice to what God has foretold about the future.

So within this broad theological current, there are different political currents, but there have been various right-wing tendencies, among others. And they came together most clearly starting in the 1990s around this concept of an apostolic reformation. And part of what they did is they took some of the Dominionist ideas that came partly from Christian Reconstructionism and combined them with some of the theological and organizational principles from the Pentecostal and charismatic traditions. So the result is something that resembles Christian Reconstructionism in the sense that it is a theocratic movement. It’s a movement that advocates comprehensive control of society and imposition of their version of Christianity on society as a whole. But it’s also quite different in certain ways. One thing, whereas the Christian Reconstructionists advocate a decentralized model of theocracy, the New Apostolic Reformation is very much based on a centralized version. And it’s also been much more effective in galvanizing a mass movement. The numbers are- I haven’t seen what I would call reliable numbers – but one estimate from 2013 places the number of people involved in New Apostolic-associated churches in the United States alone at 3 million people, with millions more in other countries.

It’s also very different in terms of its racial and ethnic composition. Christian Reconstructionism has always been pretty much all-white. But the New Apostolic Movement has a genuinely multiracial and multi-ethnic character, and is also quite international, as I said, with significant branches in Latin America and Asia, Africa. So that’s quite different. And the positions that they’ve taken on issues of race, and also actually issues of gender, have been more sophisticated in a sense. When you look at Christian Reconstructionism, it has tended to either be silent on issues of race, or, in some cases, some of the leaders have embraced, more or less, overtly white supremacist positions, for example, supporting neo-Confederate politics. New Apostolic Reformation has actually taken a very different approach. There are some leaders within the movement who advocate a “colorblind” ideology of basically claiming to just treat everybody as an individual. But others actually advocate confronting and opposing racial injustice, at least, within some context, or at least in words. So, that in itself is very different.

And while Christian Reconstructionism has always been very male-dominated in terms of who is actually seen as having the capacity to be in leadership roles, New Apostolic Reformation from the beginning included women in prominent roles and important leadership roles, and to some degree has been a space where women have been able to speak out against male domination and to challenge misogynistic interpretations of Christianity. And I think it’s important to be careful about this because, to my view, it’s not that these characteristics make New Apostolic Reformation more progressive or somehow less dangerous. Rather, it’s an example of a far-right movement taking elements of progressive or even radical politics and distorting them and harnessing them for goals and purposes that are fundamentally reactionary or right-wing or fascistic. And thereby deflecting a lot of criticism and also channeling some of the frustrations and rebelliousness that people may have… Channeling that into initiatives that end up bolstering hierarchy and bolstering oppression. The New Apostolic Reformation leaders may, in some cases, speak out against racial injustice, but they’re also speaking out against abortion rights, they’re speaking out in favor of transphobic laws and suppression of any gender nonconformity. And they’ve been very outspoken in supporting Donald Trump’s politics and just the whole Make America Great Again approach to politics. So it’s not in any sense a progressive movement but rather something that uses elements of progressive politics in a very dangerous way.

TFSR: Yeah, it, in fact, sounds quite regressive. Jumping back to what you were saying about the occasional cording of racial supremacist perspectives by Christian Reconstructionism. Just to put a point on the position of them working with neo-Confederates at times. Can you talk a little bit about the historical vision that they in particular, but either of the groups, has of not only what the United States or iterations within the United States, such as the Antebellum South? Or what the vision of America was to be as a “City on a Hill” or as an example of a puritanical institution? Because it seems like they’re trying to make what their vision of America being great again is theonomy.

ML: The phrase puritanical is a good one. In the sense that the Puritans, some of the founders of American settler colonialism back in the 17th century, the Puritans were Calvinists, who were theological relatives of the founders of Christian Reconstructionism in the sense of their vision of society being something that was based on certain notions of obedience to God’s law and so on.

As I said, there are different versions of the divisions that these groups have with the Reconstructionists having a very decentralized approach. Basically, their notion is that the theocracy would be exercised through the family, through the church, and through local institutions, primarily, with central governmental institutions, playing much more of a secondary role. Whereas the New Apostolic Reformation, and I think some of the other forces within the Christian right, take much more of a big State approach. And I should mention that the New Apostolic Reformation has also cultivated some pretty active ties with prominent politicians: folks, such as Sarah Palin, former vice presidential candidate; Rick Perry, who was governor of Texas and then was in Trump’s cabinet; Sam Brownback, who was a senator and governor from Kansas; and other folks. So even though they have this comprehensive vision of basically getting rid of the system of government that the US has, they also have done a lot to work with politicians who are involved in the system.

TFSR: So in Insurgent Supremacists, you decided not to cover reactionary Roman Catholicism because it’s not a distinctly US-based movement. But as an ex-Catholic myself, despite a sense of falling numbers of membership in the Church, it seems like there is a rise in right-wing strains, such as those which produce people like Steve Bannon or Amy Coney Barrett, or historically, the trajectory of Father Charles Coughlin and his National Union of Social Justice back in the 1930’s. Do you see any ascendant reactionary Roman Catholicism as one of these other groups that are posing a threat? And do you see in that an influence from a renewed Christian Charismatic Movement? Or does it seem like it’s just the same monster coming back, the same reactionary Catholicism?

ML: Certainly, reactionary Catholicism has played a significant role within the broader Christian right in its current form, all along. And, as you say, there are much older roots. Charles Coughlin, in the 1930s, was one of the most, if not the most influential leaders of what was really a fascist movement at that time in the US. And it was striking that as a Catholic priest, at a time when anti-Catholicism was still a major force within the US and certainly within sectors of the far right. So carrying that forward, during the period of the Cold War, there were many right-wing, Catholic leaders who, in some cases, had ties with right-wing Catholic forces within or in exile from Eastern Europe under the Soviet bloc. So, there is a distinct tradition of right-wing Catholicism, that is being invoked or being built upon by right-wing Catholics today.

One of the things that have been distinctive about the modern Christian right has been its ability to build bridges and alliances between right-wing Protestants and Catholics, in contrast to earlier movements that were often separated and where, as I said, anti-Catholicism was often a major force and was interconnected with anti-immigrant sentiment targeting first Irish Catholics, but then later Italians and other immigrant groups. But the Christian Right has really been successful at setting those and other sectarian divisions aside for political purposes. So you have seen several organizations such as Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition, for example, which might be majority Protestant but with a significant Catholic presence within it. And then you’ve also had other organizations which are specifically Catholic, taking, for example, the Human Life International, which has been a leading Catholic anti-abortion group for a number of decades, and others. And it’s interesting, there have been a number of prominent right-wing evangelical Protestants who have actually converted to Catholicism, such as Sam Brownback, who I mentioned earlier, the political leader from Kansas.

I’m interested to learn more about Amy Coney Barrett. I confess that I haven’t really delved into her political history that much, but I know that she comes out of an organization called People of Praise, which is a Catholic charismatic group. Charismatic being a movement within Christianity that cuts across the division between Protestants and Catholics. But People of Praise being specifically a Catholic group within that, and one that I believe has had significant ties with leaders within the New Apostolic Reformation movement. So, I don’t know that it would be accurate to say that Amy Coney Barrett herself is affiliated with New Apostolic Reformation, I’ve never heard that claim made. But there are certainly some at least indirect connections and, I’m sure, some significant resonances between her politics in there. I think there are definitely a number of threads that will be important to explore further.

TFSR: I’d be interested in hearing how you think the concept of liberty is espoused by many of these tendencies that also simultaneously are trying to lead a coordinated movement towards theocracy. For instance, I recall adherence to the right-wing Libertarian Party used to make stances of being socially liberal. This is at least when I was growing up in the 90’s and early 2000’s, around drug use, around sexuality in a way that seemed to set them apart from others on the right. That was something they touted, and they were really proud of that. But it seems like a lot of people in the Libertarian movement have embraced this theocratic vision. If you could talk a little bit about how does the concept – to your understanding – of liberty coincide with implementing God’s will?

ML: Libertarianism is a term that covers a number of different political approaches or different philosophies. But there’s a long-standing, certainly, the several-decades-old relationship between libertarianism and Christian Reconstructionism. Specifically, there were a number of important founding leaders of Christian Reconstructionism, such as R.J. Rushdoony, who I mentioned earlier, and Gary North, another important leader, who were involved in Libertarian organizations early in their careers and in conjunction with the development of Reconstructionist ideology. And I think that the connection there is basically the idea of limited government. The Reconstructionists have been dubbed “Libertarian theocrats,” because they want to impose their theocratic rule through small-scale governmental institutions, as well as non-governmental institutions, such as the family and the church. But at the same time, their notion of liberty is based on the idea that humans must submit themselves to God’s authority in any attempt to develop ideas or lines of thinking that are outside of that… That any such effort is sinful, wrong, and satanic. And so it just really calls into question what are we even talking about when we talk about liberty. But, I’m sure they would argue that it is a liberty, but it’s not a concept of liberty that seems meaningful to me. I’m sure others within the Christian right who would stop short of this very hardline notion of submission to God’s will, but that is a concept that you do see in watered-down versions in other places, too.

TFSR: Another point in Insurgent Supremacists – I really enjoy the construction, the way you put chapters leading one into another to show the relationships between far-right movements – you point out how the patriot movement grew, in part, out of the racial supremacist right and groups such as Posse Comitatus, and later gaining an infusion of Christian fundamentalist perspectives in a uniquely American manner. Can you talk about how the Christian far right relates to current tendencies such as Sovereign Citizens or, more importantly, things like Constitutional Sheriffs? And how does this devolution of civil authority relate to the concept of democracy?

ML: Well, I want to just correct a little bit of what you said there. To me, the Christian Right influence was there from the very beginning in the formation of the Patriot movement. It wasn’t something that came later. The Patriot movement came to prominence in the early to mid-1990’s, with the formation of hundreds of so-called “citizen militias” and related groups around the country that were spurred on by fears that there was a plot by globalist elites who were trying to impose a dictatorship on the United States. And so people needed to rise up and defend themselves against it. And a lot of critics of this movement have emphasized the ways that it carried forward ideas and currents rooted in white nationalism and rooted in neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements of the years that came earlier. And that’s an important part of it. But the Christian Right forces, and specifically Christian Reconstructionists, were also there right from the beginning. Larry Pratt who I mentioned earlier was the leader of Gun Owners of America and an advocate of Reconstructionist ideas about politics. He was advocating the formation of citizen militias in the 1980’s. Well before anybody was talking about, them in the national media. Matthew Trewhella, another Reconstructionist leader, advocated forming citizen militias in the context of the anti-abortion rights movement in early 1990’s. So these were very much present from the beginning as part of the mix that created the patriot movement as a hybrid, a blending of a number of different right-wing currents.

And that is something that has carried through to the current-day version. The Patriot movement has had its ups and downs and had a big upsurge in the 1990’s. It collapsed for a number of years and had another upsurge starting, at least partly in response to the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States. And it’s continued to be a significant force, since then. But currents within the patriot movement, such as the Sovereign Citizens, which is a particular branch of Patriot ideology that claims that each person can in legal terms be a country unto themselves, and they can declare that they are no longer subject to United States authority. This is very much rooted in the mix of white nationalist and Christian theocratic ideas, along with other right-wing ideas that came out of the gun rights movement, the anti-environmental movement, and the John Birch Society as a Cold War era champion of conspiracist ideology. All these different currents coming together to Sovereign Citizens is one offshoot of that. The Constitutional Sheriffs organization, which was founded about 10 or 12 years ago, has become an important Patriot movement organization. The founder of the constitutional sheriffs, Richard Mack, is actually somebody who worked for Gun Owners of America along with Larry Pratt, so that doesn’t necessarily mean that he had exactly the same views, but I’m sure that they would have had some pretty interesting political discussions there in which Christian Reconstructionist idea has certainly been in the mix. So these are all examples of the interplay that we’ve had between Christian theocratic political currents and other far-right political forces within the patriot movement and in other contexts.

TFSR: You’ve made the point that many of the far-right Christian movements we’ve been talking about often center patriarchy and religion over race as a central crux within it, which distinguishes them from other elements in the US far right. You’ve mentioned also that the New Apostolic Reformation is a much less blanket white movement.

I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about your understanding of how this tendency or how the far-right Christian movements in general, broad brush, deal with immigration in the US. I know that a lot of the anti-Catholic perspectives on the West Coast have been formulated around fears of immigrants from Latin America bringing in Catholicism, for instance, and the social values that they believe are carried with that. Do you see a shift in the way that the Christian far right has been thinking about immigration? And how it relates to the ethno-nationalist tendencies in other parts of the US far right.

ML: Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s been a complicated story. My sense is that for much of its earlier history, the Christian right didn’t really focus on issues of immigration and was not particularly aligned with anti-immigrant scapegoating. So I’m talking about the 1970’s through maybe the 1990’s or so. Certainly, during that time, you did start to see significant anti-immigrant organizing coming back into the fore. It’s been, a recurrent theme in US history. But that was a period when it was starting to be on the upsurge again. Initially, the Christian right was really not playing to that theme. But after some time, I’m not sure exactly when, but sometime in the early 2000’s, that started to shift, and you started to see much more use of anti-immigrant scapegoating by sections of the Christian right because they saw it as something popular with their base or potential support base that they were trying to appeal to. So they saw it as something that would help win support.

At the same time, they’ve also been interested in reaching out to immigrants themselves, in many cases, whether we’re talking about Catholics or evangelicals coming from Latin America, coming from other parts of the world. There are significant groups there that the Christian right has seen as people that they could hope to attract. And in the case of the New Apostolic Reformation, they’ve been pretty successful to a degree at doing that. So that’s the particular section of the Christian right that, as far as I can tell, has really steered clear of anti-immigrant scapegoating themselves. There may be exceptions, but I think that’s generally been the case, which is not to say that their politics have been good around immigrant rights. They’ve been perfectly amenable to working with others within the right, who have pretty odious politics around immigration, but it’s just something that they would not necessarily promote themselves. So, there is this complicated dance that some of these groups have tried to follow, because there are essentially conflicting aims or conflicting demands on them, in terms of how they could build their base or reach out to more people.

TFSR: You did use the term “Christian Fascism” when talking about Coughlin and the movement that he was involved with, and I’ve been hearing that term coming up a lot recently, or Christofascism. One figure that I can think of that would fall into that tendency that I want to mention is the former Ashevillian William Dudley Pelley and his Silver Shirt Movement in the 1930’s-40’s. Is Christian Fascism an apt term to describe any of the groups that you’ve been talking about today in this conversation?

ML: Well, it depends on what we mean by fascism. There’s no general agreement about what Fascism is within the left, let alone more broadly in society. There’s a common-sense notion of fascism that many people have in which white supremacist ideology is a major piece of the picture. So, if that is part of your definition of fascism, then a lot of the Christian right is not going to fit that.

To me, it’s more useful to use the term fascism somewhat more broadly. To me, fascism is an approach to politics that is about mobilizing or trying to mobilize masses of people to, on the one hand, bolster or intensify systems of oppression and social hierarchy, but also to challenge the established political order and the established political elites. So, it has both an oppressive and a rebellious aspect. But to me, it does not necessarily have to center on race. It does not necessarily have to center on intensifying racial oppression and racist ideology directly. I would argue that the section of the Christian right that advocates not just specific changes, such as outlawing abortion or bringing back school prayer but [that] advocates a more comprehensive transformation of society based on an authoritarian political vision: I think it’s appropriate to call that fascist. But we need to be clear about what we mean when we use the term, otherwise, it just becomes this epithet that gets thrown around. So if that concept of fascism makes sense to you, then I would say, use it that way. But if your concept of fascism is more specific to a white nationalist division, then it doesn’t fit most of the Christian Right, except for that limited section of the Christian Right that directly supports white nationalism.

TFSR: So you’ve advocated anti-fascists focusing on the battleground of gender and bodily autonomy as anti-fascists. Notably, Anti Racist Action took that stance from the 1990s onward in defending abortion clinics as another front of liberation struggles.

So in terms of strategy, in terms of anti-fascists approaching theocratic movements, Christian far-right movements, and trying to counter them, I wonder what you think we’re missing in the approach or in these conversations that we’re having about how we can combat the toxic spread of theocracy? Some of the strongest advocates that I’ve met just anecdotally in my life have been people that have escaped from homeschooling situations or from Quiverfull families or what have you. And I think that there’s something there to work with. But I wonder what you have to say as far as the movement goes?

ML: Well, I guess there are a couple broad things I would say about anti-fascist strategy in this context. First off, one is that coming back to the point where we started this conversation, it’s important for anti-fascists not just to treat the Christian Right as a secondary issue, which I think is tied in with this question of what’s the role of race versus other points of issues of social oppression and what does fascism center on. To me, the white nationalist vision of creating an all-white homeland, whether that’s through migration or mass expulsion or genocide, are all horrific visions that need to be combated, no question. At the same time, the political vision that Christian theocrats put forward of a society where everybody is subordinate to their version of Christian ideology, and that is something that comes down with particular severity on women, on queer folks, on trans folks. Even if it is not directly targeting People of Color, that in itself is a horrific vision. It’s something that needs to be combated on its own terms. And not only if it is something that is seen as supporting a white nationalist vision.

So, I think that in terms of just where people on the left and within anti-fascist circles, where people see the major sources of danger and a political threat coming from, it’s important to pay attention to Christian theocratic forces, especially because some of these forces are enormous. I mentioned earlier that it was an estimate of the New Apostolic Reformation having something like 3 million supporters in the United States. Even if that’s off by an order of magnitude, that’s still enormous. And it’s far, far greater than groups such as the Oathkeepers or Constitutional Sheriffs or the Proud Boys, let alone any smaller neo-Nazi groups that are out there. And it’s not just numbers, but it’s also the organization and the funding and the degree of commitment that people in these movements display. So these are serious opponents that we need to contend with.

The other broad point I want to make about anti-fascist strategy is: to me, it’s important to use a two-pronged approach. On the one hand, we need to work with a variety of political forces, with people with a variety of political views to build broad anti-fascist alliances, broad alliances to combat the far right in different contexts, whether that’s in terms of mass protests in the media, different contexts. And also, the other approach is that it is equally necessary to have radical initiatives that are confronting and seeking to change the systemic oppression and exploitation, and institutional violence that’s at the heart of how our society is organized. And these two approaches are sometimes seen as in opposition to each other, or that we need to subordinate one to the other. I think that may be true in specific moments and specific contexts. But overall, they’re both important, and we need to find ways to pursue both of them. The far right is an immediate danger in terms of it’s something that presents an immediate threat to many of us, and to a number of different communities. So, there is that immediacy that’s needed to push against that. But the far right is also rooted in systemic oppression and the social order that gives rise to supremacist ideologies of different kinds. And so, unless we attack that systemic reality, it’s just going to keep coming back.

Another side of it is also, as I mentioned earlier that the far right has this combination of trying to intensify oppression but also rebelling against the status quo, rebelling against the established elites and established institutions. And that means that it’s a political force that feeds on people’s anger at elites, it feeds on people’s sense of being beaten down and disenfranchised. And if the Left wants to present a serious alternative as an oppositional force, it needs to offer an alternative, it needs to offer radical visions that speak to people’s sense of disempowerment and people’s anger, rather than simply take a defensive posture. So I think, again, there are ways that it’s important in specific moments or specific contexts to join together around just holding actions but it would be a real mistake to just put any notion of radical social change on the backburner or say, “Oh, that’s something we can’t really afford to address at this time of a resurgent right.” It would be self-defeating to take that approach of pure defensiveness.

You made the point about refugees from far-right communities or people who’ve been raised in a Christian theocratic context, how do we engage with them? Or how do we provide space for them to take a different path? I certainly think that’s an important question. I don’t know that I have any particular insights into that, except that, as with anyone, it’s important to take seriously the experiences that people have had and let people tell their stories and engage with them in a way that’s based on respect. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that people who’ve just come out of a Quiverfull community have it all figured out. But, let’s listen to what they have to say. And let’s engage with them from the standpoint that people go into these movements for reasons that are human. It’s not that they’re simply brainwashed, or that it’s based on madness or something like that. Right-wing movements attract people because they speak to the needs or desires or fears that people have. And those are very human things. And we have to find other ways to speak to people in human terms that don’t talk down to them, that doesn’t dismiss their realities, but offer a framework that respects all people and is about seeking human liberation, rather than a supremacist vision of the future.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you. It’s a very big subject you’ve been talking about, I’ve had you on for a while. My questions have been a little scattered and trying to pick out a few different angles. But I’m wondering if there’s anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to touch on as we wrap this up?

ML: There probably is, but I’m drawing a blank right now. There probably is, but I’m drawing a blank.

TFSR: Matthew, thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation and for all the research that you do. How can listeners follow and support your work?

ML: Thanks again for having me on. As you mentioned, I have a book that came out a few years ago, Insurgent Supremacists: The US Far-Right Challenge to State and Empire was published by PM Press and Kersplebedeb Publishing. I contribute regularly to the blog ThreeWayFight, which is threewayfight.blogspot.com. And I have a website, matthewnlyons.net, where people can find listings for my various writings. So thanks again, and I appreciate the good work that you’re doing.

TFSR: Thank you very much.

Heater Blocs and Political Prisoners

Heater Blocs and Political Prisoners

This week on The Final Straw we have 4 whopping segments, tidbits in length but whopping in importance.

"TFSR 11-13-22 | Heater Blocs & Political Prisoners" featuring a photo of a diy alcohol heater & the logo for "Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar"
Download This Episode

First up, you’ll hear from Zachariah Jazz (@BlackariahJazz161 on twitter), who distributes alcohol jet heaters with ABQHeaterBloc in so-called Albuquerque, NM, to talk about their efforts to help keep folks living on the streets safer from the elements through mutual aid. [ 00:02:08 – 00:18:56 ]

Then, Tom of Heater Bloc Chicago talks about the construction of these devices, based on shared design.

After that, you’ll hear Josh of the Certain Days Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar collective to talk about this year’s edition and briefly update listeners on the situations of Oso Blanco & Eric King, two anarchist political prisoners Josh does support work for and works on projects with. [ 00:37:42 – 00:50:28 ]

Finally, Sean Swain’s weekly segment! [ 00:51:31 – 00:58:09 ]

Next week…

We’ll be sharing a recent conversation with antifascist researcher and activist, Matthew Lyons, author of the 2015 PM Press & Kersplebedeb book, Insurgent Supremacists, and contributor to the Three Way Fight blog to speak about Christian Nationalist tendencies and their relationship to distinctly racist elements of the far right in the so-called USA, approaches to understanding their approach of Christian Patriarchy as regards axes of gender, sexuality, abortion and bodily autonomy, as well as a call for antifascists to understand and more actively oppose these tendencies. More of Matthews thoughts at his blog, MatthewNLyons.net

Announcements

Mutulu Shakur Released!

It is bittersweet for us to share the news that Dr. Mutulu Shakur of the Republic of New Afrika, imprisoned since 1986, is being released from prison. Bittersweet because his case and incarceration were a travesty, and also because Dr. Shakur was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer in 2019 and has suffered in prison since. We are overjoyed that Dr. Shakur can pass on to the ancestors surrounded by loved ones on the outside of the bars. You can donate to his support via paypal to mutulushakur@hotmail.com. You can hear our conversation from a few months back about his case and health at our website. Free them all!

Mutual Aid Efforts

Lots of us are involved in social efforts of mutual aid, which can be a lot on top of just keeping afloat personally in capitalism, keeping rent paid, etc. In line with the subject matter of most of today’s show, we were hoping to highlight a couple of projects that could use money and support in the good work they’re doing during this so-called holiday season.

  • There is an effort in Eastern Kentucky, which was hit hard by floods and tornadoes this year that left many homeless, to raise money for cold gear and other help that can be donated to at @ekymutualaid on venmo or paypal, or $ekymutualaid on cashapp.
  • Chehalis River Mutual Aid Network of rural so-called Washington state’s info can be found at linktr.ee/crmutualaidnet
  • Kinlani Mutual Aid in so-called Flagstaff, AZ is collecting cold weather gear at Talahogan Infoshop, connecting people and building solidarity. More info at KinlaniMutualAid.Org
  • Asheville Survival Program is also doing a drive for cold weather clothes. You can find info on their site, linktr.ee/AVLSurvival
  • Finally, the Knoxville shared radical space known as MASK that was used by East TN Harm Reduction, First Aid Knoxville & Knoxville Radical Library could use some support on recovering materials destroyed in this summer’s flooding. You can learn more at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-mutual-aid-space-recover-from-flood

Support

Hey listeners. As prices rise and capitalism chugs along, crushing us in its wake, so goes our patreon. We’ve recently lost a about $50 a month in support, which leaves us below $500/mo, which puts us in danger in falling short of being able to pay for transcription services and web hosting each month. We have a regular goal of $550 to cover those months with 5 Sundays and occasional extra costs.

If you can support us via a one-time donation, a merch purchase, a recurring donation via librapay or paypal or a subscription via patreon, we’d be much obliged. At patreon.com/tfsr those who support us at $2 or more a month have access to the occasional early audio release and upcoming planned behind the scenes chats among the producers. At the $5 level and above, you’ll get the aforementioned releases plus some stickers to show our appreciation. For $10 or more per month, you’ll get all that plus a monthly zine in the mail sent to you or the prisoner of your choice. Finally, for $15 per month and above you get those thank you’s plus a TFSR tshirt. But we don’t expect these meager enticements to get you to fork over the cash, honestly it seems more likely you’d kick in a few bucks because you have a little extra and appreciate our transcription work that allows for easier translation and accessibility of our episodes as well as easier sharing with prisoners and others who can’t hear the podcast. You can learn more at tfsr.wtf/support

That said, if you don’t have cash, please consider rating the podcast on amazon, google or apple podcasts to help us beat the algorithm, follow and amplify our social media posts (tfsr.wtf), share our content with others in real life, or try to get us on your local community or college radio station (tfsr.wtf/radio). More info on this and more at our website. Thanks for the support!

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Featured Tracks:

  • War Within Us by Tragedy from Vengeance
  • The Girl With The Sun In Her Head by Orbital from In Sides

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ABQ Heater Bloc Transcription

. … . .. ABQ Heater Bloc . … . ..

Zachariah Jazz: I’m Zachariah Jazz I use he/him, they/them pronouns. I’m located here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, down in the southwest. I’m affiliated with ABQ Heater Bloc as one of their main distributors. I am founder of my own Mutual Aid project called ‘Hope 4 Tha Hood.’ I’m the host of my own YouTube channel called ‘Its Controversial!! with Zachariah Jazz.’ That’s pretty much it.

TFSR: What kind of content do you cover on the YouTube channel?

ZJ: I cover a lot of social issues, social justice movements, specifically more of the ones down here. I cover a lot of racist topics, a lot of my work that I’ve done with my friends who live on the streets and my Hope 4 Tha Hood project, and stuff like that.

TFSR: Is Hope 4 Tha Hood just a neighborhood based Mutual Aid project? Is that how it would be described? Or how would you describe it?

ZJ: Yeah, that’s the best way to describe it. I started it to try to get more resources for my friends who live on the streets, right? Like hoodies or hand warmers, or any basic things… harm reduction, safe & clean needles for them to use, safe pipes, anything like that, condoms, anything that they need, female products, any any of that stuff. I’m trying to emulate a lot of the other local organizations who didn’t have the capacity to reach out to other parts of the city. So just trying to do it here for my little corner of the city.

TFSR: So just kind of filling in the gaps in the net?

ZJ: Yeah, pretty much. You can say that.

TFSR: Cool. Well, what sort of work does Albuquerque Heater Bloc do? Can you talk about, within the context of that, what houselessness in Albuquerque is like more broadly?

ZJ: Absolutely. Well, ABQ Heater Bloc started after we saw what everybody was doing out in Portland and Philadelphia and stuff like that. Ultimately, I was working at the Speedway and I came to them, and a friend of mine told me a story of being out in like a field, I guess, and it was freezing and he looked around and he said that, “I don’t see a way out of this. I don’t know how I’m gonna get out of this.” I hit me. I was like, “Damn.” There’s a need, that’s reality. That’s what it is for him and many others.

So, I came back to my friends who who make the heaters and I told them, “there’s a need out there. We got to do something about it.” And it just so happened that we were able to find Portland Heater Bloc out there and Philly. So they sent us a PDF file of how to build them. Then we started getting donations, and we started a money pool of our own, just putting in our own money at first to get the supplies needed. Then started getting in donations from other local orgs and just random people who believed in it, who saw it as a good thing.

They started putting the heaters together, and they just started handing them out to me. I started with four, passed them out. That was probably the most rewarding part, was the first time I gave somebody one. And they looked at me and they said, “Well, how much man?” I said, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “What do you want for it?” “Nothing, man. It’s free.” And then [he was like], “Wow. Wow. Really?” Like “yeah, man, here. Take it. It comes with an instruction manuals. They come in English and Spanish.” That’s pretty much how it how it started.

They couldn’t believe it because they’re so used to being homeless and on the streets, not only here, but anywhere in general. You’re used to having to always pay for something. No matter if it’s a cigarette, it’s a lighter, or it’s something that you need, a necessity, whatever the case may be, you have to pay for it in some way or another. So, the relief of having for once in their life not to have to pay for something in any way was rewarding for me in general. Every time I encountered somebody, that’s how it was and that’s still how it is today. This is the second winter that we’re going to be able to do this. And it’s still…. new people I’ll give a heater too… it’s the same reaction.

Being homeless out here is getting worse, it’s getting harder. because everywhere people will get comfortable at are constantly getting swept. Everywhere. They can’t sit outside the gas station, for obvious reasons, right? They can’t be in the communities, or in the neighborhoods, because the people in the neighborhood are assholes. They’re just going to kick them out anyway, force them out, or call the police, whatever. So they have to hide, they have to hide away. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s constantly like that. But then they do that and they might be arrested for trespassing wherever they may be. So it’s like, nobody’s gonna be happy or satisfied until all these people are arrested, in jail permanently, that’s the language that they use would allow me to assume that they just want to lock people up forever. Obviously, they can’t do that.

The other solution is housing. That’s just not even available. We have a Gateway Center here that has so many restrictions and rules and regulations. To even be able to get in you have to be clean for like three weeks and people don’t have the resources on the street to be able to get clean or have the luxury of having a safe place to even get clean to be able to gain access to the potential housing that the city is attempting to offer. So, it’s hard for them to navigate, it’s difficult. Half of the people, they don’t have IDs, identification, they don’t have birth certificates, social security cards, or anything like that. There’s ways to be able to get that. We will be able to get their IDs without having a birth certificate or even an address, but that’s still hard for people to do because a lot of them don’t have phones to be able to do interviews. Healthcare For The Homeless, out here they’ll give ID vouchers if you’re getting Medicaid through the State. You can use your Medicaid card as proof of ID to be able to get an ID. But they can’t even do that, because they don’t have the resources to be able to fill out an application or even a phone to take the interview. So, it’s really hard for people to navigate this the system that is constantly working against them.

TFSR: That echoes what I hear about here in Asheville and what I’ve experienced on the West Coast when I lived out there too, as far as resources available (or lack thereof).

Does Albuquerque, as a kind of a liberal city present itself as like, “look, we have these available resources. It’s not up to us to force people to take advantage of these resources,” but still not have the very entry level things… Like you said with the Gateway Center, if there are limitations to people being able to get in to take advantage of the resources that are there, does the city just sort of say publicly, “Well, we have the resources available,” and just cut off the conversation at that point?

ZJ: Yeah.

TFSR: So listeners to this episode, are going to hear our chat with someone behind the Heater Bloc Project in Chicago, where winter storms amplified by Lake Effect frequently bring temperatures below zero degrees Fahrenheit. But many listeners may be surprised to hear of a need like this in Albuquerque, you may think, “Oh, it’s in the southwest. So it’s therefore going to be warm year round!” But can you talk a little bit about like local climate and temperature ranges for folks throughout the year there?

ZJ: Absolutely. The weather is kind of all over the place because we are in a desert, but at the same time we are at the very end of the Rocky Mountain range. We’re in the Sandia Mountains and that’s just right at the bottom of the Rocky Mountains. We do have a river here. It’s almost drying up because of climate change and all those other things. But it gets extremely cold here during the winter. The past four or five winters we’ve had week long blizzards and snowstorms where you get snow coming all the way up to your knees. It can be that bad. It gets extremely cold here. It’s reached easily the low 20’s. Probably even lower than that. I don’t always check but it gets extremely cold here. Cold enough for even the little bit of water from the sprinklers or something to freeze. So, it gets extremely cold here and you’d be surprised how chilling this desert can get.

These heaters have been very helpful for people. Because it definitely doesn’t stay doesn’t stay too hot year round. If that was the case, maybe we need to find a way to have makeshift some some air conditioners for people to take around with them.

TFSR: You were saying that when you started out you started with four heaters that you were distributing. If you had your druthers and just had a constant supply, about how many do you think you’d be able to distribute? Just out of curiosity do you think there’s such a thing as like a saturation level with heater distro? Like a point where you would get enough of them handed out that people just wouldn’t have needs for them? Or do they get destroyed during the Sweeps are broken or stolen?

ZJ: That’s probably the number one problem is that they they do get broken a lot. The jars break, the flowerpots break, the cages gets smashed, because honestly they take a lot of space. People who have to carry a whole bunch of stuff already as it is, having to carry something else is cumbersome. It can be inconvenient but people who who will prioritize that, they will carry them around or they’ll stash them somewhere where they know they can come back and get them in there will still be there.

I’d say from February to the end of winter we handed out 10 dozen heaters total. And this winter we’ve already started with 10 dozen, we’ve already passed out 10 dozen and we’re reaching the end of our supplies. We haven’t been able to bring in any more donations so far. But, I think with all that being said, and the reality of how fragile the heaters can be, I don’t think there will ever come a point where we can stop, where there won’t be a need to pass them out anymore. They do get broken in sweeps, they do get broken just from moving or even just being there, being clumsy or something they do get broken.

If people were able to hold on to them, or even just some of the components would make it a whole lot easier for us to be able to get supplies or even save. If people were able to hold on to them, it would be a whole lot easier. That’s just not something that’s within possibility. It’s just too difficult out there.

TFSR: Yeah. The ingredients that put these together in bulk, like making 10 dozen, it sounds like a lot of money, but if each individual one is not that expensive, at least replacing them, and especially if folks are getting together collaboratively to make those replacements and distribute them then that takes a lot of the weight off of it.

So yeah, we started talking about this because y’all are doing that fundraiser and I was hoping to hear your experiences with this sort of work especially as the temperatures start dropping, but also to help you sort of like amplify the the fundraiser. Can you talk about like what kind of goals you have for the fundraiser and what amounts of material or how many you think that that initial fundraising goal would would make? Or is it just kind of raise what you can and do what you can with it?

ZJ: Yeah, raise what we can to do what we can with it. I’m not the ABQ Heater Bloc handler, I just work as the distributor. They haven’t set at an actual cap for donation amounts I guess. Basically get what we can and work with it. If you break them down, they come down to $11 a heater. All in all it’s not very expensive. It’s pretty inexpensive. That’s how we were able to make so many and push out so many last winter alone in such a short amount of time, and how we were able to put out the same amount in just as short amount of time this winter so far.

TFSR: I’m gonna put it in the show notes and link to your your social media presence and YouTube channel and also the ABQ Heater Bloc – But do you happen to have offhand the information about where listeners can donate in case they’re just listening to this?

ZJ: So you can donate to a ABQ Heater Blocs Venmo that’s @ABQHeaterBloc

TFSR: Where can people go to learn more about these projects and find your YouTube channel? If they’re in the area, are you looking for folks to get involved in either of those projects? Either in the neighborhood Mutual Aid project or in the Heater Bloc?

ZJ: Oh, absolutely. So you can find ABQ Heater Bloc on Twitter: @ABQHeaterBloc, you find them on Instagram: @ABQHeaterBloc. You can find my YouTube channel: It’s Controversial!! with Zechariah jazz. I’m also on Facebook: It’s controversial!! with Zechariah jazz. That’s also where you can find my Mutual Aid Project: Hope 4 Tha Hood. Anybody in the area who’s listening… we could definitely use more people that want to get involved. More feet on the streets equals more heaters were able to get out to people. We put together build parties when we do have the funds to be able to hold them. That’s how we were able to just make 10 dozen heaters this winter in such a short amount of time. Yeah, we have built parties. That’s pretty much it.

I could always use help personally with my Hope 4 Tha Hood project out here because it is just me in that project. I’m not very good with social media outreach, all that stuff. Getting donations has been a mountain to climb as it is. I think I’ve gotten like one $15 donation so far. So it’s been kind of rocky still even then, I do what I can on my own with my own funds. Even then just if I’m not able to provide the things that I want too, just a cigarette here and there, $1 here and there, give them a free drink at the gas station or something. It means everything to them. So any help anybody in the area wants to provide is more than welcome.

TFSR: Well, thanks a lot, again, for the short notice and being willing to chat with me and share this information with the audience. And good luck.

ZJ: Thank you so much. And I appreciate you having me. I couldn’t be more grateful.

Chicago Heater Bloc Transcription

Tom: I’m Tom, He/Him is fine, and I’m from Chicago. I live on the northwest side, sort of.

TFSR: I was excited to ask you about this project that you’ve been embarking on, which is the construction of small, portable, and inexpensive heaters. I wonder if you could talk a bit about them, like what they’re made of and what inspired you to get involved in creating these?

b Yeah, so I just saw it on an Instagram post that someone had shared to their story. Actually, the headline said, “Anarchists are building these heaters for homeless people.” And I was like, “Okay, I can I can do that. That sounds cool.” Thankfully someone had linked it, I done think the poster had it yet, I believe it was Heater Bloc NYC who has a link in their bio to a Google Drive document that outlines everything about them.

They’re just little heaters that run on alcohol. There’s a ton of info in this Google Drive that you can find pretty easily. The good thing about alcohol is that there’s no dangerous fumes, in that sense, they’re very good for tents. Basically it’s a jar with a little copper coil coming out of it. Then that is surrounded by a wire fencing mesh to hold up a ceramic pot, which will get very hot and radiate heat. Then all of that is just on a plate.

