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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.

The Case of Daniel Baker: Online Speech and Community Defense

The Case of Daniel Baker: Online Speech and Community Defense

Painting of Daniel Baker with a scarf
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On January 15th, 2021, two men received a knock on the door of their Tallahassee apartment from someone claiming to be delivering a Postmate parcel. The two hadn’t ordered anything and raised suspicion that someone was trying to break in and rob their home so they said they didn’t order anything and refused to open the door. Moments later, their door crashed open and a percussive grenade ignited as FBI swarmed in with guns drawn, yelling.

This was the arrest of US military veteran, YPG volunteer medic and instructor of yoga and jujitsu Daniel Baker on charges of inciting violence at Florida’s state capital. This may sound like a familiar story of government arrests across the country since the January 6th far right riot to stop the counting of votes that Trump supporters and avowed white nationalists engaged. The difference lies in the fact that Dan Baker wasn’t calling for the storming of anything. The FBI alleges that he made posts online calling for people to resist an attempted coup that elements of the far right had been promoting since the failed acts of January 6th in DC, where armed putschists would take State capitals and public officials hostage. So, why did the FBI targetting Mr Baker? Why has he not been allowed private meetings with a lawyer since his detention? Why was he kept in solitary since his pre-trial time at the Federal Correction Institution at Tallahassee begun?

On October 12th, 2021, Dan Baker was sentenced to 44 months in Federal Prison for “interstate communication of threats” for his facebook posts and his militant anti-fascism, including his time fighting Daesh or ISIS in Rojava. His defense is appealing the ruling, otherwise he’s expected to be released at the soonest in March of 2024.

For the hour, we’re sharing our March 7th, 2021 conversation with Jack and Eric. Both are anti-racist activists, students of Daniel’s yoga and jujitsu instruction and Eric was the roommate that was present at the time of the home invasion by the FBI. You can find links to articles about the case in the show notes at our website and in this podcast and more information on Daniel’s case is at the instagram account, @FreeDanBaker, you can contact support at DanBakerDonations@gmail.com, donate to his support on paypal with that email and find his amazon wishlist on the instagram.

You can write to Dan Baker at:
Daniel Alan Baker #25765-509
FCI Memphis
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
P.O, BOX 34550
MEMPHIS, TN 38184

Some media coverage of Dan’s case:

Other related reading:

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you all please introduce yourselves with whatever names pronouns or affiliations that make sense for this chat?

Eric: My name is Eric, he/him. I’m a visual artist, and I was Dan’s roommate at the time of his arrest. We had traveled together for a while.

Jack: My name is Jack, I use they/them pronouns. I am studying biomathematics and computational science, and I’m an activist and organizer in the Tallahassee Community.

TFSR: And are y’all on the support crew for Daniel?

Jack: I’d say we’re probably the two main folks on the support group. We were all training jujitsu together at the time of Dan’s arrest, jujitsu and yoga.

Eric: Yeah, we just started a workout group thing that they’re trying to criminalize him for. They came after a yoga teacher.

TFSR: Would you all give listeners a thumbnail sketch of who Daniel is, and your relationships or how him?

Eric: We crossed paths a few times over the years. I think the first time we actually met was around 2013, we had crossed paths in the Krishna Temple in Chicago while I was traveling around, he had just come from a Rainbow Gathering. And he was traveling, visiting some different temples on the way back to the East Coast. We only met for a couple of days. And then we had reconnected on Facebook years later, after he had returned from Syria. I didn’t even recognize him at first. But I reached out to him because I wanted to learn more about his experience, I had already been studying some related Political Science type stuff and I wanted to try to get more insight into what his experience was like. He had also had some training that would be very valuable for all the different protests that were going on. So every once in a while, I’d kick down and send a donation here and there when I could to keep him going. And then eventually, we just decided to take a road trip.

I guess we connected online, maybe a couple of years ago, late 2018, early 2019. We had known each other for about a year just online, we traveled together. He had just been in Tallahassee for maybe five or six months when he was arrested. He had some roots in the community here. We were trying to make friends and network with local activist circles, and participate in the best way we could. Dan had gone through the Combat Lifesaver training with the army and had applied it during his time in Syria, so he was very valuable as a street medic. I’d just been traveling around painting on and off full-time for years, so we both would just fly signs sometimes and do a pop-up exhibition. I would live paint, we saved up to get a room. We were camping for a while. We got off the street and got a small apartment. We’re able to save up and put him through a BMR course. He knew all the material pretty much but he just needed the certification to be able to work in that field. So we were on the way to getting him reestablished here and then dudes kicked our door…

Jack: First they said they were the Postmates Delivery Service. The FBI knocked on the door and then said, “Postmates Delivery”. And then Dan was “We didn’t order Postmates” and shut the door. They kicked down the door, threw in a flashbang, and then said, “FBI”. Obviously, you have Dan and Eric sharing it separately, Dan had a very difficult time being able to communicate with anyone. But I think that the FBI wasn’t expecting the blind landlady who’s 80 years old and was in the room next door to corroborate the story. And so once that came out, she was in the room next door and heard them announce themselves as the Postmates delivery, and was able to independently verify that this happened. And they haven’t responded to that. They didn’t even deny it when it came up in the public hearing. The FBI agent went first and then said, “We announced ourselves and they resisted arrest”. And then Eric was up and he was “They didn’t announce themselves. They said they were the Postmates delivery service”. If you get a knock on the door, and it’s a delivery and you know you didn’t order something I don’t think anybody wants to answer that door. And I think everybody thinks they might think that they might be getting robbed.

Eric: As I said, we were trying to start a workout group, we had been traveling and I was trying to pick up some first aid stuff from him. He had also done some training in jujitsu, he had competed a decent amount, he had some gold medals, I think he’s about purple-belt level, he was upper-intermediate. And he was just helping me pick up some of the basics. We’re going to the Ashtanga Yoga primary series for the yoga teacher training. He had the first certification in that. He was working on building up his second certification. And I was going through getting my first. So we started inviting some other people out, and getting some more folks involved, because I would never be able to afford to learn all that stuff without somebody who’s giving that access. So I just really wanted to help him make that available to the community here. Jack was one of the first people who was coming regularly to the groups we were doing and I guess it was helping them move past some recent difficulties.

Jack: When I started training jujitsu and yoga, I have just gotten out of an abusive relationship. Training with Dan and Eric was actually a really healing practice for me. Dan and Eric created a safe space, which sometimes, as a non-binary person, can be really difficult, especially with cisgender white males, but they were both really, really, really compassionate and understanding. Dan and Eric are both really strong feminists. And I just really appreciated how comfortable they made me and how supportive they were while I was going through this process. So that was just really fundamental for me to move past this relationship and the pain that I had gone through. I feel like I owe Dan so much because he was just somebody who is very understanding,

TFSR: There are a few things that I’m noting, in addition to the descriptions of you both talking about how Dan’s been someone who works to create space, who works to build skills in order to share them, those sound like some pretty fundamental parts of who he is, as a person. People would join the military for a lot of different reasons, in part, maybe because they want to further a career, get out of a bad situation, maybe some more nefarious perspectives that people can have sometimes joined the military, but to train up to be effectively a combat medic, or a medic in what could be deadly situations, is a great skill set, and then going on to continue to apply that by volunteering, to participate in the struggle against ISIS is another show that someone is applying this life-saving tool. And the fact that Dan was bringing it back and bringing it into these dangerous protest situations that the far-right and the police create more and more so as time goes on in the US, seems to say a lot about Dan’s character.

Eric: Yeah, at least from what I understand, whenever people come back from Rojava, often they’re briefed at the airport. And a lot of times, they’re just discouraged from getting involved in politics or activism or anything like that. But Dan was very committed to his beliefs and to social justice. And he is one of those rare individuals who are willing to go to prison or put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of protecting others. And I think that’s a fundamental part of his character.

TFSR: And so you all were finding some stability at the time when this raid happened. I mean, being housing unstable is not, sadly, a unique situation these days, but especially during the pandemic is a very difficult time, that must have been very emotionally, impactful, and frightening to have somebody bust through the door and throw a flashbang and suddenly hear FBI with guns drawn out of nowhere. That’s a traumatic experience.

Eric: Yeah, it’s was the last way I was expecting this trip to turn out, although we had a feeling something like this could happen because we had also been previously stuffed by the FBI in Seattle during the time we were there. They had just rolled up to us in a parking lot after this one shooting had happened to question us about things that they had seen online. He just told them that he had already made his public commentary on Twitter. And that was basically all he had to say about it. So they let us continue on. As far as I know, they’ve been observing him for as long as I can remember, I think he got back in like 2018. He said they’ve been pretty much observing him and I’ve seen him post about being stopped a few times already. So it seems like he’s been under regular surveillance for a long time.

TFSR: And y’all were up in Seattle, where he was doing medic work around the autonomous zone period, right? There were a few shootings I know of that it seems to make sense that he would be around when there’s some violence showing up, running towards the trouble in order to mitigate the harm that’s been caused, to help save lives.

Eric: Yeah, I had been stranded out of state when COVID happened and quarantine started, I was homeless at the time, I was staying in a shelter, and I just ended up getting some seasonal work, and then got the stimulus. I sold some paintings also. I was able to get this car. And we had both been following the Unicorn Riot and talking about how we wish we could be there and support. And once we got the ability to do so it made sense to just take a trip.

TFSR: What were the reasons that the FBI immediately gave for the arrest, if they gave any? What has the federal prosecution sent to the US attorney or whoever it is that’s conducting prosecution? What arguments are they giving as to why they thought it was necessary to bust into the apartment and arrest him?

Eric: I’m not even really sure about the justification for breaking in. The justification they’re using for the entire case is just them seeing some Facebook posts and some flyer going around. Apparently, he was indicted on two separate charges. But his public defender is saying that they generally only rule as one charge, if even that, so hopefully, it won’t be as bad as a maximum sentence.

TFSR: So the posts that appear to be the main source of the FBI’s argument were related to after January 6, after the right-wing riot that occurred at the National Capitol in DC. The far-right was claiming that it was calling for people to have similar actions taking over space, damaging property, threatening people at state capitols around the country. Is it correct to say that the posts that you’re talking about are one saying “We as community members need to show up and resist the violence of the far-right and what violence they might bring into our communities while they’re doing that”? Was that the nature of the posts on social media?

Eric: Yeah, allegedly it was a reaction to the situation. It’s not like he was taking some initiative to instigate or harass anybody or anything, it was due to these pressing events and these threads coming up, which a lot of us had been expecting for a long time, at least on some level. We were anticipating that we might not see a very peaceful transition of power. And especially after what we had seen in DC, it was reasonable to assume that something similar could happen at the state capitol as well, especially that the FBI themselves were circulating warnings about what could happen.

TFSR: I think there’s a fundamental difference between somebody going to another place, going to DC, for instance, to protest or to counter-protest, as opposed to saying, “Hey, there’s a very strong danger that militia or some other group or proud boys or whatever are going to be coming to our hometown and bringing some of the same violence that you’re seeing in this other place”. Just to go back, if Daniel is the person who will run towards danger, because he has built the skills and because he’s courageous enough to put himself on the line in order to act as a line of defense as well as to help people who are in harm’s way, it seems a little illogical that the FBI is making a point of attempting to prosecute this individual who was trying to mitigate harm.

Eric: The instinct is you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe it is just a mistake or something. But I guess by now, there are so many of these cases.

Jack: I don’t necessarily hold the FBI in the highest faith. But then even just the whole thing where they pretended they were the Postmates delivery. What is the rationale for that, what did they gain by pretending they were the Postmates delivery service? One of the criminal complaints against Dan was that he said he was getting funded by George Soros. That he had an Antifa card from George Soros. Then they use that to try to prove that he’s this international “terrorist”. During the public hearing, the public defender asked the FBI agent, “Do you know who George Soros is”? And the FBI agent said, “No”. I laughed really hard, because what the fuck? I was even told to not laugh. And then the public defender said, “Do you really think Dan was getting funded by George Soros”? And then the FBI agent said, “Well, since I don’t know who that is, I’m not sure”. Either he’s really stupid and doesn’t know who George Soros is, or he is really bad at his job and doesn’t know who George Soros is and isn’t aware of the QAnon conspiracy that right-wing extremists ascribe to, or he was lying and playing dumb. Either of these options is not good, for why he doesn’t know who George Soros is. It’s like saying I don’t know who Bill Gates is.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s been coming out more and more, especially in the last few years, but this year, in particular, with BlueLeaks, the amount of information that’s being pumped into the intelligence infrastructure of the US from these fusion centers, that pulls in a lot of conspiracy theories, whether it be about Antifa lighting fires in the Pacific Northwest, or just similar things to that, that the FBI agents didn’t even necessarily need to know who George Soros is, although it does say a lot about their disconnection from popular culture and conspiracy theories. But it’s not surprising if there was pumping in of far-right conspiracy thinking and disinformation to the local FBI chapter. And then they decided to act out of that.

As you say, there’s a history of the FBI attacking anti-racist movements, particularly focusing on Black and brown activists, but also disrupting and incarcerating tons of activists who act in solidarity against white supremacy and against anti-Blackness. This administration has made a point of – as I said, it was during the last administration anyway – but they had the whole statement about the events in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. I think that, especially after they had conducted extrajudicial killings of anti-fascist activists, if they were going to be going after and arresting people on the far-right who had participated in January 6, they probably had to pick up some people who would have been “opposition” to show that they’re not some deep-state, leftist Campbell Soup, whatever conspiracy group.

Jack: Yeah, DemocracyNow! had a really good interview with Benjamin Crump. And then they were talking about the new information that’s come up with Malcolm X, and he was saying that they’re now calling Black Lives Matter protesters “Black Identity Extremists”. Have you heard about that new terminology that’s being thrown around for arresting Black Lives Matter protesters?

TFSR: Yeah, they’ve been introducing that more and more since the Ferguson uprising. It makes sense for this not to come up in that conversation that Benjamin Crump was engaging, but they’ve also been using the term “anti-government extremists” to be able to lump in anarchist, anti-fascists & Black Liberation activists alongside white nationalists and Nazis. As opposed to focusing on white supremacists, they say, “Oh, well, the problem is not about the specific ideology. It’s about extremism, that’s extra-parliamentary where they’re going to go and do actions in the streets or attack people or whatever. We’re in a ‘post-racial society’. So we can say that, well, these people are extremists about whiteness. And these people are extremists about Blackness” as opposed to the centrist ideology that the US government is supposed to uphold. So yeah, Black identity extremists are being put on members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club or the Not Fucking Around Crew or the Black Women’s Defense League as armed groups for Black liberation. I disagree with the politics at least one of them does, but they have some sketchy views in terms of antisemitism, but this flattening of any opposition as being a threat to the Democrat and Republican parties basically. Sorry, that was ranty. I didn’t mean.

Jack: No, no, no.

Eric: If they can just pile up a whole bunch of Facebook posts and make the case out of that, that’s bad news for everybody.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely.

Jack: Some of the things in the FBI complaint literally made no sense. In the criminal complaint, they had that Dan had posted YouTube videos showing basic first aid. And we were just “Why is this in the criminal complaint?”. This is not illegal, this is not harmful. This is literally Dan trying to educate people on how to help each other, how to literally heal each other. That was bizarre. There were other things too, in the public hearing, they were trying to “prove” that Dan was a flight risk. And they pulled up Eric’s Facebook and found a status where he said, “Things aren’t looking great in the country, really want to get the fuck out”. And that was back in August. And then they were “They have plans”. And then our public defender was like “When Reagan was president, I said I wanted to get out of this country”. To pull up a post from four months ago, and then have somebody that says, “I want to GTFO [get the fuck out] from this country” and then say, “That’s proof of plans of a flight risk” is just… The number of people who said they wanted to go to Canada, now they’re all flight risks. It’s really grasping at straws at that point.

TFSR: I was gonna try to make some joke about how far of a stretch that was in yoga, but I couldn’t.

Jack: It was so appreciated either way. There’s so much about it. We’re aware that Dan is a white male. So he is somebody who wants to defend Black lives. And he essentially wants to use his privilege to defend Black lives. He’s the type of person to run towards the sound of gunshots, he is the type of person who wants to use his white privilege to protect Black and brown lives from white supremacists. I want to say that just because we’ve been drawing a lot of parallels between the Black Panther movement, Huey P. Newton and a lot of the examples that we’ve been giving describe the FBI involvement has been with Black leaders, Black civil rights leaders. Obviously, Dan is not Black, and it’s still very nuanced and different. But I think that the criminalization of leftist ideology, in general, is still a common thread for all of these movements.

Eric: One of the things that terrify them the most is these types of Rainbow-Coalition- style initiatives that grasp the attention of people from a vast spectrum of backgrounds.

TFSR: Currently, Dan Baker is sitting in a federal prison in Tallahassee. Have you been in contact with him? How are his conditions? How are his spirits?

Eric: I got a couple of phone calls. I got a call the last couple of weeks. And then maybe two-three days ago, I just got another whole bunch of letters that I think had been delayed in transit. It was probably over a dozen letters, some of them are things that he wanted to share about his condition in there and the way he’s holding up.

Jack: Actually, I stepped out to check the mail really fast while you guys were talking, but I realized that I had bought Dan a bunch of greeting cards to give him some color in his cell. And then I see that effective August 15, all incoming general correspondence envelopes, including greeting cards must be white in color only. So now I’m realizing that none of my letters have actually gotten to him. It’s been very difficult to actually communicate with him. He wasn’t able to make a phone call for weeks. And when his lawyers asked the warden about it, the warden said, “Talk to the prosecution”. When they talk to the prosecutors about it, they’re “You got to talk to the warden”. So they were giving the public defenders the runaround. We didn’t hear from Dan for several weeks, it was very stressful. And then the color of the envelope… They scan all of the letters in the first place and then send them copies of scanned letters. So I have no idea why the envelope would matter at all. Because they don’t even send them the envelope in the first place.

Eric: There are a couple of complaints that he sends. They’re inmate requests to staff, he’s just trying to get access to his funds and being able to communicate with everybody. Basically, he’s just trying to request information on how we can access those things and it took him a long time, maybe another few days at least, before he even figured out how to be able to access the funds that he had available. He was trying to get phone calls, he couldn’t even really get phone calls with his lawyers. A lot of times, they had him on a three-man hold. I think it’s the FDOE regulation. They’ll have three people hold them on a chain with a lieutenant there. Every time he has a phone call, or every time he meets with his attorneys…

Jack: He hasn’t been able to have a private conversation with his attorneys. He’s been in the detention center for a month and a half. And he hasn’t had been able to have one private conversation.

TFSR: Because there’s always simultaneously these other prisoners that are being…

Jack: There are these three armed guards with him at all times. And they’re trying to present him as if he’s this evil criminal.

Eric: “Antifa super-soldier”.

Jack: Yeah, antifa super-soldier, evil criminal mastermind. As Eric said, he’s won six gold medals. But that’s training within his level and his division, he’s a purple belt training against other purple belts in his weight class, not somebody who’s a Black belt training against all these other Black belts. He is very skilled, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not a ninja.

TFSR: Are they afraid he’s gonna attack his lawyer? They put him into a room with his lawyer, what’s the possible danger except for extracting him from the room afterwards?

And a quick content warning, the next section has a reference to sexual assault. So if you’re concerned, I would skip ahead about two minutes.

Jack: I think they just really don’t want him to be able to have a private conversation with his lawyer. There have been so many sketchy things about this whole thing. The fact that he wasn’t able to make a phone call mysteriously.

Eric: Yeah, we had been trying to make phone calls for two weeks or so before anyone was able to get through and even got in contact with his counselor. And he just hung up on us, we had to pay subscriptions even just to register a phone number in the system. Even then, I think they initially put him in solitary. They were saying it was for a quarantine measure, 14 days of solitary confinement. But then others were saying it was because they thought he was gonna start an uprising or something. Also, I think after he had spent some time in there, he was saying it would be preferable to go out into the general population because he was just a concern for his own safety.

Jack: One of the things that he wrote in his letter is that somebody was raped with a broomstick handle. When you think about the conditions of jail/prison or anything, it’s a place that breeds hostility environment, and the guards encourage it. That was in one of his recent letters is there is a person who is struggling with some mental issue, and the guards are saying that he’s faking it and encouraging the other prisoners to bully him and antagonize him and hurt him. Dan is not sure what to make of it, except that he realizes that somebody is being bullied and intimidated and harassed. And the guards are encouraging this behavior amongst the inmates.

Eric: I just got a couple of these letters from him over the last couple of days, the most recent ones were marked “urgent”, he was concerned because he was rotating his cell. And apparently, when he got into the new cell, it was covered in feces, and there’s blood in the sink and someone used the toothbrush in there or something. He wasn’t sure if somebody was going after him or trying to intimidate him, or what the situation was, but it was extremely unsanitary. He’s not given access to even antibacterial soap or anything like that. Apparently, it was another inmate who is suffering from some mental illness and he’s done this also in other cells. So it doesn’t seem like anyone is targeting him specifically. I think he has gotten threats from other people that he’s mentioned, but I was just discussing this with his attorney the other day, and some of these things are probably pretty common in a lot of these institutions. It’s hard to even tell exactly what action to take short of abolishing them.

TFSR: Can you tell me about the support crew a little bit like how you mentioned like you two are some of the most active people in it? What infrastructure have you been building or how’s it been trying to talk about the case? There’s been a few pretty good articles that I’ve seen online and Jack, you mentioned writing a bunch of op-eds. How’s that work going?

Jack: I think the way that it started is some of our Black community activists, Black leaders, actually reached out to us about trying to support Dan. And they recognized what Dan was trying to do and appreciated that he was trying to fight against white supremacy. Then we grew it to include some more of the different prison solidarity groups across the state, across the nation, actually. We have some people from Philadelphia, New York, Indiana, and then we also have people who are with the Rojava Solidarity Network, they just all reached out. And we were really grateful to have this solidarity. We just talk about different news articles that come out. I appreciate everyone’s perspective, like I said, it’s been really helpful to have Black activists give feedback because this is something we want to be very mindful of.

Eric: So it’s been important, this whole trip to defer to Black leadership.

Jack: Yeah, Black leadership and local leadership, especially since we’re talking about protecting Black and brown lives, we wanted the perspective of Black and brown leaders in the community.

TFSR: I know that during a past interview with Coffee with Comrades, Eric, you talked about using your existing artwork as a platform to talk about Daniel’s case. Is that still ongoing?

Eric: Yeah. Basically, Dan and I had started that project. We would live paint in public spaces. We started a page called the Guerilla Gallery. It’s a common thing that a lot of artists do, a pop-up exhibition. I revived that page because I hadn’t really had it running before. So I decided to dedicate it as an info hub for his case and to use it for future prison solidarity projects. Anyone is welcome to check that out if you want to keep up with it. It’s on Instagram, Guerilla Gallery TLH, it is in Tallahassee. So I’ve been tried to post the relevant addresses mailing addresses, and some of the guidelines for sending mail, any relevant articles, I’ll probably post this article. And then once it comes up, and it’s just like a place where I can, at least until we get a website going, we’ve just been using that. We do have a website in the works. But we got shut down by GoFundMe pretty early on. So we’ve been working with some other groups set up like an independent fundraiser. So hopefully that’ll be online shortly at that one hearing scheduled for I think it was last Monday, it was supposed to be a state case, a hearing for an arraignment for whether he gets to keep his firearms. But instead, they took him before a grand jury and tried him with I think it was just the prosecutor there. And so they ended up getting him with two charges, instead of just the original one, even though the public defender doesn’t think it’ll stick, but his state case is still coming up as to whether he gets to keep his firearms. So I was just able to hire a lawyer just the other day to assist with that case and represent him because I feel like that’s important if they’re also trying to take firearms away from people that they’re harassing in this way.

TFSR: Yeah, particularly people that haven’t been convicted of a crime. One thing about Florida is that Florida is the cousin to the rest of the US South where they give you guns or shove them into your hand when you’re an infant. That’s not fair and not true. But it’s just difficult to consider the idea that the state of Florida is looking to deny someone the right to bear arms when they have “served the country”, and also when they haven’t been charged with actually conducting any violent criminal act, let alone when conducting of criminal acts in which a gun is a part of that.

Jack: The whole thing is bizarre. Exactly like what you’re saying that he hasn’t actually been convicted of anything and they’re already trying to make this decision.

Eric: If we can do some art exhibition pretty soon to draw attention to this, it’ll also show up some of the systemic issues of how these types of laws can be used to take away people’s voting rights, their ability to protect themselves. And there’s just like so much wrapped up in it.

Jack: Also the absurdity of having social media posts be criminalized that were obviously jokes. Another one of the things of the criminal complaint was that Dan had pictures or posts about eating the rich, and these are fucking memes, this is absurd that they’re including “eat the rich” memes as part of a case against him to say that he’s a threat to society.

TFSR: I’m just looking at the statement, the press release from the Northern District of Florida US Attorney’s office right now. It is saying two counts of transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure. So this is one of those instances again, also not only is that, but they’re out of context social media posts, that it’s not even actionable if it doesn’t post some recipe about how to prepare the rich for consumption. But they tack on the interstate commerce because it’s being done over the internet, even though this is about stopping a far-right incursion or attempt to putsch against the government in the town that you live in. The fact that there are communications about how we need to resist violent actors coming in and causing violence upon ourselves and further reducing whatever “democratic government” there is in the world. They’re saying that it’s now a federal charge because it’s over the internet. It’s so ridiculous. Some pretty decent coverage, there was an article on Jacobin that came out in January…

Jack: I think the Jacobin article by Branko Marcetic is probably my favorite of the articles that have come out so far. I encourage everyone who’s listening to read that one specifically. Because I feel like that really captures the absurdity of the case.

TFSR: And I was surprised too, there’s also a pretty decent article “Coming from Prison”, which is a libertarian…

Eric: Yeah, I saw that too. I was about to post that one up the other day.

Jack: Okay, I actually haven’t seen that one yet.

Eric: I was surprised about that, too, to be honest.

TFSR: It’s making some pretty cogent arguments in a legalistic framework of the government attempting to suppress the right to bear arms based on the political speech of an individual. And it probably doesn’t hurt that again, he’s a white dude.

Jack: I’ll definitely have to read on that one.

Eric: It’s easier for the prosecution to go after Dan Baker than it is for them to prosecute Donald Trump.

TFSR: So another coverage’s come up and hopefully there’ll be more, but this situation reminds me of the case of Loren Reed, he’s Diné man in Arizona facing 10 years in federal prison for joking comments in a private Facebook chat during the uprising. Does there seem to be a trend in this application of speech on social media platforms like Facebook being taken out of context and used to criminalize people on the left? I don’t know if any other cases remind you of this thing or if you have other thoughts on that?

Jack: I mean, I would say, absolutely, there is this pattern of taking jokes, taking private messages, I think in the case of Lauren Reed, they’re really trying to slam this arson charge, which, for what I remember reading in the Al Jazeera article about it, it was born out of the Civil Rights Movement as a way of penalizing civil rights activists and these federal charges are almost exclusively used to punish civil rights activists, but I definitely see that there is this pattern. I can’t think of any other cases right now.

Eric: They have these laws ready await, they will pass them under the pretense of preparing to protect against right-wing violence. And then once the public focus dwindles, they’ll use it against leftists as soon as they get an opportunity. There were some other examples listed in that Al Jazeera article, there was Evan Ellis. I think he was a BLM organizer in Evansville, who got a two years probation and psychiatric evaluation and got three counts of felony intimidation for posting a little clip on Facebook of him making a gun gesture.

Jack: Oh, wow.

Eric: He was talking about allegedly some officials or something like that, I don’t know, some policies that he didn’t like. There was a Samuel Amara also. He was charged allegedly for threatening a racist counter-protester. He could get up to five years. Those are felony arson laws that were invoked against Standing Rock protesters that Jack was referring to. There’s also a recent case here in Tallahassee, do where Baker County is? I think it’s somewhat close by to Tallahassee, but there’s another local activist named Kevin Connor, who was arrested recently. They’re trying to present it as if he was acting inappropriately with minors or something like that. He was just an organizer who was helping students, he was invited to speak to them about how they could organize in their schools and their campuses.

Jack: Even just as far as a local example is in Tallahassee, 19 people were arrested for protesting on the sidewalk. And they tried to slam some of them with felony charges. One still has felony charges, which haven’t been dropped. In Tallahassee, we had a man driving a truck through the crowd, no charges were pressed against him because he said he feared for his life. And we had a guy who actually pulled out a gun and pointed it at protesters. And he also had no charges because he said he feared for his life. So this is a counter-protester, just some white dude. But you just have a rainbow coalition of Black and brown and white activists fighting for Black Lives Matter protesting on a sidewalk and a 19-year old get arrested.

It’s just the laws are not equally distributed at all. In Florida, there’s this anti-protest bill. And they’re saying that it’s going to be DeSantis, the governor introduced it during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, it got a lot of backlash. And then he reintroduced it after the events that unfolded at the Capitol on January 6. And he’s saying that as to fight extremism. But the way that some of the speakers at the most recent protests explained it is there are already laws against rioting, there’s already laws against looting. And what these anti-protest laws, these felony charges do is make it more expensive, and keep making the sentences longer for anybody who breaks those laws. And then they are unequally distributed and used primarily against left-wing activists, but most recently, they’re coming out of this idea that it’s to stop right-wing extremists.

Eric: Recently, some courts have ruled that portions of the Federal Riot Act are unconstitutional. So even people who encourage or promote riots are legally free speech currently.

TFSR: I didn’t know about that. I’m looking forward to reading up on that after this. These are really good examples that you’re bringing up that I don’t know about. So I’m gonna do a little research and link some articles.

Jack: It’s also called the Anti-Protest Bill, if you look up Florida anti-protest bill, but the thing is 26 states have introduced bills like this since what happened on January 6, and what’s being introduced in Florida isn’t even the worst one, there are some that are actually trying to make it so that it is a 30-year prison time felony charge for organizing a protest. And then the way that DeSantis bill is defining a protest is a group of nine or more people blocking traffic at an intersection, which would include every demonstration that the Black Lives Matter protest had. And it also tries to make it so that there is no option for bail for people who are arrested for these protests, charges that try to make them felonies, which, in addition to stripping people of the right to vote, also makes that they can’t work state or federal jobs. The way that felony charges are used against people in Florida is just really disastrous. Many bills like this have sprung up in over half the country as a result of what happened on January 6, but they’re going to be disproportionately used against leftist activists versus the right-wing extremists that they’re claimed to have started from. Oh, actually, Eric just pulled up a good infographic.

Eric: Also the bill protects anyone who does bodily harm to protesters. So they’re already willing to make allowances to protect property. But if anyone tries to protect another person, that’s terrorism. Really, what he was doing is counter-terrorism. But If they admit that, then they’ll have to admit that Trump is a terrorist. And he appointed that. But also damaging a statue can be punishable for up to 15 years. And it also allows the state to override any municipality that wants to decrease police budgets.

Jack: Yeah. So the way that they have it is if a municipality votes to decrease their own police budget, it has to be approved by DeSantis, in order to defund the police, which when you think about it, there’s this whole argument about states rights and civil rights and local rights, and then suddenly, no, just kidding, we have a dictatorship where we have one person that gets to decide this decision for everybody. If there is a protest, and if damage happens, the state of Florida can sue the municipality for not adequately supplying their police officers. So if anything is damaged, they can say that the city needs to increase its police force. It’s a very problematic bill. And it’s not even the worst one that’s out there.

TFSR: If January 20 popped off the way that it was threatened to, for instance, and if this had passed, then police standing by and letting right-wingers go and do whatever they were going to do could be a reason for the police to just get more funding.

Eric: And in a sense, the real coup is just them seizing control of or trying to ram through all this anti-protest legislation. And ramping up all these surveillance programs.

TFSR: It’s not really a coup if they’re already in control, though, right?

Eric: Yeah.

Jack: Yeah. I wish I could find more specific info about that last bit that I was saying, I’ll have to look it up later.

Eric: Well, there’s also the federal level measures that are also being passed by Biden and Pelosi, as far as I know.

Jack: Patriot Act Two.

TFSR: Yeah. Aren’t we on number three by now? Yeah, definitely. All the security state discussion is in discourses, at least a lot of people are recognizing it for what it is that it’s just using whatever political capital they were able to… I’m sure that some individuals and employees were quite frightened on the 6th when the windows were getting smashed and people were coming in and fighting the cops and everything. And that sucks for cleaners or employees or whoever was working up there. But the fact that January 6 has been framed as another September 11. It is just so ridiculous, par for the course.

Eric: It doesn’t address the fact that the only reason they’re able to get in there is because all the cops and military were complicit and politicians.

TFSR: As far as supporting Daniel, how can people find out more about the case? How can they support the work that the crew is doing? How can they support him personally?

Eric: So far, it seems like his attorneys are doing a good job, they’re really well-known here in the community. I think they’ve also worked with other activists, so we lucked out in that regard. We’re focusing right now on letter-writing as much as possible. All of his information is on the @GuerillaGalleryTLH Instagram.

Jack: I also want to emphasize, as far as letter-writing is that the paper must be white in color, envelopes must be white in color. And they can only use blue or Black ink, it makes no sense because like I said, they scan the letters anyway.

Eric: There are screenshots of the guidelines and on there as well. And some links to the website with more information.

TFSR: Well, Eric and Jack, thank you so much for this conversation. Get at me with some of those links and I’ll definitely include them in the show notes about related cases. That’s a lot to think about and I really appreciate the research that y’all are doing. And the support work that you’re doing for Daniel, it’s super important even beyond him as your friend, as you said, these tools that are being turned on him are ones that are often turned on other people and are in danger of being used against all of us.

Eric: He’s so upset about his situation right now. He said he’s about to start a vow of silence, except for his allies. So I still have to find out if he’s following through with that, but it’s really crucial that he gets letters and that he just feels supported and that people are following his case and watching his case so at least that he’ll be less likely to suffer some abuse or something while he’s in there, at least they can be held to account for already what he’s been experiencing in there.

TFSR: To reiterate, as has been said, a lot of times on this show and in other discussions around supporting prisoners, sending letters to a prisoner is not just a kind act or a way of making a friend, but it literally is a measure in prisons of how much support or how many people are paying attention on the outside. And it literally means that not only Daniel, but the people that are around Daniel, for guards or administration to fuck with them, they have to know at that point, that all these people are, who are on the outside are going to have concerned about this, is it worth me messing with this guy, or the people around him if these many people are going to make a ruckus on the outside?

Eric: That’s what I’m really trying to focus on right now is creating some situation for him to be able to reenter, potentially even maybe in a better situation than he started. And just now that people have a better idea of who he is and what he stands for I hope that more people in the community will come together. And I’m trying to get him set up maybe with some platform to continue his yoga and jujitsu training and groups, and I’m hoping, you can hit the ground running when he gets out. And we can hopefully leverage this network to create some opportunities for him as well.

TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you want to mention?

Eric: Coming to that place is serious, it’s a class war against all of us, we’re all potentially at risk here. So, I feel like everyone needs to show solidarity in their different communities to connect where they can and then to unify whatever groups are able to get together because that’s the only way that anyone will be able to protect themselves or each other.

Grief, Storytelling & Ritual in Liberation Struggle with adrienne maree brown

Grief, Storytelling & Ritual in Liberation Struggle with adrienne maree brown

cover of "Grievers" novella by amb
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Today we’re excited to share a conversation with adrienne maree brown, the writer of such books as Holding Change, We Will Not Cancel Us, Pleasure Activism and Emergent Strategy. adrienne’s recent novella, Grievers, the first of a trilogy, was published by AK Press’ new Black Dawn imprint of speculative fiction. In this conversation, we dig into the book which is set in Detroit where a new illness that seems to only effect Black people (spoiler alert). We talk also about the role of speculative fiction in liberation movements, spirituality, ritual and grief in our organizing and holding space for inter-generational struggle.

Expect a transcript in a little over a week, soon followed by a printable zine of that transcript at our website at https://TFSR.WTF/Zines. You can support us by sharing our content in real life and on social media, more info at https://TFSR.WTF/Social!

Check out Scott’s prior conversation with adrienne on We Will Not Cancel Us.

Zine Catalog

You can find a catalog of our transcriptions to this point (Oct 2021), thanks to a zinester comrade. This could be good if you run a distro to prisoners and want to see if any zines sound interesting to them:

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Featured Track:

  • Locusts (feat. Finale) by Invincible from Shapeshifters

Eric Stanley on “Structuring Antagonism and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable”

Eric Stanley on “Structuring Antagonism and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable”

Book cover of "Atmospheres of Violence" by Eric Stanley featuring a photo of pier-tops sticking out of water with a hazy city in the distance
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This week, Scott spoke with Eric A Stanley about their new book, Atmospheres of Violence: Structuring Antagonism and the Trans/Queer Ungovernable, which was just published by Duke University Press. Eric A. Stanley is an associate professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. In collaboration with Chris Vargas, they directed the films Homotopia (2006) and Criminal Queers (2019). Eric is also an editor, along with Tourmaline and Johanna Burton, of Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility (MIT Press 2017) and with Nat Smith, Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (AK Press, 2015/11).

In this chat, they talk about racialized violence against trans/queer people as a foundational part of the modern US state; trace this in the formation of the US settler state and how it persists today. They also discuss the improvised ways trans and queer people learn and share survival tactics and thrive under these condition in order to envision a new world.

Announcements

Dan Baker Has Been Transferred

Anarchist and antifascist prisoner, Daniel Baker, who was convicted of transmitting threats while calling for anti-racists to show up in Tallahassee and stop a possible Trumpist coup received 44 months in prison and 3 years of probation. His legal defense is appealing and we’ll be re-airing an interview with his support crew soon. Meanwhile, there’s a great article by Natasha Leonard in The Intercept on the outcome of the case and we wanted to let you know that Dan has been transferred to FCI Memphis.

You can write him and send him books at:

Daniel Baker #25765-509
FCI Memphis
P.O, Box 34550
Memphis, TN 38184
United States

Note that he cannot receive photos or colored envelopes. You can find his book list plus a bunch of other info by visiting PrisonerSolidarity.Com and searching his name, alongside a bunch of other political prisoners of the so-called US & elsewhere.

Blue Ridge ABC Letter Writing

A snowy Appalachian forest announcing December 5th prisoner letter writing If you’re in the asheville area, just a reminder that Blue Ridge ABC will be hosting a letter writing at West Asheville Park on the 1st Sunday of December, only THIS time it’s from 3-5pm to handle the available natural light.

B(A)D News Episode 50

If you’re looking for more anarchist perspectives, check out episode 50 of the A-Radio Network’s BAD News: Angry Voices From Around The World. This November 2021 episode of our monthly offering features a shortened version of our talk with ASP, updates from Frequenz-A in northern Germany about the situation on the Belarusian and Polish border, Elephant In The Room from Dresden with updates on repression and resistance in Belarus, A-Radio Berlin sharing on the racist police killing of the migrant Giorgos Zantiotis in a Wuppertal jail cell and resulting protests and Crna Luknja from Lubjlana talking about the refugee situation in the Western Balkans.

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Featured Tracks:

  • Dicks Hate The Police by Dicks from Kill From The Heart
  • Riot (prod by Gobby) by Mykki Blanco from Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss

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Transcription

Eric Stanley: My name is Eric Stanley. I use they/them pronouns. I live, work, and organize and in various capacities and San Francisco, California.

TFSR: I’m super excited to get to talk to you. And specifically we’re talking about your recently published book Atmospheres of Violence. And before getting into the argument specifically, I just wanted to acknowledge and appreciate that you publish a book with an academic press, Duke University Press, that’s very explicitly anti-state and anarchistic aligned, and that find unique, remarkable, exciting. So I was just wondering if you wanted to talk at all about your experience as someone working within academia taking an anti-state position, because I’ve had a lot of push-back. I’ve been in and out of universities, and it’s not always a very safe place to be explicitly radical, or there’s a limited amount of symbolic radicalism that you can do. So I just was wondering if you had any ideas on how you take that position up.

ES: I mean, that’s a really interesting question, one that people usually don’t ask me. So it made me think a lot. So as you might know, I published my first book that I edited Capture Genders on AK Press. So I’ve worked with them a lot over the years. And I published this one on Duke, because you know, one of the little secrets about having an academic job, if you don’t publish on an academic press, you get fired. And then you can never work in the University of California system for the rest of your life. So there’s that part of it, the materiality of you know, this is what you have to do. But that being said, my editor at Duke, Elizabeth Ault has been incredibly supportive since the beginning of the project. There’s never been any push-back from her. And I feel like she’s done a really good job protecting the project in terms of my vision and my politics and my theoretical commitments. So I appreciate that.

And then in the larger question of the academy… and I think, for me, I somewhat fly below the radar. I’m just this small person in this huge institution. And luckily they generally are not paying a lot of attention to me. So that is definitely to my benefit. When the introduction of the book did come out, though, the alt-right started doing all these screen-caps of it and it got very big in this weird alt-right way. They started emailing me and emailing my job and trying to get me fired and all that kind of stuff. But that being said, I think you’re exactly right. The university itself is fundamentally right-wing institution. There are some people that can do okay stuff. I always think about it in terms of it’s the place that steals my labor. It’s not a thing that I heavily identify with. It’s my job that I go to. Sometimes I can do interesting things there.

I really like working with students, and I get to learn from interesting colleagues, but it’s not a central part of my understanding of myself. And I think that that allows me to be like “Okay, it’s just that thing over there. And then I leave there.” My organizing oftentimes hasn’t actually crossed over. My organizing life is pretty separate. I think that that has been important to me as well. All that being said, I’m sure it’s coming for me any moment. I think it’s always a matter of time. It’s not really if, it’s always when.

TFSR: Well I hope you can continue to use the resources that it gives you to do the work you’re doing. And you do, in the book bring, distinct from your personal organizing, bringing that perspective into a theoretical academic work, which I think is really important. Because a lot of the time the theory is so far away from any kind of street level, grassroots movement. So I guess one of the things that I thought was really important in your argument is that it’s specifically taking a stance against the state. And so, given that, and then we’re talking within an anarchist radio show and podcast, I was wondering how you define the state in its workings of power, but also as an object of our countering our political movements. Also if you want to talk a little bit about one of the things that I found really important in your book is how you highlight the incoherence of the state, and also the way that we reproduce this logic. So yeah, just if you want to talk a little bit about the state.

ES: Yeah, another incredibly big question, but it also is really important. So for me, the way that I think about the state is I think I call it something like a collective projection, meaning that the state is not something fundamentally external to us. It’s the collective ‘we.’ That’s both good news and bad news. We have the ability to radically transform it, the way it transforms us, perhaps end it. But we also must be accountable to the ways that we allow it to continue. So that also seems really important to me. There is a certain kind of critique within anarchist thought or anti-statism, or whatever you might want to call it, that always assumes that the state is something external, that we have no accountability for its violence. And I actually think we have to make ourselves account to that continuing violence under the name of stopping it. So I think that that’s why that configuration is really important.

Then I also think about the collective projection of the state being its totality, is useful, because it also helps us understand the way that we’re constantly reproducing it. It’s not only the cops in our heads, but the state itself is in our head. This is not to say that the murderous institution of the state is not real. And that we don’t all equally have to be accountable for its violence. But I am interested in why and how we continue to allow it to exist.

So on the question of the incoherence of the state form, there’s this other kind of simplistic story that oftentimes gets told that the state has some kind of external force that just bears down upon us. If that were true it actually be much easier to fight. So that’s why argue about argue that we must understand its radical incoherence as indeed, its vicious fortitude that allows, which is also to say, mandates, that we have a much more nuanced understanding of the relationship between the collective ‘we’ and something that we imagined to be external, like the state.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s really helpfully laid out. I’m thinking about what you’re saying now in terms of the way us and anti-authoritarian anti-state movements relate to the state as something where fighting. Because on the one hand you talk about how we reproduce the state everyday, just in our relationships. I am going to refer to a tweet that I saw you made recently, which is ‘it’s not that our demands are too little, that we need to demand more.’ I really thought that was an important point, because when we temper our demands, we give the state too much power in some way. That’s how I was understanding it. If you want to jump off there. I’m thinking about how we can fight the state in a way that’s not just always on the back foot, reacting to its incoherence and then narrowing our horizons because it feels so impossible.

ES: Yeah, this is obviously deeply in conversation with prison abolitionist thought and organizing as well. I actually see them as fundamentally the same project, even though people definitely disagree with that. But for me, one of the forms of violence that the state takes is this radical narrowing of our dreams, our demands, our wants our desires. It always forces us to ask for less and be happy with nothing. That’s why I think the internalization of the state, that kind of analysis is so important, because that’s actually something that we’re doing for the state. Even before they say ‘no’, if we’re gonna think of it as something external, we’re already saying ‘no’ to ourselves and to each other.

TFSR: Yeah. So also, the thing that you fit within the scope of your analysis is democracy. Which, again, I think is something that is an under analyzed, over suggested answer to all the problems. I know, in an anarchist milieu it’s often something that we’re critical of. But I wonder if you had any thoughts about how we can let go of democracy as this ubiquitous solution to our problems. Like more democracy is gonna solve the problem?

ES: Yeah, so the code of the book really thinks about this question. And I end with a bunch of open ideas, so it’s not incredibly definitive. And but something that led me there was thinking about what is democracy? If it’s something that both allegedly the left and the right argues over, then what is it substance? And oftentimes the argument is, like you’re saying, the left will say ‘Oh, the state’s not democratic enough’ and the right is saying ‘Oh, it’s too democratic.’ So one of the things that I’m interested in asking throughout the text is ‘what is this idea of democracy? How is it enabling our more radical dreams for freedom or liberation? How is this thing that we’re holding on to also holding us down?’ And of course, I’m not drifting toward some sort of totalitarian dream. Just to be clear, that’s not that’s not the direction I’m going. Democracy is so open, right? It’s a placeholder that collects up a lot of different things. And so some formations of it, yes, definitely. But other formations of it are in and of itself already a kind of totalitarian regime.

So I’m interested in pulling apart the kind of steady understanding that we have of it, that we think that we have of it, that we’re all thinking about the same ideas and the same concept. Also how that is one of the ways that the state disciplines us. Through the demand of democracy and as a kind of future-oriented process or project that we can never quite achieve. It’s always the democracy to come and it’s never here. And one of the things I ask is ‘what if it’s already here?’ And what if, instead of an imperfect democracy, what if imperfection is indeed the system itself?

TFSR: Yeah. I guess that really ties into the sort of central argument as it relates to trans and queer life. I’m going to kind of try to encapsulate it: that racialized anti trans and queer violence is a necessary expression of the liberal state, not a fault that will be reformed away. Or the violence that trans and queer people experience is a fundamental part of the atmosphere that we live in, using your term. Could you elaborate a little bit on this sort of understanding of how queerness and transness relate to the State and violence, and also where you see transness and queerness opening a horizon for liberatory struggle?

ES: Sure, so the book, as you just articulated, is an extended meditation or grappling with what I understand to be the fact of violence. Which is to say that it’s not an aberration of the state form, but indeed, is one of its foundations. And so to me, what that means is that the way that we commonly are taught to think about violence, is that especially violence directed at specific populations for example here, trans and queer and gender non conforming people, is that it’s just the work of a few bad apples or a few bad actors, or whatever metaphor you want to use, directed at specific people. And what I do by paying close attention to the scenes of violence, which are really horrible, is I tried to build an analysis that understands that those specific actions are an ambassador for a larger murderous culture.

For me, that is incredibly important, because, in the final instance, the book is deeply invested in ending the scenes of violence. But, I don’t allow myself or the theoretical tools that I use to rely on the State, something like the police or any other facet of the state as remedy to that violence. And so then the question is ‘what what is to be done?’ “What can we do?” There’s many other ways to think about this. But I think centering the question of the state itself is necessary. Otherwise we’re caught in this feedback loop where we just keep at best, addressing specific instances without radically destroying the world that mandates them. And I think that that is the necessary move that we have to make.

TFSR: Yeah. In the book, you really pull from Fanon and his theorizing of anti-colonial struggle. And so I’m wondering about violence to on the part of liberation. I want to quote you, you talk about ‘violence as a generalized field of knowledge that maintains this collective undoing lived as personal tragedy of those lost to modernity’, speaking specifically about racialized trans and queer people who are subjected to this kind of violence, but you also place violence as a tactic within our struggle. So I was wondering where you see it on our side as a way of like getting free.

ES: Sure. So, the primary figure that I think with throughout the book is probably Frantz Fanon. He allows for many things and among them is a re-conceptualization of the time of violence. When does it end? When does it begin? And I argue that the scene does not begin or end with an individual attack, but constitutes the very possibility of that altercation in the first instance. Right. And so we’ve already kind of re-positioned the temporality of violence. I think that that’s where we have to begin.

Fanon, of course, argued that revolutionary violence was a necessary precondition under the state of total war, that was racialized, colonial occupation, right. So that’s something that a lot of people know about Fanon. And so for him in the first instance, we could not ‘reject violence’ when it is already here. And so it’s repositioning our relationship to the very question. And so, I’m interested in thinking about how we might respond to not escalate that harm, but also under a commitment to ending it in a much more structural way, than the way that we’re thinking about it now. That’s why I’m always thinking with and sometimes beside Fanon on this question, because it’s so incredibly fruitful the way that he articulates it.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a really helpful way of thinking about kind of the method of analysis that you bring to the book. The book is difficult to read for multiple reasons. One of the main ones being that it’s involved in this archive of anti-trans-and-queer-‘violence. And then each chapter is structured around specific events that you talk about. And, you talk about what it means to describe the violence and trying not to reproduce the power operations that are under girding it, even while trying to use your analysis to end it. So I wonder if you want to talk a little bit about how you feel you’re able to engage with this horrific, genocidal archive of daily, trans and queer violence in the United states while not feeding into that, but also like what you say, kind of ‘reading from the perspective of struggle’ because this would be an intervention into that time of violence from the point of view of ending it.

ES: Yeah, so I think that this is another open question that I sit with throughout the text. I think that place of ambivalence is not a place of knowing or not knowing, but indeed, is a kind of theoretical commitment to being in the time of antagonism. I never know in advance how should I narrate this. How can I be as careful as possible? How can I be as precise as possible? Without a kind of empty re-traumatization, just for the sake of re-traumatization. We all know that that’s not useful for anybody. And related, not engaging with the archive is another form of violence. Looking and looking away are both equally tied up in the totality of its scene. None of us can assume to be pure subjects outside of it.

Then what I attempt to do is go slowly. Think with people that are both survivors, and not pay really close attention to the language that they’re using. How they’re experiencing their own life, how they’re theorizing their own life. For me, it’s about not using people’s really horrific events as simple analogies or as examples. But I argue that they’re theorizing all the time. And does it work? Does it not work? I don’t know. But that’s as close as I could get. Again, for example, I don’t show graphic pictures in the book. When I do narrate things, I try to go slowly through it, and I try to talk about why I’m doing it and why I’m making certain choices and I’m not making other choices, right? Sometimes survivors say this is what happened to me and I want everyone to know. And so in a certain sense that allows us a little bit more space. But I actually think in the larger scheme of things, it doesn’t really. We’re still in that scene, even if a survivor wants something specific. I think I’m just trying to hold all those contradictions at the same time and push them to the front as opposed to hiding them.