They’re pretty safe if you turn them sideways, if they fall over or something, they go out. The way it works is that the copper heats up and then it… I don’t know if atomizers is the right word, but it makes the liquid alcohol into a gas and then that comes out a little hole in the bottom of the copper coil, which lights and then kind of continues the whole process itself.

So that’s how you light them. It can take a while but you just hold the lighter to the copper until it starts vaporizing and comes out the hole, and then it’ll continue that process.

TFSR: So, it’s got that little clay pot on the top of it that heats up and radiates. It sounds like a small open flame that’s involved in this, that I imagine is somewhat protected by that flower pot, but is there much chance of burning or setting fire to a tent or something like that?

Tom: I think the worst thing that could happen would be burning yourself on the pot, or melting part of a plastic tent or a blanket or something. The pot does get very hot. If it tipped over the flame would go out. I don’t think the pot would be so hot as to ignite a flame, but it would certainly burn you or probably melt something. So you do have to be kind of careful.

On the plate, you just make a weird sun shape with caulk just to keep everything from sliding around too much. I’ve thought about ways to hold it down on the bottom, but you want to be able to lift the pot from the metal part because that doesn’t get too hot. The pot is very hot. So if you have to refill it or put it out, you’d want to take that off and then you could grab the jar.

TFSR: Does it take experience or any special tools to work on the copper? Did you have any experience before?

Tom: Not particularly. I have some experience in metalworking. It can be difficult to bend the copper around. You have to have some leverage to it. It’s much easier if you have some tools and a vice. But I didn’t have super easy access to that kind of stuff the first time I made them and I was able to make 12 or so. I’ve been trying to make some light fixtures and stuff to make it a little easier.

The copper is kind of tricky. If you just Google ‘”alcohol jet burner “you can find them. It’s kind of interesting they have a different twist in the copper tubing. Which in theory, you could use a little bit less material and therefore get more out of whatever you buy from the store. But I made one like that and it wasn’t really working. Copper is not that hard to bend, but it’s not like super easy either. I’ve had to help with some pliers to really twist it and get it tighter around whatever you’re using to bend it around. It’s supposed to be about and inch so if you find something that’s an inch in diameter you can use that.

You have to be careful not to kink it. Part of the directions is filling the copper with salts and taping off the ends because that will keep it from kinking.

TFSR: Like a pixie stick!

Tom: Yeah.

TFSR: So overall, could you give a guesstimate of if someone gets this method of making it down pretty well what it would cost to create one of just one of these devices?

Tom: That is on the Google doc. I think it’s about $7, but that can vary certainly. Inflation will affect that and as well as your local prices, or if you’re able to buy in bulk too. I was looking at the bigger roll of the metal mesh and it was like $87 or something. Which is kind of steep, but obviously you would get a lot out of that. That is like the most effective way to get the most out of your money there. So it just kind of depends what you’re what you’re able to put into it. But I think seven was the rounded answer there.

TFSR: It’s just like rubbing alcohol? Or what kind of alcohol would you have to put in it?

Tom: Yeah, Isopropyl alcohol. You can get like 70%, 80%. I’m not 100%, it seems kind of weird, but I guess the rest of the 10% or 30& or whatever it is just like water. So if you keep refilling that there will be a little bit of water that doesn’t burn and you have to empty that out of the jar. You can even use hand sanitizer. I think the lower grade there is or if there’s some type of scent in it or something, it’ll cause more soot. As they do, they get a little bit sooty. You should wipe them down after they cool off.

You can use denatured alcohol which burns very hot. You can cook over them too. It would probably be better with denatured alcohol. Those flames can get a little crazy. I think if you know you’re going to use that you can drill a smaller hole in the copper and it works a little better that way. You probably won’t know if you’re going to use that. That’s a little harder. Not hard, but I think it’s more expensive and like a little more specialty than some type of rubbing alcohol.

TFSR: You could probably just have a couple of different coils that you would use for different purposes potentially. It’s like way cheaper than a camping stove.

Tom: Yeah, that’s true. I have a little backpacking aluminum stove that runs on denatured alcohol that is pretty cool. So I can attest to that burning very hot. It’s weird. It’s totally a clear flame in the daylight. It’s kind of freaky because you don’t even know it’s burning.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of how many hours of burning denatured alcohol or just say rubbing alcohol you could get off something like that?

Tom: Yeah, this doc is actually very thorough. All this stuff is in here. I can’t say I’ve read every word of it or anything, but there is a lot of information here. I think they tell you to use eight ounce jars in this, but I think most of the other Heater Blocs that I follow on Instagram… I started the Chicago one, it’s just Heater Bloc Chicago, Heater Bloc Dallas, Heater Bloc NYC, Philly, stuff like that. I think most people have started making it with the 16 ounce jars. I think it says on here that an eight ounce one can burn from six to eight hours or something in that ballpark. It might have even been a little less. I want to say it seemed like it wouldn’t necessarily be a full night. So maybe it would be better to use a bigger one. But you know, the bigger jars are just as easy if not easier to find. I think. So I think it’s around seven or eight hours.

TFSR: Are there any lessons that you’ve specifically learned while doing this? I think you said at one point that you had made your own tools that were kind of specialized for the curving of the copper, right?

Tom: A little bit. Yeah, I think that one needs a little work. But it’s just a dowel. A couple of them screwed close together so that you can get some leverage on it and you have the right size piece right there. I made a little thing for the lids of the jars to put something on top of it and then the holes are setup so you know right where to drill it. I haven’t gotten around to it, but I do plan on posting pictures to the Instagram account if anyone wants to see what I’m talking about or copy it or whatever.

The first ones I made I stuck through the jar lid a little too far. I was using the wider and shorter eight ounce jars and I had them full of the alcohol and I think if the copper sticks down too far it starts sucking out liquid a little bit. I think it creates a vacuum in there. The first time I lit it I was like, “Oh, cool it’s working.” Then all of a sudden the whole top of the jar was on fire and I had done it inside and was like, “Oh no” and I took it outside. I was talking to my roommates and was like, “Yeah, I mean, it says tent safe but this isn’t looking so great.” But then once it burned off a little bit, it was much more reasonable, more of what I expected.

So I learned that you don’t want to stick those in too far. Although with the taller jars, bigger jars, it’s less of an issue, because you don’t have to fill it quite as full. Not that you have to, but again with the eight ounce jar, it probably would only burn for four or five hours or something especially if it’s not all the way full because you put the copper in too far. So you have to be a little careful with that.

TFSR: It’s okay if you don’t have an answer to this because I just thought of it. I’ve been listening to a recent episode of “Live Like the World Is Dying” which is a podcast that Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness does, it’s a project that Margaret Killjoy’s involved with. She was talking at one point about candle heaters that people were promoting, which was some idea of basically making a lid with a pot over a candle and the idea that the candle heat would then be radiated more equally. Once it hits that clay surface instead of just going mostly up, it would radiate out to the sides more. She was talking about how it was definitely not safe for tents. Also the idea that it was amplifying somehow didn’t make sense with thermodynamics, but have you heard about those sorts of devices? Are people talking about those?

Tom: No. That’s interesting. It does seem like there’s just not enough fuel there to really heat it enough. Off the top of my head it seems a little strange. But I do think if you heat up a pot it will radiate heat in the same way that these do. So, you know, maybe?

TFSR: Let’s see… I know that you were able to construct a few of them at a time and you’ve been talking about getting better bulk supplies of ingredients for them, have you had much luck with distributing them? Or do you have any notes for folks who maybe don’t live in a city that has an Instagram page that’s called Heater Bloc, or if someone’s living in a place that gets cold in the winter and they maybe have the resources and the time to devote to something like this and maybe them made a couple of friends can make these? Do you have any suggestions on how to get them into people’s hands?

Tom: I’ve only given them out to a couple encampments. I would say that’s something I struggle with. I’m just not a very outgoing person. But you know, everyone has been very receptive of them if you just come up and give them to them and explain it. I actually just got a nice torch. I saw one of the Instagrams, they had it. They are lighting them much, much faster. I had some issues with that, just trying to show them how it works and not being able to get it lit because it was cold outside and windy. Then one of them took it in their tent and was like, “Oh, yeah, this is cool.” But if I had that torch there would be like, “There you go. You see what to do. You can do with a lighter, it just takes a little longer.”

But yeah, as far as the bulk stuff goes. So you can get a lot of this, the copper tubing is common in refrigerator type stuff. They were actually almost out the first time I got it, so you might have to go to a couple stores or something. They had a 10 foot coil, which is not too expensive. I think it might have only been like $10 or something. I found it online for like 25 feet or something that was a little better. If you can do bulk, you can save money, but there’s still not too expensive. If you just have to buy enough to make a handful or something.

The plates too. I haven’t quite tested them yet, but I just got some super cheap aluminum ones that are a little bit flimsy, but they’re not the foil ones. They didn’t seem quite as good as I thought they’d be. I was thinking I might throw some caulk in one and smush two of them together and see if that comes out better, because the plates can be expensive. If you find them at a thrift store or something that’s cool. But if you buy new plates, they are nothing fancy or anything, but they still can be kind of pricey.

TFSR: You mentioned a few resources like that Google Doc and that there are Instagram pages for groups in different parts of the so-called US that are making and distributing and teaching about these. Are there any other resources that people might find useful if they’re going to be doing this? Do you want to re-shout out any of those projects in Philly or elsewhere?

Tom: I do. I heard Philly and I think Spokane on a podcast. It doesn’t look like Spokane has an Instagram. Then of course, I mentioned Heater Bloc NYC, they’re the ones that I got the Doc from. It’s also in the Heater Bloc Chicago bio now as well. I don’t exactly know what to call them, but I guess you just call them the alcohol stove, or burner, or something, or alcohol jet burner. I saw that somewhere. You can buy them online and if you look that up. There’s quite a few videos on how to make them. Like I said, there’s a lot of info in the Doc too, about fuels and stuff like that, which can be helpful, but I’m sure these videos run through the whole process pretty quickly. It might be easier for people to learn from.

TFSR: Well, thanks a lot for taking the time to have this conversation. I appreciate it. And thanks for doing that work. It’s been really awesome. This is The Final Straw Radio and you just heard Tom from Chicago Heater Bloc on constructing inexpensive alcohol heaters for houseless folks as temperatures drop.

Certain Days Calendar Transcription

TFSR: So I’m joined by Josh Davidson of the Certain Days Calendar project to speak about this year’s installment. Thank you so much for coming back, Josh.

Josh Davidson: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.

TFSR: Would you mind telling listeners a little bit about yourself?

JD: Yes, sure. I’m an abolitionist involved in the Certain Days Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar Collective. I’ve been doing that for a number of years now. I’m also a member of the children’s art project, CAP, with political prisoner Oso Blanco, and I’m currently writing a book with political prisoner and anarchist Eric King, where we interview current and former political prisoners about their lives inside. In addition to that, I work at the Zinn Education Project where we provide radical people’s history to teachers and people around the world.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Thank you so much, again, for joining us. In case any listeners don’t know about Oso Blanco or about Eric, would you mind giving a little rundown of their cases?

JD: Yeah, absolutely. Oso Blanco is an indigenous political prisoner. He’s been in prison since the late 90s. He is imprisoned for a number of expropriations, of bank robberies that he did, where he sent all the money to the Zapatistas in the Chiapas area of Mexico. He’s still in prison today in some of the harshest federal prisons in the country. He wanted to come up with the idea of using indigenous artwork from people in prison to support the Zapatistas. So what we did was create cards, greeting cards and shirts with this artwork. All the money raised goes to children and people with the Zapatistas.

TFSR: Oso Blanco is Cherokee, right?

JD: Yes, true. And Eric King is an anarchist and Anti Fascist political prisoner who’s going on 10 years in prison now. He’s expected to be released in a little over a year. He was in prison for a politically motivated act of property destruction following the police murder of Michael Brown in 2014. Yeah, yeah, that’s about it.

TFSR: So for listeners who don’t know the project, could you describe Certain Days? This is the 22nd year of its publication, is that right?

JD: Yeah, the 2023 calendar will be our 22nd calendar. So it’s been around since just after the turn of the century. It’s a joint fundraising and educational project between outside organizers around the country and in Canada, and political prisoners held within the US.

It originally started with former Black Panthers: Herman Bell and Robert Seth Hayes, and white anti imperialist political prisoner: David Gilbert. This is the first year where we can actually say that all of our founding members are no longer in prison. Herman and Seth were released a few years ago, and David was released last year. So our only current inside member is Xinachtli, who’s a Chicano political prisoner imprisoned in Texas.

But every year, we create this beautiful calendar which has 12 pieces of art and 12 essays, and tons of other radical things, including radical dates throughout each month. We promote and sell these calendars to raise money for those locked inside.

TFSR: It’s really a pity that this is an audio only format for sharing this because it’s such a beautiful calendar. I know that y’all have been going through the archives and pulling old editions and selling those off at a discounted rate, right?

JD: Yeah, yeah, you can get those. You can follow us on social media and find those or email us. It’s really great to see the progression of the calendar over the last 20 some years, but also just the beautiful artwork and things like that. Some people have shared pictures where they just cover their walls with the artwork from all the years and it’s really beautiful, breathtaking.

TFSR: Yeah, I’ve used it as president packaging before, wrapping paper. It’s really startling how beautiful some of the imagery is. That way, you’re kind of giving someone just a little taste of some of the dates too, maybe. Maybe seeing it around their birthday or something like that.

So you mentioned that the remaining collective member that’s still behind bars is Xinachtli. I mentioned in the announcements for last week show that there’s going to be a rally coming up in Austin at the University of Texas to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the political assassination or the death by incarceration of Ricardo Flores Magón that Central Texas Anarchist Black Cross is helping to coordinate with Xinachtli’s Defense Committee and that they’re also using that as an opportunity to have a vigil for Xinachtli and call for his release.

JD: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It sounds like an amazing event down there. And Xinachtli has been deeply involved in that for a number of years.

TFSR: And you’ve got folks who are on the outside, we’ve had you and Daniel and Sarah in the past speaking. Y’all still have the cross border collaboration in the the outside portions of the collective?

JD: Yeah, yeah, we do. It’s kind of expanded in the last year or so. We’ve added a few new members that are helping out. One in Canada and a few in the US. That’s been really helpful to kind of get that new breath of fresh air into the collective and new ideas and things like that. Hopefully that comes across in the new calendar.

TFSR: What projects are benefiting from the sale of the calendars this year?

JD: So, money raised during the sale of the 2022 calendars is going to the group: Release Aging People in Prison, RAPP, based out of New York, that helps get aging people and others out of prison in the state of New York. This is a really progressive and amazing group. We also supplied some funds to the Mutulu Shakur legal support team. As most people know, Mutulu Shakur is battling late stage cancer and is not expected to live for many more months, but the federal government still refuses to release him. We also provided funding to the Sundiata Acoli release fund. Sundiata was finally released after 50 years in prison. I believe he is living with family and getting along well so far. We also provided funding to the Palestinian Youth Movement, the Puget Sound Prisoner Support Coalition, and Decarcerate Illinois, and several other organizations. Every year we provide funding to different groups in need, and that are on the frontlines of this battle.

TFSR: Besides the projects that you all are helping to support through the sale, I know various groups are able to buy bulk copies and benefit their own initiatives by selling copies that cover price, right?

JD: Yeah, thank you for bringing that up. It’s a really great additional thing that we do. The calendars retail for $15 each. But if your group or organization wants to buy them and raise awareness and funds on your behalf, you can buy 10 or more for $10 each and then save that $5 For your own projects to raise funds for your own efforts.

TFSR: Can you talk about the work to get copies of the calendar through prison bars?

JD: Yeah, sure. That is something unfortunately that has gotten more difficult as the years progressed. We send calendars inside to 1000’s of people every year. We also sponsor copies, so if you want to send a copy in to someone inside, you can go to our website CertainDays.org and sponsor a copy for less, for $8 a copy to someone inside. But both federally and in several states, it has become much more difficult to get calendars in to prisoners. The reasons vary. Sometimes it’s because it’s a calendar. And then they’re not allowed to have calendars for some reason. Sometimes it’s because of the writing or the art, although we always do keep that in mind and try to have as radical and amazing art as possible, but knowing that it’s something that we will be trying to get inside of prisons. Sometimes we just print off PDFs of just the artwork and the essays and not send the calendar dates and somehow that makes it in. But it is an ongoing struggle to be able to get this calendar and books and just things in general to people locked up.

TFSR: So if folks are thinking about getting copies or sponsoring additions to go behind bars, where can they order some?

JD: Sure, yeah, there’s plenty of places. The best place to go a CertainDays.org and from there we have a page where you can find all the local bookstores. It’s a great to support your local bookstore. So if you have one near you that sells the calendar, that’s the place to go. If not, beg and annoy your local bookstore to start carrying the calendar. You can also go to BurningBooks.com and they have amazing radical books that you can get along with the calendar. Also AK press, Left Wing Books, a few other places like that.

TFSR: I guess Left Wing Books is especially good if you’re north of the border in so-called Canada, right?

JD: Correct. Yep.

TFSR: Well, cool. Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to talk about?

JD: There’s plenty to talk about. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to just shout out some of the amazing contributors from the 2023 calendar. We had some really great people this year. Collective member, David Gilbert wrote a beautiful and moving piece about his partner Kathy Boudin, who, who died in May. Ed Mead of the George Jackson Brigade wrote a really beautiful piece about Bo Brown, a GJB member who died also this year. There’s a beautiful piece by Noel Hanrahan about Mumia, there’s a great piece by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, and also by Cindy Milstein, and then there’s some just really beautiful art this year as well. So, I hope people pick up a copy and check it out.

TFSR: That’s awesome. You can see examples of some of that at CertainDays.org

JD: And on all of our social media, if you don’t follow us, be sure to follow us there and we’ll let you know the best way to get the calendar and all the new places it’s available.

TFSR: Do you have any updates on the situation, where Eric King is at? People may recall that you and I spoke some months back about Eric’s situation and how despite winning a federal lawsuit or despite successfully challenging charges of assault on an officer against a “Bad Lieutenant,” if you will, in the Bureau of Prisons, he’s been getting diesel therapy around a bit. Can you talk about where he’s at right now and what his mail status is and any other situation?

JD: yeah, absolutely. I’m happy to say that he is getting mail and able to send mail. As you said, prior to his case, he had been going through hell and shipped around the country. He’d been in solitary confinement for four years, over four years, I believe. This is all for an act of property destruction in which no one was harmed or anything like that.

He was found not guilty in this case of abuse against the guard. He’s a medium level prisoner, meaning he shouldn’t be in the strictest of prisons, but after this court victory, he was sent to Florence ADMAX, administrative maximum. That is the most supermax prison in the country, the harshest, the most secure, the most guarded. He is there now. He is basically in a cell for 23 hours a day. There’s double doors, but he is able to get mail and books. His support team just received a letter from him the other day, and by the time this airs everything will be up on his website. There’s a new poem, a new book list where you can send him books, and a whole bunch of really new stuff from him about being in Ad Max and his hopes for when he gets out in about a year.

So I highly recommend writing him, checking him out if you haven’t already. His website is SupportEricKing.org. He’s a great person to write to. He’s all over the place. He’s got many interests. He’s got YouTube playlists of his favorite songs and I highly recommend writing to him, or to any of the people locked inside today.

TFSR: Well, cool. Josh, thanks so much for taking the time to have this conversation. Thanks for all the work that you do.

JD: Yeah, for sure. Thank you.

TFSR: Just to note on the thing that Josh had said, when he was mentioning that Dr. Mutulu Shakur was still fighting to be released and suffering from bone cancer. Dr. Shakur has been scheduled to be released to the outside, he still has what appears to be a terminal case of bone marrow cancer that he’s been suffering with since 2019. But you know, we’re very happy to hear that he’s going to be coming out. You should be able to still make donations to his support committee and I’m sure that they could use that money to help cover the cost of medical care and such while he’s on the outside via PayPal to the address Mutulu Shakur@hotmail.com. You can keep up on updates on his case at Mutulu Shakur.com. Free them all.

Stop Camp Grayling!

Stop Camp Grayling!

"End Camp Grayling, Liquidate The Settler Colony" cut with a picture of a burning vehicle
Download This Episode

This week on The Final Straw, we’re sharing a chat that Scott had with Smirk, Wink & Nudge of the Stop Camp Grayling Offensive, an anarchist effort to oppose the doubling expansion of the largest military base on Turtle Island, based in so-called Michigan. For the hour, the militants talk about the ecological, social, economic and other potential impacts of expanding the military industrial complex and this counterinsurgency training ground in particular.

You can learn more at twitter.com/GraylingCamp or instagram.com/stop_camp_grayling, burning humvee featuring the words below: STOP CAMP GRAYLING midwest(ish) tour: • 11/7 Ann Arbor, MI @ U of M, 3512 Haven Hall 5pm; • 11/9 Minneapolis, MN @ he Landing Strip, 2614 30th Ave 7pm • 11/10 Migizi @ TBA • 11/11 Chicago, IL @ 6900 N Glenwood Ave in Rogers Park 7pm • 11/13 Cleveland, OH 11/14 @ Rhizome House 2174 Lee Road 7pm • 11/14 Pittsburgh, PA @ TBA • 11/15 Philadelphia, PA @ Grays Ferry Crescent Skatepark 7pm • 11/16 Ashville, NC @ TBD • 11/17-18 Atlanta, GA @ Weelaunee Forest • 11/19 Bloomington, IN @ TBA • 11/20 Grand Rapids, MI @ TBA instagram: @stop_camp_grayling twitter: @graylingcamp ......... all out against empire, capital, and the war machine. all out against everything."soon at a blog they’ll be starting or on one of their upcoming info tours, with more information in our shownotes. There is also a zine, entitled “The Base Among The Pines: Notes on the Camp Grayling Expansion on Anishinabewaki” available at RiverValleyRevolt.NoBlogs.

This struggle consider itself in solidarity with the movement to #StopCopCity in so-called Atlanta.

STOP CAMP GRAYLING midwest(ish) tour:

  • 11/7 Ann Arbor, MI @ U of M, 3512 Haven Hall 5pm;
  • 11/9 Minneapolis, MN @ he Landing Strip, 2614 30th Ave 7pm;
  • 11/10 Migizi @ TBA;
  • 11/11 Chicago, IL @ 6900 N Glenwood Ave in Rogers Park 7pm;
  • 11/13 Cleveland, OH 11/14 @ Rhizome House 2174 Lee Road 7pm;
  • 11/14 Pittsburgh, PA @ TBA;
  • 11/15 Philadelphia, PA @ Grays Ferry Crescent Skatepark 7pm;
  • 11/16 Ashville, NC @ TBD;
  • 11/17-18 Atlanta, GA @ Weelaunee Forest;
  • 11/19 Bloomington, IN @ TBA;
  • 11/20 Grand Rapids, MI @ TBA;

Next Week…

Stay tuned next week for, hopefully, a segment on making inexpensive, alcohol heaters for surviving out of doors this winter & a conversation with Josh of the Certain Days: Freedom For Political Prisoners Calendars collective about the 2023 edition, now off the presses!

Announcements

Remember Ricardo Flores Magón! Free Xinachtli!

If you’re in the Austin, Texas, area, on November 21st, on the 100th anniversary of the death of Mexican anarchist communist and revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon in Leavenworth Prison, there’ll be a remembrance vigil for RFM as well as a solidarity rally for political prisoner Xinachtli (state name Alvaro Luna Hernandez) at 12 noon at the University of Texas campus, corner stairway entry at 24th & Guadalupe Streets. This event is sponsored by Central Texas Anarchist Black Cross and “Xinachtli Defense Committee.” More info at freealvaro.net! And you can hear our past broadcast of Xinachtli talking about his case at our website.

Solidarity with Alfredo Cospito’s Hunger Strike

Solidarity actions with Alfredo Cospito’s hunger strike against protest banner hung from crane outside La Scala opera house in Milan reading "41 bis = Torture" in Italianconfinement in 41 bis conditions in Italy continue, including the taking up of the method by anarchist prisoners Juan Sorroche Fernandez and Ivan Alocco, the arson of autos owned by subsidiaries of prison profiteers in Berlin and Leipzig, and the occupation of a crane outside the famous Opera theater in Milan, La Scala, who are today holding a rally against the 41 bis prison regime and in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners. You can learn more about Cospito and his struggle from our recent episode on the subject.

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Transcription

TFSR: I’m really happy to be talking today about what’s going on at Camp Grayling. And first off, would you be able to introduce yourselves with whatever name you want to use, pronouns, and associations are that you want to share.

Smirk: I am Smirk. I use she/her pronouns, and I’m with the Stop Camp Grayling Offensive.

Wink: Hi, I’m Wink, I use she/her pronouns, and I’m with the Stop Camp Grayling Offensive.

Nudge: Hi, I’m Nudge, I use she/they pronouns, and I am also with the Camp Grayling Offensive.

TFSR: Great, thank you so much for being here and talking with us today. Just to give a little bit of background, can you describe what Camp Grayling is and the expansion that you’re trying to block?

N: Yeah. Camp Grayling is the largest military base on Turtle Island. And they’re looking to expand it to twice its size. On the base, they will be testing and training new surveillance warfare, space warfare, counterinsurgency, and new autonomous vehicles. Right now, it threatens two major watersheds and is now entering a whole other one. It’s devastating at all of its intersections.

W: Currently, all branches of the military train at Camp Grayling, also local and state law enforcement trains at Camp Grayling. And currently, but also with the expansion, it is planned to have paramilitary and private weapons manufacturers train and test their weapons at Camp Grayling. And with the expansion that will also be expanded.

TFSR: How does Camp Grayling compare to other training sites? I’m thinking of the action to Stop Cop City in Atlanta, for example. And then also, I’m wondering about the National Guard because, in the zine that y’all put together, you talk specifically about the National Guard using that land and what their history is.

N: I think that definitely our struggle is really connected to a Cop City struggle. They used to base to train state police and to train specifically in counterinsurgency. The National Guard is the oldest wing of the so-called US military. And their legacy is to basically establish new settler colonies and to enforce law and order. They aided in Western expansion and the systematic genocide of indigenous folks since its inception and have gone on to suppress strikes and any insurgent movement that has come up in the so-called United States. In so-called Michigan, they’ve been deployed against striking workers, and have been deployed multiple times in reaction to responses to state violence and murder against black folks, namely, in Benton Harbor, and during the Detroit riots [of 1968].

TFSR: Given the history of the use of Camp Grayling for counterinsurgency and violent repression of uprisings, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you see at play in the expansion and how it extends the forces of the Empire and the state and fascism or any other connections you might draw?

S: Yeah, definitely. As we mentioned, a lot of surveillance and counterinsurgent technologies are already tested at Camp Grayling and used by the so-called United States all across the world. And with the expansion specifically, we’ve heard that they’re hoping to further test, specifically, surveillance tech. A lot of the same technology that has been tested at Camp Grayling was used during the 2020 uprising. And we’re also seeing an increase in interest in autonomous vehicles, and specifically, the application of autonomous vehicles in urban warfare environments, which we can only guess what that might mean.

TFSR: In the zine that y’all put together, you make some really important connections between what the US military is doing and rising fascism around the world. Specifically one of the connections you draw is with a Latvian military. And I’m just wondering if you would talk a little bit about these webs of power that you see and what Camp Grayling’s role is in that.

S: The Michigan National Guard has had a pretty close relationship with the Latvian military for I want to say a couple of decades, I don’t know for sure. And the Latvian military will come to so-called Michigan, often to train at Camp Grayling, specifically, during the Northern Strike Exercises, which are this giant conglomeration of different militaries from around the world that come to so-called Michigan to train and to do this big joint training exercise. It’s a show of force. And something that I think is really interesting is the proximity that Latvia has to the war in so-called Ukraine, and how one of the reasons that military officials are claiming to want the Camp Grayling expansion is because of so-called Michigan’s similarities in natural terrain and climates to Eastern Europe. And so it seems very timely that as all of this money and weaponry is being funneled into so-called Ukraine, they’re wanting to expand a military base that has close ties to other far-right countries in the area, as well as to weather out climate collapse and creating these fascist strongholds as we head into worse and worse weather. Yeah, I just think it’s really interesting timing, to be honest.

TFSR: It’s telling to me too that the way that they are comparing terrains that – I don’t know if you all have thoughts on this – but I wonder to what extent the military is thinking strategically, in one way that might be different than the government is doing in other ways, but there’s definitely these fascist connections between the Armed Forces of different countries. That just stood out to me, the thought that they’re thinking about how the terrains are comparable in fighting against popular forces.

S: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s to train people, and soldiers and also to test weapons and specific weather conditions. So it’s not just people that they’re sending into these other territories. It’s weaponry and vehicles and stuff like that, too. So there’s this also direct tie to capitalist industry within the military-industrial complex.

TFSR: Right. It’s also Camp Grayling is made available to privatized security forces for their training and testing.

S: Yep, exactly.

TFSR: So in the writing that you all have, you mentioned this name, which again, is them telling us something – National All-Domain Warfighting Center. Is that a separate thing from Camp Grayling as a military training site? That name really sticks out to me.

S: Yeah, it is not separate. It is the same thing. However, it is a different entity. The NADWC, which was started in 2021. And it basically operates as this interface within the National Guard to have private companies come in and have their new products tested using Camp Grayling facilities and personnel. What they advertise is that, say, you’re making an EMP gun for a wild example, you would contact the NADWC and you have actual soldiers experiment and test the weapons or accessories or vehicles that you’re hoping to manufacture on a mass scale. And then it also grants you connections to the military. So once everything passes inspection and you’ve created a weapon that is acceptable for the United States military, then you have the connections to secure a contract with entities like the Air Force or the Marines or the Navy or the army. Or the National Guard itself.

TFSR: Do you think that there’s a difference in the way that this attempted expansion would be received publicly, given this more military focus – even though you said that they train police there – than something that’s more police-affiliated, like in Atlanta? Just given the different kinds of attitudes that people have towards the military versus the police?

S: Yeah, I do think it would be received differently. Something very interesting is that people that live around the base are very pro-military, but they’re also pro-outdoor sportsmanship. So a lot of people are actually against the expansion, but they’re not anti-military. And they make that very clear. There are certain instances where they do tie in the police to that. But I think that because it’s the military people are more willing to say “no”, but it’s also out of this patriotism that “no” comes from? I don’t know, it’s really interesting. I’m not the best at articulating it.

TFSR: Yeah, that is very interesting. When you said that they support the military, but then feel may be more able to say “no”, in a way, that just points out something different. Because whatever the police are doing in terms of getting more budgets or more weapons or more training spaces, they pose it as this impending necessity for keeping us safe in our homeland or whatever. Whereas the military, I guess, there’s a little bit more space that they’re like “do we have to be doing this here in our backyard, where we enjoy hunting?” or whatever they’re doing there.

S: Exactly, exactly.

TFSR: Would you talk a little bit more about the usage of this Camp Grayling training space by police and prison officials?

S: Totally. As we’ve said, a lot of technologies that police and prisons employ are tested at Camp Grayling. It also has a Law Enforcement Training Center that I think the Michigan State Police actually headed on. And it’s called the Combined Armed Collective Training Facility. And they actually do have a mock city within the Camp Grayling base already, so Cop City already exists there. And also the National Guard and the state police do joint training exercises all the time. I think they’ve been doing that for a couple of decades. A lot of those training exercises focus on counterinsurgents. In some propaganda that we’ve found, we saw that they actually hire black actors to play protesters for the National Guard and the state police to do whatever they do with.

TFSR: Wow, that’s telling. It’s like they keep saying what they’re up to us.

What is the connection with the prison industrial complex? Is there training for guards there, too?

W: Yes, with the Law Enforcement Training Center, all sorts of different branches of law enforcement train there: firefighters, EMTs, and correction officers that will work in prisons and jails as well.

N: And also, the piggyback on this too, the area around the expansion has been used to develop extensively these massive detention centers beyond Camp Grayling. This bio-region is a massive center for carceral infrastructure. And the intersections with the detention center in Baldwin and these other mega prisons around the state feels really important.

S: And on top of all that, there is also a juvenile detention facility located within the area that Camp Grayling actually currently occupies. It’s called the Shawano School, and they are a maximum-security youth detention center that focuses mostly on youth that has histories of problems with sexual behavior and drug crimes. They are known to be one of the facilities with the highest rates of sexual assault on the youth by the staff of any facility in the so-called United States.

TFSR: So they’re locking people up for their supposed problems that they’re then subjecting them to inside.

S: Yes.

TFSR: I don’t think we talked about geographically where Camp Grayling is in relation to Detroit and some of the other cities in Michigan. Could you talk a little bit about what its relationship is to the urban areas?

N: Yeah, definitely. This expansive area is very far away from other urban centers in the so-called Michigan. It’s in a region that is dubbed “Up North”. And it’s mostly historically state forest lands and forests. So it’s probably 2.5 hours north of the nearest city and the more urbanized area of so-called Michigan.

TFSR: So given that, maybe we can turn to talking about the environmental impact of campaigning, which you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation. Thinking about this as a State forest, and also the relationship that it has to the more urban areas. So first, what is the environmental impact of Camp Graying now, and what do you think would happen with the expansion, but also the way that this land is maybe being seen as productive for industry, too?

W: It’s important, first of all, to say that the land that is what the expansion would be is controlled by the DNR [Department of Natural Resources] and that the DNR is working on a land use agreement with the National Guard, in which the DNR would lease the land to the National Guard for free.

Everyone knows that the US military is the largest polluter on our earth. They emit more carbon annually than most countries do. They are historically known for dramatic habitat decrease and pollution, biodiversity losses, and all sorts of just horrible horrible impacts on our environment. Specifically in Camp Grayling, and also in military training centers in general, due to the repeated acts of what training is and what training does military bases and training centers are among the most polluted areas of our Earth. And Camp Grayling is no different.

One of the main pollutants that have been found in Camp Grayling, and it’s not been very long, it’s only been since 2016 that this issue has really become prevalent in the area, is PFAS. The groundwater PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They’re a group of manufactured chemicals that are found specifically in military bases, in something called aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which has been used as a fire extinguishing component, as well as to do all sorts of other things like dust suppression on the roads, or they spread it all over their vehicles because it is known to be resistant to water, heat, and oil. So Camp Grayling has used this aqueous film-forming foam, along with most other places in the country that train military since the 70’s. And it is full of PFAS. It’s really horrible shit. I’m sure some people have heard about forever chemicals. PFAS bioaccumulates in humans and non-humans over time. So this basically synthetic chemical compound just builds up in your bloodstream. And it’s been found in the groundwater in Grayling, and it is all over at one specific lake that is contained within the current boundaries of Camp Grayling called Lake Margareth. It’s fucked because there’s not a really good way to clean this out of the groundwater. And when you go to so-called Grayling in northern Michigan, everywhere you look there are streams, there’s wetlands, there’s rivers, it’s absolutely fucking beautiful there. But we know that the water is all connected. So, the so-called Michigan is located in an area that has access to 20% of the world’s freshwater in the so-called Great Lakes. And PFAS is just one, countless hazardous chemicals are released by the military every single fucking day. It’s going into the water. And the streams aren’t just staying in Grayling. They’re flowing from the wetlands into the streams into the rivers, which will eventually flow into both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which has been happening at least since the 1970’s.

Also, another fun fact, to tie capitalism into it, is that the military actually owns the patent to the aqueous film-forming foam and with the mega-corporation 3M worked to develop it. So anytime this foam is manufactured, the military actually is making money off of it as well.

TFSR: The state of Michigan has a bad reputation in terms of water and water quality, given the situation in Flint that got a lot of publicity. With this situation, is it a similar response in terms of a lack of concern for the people and the other living creatures having their water poisoned by these chemicals? Or is there anything that they’re doing?

W: Oh, yeah, I mean, the response was underwhelming, at best. The military has not taken any accountability. Why would they? But the people that live in so-called Grayling whose water has been affected by this, there’s really only a handful of individuals, I think it was 19 households that were able to receive remediation by the military. There are a couple of hundred households that have received water filters. Somehow, Camp Grayling got off the Superfund list. I don’t know how, because you can’t clean that shit up. It’s all just a little bit shady. There’s definitely an underwhelming response to the poisoning of the water in the area by the military 100%.

N: Can I add to that? The military solution to the PFAS problem is to discontinue firefighting foam, which is what they allude to as the big thing that’s causing the contamination. But really, this chemical is used and so many things that the military uses. So that solution is really inadequate.

TFSR: It just seems, as you were pointing out, the water doesn’t stay in one place. So these pretty minimal, stopgap measures to help people don’t really address a larger problem, or even acknowledge really that they’re creating this problem and it’s an ongoing situation.

You mentioned the Superfund site, would you just talk a little bit about what that means? And what it means that Camp Grayling isn’t one now?

W: Sure. I don’t know why Camp Grayling isn’t one now. But I do know that a Superfund site is anywhere that the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency decides is so heavily polluted and contaminated by toxic substances that it needs to be completely shut down for remediation purposes, and that resources need to be directed to that ASAP. Last I read, there are just over 1300 Superfund sites in the so-called United States. Over half of them are current or former military bases or training compounds, and then other places that you’re likely to see Superfund sites become factories or places where a lot of industrial waste was disposed of. Unfortunately, here in so-called Michigan, we have the highest concentration of Superfund sites of anywhere in the country. It’s really sad and disappointing, and it’s definitely a direct result of industrialization and capitalism.

TFSR: Given all the environmental impact that you just described, one might think that a tactic that could be applicable here would be one of saving the environment or conservation of some kind. Can you talk a little bit about that method, and also why you all are critical of that approach?

N: Definitely. The history of environmental justice work in so-called Michigan, at least in my lived experience, has been centered around conservation and doing “paper wrenching” as a method of resistance. Basically, there’s a narrative that the State believes and it demonstrates itself in social stratification and the way that capitalist society and exploitation and oppression look and that the State values some lives over others, and that some lives and interests are worth protecting over others. And this is definitely where most conservation narratives stem from. This is also where the tactic of “paper wrenching” feels inadequate and cringy to me.