TFSR: Yeah, it really comes through to me as you were talking about the people who are involved in these experiences theorizing them themselves. You don’t have a hierarchy of who produces knowledge in your book, which is also I think unique from an academic perspective, which really does separate the people that are being described from the people doing the analysis. So you locate trans theory in the lived lives of trans people no matter what their educational backgrounds are. One thought I had is that this so called ‘trans tipping point’ that we’re past now, brought into representation, specifically, I think Black trans women in a different way than had been before. But I really feel like it goes hand in hand both on like the reactionary right, and on the left spectacularization of the violence that Black trans women experience that feels like at best useless at worse harmful. And I’m wondering if you have thoughts beyond this about how to work to keep Black trans women alive and not relating to Black trans women as victims. What kind of work we can do right now to support them?

ES: I mean, obviously always asking people what they want and need is where we always start. But I think to your point is incredibly important, because in the beginning of the book I think a lot about Marsha P. Johnson in the way that she was exiled from mainstream or even radical leftist lesbian and gay culture in the 1970s through the time of her death. Now she’s kind of been brought back in as a trans of color, Black trans woman activist ideal. And I make an argument that both of those are violent in and of themselves. So like one of them is not the remedy for the other one, because the way in which she is brought into the archive doesn’t disturb the coloniality of the archive itself. All it is, is a kind of accommodation, not for the politics that Marsha was invested in throughout her life, but indeed, to actually support a white supremacist state. And so that is really important, because what I’m also hearing in this question is the ways in which trans women of color get emptied out of content or of politics, and they just become a screen upon which all kinds of people just project a whole lot of things onto them. And so I think that it is all of our tasks, to understand Marsha as a theorist and to read what she wrote and to listen to the words that she said. As opposed to just projecting our contemporary analysis on top of her as an empty subject of history.

TFSR: Yeah, that really gels it for me. In the way that even leftist or radicals or whatever can reproduce the sort of anti-Blackness, I feel like often Black trans women are brought into a conversation as if they’re already victims, and not included in the conversation as the theoreticians that you’re showing them to be. In certain spaces, obviously, it’s not everywhere.

But since you mentioned Marsha P. Johnson, one thing that I see you doing in this book is intervening in the history of gay liberation, trans liberation, queer liberation movements, and the way that relates to queer theory. I think early on what was really exciting about the movement, and what still I think resonates with people today is this thought that trans and queer people in themselves are revolutionary in the ways that they live and love and fuck. But that didn’t really stop from the assimilationist arm being the main focus of a gay rights movement. And then I see in the university with queer theory how queerness gets theorized away through power, but then divorced from the actual work, and even the living, I think this is particularly true after the heyday of Act Up. But now I’m seeing more crossover of movement work and academic knowledge production. So I was just wondering if you had anything to say about the inheritance of a radical queer legacy, but also where you see your works situated within that inheritance and the location of knowledge production of the academy?

ES: I think that for me… a number of things. I’m always interested in the ways that politics or post-political regimes of intelligibility congeal, more so than identities. I say this all the time, identity is not a politic. San Francisco has many, many trans police officers. I also always say that San Francisco is the laboratory of neoliberalism and any awful thing will always to be developed here in terms of multicultural white supremacy. I study it, because I live it. And that is also to say that all of that analysis… all that comes from organizing. Street-based organizing. One thing that I’m always careful to say is that anything that I have to say that might be useful in this text comes from those worlds. Comes from the worlds that have taught me so much in collective anti-authoritarian or anarchist spaces. So I want to foreground that. And in terms of the specific moment that we’re in with scholarship in the academy, I think that there is this kind of turned back towards the kinds of political questions that were not as readily apparent as they were before.

That can be both good and bad. Because I’m also interested in what gets constituted as political and what doesn’t, and oftentimes the things that I think are most useful are things that are not on the surface ‘political’ and then they’re really messy problematic ones are the ‘political’ texts. So, you never know what you’re going to get. But I do think that this book in particular, it’s kind of interesting. It hasn’t been out that long, but it is interesting where it gets taken up and where it doesn’t. I don’t know if LGBT Studies stuff will really engage with it. I don’t know. I mean, I hope so. I hope people look at it, I guess. But I’m not sure what forms that will take yet. I have a whole bunch of open questions. But, towards the point of identity again, I think I explicitly say this in the book is that I don’t have anything definitive to say about LGBT or otherwise trans or queer people. I’m not actually making an argument about people. I’m making an argument about formations of vitality or generativity or something like that.

TFSR: That makes sense to me. Maybe a way to rephrase what I was trying to get at is that, the early gay liberation, if you read a lot of the texts, there’s this, like, imagination that the revolution is at hand, and part of it has to do with gay life. Like, cruising is revolutionary, or whatever. And then that doesn’t happen. That revolution doesn’t happen. But then you see this certain kind of… you get to Lee Edelman’s version of queer theory in No Future where he’s like ‘queerness is the death drives of society.’ Taking up that same view that queerness is disruptive in some kind of inherent way. Although it’s different at this point, what he’s talking about than the Gay Liberation Front or the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.

How do you understand queer and trans? There’s one thing that you describe that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone write about this way and I thought it was so important is that we can get slurred at in the wrong way… and yet it’s still correct in some manner. Because there’s some way that you say we signify differently. So that’s a specific kind of visibility that can be wrong and right at the same time. So I don’t know if you have a way of talking about how you define trans and queer or the location that we live in?

ES: Yeah, I see what you’re getting at. I can only think about it through negation, because I can’t think of any kind of prescriptive identity because it’s always gonna fail. And so for me, trans and queerness is a retroactive reading practice that can only be known after an identity or an event unfolds. But like you’re saying, one of the things that I find really interesting is that, I’m not deeply tethered to the idea of identity itself and yet the world is constituted through identity. At the same time we have these radical critiques of the impossibility to know trans and queerness as a totalizing or generalizing force, nonetheless, I walk down the street and someone knows that better than I know myself. And so that is really interesting. What is it then? To me is why I think about anti trans and queer violence as a kind of general field of knowledge or an epistemology of violence. Because of that everywhere and nowhere-ness that it simultaneously inhabits.

TFSR: Yeah, I guess building on that, do you want to talk a little bit about how you see this disruption, this projection, this negation that gender and sexuality does it goes hand in hand with the process of racialization that has occurred, specifically in the US context through the capture and enslavement of Africans? How does race, gender, sexuality get forged historically as these systems of domination? Because that’s a huge part of what you’re talking about in the book.

ES: Yeah. It is what the book is about, so sometimes I forget to make it so explicit. So just to be clear, I’m never talking about everyone that ‘might identify as LGBT.’ That’s a useless category for me. And indeed, I also make explicit that many people that identify under those terms that have access to normative power, visa vis white supremacy, ableism, class, other axises of difference, know very little in the materiality of their life about the forces of violence. So, I’m not making this equal distribution argument. That being said, my book takes as a kind of axiomatic that chattel slavery and settler colonialism are at least in this nightmare of the United States, the primary scenes of gender normativities concretization. And so I don’t believe that we can ever do ‘queer trans theory’ without a deep engagement with both of those as ongoing practices, and indeed not simply facts of history. So I’m not interested in how gender and sexuality took form in slavery as if it’s something that happened then and isn’t constantly happening now. Right. And so then in attention to the settler state, and its anti-Black idiom is fundamental, if we are ever going to attempt to begin to open up to questions of gender, sexuality, transness, queerness, etc, right? So they can never be separated.

TFSR: I wonder if the way that you talk about this in the lineages of Black feminism that you pull on, specifically of how Hortense Spillers talks about the kind of ungendering of Black female flesh as a site of a potential insurgent ground. To me that always rings in a certain like trans way. And C Riley Snorton builds off that too. A lot of people do. How do you see this situation that often gets narrated as a place of complete domination and violence, also as a place for destroying the world that we live in now and reshaping it in a way that would let people live?

ES: I mean, definitely. I always include Hortense Spillers work as fundamental to whatever might constitute itself as trans theory. And like you are saying people like Riley and many others do this as well. And I think that it’s definitely the right move. At least for me, she opened up so many of these questions and continues to do that work. So thinking with her theorization of insurgent ground, we also know that along with the structuring horrors that in their epistemological force, that were, and are chattel slavery, there are always moments of people fighting back. So one of the arguments that I make is that even within a totality, there’s still possibility. That might seem kind of contradictory and it is. It’s structurally contradictory, because a totality can’t have that. But I still think that that’s actually how the world works. And it’s also the version of the world that I want to hold on to under the name of ending it so that we might build one that we can survive. I don’t see that as a kind of linear teleological process, but a kind of simultaneity of action, theorization, revolt, revision, all happening at one time. I think that that is already happening. So then one of our goals is to hold up those moments where we can see it so that it might open up possibility for others.

TFSR: Yeah. Could we tie this in a positive way to the incoherence that you’re talking about -that power works through and the state? Because on the one hand, that makes it so that it’s hard to know how to react or we get caught just reacting, but also it means that it isn’t coherent, and therefore already over, right?

ES: Yeah, without a doubt, I mean, I think about this all the time just in just in like actual organizing terms, or whatever. We never know what’s going to set something off. We just have no idea. We can make all these strategies and theorizations and think we have a plan for it. And then it goes so sideways and it can either open up radical possibility or shut down everything. And we just don’t know. And I think that is because of the state’s radical incoherence. And it’s not a kind of prescriptive politic, but a way of a way of thinking about that, that, of course, there’s always a plan for action in relation to it, but also beyond it. So it’s not a simple, constant reaction to the state, which is oftentimes what we’re tied up in. And that’s one of the ways that the state disciplines us. And that we’re accepting that discipline through the constant reaction. I understand sometimes we have to do that. And that just as the materiality of living in this awful world. But that being said that’s not all of it. And that’s also not all of what we’re doing. I’m always looking towards those spaces of hyper-marginality, where things that don’t look explicitly political, but to me are actually giving me life, giving me possibility, the things that actually helped me go on in the world are these really small moments that oftentimes gets passed over.

TFSR: Yeah, my mind went to something that was very explicitly political. Something, I keep thinking about it and maybe you have some thoughts on this. Last year the pandemic hits, and I’m like ‘Okay, we’re going to be met with the incoherence of our lives.’ The contradictions of being forced to work or not to work and pay your bills or whatever. And, and that was like ‘some kind of revolt will happen’. And it didn’t happen until George Floyd uprising. I don’t want to take away the specificity of the George Floyd uprising, but I think that something is connected between the way that that was generalized outside of Minneapolis and the work that people were doing in response to COVID even though that maybe wasn’t as visible in the moment as a riot. I’m just kind of going off the cuff here. But I feel like that also points to sort of the underpinning racial components of COVID that don’t get talked about very often. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that. That was just sort of me thinking about what you’re saying.

ES: Yeah, definitely. Of course we’re in a settler state, so COVID is going to be explicitly anti-Black and otherwise racist in terms of its impact. So I do think that that’s always important to say. I would like to pretend like I’m an accelerationist, but I just have no evidence that that’s ever true. Because it actually is a kind of safe place to be. You’re like “oh, all we have to do is like… everything will get so bad, it will just go” No, it just gets worse. That’s one thing I learned with getting older. And I think it’s interesting in thinking about the incoherence of the state because then you’re always longing for things you never wanted in the first place. And that’s a trip, right? When you’re like ‘Oh, the good old days when whatever bad thing….’ I think about that with gentrification too. When you start longing the things that you used to hate, because at least they’re not as bad as the things that are now.

I think that the conditions, retroactively we can maybe think about why things pop off in certain times but we also can’t prefigure that because sometimes all the same conditions are there and it just doesn’t happen. And I think there’s something about the generalized spontaneity of the social world that can’t be predicted and can’t be corralled. And I think that that’s actually really good and beautiful. But that said, we also shouldn’t live in a world that has to constantly respond to the unmitigated, unending, anti-Black violence that is leveled against Black people all the time everywhere.

TFSR: Yeah. Well, to return more specifically to the book, in that light we’re talking about racialized gender, but also you pull from a Sylvia Wynter-influenced idea that all the violence that we see, that’s gendered, sexualized, racialized is tied completely to the ideas of humanity and modernity. And you say that ‘the racialized trans queer person rests at the limit of the modern and of the human and is necessary to maintain the lie of those projects sort of through being endlessly disciplined and killed.’ This one comes out really clearly in your analysis of suicide. And I don’t know if you want to talk about that. But I really love this line that you say trans queer suicide reads the world for the filth it is because it puts it pretty boldly to me what you’re talking about here. So I wonder if you want to talk about how the concepts of modernity and humanity come in to your analysis of the regulation of and killing of trans queer life?

ES: Sure. So throughout the text I kind of intentionally slip between the settler state modernity and enlightenment humanism. And again, I’m not saying that they’re all the same thing. But I think together they gather up and they also help name these tendencies of recurrence that we inherit in our contemporary moment. So they’re all doing something a little bit differently, but they all help me name something. So, if the human is that which can stand before the law and make claims as its proper subject… that’s like the kind of traditional understanding of the figure of the human, then it also needs its double, its Constituent Outside to maintain its stability. So this is a very common figure in Black feminist thought and also and critical theory. The constituent of outside is that which constitutes the human. And then those that are subjugated to the limit, then become limit concepts, and they kind of police the border, the inside/outside, and they’re necessary. They’re actually the major figures in terms of the schema. Fanon as the same thing, essentially. And so, I think that that is so compelling because of the specific forms of violence that I’m thinking about. It’s not just about exiling people. But it’s about a kind of incorporated inclusion where people are both forced out and brought in at the same time.

We can think about this with TERFS. TERFS are so fascinated. They spend way more time thinking about gender than I do, a gender professor. It’s fascinating. I’m like ‘you are obsessed!’ I think that that same formation is actually incredibly useful, right? Because that’s the form of phobic attachment that I’m interested in. So, it’s a kind of inclusive incorporation, where it’s both pushing things out and bringing things in and that’s actually a really horrifically violent formation to be caught in. It’s way worse than just exile, because you’re shuttled in between the inside outside, in a scene of total war. And so for me, that ties into this figure of the human as, again, the subject of modernity. And so then the contingent of outside is that structure is what I’m naming as the limit concept. And that’s a very like theoretical way of saying it.

Thinking about that in relationship to the chapter that I have on suicide… that chapter is important to me because one of the things that I tried to do in it is depathologize people that are pushed to the limit, while also wanting to keep people alive. So ,it’s not like a kind of nihilistic where I’m like ‘this is jouissance’ or something like that. I’m like ‘this is actually horrific, and I want it to stop.’ But I also know that we have to stop gas-lighting people into recreating this narrative that this is an individual choice and that this person alone was pushed to the limit, when indeed the world is pushing people to the limit. The everydayness of racist, transphobic, homophobic, ableist violence is indeed the force that’s pushing them there. It’s not a kind of self what Fanon calls ‘auto destruction’ is never really about the person themselves. It’s about the way in which they’re positioned in a deadly world.

TFSR: Right. I’m sort of like at a loss. I think that’s really important the way that you talk about that because you can get so lost in the individual situation to sort of erase the commonplace experience that precedes it for someone who’s been harassed their whole life for just being. I wanted to ask you about representation and aesthetics because you have this really interesting analysis of surveillance film. And in that you’re kind of going through the filmic image itself and talking about how dominant aesthetics are grounded in anti-Blackness and anti-queerness not even just how its represented, but in the structure of representation. And in your arguments about the specific acts of violence that you are reading, the violence goes beyond the immediate moment. But then you also importantly, I think make room for queer, trans radical art and life as a kind of aesthetic. So, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about anti-Blackness, anti-queerness in aesthetic production, but also the rooms for alternative visions and use of different media?

ES: Yeah, so that chapter I’m thinking a lot with people like David Marriot and his work on racial fetishism, anti-Blackness and the moving image itself. Also, Fanon helps us think about this question, Sylvia Wynter, and a bunch of other people.

But for me, representation is always a double bind. So it’s that which brings us into the world. And that which brings us out of the world. I also am a filmmaker. I like films. I understand the way that they literally build a world, and they don’t just represent one. So it’s not as if I’m arguing for a representational austerity or something like that as the revolutionary possibility of the world. Like, that sounds horrible. No to that. And on the other hand, I know that ‘positive representation’ is the thing that is most easily given to us by the Settler State. We demand free housing, free health care, free education, free, whatever it is, and they’re like ‘Oh, here’s a trans side kick on a TGIF show.’ Alright. So, one of the things that I always say is that whatever is the thing that they’re most ready to give us is the thing that we actually don’t need.

And so it’s again, holding that contradiction, because I know that representation constitutes the world. And yet it doesn’t only do that. That chapter in particular thinks about formalism. Conversations around transness and Blackness sometimes are more interested in the kind of narrative depiction of the image. And I’m interested in that as well but something that’s more interesting to me is the formalism of the image itself, because one of the arguments that I make is that you actually don’t need a kind of scene of anti-Black anti-transness on on the image for both of those kind of twinned ideologies to be operative. Right. It’s kind of ironic, I turned back to a bunch of 1970s film theory, because they’re actually thinking about formalism and structural film and things like that, that we don’t do as much of now. But that seems really important to me, because I’m trying to get at why changing towards ‘positive representation’ alone does not change material conditions. That’s actually the question. I’m trying to get at.

TFSR: Yeah, I was interested that you were quoting Christian Metz, because that was something from my early grad school days. When you’re talking about Fanon’s idea that violence precedes and comes after that specific moment, you talk about him in the theater, just sitting in the theater is an anti-Black situation, regardless of what the film is representing. And that makes me think post-George Floyd uprising, the way that all the media companies were doing Black voices and you could still present supposedly Black Lives Matter content in an anti Black environment.

I could nerd out with you a little bit more on the formalism but I kind of want to move to some of the stuff that you you get to at the ending, if that’s okay? So, one of the words that comes up in the subtitle, that there’s legacies of resistance you give this the name of ungovernable, becoming ungovernable. You take it from the classification that certain queer youth get for their perceived social disruption. And then you also use the word ‘sedition’ which I was really excited to see. So I take it in my reading of your book that some of the stuff that’s happening as a kind of clandestine survival, and maybe this goes back to being not within the archive and not being represented. But what do you what do you mean by ungovernable? What do you mean by like a queer sedition? How do we have this kind of survival? What kind of worlds does it build? Is it generalizable? Or does it need to be under wraps all the time?

ES: Yeah, I’m not sure if it’s generalizable, and I’m not sure if it can be a prescriptive project, it might be something that can only be noticeable in the aftermath of it, or something like that. I’m not totally sure. Ungovernability are big becoming ungovernable is useful for me, because it names that kind of non-space of being both a subject and an object simultaneously. And I think that it’s actually how many people are forced to inhabit the world. So, I think that it’s generalizable in that reality. But I also think that because many of the practices are clandestine, I’m not interested in bringing them into representation outside of their specificity. I’m not trying to narc people out.

I think about that a lot, our relationship.. like what am I doing? I can only nod towards things. Again, I don’t want to be hyper specific about them. But that being said those are some of the moments that are so deeply generative to trans and queer world making. I think it can be so incredibly small, to something really large. It can be like when another trans person’s working at the cafe and they give you your food for free. It’s actually on those basic levels and how that changes the molecular structure of your body. I actually think about that a lot. And unfortunately, that’s becoming increasingly uncommon, it used to be more common, and like the 90s when there weren’t security cameras and all that kind of stuff everywhere, and you could just like, give someone a free coffee. Now that person will get taken to jail. I think that there’s that.

The examples that I use in the book, are Tourmaline has this really great film called The Personal Things which is this really short stop motion animation film about Miss Major, and it kind of narrates how she changed all of her gender markers. Then she changed them back again because she wanted to be recognized not as a cis woman, but indeed as a transgender person, and they wanted people to love her for that and to fuck all this other stuff. And to me, that moment is…. changing state issued identification was actually much easier in a clandestine way, 25 years ago, because there weren’t really massive computer systems. And they were just paper with a picture glued on it. And so I think about that as another way of resisting the biometric drive of the contemporary Settler State. There’s all these movements towards more gender options, which I think are fine. And different forms of biometric technology that are not predicated on gender. But I actually don’t think that any of those are going to necessarily get us any closer to freedom in a generalizable way. I understand that yes, they’re things that people need to stay alive right now and I always will support that. Especially for people that are in hyper-institutionalized situation. So I always will support that. But that being said, I don’t think that that can be the end of as Tourmaline puts it ‘our freedom dream’. I think that’s the way that we’re caught in the cycle of asking for something really small when what we want and need is actually something much bigger.

TFSR: I talked recently with a person who does the organizing with a trans woman inside. The beginning of the campaign was to get her moved to a woman’s facility. And it turned out, in retrospect that being in a women’s facility wasn’t safer than being a men’s facility. And now they’re denying other forms of support that she needs in there. So maybe that’s also a form of the incoherence. That sort of validation doesn’t necessarily lead to our survival. But you talked about Tourmaline and Miss Major, and you have this line from Tourmaline that I think is really important too. ‘It’s easy to be free’ which I think becomes irresistible. And you say about this line, ‘radical dreaming affords us the space of ease, which is how we might learn to feel freedom.’ Then you bring this to Miss Major’s life practice as an ‘organized yet improvisational practice in common that revels in pleasure and expropriation whose aim is to collectivize exposure toward the exposures abolition.’ That again is a quote from you.

Listening to you, in those like minor moments, I’ve been interested in certain radical trans theory lately that’s trying to think about the process of transition, also materially and collectively, not as this individualized gender journey, or whatever. I guess, to frame this as a question, you talk a lot about shared tactics of survival and beloved networks of care. I’m just wondering what you see in terms of trans, queer interdependence moving forward. It’s something obviously, that those of us who are here have benefited from in some way.

Sorry, I’m spinning out here about how do we make this a question. A lot of it’s just very inspiring to me and I find it very beautiful. So I wonder if you have more thoughts on on these ideas that I’m bringing up from your book?

ES: Sure. I mean, I think, for me, exactly what you’re saying… we’ve all benefited and helped produce these kinds of underground networks of care, that have been the materiality of survival for so many people. And I mean that in an actual way. I know that the other side of that is that not everyone has access to that. And so that’s also the reality as well. I’m always thinking about how we can expropriate resources from institutions that have them to support those networks, so that more of that kind of care can proliferate. So that doesn’t just become on one individual person to have to do a whole lot of labor for for many people. And that can look like a lot of different things. I think that a lot of the mutual aid projects that have popped up, not all of them, but many of them are really great and interesting, and I think have hopefully helped us all relearn what it means to be in radical relationality with each other. You know, that’s my more optimistic take.

But even on the more personal, more intimate level, I’m also interested in how these incredibly personal, hyper local, very specific moments string together to actually build the materiality of the world after the end of the world. And that’s why it’s already here and already possible. Again, turning to Tourmaline’s incredibly evocative and precise statement that ‘it’s easy to be free.’ What does it mean to sit with that statement? And to let that actually wash over you? Because we oftentimes don’t have the space or the time or the ability to do that.

TFSR: I find that really important. And one way that you put it in the book that I think is really helpful is calling for a collective life without universalism’s commitments, which I guess also goes back to my question ‘is this generalizable?” No. It’s maybe collective, you can collectivize it, but it’s not generalizable because it can’t be claimed universally. I just think that’s so important. And maybe it’s also where you get another limit of that representation, because either being careful, like you were saying, to not snitch on these moments of survival, but also the fear of losing them to the generality.

That’s the questions that I had prepared. I did have one thing just come up from the last thing you were saying. I was thinking about how people are afraid of the ‘Gay Agenda.’ That gay people, queer people, trans people are out to convert. I’m thinking about how you talk about the violence that gets it right and wrong at the same time. Because through these mutual practices of care, we do help each other become gay, or queer, trans. So we are doing that work, but it’s not the way that they think we’re doing it. We’re not like evangelical Christians. And I wonder if you have any thought about that kind of gay agenda logic?

ES: That’s funny, I was just talking about something kind of similar with a friend recently. Hmm. I guess how I would phrase it is that, hopefully we’re opening up the possibility for people to live. And so that can look like a lot of different things. And that can look like a lot of different things over time. And that’s something that I think we need a lot more of and sometimes that looks like recruitment. I think that’s fine, too. I’m from the 90’s. So we used to say that.

I think that when you are in the social worlds that allow you to rub up with other people living in such fierce beauty against the drives of the normative state, of course that that’s going to be contagious. Because you see all kinds of possibilities that have been substantially foreclosed to you your entire life. So you can feel that on a molecular level, and it’s terrifying and beautiful and invigorating and scary and all these things at once. But again, I think it radically opens up life worlds for us and new forms of relationality between us and others.

TFSR: That’s a really beautiful way to end our conversation.

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

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Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Over the next hour you’ll hear three collective members, Mai, Will and tùng share their critiques of leftist misrepresentations of the Vietnamese State as Socialist, lasting impacts of imperialism and war on populations of Vietnam, the centering US imaginaries of Vietnam, the struggles of working class people in general (and queer folks and sex workers in particular) in Vietnam, nationalism promoted by the government and other topics.

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Transcription:

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves with any names, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations or political identities as make sense for this conversation? Can you tell us a little about… is it pronounced Mèo Mun?

Mai: Yes, it’s pronounced Mèo Mun. I’m Mai, I use any/all pronouns. I don’t particularly use any political label, but I adhere to many anarchist principles.

Will: My name is Will. I use they/them pronouns. I’m an anarcho-communist.

tùng: Hi, I am tùng. I use any/all pronouns, I am an anarchist against the state and capitalism.

TFSR: Thanks for being here!

So, I am excited to have this conversation with you, thanks for making time and effort to chat! As anarchists from Vietnam, could you give us some highlights of the history of libertarian anti-capitalist and anarchist ideas and movements in Vietnam and what the milieu looks like today? And what sorts of topics and engagement drive those groups?

Will: As a preface, we are quite cut off from our roots. Many of us had lived for decades until we even heard of the word that encompasses our ideas and ways of life. The elaborate and complex history of the struggle for liberation in 20th century Vietnam is painted with a single stroke: you were either a patriotic Stalinist or a reactionary traitor, a colonial, fascist collaborator. The Marxist-Leninists who now rule the country only came into power by systemically eradicating all the other oppositional currents, labeling them traitors, and so yeah, of course they’d like to have a clear black and white narrative, of course they’d like for there to be no nuances; they’d look kind of bad otherwise and that’d weaken their grip on power. So, documents about anarchism or general radicalism in Vietnam, that divert from the State’s narrative are usually inaccessible in Vietnamese, either as hard copies, or scattered around obscure corners of the internet. That’s why we are on our very own bumpy road to learn and reconnect with our roots.

Historically, anarchism in Vietnam never grew into a wide-spread political movement. However, the struggle against the state, particularly states of the most populous ethnic group—the Kinh / Viet—can be traced all the way back to feudal times. Ethnic minorities living in upland Vietnam have been resisting the Kinh / Viet state’s expansionism for a very long time. James C Scott remarks in the book The Art of not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia that many aspects of their cultures and ways of living can be read as anti-state and anti-authoritarian, meaning that they have, in a way, long practiced the tradition of keeping the state at arm’s length, out of their affairs. Their struggles continue until this very day, and we have much to learn from them. We must stress, though, that we should not retroactively apply the label “anarchist” to these groups and their practices, nor should we call what they do “anarchism.” As Simoun Magsalin, our Filipino comrade, observes about the anarchist milieu in the archipelago: we should be critical of the anarchist equivalents of a “noble savage” trope, and the search for a “pure” indigeneity unspoiled by the State that decolonization can return to. In the same vein, we have before criticized the idea popular amongst many Marxist-Leninists, that homophobia in Vietnam is solely a product of Western colonialism, and pre-French colonial Vietnam was a haven for queer people. Oof.

Anarchists, as well as radicals influenced by anarchist principles, also participated in the struggle against colonialism and imperialism of the 20th century. For example, under the yoke of French colonialism, the radical Nguyen An Ninh called for the youth of Vietnam to “reinvent itself and take control of its own destiny.” He critiqued the Confucian family values of parental authority, gender inequality and traditional morality, encouraging people to “break with the past and free themselves from tyranny of all kinds.” He fought side by side with other anarchists and libertarian communists such as Trịnh Hưng Ngẫu and Ngô Văn (a former Trotskyist), in the labor movement. But as we’ve mentioned before, the Stalinists came into power by systematically eradicating all the radicals from oppositional currents like the anarchists, and indeed the Trotskyists who were brutally slaughtered. Ngo Van, the former-Trotskyist-turned-council-communist who we mentioned earlier, went on to produce many materials critical of the authoritarian, counter-revolutionary nature of the Stalinists after fleeing their persecution to France.

Mai: As for the contemporary anarchist milieu in Vietnam, it is extremely vulnerable and atomised. We simply don’t have contact with other groups, even though there might be quite a few out there. Those groups might wisely want to keep more to themselves rather than reaching out, since state repression is quite severe. This is a challenge for us, as one of our goals is to find a way for Viet anarchist groups to safely connect, communicate, and exchange experiences, if they so wish. Another reason is that our milieu has been chronically isolated from the milieus in other countries. There are many reasons for this lack of international interaction, such as language barriers and, again, state repression, but also a relative lack of support, solidarity and understanding from the Western left and anarchist community. We believe that anarchism, as a method of revolution, cannot be applied successfully by an isolated group, in other words, without international solidarity. The exchange of information and ideas, as well as the interlinking of our struggles are absolutely essential for the mutual strengthening of anarchist communities. And so, at the moment, building coalition with other milieus in South East Asia is one of the tasks that we prioritize. It’s also why we really appreciate the opportunity you have given us here on the podcast today!

Having said that, we are aghast that in many leftist circles in the West, Vietnam is painted as this Socialist haven where people think and act like a hive-mind, and the only ones speaking against the state are reactionary traitors, or CIA agents. So-called anarchists are paying to be fed those lies; so-called anarchists are capitalizing on those lies. We’ve lost count of how many times we have been fed-jacketed without any evidence whatsoever, and the people exposing us to harassment and doxxing got away scott-free. This stems from how the struggles in Vietnam and other over-exploited countries have been ignored by the majority of Western leftists for decades, especially when we can’t be used as ammunition in their own political discourse. This makes talking about our experience in Vietnam all the more dangerous, and it actively discourages anyone who might start speaking out.

As we touched on a bit before, organizing outside of the state framework in Vietnam, whether online or on the ground, is dangerous: the threats of police violence and incarceration are always looming over us and our loved ones. Many leftists seem to think of Vietnamese police as heroic defenders of the working class. It really shouldn’t need to be stated, but no, they’re not. Vietnamese police exists to protect the State and capitalist property in Vietnam. Police violence and deaths in custody in Vietnam are a well-documented reality. In Vietnam, the ruling party holds all executive, legislative and judiciary power. Cops don’t even need a court subpoena to enter our houses. Commoners like us grow up being taught to stay away from cops and everyone is used to bribing them. As for the law, there is a clause against the making, storage and spreading of material for the purpose of opposing the state and you could be sentenced to 5 or 12 years, if you’re caught.

Speaking from personal experience, many Viet anarchists seek out anarchism because we are marginalised in other ways on top of being exploited by capitalists as workers. Within Mèo Mun, many of our members are queer, disabled, and/or young. Some were radicalised while trying to organize rather unfruitfully within the liberal framework. Some have cited the horrible abuse they have suffered under the education and medical system. Some used to organize as Marxist-Leninists, simply because Marxism-Leninism is synonymous with Communism in Vietnam, but then can’t reconcile their reality with such an ideology anymore. So queer liberation, youth liberation, as well as disability justice and care are some of the passions that keep us going.

And also, I think I forgot to introduce a bit about Mèo Mun as a collective. Would it be possible for me to do that now?

TFSR: Of course!

Mai: Ok, so Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Specifically, we do the work of archiving, translating, and disseminating anarchist texts, which can be found on the online Southeast Asian Anarchist library. There is also a very gradual translation of English Wikipedia pages related to anarchism into Vietnamese. You know, because Wikipedia tends to be the first place people come to for a basic understanding of new concepts. We try to reach a wider audience on social media as well, and we write and speak to educate people on what our experiences in Vietnam are like. The anarchist milieu in Vietnam is very atomized, so one of our goals is to connect Viet anarchists together, and provide a safer space for them to express themselves and exchange ideas, without fear of state repression, or mass harassment from statists and nationalists. Naturally, we make an active effort to include Viet anarchists in the diaspora in our organizing.

Individually, our members also participate in feminist, queer liberation, youth liberation and prisoners solidarity organizing.

TFSR: Awesome, thank you so much for the really thoughtful answers you’ve been giving, very clear.

So, you’ve already spoken on the pervasiveness of the police state and mentioned capitalist property and some other things in Vietnam. I would love to hear your perspectives on the political and economic direction of the State of Vietnam. An essay of yours that caught my attention is entitled “The Broken Promises of Vietnam” in which you argue that the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” is not actually socialist. You describe similar instances of neo-liberal national economic infrastructure development taking precedence over preserving ecosystems and leaving intact indigenous communities, let alone general public health. You also describe a government wielding a Nationalistic vision of citizens that excludes ethnic and sexual minorities and that allows for billionaires to rise while the working classes and peasants are displaced. Can you talk about this, about those broken promises and who are some communities most imperiled by the Nationalistic tenor of the CPV?

Will: So, in terms of politics, Vietnam is a crony Capitalist country. The success of a business depends entirely on how well they could navigate the unofficial channels of the state, on their relationships with the government or Party members and how much money they are willing to spend on bribery. Officially, Vietnam is dubbed a Socialist country, but the class stratification can be observed in our everyday life. We have a so-called “People’s” billionaire, Pham Nhat Vuong, who, allegedly, built his empire from shaking hands with government officials to hoard land at a dirt-cheap price. He owns a total of $7.3 billion in assets, equivalent to the total assets of about 800,000 Vietnamese (on average). Very Socialist! Not to mention that Vietnam also has many other billionaires, enough to have a Shark Tank show right on national television. The very first promise, that the commoners who sacrificed everything for Vietnam’s liberation would be directly in charge of it, was shattered the very moment the Vietnamese government came into being.

The current Secretary of the Communist Party also openly praises capitalism, spicing it up with some superficial lukewarm critiques of capital! He said, and I quote: “We acknowledge that Capitalism has never been as global as it is today and has achieved many great achievements, especially in the utilization and development of productive capabilities and scientific-technological progress.” So, we’re just supposed to ignore all the toils the working class has historically and currently endured under capitalist Vietnam, for a Communism that may never even come! The end justifies the inhumane means, apparently.

As for nationalism, we mentioned it in the article “The Broken Promises of Vietnam,” but if you speak up and criticise the State, no matter how valid your points, how copious your evidences, you will be seen as going against the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese nation, because the government has a vested interest in confusing party loyalty with the very natural and precious love that we have for our culture and fellow Vietnamese.

And as you know, nationalism sells the lie of a trans-class solidarity, that we Viet workers have more in common with Viet capitalists like Pham Nhat Vuong, rather than with fellow workers from China, Cambodia, Myanmar, or indeed the US. While in reality, Vietnamese capitalists and government go hand in hand with capitalists the world over to brutally exploit Vietnam’s cheap labor and natural resources. This can be observed in the outsourced manufacturing of electronic components and textile products to Vietnam, in the many Special Economic Zones that are mushrooming all over the country. There can’t ever exist any meaningful solidarity between us, between the capitalists and the working class, and the people in power are understandably frightened that the workers in Vietnam would one day see through this gross lie.

Consequently, they are dead-set on stoking the nationalist flame in Vietnam. That’s why career communists based in Vietnam spew absolute nonsense like “nationalism is crucial to communism in Vietnam.” Actually, Vietnamese nationalism is crucial to Vietnamese capitalism and authoritarianism. And the indoctrination process starts young.

Let’s examine the 5 commandments that Uncle Ho, Ho Chi Minh, taught Vietnamese youth:

1. Love your Fatherland, love your compatriots.

2. Learn well, work well.

3. Good unity, good discipline.

4. Good hygiene.

5. Be modest, honest, and brave.

These are hung in almost every classroom in Vietnam (usually with a photo of Uncle Ho). Many students are forced to learn them by heart. What comes first in these teachings? “Love your Fatherland.” Your fatherland comes before your compatriots. Children, who have not yet understood the concept of a “Fatherland,” let alone fully grasping what loving a Nation-state implies, are taught to put their “Fatherland” before themselves, before their family and friends. The next commandment: “Learn well” and “Work well.” For whom? In our opinion, also for your Fatherland, which is to say, for the state and the capitalists.

If you dare to question any of that, you’d likely be branded a traitor, a reactionary, a fake Vietnamese. If you dare to be “lazy” and not “work well,” you are a burden on society (disabled veterans in Vietnam are literally called “invalids;” we have “The Ministry of labor – War Invalids and Social Affairs”). The purpose of Vietnam’s education system, in our opinion, is to shape students into obedient workers or cogs in its capitalist machine, similar in essence to any other capitalist education system.

Also, many well-known authors whose works are featured in Vietnamese textbooks also incessantly preach nationalism and the idolatry of political figures like Uncle Ho, Lenin, and yes, Stalin. A 1993 poem by Tố Hữu, famed Vietnamese poet, reads:

Oh, Stalin!

Alas, do the earth and sky mourn Your departure

If I’m to love my father, my mother, my husband

and myself one, then I love You ten.”

So, “I love you three thousands, Stalin.” Ouch! That’s not very good…

Consuming products from Viet brands and Viet media is widely considered “patriotic.” Which makes non-consumption unpatriotic. How convenient for the market economy! Oh and, not only Viet media, but also foreign media which uses Vietnamese labor. In 2018, a Hollywood blockbuster was filmed in HaLong Bay, Vietnam. The film set was then utilized by the authority as a tourist attraction. The whole issue of how that movie depicts US soldiers in Vietnam and local people asides, as we read about and cheer for the ongoing IATSE strike, we can’t help but wonder if Vietnamese actors, extras and crew hired in film productions outsourced to Vietnam are compensated fairly and equally compared to their US counterparts. Fun fact: there hasn’t been a legal strike in more than 25 years in Vietnam. The General Confederation of labor, which is supposed to represent the interests of the workers, hasn’t been organizing strikes, and so all the strikes that did take place were illegal. It’s apparently unacceptable for the workers to organize and demand better conditions for themselves; a workers’ struggle is only legitimate in the eye of the state if the state can control its direction.

Mai: A field where nationalist sentiments are particularly intense is sport, mainly soccer. There was this photo of a person holding a portrait of Uncle Ho at a soccer match, which went viral a while back. That photo was said to be the evidence that Viet people love Uncle Ho. What was conveniently not mentioned is how the sport scene in Vietnam is one of the best showcases for how poisonous Vietnamese nationalism is.

Rampant on Vietnamese Social Media is the xenophobic attitude when our national football team have a match, especially with other Southeast Asian teams. If the referee makes a decision that’s unfavorable for the Vietnamese team, their Facebook or other social media accounts will be flooded with tons of vitriol and death threats. The same thing will happen to the opposing team’s players if they were deemed “too aggressive” or simply scored the decisive goal. It’s even worse with women teams, where there’ll be slews of misogynist, transphobic and degrading language. Many Viet sport fans like to joke that all Thai women are transgender women, with the heavy implication that they are not “real” women. To the nationalist sport fans, all the other teams are inferior, mixed-blooded, full of unnatural citizens, and hence has an unfair advantage. To them, the Vietnamese team is simply the best; any losses are only due to these unfair advantages.

As you may also know, nationalism seeks to create an in-group, out-group mentality, and Vietnamese nationalism constantly and violently excludes Viet ethnic minorities. A stark example is how the education-indoctrination system strips them of their culture and language. There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, with more than 100 Vietnamese dialects, yet there is only one official language taught in school and used in exams, the language of the dominant Viet Kinh group. This naturally puts people from other ethnic groups at a huge disadvantage. Many schools force their students to wear áo dài as uniform, regardless of their ethnicity, even though áo dài is a Kinh garment. Attempts to even out the ground for ethnic minorities face vicious backlash from Viet Kinh people, such as when the government tried to give bonus points in the national university entrance exam for ethnic minority students. Instead of getting rightfully angry at an education system which dehumanizes its students, forcing them to brutally compete with their peers for a chance to be exploited by capitalists, many Kinh people blamed and unleashed their wrath on ethnic minorities.

Those are our observations about the political and economic situation in Vietnam. Based on those symptoms, and dare we also draw some parallels with certain formerly “Communist” countries, we could tentatively share our guess on the direction of the Vietnamese state and its so-called Socialism-oriented market strategy, should it continue to fester unchallenged. However, we are not prophets speaking gospel, nor scientists playing with solid statistics here; we will not invoke some sacred words like “science” and “materialism” and from that claim absolute truth. What we will say is this: without mass mobilization and resistance of the working class, the Vietnamese state will strengthen its grip on the populace, through law, nationalism or hierarchical social conditioning. And capitalism, hand in hand with the state, will dig its claws further into the exploited classes, drawing out from them all they can offer. The working class of Vietnam will be further fragmented as capitalism consolidates its influence together with its exploitation, delegitimizing worker struggles against it. This would ingrain a sense of resignation and self-absorbed struggle in individual workers and prevent the building of solidarity amongst them.

TFSR: Some proponents of what’s called “Socialism” in Vietnam will argue that, in fact, the work that the Communist Party has brought forth has improved the quality of life of people in Vietnam. Have you heard of this claim, does that ring true in your experience that there has been development in the quality of individuals’ lives economically or educationally that could be attributed specifically either to so-called Socialism in Vietnam or through improvements from market society?

Mai: Why yes, we’ve heard this argument before, and our eyes roll every time. First, it is undeniably true that the qualify of life has been raised. And so what? That doesn’t prove that the same couldn’t have been achieved under another political system; life everywhere has been improving. Where is the evidence to pin this development on the so-called Socialism of Vietnam? It’s a wishy-washy way to justify the authoritarianism of the Vietnamese state and deflect from valid criticisms.

Will: And to add on to that, a suitable analogy would probably be prisoners not having to work as much. Sure, it’s an improvement to before, that still doesn’t change the fact that they’re still prisoners, still robbed of freedom and forced to toil under the same old master. Same thing here. Great, now we have internet; we also have no union to defend us against exploitation by the capitalists. Great, we get fastfood; we also have a state that’s just free of any control mechanism and can do what it wants (that’s how’s hierarchies of power work!). Great, we have iphones, ipads and gucci. The workers manufacturing for those corporates certainly can’t afford iphones, ipads and the newest gucci bag! But, whatever. So, okay, nice, quality of life has gone up. We’re not gonna say that’s bad, that’d be kind of stupid. But at what cost, in what context? The growth of quality of life is a good thing, but you can’t just ignore everything else surrounding it. A pizza party is nice, but you know what is nicer? Being in charge of our own life, our fruit of labor, and not being exploited and robbed of freedom. Partially because it includes a pizza party in it.

Mai: This line of argument also exposes a double standard casually applied for us people in over-exploited countries by many leftists and anarchists. Would you say the same to, say, queer people in more prosperous countries. “Hey you can get married now, you can even adopt children now. Why don’t you praise and be grateful to your capitalist government?” I’m sure there are people saying this to marginalised groups in more prosperous countries, but any anarchists worth their dime would vehemently and rightfully refute it. Yet everyone seems to be fine when this argument is casually thrown at people in so-called Third World countries. As if we’re supposed to be grateful for more crumbles! No, we want a seat at the table. We want everyone to have a seat at the table!

TFSR: Yeah, and when you’re referring to industrialists in Vietnam having an income level equal to, I think you said, 80,000 other people.. At what cost and how is that distributed?

Will: Yeah, also it’s 800,000 people.

TFSR: Excuse me, factor of ten… Thanks for being willing to tackle that question

What might be visions of libertarian communist approaches to some of the questions of raising the quality of life for people in Vietnam? Is that the sort of framing that you would use for a positive anarchistic vision forward? It seems like, just to add on, I’ve heard that in some countries that are ostensibly Communist or Socialist that people who are critical of the government sometimes have an allergy to those terms, to a positive turn of those turns, because it’s been shoved down their throats in such a negative way.

Will: Yeah, well…

Mai: Definitely, yeah [laughs]

Will: To me, it’s about representation. The State, this grand old thing, imposed all of those things on them, so I mean what choice do they have?

First and foremost, it must be said before any libertarian communist or anarchist vision can be realised, the people in Vietnam have to recognise that there exists deep problems with the current political system, and that there are solutions to those problems. The sad reality is this: the majority of Vietnamese people are alienated from politics (as authoritarian states tend to do to the people they oppress). So, politics is something done to them, rather than by them.

The state has built up for itself a shining image of legitimacy. And so even though many will say that there are problems with Vietnam as a whole, they are unlikely to be able to pin that to the political system. Maybe they can say that corruption is a severe problem of Vietnamese society. Maybe they can connect it to individual politicians and their supposed moral failing. But they won’t be able to say that corruption is only a symptom of the system and that, more specifically, hierarchies of power are simply incompatible with the interests of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, of the majority. Maybe they would even say that the one-party system is clearly not working, but mistake the illusion of choice of multi-party system for total liberation, for freedom. The root of the problems just eludes many.

There is also a sense of apathy and learnt helplessness that has been ingrained into the population, and so, as of now, the potential of political action and change is not great. This exacerbates the previous problem, in the sense that, even if a majority of people recognize the root of the problem, they do not think that they themselves and, only themselves, have the power solve it. Or they think that the alternatives would only be even worse: either U.S. capitalism/liberalism or the kind of “Communism” with severe scarcity and corruption before the Đổi Mới reform — which mind you many Vietnamese still remember and are understandably frightened of. This is what we mean when we say Vietnamese people are alienated in politics.

We also recognise that historically in Vietnam, the traditional labor movement has alienated many groups, such as ethnic minorities, sex workers, people of marginalized genders and sexuality, disabled people, unemployed people, criminalized people, and young people. Moving forwards, it is important to make our movements inclusive enough for the many fronts against various forms of oppressions, not just class struggles. Of course, the working class is the only class capable of toppling capitalism, but our definition of “work” and “workers” needs to change radically.

So… a vision—a hope even—is that, through putting their predicament under the capitalist society of Vietnam into perspective and laying bare the fact that no one but themselves have the power to change it all for the better, people will gradually be free of the mental limitations and have the want to take control of their lives instead of putting it at the mercy of “the powers that be.” And when the recognition, the will and the want, happens, we trust that they will go only one short step further and come to adopt libertarian communist approaches for their struggles, even if they don’t declare themselves to be affiliated with any specific ideology. Again though, we are not prophets and to prophesize on a strict revolutionary form is an unwise and pointless endeavor.

But if we can say one thing about our approaches and our visions for a better quality of life in the future, we may call attention to community building. Given what we mentioned earlier regarding the alienation of the worker and the fragmentation of the working class, there is merit in considering a parallel process: of healing the wounds of alienation that capitalism left on all of us; and of educating each other on essential political knowledge, examples being food sovereignty, pre-figurative social organizing, and independent union building. And in an age where technology has become an integral part of our lives, it is short-sighted to overlook or undermine the importance of online organizing. The social relations produced and reproduced through online organizing is every bit as pre-figurative as the social relations of on-the-ground organizing. Certain aspects are different, sure, but the essence of it is the same: the building and maintaining of structures capable of facilitating our interactions as equals. Through our own organizing, we’ve also found online archiving and dissemination of anarchist materials to be critical in the context of our milieu in Vietnam, where severe censorship and state repression have proven to be highly effective in weeding out dissenting voices, and isolating those who would otherwise band together to collectively speak out against the state narrative.

And as to the framing… Yes! I think this is the framing that we will proceed with. Unlike the previous revolution in our history, ours won’t be one where the people are pushed into a so-called revolution by some self-righteous vanguard party. That kind of revolution has proven itself to be undeniably disastrous. And we would love to not repeat that. The true revolution should be a continuous process, in which everyone can partake right here, right now, on their own volition.

TFSR: Would you speak about the situation in Vietnam for people of marginalized genders, queer folks in Vietnam as well as folks criminalized for sex work?

Mai: Sure. The situation for queer folks is not great, though getting better. Same-sex marriage was criminalized until 2015. Then, the law prohibiting same-sex marriage was abolished, but it is still not legalized. So, since marriage comes with certain privileges in our current society, many queer people in Vietnam are stigmatized and barred from the medical, financial and other material privileges that their non-queer counterparts couples enjoy. Marriage equality is the front in which liberal organizations working within the state framework seem to pour a lot of effort.

For transgender people, as far as we know, there isn’t a single hospital in Vietnam that is allowed to perform gender-affirming surgeries for so-called “normal” people, only for people who were in an accident or have “birth defects.” At the same time, non-consensual, non-medically necessary medical interventions are still performed on intersex children, as they are permitted by law.

Transgender people who wish to undergo gender-affirming surgery often have to go through an intermediate center, and the whole process (examination, papers and surgery) is usually done in Thailand. Hormone therapies are not easily accessible through mainstream methods, but through the black market. They really have to bet their lives if they want to use hormones. Not only that, because of low supply and having to do surgery abroad, the amount of money one needs to spend to undergo gender-affirming surgeries can be approximately $20,000, even more if you account for long-term hormone treatments. To put this into perspective, the average yearly household income of a Vietnamese person is $2,235, before food and rent/mortgage and such. And remember, the $20,000 is only for the surgery. So, the cost is an absurdly high amount for the majority of Vietnamese people, who have to work hard just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

About sex work in Vietnam, we will speak not from personal experience, but from a place of legality and personal observation. Legally, sex work and even pornography are criminalized; sex workers used to face incarceration in so-called “rehabilitation centers” and still are charged with hefty fines if caught in raids, they are subjects of systemic stigmatization and discrimination as well, especially sex workers living with HIV. It was not until 2013 that detention center number 05 was shut down; it’s the rehabilitation center in which sex workers and drug users were detained and regularly subjected to forced labor disguised as “career training.” Supposedly, the closing of this detention center happened under the pressure from, as far as we know, an organization by and for sex workers in Vietnam called Vietnam Network for Sex Workers, amongst others. We could not find other sources to corroborate this, however, so we can’t say for certain this is what happened. Although, we certainly hope so! We suspect the reason for the scare sources has to do with the media not wanting to acknowledge sex workers’ existence since sex workers in Vietnam exist in this limbo wherein they’re criminalized, stigmatized, but also hyper-visible.

As for major queer, feminist, and sex worker organizations outside of the State framework, we are not aware of any, unfortunately. Yes, organizations that do not directly associate with the government exist; NGOs are by no means illegal. But that doesn’t mean they’re outside of the State framework. To truly be outside of the State framework, an organization must have the aim to work outside of that framework in the first place, hence giving a reason for organizing that doesn’t involve the State and doesn’t subject itself to the bounds the State establishes. There is no such thing as being accidentally outside of the State framework. And indeed, the organization we mentioned above express quite a bit of friendliness towards the state, which they view as well-intentioned but incompetent in execution with regards to programs for sex workers. We by no means wish to undermine or devalue their achievements; we applaud them for their efforts and are glad to know that there exists an organization standing for the interests of sex workers in Vietnam! But we cannot ignore the fact they achieved this only through the State framework, by cooperating and showing understanding to the machine which in the end perpetuates capitalism, and wish to see them exploited as workers. What they have accomplished is undeniably good, but in the long run, the state can never be a liberatory tool. Another thing is that a substantial part of their funding comes from liberal NGOs and NPOs. They themselves acknowledge that it is a challenge for them to organize without that funding, which will eventually go away. So once again, in spite of the good, we are obligated to point out that this form of organization cannot lead to the total liberation of the oppressed: an organization dependent on funding from liberal sources can never work to break free of the chains of the status quo, only the painstaking lengthening of those chains.