TFSR: Can you explain what that “paper wrenching” means?

N: Yes, it fundamentally means that we’re using laws or rights that the state has told us exist and basically hold them accountable to those laws and rights. And we know that the State is not a fair or rational entity and that it ultimately exerts power however it wants to. And I think that appealing to rights and laws is something that is also just legitimizing State violence and oppression and legitimizing their worldview that aids all these oppressive structures.

S: Just to add on to that and how conservation legitimizes colonialism and extraction capitalism in this exact circumstance… As oil and gas resources were being discovered and that process was just beginning, there were these settler-conservationists fights over the Pigeon River State Forest, which is just a little north of so-called Grayling, which rests on top of this giant gas shale that we have underneath the peninsula. And there was this very drawn-out fight to prevent oil and gas drilling within the state forest land. As that fight came to a close, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs reached an agreement with oil and gas executives that said that they can drill within State Forest lands. So they conceded on the condition that some of the revenue gets put back into conservation efforts. As that trust developed, it became essentially a DNR fund. So, a lot of the reasons that there are state forests and nature preserves surrounding so-called Grayling are because of this compromise with oil and gas executives, and the love of outdoor sportsmanship by a lot of the folks that live around there, made that a really appealing conservation effort, even though it allowed extraction to continue even more so than it already was at the time. And I feel it’s really important to point out here too, that a lot of the way that conservation happens in this area is hand in hand with extraction capitalism.

TFSR: That’s really helpful to draw those connections explicitly.

One of the things that you are talking about in the writing that you did is the possibility of using State distinctions of endangered species or something as a tool for fighting the expansion. Can you talk about that tool and how you relate to it from this anti-state perspective?

N: This is probably one of the first ways people started to mobilize and take action against the expansion. Right now we’re in a “public comment” period and while we await the decision of politicians on whether this will be approved or not and then we move on to an environmental impact survey phase. Basically, all these people that are being contracted to do the surveying are state entities and agencies that have a stake in the project being completed. So the DNR is going to contract entities to do the surveying and so is the National Guard. By having a grassroots initiative, even though it is a low-risk, low-reward tactic, and it legitimizes States, that it still could open up a path to gum up the gears and slow down the expansion, but through litigation. That’s the thing that is happening. It happened.

TFSR: I wonder if you’d share a little bit of your knowledge about the land that Camp Grayling occupies in terms of the history of indigenous relationship to the land, the history of settlement and colonization that’s gone on because that seems to be an important backdrop to everything that you’re saying.

W: Yeah, definitely. The original stewards of most of Michigan, if not all, are the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi people. They make up the Council of the Three Fires. The land that is currently Camp Grayling and the land that is in the expansion is entirely covered under the Treaty of Washington of 1836. The Treaty of Washington gave specifically Ojibwe and Odawa people hunting and fishing rights. So the US military and Camp Grayling have been in violation of these rights since its inception in 1913. There’s not really a huge Native population in the area as of now. The reservations tend to be north and west and south and east of this area, for whatever reason.

But I think something important to talk about is the land that so-called Grayling sits on is cut by two different rivers, the so-called Au Sable and the so-called Manistee River, both carve what is now known as Grayling. And these were really important watery ways to indigenous folks for centuries before colonization. And then when settlers came and began occupying this area, what they were really attracted to was the huge old-growth forests that were there, and immediately just fucking cut them all down. And then they use the waterways to ship the logs all over. And the logging history of Grayling is really directly tied to Camp Grayling because the lumber baron Rasmus Hansen was one of the original capitalists in the area of the so-called Grayling. And it was customary at the time for logging companies or any other extractive companies to pay their taxes by donating the land back to the state. So the whole reason Camp Grayling exists is that Rasmus Hansen cut down all the old trees on it and then gave it back to the state of Michigan fort to open up a National Guard training center. So that’s the lore.

Unfortunately, a lot of indigenous history has been lost to colonization. We are working on building relationships with indigenous folks that might have some of this knowledge on this ancestral knowledge of the land. But as we know, a lot of their history has been completely destroyed by settler colonization.

TFSR: Thank you for sharing that. It’s important to know that the people who had originally lived there have been really driven off the land. It makes me wonder about who the residents are in that area. We talked a little bit about their military support, but is there more information you could share about who lives in the area?

N: The folks that live in the area, they’re mostly settlers, and there’s a lot of class diversity, as I understand it, but there are a lot of poor white folks that are affected by the ecological issues. But there are also just rich bastards that have a lot of lands. It’s mostly just a NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] settler population, frankly.

S: Something that’s important to that settler population are also industries created by the river systems. Trophy fishing, fly fishing, and trout fishing are really popular. People travel from all over the world to come to the headwaters of the so-called Au Sable to fly fish. And so that tourism and other kinds of recreational activities along the rivers are really, really important to the economic well-being of a largely poor, conservative white populace. And a lot of those folks see the expansion as a direct threat to that tourism and to their economic well-being and hopefully to the rivers also, but who knows.

TFSR: I wonder if you could talk a little bit then about how the groups that are organizing resistance to Camp Grayling relate to the people living there. Is there any collaboration? Are you taking different stands, if people are resisting who are living there, for different reasons that they want to oppose it? I would just be interested to know about what connections or divergences there are.

N: There are a lot of different groups organizing around the issue, they tend to be affiliated with far-right aligning folks. A lot of the stuff that they’re doing is petition work and awareness. They have a very large Facebook following. Very impressive. But they are pro-military and anti-direct action. The Stop Camp Grayling Offensive is more trying to introduce an anti-military, anarchist contingency to the issue, and really trying to not only focus on stopping the expansion but trying to center other issues like Land Back and anti-military as a whole. To destroy the military-industrial complex and the State as a whole.

And even though I brought the most attention to the far-right contingents that are involved in the project, I do want to say that they’re other, more liberal contingents there as well. But they’re also using the same strategies that center the State to meet there.

W: Some settler conservation groups have also gotten involved. Groups like Trout Unlimited, Sierra Club, and Michigan Conservation Club. These are seen as legitimate by almost everyone, in any political party or whatever, for being experts in this conservation stuff. They have also come to the table to mostly ask for transparency in the environmental impact surveying that will be happening maybe in the next couple of years.

N: And to be frank, I think that these other contingencies that exist of locals, they don’t like us and are antagonistic to us.

TFSR: It’s interesting to me the way that you stake out an anarchist space to reject this project that doesn’t imagine a useful tactic of collaborating with people who don’t share that interconnective, let’s say, view of how the military, the extractive resources, the settler State – all these things connect. I wonder if you could talk just about that strategy on your end of a separate campaign to stop Camp Grayling’s expansion. And what you think it offers for anarchists to not water down their view of things in the projects that we do.

S: A lot of times when I’m thinking about this, I am thinking about what it means to be in solidarity with folks who might not even live in the so-called United States, but are still being hunted down and persecuted by its empire. I am also a trans person. It’s difficult for me to begin with to share spaces with a lot of these far-right contingencies in this fight. I would be almost immediately othered. So, I’m unwilling to compromise with people who are anti-trans, I’m unwilling to compromise with people who are explicitly anti-black. I’m unwilling to compromise with people who love the military. I think that a lot of anarchist organizing in the past decade has done a lot of watering-down [of] analysis to win small victories. I might be alone in this, but I am just observing that it’s not working and that so much movement-building and campaigning is so much more alienating than people like to talk about. In my experience doing other kinds of work, the thing that is not alienating is when you are honest about what your goals are, and why you’re working towards the things you’re working toward. That people who might be sympathetic to anarchists, anti-state communists, or whatever, are much more excited about actions or analyses that reflect this uncompromising belief in the destruction of the so-called United States. It just feels so much more empowering to aim for that and to be formulating strategy around that, than to be fighting to just stop a Camp Grayling expansion, or to just stop a pipeline. So it’s really invigorating to me, and I’ve observed it being invigorating to others. I just think it’s good solidarity to be against the United States Empire as a whole, instead of just this specific part of it.

TFSR: I really how you put all that together, especially highlighting the anti-trans anti-black offensives that are going on around the country now. It seems really important to bring those things together with these other issues that could seem that they’re not connected, like that anti-transness or State racism isn’t connected to extraction of resources or expansion of the military… That’s super important just to center that. And also, I like how you frame it too just thinking about trans people doing this work. And showing that a trans issue isn’t asking the State to recognize us. It’s fighting this State that’s trying to destroy the world.

S: Yeah. Anti-trans bigotry and anti-black bigotry are the United States War Machine.

TFSR: Well said. Given the unwillingness to compromise, this encompassing analysis and approach, I wonder if you would connect the way that you’re framing this struggle with other struggles going on in Michigan, as you mentioned, the Line 5 or the pipeline struggles, or elsewhere too – we’ve mentioned the Atlanta forest. So, what connections do you I see in the way that you’re doing this to other ongoing things, if any?

S: So-called Grayling is only about I want to say 100 miles south of the Straits of Mackinac, which is where Enbridge hopes to build a big old tunnel to put a new pipeline through, called Line 5. Many people probably remember the fight against Line 3, Enbridge is now hoping to build this tunnel underneath the straits to house a new pipeline, again, called Line 5. And there’s a lot of folks that have been resisting that for years. However, we’re starting to see a lot of those people get comfy with Stop Camp Grayling stuff and learning how our struggles can benefit from one another, whether that be building supply lines or teaching each other new skills, having a multiplicity of people willing to work on stuff. And so I’m personally really excited to see connections to that fight.

Something else, too, is in the Upper Peninsula: in 2009, there was a fight for Eagle Rock, which is sacred sites along the coast of so-called Lake Superior and a company called Kennecott wanted to mine nickel sulfide there and was ultimately successful in crushing the land defense efforts. However, there was a really interesting campaign around it. Just earlier this year, Kennecott sold the property rights to the land parcel to a company called Talents Metals, which hopes to open up a huge swath of the Upper Peninsula to nickel mining, specifically, to build batteries for Tesla. Which, again, coming back to the military-industrial complex, a lot of the military is trying to switch to renewable energies, including electric vehicles. So not only are our struggles interlinked because of geography and the people who might be involved but also because nickel mining is something that the military is also really excited about.

N: I’m not even sure if this is a direct answer to your question, but I’m gonna try. I’m really excited about this particular offensive because it feels like it’s super, super, super easy to draw connections to all of the issues. For instance, we had initially gotten a lot of inspiration from the SHAC [Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty] and Defend Atlanta Forest’s strategy of tertiary targeting. As we were identifying what breathes life into Camp Grayling, as we identified new targets and new threats and enemies, we would identify three more connected to those and then three more, and ultimately, we saw that everything breathes life… The world that created Camp Grayling is the same world that builds pipelines, that are putting these facial recognition cameras outside of shops in Detroit, and the intersections with Michigan Department of Corrections.

I think that what’s been exciting is that a militant attack against anything that exists in the settler colony is an action against Camp Grayling and the world that it protects. That’s been really inspiring.

TFSR: That’s a helpful way of thinking about it that this one space locates all these forces that are interconnecting in a really telling way. I’m wondering if there’s anything you could share about what ideas of approaches you’re gonna take in stopping the expansion if there’s anything that you can talk about?

N: What I was hinting and touching on just a moment ago was an idea that some folks in the Camp Grayling effort have been exploring and talking about, which is what we’ve dubbed “offensive strategy.” And that it’s basically decentralizing targets altogether, where every niche of settler colonial life is a target for militant action and that you can do a solidarity action with Camp Grayling by just making that connection, either through words or in your communique or whatever. “Let Stop Camp Grayling sponsor your militancy” and vice versa. That’s a quick overview of the strategy that’s being explored. There are also more.

We’re really inspired by Defend Atlanta Forest, too. We have the intention of being decentralized, not really telling people what tactics they should or shouldn’t use. That also means that more campaign-type organizing is happening parallel to our offensive strategy. Some are modeled pretty. Some folks are really modeling after Defend Atlanta Forest and tertiary targeting strategy outside of an offensive structure. So, actually targeting clear contracting forces, too. Instead of generalized antagonism, it’s more of pointed antagonism. It just looks so different depending on who you’re fucking around with.

S: Just to round that out. Some folks are working on movement-building in urban areas in so-called Michigan. Some folks want to give out free food just like Enbridge does. Some folks want to do parties in the forests. Some folks want to do sabotage actions. Some folks want to do petitioning and “paper wrenching”. There’s a huge multiplicity of tactics being talked about. But because this is a very baby offensive, there’s not a lot to show for it yet. But we are very excited.

TFSR: If people wanted to contribute, either with their time, presence, or resources, is there a way that they could plug in?

W: We think everyone should make their own decisions on how to do that. If people want to have more information about what’s going on, really good resources are social media. There are Twitter and Instagram pages. Instagram is @StopCampGrayling and the Twitter is @greylingcamp. Those are updated really frequently. There’s also a ProtonMail people can reach out to if they have specific questions and aren’t on social media. I think that StopCampGrayling@protonmail.com. But really we encourage people to figure out what they can do to get involved and just brand it for themselves as Stop Camp Grayling. Anything can be Stop Camp Grayling, as we already established. We want everyone to make their own decisions.

N: Just to plug, folks in our offensive have been organizing talking tours to go to different communities and help people brainstorm and vision what plugging into a Stop Camp Grayling Offensive might look like. That’s happening pretty regularly where folks are going out and meeting with those communities that have asked for it.

TFSR: Is there information about where you’ll be speaking on your social media?

S: Yeah.

TFSR: I would also just say that you shared the zine The Base Among the Jack Pines: No Camp Grayling Expansion on Anishinabewaki. And I thought that was just a great piece of writing. So I will link to that, too, in our notes for the show.

W: Thank you.

TFSR: Is there anything else that you want to share, anything that we didn’t get to highlight or focus on that you think is important?

S: Fuck the state?

TFSR: Yep. Well, that’s probably a good place to end. I really appreciate all the work you’re doing and all the information that you shared and your taking the time to talk with us. This is a really important front for our ongoing long struggle. So thank you.

S: Yeah, thank you for having us so much. I love Final Straw.

W: Yeah, we love you too.

TFSR: Cool. Hopefully, we’ll have you on again for any updates and when you have more stuff to share.

S: That’d be awesome.

Solidarity With Prisoner Resistance from Alabama to Italy

Solidarity With Prisoner Resistance from Alabama to Italy

"Alfredo out from 41 bis Close 41 bis Freedom for everyone We are facing an attempt by the state to annihilate our comrade Alfredo Cospito, burying him in the infamous 41 bis prison regime to take revenge for his actions and prevent him from continuing to spread his ideas outside. Therefore, we, anarchists, think it is imperative to launch, starting now, a widespread mobilisation to take him out of 41bis. We think it is necessary to deploy a range of practices, everyone according to their own tensions, in order to force the state to remove revolutionary comrade Alfredo Cospito from 41 bis. We are aware of the partial nature of this struggle, but the repressive stranglehold is such that we believe it is necessary to oppose it with all our strength, because we see it as an attempt by the state to undermine, for everyone, the possibilities of fighting against this system. We are convinced that we must defend the comrade’s choices and the practices for which he was sentenced, practices that have always belonged to anarchism. 41 bis is a torture regime, set up to silence, isolate and force collaboration with the institutions: it must be torn down along with all prisons. While the state tries to annihilate us, we remain aware that the best defence is always the attack. DEATH TO THE STATE LONG LIVE ANARCHY Anarchists" + a hand holding a lit ball bomb + "TFSR 10-30-22"
Download This Episode

This week on the show, you’ll hear from Diyawn Caldwell, founder of “Both Sides Of The Wall” which has been supporting striking people behind bars across the Alabama Dept of Corrections where incarcerated workers refused their unpaid work over 3 weeks. The strike is on hold, for now, but prisoners continue resistance despite repression. You can learn more abut the group by finding them on social media or visiting BothSidesOfTheWall.com [00:01:07 – 00:19:31]

Then, you’ll hear anarchist comrades from the anti-repression solidarity group called La Lima, or The File, from Rome, Italy. The comrades will share about the situation of Alfredo Cospito who is now on hunger strike against the conditions in the 41bis hard prison regime. You can hear an interview from 2019 also that gives some context of other anarchist and anticapitalist radical prisoners resisting 41bis in Italy at that time. To keep up on resistance, you can visit ActForFree.NoBlogs.Org or check out the post on EnoughIsEnough calling for international solidarity. [00:20:43 – 00:53:10]

Plus, a segment from Sean Swain with a proposal for these United States…. [00:55:36 – end]

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Featured Tracks:

  • Moving Through Streets (Instrumental version) by The Psycho Realm by Moving Through Streets / Sick Dogs 12″
  • Ballata Per L’Anarchico Pinelli by Gruppo “Z” from Canti Anarchici Italiani (Italian Songs Of Anarchy)

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Alabama Prisoner Struggle Transcription

Diyawn Caldwell: My name is Diyawn Caldwell, my pronouns are she/her/hers. I am the founder of Both Sides Of The Wall.

TFSR: Great. Could you talk a bit about Both Sides Of The Wall, where you all are based out of, how it came to be, and what you all do?

DC: Yeah. Both Sides Of The Wall is an organization that is committed to changing the criminal justice system, also committed to serving the incarcerated citizens and their families. We specialize in re-entry, participatory defense, criminal justice reform, prison reform, and the needs of the incarcerated individuals and their families.

TFSR: What’s your relationship to incarceration? Have you been incarcerated before? Do you have any loved ones behind the walls that you’re advocating with?

DC: I have been incarcerated previously. No prison time. I have a husband that has been incarcerated for 17 years in the Alabama Department of Corrections.

TFSR: That right there is a pretty good reason to be involved in trying to reform or trying to increase the situation for him and folks like him who are stuck behind bars.

DC: Absolutely. Yes. Definitely. You know, you can’t say you love someone that is incarcerated and see what they’re going through in their living conditions and not want to fight and step up and be a part of it. I mean, I don’t see how those two mesh together. If you say that you love someone, you’re going to do whatever you have to do to try to improve their situation, especially if they’re being wronged, or if they’re living in unjust conditions, or living in an unjust penal system.

TFSR: So as I understand there are multiple different formations and groups and individuals taking part behind bars in the strike that’s going on in the Alabama Department of Corrections system. Can you talk a little bit about what some of the groups are that you’ve seen engaging, and what the demands are? Maybe starting with what the general conditions that people like your husband are experiencing?

DC: Well, basically, inside the Department of Corrections, they are living in decrepit, inhumane conditions. They’re living in black mold, the conditions are overcrowded, they have up to 200 men in a warehouse bay that was designed for programming. They have turned all the programming dorms in to living quarters. They have maybe two feet between each one of them that they sleep in. The showers are molded. For 200 men you probably have three toilets and two sinks that work in each bay… two phones to reach out to the family members. If you look and see the conditions, I can send you some pictures, it looks worse than some third world countries. So the guys have banned together to stand up and fight for themselves, fight for their rights, fight for what the taxpayers pay for. Where’s the money going? Because it’s definitely not going to improve the conditions of the prison system.

Then you have the parole board. We have a 98% denial rate. They have no hope. They have no way out. Men and women are getting denied at an all time high, even though they have met every criteria that there is to be able to make parole. They have the institution of parole officer that comes in and assesses them according to the OR stat lines, which is Ohio Risk Assessment that they use. They give the findings to the parole board. Their file has been given over from the institutional of parole officers stating that they have met the guidelines and they’re a good candidate for parole. However, the parole board is still denying them because they have the discretionary call and the parole bill saying regardless that meet the guidelines, regardless if they have done everything possible to rehabilitate themselves and take every program to rehabilitate themselves, they still find and deem them ‘not fit’ to make parole because of that discretionary clause.

TFSR: Is there an impetus for those parole officers or for the departments that run the parole boards economically? To not parole people because they get federal funding out of having more people behind bars, or is there some sort of way to follow the money as to why this is happening? Or what do you think is the the reason that these parole boards are failing to to parole people?

DC: I think they all work together. I do think it’s an economical issue. They’re profiting off the backs of our people. They are trying to build these three new mega prisons, so they have to house the people in these prisons. I think that’s one of the impetus’ behind it. Because they want to fill these prisons. They have to pay these bonds back. They have to profit. In order to do that, they have to hold people incarcerated.

We also have this issue of convict leasing. This has been going on for decades, for centuries. They are profiting through these corporations and these jobs and these government entities who have our people go out and work for little or nothing. When I say a little or nothing, I mean a little. 30 to 35 cents an hour, you know, $1 an hour. They are profiting big time off of the convict leasing program that they have going on.

Of course, we have the factories as well. You have one at home. Every tag in Alabama and Southern Mississippi are made through that tag plant. You have the sewing factory and the furniture factory, they build furniture and sell to high end companies. So yes, it is a profitable entity that they’re using to keep our people incarcerated.

TFSR: Yeah, and when you’re using language like convict lease and saying that is going on for centuries, it is not too much to say that the United States built its wealth as a government and as a nation off of the backs of incarcerated and disinterred people who were living here who had been living or African folks that were brought here and worked to death. Convict leasing goes to the period after the Civil War when the black codes were passed, right. And it allowed for a continuation through the 13th amendment of the extraction of labor through the criminalization of mostly Black folks in this country.

I know that Alabama has had a long history, especially in the last decade, of incarcerated folks and their supporters on the outside speaking in terms of the forced extraction of labor through the prison system, and through the jails as being a continuation of slavery. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that, in your perspective, if you think that’s a fair assessment?

DC: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we have to look at it for what it is. It is definitely a racial bias when it comes down to the judicial system and incarceration. They definitely utilize the Black and brown people to bring profitability to the States, every state in the United States. They also have the slavery clauses that is still in the 13th amendment. So, how are we free? That’s their tactic and their way of utilizing us, again, as Black and brown people with that clause in the 13th amendment saying that you are free unless you have committed a crime, and then you are then a slave. So how are you saying that we’re free? But if we commit a crime then we are slaves. That makes absolutely no sense. If we’re free, we’re free. If we commit a crime, then we pay the cost for our crime, and we continue to go on as free citizens. That’s not right. Even in the Alabama 1901 constitution section 32, it still says that it has involuntary servitude clause in there basically saying the same thing, ‘You are slave if you’ve committed a crime.’

So yes, there’s a lot of disparities in the law. There is a lot of racial bias when it comes to incarceration. They use that to their benefit to continue to confine us Black and brown people as slaves.

TFSR: You were mentioning those things about where’s the money going and the different parts of the prison facilities being used for housing people when they would have been recreational or educational centers, overpopulation in the prisons in existing facilities, and [Alabama Governor] Kay Ivey and other people in the state government pushing for building new mega prisons. At the same time what I’ve heard from incarcerated folks in past interviews, and also seen through work stoppages, or a lack of, or a refusal to get hired for jobs working in these facilities, is that people on the outside who might be doing these jobs, working class people, often Black and brown, sometimes white, are put into a dangerous, overpopulated situation. I have no love for prison guards, but they can’t hire them, because no one will take the jobs because of the the wages that they’re being offered. So in the meantime, it seems like the State government is basically holding the whole population of the State sort of hostage and creating a very dangerous scenario, almost waiting for it to sort of boil over in order to push through the building of these big infrastructure projects.

DC: Yes, definitely. They try to use that as a pedestal to say, “okay, we need to build these in prisons. That way we don’t need as many guards with the infrastructure that it will be built under.” However, what are you doing at this point now? We’re losing people every day. Bodies are leaving out of those facilities every day. So what are you going to do in the meantime, in the between time? Let’s just be real about the situation. If you’re building mega prisons that’s going to house 4000 people, you still don’t have enough guards to fill those positions with the capacity that you have now. That’s not our problem. That’s not the general public’s problem. They need to pay more. They need to do whatever they need to do to get people in there because there is a safety and security risk when it comes down to it, because these guys have no oversight. So when they have a disruption in there… prime example: There was a young man around two weeks ago that got killed in Limestone Prison up in the Huntsville area. You mean to tell me there was no guard in the dorm to intervene, to call for help, to call for any type of outside help, a nurse or anything, and this guy just lay there and bled out and died because you all do not have the proper setup. That’s asinine.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been hearing through friends, for instance at William E. Donaldson Correctional about pretty frequent suicide of prisoners under the conditions that there, where they’re not being offered medical treatment or counseling of any sort. There’s a constant decrease in the quality of food being available to people, overcrowding, which will lead to more acts of violence among folks and less oversight when there are dangerous situations by whatever guards there might be around.

DC: I question if they really are all suicides. I questioned that because especially the offices up there, they have a history of murdering individuals, incarcerated citizens, and getting away with it. So I question if they’re all suicides, I really do. They cover up a lot of things. They list these deaths as different causes than what they really are. So I question, again, if they’re all suicides. I wouldn’t be surprised if the guards murdered a few of them. Do we have people that are hopeless that are committing suicide? Yes, we do. But at the rate that they’re recording it, I don’t believe it.

TFSR: Not to say that the federal government is a great bastion of rights and justice for people. But they’ve stepped in multiple times to sue the government of Alabama because of the activities in the Department of Corrections & Prisons, because they’re creating these unsafe circumstances.

You had mentioned before the denial of parole. I know one of the demands that I’ve seen listed from prisoners on the inside is doing away with life without parole. Denying people parole is a de facto way of just creating a life without parole circumstance, as well as creating a Statewide Conviction Integrity Unit to investigate questions of messed up convictions that are unjust against people, mandatory parole criteria that will guarantee parole to all eligible people who meet the criteria, as you said, streamlined review process for medical furloughs and review of elderly incarcerated individuals for medical release.

Do you have any anecdotes of people that you’re in contact with on the inside having to navigate the so called medical care inside of the prison system?

DC: No, I don’t have any that I can name here publicly. I do want to say that, along with those demands, too, we do have several other demands that are not listed. One being to reinstate Good Time for all eligible incarcerated citizens that are eligible to return to society. So that is one of the biggest ones that will alleviate a lot of the overcrowding. If they go back and look at the demands that the governor called unreasonable, which are definitely reasonable, they will see that a few of the demands were in the last legislative session to be voted on, to be looked over. So how are they unreasonable if bills have already been drafted around these situations in these demands.

All the demands will alleviate the overcrowding situation, which will help the staffing situation, which will in retrospect help a lot of the issues that are surrounded in the DOJ report. I mean, okay, we can’t correct the activities in the way that they treat and handle the inmates through these demands. That’s something that has to be implemented through policy and followed up upon, and people are held accountable for their actions, but a lot of the demands will alleviate a lot of issues within the DOJ lawsuit.

Also, I want to say this: We’re not looking for the DOJ to come in and save us. The DOJ has sued Alabama on several occasions and they have not yet to come and take over these prisons. How many bodies do we have to lose before they come in and step in and take over the prisons? I mean, are you all comfortable going to sleep at night knowing that people are dying and you have not intervened? That makes absolutely no sense to me. How many bodies do we have to lose? That in itself gives a reason for emergency intervention. There is no staff there to help intervene with these issues and we are losing people. Why have they not stepped in? That is my question.

TFSR: That’s a totally fair question.

I’d love to learn more about the strike as far as you know it. It’s weeks in at this point. And if you don’t have a sense of this, it’s perfectly fine. But if you wouldn’t mind talking about what you’re aware of if folks on the inside are putting down tools, or refusing to leave their cells, refusing to eat, or attend educational sessions, or is it some mixture of those things? Do you have a sense of which facilities are participating? I’ve heard there’s been more repression recently, so things might have changed.

DC: Yes. We have come to an agreement with the guys on the inside. We take our orders from the guys on the inside, because they are the ones that are living in those conditions. So we just follow their footsteps. However, they have decided to put the strike on hold to give the governor and the legislators and the state of Alabama the opportunity to address our grievances and demands. However, if they have not addressed our demands within a reasonable amount of time, then the women and the men inside will resume the strike. We will continue this and continue with things until they do something. We’re gonna have to tie their hands, you know? We’re going to tie their hands.

TFSR: So, Both Sides Of The Wall had a recent demonstration outside of the Capitol, the State Capitol in Montgomery, how did that go? What was the attendance like? And do you think that you got your point across?

DC: I definitely think we’re building momentum. We got our point across. Kay Ivey was looking at us outside of the window, so she was paying attention to what was going on. We had around 500 people there on the roster, some people did not sign the roster. So I’m sure we had more than that to attend the rally.

We are constantly building momentum, we are going to start going to every major city here shortly to educate people on what’s going on. For people that cannot travel to Montgomery, we’re coming to them. We’re going to educate them on what’s going on. Once we finished the major cities, we will resume again in Montgomery for a big rally. So we are definitely continuing to put the work in. The guys will go back on strike shortly, if they have not come to us to sit down to address the demands and lay out concrete efforts to address and resolve the issues.

TFSR: So just kind of wrapping up, if you could tell listeners where to find out more information about the organizing that you’re doing, as well as any other news sources, social media, that you can think of that are doing a good job of covering this, and especially if they’re getting the direct words of the people behind bars out. I’d love to hear that for the audience.

DC: Okay, awesome. Yes. So you can follow us on every platform @BothSidesOfTheWall on Twitter it’s @BSW_Advocacy. Instagram, it is BothSidesOfTheWall_ . On TikTok it’s BothSidesOfTheWall. You can also visit our website at www.BothSidesOfTheWall.com. All updates will be posted there. You can also contact us by email, and that will be Contact@BothSidesOfTheWall.com

TFSR: Cool. Well, thank you so much for having this chat and for the work that you’re doing and I look forward to a success.

DC: Oh, yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. And stay tuned! We will resume.

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Alfredo Cospito and 41 bis Transcription

La Lima: So, we are two comrades from Rome and based in Rome. We are anarchist comrades and we are part of a solidarity project called La Lima, which is ‘The File.’ It’s an assembly and a solidarity fund to help those who have problem with the law and comrades struggling with with repression.

TFSR: So we’re here to speak about the ongoing and increased repression of anarchists and other radicals in Italy. With a primary focus on support for Alfredo Cospito. Can you please introduce members of the audience to Alfredo, how long he’s been in prison, tell us what he was accused of, and what he claims responsibility for?

La Lima: Alfredo is a longtime anarchist comrade, who is in jail for almost 10 years. He’s been accused in 2016 of having kneecapped, alongside another anarchists comrade Nicola , to have kneecapped Roberto Adinolfi who was the CEO of a Ansaldo Nucleare, an Italian Corporation who holds the nuclear industry in Italy and all over the world. So Nicola and Alfredo claim that their responsibility of this action in the court, stating that they were moved by the nuclear disaster of Fukushima. They found responsible, among the others, the CEO of this corporation, and kind of retribution and restitution of the damage caused by the nuclear waste, all over the world.

Back in 2012, this action, the kneecap of Adinolfi was indicated by a communique signed as FAI-IRF, International Revolutionary Front of the Informal Anarchist Federation. In court they stated the fact that they claimed that not as a part of an organization, but as the recognition of a method that needs to be the one that people all over the world will train their action in this acronym in order to pursue a method, not a formal organization.

Nicola was charged 9 years and Alfredo 10 years for this action, and while they were in jail they were accused of another criminal persecution against anarchists in Italy, which basically happens every year. That is Scripta Manent, the name of the of the operation, it’s a Latin formula. They were accused of several crimes and felonies. This felony arrived during their time in prison on the on the basis of the subversive association of felons. They were charged alongside other comrades of several bombings and of particular action on police precinct facility in Fasano in the northwest of Italy. This police precinct was like a training facility for carabinieri student. So the training facility of carabinieri. We’re talking about an explosive, let’s say, action, like a bombing. These action was also claimed by an acronym FAI-IRF. Yeah. In the claim of this action was was focused on how hateful is the job of police agents, especially regarding their Italian policy on migrants and immigration in Italy. These felonies that arrived regarding this action were dabbled with like terrorism or criminal association. It is to be noticed that this action occurred that night and caused no harm to no one. The explosive device was in a the trash area.

In Italy we have like three steps of judgment in the court. It was clear since the first that the felony was massacre, which in Italian is a strage, and it’s a very particular felony. It was massacre even though there were no harm and there were no death. In the final step of the three steps of the court, the General Attorney made clear that it was to be framed, this massacre, as a political massacre. So direct harm to the security of the Italian state. So that is unprecedented, the final step of the court system said something like that. Then basically that is no longer to be debated, “the fact” that this massacre was a political massacre in itself, but it has just to be discussed in the very final act of the court, how long these comrades will be in jail for. This particular felony, massacre, is connected to a single option of detention which is a long, life sentence. Particularly, ergastolo ostativo, which we are going to explain.

So, thi felony massacre was never actually applied in Italy even back in the so called Lead Years and in Massacre of Bologna in 1980 when 87 people died, not even in Piazza Fontana, which is the famous state massacre of 1969, in which a bomb exploded. We know from our history that another case, Guiseppe Pinelli was accused of having bombed that, and later on killed by the Luigi Calabrese. So another single time in the Italian history was, this massacre arrived in at the final step of the court. Alfredo always stated in his thoughts and in his writings that he throws back the term terrorism, precising the fact that he doesn’t claim terrorism or act indiscriminate against the population in general, or to the innocent people, but only in reference to the State on behalf of the exploited.

Okay, so this is very important, actually. Both Alfredo and Anna, were charged of this massacre, and they stated out loud and clearly they don’t recognize themselves in this term, and they reject this massacre. They reject it and they claim that the the State is actually the first massacre of the exploited. And it’s not their method.

TFSR: What is the article 41 bis of the prison administration act? It now holds a little under 800 prisoners if I understand. Who else is there? I think you’ve already addressed the reasons that the State is giving for why Alfredo would be being sent there.

La Lima: So they article 41 bis is a prison regime. It’s a provision that was introduced in 1975. But first used in 1992 after the bombing of Giovanni Falcone and [Paulo] Borsellino, two judges that were fighting against mafia alongside the Italian state. In the days following the killing of Falcone and Borsellino, nearly 400 prisoners from the Mafia were transferred from Sicily, from Palermo Ucciardone and another top security prisons on the mainland in the prisons of Pianosa, Asinara, and alongside other prison. They were treated with this 41 bis prison regime.

It has actually evolved in time. It’s a regime that is born in the context of emergency and exception. And it was born in this exception, in emergency, but it’s never been canceled. And it’s always been implemented and evolved in a finest way of like torturing people, in what we call actual torture of the prison population. We are going to explain why so and how so. The laws that were born in context of exception and emergencies tend to be later on verified and kept in Italian law. To justify a so-called prison regime, there has to be declared like a common enemy that is perceived like that by the public audience. Of course, the definition of the enemy changes alongside the project and the particular needs of the State in time.

So if in 1992, the common enemy accused of being bad or the people accused to be part of the mafia. It has to be said that actually in application and in the fulfillment of the 41 bis, the vast majority of the responsibility it has to be pointed at left wing governments actually. In 2002, with the left wing government, it was introduced the fact that 41 bis was extended not only to mafia associations, but also to other kinds of felonies including so-called terrorism and political action as armed organization or subversive political organization. In 2005, for the first time, five communist comrades were charged from the organization called the New Red Brigades (Nuove Brigate Rosse), the were charged with 41 bis in prison. One of them committed suicide on October 21, 2009. After she was in for one year in 41 bis, suffering from deep psychological problem connected to this incarceration. Her name was Diana Blaferi [Melatsi]. Three other comrades are still in jail since 2005. So 17 years in 41 bis.

To explain, you can be charged with 41 bis even if you’re not actually charged of it, but just as a preemptive incarceration. You can be on 41 bis with all the punishments, even before having a trial. For four years, and after each two years it has to be reconfirmed or not. What is 41 days in particular? You are basically alone in a cell. It’s a torture regime based on sensorial deprivation. So you’re alone in the cell with a layer of Plexiglas, plastic glass outside of the window, 24/7 with artificial light and no natural light, you have two hours of working time outside of the cell. But it’s with four people decided by the administration and it only lasts these two hours. These two hours are not outside in the yard, but still inside prison facility guarded 24/7.

If that you’re actually socializing with these other four person that you’re permitted to stay with, the administration can remove you from that group in order to not connect and have bonds and links to other people. You only have a visitation per month and it lasts one hour, you are supposed to talk behind the glass and you you’re supposed to talk on the inter-phone. Only kids under 12 years old are allowed to pass that glass. From 12 years old, no one is allowed to go inside, meeting the person in 41 bis regime.

We can imagine the psychological effects that can affect not only the imprisoned person, but also the family. Also, we have to consider the fact that Italy has now chosen Sardinia as the place where the prison with 41 bis regime should be. In particular, it’s another difficult point for the families of the people of the inmates. Because the people in 41 bis are usually from the south. It’s very difficult to to reach Sardinia, which is an island off of the west coast of Italy. It’s very difficult to reach. It’s also another thing to add.

Alfredo is actually now in the prison of Bancali, in Sardinia. That’s another reason why it’s an island difficult to reach and that’s why even that one visiting hour in a month doesn’t actually occur because people cannot reach in time. As family of the inmate, after six months of detention, you can only receive a 10 minute call from the inmate, but the family or the relatives of the inmate have to reach the nearest prison to receive the call there. And only if you didn’t manage to do the visiting hour. Only the close relative actually can meet someone in 41 bis, very close relatives.

No one can actually bring out the voice of someone in detention in 41 bis, not even the lawyers. Even the lawyers, they could be charged of some crimes if they speak out the voice of someone from 7 up to 15 years of detention if you share a message from inside from the voice of the of the person in 41 bis. So there’s a complete censorship, right? The voice is just a metaphor that we say. All correspondences are censored. There’s a censorship on every correspondence and even books or reviews cannot enter. You are only allowed to have books that are actually authorized by the court, the prison administration and it can be suspended anytime. It would have to be authorized, you cannot send a book to someone who is in 41 bis or a review of whatsoever. Even literature or poetry or an actual newspapers, like official newspapers from the from the press had pages cut off. Some pages were turned off in order to not put the person in the position to see what is happening in his particular region, in his particular town when he resided.