So we would say that the blindspots of the organizing by and for folks of marginalized genders, sexualities and sex workers in Vietnam is that there is no interlinking of struggles. The feminists can pinpoint the un0level playground between men and women, but many are oblivious to, say, class struggles, of ethnic minority women, of queer people and of sex workers. Indeed, feminism in Vietnam applauds the icon of a successful career woman, a girl-boss CEO who are not dependent on men. The same with queer people: many strive to assimilate into the cis-het society by broadcasting that they can be as “normal,” as successful in their careers as non-queer people. And so the poor queers, the disabled queers, the queers who are not Kinh, and many more, are further marginalized and don’t have a place within the queer community. On top of that, their organizing are dependent on the State framework, on funding from NGOs and NPOs: they need NGO and NPO money to campaign for the government to give them more rights. And in our opinion, that kind of organizing is not sustainable and will never lead to total liberation. There will always be people who are unlucky enough to be the scapegoat, who are at the bottom of the hierarchy and cast to the fringe of society.

TFSR: Speaking as someone from the so-called USA, which participated in much of the 35 years of war Vietnam experienced in the mid-20th century following centuries of colonial extractivism at the hands of the states of France, China, Japan and others, I wonder if you can talk about the legacy of colonialism and war are on the peoples and environment of Vietnam?

Mai: This is personal to us. In my family, leftovers are seriously frowned upon, even just a single grain of rice. I remember, this was when I was about 5 or 6, leaving the dining table after finishing the meal, and got called back to eat one single grain of rice left in my bowl. This is because there are family members who are still alive, who survived the Vietnamese famine of 1945, caused by Japanese and French colonialism, together with the US bombing the transport system. An estimated 2 million Vietnamese people starved to death. There is also the persisting catastrophe of Agent Orange. Personally, someone in my direct family was exposed, and we have to deal with various medical complications. Ironically, if you Google “Agent Orange,” the top results are almost all about its effects on US veterans; few are about its lasting effects on Vietnamese people and our ecosystem.

If you’d like to learn more about the atrocities that the US army committed in Vietnam, we’d recommend you to first, well, talk to Vietnamese people. You can also read the “Winter Soldier Investigation,” which consists of first-hand testimonies from GIs about the many daily My Lais that they themselves had committed or witnessed in Vietnam. You may notice that this investigation has the same name as a fictional character from a famous franchise widely regarded as pro-US military propaganda. Now, of course this could very well be a total coincidence, but even so, the incidental effect is quite real. It casts a shadow over the investigation mentioned above regardless. The way information about war crimes and its devastating aftermath on people outside of the US is obscured like that is just one in a million ways how US imperialism and cultural hegemony are harming us right this moment. And as far as we know, the documents from that [Winter Soldier] investigation hasn’t even been translated into Vietnamese for the younger generation to access and read about what happened to our predecessors.

Another product of US-centrism, which manifests plentily in anarchist and leftist circles: in political discourse, Vietnam, a country, a people with our own complex and diverse history, is constantly reduced to and talked about solely in our relation to the US. Not the whole span of that relation either, but only 20 years of slaughter and ecocide. For example, on the website of the longest running anarchist magazine in the US called The Fifth Estate, they have a page about Vietnam that is described as: “VIETNAM The failed US war and resistance to it from an anarchist/anti-authoritarian perspective”

Vietnam is not just a “failed US war.” Refusing to view us as humans with our own complex history and ongoing struggles leads to dissidents like us Viet anarchists, who don’t solely paint Vietnam as the US’ helpless victim, being branded “fake Vietnamese, CIA pawns, agent provocateurs.” The irony here is palpable. If you stop for one second and just look at the whole span of Vietnam’s relation with the US, you’ll see how the Vietnamese capitalists have no qualms shaking hands with US capitalists in their quest to exploit Viet workers. The Vietnamese and the US militaries are being all pally now, with weapon trades and personnel training courses! The US framework of every political topic is also routinely forced upon us, to the point that a Viet person who doesn’t understand every nook and cranny of US politics and its lexicon won’t be able to participate in political discourse without risking being torn apart, figuratively. Meanwhile, many US leftists/anarchists will brazenly insert themselves and their narratives in almost every conversation about Vietnam that we try to have, without taking the time and effort to learn the Vietnamese context.

And this benefits no one but US imperialism and, ironically, the Vietnamese authoritarians and statists. They capitalize on the very real frustration of Viet people who know that their struggle is completely ignored and dismissed by the US and Western left. They’d constantly and only talk about how horribly awful the US is, reducing Vietnam to its helpless victim — a glorious, brave and united nation against a common foreign enemy. On top of that, because social media favors moralized content, they’d build their platform on moralized, hateful language and rhetoric. They target a clueless Western audience who prefer self-flagellation and tokenism, rather than carefully examining information, educating themselves and developing their own analysis. When faced with criticism, the statists will weaponize their identities to silence and even harass their political opponents, accusing any Vietnamese speaking differently of being fake Vietnamese. Statists and career communists capitalizing on disinformation about Vietnam have threatened us with state violence and we have no doubt they will report us to the authority the first chance they’ve got. Of course, US imperialism permeates many corners of this earth, but to view, for instance, a Kinh Viet person living in Vietnam as merely a “person of color” erases the privilege that their ethnicity affords them domestically, erases the reason for their loyalty to the Vietnamese nation-state. We humbly ask people to de-center the US and its bloody war from conversations about Vietnam — it is long overdue. Thank you.

tùng: To add on to that, after the war, information about Agent Orange was slow in reaching Viet people, and so a lot went on to have children without having been adequately informed and prepared. I personally knew a family whose first child is blind deaf with intellectual disability, due to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange. Without any compensation from the US nor adequate disability care from the Vietnamese government, the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have to fend for themselves on their own, generation after generation. They receive about from $5 to $20/person/month, depending on the severity of their conditions and I think this money is not enough to survive on for a whole month.

And there are the millions of people who were displaced by the war, cut out from their cultural roots and families, forced to assimilate into a new society. Many lost their lives fleeing a war torn country with a shiny new state high on victory and hell bent on vengeance. The ones lucky enough to have reached their destinations and settled down know no ways of reconciling and reconnecting with their “đồng bào” — compatriots back in Vietnam. They can’t learn about the struggle in Vietnam without being manipulated and fed lies, thanks to state censorship and hateful nationalist sentiments.

TFSR: How can international listeners in the international community looking to be solidarity with struggles in so-called Vietnam and learn more & help? Are there any projects they can support or other sources of learning that you would suggest?

Will: There is a proverb in Vietnamese: “Nước xa không cứu được lửa gần,” which roughly translates to: “Water afar cannot put out a nearby fire.” So, the absolute best thing you can do for us, specifically, is to organize in your own community, and to educate yourself about the struggles in Vietnam, without unquestioningly absorbing disinformation like a sad sponge. It also helps if you rethink and refrain from projecting your own localized societal standards and frameworks onto situations in Vietnam, which usually have little in common. And this should be obvious, but: don’t use our struggles as mere ammunition in your struggles. When you go to do solidarity, you should not reduce us to media tokens and talking points.

As of now, Viet anarchists are outnumbered, our voices drowned out by pro-state propaganda. And so, every single person who refuses to fall for said propaganda is a win for us! You don’t need to listen to us, to Mèo Mun specifically, of course—we don’t claim to be the best source on every single topic related to the struggle in Vietnam, far from it—but please be very cautious of the disinformation from statists. Talk to as many Viet people as possible, and remember that we are not a hivemind and our experiences and opinions do vary! If you’re a reader, there are many texts on the Southeast Asian Anarchist Library concerning Vietnam and its history. So, do read close if you’re interested.

And if you’re into direct action, please pay attention to the migrant worker scene in your community. The conditions of Vietnamese migrant workers, especially undocumented ones, are often abysmal and they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. And I’d dare to say that many so-called-Global-South migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation. We’d be very happy to know that someone is looking out for them.

TFSR: Is there anything I failed to ask about that you’d like to discuss?

Will: Not really, but I’d like to, on behalf of Mèo Mun, express our heart-felt thanks to Burst for reaching out to us, for your very thought-provoking and interesting questions, and for spending time with us today. We appreciate your giving us this platform, and though we try our best to cover what we experience in Vietnam, at the end of the day, our experience is just an experience. It is not universal and by no means can we claim to speak for every Viet person. We only hope that our speaking up gives you some tiny glimpses into our lives and struggles, which similar to any lives and struggles, are human, messy, and imperfect. So thank you for listening and seeing us!

Mai: Thank you!

TFSR: Thank you, all of you, for participating in this and also to the collective for collaboration in the answers. And I appreciate you taking the time doing this in English for the audience, I’m looking forward to this being a contribution towards more international understanding and solidarity. So, thank you!

The Russian Political Landscape and Anarchist Prisoners

The Russian Political Landscape and Anarchist Prisoners

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This week we’re featuring 2 guests speaking about Russia. First up, John spoke with author and journalist Dmitry Okrest about the state of anarchist and antifascist movements in Russia, the politics of Putin’s United Russia party, nazis and the far right in Russia and successes of the Communist Party in electoral politics. Then, Moscow Anarchist Black Cross member-in-exile, Antii Rautiainen, adds some more detail on repression in Russia, including the hunger strike of Network Case prisoner, Victor Filinkov, calls for solidarity from mathematician Azat Miftakhov and others.

Rad Russia-ish Links:

Dmitry Okrest’s Books:

Russian Limbo, Podcast about prisons: https://open.spotify.com/show/3tyBLCEQnvkY9L3DdrGry1

Antii Rautiainen’s podcast links:

Past interviews on repression in Russia:

Announcement

Keith “Comrade Malik” Washington

In a quick announcement, we want to note that The SF Bay View National Black Newspaper editor Nube Brown just published an article showing that Keith Washington, aka Comrade Malik, admitted in a letter to a prosecutor in 2011 (while throwing a prisoner seeking legal support to the wolves) that he had and would gladly work with law enforcement and the FBI to snitch on inmates or whoever as a source or informant. Malik was then incarcerated in Texas and became involved in organizing with the New Afrikan Black Panther Party and participated in the 2016 nationwide prison strikes, gaining notoriety. Malik came to play a prominent role in the prison movement and was in 2020 released to a halfway house in San Francisco after a surprising parole from Texas and brief stint in Federal prison. Malik helped to run the SF Bay View upon release but has since left. I think a lot of facts on this still need clarification, but some things just don’t add up with Malik’s situation. Check out the piece by editor Nube Brown with an addendum by former editor Mary Ratcliff at SFBayView.Com and likely in the print edition of the paper.

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Featured Track:

  • Set Adrift On Memory Bliss (Extended) by PM Dawn from eponymous single

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Transcription

Dmitry Okrest

TFSR: Hello and welcome to the Final Straw. My name is John and I’m going to be conducting an interview today with Russian independent journalist Dmitry Okrest about the recent repression of leftists and anti-fascists in Russia. Welcome to the show, Dmitry.

Dmitry Okrest: Nice to meet you.

TFSR: Nice to meet you. To start with, could you give our listeners some context on yourself and the work you’ve done as an independent journalist in Russia?

DO: Just a few words, I have been a member of a punk hardcore scene in Moscow for the last 15 years. I had been more involved like 10 years ago, and I made my fanzine, organized freemarkets, music label, a book publishing house, and discussion forums. There was one generational change, I tried to work at first in a historical publishing house, and then I moved to work in the media. And as a journalist, I worked for a long time in a society department. I write more about street politics, human rights, police, prisons. And I have also written about a lot of political radicals, including Nazis, jihadists. I’m now a co-author of two books about how the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc moved from their version of socialism to capitalism. The books are in the spirit of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn, and I’m also the author of a book about Rojava, where different researchers, activists, fighters talk about this project and their own experience. I’m currently preparing a book about the anti-fascist movement in Russia. We’re looking for an opportunity to translate some of it into English.

TFSR: That’s great. Those books all sound really fascinating. You said they’re only in Russian currently.

DO: Unfortunately, only in Russian. But we wanted to translate it into English, too.

TFSR: That’s really interesting. All three of those sound fascinating. And just for context, as most of the listeners live in the United States, and we’re ignorant about the world in general, or at least many of us are. How old are you? Where does that place you as far as your experience with the Soviet Union, and the years in between? Do you recall that experience of the Yeltsin years and all this?

DO: I was a child when the Soviet Union collapsed. So I really don’t remember anything. But I remember a lot of details after the Soviet Union crashed. So it was the time of economical crisis, most of the people didn’t have any money at all, no jobs. There were a lot of local wars. But on the other hand, there was much more freedom, freedom of speech, freedom in politics, and there was no big punishment for any activity. Now it’s a nostalgia war about what was it? Was it a good time, or not a very good time? And now, there are much more political wars over this period. Most people have a very selective memory for it. So now, it’s a very political question.

TFSR: Interesting. When you’re saying more like freedom of expression, you’re saying as in contrast to today, right?

DO: Yeah, because Putin has been the president for 22 years. He became prime minister in 1999. So we had like nine years of so-called freedom, and then a 21-year period of the so-called stability, but in fact, there is no stability, it’s just a mask, imagination.

TFSR: A question I wanted to sort of start off with: Could you, to the best of your ability, give us a brief overview of recent anarchists and anti-fascist movements in Russia, and the repression that has been facing them? Because I’m aware of a bunch of trials in the last 10 years or so of supposedly anarchists terrorists or whatever.

DO: Maybe the most well-known case is the so-called Network terrorist group. It started four years ago before the World Cup Championship. Activists were kidnapped, beaten, tasered, forced to sign a piece of investigation evidence. These are 11 men from different cities, and secret services incriminated them with the participation in this mythical terrorist organization. There were a lot of accusations of them being terrorists, but no real evidence. In this case, the political police made a lot of work. A lot of people moved from Russia because there was a dangerous situation.

There are also other terrorist cases. Three years ago, a 17-year old anarchist went into a local political police office with a bomb, but he killed only himself. And he said that he tried to support the Network case defendants. And after that, more than 200 people were arrested, cases started against them. They commented that he was a hero to do it. Some of these persons are anarchists or anti-fascists. That played badly against the anarchist movement. Also the people in Kaliningrad, in Crimea, that used to be part of Ukraine, there were also terrorist cases. So now a terrorist case is the best way to put anybody in prison because no one really wants to support terrorists. Because, you know, it sounds like they wanted to kill everyone. But now people understand that it wasn’t really a terrorist, but something that political police called like that.

TFSR: I see. I know that there is or was a big-ish movement of anti-fascism in Russia. And in my mind, that was a response, I assume, to a rise of hard-right violence on the streets. Is there… it’s hard to say a brief history of that because that’s many years. But in my mind, the reason I could assume that the far-right gained power or popularity in Russia in the last…

DO: Fortunately not now, but 10 years ago, hundreds of migrants and ten street anti-fascists were killed. But when the Nazis tried to seize the monopoly of power and become the power themselves, all violence was stopped pretty quickly. There was quite a lot of information about provocateurs in the Nazi movement. Now, there are a lot of Nazis in Russian prisons and they wanted to do something like Aryan Brotherhood, but most of them just cooperate with the prisons administration in exchange for any help, indulgence. On the other hand, a lot of right-wing football fans became demonstratively apolitical last year in exchange for opportunities to control their territories. Some of them attacked political opposition actions and now, they try to be very silent, especially before and during the World Championship in Russia four years ago.

Now it’s not a really big problem but last summer, political police arrested three groups of neo-Nazis. It looks like they became more popular, the memory of those events pops up amongst the younger generation, but the intensity of passion is not the same at all. So, police forced these Nazis to admit on camera that they renounce nazism, but I think they were not ideological, it was rather street violence, nothing more. But they will be in prison for the next 10 years or so. So in my mind, now we can expect a consistent evolution of the right into the people hate – open misanthropy. Some Nazis hope for disparate revenge, and therefore they can commit terrorist attacks. But I think they will inevitably be crushed by the state and police.

TFSR: I know that this conversation is sprawling, but that brought up an interesting point for me. I personally don’t really understand what Putin’s and United Russia’s politics are. I think a lot of American liberals see them as being right-wing, but in my mind, it seems like they just work with whomever against whomever. I don’t really understand what United Russia’s politics are, other than just like power.

DO: I think that nobody knows, in fact. It’s something quite conservative. But inside Russia, the state just uses different political science and young politicians. When they need, they use Nazis. But in this case, they’re not a Nazi state, they just use it for several years. For example, they tried to communicate with the left-wing movement 10 years ago, but nobody wanted to do it. And they said, okay, but they tried to do it. Now they say a lot of things against tolerance, about transgender, etc. They seem to be much more right-wing, but in fact, in the next five years, it could change again.

TFSR: It’s just cold power or something like that? Interesting. I guess, speaking of politics, more macro politics in Russia, we saw really large protests last year, in theory, in support of the opposition political figure Navalny. And the United States media and liberals championed him as a liberal democratic icon, but some of what I’ve read is that he’s somehow a Russian nationalist, or has sketchy racial beliefs of other groups in the Russian Federation. I guess I’m curious about how leftists and specifically anarchists engaged in those protests, and also what your take of Navalny as a political figure is.

DO: As I said before, the Russian government doesn’t use any political terms. And usually, people in Russia also don’t use any political terms. Most people really don’t know the difference between a liberal, democratic, authoritarian, etc. When you talk about liberal, Western, etc., usually people don’t understand what it means. Navalny originally was known as a blogger who writes about corruption. He is was originally from the Democratic Liberal Party, but he tried to cooperate with nationalists. He tried to communicate with them when they were popular 10 years ago, but Nazis and other nationalists didn’t accept him. So as a result, now Navalny tries not to answer this question, he tried to ignore it. And for a long time, he was out of danger, although he had several criminal cases, then he was poisoned last year, he was taken to Berlin, then he returned despite a prison term. Now he’s in prison.

His arrival was a strong sign that inspired many people, not only his supporters. Navalny’s actions look rather like a civil protest in which anarchists also took part and two of them ended up in prison. One guy is still in prison, there was a case with policemen. The current protests are connected with the name of Navalny. Now he’s been recognized as an extremist organization. And nobody can say that he supported Navalny without a punishment. There were mass actions against putting Navalny in the prison but then the most massive repression began this January, and now most of the employees of Navalny’s campaign team have immigrated. Many media outlets are in crisis and under sanctions, and a lot of people are in prison because it’s very easy to be in prison for being detained several times at a legal demonstration. And now we don’t have any legal demonstration because of the pandemic, it’s illegal to make any demonstration at all.

Another thing, economic conditions have been deteriorating in Russia. Lately, Navalny has made it visible how officials are living richer and richer. So people were really angry in this case, because they don’t have a lot of money, but they see a video with officials and their palaces. So for me, it’s a good position when we can see the result of such corruption. But as I said before, most people don’t use any political terms. They don’t have any political education. And in this case, the main problem is that they don’t know what is going to happen afterward. And there is no opportunity to understand what will happen after this government.

TFSR: So there are recent elections in Russia. And I know that something that came out of them was also this law against foreign agents or something like this. That that has led to the repression of journalists and other people, but specifically leftists. Could you speak about the most recent wave of repression? As well as stories that I’ve read about people leaving Russia for Georgia or other areas, having to flee basically, based on the repression.

DO: It’s true. Since the beginning of 2021, the Ministry of Justice has added 11 media outlets, 42 journalists, and 9 NGOs to their register of so-called foreign agents. Every Friday someone else gets on this list. Now there are 223 foreign agents. If we think in terms of liberal democracy, it is an act of state pressure on the media or public organizations, because there is the destruction of any infrastructure and control by authorities. We’re talking about projects controlled by the Russian authorities. These organizations get grants from different funds – from the US, from United Nations, and the European Union. But the problem is that these organizations, these NGOs, and these media are the only ones that try to do anything with corruption, protests, or tortures in the police departments. The danger of criminal liability constantly hangs over foreign agents – from fines to imprisonment up to five years. It led to really big fines and bankruptcy of organizations. You can go to prison for five years if you don’t do good paperwork for the ministry, but no one knows how to prepare it. And society understands it. People sign a lot of petitions against this foreign agent law. So now it’s 150,000 signatures. But as usual, there are no street actions because people are afraid. As I said before, detentions at a rally can lead you to prison. So people try not to be in this area.

TFSR: I’d seen an article about specifically Russians fleeing to Georgia. And I imagine it’s because Georgia is aligned with the United States.

DO: Russia and Georgia, there was a war between them 12 years ago, so we don’t have any diplomatic contacts. There are a lot of American NGOs that are based in Georgia. 20% of Georgia’s territory is under the control of the Russian army. This country is relatively safe, sorry for such a comparison, but it looks like an American activist would go to Cuba, for example. But basically, everyone connected with politics in Russia is going to Georgia now: journalists, human rights activists, supporters of Navalny, liberal activists, leftists, anarchists. During the pandemic, there are not a lot of states where we can go. The border with Georgia is closed, we can go to Armenia, and then from Armenia, which is a friend of Russia, we can go to Georgia, but most states now are closed for Russians. So Georgia became a state where it can be maybe safe, maybe not, I don’t know exactly.

TFSR: I see. Along the lines of talking about Georgia, and then also right-wing violence that we were talking about earlier. Has there been a lot of repression of queer and trans activism and life in Russia, or how that has been because you mentioned that anti-trans stuff had been popping up?

DO: It looks like no people – no problem. Now a lot of such people are invisible, because of the law against the so-called “gay propaganda.” So most people prefer not to say about themselves, for example, most gay people I know, I really don’t know if they’re gay or not, because there is no one coming out and sometimes I hear about someone, but usually people prefer not to say anything about it. So most people prefer to be “normal” because if you say that you are gay, it will be not a very good situation in prison if you get arrested and there is a lot of homophobia. Most people, including gays and trans persons, prefer not to show themselves in many cases, especially in a demonstration, etc. So there are no open street manifestations or something like that. Most people show their sexual orientation only in talks at home. And in Georgia, it is the same situation. In Georgia and Belarus, in Ukraine, the situation is a bit better. But in fact, there are a lot of Nazis also, so most people prefer not to show themselves during ordinary life.

TFSR: That’s pretty grim.

Speaking of Belarus, maybe a week or two ago on The Final Straw, we aired an interview with several Belarusian anarchists about the uprising and repression by the Lukashenko regime there. And I was wondering, because, in our talks, we discussed Belarus and Belarusian anarchists quite a bit. And I was wondering, without making this a conspiracy, how much interaction and solidarity is there amongst anarchists in former Soviet and Eastern European countries? Because I know that there’s been a really strong anarchist movement in Belarus for as long as I’ve been reading the Abolishing Borders From Below magazine about Eastern Europeans. So I was wondering what influences go between these countries?

DO: Belarus is the closest country to Russian, in linguistic and cultural terms. I’ve never been to Canada and US, but it looks the same. So the before the beginning of the war in Donbas, Ukraine was the same country. But now, xenophobia is unfortunately on both sides. So there were many common organizations in post-Soviet space, and activists always went to each other during demonstrations or gatherings. A lot of people from Russia helped local activists, for example, many of my friends are banned from entering the territory of Belarus for the next 10 years. The reason was that they participated in street actions, and now activists left for Russia when the repression started in Belarus because neighboring Poland didn’t open any humanitarian escapes.

At the same time, the territory of Russia is not very safe for the Belarusian people. For example, one Belarusian journalist was detained in Moscow and brought to Belarus, and now he’s in prison. An anarchist from Belarus is in jail in Moscow, he took part in so-called mass riots in Belarus and the Belarusian state wants to extradite him. But he’s still in Moscow. Right now, over 1000 people are in the prison for political reasons in Belarus and about 30 anarchists and anti-fascists are among them. Some of them were tortured by suffocation, electricity. We don’t have any quality communication with them, because it’s a big problem with lawyers now. They can’t share information about the case. I think that same situation will be in Russia in the next maybe two-three years because usually, Belarus looks like a [testing ground] where the state tries to do something and to understand if it works or not? A lot of people think that now we will have a similar situation in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

TFSR: Has that happened in the past where forms of repression… Have authoritarian government policies happened in Belarus and then later happened in Russia in the past, or is that just a fear?

DO: The most updated information, you can read on abc-belarus.org. It’s the website of the Anarchist Black Cross Belarus. But what I see now, most people don’t do any street action, but they are still angry, they stayed, and they try to help people in prison, they try to support each other, there was a lot of solidarity between people, they help each other in medical cases, in cases of mental health. So in my opinion, it is the best option for people now to help each other and try to support each other in this dangerous time. So the best time is to save their resources.

TFSR: Thank you for that. I mean, it’s just a horrible situation.

Well, this isn’t really related to the anarchist movement or anarchy at all. You sent me an interesting article in Jacobin, about the recent elections and electoral gains by the [Russian] Communist Party, and also that article was posing that there is a shift within that party towards a more social-democratic opposition, and I was curious about if that in itself could lead to a resurgence in leftist politics in general. And also, if the recent gains in the election are significant, or if it’s just a weird apparition?

DO: Well, there was a very interesting case of Mikhail Lobanov, he is a professor. He’s a mathematician. He took part in a trade union, he’s a real good activist. And he is not a typical communist from this party but in fact, this Communist Party is not a real communist party. It’s not a Marxist party. It’s more conservative, they think about how the Soviet Union was a really great state. And for them, it’s more important to know that the Soviet Union was Imperial than an actual communist state. So the campaign of professor Lobanov, I think was the best thing that left activists have been doing for a long time in the entire post-Soviet space because the degree of penetration of leftist ideas, slogans, problems to the masses was unprecedented. People really were surprised that there is someone who could say anything smart about society without any problem. He didn’t say he is a communist or a socialist, in fact, he looks like a left-wing democrat. But for a lot of people, it was really surprising, because they usually see people who are more Stalinist than communist. So in Lobanov, they just saw a very smart person who can tell smart things about society, about taxes, about different repressions with a left-wing optic, and in this case, it was really interesting to see the reaction of people. He won the election, but in fact, now he’s not a deputy in the Parliament, because the state preferred to change the results. In this case, it was interesting how he made a political machine. There are a lot of left-wing activists who decided to help him. He preferred to be a mouthpiece of a lot of people. He preferred to be not like a typical parliamentarian, but a man who takes a recommendation from people to the state, and for the political system in Russia, it’s looks really exotic. So maybe for people in the US, it looks like nothing special, but for the Russian political movement, it was special, like “Wow, how did that happen?!” People were really surprised, and that’s why a lot of people helped him.