Those who control those sections of the jail are people from GOM, which is an acronym for Gruppo Operativo Mobile, or Mobile Unit Operative Unit. They are very famous for the torture accord among the protesters in 2001 in Genoa, the anti G8 protest. There was actually real torture on students protesters, and protesters in general, in a school in Genoa 2001. They are trained in a military way to have not a single drop of empathy with people in front of them and are like pure, torture-robots.

This is all to annihilate your psychological side. We have to imagine that you cannot even put a single photo of your family on the walls of the cell. The goal is actually to annihilate someone completely, because the only way to get out of the 41 bis regime is both to snitch on someone else, and to refute… We say like… it’s a Catholic term, but to deny your history, your political action, not only political goals also if you’re part of the crime gang, you have to deny your past and your membership to the gang. We are talking not only about a political statement, but also a crime gang. You have to give up completely yourself to the state in order to come out of 41 bis.

Why do we call 41 bis form of democratic torture? Because torture reminds us of the Inquisition court, those of the Middle Ages Catholic society, because the heretics, those who deviated from the official doctrine, they were tortured until an abduration or until they would have said something to snitch on others. It was actually excruciating torture, and that led to a kind of opposition at certain times. Democratic times involve something else, which is that the person convicted or inducted, is put in jail, hidden by very high walls, increasingly outside of cities, so that they disappear from the view of people and of the public opinion.

41 bis is the ultimate expression of solitary confinement, the prisoner disappears completely, no longer has relationship with the loved ones, no opportunities arise. Therefore, it is as if they do not exist. The truculent aspect of punishment disappears completely. What remains is sensory deprivation and the annihilation of the individual. Like the Inquisition, the only way out is to abjure or to put someone else in there, so to say snitch. That’s why we call it a democratic form of torture.

Someone say that rather than this, it would be better to have the firing squad, that is the death of the body. The Democratic State does to not shoot with a firing squad, not because it is not in keeping with today’s times or with the very definition of democracy. In fact, with the capital punishment and the killing of the body, the State would not achieve what it really wants, which is the total victory over the person or cooperation. We have said before, repeatedly, and underlined that the person without their relationships, without confronting someone, without being able to hangout or spend time with someone is not a living person, despite the difficulty of socializing that prison itself poses.

In 41 bis, there are about 747 people, 14 are women. Deprivation of relationships is extended to all of them. There are about 100 people in 41 bis with an unappealable life imprisonment, and therefore with the expectation that they will never be able to leave this condition. Imagine what this might mean for Alfredo who spent the previous 10 years of incarceration in a high security section. But, still, with the possibility of meeting other people, anarchist and communist political prisoners. He had the opportunity to confront and intervene in the debate among comrades with letters, writings, publications. He even participated in the addition of two books. Imagine then what it might mean to him to think that he will have to spend his whole life in such a condition, to not live his whole life in such a condition. The punishment he is going to face for so called political massacre could be precisely that of an unappealable life imprisonment, which does not provide for a return to the so called ‘free society’ except through cooperation and abjuration.

Therefore, Alfredo decided to start a hunger strike, he took the opportunity of an appeal to announce it. He has in fact filed an appeal with the court to challenge the total censorship of letters, not a single one arrives. And of course, he self sensors the letter he sends. He has not received any letters since May 5th, so he appealed to the probation judge. The announcement was made by video conference because the attorneys in 41 bis cannot even attend their own hearings in person but with a video call in from the prison that they are being held, with guards around deciding on Judge instruction, when to turn on the microphone and when to have them speak. Alfredo then announced these all out hunger strike against 41 bis and life imprisonment without appeal.

TFSR: So, to my understanding, this is also the culmination of another State of emergency, that of the COVID 19 pandemic that ravaged Italy from early on in 2020. Has the state’s response to the pandemic dovetailed with the circumstances like Alfredo’s or a general increase in police powers?

La Lima: We can say that the period of the COVID Emergency was certainly a social laboratory. Unfortunately, also, a quite successful one. There were so many people who decided to submit to rules that had never been enforced until that moment. It was said that we were all under house arrest, with entry and exit times with the only possibility of going out to work, subject to paper justification that you had to take with you and present and show to the policeman or the military man would ask you for an explanation of your being on the street. We’re alking about people who could not even go walking in the mountains and with police cars patrolling the street with loud speakers repeating to stay home and not go out [as we outside prison dealt with]. That was on scene in Italy.

The feeling for us all was to be in a true state of war, in a state of exception, a state of sanitary emergency that transformed itself into a state of exception due to the war in Ukraine that still is ongoing right now. A passage without any interruption from a state of emergency to another that is useful to discipline the population. The discipling of the population is completely preventive and it is now clear to everyone that it is aimed at the period to come, a period of great crisis of capitalism and the reorganization of geopolitics of exploitation and monopolization of resources. Those who pay for it, and those who are going to pay for it are obviously the exploited ones all over the world.

TFSR: How does Alfredo continue to resist? And how will this limit his and other comrade’s abilities to reach through the bars?

La Lima: Dissent in opposition to mandatory green pass and vaccination for those over 50 years old, was governed in the form of underhanded blackmail. If you didn’t get the vaccine, you couldn’t go to work, and in this regard, let me make an aside: The first people to be subjected to this blackmail were the inmates, who if they didn’t get the vaccine, they will not be able to meet with family members or participate in activities in prison. Once again in prison, the norms that are being experimented with. Those norms will later cross those walls and extend into society.

Despite the mass media hammering propaganda, the dictate of the scientific and technical committees, not a few people began to question the truths of those sources and seek other sources of information and try to oppose something that seemed increasingly absurd. In some context of dissent, predominately attended by the small and petty bourgeoisie, shopkeepers and small business owners or entrepreneurs, obviously with attempts to be co-opted by the far right, comrades still managed to insert themselves by taking away the vital info of the right wingers. These people were mocked and ridiculed, they will called selfish toward the so called united people, and even persecuted because dissent was not provided for that social laboratory that was called political and social management of the emergency.

If this is what happened to segments of the population who dare not to submit to dictates, let’s imagine how the State stands toward anarchism, and especially active anarchism, the one that favors direct action rather than theorization. So we can say that all the most advanced points of social critique, and the practice of that social critique must be absolutely punished and eliminated as a warning to everyone else.

The State power therefore does not only want to get rid of those who declared themselves enemies, but it also it is also warning to everybody. We see these also with respect to the logistics workers who have been hit with extortion charges for labor struggles, they are very much targeted by repression. Same thing for the students crossing the street in an angry way after the death of some of them in a project called Alternanza Sculoa Lovoro which is an alternating school and work, so basically unpaid labor force. In the marches they have been attacked by the police and some of them persecuted and caught up in repressive measures. So it seems that internationally and globally, the State power knows that it’s pushing its luck too far and that everything could get out of hand. It’s trying step by step to zero the opponent voices to avoid the conflicts to come.

TFSR: How can listeners and readers best support Alfredo and other comrades and other anti-authoritarians struggling in Italy?

La Lima: The first step is definitely this: to talk about it. Let people know about Alfredo’s situation and what these democratic regimes are hiding under the carpet. To continue to fight, to never stop being present and trying to get in the way of the murderous policies of the State all over the world. Yes, those are the [real] massacres.

The First International and the Birth of the Anarchist Movement (with Robert Graham)

The First International and the Birth of the Anarchist Movement (with Robert Graham)

book cover of "We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It!" featuring a woman holding a torch and red flag in what appears to be a scene of chaos
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I’m happy to share this interview with anarchist author and historian, Robert Graham about the split in the historic left that led to the birth of the anarchist movement. Robert published the book We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It!: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement with AK Press in 2015.

As I say in the interview, I was excited to have this conversation with Robert since the 150th anniversary of the first anti-authoritarian International hosted by the anarchist watchmakers in St-Imier, Switzerland. I’m definitely not a history or theory head, so I’ve been pleased to take this opportunity to broaden my horizons and areas of study. To hear about the 150th Anniversary gathering, check out the segment by comrades at A-Radio Berlin from August 2022’s Bad News podcast. And check out Anarchy2023.Org for info on next year’s gathering.

Part 1: [00:11:45 – 01:11:58]

Part 2: [01:14:32 – 02:13:22]

The interview begins at after Sean Swain’s segment on the protests in Iran [00:03:20 – 00:11:45]

The book is available from Firestorm at the above link, also from the publisher at AKPress.Org, and you can check out an online version from Archive.Org for free as well. Or now at TheAnarchistLibrary.Org for easy & free download.

Here’s a link to an archive of Open Road, the anarchist journal Robert participated in in the 1970’s

For a related historical interview we conducted in 2014 with Andrew Zonneveld of On Our Own Authority! on an anarchist historical compilation called “The Commune: Paris, 1871”, linked in our show notes. Also of note, Coffee With Comrades just conducted an interview Jim Yoeman on his recently published AK Press book, Print Culture and the Formation of the Anarchist Movement in Spain, 1890-1915

Next week….

Next week, I hope to air voices supporting prisoner struggle in Alabama and anarchist prisoner struggle in Italy, particularly Alfredo Cospito.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

  • The Internationale by Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips
  • La Internacional (Anarquista) by anonymous

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So I’m speaking with Robert Graham, anarchist, historian and author of many books and articles, including the three volume collection from Black Rose Books and titled Anarchism: a Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. And more recently, We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement from AK Press in 2015. Thanks for joining us, Robert.

Robert Graham: Thanks for having me.

TFSR: So I wonder if you’d be willing to say a bit about yourself, maybe how you became an anarchist? And if you do any organizing, what sort of organizing do you do?

RG: Sure. Well, I was a college student back in the late 1970s. So I got involved in a local anarchist publication called Open Road, which was an anarchist news journal that came out from 1976 to 1990. It was meant to be informal, non dogmatic and in tune with the times, and there’s actually a Facebook web page, you can go find their back issues. So I think just Google: “Open Road, anarchists, news journal” and you’ll probably find it.

Mainly I’ve been doing research and writing about historical stuff. Since then, I edited a three volume anthology of anarchists writings from ancient China to 2012 — when the last volume came out — covering anarchists movements, well, ideas really, across the globe. So not just your standard European kind of North American stuff, but also material from Japan and Korea, in China, India, and Africa, and in Latin America. So, I mean, there were interesting anarchist ideas popping up all over the place, and of course, anarchists movements across the globe. And up until the Russian Revolution, the anarchists were actually the most significant revolutionary socialist group. The Bolsheviks were a minority until after the Russian Revolution, so the anarchists basically were the far left of the socialist movement, up until then, despite historical misrepresentations by a variety of people that try to make it sound like anarchism was a petit bourgeois ideology and all that other stuff. Yeah.

I also have a blog, robertgraham.wordpress.com, where I added a bunch of stuff that I was unable to include in my anthology, and occasionally update. And currently, I’m working on an intellectual history of anarchist ideas, again, going back to ancient times and bringing it up to the 21st century,

TFSR: Do you have an idea of who you’re going to be publishing that through? Or what the sort of timeframe is on that?

RG: Hoping to publish that through AK press. And unfortunately, I haven’t finished it yet. So I’m not sure when I will. I have not had as much time to spend on it as I would like, but it is going more slowly than anticipated.

TFSR: It sounds like a daunting task, trying to grab that many ideas from such a timeframe.

So, I reached out to you because a network that I’m involved with, the A-Radio Network, which produces the monthly Bad News podcast, was talking about attending the 150th anniversary of the gathering in St-Imier in Switzerland, of the Anti-Authoritarian International. Organized by the Jura Federation — which this event actually just passed. As I understand the events were scaled back a bit this year, because of COVID concerns, but there’s a hope to have a larger event in 2023. And I’m hoping to attend. But because of this, I thought I’d learn a bit more and I reached out to Mark Bray, who suggested reaching out to you about the first International because of your book, which I already mentioned, the We Do Not Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It.

First up, could you kind of describe what the International Working Men’s Association or the IWMA was, who participated in it and what its founding purpose was? For instance: was it a group of organized worker groups seeking to network, or was it revolutionaries seeking to institute themselves as a vanguard? Or some sort of mixture in-between?

RG: Right, yeah, it was basically a broad coalition of working class European people. There were some women involved in the International, but as with many 19th century organizations, it was effectively run by male workers and intellectuals.

They came from primarily two groups: the English trade union movement, which had been going on since at least the Napoleonic era. In fact, it was in the 1790s in England, they brought in legislation essentially banning trade unions and strikes. And that was still the case in the 18th…well, it was starting to liberalize a little bit in both France and England in the 1860s. But trade unions were originally considered to be “illegal combinations against trade.” And in England, they had something called the Chartist Movement in the 1830’s and 40’s, which was really quite radical. That’s when the idea of the general strike was proposed. It was called the Grand National Holiday, and some of the Chartists as they were called, wanted to abolish the monarchy and bring in a republican form of government.

And so there were veteran Chartists involved in founding the IWMA, but also younger trade unionists who were interested in creating a network for international working class solidarity, where the international organization would provide things like strike funds, and other financial support and political support to workers, across the world but primarily it was being organized in Europe.

Then the other major group was the French workers, who were predominantly followers of the French anarchist socialist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who had advocated something called “mutualism”. Mutualism is a form of socialism where, in contrast to state forms of socialism — where it’s the state that kind of owns everything and controls the economy — in a mutualist system it’s an interlocking federation of worker and producer and geographical groups.

So the idea was that the workers would create their own credit unions, so that they wouldn’t have to deal with national and capitalist financial institutions. And they would pool their resources to create their own cooperative enterprises. And they would exchange goods between themselves through these cooperative enterprises and arrange for their distribution and sale, with everyone getting fair compensation for their work. And essentially, everything being collectively owned, and then managed by the workers themselves.

Those were the French mutualists. And they really wanted the International to serve as a vehicle for creating mutualist organizations and associations throughout Europe, so that they could eventually abolish capitalism, but through this gradual process, where the workers would — through mutual solidarity, sharing of their resources — create their own kind of alternative political economic system. And eventually, the state and capitalism would kind of just collapse.

That was their approach. And it took many years for the International to finally be founded. There were attempts to create an International in the 1850s, and there was a predecessor organization, but it didn’t last very long. And then these attempts were renewed in the early 1860’s, resulting in the foundation of the International in 1864.

There weren’t really any vanguardists in the International when it was founded. At the time the most significant vanguardist group were the followers of Auguste Blanqui in France. He was a French revolutionary veteran of the French Revolutions of 1830-31, and 1848 who was kind of like a Jacobin. The Jacobins where the French revolutionaries during the French Revolution in late 1780s and early 1790’s, who, for a time had control of the French state, but people who were called Jacobin’s by the 1860’s were the ones who agreed with the Jacobin approach of having a centralized leadership and political organization. And also they were quite in favor of having a Committee of Public Safety, and this comes up again later during the Paris Commune, which would suppress subversives and counter revolutionaries by force.

And so the followers of Auguste Blanqui believed in that approach with a vanguard group that would foment and create a revolution. They would establish a revolutionary dictatorship that would then go about transforming society. But they didn’t get involved in the International until about five years after it was founded. And then interestingly, they allied with Karl Marx, in order to basically neutralize or force out the anarchists and Proudhonist elements and the International.

TFSR: So the Blanquists kind of strike me as like the Bolsheviks before they were Marxists sort of.

RG: Yeah.

TFSR: Yeah. And so at that point, then, of those three elements: the Blanquist and the mutualists and the trade unions out of the UK, or from that influence from the Chartists, none of them — I guess, maybe the Blanquists might be called revolutionary — but the other two don’t necessarily sound like they would be considered revolutionary in the sense of overthrowing state power as much as. Unless I’m misunderstanding — the mutualists were more trying to overthrow the state from within, build counter institutions from within dual power and then just sort of dissolve the state.

RG: That’s right. The mutualists were really gradualist. But they did regard what they were advocating as a form of social revolution. But they thought that it could be achieved through nonviolent means. And that was something that Proudhon had argued after the 1848 revolutions, which he participated in, in France, basically that the workers couldn’t defeat the capitalists and the state by force of arms. And that was based on the experience of the revolutions of 1848, which were across Europe, they had revolutions in France, in Italy, various parts of what’s now called Germany and the old Austro-Hungarian empire, all of which were defeated by the power of the state.

In France, there was a worker’s insurrection in June 1848 that was very violently suppressed by the now Republican French military forces. And this caused a couple of different responses. So, for Proudhon, the answer was: we have to destroy the system from within gradually, by organizing ourselves into counter institutions.

For other people the answer was: we have to smash the state and expropriate the capitalists because otherwise they’re just going to crush us. And so there’s going to have to be a revolutionary contest. And within those groups, which included Marx and Engels, and Blanqui and other people, but it also included future anarchists like Mikhail Bakunin… Bakunin did not agree with the concept of revolutionary dictatorship, he was opposed to it. He felt it would become self perpetuating, and that this so-called, you know, “dictatorship of the proletariat” would become the dictatorship of the Blanquists or the Marxists and that what would happen would be what he described as a barracks regime where people would eat, live and breathe by the drumbeat of the state.

So, there were a number of people, not just Bakunin, but a number of people who drew a revolutionary anarchist lesson from the defeat of the 1848 revolutions. Which was: one, there has to be a revolutionary contest with the state and the capitalist. The workers must organize themselves into bodies that are capable of taking on the state by a variety of means, general strikes, also expropriation and unfortunately, armed struggle. And that the capitalist state system could never be gradually destroyed just through the establishment of cooperatives and credit unions and so forth.

And so in addition to Bakunin, there were some self-identified anarchists who agreed with that approach. Certainly they were a significant minority among the French refugees who had to leave France after the early 1850s, when Napoleon III, essentially established a dictatorship in France, and they went to England, some would go to Belgium and Holland and then a few went to the United States.

The most significant of that group was a fellow named Joseph Déjacque , who ended up in the US for many years. And he wrote a number of very interesting pamphlets, including a critique of Proudhon who was a patriarchal, anti-feminist. Joseph Déjacque was firmly in favor of women’s liberation and was also a proto-anarchist communist. He believed that the wage system should be abolished and that there shouldn’t be any private property, whereas the mutualists believed in some kind of market exchange system. Which today would be described as a form of market socialism. And so I mean, the French refugees in London rejected any cooperation with the Republicans because of the June 1848 massacre of the workers when they rose up against the provisional republican government. And this was an approach that was also endorsed by Bakunin and which he championed when he joined the International in 1868.

TFSR: You’ve drawn out some of the beliefs at the time of Proudhon and people that might be called Proudhonists, Bakunin’s sort of political development around this time, we’ve talked about Blanqui…if you would talk about I mean, just give a very basic rundown, just to set the other pieces on this side of the board, so to speak, of what Marx and Engels were arguing at this phase of the early phases of the International? Of what they were proposing, at least publicly, would be the development of a revolutionary International Workers organization?

RG: Yeah. And so this brings up kind of, we could call it a third current or faction, which I haven’t really spoken of yet. People later became called Social Democrats. And they believed that you could run candidates in elections, where elections were held and where workers had the vote [laughs] — and one thing to remember is that in the 1860’s working class people didn’t have a right to vote. I mean, women didn’t get the right to vote until the 20th century, but working class men didn’t have a right to vote either in the 1860’s. And so, there were campaigns for universal manhood suffrage, and you have to include the manhood part because they were campaigns for a right to vote for working class men, not women. I mean, of course, there were other people who were campaigning for actual universal suffrage where everybody would get to vote, but the predominant campaigns were for working class men to be able to vote.

Some of the mutualists were prepared to engage in that activity. They ran candidates in the elections in France in the early 18th and mid 1860’s. Proudhon himself was still alive and wrote a lengthy open letter to them saying that this was the wrong way to go, that they would accomplish nothing through the electoral process. And that was a view shared by Bakunin.

But some of them were willing to run for office, they weren’t very successful initially. And they wouldn’t have had much power because even though they had elections in France, Napoleon III was still firmly in charge. But Marx and Engels, they had a kind of ambivalent approach. They supported electoral activity from the beginning of the International. Marx, in his correspondence and his other writings, clearly was in favor of creating working class political parties that would run candidates and elections. And the hope — I mean, for him it was the destiny based on his theory of historical materialism — was that the working class would eventually obtain a majority control of the government, and then they would be able to create socialism, using the state which they now controlled as a result of their electoral victories.

And so on the other hand, Marx and Engels like to pretend that they were still in favor of revolution, as they had been back in 1848. And they were very active in the 1848 revolutions in Germany. And so it was kind of an ambivalent stance that they took. They seem to think that revolutionary activity was justified. Marx was publicly a big supporter of the Paris Commune, and that created a lot of conflict between him and the British trade unionists and the International who were not revolutionaries by any stretch of the imagination.

But at the same time, Marx was campaigning to impose on the International an obligatory policy, that the International sections in the various nation states would create working class political parties which would then strive to achieve state power. And whether it was through elections or revolutionary means was unclear in Marx’s writings. In his essay on the Paris Commune, he seems to be in favor of revolution. But in much of his other discussions, particularly within the International, it appeared that he was advocating a social democratic approach of obtaining power through electoral participation.

TFSR: I was trying to find in the book where it referenced it, but it’s kind of funny, just to jump back to Proudhon would be advocating that gaining electoral status wouldn’t make a change, because didn’t he hold public office at least a couple of times?

RG: [laughs] Yeah, that’s right. And it was based on his experience as a… During the 1848 revolution he actually got elected to the new Republican National Assembly, and found that he was completely incapacitated, he referred it to being exiled into the Sinai desert or something like that. And that he was completely cut off from what was going on on the streets. When they had the 1848 June workers uprising in Paris, Proudhon didn’t know anything about it because he was busy in the National Assembly trying to make speeches and get motions passed. I mean, he did try to get the assembly to vote in favor of a kind of mutual assistance. And then he gave a famous speech where he said if they didn’t vote in favor then the workers would go ahead with the so-called social liquidation without them. And then there were very outraged cries, “this means class war!”, and you know, “who are you speaking of when you say ‘we’?”. And Proudhon said “when I say ‘we’ I mean the working class, and when I say ‘you’, I mean the capitalists’ ‘. And so, you know, he was able to make a few speeches, but he was unable to accomplish anything positive, his motion was voted down by like over 600 votes to 2, him and another guy [chuckles].

So, his opposition to electoral activity, running candidates and voting, was based on his own personal experience of how ineffective he was as an elected representative. And also, people don’t know but Napoleon III became the dictator — and Emperor, later he called himself a France — by holding a referendum. So he had a referendum, and at the time they had a kind of close to universal manhood suffrage at the beginning of the 1848 French Revolution into around the time of his referendum. And he got a big majority in favor of basically making him the dictator. And so that’s why Proudon at the time made a quip that universal suffrage is the counter revolution, because Napoleon III manipulated that broadening of the voting base, to basically trick and bribe the workers into voting for him to give him dictatorial powers.

TFSR: [sighs] Politics hasn’t changed.

RG: [clicks tongue and laughs] Yeah.

TFSR: [laughing] So I want to get back to the electoralism that was being pushed by the Marxists in the International, but because we brought it up and because there’s a lot of moving parts and ideas and events occurring simultaneously: you brought up the Paris Commune, can you talk a little bit about that? Who participated and sort of setting context on its impact on the International?

RG: Sure. So the Paris Commune was in 1871. And prior to the Paris Commune you have to take into account the Franco Prussian war which started in 1870. And Napoleon managed to get himself into a war with Prussia. Prussia quickly defeated the French forces and then there were different reactions to that among the various camps within the International. Marx, for example, thought that the workers should support a provisional republican government that was essentially controlled by the bourgeoisie. Bakunin argued that the Internationalist and revolutionary socialist in France should take advantage of the chaos that was being created by the Prussian invasion, to create popular militias, to seize power on a commune by commune basis, and to basically have an insurrectionary guerrilla war against the Prussians, and at the same time against the French bourgeoisie.

And he’d been making these kinds of arguments for quite a while, he said that there was no point in the workers allying with the Republicans and the capitalists to drive out the Prussian invaders because, at the end, they would be left exactly where they were at the time: exploited wage slaves. And that they needed to use this opportunity to create a real social revolution and popular movement that would not only fight against the Prussians, but would seize control of the means of production and create a Federalist socialist system based on the Proudhon-and-Bakunin-advocated organization from the bottom upward, they called it.

You would have base units, like a factory or cooperative and local town or a district in a bigger city, and voluntary associations of different trades and professionals and so forth. And that this would create a complex interlocking network of organizations that would create the new economy. But in order to achieve that, he was of the view that the workers needed to arm themselves and engage in armed struggle against not just the Prussian invaders but also against the French bourgeoisie. And it was only through that process that you could actually abolish capitalism and the state.

So that was kind of the scene. And there were a number of Internationalists, predominantly at this time, the French ones, who were advocating pushing the struggle against the Prussians into more of a social revolutionary direction. They created committees in Paris. So Paris was under siege by the Prussians and the Internationalist’s created councils and neighborhood kind of committees throughout Paris, to organize war relief and to prepare to defend Paris against the Prussian invaders. But also they issued a number of manifestos before the Paris Commune was created, advocating that the workers take over the workshops and take control of them, and begin the transformation to a socialist economy through their own direct action.

Then, we get to March 1871 and there was a skirmish between the National Guard and a group of Parisian revolutionaries over some cannons. An officer, or I think he might even have been a general, got shot and killed. And then that was it, now Paris was in conflict with the national government, which had moved to Versailles, France, which was the seat of the old royal palaces, and it was kind of like the royal capital of France. It’s very close to Paris, basically a suburb of Paris now, but the Provisional Government of France had moved there and controlled the National Guard and the Army, which had been largely defeated by the Prussians. But in any event, the Prussians were happy to leave the Provisional Government in control of their National Guard so that they could suppress any kind of revolutionary activity, which they let them do.

The Paris Commune was proclaimed. The manifesto was largely written by a French Proudhonist, and therefore it includes within it an advocacy of a Federalist system. And the important thing about federalism is this notion of organization from the bottom up. And so the manifesto proclaiming the Paris Commune advocated the creation of revolutionary communes throughout France, and that they federate with one another and create a new system with basically a mutualist kind of economy. And that’s something that Bakunin had been advocating since the beginning of the Franco Prussian war.

And so it was starting to happen. There were attempts to establish revolutionary communes in other parts of France, including Lyon and Bakunin went there to try and do that. That was very unsuccessful. But contrary to Marxist myths, Bakunin didn’t show up one day and proclaim the abolition of the state. He actually had been working with his confederates for quite some time before he showed up, and he’d spent a couple of weeks there. But the attempt to create a revolutionary commune was quickly suppressed, as it was in a variety of other cities throughout France, but it wasn’t just in Paris.

So after that commune was proclaimed, the majority of the Internationalist were Proudonists — although more revolutionary than Proudhon, obviously, because now they were participating in a kind of revolution and they weren’t taking a pacifist or gradualist approach — but the commune itself had a fairly conventional form of government. They elected deputies to the Paris Commune. So it was a representative form of government. It wasn’t a direct democracy.

And that’s the other thing I should contrast at this point. Is that the Proudhonists and the more revolutionary Internationalists, in France for sure, their organizations were directly democratic. So the concept of organizing from below upward isn’t just about how you organize the groups from the local level and the factory level up to regional and national and international level. But it was also about how the base organizations were organized. And they would have assemblies of the workers where they would all get to vote on the policies to be adopted. And then they would elect delegates who would then have meetings with workers from other factories or neighborhoods, so at regional and national conferences.

And this is also how they organize their delegates for the Internationals congresses, which continued up until 1869. And there was a three year interregnum because of the Franco Prussian war in the Paris Commune. But they would elect delegates with something called “irrevocable mandates”, that is they would tell their delegates, “you have a mandate, when you go to the Congress” or conference with the groups from the neighboring municipalities or workers from other areas or the International itself, “you have a mandate to vote in favor of these policies, and none other. And if you don’t follow the mandate, we can immediately revoke your mandate and recall you as a delegate and replace you with somebody else.” This was an idea that was meant to ensure that the workers at the local level actually made the decisions affecting them, rather than electing a representative or delegate who would then be free to politic and adopt whatever position that person thought was best for the workers he was representing.

This was also a conflict within the International, which came to the fore after the Paris Commune, but the seeds of it had been planted much earlier. But after the Paris Commune, a number of the French refugees tried to make clear that the International should have a system of delegates with revocable mandates; they could be recalled if they didn’t adhere to their mandates from their local organization. Marx opposed this, as did Engles. They were on what was called the General Counsel of the International, which they wanted to function like an executive government. And they were quite clear in the internal debates on the General Council, that they were opposed to having a system of direct democracy, where the delegates from the national federations of the International could mandate what their members on the General Council could do. And so that’s a very important distinction between the Marxist approach at the time and the mutualist and anarchist approach regarding how the base units are going to function.

So getting back to the Paris Commune, you had the majority of the Internationalists who were in favor of that form of organization with delegates with irrevocable mandates. And then you had the Blanquist, and other kind of, we’ll call them Neo-Jacobins, who unfortunately formed a majority on the Paris Commune Council. And of course, they weren’t in favor of recall-able delegates, they believed that they acted as representatives of the people, many of them still believed in the concept of a revolutionary dictatorship. They established a committee of public safety, which the French Internationalist, or the majority of them actually denounced as counter-revolutionary.

There were internal conflicts in the commune between the Federalist socialists, and mutualists, against the Blanquist and the other Neo-Jacobins who were in favor of establishing a committee of public safety and essentially, a revolutionary dictatorship. They would suppress the counter revolution within the commune and, you know, organize the defense of the commune against the French state and the national guard.

Unfortunately, for all concerned, the commune was brutally suppressed. Tens of thousands of people were killed. And then the French International was decimated. The Internationalists who’d been in Paris during the commune, most of them were killed. So some of them were able to escape. And many of the ones who escaped many of them became anarchists. Quite a few of them ended up in Switzerland, where they established or tried to establish their own section of the International as a kind of refugee section of the International. And they took away from the lessons of the Paris Commune, the idea that Proudhon had already expressed based on his experience of 1848, that spending time creating an electoral system and holding elections, and then having basically an executive authority directing the revolutionary forces is actually counterproductive. And that the approach that should be taken is a direct action approach, where the workers don’t spend time in committees and arguing about stuff, but actually do things like take over their workshops, and set up revolutionary committees to organize distribution of food, which is what they did during the Paris Commune.

Nathalie Lemel, who was a female member of the French International, she was very much involved in the cooperative movement. She and Eugène Varlin, had established a cooperative workers restaurant, and during the commune they used it to distribute free food to people and farmland. He was an advocate of what he called “non-authoritarian communism”, which was essentially this idea of a federalist socialism without a central authority controlling the economy or any kind of political system but organized from the bottom upward. He was executed during the commune. So the refugees, the survivors of the commune, who became anarchists said, “this is what we needed to do. We had to, through our own efforts, seize arms, defend ourselves and take over the workshops and have a social revolution”. That was the lesson that they took from it.

It was the same lesson Bakunin took from it. Of course, he already was in favor of that approach. But he was quite clear that the problem was that, essentially, the revolutionary activity was dissipated and incapacitated, even, by people focusing on the electoral activity. Trying to get a majority on the Paris Commune Council, and then passing legislative measures, instead of, the basically, the idea of Bakunin and the French refugees is “we don’t need to ask a Council to pass an order or a directive saying that we can take over the workshops, we’re just going to take them over”. That was their approach.

And, on the other hand, you had the Marxist. And again, it’s kind of contradictory. Marx writes this essay about the Paris Commune where he says “you can’t just seize the state, you have to kind of smash the state bureaucracy,” which was the anarchist view. And then he pretended that he was in favor of recallable delegates with revocable mandates, well irrevocable mandates, but then you would be recalled if you didn’t follow the mandate. But within the International itself, he was completely opposed to that kind of an organization, and Engles was even more clear, he basically said that a revolution is the most authoritarian thing you can think of, and the only way you can defeat the counter revolution is by having a centralized political apparatus that will organize the forces of the proletariat to crush the bourgeoisie.

So, that was their real view, which came out after the Paris Commune, when they held a conference in London in September of 1871, which Marx and Engels have packed with people in support of their position. There were a few Federalists there, who tried to argue in favor of having a delegate system of people with irrevocable mandates, subject to recall, representing the various sections and Federation’s of the International. That was shot down and Marx and Engels had a motion passed that requiring the Internationals members and organizations to create working class- when I say political parties, really what they’re advocating was the creation of one working class political party in each country. And that one party would then somehow seize power either through the electoral process or possibly through more revolutionary means. And that’s the policy they forced through at the London conference in September 1871. That was clearly different from the approach that had been advocated by the Federalists and anarchists and the International, both before and after the Paris Commune.

And just going back, the last Congress of the International before the Paris Commune was in 1869, in Basel, Switzerland, and there essentially a majority of the delegates voted in favor of a form of anarchists syndicalism. They said, “we should have dual organizations, workers should organize by trade, and industry, and then we should also have local communal organizations. And through these dual organizations, we will abolish the wage system and create the free Federation of free producers”. That was the motion that was passed at the Basel Congress. And so that was essentially revolutionary socialist Federalist anarchist kind of position that was agreed to by a majority of the delegates to the Basel Congress.

Before the Paris Commune, and after, the Federalist socialists and the anarchists were advocating that kind of a system. Marx was opposed, despite his essay after the commune. As Bakunin said, he had to say good things about the commune, because otherwise people would have thought him to be a monster. But in reality, he wasn’t really in favor of any of that stuff, as he proved a few months later at the September 1871 London conference where he pushed forward this kind of amalgam of a social democratic and Blanquist approach, where you have more of a centralized organization with representatives rather than delegates, making the decisions with an executive form of government and creating parties to contest elections and trying to achieve power through those means.

TFSR: So yeah, there’s a lot in there in terms of… The remnants of the French sections, the sections, which were mostly at some point deeply influenced by Proudhon, that were based out of France and were some of the most militant had been greatly repressed, because of the aftermath of the commune and the repression of the commune. Also, it’s notable that while the Franco-Prussian War was pitting these two nation states against each other, when the threat of a working class uprising that would undermine the highly centralized, bourgeois government and ruling method in France, when that posed a threat in the form of the Commune, both those governments were willing to work together to allow for the suppression of the radical Parisians.

One thing that, when people think about or when I’ve thought about the International and the split between the Marxists and the anarchists, for years I’ve heard from people on both sides of that, the schism that happens in the left that can be pointed back to the IWMA, was sort of an interpersonal conflict between Bakukin and the Bakuninists on one side, and Marx, Engles and the Marxists on the other that 150 years later, we should really get over.

But what you’re what you’re talking about when you’re referencing the Jacobins, Blanquists and the Marxist saw sort of engaging with this position that there should be mandatory leadership that is not revocable, so that they can make the right decisions, and that all of this authority needs to be centralized. That instead of having it as it had been before the Central Committee had pushed this mandate that countries sections be involved in political parties beforehand, there had been an openness to different sections could participate in politics if they wanted to, but there was no mandatory position from the International that that everyone had to it was sort of left up to the locals.

There was also push by some sections the requirement that delegates to the International, had to actually be working class. Which is not the position that either marks or Engles fulfilled, the latter as a factory owner, the prior as an academic.

So you see the manipulation of this organization in order to create, not only, mandated political parties that follow the same format in all these countries, but a central committee that would have agency and that would not be revocable, and that would actually be able to determine its own membership, orchestrating all of these various chapters or parties in these other countries. If I’m not misunderstanding. Can you talk about this idea of it being personal…these two bearded dudes going at it, sort of thing, versus the ideas?

RG: That’s a myth. And the first point I want to make is that the only Marxist in the International are basically Marx and Engels themselves, and a couple of acolytes. But, you know, the British trade unionists were not Marxist, most of them were reformist, and that’s why quite a few of them were kind of appalled by his essay on the Paris Commune. Because they didn’t advocate violent revolution and wanted to distance themselves from that. In fact, Marx had the International organized so that the English didn’t even have their own Federation in the international until after the Paris Commune. And then there was a split in the English Federation between those who supported Marx and those who didn’t.

So the fact is, in the International itself, anything that could be described as a Marxist, they were few and far between. The primary groups remain the English trade unionists, and the French members of the International who, by the time of the Paris Commune, included Blanquists. They had not originally been involved in the International but then the Revolutionary Socialists and the French mutualists, that was an interlocking kind of group. There were still French mutualists, who were kind of conservative and definitely not in favor of anything that would be considered armed struggle or violent revolution. But they definitely also were not Marxist.

So, that’s the first thing. The second…I mean, Bakunin did refer to them as the Marxians, and so forth, so he actually helped create the myth that Marx had a significant following in the International, which he didn’t. And in fact, the first explicitly Marxist political parties didn’t emerge until the 1880s in France.

But anyway, the idea that this was a conflict between Marx and Bakunin is nonsense. As I mentioned in the 1869 Basil Congress, a majority of the delegates — primarily the French, Spanish and Italian ones — voted in favor of an anarcho-syndicalist kind of program. And at the very least, Federalist socialist program, where you would have organization from the bottom upwards, and a system of men dated recallable delegates, and the creation of a socialist economy under workers control or worker self management. That was pretty clear that that was the majority point of view.

And it was also pretty clear that Marx didn’t actually support that approach. At one point, he basically said that the anarchists had things backwards — and Engles said something very similar — you can’t abolish the State and Capitalism through a federal style of organization, you can only create that after you’ve abolished the State and Capitalism. Which illustrates their approach which favored a form of centralized leadership, and also hierarchical organization. And then somehow miraculously after the revolution, as Engles once put it, the state would wither away.

It’s kind of the inverse version of the old French Proudhonist mutualist thing, where the State and Capital would kind of wither away as the mutualist organizations became more powerful and predominant. In the Marx and Engels version after the Revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat is created, somehow that organization is going to wither away. But then there’s no kind of counter organization to cause it to wither away because everything’s been centralized under the State.

In any event, you had these currents within the International before Bakunin got involved. He didn’t officially get involved in the international until 1868, although he probably had joined it a few years earlier, but wasn’t officially involved. The first Congress he went to was the 1869 Basel Congress, where he advocated a form of revolutionary socialist anarchism; he didn’t use the word “anarchy”, because that would scare people. Bakunin was actually quite clever as a public speaker. Apparently, he could be very persuasive. And he knew how to talk to people and inspire them, but also not frighten them at the same time.

So up until that time, and it was at that Congress that the delegates, the majority voted in favor of an anarchist Federalist kind of approach. Bakunin wasn’t the one who swayed them into that, his main speech was in favor of abolishing the right of inheritance. Although he obviously spoke in favor that the International should be the embryonic form of the future society that they were trying to achieve. And this idea had been expressed before the Basel Congress, by delegates from Belgium and from Spain, and it became a very popular idea. So, the idea is that the revolutionary organization that’s going to try and achieve the social revolution, the social transformation, has to mirror or prefigure — that’s the word people like using now — the future organization after the revolution has been successful. And that was a position that was adopted before Bakunin became involved in the debates within the International, and it was the position that was endorsed by a majority of the delegates at the Bassel Congress in 1869.

It wasn’t Bakunin who got those people to do that. They did it themselves. And then there was a conflict between that idea that the pre revolutionary organization should prefigure the post revolutionary society. Marx and Engels were very vociferous in their opposition to that idea. Engels claimed that what the anarchists and the Federalists were advocating was that the workers lay down their arms, even before there’s a revolution, and act as if utopia had already been achieved [chuckles]. That’s what he said. And he said there’s no way we can defeat the bourgeoisie without a centralized form of party organization that will direct the workers and achieve military victory. Engles was, you know, an amateur General, he liked to think of himself as a great military tactician.

TFSR: I did point, just to step back to something that I said shit talking on Engles and Marx, neither of them being of the working classes, Bakunin himself was a prince so-

RG: Well, he wasn’t a prince, he was just an aristocrat.

TFSR: Oh! Okay.

RG: Kropotkin was a prince.

TFSR: Oh okay. Correction.

RG: But yes, he came from the Russian nobility, there’s no question about it. And it was actually at the founding Congress of the International 1864…no, sorry, I think it was in 1866. Anyway early on in the organization’s history, there was a debate as to whether or not non-workers should be allowed. And someone actually pointed to Marx as an example of “well, we should have people like Mr. Marx in our organization, and if you pass this motion here, he won’t be allowed in”. So the motion was defeated and the non-workers were allowed to join including Marx. Engels didn’t join the International until 1870-71. But yeah if they had passed that motion Bakunin wouldn’t have been allowed to join either [chuckles].

But the thing is, the most important opposing currents within the International from an ideological point of view are the Federalist anarchists, in favor of prefigurative organization, means being consistent with the end and also a Federalist form of organization from the bottom upward. Versus the centralist not just Marx and Engels, advocates of revolutionary dictatorship, advocates of social democratic electoralism. They were themselves an uneasy coalition which disintegrated in 1872 after Marx engineered the expulsion of Bakunin from the first International at the Hague Congress.

But Bakunin simply gave expression to ideas that were already widely accepted by the Spanish, Italian and French members of the International. Now he had a role in convincing the Spanish Internationalists to adopt a kind of anarchist approach…

TFSR: And the Italians too, right?

RG: And the Italians. In fact, his most important work in Italy began before he joined the International. He tried organizing revolutionary socialist groups in Italy, beginning in around 1864-65. He lived in Italy at the time, for a while, in the mid 1860s, ended up going to Switzerland because he was too radical and was going to maybe get arrested if he stayed in Italy. So he ended up in Switzerland, where many political refugees ended up after the Paris Commune. It was a lot easier back then for them to get into Switzerland and is for a refugee today.

Interestingly his most important work in Italy was after the Paris Commune, where this famous Italian patriot who was in at the time — Italy was going through this process of national unification. It was divided up into these various principalities, part of it was controlled by Austria, the Pope’s still controlled large pieces of territory. And so you had people, Garabaldi was one of the famous Italian Patriot revolutionaries who tried to unify Italy and the other guy was Mazzini. After the Paris Commune, Mazzini denounced the communist and atheist materialist kind of thing, which created outrage among his followers in Italy, who thought he was a revolutionary Republican, and maybe even a socialist. Bakunin wrote a couple of famous pamphlets in answer to Mazzini in 1871, where he basically said, “how dare you denounce the Commune, and after all these people were massacred, and advocating a materialist, revolutionary socialist approach”. And that just resonated with the Italian Republicans and revolutionaries. And that’s how many of them ended up becoming anarchists.

But that was in 1871. So prior to then, you had the anarcho-syndicalist program already adopted by a majority of the delegates back in 1869. And amusingly, Marx and Engels at one point thought that Bakunin could help their cause in Italy. They found out that he was advocating revolutionary anarchism, which they were never in favor of, despite, you know, some people’s attempts to make it sound like “no, really, it was just a personality conflict”. No, it wasn’t. And so they tried to recruit people to counter Bankunin’s influence in Italy, once they found out that he was trying to and successfully persuading people to essentially adopt a revolutionary anarchist approach.

One of them was a fellow named Carlo Cafiero. He was an Italian internationalist and Marx and Engels wrote him a bunch of letters, particularly Engles, basically telling him to try and discredit Bakunin and persuade people to adopt a Marxist approach. And Cafiero was so appalled by Engles personal attacks on Bakunin that he basically said, “Well, if this is what you mean by socialism then I don’t want to have any part of it”, and then the ended up by becoming an associate of Bakunin and adopting a revolutionary anarchist perspective.

Meanwhile, he did become kind of an informant or spy for the anarchists in Italy because he would tell them, “Oh look at this latest letter I got from Engles, this is what he wants me to do”. So at least the Italian Internationalists had some idea of what Marx and Engels were really up to, because they were being very frank in their correspondence with Cafiero about what they wanted. And it was not revolutionary anarchism, that’s for sure.

TFSR: I mean, we could do a whole podcast just on the myths that were spread by Marx and Engels and Associates. Some of which had some grain of truth, like around antisemitism or around secret societies or these sorts of things. And as well as like crap talking on Bakunin because of his advocacy for women’s liberation and equality.

RG: At one point Marx, in one of his notes, described Bakunin as a hermaphrodite because he was advocating equality of the sexes.

TFSR: If you can’t see past your own nose and say that someone would advocate because they feel someone else’s equality is good, as opposed to something that serves you personally…

In any case, with this split — as you make the very poignant point in the book — the split and the eviction of a lot of the anti-authoritarians or the anti-authoritarian splitting from this sort of toxic atmosphere that the authoritarians were fostering in the International was a growing moment for anti-authoritarians. There was the first anti-authoritarian International which was hosted by the Jura Federation in 1872. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how that sort of helped to shape the anarchist movement — not that everyone that participated in that were anarchists, but — the anti-authoritarian and the anarchist movement moving forward in terms of its rejection of the political or its anti political, its anti-state and at times anti-organizationalist approaches.

RG: Sure. So, after the September 1871, London conference, where Marx and Engels got a majority of largely handpicked delegates to vote in favor of each national section, create a working class political party to try and achieve power, the Jura Federation issued something called The Sonvilier Circular, which denounced that approach and said that the General Counsel couldn’t dictate to the International Federations — the national and regional federations — what policy or approach they should take to politics. That it was up to each Federation to determine their own approach. But they also did talk about pre-revolutionary organization should be organized in a way that’s consistent with what was hoped to be achieved in a post revolutionary society.

And so they rejected a central governing body within the International and said that it should be a genuine Federation, where each group would be free to decide what approach it wanted to take. And they use this phrase that had become popular and it was originally, I think, used by the Belgians in 1868 and 1869, that the International should be “the embryo of the human society of the future”. And so that was a popular view. And it wasn’t one that Bakunin made up, as I said, it came from the Belgians, originally. But I mean it was consistent with the approach that most of the French Internationalists and the Spanish and Italian ones too.

So that was the beginning of the kind of creation or coalescence of an anti-authoritarian wing of the International. That they were now organizing in opposition to this policy of having political parties attempt to achieve state power in order to bring about reforms for the working class and also ultimately create some kind of socialist society. Of course, that was not something that Marx and Engels were going to tolerate and they were involved in trying to defeat the Federalists within the International in France, in Spain, in Italy. In Italy they were unsuccessful because Cafiero went over to the the anti-authoritarians. In Spain, they were only able to attract a few adherence, and they did stuff like release the names of the Internationalist to the police, putting them at danger of being arrested and many of them had to go underground.

But they engaged in some pretty dirty tactics. In France, they would try and get their people elected as delegates, if they were going to go to the Hague Congress, and were able to do so in some cases. In other cases, they weren’t. But then at the Congress, they persuaded the delegates to support their position.

After they had Congress in 1872, you had a bunch of French sections of the International which were basically underground organizations, because the International was illegal in France and you could face certain imprisonment, exile and possibly even death if you were arrested as a member of the International. This was still during the immediate aftermath of the suppression of the Paris Commune where the French state had shown it would show no mercy to people it felt posed a threat to the existing system.

So, you know, after the Hague Congress, you had French sections denouncing their own delegates because they hadn’t adhered to their mandates and had voted in favor of things like expelling Bakunin from the International and adopting this, basically, mandatory policy of creating a working class political party that was going to attempt to achieve power within each nation that was affiliated with the International through its own organization.

That’s what ultimately led to the St. Imier Congress in September of 1872, it was held within, like, less than a week and a half of the Hague Congress. Now, prior to the The Hague Congress, which is the one where Bakunin and also his associate from the Jura Federation, a guy named James Guillaume, who was like a real proto anarcho”syndicalist and advocate of also a revolutionary commune. He wrote, during the commune before it was suppressed, that this was basically anarchy in the positive sense that Proudhon had always advocated. He was a firm supporter of it, and also helped many of the surviving Internationalists escape France to Switzerland. He also got expelled.

The pretext for Bakunin being expelled was that he had received an advance from a Russian publisher to translate Marx’s Capital into Russian, and then had abandoned the project. And he had an associate from Russia, the notorious Nechayev who was an unpleasant person. He murdered one of his fellow radicals in Russia before fleeing to Switzerland. Anyway, he sent a threatening letter to the publisher basically saying, “don’t try and get your money back from Mr. Bakunin”.

TFSR: This is his “little tiger cub?”

RG: Yeah [laughs], that’s right. And so Bakunin was essentially expelled from the International because of the threatening letter that Nechayev sent to the publisher in Russia, and also for having a secret society, the International Alliance. In fact, the International Alliance was admitted as a section into the International 1868. So it wasn’t really a secret organization. Of course Bakunin had his own inner circles and stuff, but so did Marx and Engels. Both of them were busy writing letters to people trying to get them to support their side. I mentioned how they, Marx and Engels, tried to use Cafiero in Italy. They also used his [Marx’s] son in law, Paul Lafargue, in Spain and in France.

So anyway that was the pretext. But why was Guillaume expelled? There was no rational justification for him to be expelled. It was just because he was a revolutionary Federalist socialist, who is associated with Bakunin, so he was out too. But before the Congress had even been held the Italian International was saying, “look, let’s boycott the Congress and have our own Congress. Obviously we know that the delegates are being stacked for the Hague Congress, so we might as well just boycott it and set up our own Congress”. But Bakunin didn’t like that idea. He didn’t want to be expelled from the International, it would make him look bad. And he was right, in the sense that after he and Guillaume were expelled, many historical treatments, particularly the Marxist ones, of course, make it sound like that was the end of the anarchists, right? Guillaume and Bakunin were expelled so that’s the end of them.

Now finally Marx and Engels had control of the organization, but then they they engineered a motion to the chagrin of the Blanquist who were at the Congress to move the General Counsel of the International to New York, where it soon became an irrelevant rump, and the Blanquists quit the International in disgust and essentially the so-called Marxist International, just collapsed. Whereas the people who were opposed to the more authoritarian approach that was being followed by Marx and Engels held the Congress in St. Imier — after, not before as the Italians have wanted to do, but after — to reconstitute the International, without having a central control, a central governing body. Where each group would be free to adopt whichever policy or approaches they wanted in relation to things like participation in electoral politics, revolutionary socialism, internal organization and so forth.

That’s what they did. And as a consequence the new anti-authoritarian International — I mean, it’s not really new — it comprised the majority of the former members and groups belonging to the International prior to the Hague Congress. The Belgians ended up joining, the Spaniards, the Italians, a large group of French delegates, either as refugees from Switzerland, or some of them actually joined from within France. This was a difficult position for them, because basically they were having to work underground. Many of them ended up going to Spain, where they became involved in the International as well as in the Spanish revolutionary movement.

Just as an aside, there were attempts to establish revolutionary communes in Spain in 1872, that the Spanish Federalist anarchists were heavily involved in, and also an attempt at a general strike in Barcelona. And so, in Spain, things were very unsettled, if I could put it that way, in 1872 as well. But it was the Spanish Federalists, as they were called back then, but many of them were anarchists that were involved in those activities, and they were members of the International. And then there were the French refugees and Spain and Switzerland who were also involved. And so the International that was, I say, continued or reconstituted at that St. Imier Congress in September 1872 after the Hague Congress, it was a pluralist organization. It was not a revolutionary anarchist organization. Even some of the English delegates who had broken with Marx ended up participating in the reconstituted International.

In their subsequent Congresses you also had some German Social Democrats who participated in some of the reconstituted Internationals Congresses. James Guillaume, who I mentioned a moment ago, he was very much in favor of this pluralist approach, and tried to get the Germans to formally rejoin the reconstituted International. Of course, Marx and Engels heard about that and told their followers in Germany — who had never played a significant role in the International even before the Hague Congress — “no way, there’s no way you can participate in this anarchist organization”. So there were no further attempts at that.

But what happened in the reconstituted International is that you continue to have these very significant debates over revolutionary tactics and goals and strategy. And so there were big debates about the General Strike, and whether that was an effective way of taking on the capitalist economy. Many of the Italians were of the view that no, that’s insufficient. Errico Malatesta was one of the Italian Internationalists who later became a very well known anarchists revolutionary, and even back then, he was taking the position that a General Strike wasn’t enough. There would have to be some kind of insurrectionary activity as well. And that was a common view among some of the Italians and some of the Spanish delegates because they were basically either going through revolutionary struggles already, or had recently been through them for the Italians. They’ve been through these decades-long attempt to unify Italy. And it wasn’t just unifying Italy, it was achieving Italian independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire from France and the Vatican.

So both of those groups have been involved in, and there was ongoing involvement in real revolutionary activities. This continued through the early 1870s in Italy and Spain. And so there were these debates about what kind of tactics would be successful. What did they hope to achieve? And the Belgians initially continued their support for a bottom up approach where the International and prefigure the future, free society. But then some of them, the most well known being a fellow named César De Paepe, he had been the guy who had written the pamphlet before the 1869 Basel Congress about the International being the embryo of the future free society. But he was in correspondence with Marx after the split and was persuaded, I think, by Marx that, “no, we really need to pursue an electoral strategy, and then we’ll be able to bring about the social revolution”. So basically, from the top down.

Where this came up was in there was a debate over public services initiated by De Paepe. And he said, “We shouldn’t let the workers control public services,it shouldn’t be a form of worker self management. Because then they’ll have their own agendas and they won’t be fair to people. And the thing is, there’s all kinds of issues that go beyond local boundaries.”

TFSR: How does this mean this municipality relate to this one? And how do they coordinate between one another?

RG: Right. How are we going to build a road from Paris to Lyon and set up an international railway network and communications networks and all these other things. Saying we have to have a kind of public service state that’s going to organize everything. And then the anarchists said, “No, the workers can manage things on their own. We don’t need to create a state bureaucracy to do it, that will just lead to more conflict, again, between the state bureaucracy and the workers. So instead of the conflict being between the capitalist class and the workers, it will be between the state and the workers.” And so they were completely opposed to that idea. And this is a thing that I should mention, it came up at the Hague Congress, it was a concept that Bakunin really originated in his critique of Marx, is the concept of the new class.

TFSR: The “Red Bureaucracy.”

RG: Yeah, the Red Bureaucracy. And it was Bakunin, not Marxist dissident intellectuals in the 20th century disillusioned with the Russian Revolution, it was Bakunin in the aftermath of the Paris Commune, and his ideological disagreements with Marx. And even before the Paris Commune he was writing about if you set up a revolutionary dictatorship, it will become self perpetuating, and we’ll have a new class of intellectuals and bureaucrats who will pretend to rule the People in the People’s name. And the people won’t feel any better when the stick they’re beaten with is labeled the “People’s Stick” [laughs].

And so he came up with the whole theory of the new class, and that the Marxist theory that once you abolish capitalism the state would wither away was nonsense. It’s not going to wither away, it will become self perpetuating, because you have a class of people who benefit from having this kind of a state socialist system, who won’t want their jobs to disappear, and will want to keep the power that they enjoy. There’s not going to be anything that’s going to wither away in that regard.

And James Guillaume at the Hague Congress actually made that argument about the new class. He referred to the Manifesto of the Communist Party that Marx and Engels had published way back during the 1848 revolutions, and said how it described how the State would create industrial and agricultural armies and that there would basically be this central government that was going to dictate to people how they were going to live their lives. This would create a new class of political functionaries and bureaucrats who would then seek to maintain their privileged status, even if you abolish capitalism.

That was an idea that was developed even before they got kicked out of the Marxist-controlled version of the International. And it was also one that was debated within the post Hague Congress and St. Imier Congress, congresses of the anti-authoritarian International. And so that gave rise to the debate between what Malatesta and others described as the “organizationalists” and the “antiorganizationalists”. And so there were some people who said, “Look, we shouldn’t even have like a central bureau of communications to coordinate our activities, because it will end up basically making itself into a governing council like Marx and Engels did with the General Counsel in the original International”. And then there are others who are saying, “well we have to coordinate our activities. Somehow we can set things up so that some kind of central correspondents bureau doesn’t become a political power unto itself, by making sure that we rotate its location between Federation’s every year and that the people on it are themselves recallable, mandated delegates from the from the different Federation’s”.

This also led to debates about trade unions and their usefulness. And whether strike activity served any purpose if it didn’t amount to a general strike, with some saying we should focus on insurrectionary activities, Guillaume argued that just being involved in a trade union and fighting for better working conditions and having to go on strike would increase class consciousness amongst the workers, and that this would make them more radical rather than less radical. And I mean, those debates have gone on for decades now. But it was something that happened within the International.

If you look at the debates within the anti-authoritarian, reconstituted International, they basically gave rise to virtually every anarchist tendency that’s followed since. You had the organizationalists who continued to advocate Federalist bottom up organization; you had anti-organizationalists who are worried that even those kinds of organizations would somehow be corrupted, and would end up becoming top down organizations. You had ones who advocate insurrection, others who thought the General Strike would be sufficient unto itself to achieve the social revolution, including the Belgian Internationals. That was their position until De Paepe convinced a majority of them that they should actually try and create a public service state through electoral means. And you had advocates of legalism, Cafiero who I’ve mentioned a few times, he advocated insurrection, along with Malatesta and many of the Italian delegates for many years, but then ended up as result of persecution… So the Italians, they did try an insurrection in Veneto Italy, in 1874 I think it was, which was quite unsuccessful, very poorly organized. But not because they’re anti-organizationalists, they were organizationalists at that time.

As a result of that, and other activities, the Italian authorities started really clamping down on the anarchists, they were arrested and persecuted, put in jails and in exile and stuff like that. So, Cafiero said, “Look, even having an international organization is counterproductive, because it simply publicizes our involvement in these revolutionary activities. We should go underground, like the Narodnik radicals in Russia” who at that time were basically mounting assassination campaigns against the Tsar and the Russian police state and the aristocracy. He said, “we should go underground like them. We’ll have these decentralized kind of cells or units, and we’ll just use whatever methods we can to achieve our ends”. So he basically was advocating an ends-justify-the-means type thing. He said “it could be illegal activity, but we could even run candidates just as a protest against the electoral system”.

The idea was — and this went back to what happened in France during the Napoleon III era — that people who were imprisoned for their political activities would be nominated to run for office [chuckles], to illustrate the repressive nature of the current system. In fact, I think Blanqui himself, they tried to put him forward as a candidate in France during the Napoleon III Era because he was in prison for most of that time for his revolutionary activities.

So what Cafiero basically advocated was now called illegalism and going underground. And then you had the anarcho-syndicalist kind of groups within the reconstituted International who advocated the general strike, sometimes insurrection to go with that. And that’s certainly what the Spanish anarchists advocated, not one or the other but both, and attempted it in Spain in the early 1870’s. And you had the communalists, one’s who wanted to focus more on organizing on a commune-by-commune basis, which is really a town-by-town basis. We’re not talking about hippie communes, if anybody remembers those [laughs].

Revolutionary communes are basically municipal geographical units and the idea is to create socialism on a kind of commune-by-commune basis and have a general uprising of the towns and create the revolutionary commune. One of the big advocates of that was Paul Bruce, he eventually ended up advocating something similar to Murray Bookchin’s libertarian municipalism. That they should try and achieve power on a local basis and then as people saw what they could do on a local basis, this would lead to people adopting radical socialists getting elected all across these different cities, and then they’d be able to abolish the state.

But the anarcho-syndicalist advocated trade union organization. Federation’s of trade unions and the trade unions themselves would be revolutionary organizations, so they wouldn’t just be trying to get better working conditions and higher wages, but they would be trying to abolish capitalism and organize themselves for the great revolutionary contest, or the social revolution.

The other thing that was important in the debates within the reconstituted International was what kind of social organization or economy would be achieved through the revolution. There was a debate between at that time they are called “collectivists”, but today they wouldn’t be called socialists, or market socialists, who believed in keeping some kind of system of individual remuneration. People would get paid somehow, based on what they’ve contributed to the economy, we’ll say, because you can be involved in production and distribution and all kinds of things. You can be a school teacher, and all that stuff.

So there is a debate between those who felt there has to be some system of remunerating people for the work that they perform, and then there were the anarchists communists who said, “No, that’ll still lead to inequality and conflict, because some people will be in a better location. If you look at it from an agricultural point of view, somebody could be in an area where it’s very easy to grow things. And so their productive activity would generate much more economic benefit than somebody else. And other people, it wasn’t their fault that they lived in a more arid area”, and that sort of thing.

They didn’t want to have a division arising between the haves and the have-nots, and they said, “Look, everybody makes their contribution to the productive process, to the economy, as best they can and in accordance with your own talents and inclinations. It’s really impossible to put any kind of moral value on each person’s contribution because it’s a collective process”. And other than using a wage system, which itself is something that they weren’t prepared to support, there’s really no way of providing a fair determination of the value of each person’s contribution to the economy. So, we should have a communist system where basically people should be free to take what they need from whatever has been produced in order to feed and clothe themselves and provide themselves with housing and so forth. It shouldn’t be based on how much you’ve been able to earn through your individual economic activity. So that was the big economic debate.

There were also debates about the transition. Okay, well, even if you want communism, right now we’ve got this capitalist system, so how are we going to transition from a capitalist wage system to communism? Some advocated a transitional period, but it’s different from the Marxist one. You don’t have a transitional state doing it, but the workers agree to maintain some kind of way of remunerating people based on their contribution to the economy. But as production increases, and goods become more abundant, then it will be possible to transition to a system where people will be free to satisfy their needs without having to earn a wage or have their contribution to the economy measured and doled out to them.

James Guillaume was one of the advocates of a transitional period. And then other people, including ones who ended up becoming reformist socialists like Paul Bruce and Andrea Còsta, who was in Italy. They said, “well, we should just move to a communist system right away”. Malatesta at one time felt that way, but quickly came along to the arms view that there would have to be a transitional period. And Peter Kropotkin, who was famous as a Russian anarchist, joined the reconstituted International in about 1876 after he made a spectacular escape from Russian prison. And he initially agreed with Guillaume’s approach of having a transitional period, but then joined with the more radical anarchists communists, which I think at that time also included Cafiero, in saying, “Look, there can’t be any transitional period, it’s not going to work. It’ll end up becoming interminable. We need to introduce anarchist communism immediately”.

Cafiero’s solution to the problem with some goods that would not be abundant was that “well, then we still share based on need, who has the greatest need?” His example was in a family where you have an old person incapable of any physical labor, like an elderly grandparent, well that person needs food just as much as anybody else, and because of their frail health we should give them the food first. They’re the one who is most likely to expire if we don’t feed them first. So, he said we still do things on the basis of need, but we just agree that some people’s needs are greater. It’s all through voluntary agreement, no one’s imposing these views. You just say, “Okay, we have to decide if there’s a shortage in something, how best to meet the needs of those people in most desperate need first?”

TFSR: Yeah. And the approach also undermines the valorization of certain kinds of labor over others. For instance gendered sorts of labor. The wage system gives wages to people for doing certain kinds of work but the people that do the reproductive labor in our society aren’t paid for tending to kids or cooking the food or doing the wash at home unless it’s a privatized approach.

RG: Right. Yeah, that’s right. And just as an aside, Kropotkin wrote a book about anarchist communism, called The Conquest of Bread, and really the genesis of that book was the debates in International about socialism and communism, and what kind of economy people wanted to create after the revolution. And in that book he took on Marx — if you read Capital and other works by Marx — he argued that the wage differential between, say, an engineer and a janitor was justified. And he had a theory, using his theory of surplus value, was able to say why this was so. And Kropotkin in The Conquest of Bread just says, “no”. He compares the work between the coal miner and the engineer. He says, “Why should the coal miners endangering his life everyday and getting black lung disease get paid less than the engineer?” And he said access to that kind of higher education right now is clearly class based. But in any event, the idea that somehow the white collar jobs have greater value than the blue collar jobs is nonsense.

TFSR: As a sort of wrap up, because we’ve been speaking for a while — and thank you so much for that wealth of information — I can see that some of this has bled out of the book that I initially started talking about to the one that you’re still working on for AK Press, the development of anarchist ideas, or at least some of the thoughts, some of the ideas and some of the history are not stuff that I had come across in the 2015 book, so I’m excited to get to hear this.

RG: Great.

TFSR: So since the authoritarian International, as it became, sort of toddled on for a little while and then expired, there were various other Internationals that were called the Second, Third, whatever, afterwards. I wonder if you could kind of address like the legacy of those? Because people will have heard “Oh, the annoying person in my class claims ascendancy from the Fourth International”, or whatever. And then simultaneously, the anti-authoritarian International didn’t continue in that form afterwards. There were some attempts to sort of create new fusion spaces where authoritarians and anti-authoritarians as anti-capitalist could organize together in that same sort of format. But also since then there have been things, like currently there’s the International Workers Association, IWA-AIT; there’s Anarkismo; there’s the International Confederation of Labor; Rosa Negra; there’s an International of Anarchist Federations. There’s all these other formations that are around that come from the anarchists tendency too. Can you talk a little bit — you don’t have to go through each of these examples if you don’t want to — but just about sort of that trajectory and the attempts at international anti-capitalist organizing today?

RG: Well, just for the history the anti-authoritarian International’s last congress that had participation from the various national federations was in 1877. And then things just kind of petered out a bit, mainly because the Belgians decided to get involved in electoralism. And they ended up participating in a Congress — I think it was in 1878 –which was to reconstitute or create a kind of social democratic International of socialists who were interested in electoral activity. And that’s what became the so-called “Second International”.

Some anarchists thought it was important to participate in the so-called Second International because, by this time, the Marxists were becoming fairly successful in their propaganda to claim that the anarchists weren’t even socialists, that they were either individualist or they were just petit bourgeois. That was the common refrain about Proudhon, that he was petty bourgeois. In fact he was actually way more proletarian than Marx, he worked as a printer by trade before he was able to kind of support himself through his writings. He would tramp from town to town trying to get work and in different printing presses and so forth. In fact he helped typeset the work by Charles Fourier, who’s one of the so called Utopian Socialists.

Anyway, the people like Malatesta thought “we can’t let the Social Democrats hijack the concept of socialism by saying, one: anarchists aren’t socialists. And two: creating this organization, supposedly, of socialist groups and parties, and excluding us from it”. So, he was an advocate of participation in the Second International. And the anarchists like him tried to participate up until 1896, when they were officially banned [chuckles] from the Second International because [mimicking in a snooty voice] “you’re not really socialists and you have to be in favor of electoralism if you want to belong to this organization”. That’s what happened with the Second International.

Malatesta also continued to try and kind of keep the reconstituted International going, along with others, particularly the Spanish Internationalists, but some of the Italians and the French. They had a congress in 1881 in London, which is sometimes referred to as an anarchist congress, the so called Black International. That’s not accurate, because the congress actually included people who did not consider themselves anarchists, but rather revolutionary socialists, some of whom were in favor of revolutionary dictatorship.

At that congress, what Malatesta participated in that congress and what he wanted to do was try to create something sort of like the reconstituted International, a pluralist organization, but this time of revolutionary Socialists who may or may not be Blanquists, may or may not be anarchists, but revolutionary Socialists who were united, at least, in their view that capitalism could only be abolished through revolutionary activity, and that electoralism wasn’t going to work. So, it was more like an antiparliamentarian socialist congress than an anarchist one. It didn’t pan out, nothing really came of it.

You can see that despite Malatesta’s hopes that people who all wanted to abolish capitalism, through some kind of revolutionary activity would still have some pretty significant disagreements about anything. It was kind of an abortive enterprise, in my view. And then after the attempts to at least have a presence in the so-called Second International — based on the anarchists solid revolutionary socialist credentials, despite everything that Marxist were saying — there then began attempts to organize internationally, coming out of what I call the renewed kind of syndicalist movement.

A lot of history’s referred to it as the emergence of the syndicalist movement but in the 1890s, in France, you had people like Fernand Pelloutier who said, “Look, having anarchist action groups, underground cells and stuff like that which had become popular, or engaging in individual acts of propaganda by the deed”, as some people call it, assassinating political figures and so forth. And this had begun to happen in the 1890s in Europe,… [Pelloutier said] “we need to go back to the workshops, and organize the workers into revolutionary trade unions”. Which was what had been advocated by a significant number of Internationalists back in the late 1860s and then during the reconstituted International.

And so what we had was basically the creation of a syndicalist movement in France. But in places like Spain, they had never given up on that idea. There were various versions of workers Federation’s in Spain that were revolutionary and anarchists from the end of the reconstituted International, which was around 1881, throughout the 1880’s, and into the 1890’s. They would have to go underground at times, but they wouldn’t just go into revolutionary cells and stuff like that. Of course they would have to maintain a network of communication, but they would continue their work within the labor movement.

So in Spain, there was basically one kind of anarchist trade union type Federation or another from the time of the International through the 1890’s. Ultimately resulting in the creation of the CNT in 1911. This was going on all over the world. You had anarcho-syndicalist type organizations in Latin America. Malatesta lived in Argentina for a while, and he organized some of the first trade unions there. So that wasn’t something that was new or invented by the French syndicalists. It had continued on from the International by people who had been veterans of the International.

There were other Internationalists, Spanish ones who ended up in Latin America who helped organize trade unions in all kinds of different countries, Cuba and Brazil, in addition to Argentina. You had these working class movements, anarchists movements, developing all over the place and they tried to create another International. There was an attempt before World War I to create a new kind of syndicalist anarchist International…that didn’t pan out, then the war interrupted everything. Basically destroyed the syndicalist movement in France. There was a big split between those who said, “Well, we have to defend the country against the Germans” and others who said, “No, we’re not going to support the war effort of the French state”.

And then there was a split within the International anarchist movement. I mean, they weren’t holding congresses, but there was an international anarchist movement where people were very familiar with each other, they would share their newspapers and write letters to each other. And then during World War I, Kropotkin, and Jean Grave — who was a prominent French anarchist communist — said, “Oh, we have to support all the countries fighting Germany, because the Germans are going to impose an autocratic, authoritarian state that’s even worse than what they’ve got now”. But a majority of the anarchists in Europe said, “No, we’re not going to support that”.

Oh, I should also say there were anarchists in Asia who were organizing trade unions as well, before World War I, in Japan, and China, primarily. So, I mean, syndicalism was becoming a worldwide phenomenon before the war. Then there was this horrible split during the war with Kropotkin, and Jean Grave, and a few other people, about 15 or 16 of them, signing this kind of pro-war manifesto. Far more accepted the anti-war manifesto that was signed by people like Malatesta and Emma Goldman, which came out saying that there’s no way we should support any side in this case. It’s basically a class struggle, why should the workers kill themselves fighting to protect a capitalist economic system with one form of government or the other.

And so the syndicalist movement in France just kind of destroyed by that. And then after the Russian Revolution was taken over the CGT, which is the pre-war syndicalist organization, was taken over by the communists. But there was a big minority who wanted to continue a revolutionary anarcho-syndicalist type path. And then there were, as I said, syndicalists all over the place. So they had their own International Congress in 1922 and they created a kind of anarchists syndicalist International. And that is what is now known as the IWA-AIT. And I can’t get into debates as to whether they’re truly representative of the original IWA-AIT that was founded in 1922. But they still adopt the same principles as were adopted back in 1922.

But they’re, as you said there’s a bunch of different groups that advocate creating International organizations of one kind or another. And the problem is that there’s a multiplicity of them. And then it’s like Malatesta, said, when he was debating Peter Arshinov and Nestor Makhno after the Russian Revolution, with respect to something called the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists”, I think was the title of the pamphlet, it’s fairly well known.

Malatesta engaged them in a debate and he said “yeah, I supported the International and stuff like that. But the problem is you can’t hope to create some kind of unitary, international organization, because then you get into fights over the policy. You’ll have disagreements, then people will have to quit. You’ll have splits, and either you’re gonna have to adopt authoritarian means like the Marxist did to ensure ideological uniformity, and then everybody does what the congresses mandated, or you’re gonna have a multiplicity of organizations”. And so basically said, “Well, we’ll just have to have a multiplicity of organizations. No one organization is going to be able to claim paramountcy”.

So, that debate I included in Volume One of my anthology, the debate between Malatesta and Pierre Monatte. There was an International Anarchists Congress in Amsterdam in 1907. It didn’t lead to the creation of formal organization, but it didn’t really need to because anarchists already organize themselves internationally, right? [chuckles] They were in constant communication with each other.

To give you an example: in 1905, I think it was a kind of anarcho syndicalist type fellow who wrote a pamphlet about the social general strike and how it was different from a general strike that was just limited to achieving something like, say, manhood suffrage. And that pamphlet ended up getting translated into Japanese and Chinese and Spanish. And I think it was written in German to start off with. And so the stuff that the anarchist press was putting out would be distributed all over the place, translated all over the place. And the people who are writing these ideas were corresponding with each other.

In China, Ba Jin, who was a famous writer — who wrote a book called Family which is considered a classic of Chinese literature — he was in correspondence with Emma Goldman, right? There was something like an international organization, it just wasn’t a formal one. So when something big happened, like World War I, it wasn’t that difficult for Malatesta and Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman and Luigi Fabbri, in Italy, and a whole bunch of other people to organize an anti-war statement and put out a manifesto against the war. Because they had these networks, these informal networks — which are a form of organization — they just don’t have, like, an executive body, or even a corresponding bureau. But they’re still a kind of organization, it’s an organization which is like a network.

It’s very similar to what more contemporary anarchists like Colin Ward advocate, which is that instead of a kind of pyramidal, bottom up kind of structure — where you’ve got the base units who are supposed to make all the policy decisions, and then have these recall-able delegates going up to the national and international congresses — you just have an interlocking web of people and organizations who coordinate their activities. This can also form the model for a post revolutionary society: basically an interlocking web of voluntary associations, which will arise and disappear as people’s needs and wants change.

That’s basically what Kropotkin also advocated. He also supported the anarcho-syndicalist kind of activity, but both he and Malatesta said what anarchists need to do is just to be involved in any kind of emancipatory movement. They were focusing on the workers movement back then, because it was still the most radical and largest anti-capitalist movement.

He said work with people and help them to create their own organizations because that’s what’s going to happen after the revolution: people have to work together, create their own organizations, and to ensure that you actually achieve something called self management. Where people through their own voluntary discussions and agreements come up with ways of reorganizing life so that people can live without starving and being exploited and all those other shitty things [laughs] that happen under capitalism.

That’s kind of the contrary approach. Within the people who like having International organizations there is a big difference between, say, a Platformist who wants to have a unitary program that everyone’s supposed to follow — I think they call it collective responsibility and all that other stuff — and one’s who are in favor of an International organization that’s more like the anti-authoritarian International. Which was quite clear, when they reconstituted it in St. Imier, that any policy that was endorsed at an International Congress would have to be endorsed by the individual Federation’s. Even at a congress with recall-able delegates, those delegates couldn’t dictate or make a decision that was binding on the regional and national federations. It was up to each one to decide.

Some of the organizations you mentioned, I believe, still follow that approach. And others are more Platformists and say “no, we have to have ideological unity, otherwise we’ll be ineffective” and all that other stuff. I have my own personal views that Malatesta was right, that just leads to a whole bunch of schisms and splits. The important thing is just: you do what you got to do, and we’ll do what we got to do. I’m not gonna force you to believe what I believe. I always thought Murray Bookchin’s writings against anarcho-syndicalism are so pointless. One, because anarcho-syndicalism didn’t really exist much as a movement when he was writing this stuff in the 70’s and 80’s against anarcho-syndicalism. And even up until he died, basically. But “okay, Murray, you do your thing and let the syndicalists do there’s and we’ll see what works”, you know? Throw some spaghetti on the wall and hope for the best. That’s kind of my view of things.

TFSR: Yeah, that seems like a really reasonable approach, assuming that we all don’t know the answer, like the big capital “a” Answer.

RG: Right.

TFSR: Robert, thank you so much for this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed it. I think the listeners are gonna get a lot out of it. So you mentioned your blog where people can find your writings, you’ve got that upcoming book that doesn’t have a release date yet, but people can pay attention to AK Press for that.

RG: Yeah. Mostly my blog is where I post translations of stuff by other people that didn’t make it into my book.

TFSR: Okay, that’s helpful.

RG: But I have been posting some early chapters from the current book I’ve been working on. And I have a summary of my book We Do Not Fear Anarchy on my blog as well. Recently I posted something about Gerrard Winstanley on my blog that I wrote. He was a radical during the English revolution in the 1640’s, who I think advocated anarchist communism, some people disagree with that.