TFSR: Do you think in some ways that his popularity or the popularity of the things he was saying shows that there is some left-wing or more liberatory desire in Russian society? Also, do you think he’s actually speaking to material needs? Do you think there is a left potential in Russia?

DO: I think that it shows the request for left-wing ideas because people see the crisis, economic crisis, political crisis, ecological crisis, electoral crises, but people don’t see any solution. There is no way to protest. A lot of people went to this election because they just wanted to show they don’t agree with the state, they wanted something to change. But they’re really afraid to do anything, to take part in any street action, in any organization, because a lot of organizations now are under punishment, under repressions. So, I think that it could be a good chance to show that there are such ideas that they can be popular, but no one knows how to use that effect.

TFSR: Have there been any sort of attempts from more autonomous or anti-authoritarian left groups to, not piggyback, but exploit the fact that these ideas are becoming more mainstream, or work on spreading those?

DO: In fact, we don’t have any polls to understand what people really think. And we don’t have time to grow politically or to raise any activist, because it’s a really big risk for such people. Only in their kitchens [in private] do people say what they really think. And in this case, we have a lot of informal networks between people. But there is no real formal actions and formal organizations for any movement, and most people prefer to put their ideas, their activity in a secret.

TFSR: Does it feel like when there are large-scale demonstrations, that’s the only moment when people can be open politically? Like when there are enough people in the streets, that it’s hard for the police to pick off individuals?

DO: I think that really nobody knows the answer to this question. Because there is no data, no information. And it’s really hard to make any researches and now the state tried to do something with independent researchers, with independent education, with people who know how to make a study. We don’t have any tools to understand what we can do in the next year, in the next five years. There is a very good term to describe this. It’s “forced helplessness,” people don’t know about their power, and there is no opportunity to check it. The same situation is for the left-wing movement and anarchist movement because they don’t know what power they have and how to use it. There is no space for practicing it.

TFSR: I assume you probably didn’t listen to it, but in an interview, my colleague did with the folks from Belarus about the uprising there, was interesting, because while so many of their comrades are in prison and facing really horrible odds, they also seem somewhat more positive about potential future stuff in Belarus. It takes me by surprise, the attitudes of those folks being hopeful about the future. Whereas it seems like in Russia, it’s not so hopeful at the moment, which is just the reality, obviously. But it was interesting to hear the differences, obviously, it’s very different countries in different contexts.

DO: I can’t say that I am an optimist because I think I’m more realist. I really don’t think that it will be better after Putin, because I really fear that different police departments, Nazis, etc. can use their power. But on the other hand, I see people around me, I see a lot of good vibes between people. I hope that it will be better because people can say something without being repressed. But it’s just a hypothesis, I really don’t know.

TFSR: I wanted to first thank you, and really appreciate you being in touch with me and doing this. But I also wanted to ask, is there a way that you can think of that anarchists or anti-fascists in the United States could show solidarity with their comrades in Russia that are facing repression right now, or any kind of meaningful solidarity?

DO: There is the Anarchist Black Cross Moscow, which supports the repressed activists, and Russian and Belarusian anarchists often call for solidarity. So the best way is to make any demonstration or help. So you can check like Avtonom.org or Rupression.com for any information in English because these organizations provide legal and material support, medical care, food parcels, etc. I know that the Russian state really doesn’t like to see any solidarity in different states they get very angry. And for us, it was really interesting to see how American anti-fascist and anarchists took part in different demonstrations last year or two years ago, it was really exciting for us. But my recommendation is that everyone needs to know how to support each other, like to know how to take medical care, how to sustain good mental health, and how to be in a good healthy condition because when we had that street violence 10 years ago, only training with guns and knives helped people from the anarchist movement to survive. So in my mind, it’s really good knowledge how to protect yourself, and I hope that people from the US also know how to help themselves and to protect each other.

TFSR: I like you mentioning that you need to do mental health stuff but also learn how to shoot guns. I didn’t expect it to go there but it makes a lot of sense. I really appreciate you talking with us. Where can people find work that you’ve written and stuff that are translated into English?

DO: I have some publications on OpenDemocracy.net. It’s a site with a lot of materials on the situation in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in English. We made a podcast in English about Russian prisons, and we called Russian Limbo. We usually don’t have any possibility to make articles in foreign languages, unfortunately.

TFSR: No, that’s great. We will put these different websites you’ve mentioned, and podcasts in the show notes so people can click on those. And that podcast about the Russian prison sounds fascinating. I appreciate it. Thank you for negotiating the time difference with me.

DO: Thanks a lot. And thanks for your questions and interest. It was really nice to talk with you.

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Antti Rautiainen

TFSR: Can you identify yourself for the audience with any names, pronouns, or affiliations that make sense for this conversation?

Antti Rautiainen: Yeah, my name is Antti, I’m working with ABC-Moscow. Even so, I’m in exile currently, haven’t been able to visit Russia for almost nine years.

TFSR: So I was hoping that a chat with you could accompany the interview that we just heard with Dmitry Okrest, about the situation for anarchists and anti-fascists in Russia by making space for more specific updates from Moscow ABC. So thank you so much for making yourself available for this. Off-mic, you had mentioned that there was a hunger strike of Viktor Filinkov. Could you tell us more about his situation, remind us of his case, and how he’s doing?

AR: Viktor Filinkov was in prison as a part of the so-called Network case, which was started around 2017-18. It was a number of anarchists and anti-fascists, and just their random friends from the city of Penza and the city of St. Petersburg, who were framed up to be some underground terrorist organization. I was a part of a support campaign for them which united many different people all around Russia and also internationally, but it didn’t succeed to have this case collapse, and everyone was sentenced. And Viktor Filinkov was one of the people sentenced, they started doing their terms this year and the previous year they have been appealed without any changes. And now they have been sent to prison colonies. Viktor Filinkov arrived in his colony in August. It’s in Orenburg, close to Kazakhstan. And they have been putting huge pressure on him in this colony. He’s been basically sent to the hole more than 10 times, he hasn’t been a single day in the general prison population, maybe he was in some common cells for a couple of days, but in general, he has been kept in complete isolation.

And currently, he started a hunger strike on the 30th of October. This is a traditional day of political prisoners, of first Soviet dissidents, and then political prisoners in the Russian Federation since the 70’s. There were hunger strikes of political prisoners already in the 70’s. So Viktor joined this tradition, but also, he is stating his own demands, which are that he wants to be released to the general prison population to escape the isolation. And he also demands to get written materials, like books, papers, and materials of his own case, because currently, he is not even allowed to read his own case. This is an ongoing thing, the hunger strike has been on for around one month and Victor is struggling for some basic things. Probably, it’s the prison administration who wants to frame him up, every time he is sent to a hole for a minor violation, like laying down in his bed, which basically is not allowed in the Russian prison colonies in certain hours or not dressing completely, according to prison form rules. Just general bullshit things. And probably the goal is to railroad him to higher security prison called EPKT, which is basically the highest security prison.

TFSR: A hunger Strike is a really intense method of struggle that can cause extreme deterioration of some of the body’s systems, long-lasting effects after the actual hunger strike. It’s a choice of the last tactic for people. Is there much history recently of the prison administration’s responding to this? Or is there much discussion in Russia right now about Viktor’s case?

AR: Filinkov’s case doesn’t seem to be super high profile. But it’s not only anarchists but also some human rights defenders or liberals supporting him to some extent, especially the Novaya Gazeta, which got the Nobel Prize in literature, they are covering his struggle. So I wouldn’t say that he’s completely isolated but also these demands are super moderate. He’s not demanding Putin to give up power or something. So I think there are certain chances for him. Quite a prolific hunger strike was around 2018-19, Oleg Sentsov, one of the Crimean prisoners, together with Alexander Kolchenko were accused of organizing underground activities against the Russian occupation of Crimea. Sentsov himself was not an anarchist, but his co-defendant Kolchenko was, and Sentsov was in some very long hunger strikes, and eventually, he was released as part of the prisoner exchange. Of course, not only because of the hunger strikes, but I think the hunger strikes may have played some role that he was included in the prisoner exchange, which was originally meant to be just prisoners of war. So, I think hunger strikes are pretty popular in Russia, even with some liberal and environmental struggles, maybe even too popular, if you asked me, but I wouldn’t say that they are completely useless. They also can achieve some results. Sometimes it might be that risks are heavy, but also sometimes you don’t have so many other options. I hope Filinkov’s strike will succeed.

TFSR: Yeah, me too. Are there ways for people outside of Russia to support his case?

AR: I asked about this for people who are more closely involved in supporting Filinkov. Our group, the ABC Moscow, we have been diminishing during the years, and half of our group has been forced to migrate for different reasons, as I was deported and others have become refugees. There are still people in Russia involved but we are not, in this particular case, super active. But there are people in, for example, in the Rupression campaign for the Network prisoners, and they are currently organizing letter-writing, but they have only resources to organize this in Russian. And of course, you have to send the letters in Russian but I think in the show notes, we can share the links to online forms in Russian and a petition text. With Google Translate people who might want to contribute can try the join this campaign, but also, as usual, just in general information coverage would be needed and letter-writing. On ABC-Moscow’s site, you can find Viktor’s prison address. Of course, if you send mail to prison, it doesn’t necessarily reach Viktor. Actually, as far as I know, around one month ago, he hadn’t received any mail. Everything was just stored somewhere or trashed but at least the prison administration knows that is not being abandoned, that people are following the situation. And also the support campaign has to pay the lawyer bills and so on because if they put this heavy pressure on Viktor, he will be in constant need of lawyer support for all time he serves in prison, which will be the following four years. There are also instructions on our website on how to donate to the Network case prisoners.

TFSR: I know that that website has a lot of information about other people in the Network case and also other prisoners that are being supported. Are there any individuals or cases that you’d like to mention that should be particularly or generally supported by listeners?

AR: I think all the cases are important, especially the network has prisoners because they have very long sentences. A number of them have more than 10-year prison sentences, but also the Network case was at least lucky that it managed to get good international support and attention of many anarchists and anti-fascist, but there are obviously many other cases.

For example, there was an anarchist couple from Chelyabinsk who just got crazy two-year sentences for a simple banner drop, which was done in solidarity with the Network case. Also, there is artist Pavel Krisevich who is an artist and not an anarchist, but he was doing many actions to support the Network case and for one of his performances, he is now in this famous Butyrka prison in Moscow, where many anarchists were jailed even before the Revolution. Also, a very important case is the case of Azat Miftakhov, the mathematician. He was sentenced for another support action for the Network case prisoners to six years in prison, for just breaking a window of the ruling party office. And he’s been put on pretty heavy labor condition, but at least he can receive mail. So it’s important to support him by letters at this point. And also, there is an international campaign to have the International Society of Mathematicians involved. So if any of the listeners are working or enrolled in mathematics departments in any of the universities, you can check on our website how to join the efforts to have the International Association of Mathematicians support Miftakhov, because, in Russia the support campaign is actually mostly organized not by anarchists, but by the community of mathematicians. Because that’s Miftakhov’s profession.

TFSR: Dmitry also mentioned in the prior interview dropping banners and posting solidarity images is something that embarrasses Putin’s administration and has a deep impact. Are there other methods that come to mind, like you’ve mentioned the mathematician society and supporting them and applying pressure? But are there other methods that come to mind that folks can engage with from abroad to show solidarity with anti-fascists and anarchists, as well as oppressed identities in Russia, particularly well, not whitewashing the repression and cruelty of our own governments that are repressive institutions?

AR: A very important thing is just to spread information. Also, many of the campaigns, especially before the sentences, need to pay the lawyer bills, which can be quite expensive, because there are not really many activist lawyers in Russia. Occasionally, especially if there are no terrorist charges, you can have some human rights organizations sponsor lawyers but this is not always the case, if there is some radical politics involved, that doesn’t necessarily happen. I will say also that basically maintaining horizontal contacts, I think it’s very important to be involved in the local struggles but I think the anarchist movement is not only about the local struggles, it’s also about international solidarity. And in Russia, and even more so in Belarus, the movement is now in a pretty difficult situation so it’s good to just maintain contact and discussion not only on the repression work but general strategies and perspectives. So especially when this COVID era is beginning to end, it’s more important than ever also to have international meetings and discussions and not only meet in some discussion forums, social media or Twitter or whatever, but also to have face-to-face meetings and to create more solidarity.

TFSR: Awesome. Is there anything else that you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask about?

AR: This was pretty much what I wanted to say on this. Avtonom.Org website is hosting the ABC Moscow news, but we can put all the relevant links and so on to this episode information.

TFSR: Does it make sense to mention the podcast project that you work on since it does bring a lot of opportunities for international understanding of situations?

AR: Yeah, I could mention it. I have my own podcast, but it’s mostly in Finnish and dealing with some local discussions, but I will also put in Russian episodes, and occasionally, there will be also English texts. I hope to have an episode this week or next week about a project called FemDatcha, a feminist shelter for burnout activists that was organized by feminist activists in the Moscow region. So this was an example of a creative and positive project in Russia because it’s not only suffering and repressions, people also have some new and interesting concepts and ideas and I would also like people to pay attention to these things. You can find my podcast with my own name Antti Rautianen, which is a bit tricky for an English speaker I didn’t figure out any fancy name and also wanted to keep my content eclectic, I don’t have any special topic. It’s just basically for my own rants about various stuff. But we can link it to the episode description so people can find it. I have a couple of English episodes and in the future, there will be more. This one about a feminist cottage FemDatcha will also be in English.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Thank you so much for having this conversation, Antti. I really appreciate it.

Antti: Thanks. This is my favorite podcast because others in the States don’t seem to have so much international perspective. I think it’s very important that you are pushing this direction because America is so big that people often tend to watch mostly inside.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really easy for us to just think about ourselves as the world. Thanks so much for the kind words and take care of yourself.

AR: Okay. See you I guess in five years, we will have a third podcast.

TFSR: Anarchy will reign by then, so it will be a less depressing conversation.

A: Yeah.

Asheville Survival Program

Asheville Survival Program

"Asheville Survival Program" in a circle, around dandelions and the word "donate"
Download This Episode

Asheville Survival Program is an autonomous mutual aid network formed in early 2020 at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in so-called Asheville, NC. They are building mutual aid with oppressed communities, promoting solidarity and sharing outside the bounds of State structure through their streetside camping gear, food and solidarity distro and their “Until We’re All Free” Store, holding a distribution space open a few days a week walk-up visits and delivering groceries through a network of drivers.

For the hour, I spoke with Fern and Ducky, two members of ASP affiliated with the Free Store, about the history of the group, challenges its faced, challenging charity dynamics and working to reach outside of subculture and across racial and cultural lines. You can reach ASP on Instagram at @AvlSurvival, on fedbook via @ASPDonate, find more links, including how to donate, at https://linktr.ee/avlsurvival. You can also reach them at their email if you have further questions at ashevillesurvivalprogram@gmail.com.

And here’s the segment that Sean Swain references the FBI emailing VADOC about from April 11th, 2021

Announcements

KPCA-LP Now Broadcasting TFSR!

We’re excited to say that starting on the evening of Halloween, Sunday October 31st 2021 we’ll be airing on KPCA-LP, community access radio in Petaluma, CA! If you’re on occupied Coastal Miwok and Pomo territories of southern Sonoma County and looking for a 10pm political radio show, tune in to 103.3 FM!

Check out https://TFSR.WTF/Radio to see our other radio broadcasts around the so-called US as well as ways to get us on your local airwaves and spread the anarchy!

BRABC Prisoner Letter Writing for November

"Political Prisoner Letter Writing" flyer from BRABC with details over an autumnal Appalachian landscapeIf you’re in the Asheville area, check out the Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross letter writing night on Sunday, November 7th from 5-7pm at West Asheville Park at 198 Vermont Ave. More details on the BRABC instagram, fedbook or their website at BRABC.BlackBlogs.Org. No letter writing experience required, they provide stationary, names and addresses of prisoners with upcoming birthdays or facing repression.

New Website to Support 2020 Uprising Prisoners

Comrades have started up UprisingSupport.Org to help track prisoners who went in last year after the murder by police of George Floyd and other instances of racist, police violence in the so-called US. If you’re involved in supporting someone facing charges or in prison, get in touch with the site to get your friend listed. If you and your crew want to support folks, check it out and get involved!

And now a couple of prisoner-related updates:

Bo Brown, Presente!

Revolutionary anarcho-communist, urban guerrilla member of the George Jackson Brigade, white working class butch dyke lesbian anti-authoritarian, anti-imperialist, ex-political prisoner passed recently after a long battle with Lewd Body Dementia. She will be remembered by her many comrades, including in the prison abolitionist communities of Oakland, CA, where she was active in her later life. To see a beautiful poster designed by Josh MacPhee of Just Seeds collective, downloadable and printable for free: https://justseeds.org/graphic/bo-brown-rest-in-power/

Bo’s loved ones are raising funds to help cover her funeral expenses via a Go Fund Me entitled “Show Up For Bo Brown”: https://www.gofundme.com/f/pfspu-show-up-for-bo-brown

Russell Maroon Shoatz Is Out!

Dedicated community activist, founding member of the Black Unity Council, former member of the Black Panther Party and soldier in the Black Liberation Army and now-former political prisoner, Russell “Maroon” Shoatz has been given “compassionate release” after years of medical neglect in the Pennsylvania prison system. Maroon has been released to an outside hospital to coordinate palliative and likely hospice care as he’s in stage 4 of colorectal cancer. While it’s great that Maroon gets to be near his family, this is 49 years too late and the victory rings a bit hollow to receive this fighter back into our midst after such mistreatment. There is a fundraiser at Go Fund Me entitled “homegoing Service For Richard Shoates”: https://www.gofundme.com/f/homegoing-service-for-richard-shoates

And you can learn more about Maroon at https://russellmaroonshoats.wordpress.com/

David Gilbert Paroled!

Finally, some really good news. After decades of pressure, notably by Releasing Aging People in Prison (RAPP), former Weather Underground & May 19th Communist Organization political prisoner David Gilbert is expected to be released in November of 2021. He was granted partial communtation by outgoing NY Governor Cuomo, and the parole board announced that it was granting him parole. David was arrested after the Brinks armored car robbery in 1981, led by a Black Liberation Army unit. Free Them All!

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

Fern: Hi, my name is Fern. I use they/them pronouns and I’m part of Asheville Survival Program.

Ducky: And I’m Ducky. I use they/them pronouns, also part of Asheville Survival Program.

TFSR: So, I’m very excited to talk to y’all about ASP, or Asheville Survival Program, being that y’all are longtime participants in it. I was involved in ASP for about five months at the beginning with my participation tapering off after a while, so I’m excited to hear about what’s been going on. Thanks for finding the time to chat! Would folks mind giving an overview of ASP, how the project developed, where the name comes from, and how you’ve seen its scope change as time has passed?

Ducky: I’ll start and then Fern, you tag in if I forget something or if I say something incorrectly. So Asheville Survival Program was co-created at the beginning of the pandemic, like April 2020, primarily by a group of self identified anarchists who were hoping to start a mutual aid project and do disaster relief in the wake of social services shutting down at the onset of the pandemic. The name Asheville Survival Program takes its inspiration from the Black Panther Party’s survival programs, which were one of the arms of the Black Panther Party’s project, basically, helping people meet survival needs as part of the political goals of that project.

Interestingly enough, I think both Fern and I got involved right as folks that had kind of bottom-lined the creation of the project were stepping back because of burnout. So, we entered the project at this unusual transition time. But at this point, the shape of the project has remained fairly consistent for the past eight months or so at least, where we have a group that does a streetside distro, which Fern and I are not super directly involved with. But then there’s also a location called the Free Store, it’s full name as the Until We’re All Free Store where we distro free groceries. We’ll do free grocery deliveries and kind of just exist as an aid space in opposition to State power in Asheville.

Fern: One thing I’ll add is that there are a number of kind of auxiliary working groups that feed into supporting these two central projects. So, for example, we have a working group of folks who drive the grocery deliveries that we have. We have a working group that cooks big, hot meals for our street side food distribution every week. And so there’s a lot of overlap between all the different groups and subgroups.

TFSR: That’s really awesome.

What does the ASP operation look like a year and a half after its inception? You mentioned that you both kind of came in at a time when people who had initiated it were stepping back due to burnout or having to take on other stuff going on in their lives. But are there any folks that are still around who have been there since the beginning? And who is involved? Like is it folks from political subcultures, faith inspired folks, or folks from the community that you mostly operate the Until We’re All Free Store In?

Ducky: Okay, I’ll go again, Fern nodded at me and I was like “okay”. So I guess, in terms of the way the day to day operations of the project have shifted is kind of operating around this idea of trying to do smaller things really well. This idea of under promising and over delivering. When the store itself initially opened, it was closed to the public, but staffed seven days a week. We are now only staffed like three days a week and only open to the public two of those days. And that just reflects the our capacity to staff the store and the physical resources we can actually fit in the space. It’s not a huge space. It gets real full by the time we have enough stuff to distro for a weekend. We’re here now and there is just mountains of boxes all around us.

Fern: We’re literally just sitting under a stack of cornflake boxes 8 high, that’s just tipping precariously over us. Yeah, which you know, great! Happy to have all those cornflakes, but…. (laughs)

TFSR: Make sure the Fire Marshal isn’t hearing this right now.

Ducky: They’re six inches off the ground, so it’s fine (laughs). That’s all that matters.

So there’s that component of it. So, day to day operations, we are distro-ing resources, talking to people, building relationships, cultivating connection. In terms of who’s actually involved in decision making of the project? It’s a pretty small group of people that are consistently involved in that. There are a lot of different factors at play there. I would say ultimately, the vast majority of people involved are just folks coming from political subcultures, namely, the leftist, anarchist scene in Asheville. Which also means that ultimately, 90% of the people involved are white folks as well, which is just like also the reality of being in Asheville… which is just like such an aggressively white place. Did I answer that whole question? I got a little lost in the sauce.

TFSR: Yeah, I kind of extended out the the question a bit. Yeah, no, that makes sense. Like the majority of people, at least where the Free Store is situated, there’s a large Black community in the area, there’s also public housing in the area. Is there anything you can share about how it’s felt? Has the project tried inviting folks? And how has that looked? Or has it just been an instance where folks who are working there have just been building relationships with the folks that come up and get the resources and you all also take the resources?

Fern: I guess, I want to think that we are trending toward greater involvement from the community that we are situated in. And since I’ve been involved with the project, which is coming up on just about a year now, I have definitely seen a small but measurable change in the level of participation. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we are, like Ducky said, a predominantly white group coming into an area that is predominantly people of color. There is just inherently a lot of distrust, and especially coming in to a space where none of us actually live, you know, for the most part, it just takes time to start building those relationships. At the end of the day, something that we’ve been talking about a lot is we can try as hard as we want to as a collective to build trust… but in reality, it comes down to individuals showing up enough to build actual relationships with actual people, and not our community building relationships with another community, or the community that we are, occupying space in.

TFSR: How does ASP relate to NGOs or nonprofits or charities? If ASP is not incorporated and doesn’t have an official status are there challenges of getting access to resources from those sectors that do? Or have relationships been built that allow y’all to work together with those sorts of groups? Are there tensions there? I know y’all we’re sharing space with Steady Collective a harm reduction collective, which is really awesome. And we’ve had on the show a couple times.

Fern: Yeah, I can speak a little bit that, because it has been a process of procuring all of the resources that we are able to distribute in the Free Store and through other aspects of the project. For quite some time we have been receiving a lot of the food that we distribute through one of the larger food banks in the Asheville area. They explicitly only partner with nonprofits and we are not in any way a nonprofit. So we started out with having a very under-the-table relationship with a nonprofit that other members of the organization of our collective were involved with, and then sort of using that as a way to start getting some of those resources. But it was all very, you know… no paper trail to the best of our abilities. But over time, I don’t know if it’s necessarily trust rather than… for example, this food bank has realized what is happening and has decided that they’re okay with it.

Now we are coming to them as Asheville Survival Program and not this other nonprofit that we were working through. There are elements where we do have to sort of comply to these standards that nonprofits have, for a variety of reasons. For example, we have to store all of our food properly, and there is some degree of keeping up on that. And that’s all well and good, I would hope that we will be storing our food in a way that is safe for people. But there is this sort of fear of nonprofit creep into our non-nonprofit organization.

Ducky: I can say more. So as a collective that has a strong commitment to organizing against the State, outside of the bounds of the State, the idea of incorporating as a nonprofit is pretty controversial within the collective, especially for the idea of incorporating the collective as a whole. I think when we’ve seriously talked about trying to incorporate it has been less because of a need to gain access to material resources, because we found ways to build relationships with either nonprofits or people in nonprofits more often that allow us to gain access to resources that normally we would not be available to us as a loose collective of individuals.

The conversation around becoming a nonprofit has come up multiple times and we still have settled on not doing for managing our finances. Just because trying to figure out how to manage finances as this non legal entity using the currency of the State has felt complicated at times. At this point in time, I don’t think we’re seriously considering incorporating. But when it has come up in a real way, it’s actually been like “how do we cover each other’s butts when handling money? Is incorporating as a nonprofit the best way to do that?” And so far the answer has been “No.”