TFSR: The Levellers?

RG: He was more radical in the Levellers, he was part of the group called-

TFSR: The Diggers!

RG: The Diggers. They advocated direct action, they said, “look, there’s all this land that we’re not allowed to farm or occupy” usually because it’s owned by the nobility, but they’re also there were these things called “wastelands” that would be in a town or a village that weren’t being cultivated, and he and they just advocated, “okay, we’re just gonna go into that land, we’re gonna clear it, we’re gonna start digging it, we’re gonna plant crops, and we’re just going to share everything”. He talked about how everyone should be free to “take from the common treasury what they need.” Yeah, so he’s quite a radical guy. Anyway, yeah. So that’s one of the things I put up on my blog recently.

TFSR: That’s so cool. Can people still get — I know there’s going to be a lot of what’s in the new book and the chapters that you’re posing now, that was in the Black Rose three volume series — is that still available?

RG: Yeah, that’s still available. I think it might be hard to find Volume One, but of course you can find it on the internet. Someone’s done a PDF version that’s pretty easy to find. But as far as a paperback version, definitely Volumes Two and Three are readily available. Volume Three has a 100 page essay, by me, at the end of it, an afterward where I kind of sketch out my views regarding the evolution and development of anarchist ideas from, basically, ancient times up until 2012 when I published it.

TFSR: [sarcastically] Just a little thing [cracks up].

RG: Yeah, that’s right.

TFSR: Well, thanks again so much for all the work that you put in and for having this conversation. I really appreciate it.

RG: Okay, well, thanks for talking to me. See you later.

TFSR: Yeah.

Too Black on the Case of the Pendleton 2!

Too Black on the Case of the Pendleton 2!

Cartoonized image of Naeem and Balagoon, "Free The Pendleton 2! | TFSR 10-16-22"
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This week, we’re airing a conversation with Too Black, communications representative for the defense committee to Free the Pendleton 2. Too Black also hosts the Black Myths podcast. For the hour, Too Black talks about the case of the Pendleton 2, two Black men incarcerated in Indiana who had decades added to their sentences, including decades in solitary confinement, for defending another prisoner from a white supremacist guard officer formation in the Pendleton Prison Uprising, February 1st 1985. Too Black talks about Christopher “Naeem” Trotter and John “Balagoon” Cole and the struggle to free these elders.

You can find out more about the case by visiting the links at LinkTr.ee/FreedomCampaign (the form Too Black mentioned in particular can be found at this link) see the documentary They Stood Up about the Pendleton 2 at youtube, and you can hear Black Myths Podcasts at libsyn.com

We sometimes forget to add in content warnings, but since we’re talking about racialized brutality behind bars, there are some descriptions of violence and racist quotes read.

Next week….

We hope to share an interview with folks organizing in Alabama against the atrocious conditions faced by people incarcerated in the Alabama Department of Corrections.

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Featured Track

  • Leave The Shu Behind (Jarleen Bootleg) by SHM & Laidback Luke vs. Johan Vedel

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Transcription

Too Black: Yeah, my name is Too Black. I’m an artist, poet, writer organizer, and for the importance of this conversation, the comms representative for the Defense Committee to Free the Pendleton 2. That’s that’s pretty much it.

Oh! I always forget certain things. I host the Black Myths Podcast. It’s a show where we take myths of a socio-political nature and Black culture and history and debunk them, essentially. Anything that is a lie, or just false, or misunderstood, we will take that myth and we will spend an episode or two debunking and also just clarifying the truth and trying to investigate what was behind them. So that’s pretty much who I am.

TFSR: Cool, that’s awesome. I’ll happily throw in some links to your RSS feed and social media presence after this. If you have any extras, please toss them my way.

Also putting a pin in a thought, because the focuses of the conversation have multiple names, there is State names, there’s other names that they get referred to. I’ve seen, for instance, Mr. Trotter referred to less consistently as Naeem. I’ll probably use their State names just at the beginning, but since you’ve been covering this for a while and on our on their defense committee, is it better to just go with Balagoon, Naeem & Lokmar or is it okay to intersperse them? Or how should I approach it?

TB: It’s best to start with their State names. At least that’s how I always do it. Then after that, I’ll use the shorthand: Naeem, Balagoon. It’s also okay to State openly that that’s how we’ll be referring to them throughout the remaining of the conversation, for the most part.

TFSR: Cool. Okay, awesome. Well, since we’re gonna be speaking about the Pendleton 2, I was hoping that you could please tell the listeners a little bit about Christopher Trotter, aka Naeem, and John Cole, aka Balagoon, some biographical information just to give an introduction, such as why they went to prison, where they came up, a bit about their personalities, if you’re if you’ve been working on the support committee, I’m sure you’ve gotten to have a lot of interactions with them.

TB: Yeah, they both are from Indiana, the Indianapolis area. They’re both older gentlemen at this point in time, because of the sins that they received. But they’re both really caring individuals. I appreciate this question, because sometimes I think, myself, particularly it’s failed to highlight just who they are. Because sometimes it’s easy to get caught up on the case itself.

But when you talk to either one of them, whether it’s Naeem or Balagoon. I was just writing Naeem the other day. They’re always interested in how you are doing, despite as we’ll get to what happened to them. Naeem is trying to organize a way to to expose the medical neglect that occurs inside prison, not not to him, but to other prisoners. This is someone who’s been in prison for 40 years, somebody who spent 20 plus years in solitary confinement. When Balagoon had a medical issue, just over the summer, we didn’t even know if he was going to make it initially. Thankfully, he did. And when he got out, he was still in the infirmary, he was trying to organize to bring attention to the other prisoners who weren’t getting the proper care they needed.

So these are both men who have maintained a sense of justice and, a sense of dedication to the people despite the things that have been done to them. There’s not any overwhelming bitterness that disallows them from connecting themselves with other people around them. They’re always trying to educate. They’ve engaged in hunger strikes. Of course, nobody’s perfect, but they’re not beat down in the way that the State wants to beat down people like that, they’re not dispassionate and completely empty. That’s often the point of these kinds of cases is when you punish a political prisoner, you want to make an example out of them to the public, but you also want to demoralize them as individuals, so they no longer fight. Despite what’s been done to them, they still find that energy to organize while they’re in prison like they were doing prior to the incident that that has kept them in prison.

TFSR: This is kind of off the cuff. But I think it’s worth noting, and I think listeners of the show are aware if they are listening already, but the reason frequently that people become politicized prisoners or political prisoners on the inside… The method that the State appears to want people, if they’re going to survive their incarceration, is to keep their head down, to participate according to the very strict rules that are put before them, or basically to submit all the time. And to erase their social aspect, to erase the fact that they have interactions, that they have affinities that they have maybe disagreements, they have relationships with other people that are in a similar situation to them, not only do people get put into solitary, people get punished, oftentimes when they’re doing these pro social things. A part of prison is to break down the strength of communities into these broken individuals if possible. No disrespect to folks that do keep their head down. I’ve never been incarcerated, but talking to folks that that have been in, or currently inside, it seems really hard to get by. But I have so much more respect for folks when they continue despite being punished explicitly for their participation in defending other people, or standing up for prisoners as a class, medical rights, being a jailhouse lawyer or whatever. I have a lot of respect for that activity.

TB: Yeah, definitely. That’s part of what inspires me, honestly. We have a documentary that Jock, one of our committee members made, called They Stood Up. That’s not just a title, they actually stood up against white supremacist violence in prison, which is one of the most violent places anybody can be. In the documentary, Jock, who directed it, does a great job of talking about how when George Floyd was was murdered by the pig up in Minnesota, there was a bunch of people filming it but nobody did anything to stop that from happening. It’s not to create some kind of individualistic criticism of any of those people, but it’s more so just think about how we’ve been conditioned to not even respond to when a human life is being brutalized, particularly by the State, right? They were trying differently. They had already been organizing prior to that event.

So, when Lincoln “Lockmar” Love was, was being beat down and was more than likely going to be killed, they actually said, “No, we’re not going to stand for that. We’re not going to watch that happen, we’re going to step in.” Doing that provides a certain inspiration to people who might be a little bit more tepid, who do have their heads down, who don’t want to throw the brick at the cop, so to speak, who don’t want to put their lives at risk or anything of that nature. It’s also important to note that Naeem only had three months left on his sentence when he engaged in this activity. Balagoon, I believe, had three and a half years left.

Both of them could have, just to your point, kept their head down and been home. A lot of us do that. We keep our heads down, we know that something’s fucked up, we either feel like we’re powerless, or we just don’t want to mess up whatever we have going. Again, this is not an individual criticism. This is just again, how we’re conditioned. So we don’t do anything. But when people see the situation differently, when they understand that human life is so valuable that whatever they have one line does not stand above the significance of someone’s life like that, is an inspiration. That could recondition people to take a different approach.

That’s why you have to punish people like that, because they violate an unspoken code, right? You don’t stand in in that way. Particularly in a violent way or in a self defense way, you’re just not supposed to do that. You’re supposed to play by the rules that the State sets for you even though those rules are inherently always gonna work to their benefit.

TFSR: Yeah, for full transparency, I was just re-watching the documentary right before we got on to the phone. I really hope that folks in the listening audience end up checking out The Pendleton 2: They Stood Up. It’s quite a good documentary with some amazing firsthand accounts, including talking to Balagoon and Naeem about their experiences.

So I’m wondering if you could set the stage. What were the conditions in the Indiana State Reformatory, which is now known as Pendleton Correctional Facility? What kind of organizing were prisoners involved in? And who were some of the folks? We’ve named a couple already.

TB: Yeah, as you said, at the time it was Indiana Reformatory and on February 1, 1995, well prior to that date, there’s a few things that need clarified. So there had already been an uprising at Michigan City Prison in 1982. There was a class action lawsuit, there was actually multiple lawsuits. There’s a class action lawsuit against the conditions in Pendleton, and there was a lawsuit that the guards themselves had against Pendleton, (Indiana Reformatory at the time), because some of them didn’t even feel safe. They thought the conditions were so bad that it was prompting violence from the prisoners. There was regularly medical neglect and the neglect of food. Horrible conditions, unsanitary conditions. There was also just outright violence and torture that went on in Pendleton or Indiana Reformatory at the time.

Naeem talks about how he had somebody (this is prior to the rebellion), a guard came in and choked him out and called him nigger and said he’ll kill him. But this wasn’t an anomaly. This happened all the time. So prisoners were regularly on guard even more than you would expect people to be on guard in prison, which requires you to be on guard anyway, right? Like they were more on guard. The most important point I think to note is that, as we find out later, this was not known at the time explicitly even though the actions were clear, that the guards inside the Indiana Reformatory/Pendleton belonged to a KKK splinter group called the Sons of Light. So you had literal KKK-minded guards running running the prison. This was exposed by one of the guards who worked there. So that was all occurring at the time, prior to any kind of rebellion or anything of that nature. Those are the conditions that laid the way.

Then on the prisoner side, despite all these horrible conditions, there was the Black Dragons which Naeem and Balagoon were leaders of and a part of. What they were attempted to do, they had been mis-classified as a gang, but what they were attempting to do was bring prisoners together and organize against those conditions, organize against the violence that they experienced in prison. For the sake obviously, of improving their situation and working against what the guards are doing to them, their goal was to get the prisoners themselves to stop fighting amongst each other, and deal with the real enemy or the real immediate enemy in this case, which was the white supremacist guards.

Black Dragons had been organizing for years prior to this incident. So by the time the incident occurs, which starts in the maximum restraint unit, they’re going around flipping cells, and they kept coming back to Lincoln Love’s cell. Just to give you a little bit of background on on him, Lincoln Love was also someone who was part of the agitation against the white supremacist guards. He was he was also a lay advocate, or a jailhouse lawyer, I should say. So, he was somebody who was well respected amongst the prison population. But he also had gotten into it with some guards prior because they would mess with him.

So this time, as some have said, Big R said this, who was across the way at this time. Big R was another prisoner there. Some kind of retaliation, because at the time the prisoners were banging the cells asking for cleaning supplies. They weren’t getting cleaning supplies. So the guards ran up in Lincoln Love’s cell and handcuffed him. They had illegal billy clubs, tear gas, and they started beating the shit out of him. They not only beat him in his cell, but then they dragged him out of his cell bleeding and they yelled it to the other prisoners, “this is this is what’s gonna happen to you.” So from there, the other prisoners in the maximum restraint unit started yelling to get Balagoon and because Balagoon was lay advocate. So for people who don’t know, lay advocates often can serve as mentors to other prisoners, and can even help them get on parole and get out of prison, as well as give legal advice and such.

Balagoon was up there doing that, he was doing his lay advocacy. So he hears this, he hears people clamoring asking for his help. And then he learns, at the time he thought Lincoln Love was at the Captain’s Office, he couldn’t get in. So he went back to population and got Naeem and several other prisoners and they went back to the Captain’s Office to try to see. They wanted to see Lincoln Love because the understanding was that they thought he was going to die. That was their understanding. They had every reason to believe that based on those conditions, and based on what happened to him.

So, they tried to force their way into the Captain’s Office. Initially, they tried so peacefully, then they were met with resistance, so they had to fight back. The guards in that area called for reinforcements, (I’m shortening some of this story). Then Balagoon and Naeem as well as the rest of the group, they found out that Lincoln love wasn’t actually in this location to have the run to another location and the infirmary. They had to be careful why they were running because the guards were actually trying to shoot them from up high as they ran through the yard. They make it to the infirmary but they can’t get in fully. (If people want to hear them tell it straight up on my podcast actually, Balagoon and Naeem explained this pretty well). They can’t get in. Initially, they fight their way in and then the guards tried to trap them within the infirmary. They have to fight their way out.

From there they get attacked. They made their own shanks, they had to fight back. Balagoon talks about how he was about to get get caught up and Naeem grabs one of the guards and puts a knife to his neck. So Balagoon could slip into the cell house, Cell House J there at the time. They occupied the cell house for about 15 hours, 15 or 16 hours. They called the media, they listed a series of demands, basically trying to address the things I already talked about, the violence in the prison, lack of any Black guards at all, the food, unsanitary conditions, etc.

Like Naeem talks about, they protected the guards and the hostages that they had, they did not hurt… or I won’t say they didn’t hurt, but no one died in this situation. Despite the fact that Naeem was charged with attempted murder, If the goal was to murder somebody, they had ample opportunity to do so. But they’ve actually protected them even from some of the prisoners, because they said, “we didn’t want to be like them, we wanted to actually value humanity.”

After all of this occurs, eventually as those 15 hours or over, then to kind of speed up the story. Balagoon and Naeem get the hardest charges because they were the leaders. They go to court. The court denies them any real trial, honestly. The judge openly fraternized with the jury as did the prosecutor. Anytime they tried to bring up the conditions of the prison to try to explain the State of mind that they had, and why they felt that they needed to do what they needed to do, it always was was ruled, it was always objected against and the judge always granted that objection.

They weren’t allowed to talk about any lawsuits. They weren’t allowed to talk about any of the conditions in the prison at all. Anything that they tried to implement into the conversation was wiped out so they didn’t receive a fair trial and then, ultimately, to close this law long answer up, Naeem received 142 years in prison for this and Balagoon received 84 years in prison for this. Balagoon primarily for criminal confinement (kidnapping), and then Naeem for criminal confinement as well as the attempted murder charge and a few other charges. That’s why he has a longer charge.

As I said earlier, they also had to spend 20 years for Naeem in solitary confinement, and 32 years and five months, so virtually 33 years, for Balagoon in solitary confinement. And all of this was to save the life of Lincoln Love. If they had not intervened, Lincoln Love probably dies. And not only Lincoln Love, a few other people probably either die or get brutally beat down because it just reached a boiling point.

This wasn’t a planned rebellion. Sometimes people like to say this was retaliation. But when you talk to them, that wasn’t the nature of it. I’m sure they were tired of being treated this way. But it wasn’t like, “oh, today we’re going to do this.” They jumped in because they wanted to save a human life and they were able to do that.

TFSR: It sounded from, I think what Big R and a few other of the people that were in the documentary had said who were there, it seemed like with the parading of Lokmar bleeding out from his head and a pool of blood and being told, “you are next, we’re going to do this to you…” How could they assume that anything was going to happen but that possibility unless they took direct action right at that moment other than to interpose themselves, to interrupt the circumstances, and to bring in the outside, bring in the media, bring out other institutions that might be able to step in and stop what looked like was about to be a massacre?

TB: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a great point, like, and that’s why, coming back to the trial, it was clear that that line of thinking that you just laid out, what the judge and the prosecutor did everything they could to keep that line of thinking from even being entered into the conversation of the trial. The jury couldn’t even take that into consideration. They had to think of them just as these monsters who hurt guards, right? And this is also perpetuating the fact that even after, like way after… In 2018 when Naeem’s sentence was actually vacated, and then they removed the judge who vacated him and put another judge on who said he basically had to look out for, he had to have his brother’s back ( referring to the guards themselves) and rescentencing another 22 years, right.

The State doesn’t want to take any culpability for what happened at best you will hear that it was okay to go down and check on Lincoln Love but it wasn’t okay to defend themselves, as if somehow those things are separate, right? Like it’s not on the same continuum. As if they were supposed to just submit to whatever was going to happen to them. Like you said, you saw a man whose head is bleeding, and your people are telling you, “that they’re about to do this to all of us.” Again, this day is not an anomaly, this stuff is already happening, this stuff has happened prior. So what are you supposed to think? It was just a logical thing to do, honestly. It wasn’t just trying to be heroes or valiant or anything, this is a logical thing to do.

TFSR: And it seems like there’s a lot of specifics to this being in Indiana, but parts of this remind me distinctively of conversations that I’ve had with survivors of the Lucasville uprising in southern Ohio. Well, I don’t know the makeup of… we haven’t talked about the racial demographic of who were the prisoners in the prison, but you mentioned that there were no Black guards…

TB: The guards primarily targeted Black inmates and the white inmates that they targeted usually were inmates who didn’t go along with the brutalization of Black folks. The so called ‘nigger lovers,’ essentially. That’s that’s how it operated. So yeah, it was a primarily Black inmates who were targeted and there were no Black guards, not that that would have made a difference at this point. But there weren’t any Black guards.

TFSR: Sure. Yeah. Oftentimes prisons are put into rural communities with large surrounding white conservative populations. The guards are often drawn from these populations. Obviously, if you’ve got the group like the Sons of Light, which I do want to talk about in a minute, or what we know of them. I guess I’ll just ask that question.

So, the second Klu Klux Klan in the United States, the second iteration or generation of it rose out in the 1920s in Indiana. You’ve mentioned that there’s documentation… In general there’s a lot of overlaps between government officials, law enforcement and guards with organizations like the KKK who are there to actively reimpose or continue the imposition of white supremacy quite actively in the day to day manner. In this instance, as I understand according to the affidavit of a former guard, Michael Richardson, (who was a white dude) who didn’t want to participate in it, he said that among the groups that he was contacted by were white supremacist formations that operated among the guards, there was the Sons of Light, which was made up of captains and lieutenants and all these other officers. So it wasn’t even just the “white working class” or whatever. It wasn’t just the ignorant bottom of the barrel folks, this was the people that were in charge, and the people that were in charge of the people that were in charge.

Can you talk a little bit about what you have been able to uncover in these interviews and in your research about that organization, or organizations like that, and the ability of that information to get into things like the re-sentencing in 2018, or the initial conviction?

TB: Yeah. I think a point you made within how you were laying it out, I think I want to touch on that first. Then I can get directly to the question. It was good to say like, “these are captains, these are lieutenants, it wasn’t just the most lowly worker in the prison.” Honestly, even tying this back to the Klan, or any other white supremacist group, the mythology surrounding this often is that white supremacist are just dirty rednecks, or whatever. That’s really never been true. Anytime that there’s an organized force… that may be part of it, that stereotype. But for them to have any real pull, it always goes up the chain. It’s never just a random person if it has any pull.

Now, if it’s just a group that’s just doing something on their own, maybe. But if they’re affecting any real pain, I should say, or if they’re able to oppress anyone that always goes up the chain. Even if we’re not directly dealing with the Klan, but we just go back to any of the lynchings, regardless of who was behind the lynchings historically, you’ll always find that there was a business owner involved, that there was someone who ran the city who had connections. It was rare that it was just the white farmers that were doing this. And if they were they were usually emboldened by the establishment.

I say that to say when we come back to the Sons of Light and the Indiana Department of Correction, whether they… We can’t prove at this point directly that it went all the way up to the top of the Indiana Department of Correction, but for it to be this thoroughly infiltrated within Pendleton, it’s hard to believe that IDOC would know nothing of it. Or to believe that they knew nothing of it, or if they did know anything that clearly they didn’t do anything to stop it. It clearly it was clearly condoned, and maybe even sanctioned, but at the very least it was condoned, and it was tolerated. So, I just want to point that out.

I think often when people think of white supremacists, I think it’s a really unfortunate myth, I may even do a show on this one day, when people think it’s just the white guys with missing teeth or something. When you think of it that way, it becomes cartoonish. It doesn’t quite feel like a threat as opposed to when you think of this as an organized force that is very in line with the history of the United States and how it was formed, right?

So, the Sons of Light themselves, that we know of, as you said, was a splinter group. So they weren’t directly affiliated with the Klan in a sense that they were tied to all the Klan chapters, usually a splinter group is people who will take the ideology of a group, might even start their own, but are not under the kind of centralized leadership of the group. Also a quick side note, there’s also other notes of white supremacist groups within guard organizations throughout the State of Indiana, even to this day. But this particular one, Sons of Light, Michael Richardson, and we have a deposition that was taken around the time. Michael Richardson talks about how they tried to recruit him.

Michael Richardson was actually one of the guards involved in the rebellion. Initially, when they went to the captain’s office, Michael Richardson was one of the ones there that tried to stop them. So it’s not without guilt here, but you still have to appreciate the fact that he exposed this because no one else was able to, to our knowledge. But he talks about how the kids of the guards used to play with the Klan robes of the guards, and how they had their own initiating process and recruiting process.

When you listen to Naeem or Balagoon, or if we talk about Meeka, or some of the other ones involved. For them, it was really confirmation that something was going on, because that’s how the prison was ran. Like Balagoon said, “going there was like being sent down to the Mississippi.” For people who don’t know that reference, that’s during slavery in the United States. All plantations sucked but it really got bad if you were gonna get sent down the Mississippi River, deeper south, like that was understood as an even worse situation than if you were in like Maryland or something. So it was understood that this is a rough place, right?

So the Sons of Light, they even passed around literature as well. That’s another thing Michael Richardson talks about. So they were deeply infiltrated into the prison. We’re really asking for more, we want to know more about this. It’s good to know it existed. But we don’t have enough facts, as far as like how deeply it ran. As my comrades on the committee always point out, a lot of these people who worked in these prisons and DOC and such, they just continue to move on to other prisons, some move up the ladder. So this is 1985. And these are jobs people keep forever. So it’s all within the network. So more than likely, I don’t even think more likely, it does, but we we want to have more information. It runs deep throughout the State prison system. This mentality and just this way of doing things, even if it may be organized under a different splinter group or a fascist group here or a Nazi group here. There may be distinctions in that way, but at the end of the day that has been tolerated for a long time.

TFSR: Yeah, for real. I wonder about the legacy, what existing groups there are are still that are operating.

So as you broke down earlier, Naeem and Balagoon both helped to save Lokmar’s life and brought about this huge disruption, we know with other prisoners, but brought about this disruption that stopped his murder from occurring and got sent down the river, as it were, afterwards, with decades and decades of sentencing and decades in solitary confinement, which is just an unimaginable. I know it’s a real thing that happens in the United States, but the fact that that happens to people is just so disgusting.

So I’ll just jump forward. Lokmar died 35 years after the incident that we were talking about right here and I don’t know what his initial sentencing was for but after so long… I don’t have words for it.

What are advocates like you who are doing support work for the Pendleton 2 hoping to gain by talking about the case right now by releasing things like that documentary? Amnesty or you mentioned that there was a retake of the trial in 2018. What are the next steps?

TB: I mean, there’s multiple avenues. We still try to work the legal side as much as we can. But it’s tough. Because honestly, without any outside pressure, they’re going to do what they want. That’s just unfortunately what it is. But you still do what you can on the legal side, just to show that you went through as many of the processes as you can. Naeem filed for clemency, clemency was denied. Balagoon does have some stuff coming up to hopefully get a sentence modification. They’re both also great legal minds. Sometimes I would say even more than most lawyers, so they know the law to a T. They’ve tried different loopholes, and tried to point out the ways that laws have changed since the time of the rebellion to today. They weren’t even, particularly Balagoon wasn’t even charged properly for what they say he did. So there’s a legal strategy.

By starting a committee, we understand the legal strategy is important, but it’s also just doing what we’re doing now, raising awareness about the case itself, because a lot of people just don’t know what happened at all. Especially here in Indiana. I know I didn’t know about it. I would say I was ashamed. Because I like to consider myself somebody who knows about political prisoners. So, to be in the State of Indiana and not know, I was honestly ashamed. Not in a sense of pride, but just like, “this is a situation that deserves attention.”

I think this will require ultimately more direct action, we will require pressuring and shaming, and consciousness raising about the case, and shaming of the State itself about what they’ve done. So we have demands, obviously freeing them in general, whether that be with compassionate release, there’s many different ways they can be released. Because they’re also just older gentleman. So even if you think that they deserve this time, which I don’t and I think that’s clear. They’ve served more than enough time for the crimes that people claim they committed, there’s no reason for them to still be locked up at this point. Even if you’re one of those reformist that believe in the whole system as it is. It doesn’t make sense. Indiana actually has the most long sentence convictions in the country from what I understand. People serve in 30-40 years as more than anyone. So trying different avenues. We’re doing local organizing to try to bring more bodies in and bring more awareness in the state of Indiana and throughout and build chapters from there. Also, do more things like this, get more immediate media attention.

I think, as devastating as the case is, it’s also important to understand how the prison industrial complex operates in general and understand how this relates to that but not to reduce it just to this case. But to understand that these conditions are produced by the State itself and the criminalization of Black people, of poor people, and putting them in these positions. Or, like you said earlier, even building these prisons in these rural towns and taking advantage of white folks that have been de-industrialized and then bringing them into these prison systems. None of this would be possible if it wasn’t for the overall capitalist state, capitalist system that has to criminalize people to maintain order and to maintain the possession of capital. So, we need also to understand that it’s not just this case itself, as devastating again as it is, but that these conditions are a part of a larger, colonial process that requires subjugation of people, that requires criminalization of people in certain forms so capital can continue to be accumulated. Prisons are a necessary part of that counterinsurgency: you don’t have jobs for people, you don’t have really anything to do with these people so you have to build prisons to get them out of the way so you can continue to loot and plunder the planet. You’ve gotta have somewhere to house them. It’s natural that you’re going to criminalize folks, it’s natural people are going to turn to so-called crime to try to take care of themselves. And there’s families that are going to be destabilized.

Naeem had an abusive father, this the type of stuff that people have to deal with that puts them in these positions almost as if a lot of folks never even have a chance. This is going to happen, you’re going to have people eventually who just aren’t going to stand for this anymore. And these particular gentlemen were politicized, they had been educating themselves and had been educating each other and they knew what they were up against. So, as Jock says, “they stood up.”

TFSR: It’s notable that in the charges… the group that they were participating in, the Black Dragons, that was the name of the group, right?

TB: Mmmhmm.

TFSR: It sounds like it was being framed that way in the court and media, as a gang of something like that. But the fact that people have to band together to create educational organizations, advocacy groups, or even defense organizations within these structures to protect themselves from the “authorities” that are supposed to keep the rule of law intact inside these spaces is fucking ridiculous. To bring it up to today, we’re seeing continued strikes in Alabama due to not dissimilar circumstances as you’ve seen for decades and decades inside the US prison systems. The struggle continues.

Too Black, you mentioned that you’re doing educational work, you’ve mentioned that you’ve done some interviews on this subject, we’ve talked about the documentary. Can you point people to any websites or any social media accounts where they’re doing a lot of coverage of this where they can follow up and join on?

TB: Yeah, if you’re on Twitter, [search] @FreeThePendleton2. There’s a Linktr.ee that will link you to the documentary, to various interviews. But most importantly for people listening, like I said there is a legal route that we’re trying. There is a letter that will get sent to the governor who can pardon both of them at any time , if he pleases. And it gets sent to the prosecutor that’s over their cases in Madison County, Indiana. We have both of those letters that we send to the offices to pressure them. This is important not just for the sake of pressuring, but also it shows that they have support on the outside, that people care about them. So, when guards might hear about an interview like this or hear about us raising awareness, it helps push back against any type of retaliation. Because they know that if they do that there could be a flood of letters sent to the prison or a flood of calls sent to the prison or sent to the governor that can make them look even worse. So this is also a form of protection.

Because the more signatures we have, the more people that that can not only just write the governor or the prosecutor but that can even call into the prison, that can write Naeem and Balagoon, the more connection they have with the outside world, the less likely they are to be brutalized because there will be consequences just simply off of the fact that this will get out, it’s not something that can be done under cover. So, I encourage people that if you don’t do anything else, to please sign those letters at the very least. And if you’d like to do more, you know, get in contact with me particularly if you’re in the state of Indiana. We’re always trying to bring in more people to the committee and try to expand because we need bodies, especially if we want to engage in more direct action, we’re going to need as many people involved as possible. It doesn’t really matter what your background is or who you are. If you care about the case, if you care about justice we can struggle through many of the things we disagree on but ultimately the point is to get them free. To free them all, free all political prisoners.

TFSR: And you can find this on the Linktr.ee, but there is a fundraiser that Focus Initiative has going on for legal support. And I’m glad that you mentioned writing to Chris & Balagoon.

Thank you again so much for having this conversation, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to listeners. Besides your show, Black Myths, any other links you want to mention?

TB: Not currently, I would just stay on the case itself. Again, watch the documentary. On my podcast, the Black Myths podcast, we did intereview both Naeem and Balagoon directly. It would be under the episode “The Myth That Violence Is Never The Answer”, it’s also on the Linktr.ee. If you go listen to those, you can hear those gentlemen as well as Shaka Shakur who used to be held in Indiana, but sent out to Virginia. He’s a political prisoner, as well. And you can listen to them explain this much better than I ever could, because they were there. And they also just have insights into other worldly matters that I think people should listen to. I would just say check out that episode.

TFSR: Thank you much!

TB: No problem.

Feminist Uprising in Iran + Atlanta Radical Bookfair

Feminist Uprising in Iran + Atlanta Radical Bookfair

Image from @loozanar on Instagram, Drawing in black and red of Persian words swirling around Zhina watching over a crowd of people in the streets and a youth holding a giant, burning dandelion
Download This Episode

This week on The Final Straw, we feature two portions.

First up, you’ll hear from Modibo Kadalie and Andrew Zonneveld of On Our Own Authority! Publishing about the upcoming Atlanta Radical Bookfair happening on October 15th at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History.

Then, you’ll hear a recent interview with Aryanam, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era, an anarchist grouping based in Iran, Afghanistan and the diaspora to speak about the morality police murder of Zhina or Mahsa Amini and the ongoing revolt against the imposition of the hijab and general cruelty of the Islamic Republic regime. More by the Federation can be found at https://asranarshism.com and their fundraiser for comrades in Afghanistan & Iran at https://asranarshism.com/donation/

Image from @loozanar on Instagram, Drawing in black and red of Persian words swirling around Zhina watching over a crowd of people in the streets and a youth holding a giant, burning dandelion

Next week….

Next week we hope to share with you an interview about the case of the Pendleton 2, two Black prisoners still suffering punishment in the Indiana Department of Corrections for standing up to defend their lives and that of a jailhouse lawyer in the face of a racist, Ku Klux Klan -affiliated corrections officer gang known as the Sons of Light in 1985. To learn more, check out related episodes of Kiteline Radio or the recent documentary by TheKingTrill on youtube, both linked in our show notes, or by visiting linktr.ee/freedomcampaign

Announcements

Solidarity with Striking Alabama Prisoners

If you’re in the southeast, there is a Break Every Chain demonstration outside of the Alabama State Capital, 600 Dexter Avenue in Montgomery on Friday, October 14th at 9am in support of striking prisoners across the Alabama Dept of Corrections. You can find more info at www.bothsidesofthewall.com or by emailing contact@bothsidesofthewall.com

Certain Days Calendars Out

Also, the Certain Days: Freedom For Political Prisoners Calendars are back from the printers. You can find out how to order one for someone behind bars, for your self or place a bulk order for distribution at certaindays.org

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription

Atlanta Radical Bookfair

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves to the audience with any names, gender pronouns, affiliations, or any information that will help the audience have a context for who they’re hearing from right now?

Modibo: I am Modibo Kadalie, you can refer to me with the standard pronouns. I’m glad to say that I was the actual first speaker at the first Atlanta Radical Book Fair back in 2016. That distinguishes me. (laughs)

Andrew: I’m Andrew Zonneveld, also he/him pronouns. I am one of the co-founders of the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. We were away for a couple of years for obvious reasons and making our comeback this year.

TFSR: Awesome. Well, can you tell us a bit about the book fair? You mentioned that the first one was in 2016. How did it come about? Why is it called the radical book fair instead of an anarchist book fair or some other term?

A: Modibo and I co-founded On Our Own Authority! Publishing in 2012. And since that time, the beginning at that time, I had become acquainted with what I call the anarchist book fair circuit, where, as a radical publisher, you get familiar with it, there’s this wonderful proliferation of these anarchists book fairs all across North America and into Europe, as far as I know, and probably elsewhere.

So, in the first couple of years of On Our Own Authority! Publishing, I went to anarchist book fairs in North Carolina, New Orleans, New York, and a couple places in Canada – Montreal, and Toronto. Modibo and I just got back from the Halifax Anarchist Book Fair. But I began to notice some things that made these book fairs really successful and some things that I thought were trends in the book fairs that weren’t the best for community engagement. I also said “I can’t believe we haven’t ever done this in Atlanta,” because anarchist book fairs are pretty damn fun. There’s a lot of great radical publishers there, and usually a lot of community organizations, speakers, sharing ideas, and stuff like that. But we wanted to make sure that when we did it in Atlanta, it’d be something special, that it will be something that reflected the community, something that was inviting and available to a large number of people.

The reason why we called it a radical book fair, as opposed to an anarchist book fair ,was that Modibo and I had never been involved in exclusively anarchist publishing. Because I do consider myself an anarchist, but I’ve always thought that there’s a lot of anarchism that happens that doesn’t necessarily use the label of anarchism. So, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t hold an event that was purely for one counter-cultural scene, that this was something that was going to be inviting to people who, broadly, thought that capitalism and the State power were fucking up the earth and that we want to do something about it. At the same time, I and the co-founders of the book fair also wanted to exercise caution and some of the more toxic left organizations that might be kicking around. This space also wasn’t really for them. So it is curated. It’s not that anything goes broad left thing. But we wanted it to reflect the community. And radical ideas in the South, and definitely in Atlanta, has never been entirely encompassed or represented by people who strictly identify themselves as anarchists.

That being said, in the first year, we had a bit of an issue trying to figure out what our venue was going to be because Modibo and I had been working with Morris at the Auburn Avenue Research Library for a really long time already. But during that year, they were in the middle of a remodel. The Auburn Avenue research library is an African-American History Research Library and Archive. And their programming division is run by a guy named Morris Gardner. And Morris is just an absolute pillar of the literary community in Atlanta. Basically, through his programming, he was able to get funded by the city government, I want to say it was a $10-million renovation for the Auburn Avenue Library, it was incredible. And what they’ve transformed that space into is just this gorgeous event space with multiple art galleries, meeting rooms, and a big event hall, auditorium. Morris at first didn’t think that he was going to be able to open up for the book fair. We were considering a bunch of other venues and the venue that we actually had booked, ended up canceling on us last minute. But as luck would have it, Morris was like “Hey, I think we’re going to be able to open” and we were the first event in the newly remodeled Auburn Avenue Research Library in 2016. And we’ve been holding it there ever since., except for 2020 and 2021. So this will be the fifth time that we’ve done it. And we’re really excited to be back at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, and I was very grateful to Morris and the staff there for making it possible.

M: I just want to add, during the time when the Auburn Avenue Research Library was being renovated, it really expanded, it became something else. We were having our events in various other venues around the city, which Morris helped us get, not during COVID, but during the time when they were renovating. So we weathered that storm. I really don’t know how we did that pod. But we came through and we have a base of people who look forward to the radical book fair every year. It’s a cross-section of people. And it’s not one scene. Looking at the way it has evolved, it has been part of the activist community too. And I think that was because of the founding committee who wanted to create this book fair, they didn’t want to look at the book fair as being separate from the activism in the community. That’s one of its strengths. This particular book fair is going to have some people who are active in the forest movement and trying to stop the police from building a police academy in a natural space in the Atlanta area. And in the past, it was designed to highlight certain lesser-known social motions in Atlanta to counteract the petit bourgeoisie, for instance, Atlanta’s garbage workers strike, and “the bat patrol”, all of these things were integrated into the event planning at the Research Library. Other stuff was just literary stuff, but these were heavy-duty, movement-oriented books that were being published about these things and people who are active in these particular movements. That’s what gave it the strength to endure.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I was only there for the book fair in 2018 or 2019, but I really appreciated what you’re talking about – “the bat patrols” and the sanitation worker strikes. These historical events are being brought in and people with the experience of having been there talking about those things. And at the same time, like you said, with Stop Cops City, you’ve got younger people that are actively engaged in activism simultaneously, really bringing together a multi-generational space. I think that’s super important.

M: Keeping the petty-bourgeois heads out, too, since they think they’re radicals or some shit…

TFSR: …and the authoritarian leftists.

A: I’ll say it because I’m assuming that they probably don’t listen to your podcast because of how they are. Maybe they do. Every year as the book fair approaches, one or two of those organizations reach out to us and ask if they can get a table. We say that we’re full. We do get quite complete because the tabling space is limited in the library. And that creates some barriers because not everybody that we want to have there can come.