TFSR: There was a discussion when I was engaging with the collective… There were these unwieldy meetings of like 40 people on signal, it was just everyone talking over each other’s I don’t know how decisions got made. But there was discussion and there was pushback from a couple different sides about the idea of using the space and using the service as an opportunity to share political content. When I would package up food boxes, frequently I would put in copies of “Know Your Rights” information or harm reduction pamphlets, or sometimes “fuck the Cops” type things, nothing that was too political, necessarily, a lot of it was just about critically starting conversations around “civil liberties issues”. But there was a big push against us having a political education component to the food distribution, which was the thing that the original Black Panther Party had done with their breakfast programs and with their clinics and other outreach, survival programs that they had done.

Does ASP or does the Free Store actually engage with any sort of this? Or is there much discourse or comfort or discomfort levels? It could be creepy if it feels like you have to listen to our screed in order to get the food or you have to believe what we believe in order to get your Pine Glow or whatever?

Ducky: Yeah, this is something that, especially this current iteration of the Free Store’s working group is really in dialogue around a lot. Fern and I talk about this all the time. Ultimately, I think, because we’re named after the Black Panther survival programs, if we’re going to honor that tradition and acknowledge it in a real way, some aspect of the work we need to be doing is having an explicit political agenda to the work we’re doing. And that doesn’t mean being like the only way people can access resources is by listening to our spiel.

But something that we’ve run into consistently… And this is something I thought to mention earlier in the interview, but many of the folks involved in running the store at this point, perhaps all of us have not actually been radicalized for that long, have only been involved in this kind of organizing, more or less, since the pandemic began. And so many of us just don’t have a lot of experience articulating our beliefs to other people. So when people ask us why we’re here, because people are genuinely curious… They’re like “Wow, these dirty punk kids are kind of always here giving up Pine Glow and shit… I hope I can say that?

TFSR: Yeah, I’m gonna edit it. Yeah.

Ducky: Great. When a lot of us speak to this experience when we’re asked that question, and just like “Oh, you know, we’re here, because we care about people” and giving false answers, essentially, because we don’t have comfort around talking about the ideology that drives this work, which is primarily that we believe that the State and those in power actively benefit from the oppression of everyone who doesn’t have that level of power and access to resources. And so by distro-ing resources, we are committing to these values of challenging State oppression and the hoarding of resources by those in power.

Fern: Yeah. And something that I have only recently been able to really put into words for myself, but it speaks to kind of that discomfort of this sort of basic unwillingness to discuss the politics that are determining whether or not we’re showing up or not, is that, I think it’s in many ways, pretty detrimental to the work that we’re trying to do to keep these political conversations separate. Because it’s not genuine, and I think many of the people that we’re interacting with in the community where the Free Store physically is, have great familiarity with the lack of support they received from the State and are mad about it, and have reactions to it and have lots of much more lived experience than many of the folks who are involved in ASP as a collective. Us just beating around the bush and trying to be wary of folks in a sense… Because we don’t want to start anything. There’s always a chance that you might say the wrong thing to the wrong person and they disagree with you for whatever reason.

But in general, we’re all on the same page about a lot of this stuff, and it really is just a matter of what language we’re using to talk about it and what kind of framework we’re using to approach it. I am definitely in the camp that thinks that we should be doing more explicitly political stuff, not even necessarily political education, because as Ducky said, so many of us are still in relatively early stages of our own political education that it doesn’t really feel fair to be like, “Yeah, this is what you should think, person.” But there’s so much to be learned just by having these conversations over and over again, with as many people as possible. And so I think as a collective, there is starting to be a shift toward being more comfortable being more explicitly political.

Ducky: I think also that, once again, there’s this reality too, that Fern was already speaking to that many of the people that are collaborating with us to get their survival needs met by coming to the store to just get some stuff that they need agree with many of the values that we already hold is like an anti-authoritarian, anti-State, blah, blah, blah, anti-capitalist collective, abolitionists collective. But the words we use to describe our values are just basically jargon. And so I think that ultimately is where we also have to do work as a collective. One people can understand ideas. Not to be like, “Oh, if we use this jargon, people won’t get it.” But to be like “we kind of already agree. You probably have already heard this phrase before, too. But this is what we mean when we say it.”

So like an example of one idea that we’ve had about trying to make the space more political, and also, at the same time, make it look nicer, because being able to shop someplace for groceries that you need at a grocery store that looks nice is also a really nice thing. Putting big posters up in the windows with different statements on them. One idea that we’ve been circulating right now is trying to find a really good compact definition of what abolitionism is and just put that in huge letters on one of our big storefront windows. Because abolition is the crux of why we’re doing this work. Because if you abolish prisons, you abolish police. Part of that work also involves dismantling the whole system of oppression. And so that’s why we’re here is because we want the systems of oppression to come to an end.

TFSR: Well, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it feels like to not engage with folks politically as if people don’t have opinions and as if their lived experiences and opinions aren’t worth hearing, or as if y’all’s perspectives wouldn’t withstand healthy trustful dialogue… As was stated early on, building trust with the community, building these relationships and it’s based on people showing up and being real. If you’re just like “oh, I don’t know, I’m just here, because, you know, it feels nice.” Just kind of avoiding using words that might touch someone off, or challenge them, or playing kid gloves with grown people, instead of engaging them in mutual political organizing, that seems like kind of the difference there.

I feel like I participated in stifling the conversation a bit at the time, when we were discussing it earlier on. But I think a part of my initial response was that I don’t want this to feel like a church kitchen where you have to hear a sermon in order to get food.

Fern: I mean, there is a balance. And to me, I think that be being political, and especially being politically anti-statist is really a huge part of the difference between mutual aid and charity models. And because charity has so much of that baggage of denying access based on certain factors, based on sobriety, based on whether or not you’re willing to be proselytize to, and so many other things. In the way that we’re trying to distribute things and in the way that we’re trying to approach this project as a whole. We really want to say no to people as little as we physically can. When we’re out of something. It’s like, “yeah, we don’t have any more of that. But let me put an order in and you can get it next week.” Not asking any questions, not assuming that people don’t know what they need or what they want.

I don’t think that adding on a component of like, “Hey, we’re gonna put some stuff up in our windows, we’re gonna hands and stuff out.” That doesn’t stop people. They can still get everything that they were getting. And maybe we can start sparking more of those conversations in both directions. Maybe we’ll find more common ground with people. Maybe we’ll get a ton of pushback and that will also be equally as informative and equally as worthwhile, in my opinion. Mutual Aid is about relationship building and relationship building is arguing with your family arguing with your friends and growing through that.

TFSR: So the next question that I had in here was: Have you been able to develop relationships for sourcing the distributable goods that don’t rely on commerce, like local farmers giving up surplus because they want the food to end up in good hands?

Ducky: I think, ultimately, most of our sourcing, and why again, part of why we haven’t had to incorporate to collect resources, is we have relationships with people that work for nonprofits in town that end up with surplus. We end up distro-ing that surplus. Folks will be like, “We actually can’t distro this. Can y’all distro because we know that you are in a location where it’ll get to people who need it.”

Inconsistently we’ll have folks in the community provide resources to us and share them like clothes or something that we often have and those are all just like things that people drop off. And I would say that’s the most consistent resource that we’re able to redistribute that is coming from totally autonomous, non-NGO nonprofit locations.

Fern: Although, the one one thing I’ll tack on to that is perhaps Asheville as a whole has sort of a willingness to share information about windfalls. And I think there is an especially a lot of motivation and energy devoted within the collective to taking advantage of those windfalls. For example, a certain food producer that was formerly based out of Asheville, but as leaving due to some….

TFSR: Because they are shitty bosses?! I’m just guessing…

Fern: Because they are shitty bosses!!! You know, someone who knows, someone who works at the Free Store was like, “Hey, I’m clearing out their entire production space. Do you want a ton of industrial cookware? and hotel service ware?” and I was like, “Oh, I’m already out running errands in North Asheville, I can show up there in half an hour!” And we just got hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of equipment for nothing! Just because we know someone who knows someone, which is just a testament to the power of community and the power of having the mindset of “I have all this stuff sitting here laying around, that’s just going to either get donated to a nonprofit or get thrown away… maybe I should try to have something else happened to it.”

I think that is a sort of a cultural shift. So many random people just show up at the Free Store, like, “Hey, uhh, I like saw an Instagram post about you. Here’s all this random stuff I have. I’m moving and I didn’t want to bring it to Habitat for Humanity or whoever.” Great, it’s gonna go out the door today, instead of getting shipped around the country and you know, then half of that will end up in the landfill anyway.

TFSR: So, circling back to the the mutual aid versus charity thing. Can you talk about your concept of mutual aid? I’m sure everyone’s got a slightly different answer and in the collective and in all the groups. But just how you feel your work is different from charity? How has it been to try to challenge the dynamic of charity? And how do you think that you all have done?

Ducky: I’ll start with an answer on that one. I wanted to reiterate this at the beginning and I forgot to. We’re all such baby radicals in this working group at this point. All these ideas that we have are just coming from this huge tradition of primarily BIPOC folks that have built these ideas up. So, I’m just gonna say a bunch of stuff. But at some point in this interview, wanted to say that. That all of these things are just straight up, stolen, stole them all.

But anyway, I think for me, there are two primary aspects that define or rather differentiate mutual aid from charity. One of those is something that Fern already spoke to, which is tearing down this barrier of separation between people who seek aid and give aid. Getting to a point where there is no tangible difference in the way we’re working and organizing and being in community with each other that creates a hierarchy on the basis of need. In terms of like, “these are the people that help people and these are the people that get helped.” Getting to a point where resources and care… because we have real authentic, caring relationships with each other are distributed in a way that doesn’t have this weird dichotomy to it. So that’s one part of it.

And then the other part for me is this idea that mutual aid should be doing work that challenges the systems of oppression that create the need for that work. We mostly do survival work as a collective collaborating with people to support their survival needs. If we want to continue to call ourself a mutual aid project and be honest when we say it, I think the next step in this collective development is thinking about ways that we can be explicit in challenging the systems of oppression that create the need for the project in the first place. We’re working on that first thing for sure.

I think we are doing good work and building relationships with who people trust us, because we’ve been around for almost two full years. And we still show up, and I think folks are used to people showing up for a couple months and then disappearing. But that second part where we actually challenge the systems that create the need for the work we do. I don’t see us doing that very much as a collective, at least not yet.

Fern: Yeah, I feel like I have something to add to that.

Um, maybe just that I think calling ourselves a survival program is accurate bearing in mind that the sort of theory behind the survival program model, as perpetuated by the Black Panther Party. Which was like… it is impossible for people to engage in political work if their basic needs are not met. And we’re still in a time of active crisis. And there’s still an immense amount, working against anyone finding any sort of stability during this, in general, and also with these compounded crises that we’re experiencing. And we’ve got to get to a place where we have real trusting relationships with people and those people that we are in relationship with are not struggling to survive. We can start having those conversations about the more political aspect of the project. But in terms of the energy that we’re expending on the work that we’re doing, I think, ultimately, like Ducky said, we’re still in kind of stage one. Because there’s a lot of needs that aren’t getting that in our community.

Ducky: There’s another member of our collective who says this a lot. I’m not sure where this phrase originates from that maybe it’s an original of theirs. But it’s “all the work we do has to move at the speed of trust.” I really like when this person says that because it’s a good reminder that while it can be frustrating to be like, “Man, we’re just doing charity work. Dang!” But also, recognizing that moment that the reason why we’re in this model, where we are essentially doing charity work with some anarchist slogans plastered over it is because it takes time to build the kind of connection and trust in a community such that we as individuals are also part of that community before we can do the real work of mutual aid, which is changing things in a real way.

TFSR: Yeah, I guess it’s important, bringing it back to the Panther naming of it, “Survival programs Pending Revolution.” That’s the full name of it. And it sounds like the work that you’re doing right now is trying to lay the groundwork for being able to have capacity for revolutionary relationships with other folks.

Ducky: And with each other! I think something that I’ve been learning by being part of this collective is the necessity of relying on your friends and comrades to support you and give care when you need it. White supremacy teaches us that that’s not the case. We live in a highly individualistic society that teaches you to not reach out to others when you need help, stigmatizes it.

TFSR: So there’s one of the oft-pointed-to anarchist adjacent or anarchist projects of support that echoes the work that ASP does. I guess both between street side and and the Free Store to some degree is Food Not Bombs and Food Not Bombs has gotten a very bad rap over the years for doing what some people have said… doing charity, but without the resources of what other institutions do. Like there’s a soup kitchen down the street that maybe can more efficiently produce meals for people and fill that gap that the system is leaving. But the saving grace of the Food Not Bombs model is that it is a DIY self organized attempt, that is inherently politicized by its name, attempt at providing meals building companionship and and collaboration between folks as well as filling a need that people have. Oftentimes there’s that political component, like when I used to participate with a Food Not Bombs on the West Coast I’d bring a stack of zines and a table and have them there for people to pick up if they wanted to or if they wanted to have a chat about the content.

But a critique of not doing the thing well is.. is heard in some times. People throw together stuff that they’re willing to eat maybe tastes good for them, but maybe isn’t that enticing for other folks who are coming to it. And it sounds like some of the work that you all have been doing in the space has been trying to make it more appealing to folks. The Bread and Roses idea. Like, if we’re going to provide a thing for people, providing beautiful things that are healthy and that are enjoyable, as a sign of mutual respect, as opposed to the often dark and dank ways that folks have to navigate the charity system in a way that demeans them and makes them feel small and makes them feel like they’re getting a handout.

I guess it’s not really so much of a question. But I wonder if you could talk about the importance of mutual aid work, taking care that the food that’s on the shelf is not over date, taking care that it’s the kind of stuff that you would want to eat? That you’re actually showing love by providing this stuff. Sorry, that was rambley, but it was kind of off the cuff. Do you have any thoughts on that? Or should we just skip?

Fern: Yeah, I think I do have some thoughts about that. That is something that we definitely have talked about at various times there. What I’m thinking of when you ask that is… right when I first started getting involved in the Free Store, specifically around this time last year it was this period of transition that Ducky talked about. I think a lot of that knowledge got lost in transmission somewhere. That was something that as we started opening up the store a little bit more and having folks come up to the window and be able to place orders or just tell us what they would like to have. I think there was sort of a period of unconsciousness where we’re like, “Oh, we have all this stuff that we need a distro and people don’t necessarily know what’s here, let’s just put it outside!” And boxes of food were going on the ground.

There was this conversation that we had that really stands out to me. Basically, to your point. What the hell! It’s already so difficult to get food when you don’t have money. Don’t make people stooped over for it! Put it on a table, make it look presentable, go through and it take out anything that looks even a little bit off. Even though I come from, in my college years doing a lot of dumpster diving and not really caring, like “This food is fine! Like, it looks weird, but it’s fine!” And me as someone with a lot of class and race privilege… that was my reaction to my upbringing. “Oh, we’re so wasteful as a society.” But that’s not going to be other people’s reactions who come from different backgrounds than I do. Because they would much rather just have food that is tasty and fresh, and looks as good as it would if they were getting it from a grocery store.

Definitely coming into this project I wouldn’t have really thought of it. And it wasn’t until we started having those very explicit conversations about this sort of presentation aspect. It says a lot about what we’re trying to do. Are we throwing shit in boxes outside on the sidewalk? Or are we placing it and like taking care to make sure it’s actually high quality stuff. We throw away more stuff than, I would if it was just going to my house for me to eat because I’m like, “Whatever, it’s just food!” but there’s so much societal baggage about who gets to eat what. And I think it’s very important to keep in mind because it’s so easy just to want to distro everything because it’s all technically good. But it comes comes with a lot of other stuff attached.

Ducky: I think another part to that too, over time, because Fern myself and some other people that are pretty involved in the store at various points have been here every day that the stores opened at various times and just been here talking to people. So, over time I think we do a good job of eventually shifting to getting more of the things that people specifically request. Like an example is there is this sweet guy who comes by all the time was always like, “do y’all have ramen?” and we never stopped ramen, but we were able to start spending more money on food so now I always buy ramen. People love ramen! Another thing that people often would ask for is juice packets, flavor packets, or Kool Aid. And so now we buy Kool Aid, because we don’t ever get it for free. So we can give that out to folks as well.

And the way we have cleaning supplies because no one can buy cleaning supplies with their fucking EBT. So people are like “I need bleach. I need pine Glow. I need dish soap. I need trash bags. I need toilet tissue.” And folks also always ask for paper towels, which we don’t have, but I think we’re gonna start buying them because everybody always wants paper towels and folks really appreciate it when they know that if they give us feedback, we eventually are like, “Okay, we’re going to make it happen.” So that this thing that everyone is requesting we can get so that it can be distro-ed out.

Fern: Yeah. And kind of related to that, this thought came up for me when you were asking the initial question, in terms of thinking about what the difference between mutual aid and charity is. I think, it’s that factor of immediacy. I think about if ASP had tried to start itself as a nonprofit at the beginning of the pandemic, we still wouldn’t be a nonprofit, we wouldn’t be here doing anything. And it’s only because there was obviously this conscious decision to pursue a mutual aid model, a survival program model of just getting up and making it happen. And that also allows us so much more flexibility, like Ducky was saying. We can much more easily respond to people’s needs when it’s just like, “Okay, there’s lots of people asking for this one thing. Let’s just have a brief chat in our group text.” And then it just happens, as opposed to having to get approval from your boss, or the board of a nonprofit. It’s just you can just actually respond to people’s needs in an efficient manner.

TFSR: So the food deliveries are still happening. That all gets processed based on orders in the space, right?

Fern and Ducky: Yes. yeah.

TFSR: And who are you trying to serve with that part? Roughly how many people participate in that element of ASP? And how many boxes of food? and these like big boxes generally, but how many boxes of food do you all distribute?

Ducky: I’m gonna answer the first part of that first, which is how does the delivery packing boxes even work? How did how do we self organize to do that. For a long time what we were doing is we would be taking orders of the door, we were taking orders via this hotline, we were compiling all this information digitally. And then while we had the door open, so that people could also shop at the window, we were also trying to pack all these orders. It was always total chaos being on shift it was too much work.

TFSR: Yes!

Ducky: We recently shifted in the past month which I think has been a super big and important shift. What we actually did is we closed our hotline, because we weren’t able to keep it consistently staffed. So when people would call, it would be a month before they would get an order back to them. So now we just take orders of the door, but the way we pack orders is we have a shift that is closed. The doors are closed. We got curtains drawn. So it’s hard to tell whether or not we’re here and we just pack all the orders for the week on that day. And then on Saturday and Sunday, when we’re open to the public, all we have to do is hang out at the door grab things for people, and coordinate with the delivery drivers who are coming by to pick up these orders that are already packed. So, it creates space on our shifts to actually just hang out and spend time with people instead of frantically trying to complete all these contradictory tasks all at once. Do you want to speak to numbers? Or if you have more to say about that?

Fern: Yeah, totally, that is such a huge shift. I took a few months off during the summer for a job I was working. And up until that point, I had been working probably two shifts a week for several months. And I love doing it and it felt important and rewarding, but also just so exhausting. And I never felt like I had as much time as I wanted to actually just chat with people and be outside the space. For now, because of COVID, the space is very small with poor ventilation. We’re not for the most part, letting folks in unless they’re helping out in some capacity or another. So it can be this very transactional, “here I am behind this little counter, I’m taking your order” customer service mode all the time.

Which obviously has to happen. We still want to get stuff out to people in an organized fashion. If you had a lull in the folks coming to the door, it was like, “Okay, now I have to like pack orders!” And you couldn’t ever find a moment to just go chill with the people who are hanging out outside. We’re in a little strip mall with a couple of other businesses that are very busy. And so there’s always people around and always people to talk to you who want to talk to you.

It definitely has been really nice. In terms of numbers, I would say it varies anywhere between like 30 to like 7 boxes a week. And a lot of stuff, people are just coming to the door and getting a box when they’re standing there… but in terms of orders that are placed ahead of time. It does vary but it is consistently maybe 20 households a week.

Ducky: I think it might be more than that. I think on a busy day anywhere between 30 and 50 people will come to the store.

Fern: Yeah, coming to get smaller amounts of stuff.

Ducky: In terms of boxes. I think like 20 households a week is about right. And then adding that to the number of people that just come by and shop, it ends up being a much larger number of people that is harder to quantify. We can count the number of deliveries we do. But there’s no real way to keep track, at least, that we’ve tried of how many people come by the door and get stuff.

TFSR: Initially when ASP started up, there were a lot of misunderstandings about virus transmission. Also ROAR in Madison County as another mutual aid community organizing project, Rural Organizing and Resilience, sort of copied off of the ASP model. They were doing the deliveries for people that thought that they might be have a higher possibility of transmission of the disease. And so we would let a food box sit on the shelf with the packaged goods for three days and go through a quarantine period, and sort of get moved from one part of the space into the other wrapped up in two plastic bags.

On delivery, we could rip open the outer bag, and they could come and grab the inner bag and take that inside. It was pretty well thought out for what we thought was going on. But who gets the food deliveries these days? Is there any presumption about transmission? Or is it just kind of anyone that asks? Like they might have mobility issues, they might have health concerns, or they just might not have enough time in their day and this will really help them out?

Ducky: Yeah, I mean, the double bag method of deliveries… I started in ASP as a delivery driver right as right as we transitioned out of that. And I think ultimately, we just gave up on even asking people if they wanted us to decontaminate their food. Because people would be like, “do you want us to deliver it soon or in three days to a week?” And people were like, “Right now, please.” What’s interesting is I don’t actually really think that since we dropped the hotline, the people that we were delivering to haven’t shifted that much. Almost all of our deliveries anyway were just going up to people who mostly live at the public housing complex right up the hill from where the store is.

But for me, at this point, I think the focus of this aspect of the project, the Free Store, is just becoming a more real part of the community of this neighborhood. And so for me, when we take orders at the door for folks that live around here, that’s for folks that can’t carry like a 40 pound box to their house, don’t want to carry a 40 pound box to their house, or are placing orders for their neighbors who are not able to leave the house right now. And for me that just reflects less of being able to actually offer realistically prioritizing people that can’t leave the house because of the pandemic because we don’t have a good way to stay in touch with those folks. So we can’t really say we’re offering that but just prioritizing folks that we have relationship with who state needs, and we’re like, “Let’s collaborate to get those needs met.” Does that feel accurate Fern?

TFSR: How has the project fared in terms of resisting burnout, having an ongoing institutional memory and challenging informal hierarchies within ASP that sort of naturally develop in scenes and in communities?

Fern: Yeah, I mean, burnout is definitely something we talk about a lot. I don’t know whether talking about how burnout is real, helps us avoid burnout in any tangible way. But you know, there is something to be said for just at least having it sort of constantly on the table. I think we are as a whole, really good at filling in for folks when they feel the need to take a step back for whatever reason. And speaking to the sort of immediacy of mutual aid, nothing that we’re doing is so complicated or so specialized that somebody else with very little introduction to it can’t just step in and start doing it.

Like when we don’t have enough drivers we just put out a post on Instagram saying, “Hey, do you want to drive grocery deliveries?” and get a whole influx of new people. Which is great. I think having a willingness to reach out, as long as the the people that are coming in are agreeing to our points of unity. That is a good way to do it in some ways and not in others. Like you mentioned in the question of institutional memory, there’s not a lot of good resources for having that body of information be available. Right when I started with the Free Store, we were still calling ourselves DECON, because we were decontaminating people’s groceries. It was this very hilarious shift where we hadn’t really been doing that for months, but we were still called DECON. I guess that’s an example of institutional memory.

I’m not sure if anyone who has joined the Free Store since we started calling ourselves the Until We’re All Free Store, have that understanding of where we started. But one thing that maybe will help this effort of having some continuity is we have started creating much more intentional space for having monthly collective wide meetings, which we’ve only just begun. Hopefully, they will continue in perpetuity where people who have been involved for many different lengths of time in the project can all come together and share experiences and talk about issues that we’re facing now and hopefully also talk about the history of the project. But I do think that institutional memory is something that needs to be built because it is really important to understand why we’re doing things the way we’re doing them now.

Ducky: Yeah, I can talk about hierarchy, I guess.

Fern: Yeah, you should talk about hierarchy. [laughs]

Ducky: I’m gonna try not to be too controversial, because I know others from the collective are gonna listen to this. I think, as a product of a desire to keep each other safe, in realm of organizing that has primarily been digital. And in fact, at one point, what Fern said about meetings is really interesting, because for a while we just stopped having meetings that were like open to anyone. Shit was just getting decided in signal loops. So, I think a big a big part of trying to challenge hierarchy has been creating more meetings, essentially, where it’s really clear that anyone who wants to participate in those meetings is welcome to. So that’s a part of it.

But I think something that exists within the collective is just trying to figure out how to include people in decision making without just excluding them. I think something that ends up happening is folks that bottom line a lot of different parts of the project end up accruing a lot of social capital. I say this as someone that has, at various points accrued a lot of social capital. Which just creates this weird hierarchy of people that feel empowered to make decisions autonomously and just do shit. And then a bunch of people who are like, “this person just is making decisions all the time. but I don’t understand how they’re making decisions. Who they’re consulting with about them? How this even works?”

I think something that is important for us to be working on as a collective is making it really clear that once you kind of get the sense of what we’re doing, you’re really empowered to make a lot of autonomous decisions, and check in with other people about the stuff you want to do especially if it’s going to affect a lot of people. But if you’re just going to create work for yourself, but it doesn’t create work for anyone else, you go ahead and do it. I think that’s where we are successful in our informal way of making decisions. That was kind of an inarticulate mumbly….

Fern: No, I think it made sense. One thing that I’ll add to that is, from my own thinking about this issue, is I think that a lot of people who are coming to this project, maybe also similarly, like myself, and like Ducky, are “baby radicals” is we’ve had a lot of experience maybe volunteering or otherwise being involved but it’s with nonprofits. And usually working with a nonprofit there are very explicit roles and expectations that you have to meet. And that’s just not something that we have other than follow through on the things that you volunteer yourself to do. And to not make life harder for anyone else.