M: I think the anarchist book fairs can do that in their name. But since we just call ourselves a radical book fair, we can do it in the policy sessions.

A: That’s one drawback of having a broader name. You have to find other ways to make sure the content represents the values of the collective.

M: But in the long run, though, I think it serves to bring in people who hadn’t really– It doesn’t exclude anybody who hadn’t had the experience of having somebody who calls himself an anarchist outline some things that should be done and some books that should be read. Because I remember that was a big problem in my early development, people just condemn people for being anarchists and they never even read them. “They’re just anarchists, fuck them!”

TFSR: Are we expecting any dramatic expositions that the San Francisco Bay Area Anarchists Book Fair has cyclically where they get to overturn tables of racists, Leninists, or nationalists that show up?

A: I don’t think you can expect any such drama. It’s usually a pretty happy and inviting occasion.

M: I wasn’t aware of what was going on, but it sure is good to know.

TFSR: Yeah, there are some funny videos, I’ll send them to you later.

Can you all give examples of what the visitors are likely to see and experience this year? What tables they might find or what presentations are scheduled? I don’t know if it’s been announced yet.

A: We’re gonna have a variety of different radical publishers and booksellers on the scene this year, some of them – if you’ve been to the Atlanta Radical Book Fair before – you might have encountered AK Press, PM Press, local feminist bookstore Charis Books that is I think the oldest continuously operating feminist bookstore in the country, Firestorm Books is coming down from Ashville, Rebel Hearts Publishing is going to be there. The Final Straw Radio is going to be there. And so is WRFG, our local left-wing radio station. I’m leaving people out. Atlanta Vintage Books will be there.

M: What about the folks from Baltimore?

A: No, I don’t think anybody from Baltimore is coming down. But we’re also going to have Unity and Struggle from New York and On Our Own Authority! Publishing will be there. That gets almost everyone. Oh, and in terms of panels, I guess I should probably talk about that.

We have three panels and a keynote address. The first panel, please excuse me if the order of the day gets changed before the actual event, but we have a panel called Riots, Looting and the Movement for Black Lives. Actually, that’s the subtitle, the actual title is “Big Brick Energy.” So we’re gonna have a panel of speakers reflecting on these massive urban rebellions that have taken place over the last couple of years and drawing some interesting conclusions from that. We have a panel on Land Back and Abolition featuring our esteemed guest Modibo Kadalie and a couple of people from the Stop Cop City movement. We also have a panel on critical race theory and the don’t-say-gay policy in Florida. That’s called the Fight for Youth’s Autonomy. Those would be the three panels of the day. And then we are closing our day with a keynote address by William C. Anderson, who is the author of the Nation on No Map. William C. Anderson is, if you’re not familiar, a black anarchist, writer, and thinker whose work has been published in just a million places. He is on his second book with AK press. And William is also on the book fair collective, so you’ll likely be seeing him around all day in some capacity.

TFSR: That’s awesome. That’s a lot to look forward to. Modibo, did you have anything to add?

M: Everybody’s invited. Just come here with a spirit of positivity. And let’s have some fellowship and some face-to-face conversation about the future of the world. How about that?

TFSR: Sounds good. So, you mentioned how the pandemic– Responsibly for you, thank you for taking precautions and taking that into account. The pandemic isn’t over. Even though the boosters have done an amazing job of dampening the damage that it’s done. Can you talk a bit about the precautions that are being taken around COVID-19 and safety for this indoor event?

A: Thank you very much for asking that question. Because I would have really kicked myself, if I had gotten off this program and didn’t mention: “Everybody, please wear your mask when you come to the Auburn Avenue Research Library.” It is an indoor venue, although the ceilings are really high, so it’s really good circulation in there. And there’s usually plenty of elbow room, you shouldn’t have too much problem putting some distance between you and people who you’re just meeting for the first time. But we are asking that everybody who comes to wear their mask. Masks will be available at the entrance, we’re going to have people handing out masks to everybody who comes in. That’s a big part of what makes it possible for us to do this year. So we would appreciate everybody being cool about that and not giving us anti-mask bullshit or something like that.

M: And some sense of social distances in the auditorium itself.

A: Yes, we’re asking people to make sure that they leave some space in the auditorium and not crowd too much. Usually, there’s a lot of seating there. So that should be quite doable. And when you get there, there’s also auditorium seating on a balcony above. So if the floor level is looking a little too crowded for you, you can go to the balcony. And there’s usually no one seated up there. We’re just asking people to do some social distancing and wear their mask. And masks will be provided if you forget yours at home.

TFSR: It’s some pretty cool content that you’ve mentioned that you’re going to be providing for anyone who starts to feel a tickle in their throat or a little bit too far away to get there, or they find it difficult to travel for whatever reason, a lot of book fairs – London, Montreal, Victoria – during COVID have done a really good job of recording and presenting, documenting the stuff for later consumption. And I’ve seen videos from past Atlanta Radical Book Fairs up online. Are people who can’t make it to the actual event going to be able to enjoy some of the discussions?

A: Yeah, that’s the idea. We do our best to record all the events at the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. The way that we’re able to do that is through a lot of the technology that came on board at the Auburn Avenue Research Library during the remodel. The only problem is that sometimes the library itself, cause it’s a public library in Atlanta where they’re constantly trying to cut funding to such things, sometimes they don’t have enough staff to handle so much stuff throughout the day that we throw their way at the book fair. So I tried to be on top of making sure every panel gets recorded. We have missed some in the past. But our goal is to make sure that each panel gets recorded and that everybody who can’t make it… Because if you’re feeling a little sick, you should definitely stay home. So if you can’t make it, you should be able to see those events online in some form.

TFSR: Cool. Well, awesome. I was just gonna ask the last question about how folks can find out more and get involved? Did y’all have any other comments you wanted to make or reminders for folks or surprises?

M: I just wanted to say something about these book fairs. These book fairs are really widespread. And they’re catching on in communities that have bookstores. They usually start off as a collective of people, voluntarily coming together and beginning to read, sometimes it started off as reading groups, and reading clubs, then they cluster around a bookstore with a certain literature in it. And then they usually end up being active around someplace like a housing cooperative or around the homeless in the community and that draws them closer together, and you bring more and more people involved. I’m very encouraged by what we’ve seen in the places we’ve visited, because it’s getting some steam, getting some motion, and people understand these questions better. In the past, there has been some confusion about what anarchism is and what the state is, what the role of a centralized state and wars are, and what violence is. All these questions are being clarified. So, I’m very encouraged by this process that’s unfolding right in front of our eyes.

TFSR: It’s also awesome that, in my experience, too, these sorts of events that bring people together offer new life and new ideas and new discourse, because this is a long-term culture-building project that isn’t just going to end once everyone reads the right pamphlet. Andrew, what were you gonna say?

A: Well, I think that was really well said. Culture-building and community-building and publicly engaging, I think, are also really important. Inviting people who are just walking by to come through and think critically about shit going on in their community and in the world around them. That’s something I think that we really have strived hard to do at the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. And we really have to thank everybody who’s ever organized an anarchist book fair before us, because I’ve never really thought that this was something that I would do. And here I am six years after the first one is still doing it. It really shows that you can do something that people enjoy and people will take find value in it if you just give it a shot.

Every anarchist book fair that I’ve been to is really exemplifying that. So everybody who’s out there doing it, keep doing it. If you live in a small town, you’re like “I don’t know, if we’re gonna ever have an anarchist book fair,” just do it anyway, because somebody will probably come and that probably be me, probably Modibo, too! We literally just got back from Halifax, Nova Scotia. And it was, in my view, one of the best anarchists book fairs I’ve ever been to. The community was just so wonderful, so welcoming, you could tell that this was an effort that was organized by people who are neighbors, who know each other, and the entire community come out. We saw and met a lot of people, shook a lot of hands, and used a lot of hand sanitizer…

M: And it was in a public library, too, just want to amplify it. You can learn so much from one another but we have to be open to venues like this. Active people, because in Halifax anarchist book fair, they were activist people that came together with their literature and with their books and with their summation of what they’ve learned. That’s what it is there for: we can all learn from one another and from what’s going on in the past, so we can enrich our own understanding of the future.

A: Yeah, and I think what you said about the venues is really important. In some book fairs that you go to, people assume that the place that they’re going to have to do this is sometimes at somebody’s house or in this DIY punk venue or something like that, which is all fine and good. But oftentimes we forget that there are these publicly facing, available buildings that we can make use of. And sometimes the people who work there are all about it, you just gotta ask.

M: It seemed like they were waiting for us up in Canada, didn’t they?. Like “where have you been, welcome back!”

A: Whether it’s a public library, a community center, art museum. Modibo and I did events at the Hammonds House Museum several times. Nowadays in New Orleans one, when I first did that, when I went to New Orleans for the New Orleans Anarchists BookFair in 2014, nobody came because it was in a music venue during the day. Nobody came, except for maybe 10 local anarchists. It was all white people, and it was in New Orleans, which is very weird. But then at some point, they switched to a public library. And it’s a really cool event. It changed, it engaged a lot more people, they had a lot more vendors and everybody had a much more engaging and fulfilling experience. If those spaces are available to you where you live, you can absolutely make an effort to organize something there and it is really just a great experience.

M: Everybody, stay in touch with one another, so we can keep on learning about these things.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s definitely a thing from the uprising in 2020 that I regret is that we were able to have outdoor events in our community here. But there were so many people that I didn’t get a chance to meet because public spaces of interaction with less masking, not necessarily my whole face covered, were just not available and that’s something that I’ve missed.

M: There’s a struggle for these public spaces going on because the state is trying to isolate them and cut them off and put all kinds of shit in there, and you can’t even access. The public spaces have to be defended. That’s really what the anti-police movement in the (Atlanta) Forest there is all about. We need to claim these places with books, singing, dancing, with conversations, in any way we can. We need to keep them wide open.

TFSR: How can folks find out more? How to get there? The physical list once it gets published? What’s the website? How do they get in touch with you to talk about planning their own book fair and get some ideas?

A: Well, the website is atlantaradicalbookfair.com, we are all over social media. Our most followed social media account is our Instagram account. You can email us through the website there. So if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. We’re looking forward to seeing people and doing our best.

M: The library is in the heart of the historic black community on Auburn Avenue. I think it’s all been in Cortland, right down the corner. So it is centrally located, it’s a public library. It’s called Auburn Avenue Research Library. I think you can just Google the address and come up.

A: The address is 101 Auburn Avenue.

M: Yeah, that’s nice and easy – 101 Auburn Avenue. It is the street where… I’m glad they didn’t name that one Martin Luther King Drive (laughs). But Auburn Avenue is a place of great historical notes for the whole area.

TFSR: Easy to find. Well, Andrew and Modibo, thank you so much for this conversation.

M: It’s been a pleasure. I always like to talk to people who are interested in trying to figure out where the hell we going in this world.

TFSR: It’s always a pleasure. Thank you too.

A: Alright, take it easy.

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Feminist Uprising in Iran

TFSR: I’m very pleased to have Aryanam, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era, back onto the show to share perspectives of the Federation about the unrest in Iran since the police murder of Zhina Amini. Would you please introduce yourself to the audience?

Aryanam: Hello, my name is Aryanam. I’m a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era. Thank you very much for having me again.

TFSR: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for coming back on.

People, and women in particular, living under the Islamic Republic of Iran have grabbed headlines due to widespread revolts following the September 16 morality police murder of Zhina or Mahsa Amini for allegedly allowing a wisp of hair to escape her hijab. But I’ve also heard that it was about her jeans being too tight in the view of the pigs. Can you describe what we know of what happened and the protests that have erupted?

And if you could, explain why there are two names? I’ve heard Zhina Amini as well as Mahsa Amini. It gets a little confusing, I think.

A: Mahsa Amini is her legal name which is recorded on her birth certificate. But among her family and friends, she was better known as Zhina which actually means “life” in the Kurdish language. Because of the discrimination that Kurdish people face, they don’t put their Kurdish names on legal document if they have can help it. They use Persian name. Mahsa is Persian, but she was known as Zhina among her family and friends. From now on I would call her Zhina.

So, Zhina came to Tehran with her family from her hometown Saqqez to visit some relatives and family. At the Shahid Haghani Expressway in Tehran, she was with her brother, and they were approached by the guidance patrol, or morality police, and she got arrested because of her improper hijab. There is a picture of her before she gets arrested and her hijab was no problem, but we are talking about the police and they can do whatever with impunity, so she got arrested. Her brother protested her arrest saying that they are not from Tehran, they are new here and they should not arrest her. But the morality police said that it would only be a one-hour briefing class, and she will be released after that. But, as we know, after a few hours her family found her in the hospital in a coma. We know what happened in the police van and the police station because of all the eyewitnesses, all the other women who were arrested and saw what happened. When she got into the [police] van, there was an altercation between the detained women and police saying that they shouldn’t be arrested. Zhina was one of the people who were protesting, and the police wanted to shut the detainees up so they started beating the women inside the van. One of the eye witnesses mentioned that the police hit Zhina’s head against the van wall really hard.

After that, they arrived at the police station and Zhina was not well. She didn’t have color in her face, she was unsteady. This is a place where she fell down based on CCTV footage. The police chose that specific station, to not beat her again. Once again at the police station, she kept saying to the police that she didn’t feel well, and then she fell down unconscious. Then she came to [consciousness] but the police were like “No, you’re faking it. We know all these tricks that you guys are playing.” The other women noticed that it was serious, so they started protesting and demanded help for Zhina. But the police started beating them up again to make them stop. They beat Zhina one more time. This time Zhina went unconscious for the last time, she did not recover after that. The police knew that situation and they started humping her chest and raising her leg and massaging it thinking that she just went unconscious.

In an hour or so, they got an ambulance and took her to the Kasra Hospital. But before they did that they made sure to get all the evidence that the detainee women might have from their cell phones, they might have taken pictures. The police made sure they confiscate all of it. They threatened all the detainee woman’s witnessing what happened to force them to silence. Once they moved her to the Kasra Hospital, we have another eyewitness who actually told her story to a friend who retold that story on Twitter. So Zhina came to the hospital. When she arrived at the hospital, she was unconscious, she was beaten. They moved her to the special care unit and she was kept in a coma for two days and then declared dead. The police threatened the doctors, the nurses, and hospital employees to stay silent and lie to the parents about the cause of death. The clinic that admitted Zhina released a post on Instagram saying that she had heavy brain trauma. They threatened the hospital to stay silent and lie to the parents. They wanted to spin the story as a heart attack, heart failure, and brain stroke. But hacktivists managed to get access to medical data of Zhina and from that, we know that she died because of heavy brain injury and brain edema from internal bleeding. She was in a coma for a few days.

The day she got admitted into the hospital, her brother was smart enough to contact news agencies to cover the story. And the story was already on Twitter and Persian social media on September 14, and it kept circulating. But since she was in a coma, there was hope that she would recover, people didn’t have the whole story of why she got admitted to the hospital. She was declared dead two days later on September 16, in a few hours, there was a protest at the hospital. The police managed to scatter the protests with tear gas and pepper sprays and by arresting and beating the protesters. The actual protest started in Saqqez. But the police started playing all the tricks they could to make whatever was going to happen as small as possible. They had Zhina’s body, and instead of taking it to Sanandaj directly, from where they could drive it to Saqqez, her hometown, they brought it to Tabriz, which is in a different province, it’s in Azerbaijani province, while Sanandaj and Saqqez are in the Kurdistan province. Then they started driving with her body and stopped in the middle of the road to throw off the protesters. They gave the wrong cemetery location to avoid the protesters and they wanted to bury her body at five o’clock in the morning so they cannot gather and the funeral is small or non-existent. But her family resisted all the pressure that they were receiving from the government and they wanted to have a proper funeral.

So the crowd managed to gather and that’s when the first chants started with “Marg bar dictator,” which means “Death to dictators” and the other one was “Jin Jiyan Azadi,” which is Kurdish for “Woman, life, freedom.” This slogan has been with the Kurdish people for a long time. It started with Öcalan, with the feminist ideals that Öcalan was proposing to the PKK, that the women struggle within that party, they managed to win with Öcalan’s support, and they managed to turn the PKK into a more feminist organization. And after that “Jin Jiyan Azadi” became a prominent slogan within Rojava. This is a slogan that has been in the social media and satellite TV for the Kurdish people, so it was in the back of their minds. So “Jin Jiyan Azadi” was, especially in this situation where a woman was killed because of just hijab, was chanted as a counter, including “Marg bar dictator” (Death to dictators). Women started to remove their headscarves with the support and encouragement of men right at the funeral. And from there, protesters spread to other Kurdish cities including Sanandaj. On September 18-19, the uprising spread to Tehran, Rasht, Esfahan, Karaj, Mashhad, Ilam… On September 20th, it went even further, to Sari, Tabriz, Qom, Kerman, Hamedan, and Kish.

There are so many significant cities here, they are all major cities. Something significant here is Qom and Mashhad are the ideological strongholds of the regime. Mashhad is where the eighth Imam of the Shia sect is buried, Imam Reza. Qom is where all the major mullahs train, that’s where they come from, but they were one of the first cities that joined the uprising. And Tabriz was another amazing one. In the first few days, a lot of people from Tabriz didn’t want to join because people were chanting “Jin Jiyan Azadi,” that’s the slogan of PKK, the terrorists (they were following the line of Turkey). So there was a surprise that Tabriz rose as fast as they did. And it was a very pleasant surprise.

By now, all 31 provinces, and more than 100 cities have risen up. And 100 is just an underestimate, I just don’t have the number at the moment. Oshnavieh was a city that got liberated, but unfortunately, it got retaken the following day. The regime used drones thanks to the technology that the US gave them. They had tested those on Baluchistan during previous uprisings, they used it on Oshnavieh and on the stronghold of the Kurdish democratic parties. So Oshnavieh fell into the hands of the regime again, but the uprising is still ongoing. The universities have started a massive strike. By now, at least 110 universities went on strike. The Sharif University of Technology, which is well-known worldwide, went on strike and was brutally suppressed. The police surrounded the University and started shooting at the students and arresting them. They closed down the university for the next few days so the protests cannot happen and so they can erase any evidence of human rights violations. But after the strike, the arrests of students continued. Also, high school students and even younger students are joining the protest. We are seeing 15-17-year-olds are joining the strike. There was one video that high school students throwing their Principal out of the high school.

TFSR: That video was amazing.

A: Yes. They kept saying “beesharaf”, which means “scoundrel,” “without honor.” The universities are getting brutally suppressed, at one university at least there was one dead student, many injured and many arrested, over 100 were arrested in one university. But the uprising is still going on. This is the third week of the protest. It’s been 21 days since the start of the uprising, and this is the longest uprising in the last few years in Iran.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s amazing. Part of me just thinks of how embedded the secret police and security state are in parts of Iranian society, how many levels of policing there are, and how frequently people are getting stopped. I mean, I live in the United States, there’s a lot of policing here too. But it’s so brave that people of all these different generations, especially the youth, would be rising up and refusing to take the shit anymore. When you said that Oshnavieh had been liberated briefly but retaken by the regime, was it just the government was kicked out for a day or two by the population or by a specific group?

A: Oshnavieh is a city in the Kurdistan province near the border, but they managed to take control of all the government buildings, and they threw out all the police and all the regime forces. But that night, there was a military unit from Tabriz that headed towards, and the government used drones to strike all the government buildings, all the possible gathering places for the people. A few people died just because of that. The city was suppressed again.

TFSR: That’s incredible and it’s amazing how widespread, as you say, this has been. Getting back to Zhina’s case, what the morality police or the guidance patrol is, what do they do and what is your impression of how people generally think of them?

A: Guidance patrol is an organization that was established in 2005. But it succeeded an older organization, the Islamic Religious Police, and they have one goal – enforcing the Islamic code of conduct. This is not limited to the women’s Islamic dress code, it is controlling the relationship of the people in all ways possible. The boyfriends and girlfriends cannot be seen together in public. You can only be seen with the opposite gender if they are part of your family, if they are mahram, an Islamic word meaning a member of your family, marrying whom is haram – taboo or forbidden. So you can be together with a member of your family. But, again, this is a patriarchal society in which you need to have either a brother, even a younger brother or younger cousin, or a father, so you don’t get harassed by the regime or other people when you’re going about doing your business as a woman. That’s one of the reasons that Kiarash, Zhina’s brother was with her, because this is how it is expected to be. Unfortunately, as part of the patriarchal society, you cannot be alone. In the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, if they are seen together, the police harass either both of them or the woman. So people have to play different tricks to circumvent the guidance patrol.

But guidance patrol does a lot of things like harassing transgender or queer people because of lack of gender conformity, they can do everything with impunity. They even monitor men’s attire. Back in Rafsanjani’s presidency, which was from 1989 to 1997, even men could not wear short-sleeve clothing in public. Now, if men are wearing clothing coded as western or whatever guidance patrol sees as improper clothing for men, they get into the same problem as women. Not as bad as women because men can resist more, since it’s a patriarchal society, they are more lenient to men. They would be sent to do 40 hours of the briefing class, and there is not as much beating. But for women, there is much beating to make them stop.

Also, they monitor what people buy, and there are cases when people had to return newly bought goods, such as clothing, bags, shoes, whatever that morality police finds improper for the Islamic code of conduct. As I said, they can do anything with impunity, as long as they can frame it as an issue of the Islamic trust code or Islamic code of conduct in public. As you might expect, the majority of people in Iran hate the guidance patrol. Putting it more concretely, there was an independent survey done by Gaman in 2020. 58% of the people in that survey do not believe in the hijab at all. Of those that believe in hijab, 76% are against compulsory hijab. Only 15% of the people in the survey were for legal obligation and compulsory hijab. There is no family, no individual in Iran that has not experienced the harassment of the guidance police, didn’t have a family member or a relative being harassed or arrested by them. Unless they are part of this regime, they are a religious and patriarchal family that enforces hijab strictly, before even the guidance patrol gets the chance to enforce it for them. So that 15% that are for compulsory hijab, they already enforce it on their family members and are part of the conservative, religious and patriarchal family unit. People pretty much hate this unit called morality police or guidance patrol. And they join in burning down, flipping over the cars, or hitting the police whenever they get the chance.

TFSR: Is Zhina’s killing totally out of the ordinary? Did they just go too far and the family was able to follow up so it didn’t get covered up? Is it a semi-normal thing or was this just an act of brutality that was totally out of the ordinary for how the morality police are?

A: Women experience police brutality similar to Mahsa’s case every single day in Iran. They get pressured, some get raped, some get killed by the police, and the regime managed to silence the family by getting forced confession from them to say something positive about the regime and why their child was wrong. It happens every single day. Before this event happened, there was a video of a woman in Raj being thrown out of the morality patrol’s van, there were multiple videos of morality police beating a woman and forcing her into a van or beating them down. This is normal. This happens every day. The only reason that they failed in Mahsa’s case was that the family resisted the intimidation and refused the pressure. They allowed the large gathering, and Kurdish people were behind them in the funeral and it sparked. Morality police have always been brutal.

But in the last few months, it had been more brutal because of what I believe to be a reaction to the women’s popular grassroots activism. In Iran, some businesses enforce the hijab as well. So what the women of Iran did was blacklist the businesses that do that. They didn’t have any leader, they just gathered the listings saying, “We don’t go to this business. This business just keeps harassing us for a hijab, or being with our boyfriend or girlfriend.” Transgender people of Iran joined as well saying that “these businesses harass them for their gender nonconformity.” The businesses were like, “Oh, you’re shutting our businesses by blacklisting us, don’t do that, we are good people.” But right then the cases of morality police brutality started increasing or it became more visible (to be more honest). People are becoming more aware of what’s happening. The cases of people taking a video of the morality police van, recording the brutality of police inflicting on a woman are being videotaped everywhere. So there was a tipping point. Mahsa’s death, unfortunately, was a tipping point. As they say, her name, the slogan that we use is “Mahsa, you’re not dead, your name became a symbol.” So although being Kurdish in Tehran had a significant effect on how the police treated Zhina but it’s happening all across the country, unfortunately.

TFSR: As you say, the awareness is happening all across the country. You mentioned before, when I asked about the two names, that the regime is generally unfriendly to Kurdish people as a minority. Is that because of a Persian supremacist perspective? Is it because they view any break from what they consider to be the norm, to be a sectarian grouping? Is it because of separatist groups in the Kurdistan region? What do you understand to be the motivating factor for the state to repress Kurds or Baluchi or other minorities?

A: The regime is using Persian supremacy for sure, but their motivation is to keep their hegemony. And their cultural hegemony is rooted in the Persian language and Persian culture. The Kurdish people, the Baluchi people, the Arab people, and the people of Sistan, the Afghani people, are breaking the hegemony. They are outside the hegemony that the regime wants to project. So, it’s not just the people of Kurdistan. The people of Kurdistan are prominent because they can resist, they have organizations, but the regime keeps the people in the periphery poor. For example, people in Baluchistan are getting massacred right now. The number of deaths right now in Baluchistan is at least 91 people. Those are the ones who have birth certificates, a lot of Baluchi people do not have birth certificates. So it is easier to cause genocide when the people do not legally exist. That’s how they do it, it is a colonial and genocidal tactic. And they do that all over the periphery in Iran, which is Kurdish, Baluchi, Gilak, people of northern Iran, which in northern Raj, Sistan… It is a way to have control.

TFSR: In your view, is there an underlying philosophical movement that people are being motivated through their resistance to the morality police at this point? Is there an idea spreading? Or is it just the existent dignity of human beings to not live under omnipresent attack and surveillance that’s motivating a lot of the uprising?

A: People in every uprising have a dialogue with each other. In the uprising in 2017, they ended the conversation about reformism. They started the conversation about overthrowing the regime. Before that, in 1997 when Hatami became the president of the Islamic Republic, he brought reforms into the government, which gave a lot of hope to the people who believed that things can get better through reforms. Before then, it was Rafsanjani’s presidency. So Hatami relaxed some rules about hijab, about Islamic code of conduct, and just gave some breathing room to the people. That helped the regime for 20 years, they could play that reformism game for 20 years, until 2017 when people were done with reformism, their slogans were like “Reformers, this is the end!” In 2019, that continued but it became more radical, and the conversation about overthrowing the government through armed means started happening. And thru the Uprising of the Thirsty, the uprising of Baluchistan, through Uprising of the Hungry, the bread riots that happened this year, every time we are advancing and moving the position to “fuck the police.”

First, we’ve been like “Screw the reformers, we cannot survive through reform. We need to get rid of this government.” People believed in voting, for example, in 2009, it was the Green Movement in Iran, and the main slogan of the people was “Where is my vote?”, people were still believing in the vote. In 2017, that went away, they were not talking about votes that much. They were some small groups, but in 2019, more radical conversations started saying “Marg bar setamgar, che Shah bashe che Rahbar”, which means “Death to the oppressor, be it the Shah or the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic”. So these slogans became more prominent. In 2021, which was the Uprising of the Thirsty, that conversation went forward, and became more radical, until this year 2022, in which the conversation from the beginning was “Death to the dictator”, “Death to the oppressor, be it Shah or leader”, it was against the police. This is a way that people kept going forward and using their previous experience from the last uprising to inform the current action.

TFSR: Thank you. So there have been a lot of videos that have come out of girls and women mobbing authoritarian men, dancing in the streets, and people burning their hijabs. Can you talk about how the word has spread during the uprisings and if any digital tech or social media, in particular, have aided, and maybe a little bit about internet shutdowns too?

A: Yes, the internet had a major effect on the advance of the uprising. As I said, the news of Zhina’s death was spread the moment that she was admitted into the hospital, hashtags were used, and people were learning about it. So, the majority of the population on social media was already aware of Zhina’s situation, they were just not going to act because she was in a coma. One thing worth mentioning is that the majority of the people protesting right now in the uprising were born in 1380 [Islamic calendar]. We call them the 80s, which is generation Z. They were born around 2000. And the oldest of them are about 21 years old, the same age as Zhina. A good section of them is from 17 to 20 years old that are on the street fighting the regime.

So they are very savvy with the internet and social media. And one thing that we are noticing recently in this protest is that the people of Iran are doing an amazing job, they are taking security culture very seriously. This is the first time that we are noticing that majority, if not all the videos that are coming out, are taken from the back of the head or taken with a low angle so that people cannot be identified by their faces. And this is another thing that people learned through the continued protests throughout the last few years – to protect themselves and their friends and fellow people fighting against the regime, they need to take the security culture seriously, and they are doing that correctly. It is really hard to see people without a mask protesting. They are covering their face as much as they can. If they’re not, before posting a video, people are blurring faces. People were using the internet to inform each other of what was happening, where to gather, what to do, what to get and keep motivating each other like that.

Right now, with the shutdown of the Internet, in some cities, people are using a small paper notice on every house, saying “Let’s gather up here.” In some other places, people have gathered in the neighborhood, they already organized themselves in the neighborhood, they know each other, they do talk, they organize themselves, and they set up a meeting time at a certain place. They do it through that or they get each other’s phone numbers because the cell phones are still working. But once in a while, the internet comes in and people can use it to get news and information. WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram, and Session are filtered, people need to use a proxy to use the Session app, which is another good app for anonymous communication. Signal got shut down, and people were using Signal. But people found other ways, some people are just going out every day at 5pm on the streets, and they find other people protesting and start taking action. They form their own solidarity groups and keep their speaking habit every day. So, this is not like during previous protests and uprisings when the government shut down the internet and could basically shut down the protests.

TFSR: Oh, that’s interesting. I was thinking, “Oh, in the past, when we spoke and you talked about how a lot of people don’t bother organizing online because of the surveillance and the internet getting shut down.” But then I started thinking about the videos being everywhere. That makes perfect sense. But I’m so glad to hear that people have been taking the security of themselves and the people around them seriously. And I’ve noticed that about the videos that a lot of them are from behind or at a low angle. Super smart.

A: Yes. They keep mentioning to the protesters that they need to film from the back and wear a mask. We are glad it happens everywhere, not only in the bigger cities, they learn from their previous experiences. They saw people getting arrested after the protests. So many Arab activists were arrested after the Uprising of the Thirsty because their videos were released in public and people could see their faces. We are really glad that it’s going forward.

TFSR: You’ve mentioned before in past conversations how in Afghanistan, when the Taliban was able to regain control, some men would come out in solidarity with women but also be repressed, maybe not. They would face different repression. Everybody hates the morality cops in Iran but they suffer different consequences often. Have you witnessed or has the Federation expressed witnessing a lot of people crossing the imposed gender lines in these protests, in terms of coming out and supporting and standing with people that are forced to wear the hijab or people who are policed in their body differently? Is it mostly just femme-presenting people that are out there? Or has this shifted conversation of solidarity in the streets or within families to common hatred of the imposition of patriarchal gender?

A: Oh, it definitely moved the conversation toward rejecting the patriarchal ruling of hijab. There were a lot of older women that came out in support of the uprising. They burned their own scars, and some of them were like, “We go old, our time is over, you guys fight on. You’re doing your job.” They are supporting. There was a video of a senior woman in the metro sitting and not wearing a hijab. Another older man was trying to enforce hijabs, saying “Why are you not wearing hijab, are you not ashamed of yourself?” And the woman answered his question really well with a very sharp word, when the man got up, she got up and started beating him for trying to enforce hijab on someone he has no business forcing hijab on her, and people were really supportive. People’s awareness about hijab and patriarchal and religious norms is increasing not just among young people, but all across the family strata.

Whenever women remove their scarves, before they would get harassed by men, now they are getting encouraged and supported by men. This is something that didn’t happen before. Before, there were women’s protests about compulsory hijab. Women would individually go to the streets and removed their headscarves, but they were not getting support from the people around them, and the morality police took them. But this case is different. People are supporting the actions of women, they are at the forefront of the uprising and are getting support from the men most of the time.

There are always some patriarchal men… some who have started a new slogan to basically go against Woman Life, Freedom. Their horrible slogan is “Men, Nation, Prosperity.” An example that comes to mind in the US is “Black Lives Matter” when it was countered by “All Lives Matter,” but unfortunately, some people are chanting it right now, but it is counter-revolutionary, and it counters the ideals set out by this uprising.

TFSR: According to the Iran Human Rights NGO based in Norway, there have been at least 150 killings so far that they’ve been able to record during demonstrations and hundreds detained. Among those killed was a 16-year-old woman, Nika Shakarami, who disappeared on September 27 and was found dead from what appeared to be bludgeoned wounds and their allegations of her body being snatched by the state for a private burial. I don’t know if you can talk about Nika’s situation, I was seeing some videos up on the Federation of Anarchism Era’s social media earlier. And you’ve covered how widespread the demonstrations are, the drone strikes in certain instances, and another government repression, but if you could talk a little bit about if the repression has been successful in your view of dampening people’s resistance, or if people have continued to endure despite it.

A: The number of deaths grossly exceeds 100. 100 deaths were just in the city of Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. And that’s just counted deaths. As I said earlier, a large section of Baluchi people do not have birth certificates and their identity is not known. So their deaths will not be counted in the official record. Nobody knows, as if they do not exist and that their deaths don’t count. This is the same in the other major cities. If in Zahedan we had 100 deaths, we can see that throughout three weeks, there are at least 100 dead in Tehran and other major cities. One hundred deaths are grossly underestimated.

Another point, as I was saying earlier, the majority of the protesters are from Generation Z. They are 16-22 years old and coming out on the street fighting the regime. Nika Shararami was a 16-year-old girl who was one of the protesters. She went out to protest with a water bottle and a bag with her birth certificate for identification. She mentioned that she was followed by the police a few minutes before her disappearance. The CCTV showed that she did not go to her relatives’ house, because she knew that she was getting followed, she was trying to get them off the trail. She didn’t want to go straight to her aunt’s house and cause trouble there. So she went to the empty construction area. On that same night, her Telegram account and her Instagram account were deleted and her cell phone was turned off. 10 days later, her family did not get any news from her. They went to the police, they went everywhere – to the hospitals, to the morgue, everywhere to find out anything about her. After 10 days, they got a call from the police saying they should come and identify her body. She, again, had a bad head injury caused by police batons. The police claimed that she fell from the high ground and died. But this is police, so they fabricated that they possibly threw her body down. Who knows what they did in 10 days before calling her parents? She’s not the only 16-year-old that was killed in this uprising. We don’t have a count, but many 16-year-olds like her were killed by the police in the last few weeks.

In her case, the police were so scared about causing another spark in the uprising that they stole her body from the funeral house and they buried it in a village surrounding Khorramabad where her family lived. In the dead of night without the consent and knowledge of the parents. The news started getting out. The mother started talking about their circumstances of Nika’s of death. And today, the police forced a false confession from her, she had to repeat what the police wanted her to tell. In a forced confession from her uncle, we can hear the interrogator. Like a quiet voice was saying, “Talk, talk now. Talk now, dammit.” So the uncle had to say whatever they were feeding him. And he was audible in the video. They didn’t know they had accidentally released it like that. So they threatened and intimidated the family. I think her uncle might be in prison right now, and I can’t confirm that, but that’s the story. That’s how they do it to Nika’s family. They couldn’t do it to Mahsa, but they did it to Nika and to many other 16-year-olds whose names we might not know. They just intimidated and threatened the family into silence.

TFSR: Have you witnessed much solidarity from other places in the region in terms of the uprising against the regime’s brutality and the imposition of the hijab?

A: Yes, absolutely. There was solidarity across the region, amazing solidarity from the women of Afghanistan. They showed their solidarity with the people of Iran for the cause of Zhina and for the cause of freedom for women and the cause of women. And one of their slogans was “Bread, work, freedom,” which is one of the slogans that was also chanted in Iran. Maybe it was in Raj, where there is a video in which people were chanting “Bread, work, freedom” alongside with “Woman, life, freedom,” But there was a bombing that we believe to be caused by Taliban in the Kaaj education center that had the main women’s section and it is in the Hazara ethnicity neighborhood. A suicide bombing happened in the women’s section of the Education Center, and many women were killed in this bombing. That caused a new wave of solidarity. Some of their slogans include “Bread, work, freedom,” and “Death to Taliban, whether it’s Kabul or Tehran.” The other one is “Stop Hazara genocide”. Since this is part of the campaign against the Hazara people, and also against women and women’s autonomy, and the right to education. The women in Afghanistan, across Herat, Bamyan, Kabul, and many other cities started protesting and chanting “Stop Hazara genocide,” “Education is our right,” and “Death to enemies of knowledge.” Everything that goes on in Afghanistan and Iran is basically the same. Taliban is just a younger sibling of the Islamic Republic.

Also in Iran, the government used ambulances to covertly move the detained protesters. Taliban did the same thing in Afghanistan. So Taliban is just copying Iran in all its ways to suppress the people. We also saw amazing protests in Iraq and Lebanon. In Iraq, there were protests in solidarity with the uprising, and also against the intervention of Iran in Iraq’s politics, which we are very grateful for and we hope to see more. This is how we see solidarity. Each of us is acting with our own goals and tactics but at the same time, we are strengthening the movement in our surrounding area. We are acting in solidarity. The people of Lebanon also had a demonstration in solidarity with the uprising for Zhina Amini. We are very grateful and hope to see more.

TFSR: Media in the USA and the West are presenting this revolt as feminist, and the West frequently uses symbols of the hijab, for instance, as a dog whistle for Islamophobia and Orientalism. The part that isn’t said out loud is the idea that there should be regime change and the imposition of a neoliberal “democracy” installed in Iran. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you’ve seen of Western media presentations of what’s going on, where they get it right, and where they get it wrong…

A: First of all, I want to touch on the word Islamophobia. I don’t think that we have a good anarchist critique of religion at all. So far, I saw two reactions. One reaction was, as you said, the West trying to explain this as something that people are rising against backward ways of the region, which use Islam as a code word, which doesn’t mean the culture and, like you said, Orientalism. The other one is that Islam is not the problem, it is just the Islamic Republic, it is just this regime or that regime, there is no compulsion in Islam, which is, I’m sorry, a really ridiculous statement. The vast majority of the Islamic religion, and also the rest of religions are about enforcing the sacred taboos about society and what the consequences would be if we obey or do not obey. I’m from a federation that does not accept the religious tendency of anarchism because we see religion as another mode of power that forces people into obedience. That’s another tool in the masters’ hands to make people obey.

While capitalism is doing that by interfering by sabotaging the production and consumption relations of human beings, religion does lead to sabotaging human everyday relations by using sacredness as property. This was mentioned by Graeber in The Dawn of Everything, that the sacred is the oldest form of property that we observe in human society so far. They have sacred knowledge that only the clergy class can know, which is intellectual property. There are sacred grounds or tools or a base that are all part of the property which is monopolized by the clergy class. These are things that people get enslaved by and forced to obey things against their interests. The problem is the institution of the religion, not the way the religion acts.

As Graeber mentioned– I am using Graeber because it was really instrumental in my thinking about this. He said that capitalism is not natural. It is a social construct that we reproduce every single day. The same is true about religion. Religion is a social construct that is something that we reproduce every day. We decide what religion is and how we conduct ourselves. We decide every day that we obey instead of revolting against these institutions, we are reproducing these oppressive systems. We are not the right-wing fascists who blame the people for failures of capitalism. We are not fascists that are blaming the poor and disfranchised for the problems. They are the victims of this system. We look at the problem systematically: capitalism as a system problem, not the individuals entrapped and enslaved in it. The same is true about religion. The institution of religion is the problem, not the people being entrapped and enslaved by it. We have comrades in Afghanistan giving examples that when the Communist Party took over Afghanistan, they took the land from the Khan, the landlord in the feudal system, and gave it to the people living in it, the serfs. But the serfs, because of their religious upbringing, resisted the fact they could have autonomy and produce and consume as they will, and they saw that as haram and even prayed that land that was given to them as haram.

So religion is not just a branch of capitalism, it is another tree in the poisonous garden that is authoritarianism. In the world we live in, we have to get rid of all of them, or we cannot be free. We cannot live in this world that is created on death. But it is not just regarding the West and a dog whistle, and is not something new. It is not something that only the West does. The Iranian right-wing fascists use Islam as a way to be racist toward Arabs. They blame Arabs after 1400 years for the problems they are having now. So this is not new. But the only way that you can differentiate them is by who’s blaming the people, who’s blaming the individual who’s blaming the system. The anarchist way is to blame the system, blame all the authoritarian systems in the world, which is all the religions, including Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. Graeber, in Debt: The First 5000 Years, mentions Hinduism and consequently, Buddhism using karma, which is basically a threat for the people to pay their debt, or they’re going to become a slave in their future lives. That’s how they enforce the proto-capitalist way of life. We know that the principle “You always have to pay your debt” is something essential in capitalism. It has been something that was enforced by religion, it was always first introduced by religion, and capitalism used that from religion. Even before Christianity, even before the birth of capitalism, this has been taking place.

So yeah, the Western media uses the current uprising as a dog whistle that they want liberal democracy. It’s liberal democracy, what they did in Afghanistan. We saw what they did with the hypocrisy of inviting the Taliban to Oslo to have a conversation with them. The West stayed silent in the pleas of the women of Afghanistan being suppressed and killed every single day by the Taliban. It was funny when we heard the chanting Jin, Jiyan, Azadi in the EU Parliament. When they listed PKK, whose leader is Öcalan, who basically invented the Jin, Jiyan, Azadi,, basically, which was popularized by PKK and was considered a terrorist slogan of the PKK. Now they are saying it out loud, like all the previous experiences did not happen. What happened to the liberal democracy, when Turkey part of NATO attacked Rojava, the place where Jin, Jiyan, Azadi was chanted every day. It was popularized with Rojava. That’s where the rest of the world heard Jin, Jiyan, Azadi. The liberal democracy failed Rojava, and now they want to help the Iranian people? I don’t think so. It is very hypocritical and disgusting, to be honest.

TFSR: I assume that you can’t see the future. But do you have a sense that this uprising in Iran against the regime will cause enough cracks to be able to sustain itself that something more permanent can come, like an actual overthrow of the regime or this has seemed like another stepping stone in that direction?

A: Yes. The uprising is still going. The regime is doing everything it can to suppress it. People are still protesting, the regime came with tanks and water cannons. Oh, I wanted to add one more thing that I just remembered when I mentioned water canons, regarding the previous question. The water cannons that the Islamic Republic used were possibly bought from Austria or Germany. These same water cannons, the anti-riot water cannons were sold to Chile during the protests and uprising, and now they are being used in Iran. Some of the pellet guns and ammunition are produced locally, but others are purchased from either China or some European countries. They’re still selling to Iran. Just wanted to mention it.

So the regime is doing everything it can to suppress the uprising. They are brutal in Zahedan, in Baluchistan, and there was a very brutal suppression in Kurdistan, in Saqqez and Sanandaj. But people are still taking the streets. Right now, a very visible section of protesters are the university students and high school students, even the middle school students, the 14-15-year-olds who are going on a strike or protesting. People either arranged by themselves where to meet and organize either through their neighborhood or by meeting each other in the protests and exchanging details. It became a habit to come out every single day at a certain time and see what was happening. If there is a significant number of people coming out, we’re going to have a good protest that day.

As I was saying earlier, in every single protest, every single operation we are advancing the dialogue. First, we were finished with reformism, we started going toward overthrowing the government, then it became more radical. This time it became much more radical. Never before have we had this much anger towards the police. This time people did not have any requests from the government, one of their slogans is “No more protests. This is the beginning of a revolution.” People are not asking the government to do something for them, they want it gone. From the very beginning, it was like that. In the Uprising of the Thirsty, Uprising of the Hungry, in the November 2019 uprising, people were coming out because of the hard, economic problems they faced. And in the beginning, it was just to ease those sufferings for themselves, but this time, there was no request for the government to do something because the government is not going to cancel the Islamic code of conduct, it is not gonna get rid of hijab. Sometime in the beginning of the uprising, people were chanting “Voluntary hijab,” but that went away quickly, that didn’t stay. It would direct the movement, the uprising toward the reformist place, and the regime could control the movement. But people realize that and they stopped that completely. All the slogans are against the regime. And it is for Woman, life, freedom.

If we cannot overthrow this regime this time, it’s only because we are not armed. And one of the slogans that people are chanting all across Iran was “Woe the day we get armed!” So people realize that we need to get armed to overthrow the regime. And the problem is that the regime is armed to the teeth. And we need some sort of organization to attack, to get guns and arm ourselves. Nobody else can do about ourselves. Right now, the regime is trying to give free reigns to the militia, to the Basij, the government sanctioned militia to suppress the university student movements. If you could take over a university there might be guns that we can get and start moving there. The military bases are harder to get but the police stations have been taken over and burned down in multiple cities all across the country. So, the only problem we have is that we don’t have arms. Once we get over that, this regime will fall. And after that, our problem will be stopping other forces to take over this revolution and steal it from us, like the Islamic Republic stole the 1979 revolution from us.

TFSR: Yeah, or like the Bolsheviks stole the Russian Revolution in 1917.

A: Yes, exactly.

TFSR: Well, Aryanam, thank you so much for having this conversation. I really appreciate the insights. How can people follow the work of the Federation of Anarchism Era and support the project and the folks that are in Iran and elsewhere?

A: People can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram. Also on our website asranarchism.com. I believe you both provide links to them. We’re doing your fundraising at the moment for both our comrades in Afghanistan and the uprising in Iran. I did not mention this during this interview, but it has been mentioned on our social media that we have lost at least one comrade from our federation and many were arrested and injured. We are trying to support them as much as we can. We will be very grateful for people’s support and solidarity. Thank you very much for having me and hope we talk when we win this revolution.

TFSR: I hope that it will happen soon.

Islam and Anarchism with Mohamed Abdou

Islam and Anarchism with Mohamed Abdou

Book cover of "Islam and Anarchism" featuring Arabic writing and the words "TFSR 10-02-2022"
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This week, Scott spoke with Mohamed Abdou, a North African-Egyptian Muslim anarchist activist-scholar who is currently a Visiting Scholar at Cornell University and an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the American University of Cairo. Mohamed is the author of the recent book, Islam and Anarchism: Relationships and Resonances published by Pluto Press in 2022.

For nearly 2 hours, Scott and Mohamed speak about Mohamed’s experience of the Tahrir Square uprising of 2011 and the western media coverage of it, current unrest in Iran, Orientalism, decolonial education, Islam, Settler Colonialism, anarchism and a lot more.

You can follow Mohamed on Twitter at @minuetInGMinor or on facebook at @MohammadAbdou2020

Upcoming

Stay tuned next week for a chat with the organizers of the 2022 Atlanta Radical Bookfair and another surprise topic. For patreon supporters, pretty soon we should be sharing early releases of conversations with Robert Graham about his 2015 book “We Don’t Fear Anarchy, We Invoke It” and with Matthew Lyons on far right christian movements and other chats. More on how to support us at tfsr.wtf/support.

Announcements

And now a few brief announcements

Asheville Survival Program Benefit

For listeners in the Asheville area, you’re invited to an outdoor Movie Night benefit for Asheville Survival Program halloweeny season double feature on Saturday October 8th at 6pm at the Static Age River Spot. There’ll be food, music and merch. To find out more sbout the venue, you can contact Asheville Survival via their email or social media, found at linktr.ee/avlsurvival

Atlanta Radical Bookfair

If you’re in the southeast of Turtle Island, consider visiting so-called Atlanta on Saturday, October 15th where from noon to 6pm you’ll find the Atlanta Radical Bookfair at The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History in Georgia. There’ll be speakers and many tables, including us!

Hurricane Ian Relief

If you want to offer support to folks in Florida around Hurricane Ian, one place to start could be with Central Florida Mutual Aid. They have tons of ways to plug in remotely or on the ground for what is likely to be a long and arduous cleanup and repair effort. You can learn more about them at linktr.ee/CFLMutualAid

Also, Firestorm books is collecting donations of emergency goods at their storefront in Asheville.

A image of text that reads: MUTUAL AID DISASTER RELIEF: A grass-roots donation drive to help families affected by Hurricane lan in Florida. EMERGENCY RELIEF DRIVE - Critically Needed Supplies CLEANUP: • heavy duty storage totes • heavy duty tarps • gas and gas cans glasses • generators • roofing nails • wire brushes • trash bags • brooms • mops • crowbars/prybars/hammers • chainsaws • moisture sensors • dehumidifiers • box fans • 5 gal buckets • respirators and n-95 cartridges • 2x4s • bleach PERSONAL NEEDS: • baby formula • coolers • dollar store water • gatorade • sweets/candies/comfort items/kids snacks • laundry detergent • washboards • mosquito spray • toilet paper • solar charging items and battery banks • apple cider vinegar • diapers • baby wipes To donate supplies, drop them at Firestorm Books 610 Haywood Rd. Asheville, NC anytime the bookstore is open For more information on how you can help, visit mutualaiddisasterrelief.org

Prisons in the Wake of Ian

We’ve regrettably missed the opportunity to promote the phone zap campaigns to raise awareness of prisoners in the path of Hurricane Ian before the storm hit, but suggest that folk check out FightToxicPrisons.Wordpress.Com to learn more about efforts to press public officials to heed the calls to protect prisoners during storms like this rather than follow the path of inertia and cheapness that leads to unnecessary deaths of folks behind bars.

#ShutDownADOC2022

There is currently a prison strike within the Alabama Department of Urgent Phone Zap On 9/29, Robert Earl Council (aka Kinetic Justice) was assaulted by guards and placed in solitary confinement at Limestone Correctional Facility as retaliation for his exposing the ADOC and participating in the Alabama prison strike Call Warden William Streeter at (256) 233-4600 Call Commisioner John Hamm at (334) 353-3883 -DEMAND Robert Earl Council be released from solitary -DEMAND no more retaliation -DEMAND all prisoner demands be met #shutdownADOC2022 UTIONSCorrections known by the hashtag #ShutDown ADOC2022. Campaigners have organized a call-in campaign to demand an end to retaliation against Kinetic Justice (s/n Robert Earl Council) who has been assaulted by guards on September 29th and placed in solitary confinement as well as retaliation of any prisoners participating, Kinetic’s release from solitary and the meeting of prisoners demands. Supporters are asking folks to call Warden William Streeter at (256) 233-4600 or Commissioner John Hamm at (334) 353-3883. You can find a recent interview with Kinetic at Unicorn Riot, as well as more on the prison strike at UnicornRiot.Ninja

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Featured Tracks:

Anti-Coal Struggles in Lutzerath, Germany (+ Bad News)

Lutzerath Resists RWE Coal Extraction (+ Bad News)

Anti-Coal Struggles in Lutzerath, Germany

collage of images including a gigantic digger in a Lutzerath coal pit, an anti-coal banner in German and "TFSR 9-25-22 | Lutzerath Resists RWE + Bad News #60"
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First up, we share an interview with Fauv, a radical who recently participated in the anti-coal occupation in the village of Lützerath / Lutzerath (aka the ZAD of Rhineland) in western Germany against the company RWE. We talk about RWE’s push to break resistance at Lutzerath and the currently-calm Hambach Forest, which activists fear will be attacked by RWE and their goons. More info at https://luetzerathlebt.info/en

You can find our past interviews on:

BAD News #60

We’ll also be sharing the September 2022 episode of Bad News from the anarchist and anti-authoritarian A-Radio Network. You’ll hear a short update from the 2022 anti-racist football (aka Soccer for you ignorant yankees out there) tournament by A-Radio Berlin, an update from Free Social Radio 1431 on labor strikes by the Malamatina Winery workers in Thessaloniki and the pre-trial release of three prisoners accused of participation in Anarchist Action Organization, which ramped up arsons this year. Finally, Frequenz-A shares an interview with Feral Crust collective in Manilla, Philippines! Check out more Bad News.

Announcements

Support Russian Antifascist Prisoners

There is an article on Avtonom.Org/En calling for support for the 6 prisoners of the Tyumen Case through a fundraiser to cover legal costs and write them letters. There is more info on the case and how to support them linked in our show notes or at https://avtonom.org/en/news/tyumenskoe-delo-sbor-sredstv

Exposing Fascists: Best Practices

Colorado Springs Anti-Fascists just published a short and thoughtful guide to creating doxxes of people on the far right. You can find it at https://cospringsantifa.noblogs.org/best-practices/

Firefund for Revolutionary Prisoners in Greece

From their fundraising page:

After all these years, of the continuous persecutions and imprisonments, we consider the existence of the Solidarity Fund topical and necessary. Being one more stone in a mosaic being built by the multiform struggles against prisons, which urge us to act against one of the major pillars of the system of oppression and exploitation. Against the crime of incarceration that reproduces class inequalities, fear and submission.

Certain Days Calendar

The 2023 Certain Days Freedom For Political Prisoners Calendars are now available for pre-order. There are ordering details in the show notes, including info on bulk orders.

The Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar is a joint fundraising and educational project between outside organizers across North America and political prisoner Xinachtli (s/n Alvaro Luna Hernandez) in Texas. We were happy to welcome founding members Herman Bell and Robert Seth Hayes (Rest in Power) home from prison in 2018, and founding member David Gilbert home from prison in 2021. We work from an anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, feminist, queer- and trans-liberationist position.

This year features art and writings by Zola, Jeff Monaghan and Andy Crosby, Killjoy, Noelle Hanrahan, Juan Hernandez, Dan Baker, Antiproduct, Upping the Anti, Katy Slininger, David Gilbert, Paul Lacombe, Garrett Felber, Oso Blanco, Mark Tilsen, Terra Poirier, Steve McCain, Lawrence Jenkins, Ed Mead, Windigo Army, Dio Cramer, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Scott Parkin, Seize the Mean and Cindy Barukh Milstein.

Proceeds from the Certain Days 2022 calendar were divided amongst Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP), Mutulu Shakur legal support, Sundiata Acoli release fund, Palestinian Youth Movement, Burning Books expansion, Puget Sound Prisoner Support , Coalition to Decarcerate Illinois, Appalachians Against pipelines, Community Resource Initiative- CA, P4W Memorial Collective Prisoners’ Justice Day healing circle, Wet’suwet’en Solidarity Fund 2022, Cascadia Forest Defenders and NorCal Resist. Proceeds from the 2023 calendar will go to some of the same grassroots groups and more.

How to order the Certain Days calendar:

U.S via Burning Books (individual and bulk sales)
burningbooks.com/products/certain-days-the-2023-freedom-for-political-prisoners-calendar

Your group can buy 10 or more for the rate of $10 each and then sell them for $15, keeping the difference for your organization. Many campaigns, infoshops and projects do this as a way of raising funds and spreading awareness about political prisoners.

Use the discount code “BULK” to get 10 or more calendars for $10 each. In order to receive the discount, you must enter the discount code “BULK” at check out.

Canada (1-9 copies) via Left Wing Books
https://leftwingbooks.net/en-us/products/certain-days-freedom-for-political-prisoners-calendar-2023

Canada (bulk. 10+ copies)
certaindays.org/order/

Prisoner copies ($8 & only for people in prison and jail)
certaindays.org/order/prisoners/

Support TFSR

If you’d like to support The Final Straw, there are a few easy ways. First up, you can like and share our content on all the social media platforms out there, rate and subscribe on apple podcasts, google, amazon and the rest as it makes our content easier to find. You can share episodes you enjoy with folks in your life, use the content in discussion groups or print off a transcribed zine for reading and sharing. More details at tfsr.wtf . If you have money to spare, we have merchandise for sale on our BigCartel or you can make one time or recurring donations via Venmo, Paypal, Liberapay or become a patron at patreon.com/tfsr for one-time or recurring thank you gifts and early access to some interviews. More on this at tfsr.wtf/support . Finally, get us on your local radio airwaves to increase the audience of listeners. More on that at tfsr.wtf/radio . Thanks so much for all the support!

. … . ..

Featured Tracks

  • Children’s Story (instrumental) by Black Star from Black Star Instrumentals
  • Hip Hop (instrumental) by A Kid Called Roots from Hydra Beats 13
  • Take Back The Land by Oi Polloi from Fuiama Catha
  • Farewell To The Crown by Chumbawamba
  • Her Majesty by Chumbawamba (based on The Beatles)

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you introduce yourself for the audience and say a bit about Lutzerath?

Fauv: I am Fauv. Let’s say I am… a tourist… doing my best to make the most of Euro visas! This summer of ‘22, has led me to some places that are part of what is called “ZAD of Rhineland”, so I wanted to share some my knowledge and experience of an ongoing struggle that’s been happening already for years in the Rhineland of Germany, and is likely to be intensifying very soon, perhaps by the time you listen to this interview! In the middle of nowhere west of Dusseldorf, there’s a tiny village called Lutzerath that was being occupied as an environmental defense action, and I recently spent some time there to see what’s going on there.

For starters, let’s say that my account and knowledge of this struggle is limited and in no way I speak on behalf of the occupation, or as one of their media persons. Actually at the time I was there, their media collective didn’t seem very functional (at least for non-Germanic audiences) so that’s one of the reasons why I’m doing this. You may read that this interview is a kind of recollection of everything I heard from reliable, engaged people in the Rhineland occupations and beyond, and there’s aspects I can’t cover to not compromise anyone.

This occupation rose up over the last few years as an opposition to massive coal extraction pit, in addition or as a kind of follow-up to the Hambacher Forest occupation -which is still going- just about 35 kms south. By the way, there’s quite a few other, though much smaller, forest occupations elsewhere in Germany that have sprung up over the last few years, opposing gentrification projects or other kinds of industrial developments. Like the Besch occupation near Trier for instance, and another one in Bodensee. This one’s got more similarities with the better-known former ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes in Brittany, France, in a way that this is a rural area reclaimed in majority by activists and random squatters of differing views, and it’s a typical farm setting with the infrastructure that comes with it.

But it’s hard to talk of Lutzerath without talking about Hambi…

The core of Germany’s industrial complex, and that is to say the industrial center of one of Europe’s biggest industrial Leviathans, is located around 5 or 6 cities at the center of Rhineland, the major ones being Dusseldorf and Köln. This over-developed region has been the home of Rheinmetall, Thyssen-Krupp and other industrial powerhouses, also directly related to the car and military industries. The power source for this massive industry and all its urban infrastructure lies mostly in an area west of these cities where countless nuclear plants and coal mines have formatted the landscape for several decades.

A few years ago, the German government under pressure by environmentalist organizations including the Green Party, decided to stop nuclear energy development altogether. This led to the obvious necessity to look into alternatives to feed the ever-growing energy demands. Coal, already a controversial energy source, had become in parallel the target of opposition, being arguably an ecologically devastating and unsustainable energy source. As a matter of fact, lignite coal is not only a major source of arsenic pollution, but also its extraction means the sheer destruction of vast areas where life used to thrive, be it farm life or the little, remaining wildlife in the previously untouched forests.

Hambacher was one of these old growth forests, and also an ancient commons, dating back to Medieval times, that was privatized in the 1970’s when RWE was given a pass to exploit the area, subduing locals into selling their house or farms, invading and destroying this forest, and leave a gaping hole behind. In the late 2010’s only small portions of this forest was left, a few pouches of green around vast desert a few kilometers across. It was not the first nor the last mega-crater in this region. So, around 2013, a bunch of eco-activists started a legal opposition camp (named the Meadows) by Hambacher Forest, from where gradually tree-sitting houses, forest barricades on the main paths, and later autonomous camps (or “barrios” as they call it) which sprouted at several spots all across the forest. In parallel there were a few clandestine sabotage actions, the boldest being the power cables of a digger being destroyed, and several skirmishes with RWE security. I also heard of a police chopper being zapped with a high power laser pointer.

The struggle culminated in the summer of 2018 where a huge eviction operation by the German police lasted for several weeks, and equally many forest defenders came in to support. Then some forest riots and all that. A ruling was declared by the courts, suspending the eviction attempt without, on the other hand, suspending RWE’s extraction activities. So Hambi since then was in an uneasy stalemate with RWE and the German government. Coal kept being extracted, just not in any part of the forest that people could still occupy, at least for now.

The land destruction is not the only issue… Since the “diggers”, these monstruous, gigantic excavators eat out the earth in a vertical manner, the cliffs of these pits aren’t sloped enough for the waters in the surrounding aquifers to be retained. So in order to prevent the ground waters from flowing into the pits and keeping the machines and workers from doing their operations, a vast array of water pumps is slowly draining the waters from the aquifers, at an area of up to a kilometer roughly. These pumps are found all over the place, around either Hambi and Lutzerath, and in the case of the former, are slowly killing the trees and other plant life by slowly drying up what’s left of the forest. As I heard, some of these pumps got sabotaged, although I don’t know how long ago that was.

RWE is everywhere in this region… they own entire areas, some deserted towns, roads and rails. Trying to make sense of the latest maps of the area West of Dusseldorf and Köln is quite a challenge (more so if you’re trying to find your way to some obscure occupation somewhere into it!), as what you’ll see for instance on any online map is a mess of roads and villages cut off in so many places with vast, mysterious blank spaces. Well they are blank because, really, there is nothing… these are just steeps cliffs falling down a hundred meters into a desert; a kind of peninsula surrounded by this sea of blank about 2/3 around. And the diggers, those gigantic machines of destruction, just keep slowly eating the ground close by.

There’s no knowing on my part of what are the intents or plans of the several groups and individuals occupying this place. The last family of farmers to own a house in the village had their property contract expire on September 1st, and now it is claimed that the whole village will become evictable by October 1st. The latest installment of a monthly music festival is planned for the 23th to the 27th of September (so likely right now as you’re hearing this!), and these seem to be very musically-diverse events with some predominance of electro. Drinks and food are all on donation! The several hangars that previously were used as garages for large farming machinery are now providing great rave party spaces with excellent acoustics, and also a neat skatepark. Meals are being served at least twice daily, and there’s coffee and tea for most of the day. Also there’s plenty of space left to squat, camp around or tree-sit!

So! To anyone near Rhineland who might be interested to take part in a living occupation against this death industry, there is still time, and perhaps this is the best time to come.

TFSR: Thank you for that introduction! I have a few follow-up questions. There is a suspension of gas supplies from Russia because of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against the Russian state. Gazprom cut off deliveries of so-called “natural gas” to many places in the east and center of Europe which will be effecting the winter heating of many people. The quite dirty lignite coal under the soil in Lutzerath is currently being used for manufacturing industries of cars & military vehicles you say, but how much are will the lignite be used to fuel heating for households in Germany due to the lack of Russian gas? In other words, how much of this coal is slated for human survival this winter versus increased production of war machines and fancy cars?

Fauv: That’s a tough one… There’s data by the German market study group AGEB, from 2021, that says 203 Terawatts per hour is consumer by the (primary and secondary) industry, 145 by the trades and services (the tertiary) and 126 Terawatts per hour is consumed by households. So, if you combine all the industries, this makes their consumption to be 348 Terawatts per hour where households take just a bit more than a third of this! But it’s hard to tell which energy sources are really powering up the houses, or are people in more urban areas getting energy from the surplus produced by this energy industry… Heating masses of buildings means a huge energy demand, that keeps increasing. I think the restarting of coal plants has to do with this necessity of providing heating this winter for homes not just for the industry, in support of the “renewable” sources that might just not be enough. If the war keeps going in Ukraine, Germany will require a lot of power in order to keep producing all this hardware for very lucrative war profiting. But this could also likely mean some insane rises in energy bills. The contemporary war industry is running with energy systems dating back to before World War One, that are unsustainable while eating the rural areas like “Langoliers” in that old Stephen King book.

So it’s possible that this industry might be in a more fragile position than it seemed. We’ll see!

TFSR: Would you tell us a little about how the occupation is going?

 

Fauv: I found Lutzerath to be well organized in the typical German activist ways. Maybe a bit too much?

There’s something odd with living in a relic of an older rural life, waiting to be torn down, eventually, or maybe not. It’s being at the physical edge of the apocalypse. So, there’s something to put into question about what is being defended here, or what we’re fighting against, since every time when people from several backgrounds are holding up against one big antagonist -like here RWE- you end up with some strange bedfellows that might totally not be on the same page as you. Here there is a diversity of political leanings, agendas and views, ranging from Christian Leftists to your usual social media anarchoids, then to more eco-anarcho or anticiv-leaning people to the obvious XR activists, and of course some (undefined) randos like me! But this is a very rough portrait and not too relevant as far as you understand that there’s an opening for people of different views to co-occupy the place and support the occupation.

Obviously there are things I cannot say anything about, not only due to security culture but because I just didn’t know everyone there long enough! The vast domination of the German language in communications and organizing doesn’t help much for foreign supporters. But I’ve seen some efforts by some to compensate for this, like trying to make conversations bilingual or translating messages on public billboards. I’m not under the impression that it’s never been as international-friendly as the former ZAD was, and I think Hambacher forest camp tends to have a more international presence, though there’s always a possibility for improvement as anyways this doesn’t seem to be a space monopolized by a particular group as far as I know. Though some groups have monopolized more specific areas. Like for instance the main kitchen space and two houses, at least, were still under Covid masking policies, which reflects the heavy communitarian and socio-sanitary imperatives of socialist-leaning people, though it can make a few people behave like literal cops. For the houses it can be understandable, but there’s something obliquely arbitrary and ill-informed in imposing masks to an outdoor, well-vented kitchen, because “Covid”. It’s my opinion alright…. but especially in times where countries are reopening and most Covid measures are disappearing, this seems rather off. Hopefully they no longer do this stuff. Also there are two clothing-optional outdoors areas, but for the rest of the village everyone’s expected to be dressed. And yes there’s the White dreadlocks controversy that’s present there too! Despite these issues the atmosphere is very welcoming and everyone’s treated as a family member.

So like other ZADs, this is not by default an anarchist occupation, even though there clearly are anarchist elements and sensibilities. But that shouldn’t drive people away. There can be more than one public kitchen, for instance, and there are already common living spaces that don’t seem to care so much about Covid policies.

Here’s an observation of tactical concern: obviously since Lutzerath is surrounded by a coal pit, there is only about 1/3 of the village that can be physically accessed. And then, only through a few small rural roads. Meaning that if there are police and/or security blockades at some point, the village can be cut off quite easily. So logically, wherever there is motivation to defend the occupation, it would have to do with securing openings to the area, or at least to make such kettling by security forces too hard or costly to maintain. This is not like in Hambi where there are many entry/exit points in several directions, along with the fields that can be used in many ways. Obviously barricades have been built at the main entries of Lutzerath and will be defended to some extent, but there most likely will be a serious police raid operation of the whole camp at some point.

Also there’s word coming from an RWE insider who I can’t say more about (told through a long-term occupier who meets this person once in a while) that both occupations against RWE would be targeted more or less at the same time by an eviction operation. This would happen between now and the winter, where if I get it correctly, Lutzerath would be attacked first and then Hambi would be evicted in the meantime, profiting from the land defenders mobilizing to Lutzerath. This is hearsay and can be taken with a grain of salt, but what is certain is that the current context in Europe leans in the direction of a brutal, hasty eviction campaign by the German government, of course supported by the RWE goons.

On the latter, it is an important detail to know, especially for antifacists willing to come support either occupations, that RWE is hiring the fascist Turkish organization Grey Wolves. And in several villages at least those surrounding Hambi, they inhabit houses that were handed over to them by the company. It is known to everyone in any barrio of the Hambi occupation. Not all members of this group are fascists, some did it only to get a job and a house, so not all of them are the enemy. But yes, this is an enemy that can get very dangerous without taking proper defensive and/or deterrent measures. So it’d be great that if there’s more people coming to support the occupation, that this is not seen as separate occupations, but as two or three fronts within a same battle to defend the land and that any of these occupations are equally important to defend. I said “three”, because there is also a much smaller forest defense occupation that grew up somewhere north of Lutzerath. Hambi also provides with a lot more space – including wild forest space – for groups and individuals to come, camp and support the occupation. And like I said it’s more easily accessible, especially for the logistics side of things. It’s worth noting to that regards that those coming should be as autonomous as possible, food-wise. Meaning: bring food and water. This applies to the matter of bringing dogs to the forest, and being accountable for their behavior.

There was also a call last year – reflecting apparent possibilities – to also occupy empty houses in Morsenich, the closest village next to the forest. I haven’t heard much of this, but it can be looked into. More occupations at different places usually means creating a bigger clusterfuck that’s harder to manage for authorities. So I don’t wanna be this “anarcommander”, just telling what the opportunities are and trying to identify where the needs are. There is already a legally-owned activist camp in the south of Morsenich where newcomers can get some help for most matters.

I forgot to say earlier that it’s not the first time Lutzerath is under threat of eviction, that exactly a year ago there was also an eviction being expected. Though this wasn’t exactly the same situation, both locally and more globally. First off, there wasn’t yet a war in Ukraine and a total economic split between NATO countries and Russia.

TFSR: You’ve mentioned the ecological devastation to the local area of digging a huge pit and drying the forests and arsenic poisoning nearby. Can you remind listeners a little more about how destructive lignite coal is, even in comparison to other types of coal? I assume that if RWE is able to get both the mine in Hambacher Forest and the so-called Garzweiler II mine in Lutzerath would cause immeasurable damage to the local environment as well as the climate.

Fauv: Lignite coal is the soft type of coal being burned into boilers for running steam turbines, that produce electricity, including heating houses but also it’s predictable this is the stuff that was used to power up the German metal and chemical industry before nuclear power. Since lignite has got the lowest carbon composition in all types of coal (the softer the lesser the carbon, with hard, black coal having the highest amounts) and holds more humidity than others, it requires a lot more to produce inputs needed for industrial use and massive energy grids, as just like wood, when its wet it demands a lot more efforts to keep burning than well-dried wood. Brown coal has less than half the calorific value than hard black coal, which doesn’t make it the most energy-efficient fuel, but also at the same time the most polluting, relatively. So if we just stick to carbon emissions, they’re much higher for the same megawatts-per-hour ratio than if using hard coal for that reason.

Then there’s also many other pollutants, with high concentrations of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, that are causing smog and respiratory illnesses in human; as well as heavy metals and even a level of radioactivity. The other major one is the release of arsenic when it is burned. If I read correctly, according to research, brown coal due to being alkali holds more arsenic than the acid hard coal, as ashes will leech less arsenic from it than the latter.

By the way, if you wanna see how demented these capitalist “visionaries” are, look at what’s their long term plan for these pits. They wanna transform these deserts into…. lakes.

Yes. So, they are slowly drying up the forests and farmlands around, taking the waters from aquifers away, so that when the coal mines are depleted, or the coal loses its value and gets replaced for good – they’re going to do a nice eco-facelift of the region by filling up these pits with water (from… somewhere?), then develop the real estate around by marketing eco-smart-green towns to sell at high prices to yuppies from the big cities. I heard even Morsenich is planned to have all its houses revalued and resold eventually. This looks like this is the eventual exit plan for RWE owners.

TFSR: On the topic of RWE giving houses to Grey Wolves, most of our audience won’t be familiar with this formation. Can you speak in a little more detail about who Grey Wolves are and how it seems RWE is composing a scenario that will exacerbate at least the appearance of ethnic or nationalist tensions alongside ideas of Germany having ‘national energy independence” from place like Russia? I’m glad that you noted how important it was to realize that not all people re-located there are fascists.

Fauv: The Grey Wolves are a fascist organization that are well-known and active in countries with a large Turkish migrant population (Germany and Austria having the biggest in Europe, afaik) and the Grey Wolves appear to work as a kind of mafia, say, perhaps like what the Sicilian mafia was to Italian migrants in North America. Only these operate with a much more political angle – extremist and brutally racist at that – who’ve been engaged in ethnic murderous violence against Kurdish people, not only in Turkey and Syria but even in Germany. They’re also, of course, anti-feminist and queer/transphobic. What I heard is that their violence isn’t talked about much in the mainstream, as it is violence of a (rather predominant) minority upon other, weaker minorities. They appeared in the 1970’s in Turkey when they committed several mass killings of Kurds, and there’s been several of these episodes of ethnic cleansings later on, like in the 1990’s. They are ultra-nationalists, for a kind of Turkish Islamic State (which Erdogan has pretty much made happen) and they seek to extend Turkish influence abroad as well.

Those I saw around Hambacher were typical conservative, bootlicker types, though not very dangerous unless they’d decide for some reason to mobilize with their organization. They’re the ones found watching from their cars for people coming in and out of the forest. There’s records of petty violence against Hambi activists like beatings, but also equally records of Hambi people attacking their cars, so nowadays they keep a distance from the forest. Any incomers would do well to stay away from the view of those suspicious cars parked in the middle of nowhere. There’s one often parked near the exit of Morsenich to watch the road south of Hambacher forest, which is the most regular watch. But there are others parking in other strategic spots less regularly. But more is known about them by the occupiers than I can tell here.

TFSR: The occupation of the space is obviously very important, but as the local residents are forced to move out, it seems more isolating in the buildup to an upcoming fight for the land. In the struggle for the ZAD in Notre-Dame-de-Landes it was important to bring the fight to the nearby city of Nantes where there were government and corporate offices to target, media to be seen by and more sympathetic people to allow participation of. Can you talk about direct action you’ve heard of in the direct area but also other places and cities in support of the occupation of Lutzerath against the mine?

Fauv: Like said before, there’s been quite a few direct actions during the heydays of Hambacher Forest, though I haven’t heard of many actions surrounding Lutzerath specifically, but there might be some reportbacks of actions from last year in the German media. There was a huge Climate Change mobilization last August in Hamburg where you had systematic blockades of industrial ports in the city. Super well-organized even though mostly symbolic, non-lasting. Likely XR was behind it, though I’m not sure. This action camp and the blockades weren’t directly related to Lutzerath but they concerned the transport of gas (and maybe coal?) by sea routes, given that Hamburg remains the main German port hub for the North Sea and thus the Atlantic, and is much connected to the Rhineland industrial complex.

I also suppose that an eviction operation is an opportunity for doing actions in support elsewhere, at least in Germany but more widely in Europe. But as far as I’ve read, there hasn’t been such widespread solidarity actions to the crazy levels we’ve seen in France at the height of the ZAD struggle. Yet.

TFSR: I recognize that the drive of this conversation is to bring people as soon as possible to Lutzerath, but for those who are too far away, are there ways they can strike at RWE or the German state for facilitating this ecocide? And where can they find more information about how to get involved in the struggle?

Fauv: There’s a few websites for more infos, starting with luetzerathlebt.info, the related social media pages and Germany’s Indymedia. Plus a few articles in English here and there, like a pretty good one from last year on politicalecology.org written by Andrea Brock entitled The Final Showdown. But in Germany you learn about other occupations by word of mouth or by hanging out at some occupation, and reading some agit-prop and zines… whenever they can be read. And I got comic book level of German knowledge, but more like kiddie comics, to the most! So… That’s just how I, as foreigner, have gotten to learn about this struggle. A few people in Hambacher told me about it about the same way I did here. Part of the strength of this movement is that it’s not that dependent on online comms. While most people I’ve seen use cell phones like the rest, it’s more about building ties, friendships and affinity groups in real life, by just hanging out with others, doing shit in general, especially good, helpful, and also fun shit.

Beyond that, there’s a need to go beyond our national enclaves, just as “capital” has become globalized, and borders usually do not avail to flows of lifeless, commodified coal, lithium, oil, big data, etc.

As for how to support such struggle from abroad… well I can point to the obvious that there’s a huge pressure for answering to energy demands in general, as our ever-increasing consumption of data, oil and other related energy keeps demanding more can cause an economic catastrophe. There’s no RWE in Indonesia or Canada or Chile or the US I think, but context is everything?

You gotta look, I think, in what are the most sensitive looked-after money-makers for the powerful billionaire overlords of this society. Nowadays it appears to be lithium, rare earth minerals. And uranium is still very important as the nuclear industry is pushing for a “fresh start.” The most valued commodities are logically those hurting the biggest pockets, at least if that is what you are after… That’s just a distanced assumption on my part! My own interest and intent is out of the question here, I’m just a tourist anyways!

Though the health of the environment is of concern to everyone living on this planet, right?

Sending salutations and praises to all the other few vagabonds out there still living wild and free, despite all these ever-increasing state controls. And big shout out to the Atlanta Forest Occupation!