It can be hard to sort of make the shift to make people feel empowered. Because A Yeah, like Ducky mentioned, the social dynamics of the collective are such that not everyone feels like they’re quite in-group enough to feel like they have the right or the authority to make decisions. And also that I think people are not used to being empowered to make those decisions…. we’re used to bosses.

Ducky: What’s interesting about that and something I’ve been thinking about a lot is, I think Fern and I definitively are somewhere in this in-group crowd. And a big part of that is because when we got involved in the Free Store, it was in this transition period, where the people that have been bottom-lining it for months, at various points kind of all had to step back really quickly. And so those of us who got involved all of a sudden had to learn how to do this thing and there was no one left to tell us how to do it, because everyone had left. And there was no documentation anywhere. So I think some of us have come into this project and have strong opinions about how it runs now. Like I’m very opinionated. But we have this empowerment to just make autonomous decisions because we had this experience being involved in the collective when it was like low key in shambles and there was no one left to tell us how to do anything. So we just had to figure it out.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a really important approach. And that’s cool if that’s a continuing dynamic that the new folks are being introduced to. Yeah, “just don’t create more work for other people. But if you want to do this thing, go for it.” That’s pretty cool.

Fern: Can I add one more thing about informal hierarchies while we’re on the topic. I would say a huge disadvantage for us in doing the kind of work that we’re trying to do is that we operate very, very dependent on technology. Having access to a smartphone, having access to internet, having access to a computer, are all things that if you are going to be reliably involved in decision making in the project, just because of how it has sort of happened, and combined with starting this project, in the space of the pandemic, where it was very hard to be around other people in any capacity for quite a long time. We defaulted to these online, extremely online modes of communication that are just bottom-line, not accessible to a lot of the people that we’re trying to build community with.

I’m personally of the opinion that if we are actually going to be doing what could be called mutual aid in the future, we will have to go virtually offline. I don’t think any of our…. I don’t want to sound like an an-prim or something. But, just the reality of a person who doesn’t have a smartphone or reliable access to the internet… “How you sign up for shifts at the Free Store is by going on to this Google Doc and coordinating via signal loop with these other random people.” It’s just not gonna work. And so I think something that I really want for the collective is to take a really critical look at how we came to have the systems that we have, and how can we radically undermine them in order to make ourselves accessible in a meaningful

Ducky: THAT!

TFSR: There’s another element, in some activist communities, how some people accrue social capital, which relates to access to resources. Sometimes. You’ll see this kind of thing in school board meetings, the people that have the time and can get their kids childcare or whatever, in some cases, can show up to these things and get hyper-involved. And sometimes in activist scenes, the people who show up most consistently, and for meetings to make decisions are people who have the ability to not work a wage job and don’t have to worry about rent so much, too.

That’s not me saying anything about ASP in particular, but something that I’ve noticed. Like of my own privilege, I can get by working a job four days a week, and I’ll make rent and I have some extra spending money and some food and whatever. But I also don’t have kids, I don’t have any relatives that I’m taking care of that would require medical bills getting covered, I don’t have medical bills that need to get covered…

Ducky: That reflects the reality at the very least of the way the hierarchy that is present in the Free Store working group exists. I mean, because I worked at a lotion factory four days a week for a while and was here the three other days of the week. And then I quit that job at the beginning of the summer, because I’d saved some money while working and got my last stimulus check. And I’ve just now started thinking about going back to work, like I’m starting November 2nd. But because of that, it means I have a ton of time. So I’m at all these meetings. I’m in all the signal loops. I’m at the store all the time, but it’s because I have this additional resource and privilege privilege around time that I can choose to do with what I want. I think that’s the reality of the situation as well.

TFSR: Well, so are y’all looking for ASP to grow? And if so how? How can folks just show up and find where the store is? We haven’t talked about the location very specifically. And find out when a meeting is and show up to meeting? What you seeing in the future of the project?

Ducky: I think what I’m looking for and looking towards is continuing to do the work. I don’t imagine us trying to expand the work we’re doing and doing more work. I just imagined us trying to do the work we already do as a collective and doing it better, while making it more political. Getting really good at running this Free Store, continuing to cultivate these real relationships that I have now with folks in the neighborhood. But in terms of getting involved, the basic prerequisite for being involved, and being able to come to like these ASP collective-wide meetings is we have this document, which just our Points Of Unity document that we have new folks read through. And we’re like, “Do you agree to abide by these while doing the work of ASP?” And people were like, “Yeah” usually.

I’ve not ever had anyone be like “I’m not gonna abide by these.” But basically, just reading through these, and these are… I’m pretty sure these points of unity are basically just lifted from Mutual Aid Disaster Relief (MADR). They just got incorporated into our project at the beginning of the pandemic. If you want, I can send you a link and you can hyperlink the points of unity in this episode’s notes too.

TFSR: For folks who are going to be listening, though, could you kind of go over the general values of them? Or it’s okay if you don’t want to, if you don’t have it memorized…

Fern: We have a very abbreviated version, a concise version.

Ducky: I’m not gonna rattle them off. But I think the ones that are really important are ones that have already come up in this conversation. There are more of them, obviously. And it’s super complicated, or nuanced rather. But one of our points of unity is that we, as a collective, strive to dismantle the barriers between people who give and receive aid. Another point of unity is that we do our work with the end goal of ending all systems of oppression. One of our points of unity is that we’re opposed to all forms of bigotry. One of them is that we don’t work with the State or call the cops.

What Fern was alluding to is, so when folks just stopped by the store casually and don’t want to read like a full page long document, we have like three bullet point version, and it’s pretty straightforward.

Fern: Yeah, “No bigotry of any kind.” “Fuck 12” or for radio friendly “Don’t call the cops. Screw the cops.”

Ducky: And what is our third one?

Fern: You gonna go look, it’s on the board. We’re in the store. We just heard the chair sound.

TFSR: It’s FUCK 12 again! (Laughs)

Fern: We love drug users. “We do not shame drug users for using drugs.” That’s the other one.

Ducky: So at the store when folks just want to stop by and drop in. We’re like, “Yeah, you’re welcome to drop drop in, do you care to agree to these three things when you’re working with us in the store?” I don’t know the best way for folks that are just listening in to be in touch with us. You could DM us on Instagram?

Fern: That’s kind of true, because you’ll get somebody who could have a phone conversation with you about our points of unity and about the project as a whole.

Ducky: It probably be me.

Fern: It would probably be Ducky…

Ducky: Or like one of the two other people that do that.

Fern: Yeah. That’s another talk about burnout. That’s something that we’re looking to expand… the number of people doing the on-boarding.

TFSR: I mean, that seems like an awesome thing that someone could do if they weren’t able to share space with people or had mobility issues or that’s their jam!

Ducky: I mean, we have someone that doesn’t live in town now. Who lives in Philadelphia but is really committed to the project. I miss them a lot.

TFSR: I miss that person. I hope they’re listening.

Ducky: Yeah, we miss you. Come back! Well, don’t, you like being in Philly more! But keep onboarding people. Thanks. But yeah, I mean, that person doesn’t live here anymore, but really cares about this project. And so one of the ways that they contribute, one of many ways that they contribute still is by being one of the people that will introduce people to the project and help them get connected to different parts of it.

TFSR: The Instagram is basically the public face besides the store. If people are on that app they can reach out.

Ducky: We also have an email address. People can email the email address if they’re interested and involved or have questions, or if they want to troll us? I’ll talk to you after this call and maybe check in with other members of the collective and maybe we can give folks that option to contact us that way as well. So that if they don’t have Instagram, they can still get in touch with us. It’s AshevilleSurvivalProgram@gmail.com

TFSR: Is there any thing that I didn’t ask about that y’all wanted to share about?

Ducky: I mean, I will say, we always need more people. So if you’re listening and you’re in the Greater Western North Carolina area, and you’re interested in this kind of work, come check it out. We’re all learning. None of us know how to do this. We all figuring it out as we go. So having more people that are excited and aren’t super flaky, love everybody, but half of us are total flakes myself included half the time. Maybe cut that out. It’s fine. If you’re flaky. You do what you need. It’s up to your spoons and capacity. Flake as much as you want, Dandruff is cool! We just always need more people.

It’s a lot of hard work. But ultimately, I would say that ASP is a huge part of my life at this point because it really is meaningful work that is important. And I have built really profound relationships that have further radicalized me and helped clarify my vision and my politic in ways that have been kind of incredible. So, the last thing is come check us out. Get involved, if you want.

Fern: Yeah, doing mutual aid is better than staring into the void.

Ducky: True that.

TFSR: That’s what’s going up on the window.

Ducky: I mean, it’s basically our mirror in the bathroom. I think our mirror in the bathroom has “You look so good doing mutual aid. You look great doing mutual aid.”

TFSR: I would imagine that if someone’s in another city, and they’re listening to this, and they’ve been thinking about starting a mutual aid project, or they work with one. And they wanted to get a hold of y’all to swap stories or talk about ways of doing stuff that the Instagram and possibly email would be a pretty good way to do that, too, huh?

Ducky: Yeah, there’s not really a phone number that we can call. I’m going to try really hard to get consent.

Fern: Let’s have audio of us saying, Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.

Ducky: Please contact us so we can swap ideas. Cool.

TFSR: If you get consent, then I’ll put the email in the show notes and announce it also. And if you don’t, then I will cut all the references to it.

Thank you so much, Fern and Ducky for having this conversation and again, making the time to chat for the work that y’all do.

Ducky: Yeah, thank you Bursts really appreciate it.

Support Ryan Roberts and #KillTheBill Bristol defendants!

Support Ryan Roberts and #KillTheBill Bristol defendants!

"#KillTheBill Riots, Bristol ABC & Solidarity with Ryan Roberts", a Brsitol cop car tagged "Kill The Bill" with fires behind from the March 21, 2021 riots
Download This Episode

On March 21st, 2021, thousands entered the streets of Bristol in the UK to vent their anger at deaths in police custody, police violence on the streets, as well as a slate of repressive laws including the SpyCops Bill, increasing impunity for government officials breaking their own laws, as well as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, or simply The Bill, targeting Roma people, Travelers, lengthens youth prison sentences and criminalizing dissent and protest amidst some of the harshest Covid-19 lockdowns the UK had seen. What became known as the Kill The Bill riot led to running fights with police, burnt cop cars, a dizzying disinformation campaign by police centering themselves as victims, and over 80 people arrested to date, with more being detained and some facing years in prison. From Monday the 25th & Wednesday the 27th of October 2021, defendant Ryan Roberts will be facing trial and is calling for international solidarity.

For the hour, Tom and Nicole of Bristol Anarchist Black Cross talk about the #KillTheBill, police violence in the UK, the radical scene in Bristol, anti-repression work of Bristol ABC & Bristol Defendant Solidarity, the legacy of former Bristol resident Anna Campbell, the cases of the Colston 4 as well as that of Toby Shone, prison expansion in the UK and more. To learn more about their work and how to support and write to Ryan Roberts and other #KillTheBill defendants, visit BristolABC.Wordpress.Com, and to you can search that hashtag on social media for a demo in your area to join in on or to advertise your solidarity action! If you happen to be in Manchester, there’s a demo on the 27th at 5pm at the Crown Court. And check the ongoing fundraiser for the defendants at GoFundMe!

Solidarity demos October 25 & 27th 2021 for Ryan Roberts facing charges from #KillTheBill March 21st street actionsCheck our show notes for more links, including our conversation with Dónal O’Driscoll from November of 2020 about the SpyCops case. There’s also a new podcast out called SpyCops Info that includes folks who had been part of groups infiltrated by undercover pigs in the UK in past decades talking about individual cops and the ongoing inquiry that’s worth giving a listen to: https://tfsr.wtf/spycops

Also, check out this audio from Radio AvA, (a podcast by and for sex workers) with their coverage of the demonstration after the rape and killing of Sarah Everard by on-duty London Metropolitan pig Wayne Couzens: https://www.radioava.org/episodes/avashowmarch2021part1. We found that audio, shared by our comrades at Dissident Island Radio.

We’re releasing this interview a bit early so as to get word out about Ryan Roberts’ trial, so it’ll be a little longer of a wait between episodes.

Annoucements

New Eric King Solidarity Poster

There is a really cool poster available in solidarity with anarchist and antifascist prisoner, Eric King, who is facing trial in a Denver court on a frameup right now. The poster was produced by Radix Media and here’s what they had to say:

To support Eric King, we are releasing a limited edition of 35 posters carrying one of his revolutionary poems. All profits generated from the sale of the broadside will be sent to Eric’s support fund.
The print is approximately 12.5″ x 20″ and was letterpress printed in multiple passes on our vintage Vandercook proofing press.

You can find the poster at https://radixmedia.org/product/eric-king-support-letterpress-broadside/

Sean Swain Phone-Zap

Sean Swain is in danger of being out-of-state transferred again, to who knows where. His support crew are asking that folks call Ohio State Senator Teresa Fedor and Ohio State Representative Lisa Sobecki to express concern about Sean’s safety, access to his legal counsel as well as family and support network in Ohio, and to question the legality of sending Sean out of state without the legally required hearing with Sean attending, (which they skipped when he was sent to Virginia in 2019).

Check SeanSwain.Org for a basic script in the next day or so. If you’re returning to these notes to find Sean’s segment, good on you! It’s in the current iteration of the show and can be found on it’s own here: https://archive.org/download/youaretheresistance001/youaretheresistance20211024.mp3

Asheville Cover Band Show

A reminder that if you’re in the Asheville area on October 30th (and vaccinated) and want to participate in the annual Prison Books & Tranzmission Prison Project halloween cover band show, it’s taking place at the outdoor and covered venue, Sly Grog! There’s a door fee and the list of bands is extra-ordinary! Check it out:

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Featured track:

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Transcription

Nicole: I’m Nicole. I use she/her pronouns. I’ve been living in or around Bristol for nearly 30 years. And yeah, I organize with Bristol Anarchist Black Cross.

Tom: I’m Tom, I use he/him pronouns. I’m a relative newcomer to Bristol. I’ve been a defendant in trials myself and have I’ve done anti-repression work for comrades for quite a few years, too. And part of Bristol Anarchist Black Cross.

TFSR: Thank you both so much for coming on and being willing to talk, I really appreciate it. Could you tell us a bit about Bristol? Maybe where it’s at and its measurements? Who lives there and what it’s like? And what it was like in the run up to the Kill the Bill demos?

Nicole: Yeah, so Bristol is a city in southwest England. So under half a million people live there. It’s pretty diverse in terms of class and race. So, over a quarter of the people in Bristol are not white, there’s a really large Afro-Caribbean community. And there’s a really long history, like there’s a long history everywhere of police violence. But there’s quite a long history of rioting and resistance and community organizing in Bristol. It’s the 11th biggest city in the UK. And [ha!] thankfully, the Times dubbed it as one of the best places to live in the UK. But that means there’s been increasing gentrification every year. People are attracted to the city because there’s quite a lot of underground music scene, street art, this like alternative culture. But it sits in like a very rural region of England.

And I guess, just in terms, of the historical context the city was built on the slave trade. It’s by the sea on the west coast. So there’s a long history of slavery in the city. And yeah, in terms of local riots… we’re going to be talking about a recent riot that happened in March this year. But there is this historical context to that in terms of riots in the center of Bristol, in places like St. Paul’s, which have happened after police have really abused stop and search powers, where they’ve killed people. There was a famous riot in 2011, after a big squat eviction in the city. Just in terms of what we’re talking about today… so if people aren’t aware there was a riot in March…. March 21, against some some new legislation that we’re going to be talking about. A lot of people have been arrested. 81 people so far, 41 people have been charged and there’s already 10 people in prison. But we’ll go into that more over the next hour.

TFSR: Cool. And would you want to talk a bit about Bristol ABC, about Bristol Defendant Solidarity, and the anti-repression work that those two groups do?

Nicole: So there’s two groups. So, we’re representing Bristol Anarchist Black Cross and there’s also a group called Bristol Defendant Solidarity (BDS). BDS was started after this riot in 2011. But before then there’s always been ongoing informal support and solidarity for people that are arrested. BDS mostly focuses on defendant support work, and ABC focuses more on the prisoner side. But recently, with all the repression we’ve been working really closely together. In terms of Bristol ABC… if people aren’t aware of the Anarchists Black Cross… It’s debated how it started, but there is evidence that it was active in 1905 in Russia and there’s ABC groups all over the world that are active, supporting people in prison. So I’ve been doing ABC for about 10 years now. How we’ve been supporting people, practically, financially, politically, not just in the UK, but also around the world.

So yeah, Bristol was fortunate with the riots that there was a lot of infrastructure that was already established that could respond to this situation. There was also groups that got started in the midst of it all. So there’s an action medic crew that was set up and legal observers independently organized to attend the demos. And so what happened was there was obviously this mass arrest of people. And some people were known to us, were comrades, were in our communities already, and other people weren’t. And so, BDS had to really publicize the fact that support is available. There was lots of postering in the city, lots of outreach on social media, word of mouth, and encouraged defendants to get in touch so that they could be supported with different things.

BDS help with legal work. So going through the police footage, helping people prepare for court, liaison with solicitors [lawyers], attending court hearings. And you know in that moment, they’ll also do police station support, and support people if their house has been raided by the cops and they’ve lost their phones and stuff like that. And ABC will offer…. like it’ll do like pre-prison chats with people, because I did some time inside when I was younger. So, you know, few of us and ABC have been in prison. So we like to help people prepare, practically and emotionally.

We’ve also been doing fundraising and sharing details of people in prison who’ve consented and asked to have their detail shared so that they can receive letters, and solidarity and stuff like that. And there’s also an element of supporting people’s families, quite a few defendants have been separated from their kids, for example. And ideally, when we’re a bit less overwhelmed we really want to play a role in supporting prisoner resistance and organizing from the defendants who are inside. So, at the moment between ABC and BDS, we buddy people. Someone gets assigned, and you make sure that you’re bottom lining the support for that person. You’re checking in with them regularly, you’re going to court with them, you’re making sure that they have access to to what they need.

But beyond those two groups, there’s also a lot of autonomous organizing in Bristol. So, people have been organizing fundraising, bar nights and organizing letter writing events and stuff like that. And, at the moment, there’s a defense campaign in the making. We want to do something a lot more organized with defendants and their families and their supporters, and counter some of the State narratives and the mainstream media narratives about the riot and what happened. That’s what’s been going down.

TFSR: So Bristol has a history of radical leftist resistance, at least that I’ve been aware of, such as a chapter of the IWW or Industrial Workers of the World, those anti-repression projects like Bristol ABC and BDS, an anarchist bookfair that actually my co host William and I were able to attend a few years back, which was awesome. It’s also been host to sabotage actions claimed over the last decade by insurrectional anarchists of the Informal Anarchist Federation/International Revolutionary Front FAI-IRF against police and capitalist infrastructure. So it’s like a wide gamut of stuff that’s come across my radar as things that are interesting about Bristol and exciting about Bristol. It seems like a hotbed of anarchy. Can you talk about what what the anarchist scene is like in Bristol?

Nicole: Sure! So, I think to the outside world, it seems like a hotbed, but I think when you’ve lived there a long time It feels like a retirement home. But that’s probably a bit cheeky. There is a lot of stuff going on. I think there’s different theories. My personal theory is that I think Bristol is big enough to have a diversity of anarchist tendencies. So there’s these insurrectionary currents and then there’s groups like the IWW and people that are doing community organizing, around housing or wages, things like this. But it’s not as big as cities like London, it’s like intimate enough for people to know each other. And also, there’s been really long term anarchist infrastructure, Base, which is the local social center. You know, it got established in 1995. So it’s part of the furniture really, in terms of contributing to the local resistance in the area, or there’s something in the water.

TFSR: I want to get some of that water.

Yeah, that seems to make a lot of sense. And that’s a thing that I’ve heard from other people in cities where there’s a long standing activity and maybe even varied. But having that sort of infrastructure that people can plug into, and the collective community memory really makes the ability… it’s something to build off of, which I think is really cool.

So, folks may recognize the name of Anna Campbell, Feminist and anarchist who had been active organizing in Bristol, who fell šehid (martyr in Kurdish Kurmanji) while fighting in the Women’s Defense Units, or YPG, in Rojava, also known as the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria. She was killed by a Turkish missile strike, as I understand. I wonder if y’all would talk about Anna, who had been involved in the IWW, as I understand, and also BDS and Bristol ABC and a bit about her legacy.

Nicole: Sure, so yeah Anna was… I think she was probably involved in every group of Bristol at some point or another. She was, like, really well known locally, really active. She was active in Bristol ABC and BDS. And yeah, she really believed in solidarity and self defense in militant resistance. She definitely wasn’t a pacifist. She was really inspired by what was going on in Rojava and she lost her life for that.

We’ve all been talking about her a lot with the repression because she would have just fucking loved it. She would have been all over it, coming to court and doing demos and painting banners and spelling them wrong and all sorts of stuff that she used to do. So yeah, we really, really miss her. It’s really hard that she’s not around. But you know, she was doing ABC just before she left. So I think it shaped her a lot politically.

I think she could see the strategic value of supporting prisoner resistance. She organized quite a lot when there was the big prison strikes in the US in 2016. She was doing info events about that and banner drops. She was really inspired by that. She wasn’t technically from Bristol, she was from the other side of the UK. But she she definitely made an impact in the city.

Tom: Yeah. Anna was a friend and comrade when she lived in that other part of the UK, in Sussex. I remember from other struggles, from anti-militarist organizing and organizing in solidarity with the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle, organizing against the G8 summit… There were just so many struggles that she was involved in. Thinking about how those struggles can move in a more revolutionary direction… And also as Nicole mentioned, the importance of self defense and people’s self defense were things that led her to join the revolution in Rojava.

TFSR: Thank you for sharing. So I guess switching topics a bit. Could you talk about how lockdowns were experienced during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic? What they were like around the UK and maybe in Bristol in particular.

Tom: Yeah, so in Bristol, as in lots of other places around the UK, anarchists were involved in mutual aid organizing, supporting people through the Coronavirus lockdowns. So in Bristol we have a project which was established at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic called BASE and Roses. It was established by the anarchist social center in Easton delivering boxes of food to people who needed it because of the Coronavirus lockdown and for any other reason. And that’s still going on as a piece of mutual aid infrastructure in Bristol. There are also solidarity funds set up by mutual aid groups to help people survive through the lockdowns. So yeah, there was this mutual aid response to to the pandemic and to the fact that people were struggling because of inability to work because of the pandemic and the lockdowns.

Then there was the the police’s authoritarian use of the Coronavirus legislation to repress dissent and mass mobilization. So in Bristol, for example, the police, Avon and Somerset police increase the use of technology like drones to surveil the population, to spy on people gathering during lockdowns, just use it as an opportunity to roll out the use of that new repressive technology which they’ve been wanting to use for a long time. They were using it before the lockdown but there was a double in the use of that technology after the start of the Coronavirus lockdowns.

During the Coronavirus lockdowns, you had the the murder of George Floyd in the US and the global response, Black Lives Matter response, people coming together in anti-racist demonstrations… Bristol had a really vibrant movement and people are still organizing. Bristol have been consistently organizing and they organized the protests last June, where 10,000 people, one of the biggest demonstrations in recent memory are gathered at College Green and marched through the city. As they came to the statue of Edward Colston, who was a local personality who was involved in the slave trade, and who has many things named after him in the city: streets, schools etc. People had been campaigning, petitioning for the removal of this statue for… well, for decades. As the march went past the Colston statue, people put ropes around the statue and it was pulled down by the mass of the people and eventually was carried to the river Avon and thrown in the river.

The pulling down of the Colston statue was an important backdrop to what happened on March 21, which was when the riot that we’re going to be talking about happened. So, as the statue was pulled down, police stood back and didn’t make arrests at that point, and chose instead to try to identify people later on and to make arrests later on. And the police chief, Andy Marsh, said that was to avoid a riot taking place. He thought that if the police had intervened at that point there would have been a riot. And they were rebuked really harshly by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary. They were told that they should have intervened, they should have stopped what was happening.

And what happened was copied around the UK, other statues were removed. The government was pissed off about that and wanted a more authoritarian response by the police. So, that provided the backdrop to what happened on the 21st of March because the police were geared up to respond in a more authoritarian way to the next, big, mass demonstration which was against the policing bill. I guess the backdrop to that demonstration was the it came during the UK’s harshest Coronavirus lockdown. Some of the other lockdowns had included clauses which said that political protests would be exempt from the terms of the lockdown, whereas in March, those clauses weren’t in place. The police were were acting as if protest was completely illegal.

TFSR: In the United States, and in North America in general, there’s been a lot of back and forth about the Right-wing having cornered a lot of the anti-lockdown sentiment around the idea that the government is using this has an opportunity to clamp down on people’s freedom of movement, freedom of expression, or ability to defend themselves. And I was talking to a comrade in Germany the other day, we were talking about how anarchists have engaged in responses to lockdowns or repression against demonstrations by using public health language in France in a different way than he had seen in Germany and I’d seen in the US.

I don’t know if you had any thoughts you wanted to share about the framing of public health measures being used as a way to… and maybe the importance in the framework that we’re operating in to decrease the spreading of COVID-19 while still living under capitalism… But, the use of the of those things to repress people’s ability to live safely and push back against government authoritarian measures. Does that make sense?

Nicole: Yeah, should I come in there Tom?

Tom: Sure.

Nicole: I think it’s been quite complex in the UK in the sense that a lot of people that have been anti-lockdown have been either open fascists or anti-vaxxers, conspiracy theory-esque with quite strong links to Right-wing world-views and to fascist ideas and ideologies. But, I don’t know if there’s been like enough critique of the State with the lockdown. I don’t know, it’s difficult isn’t it? Because obviously we want our communities to keep each other safe and if the State actually gave a fuck about anyone’s lives, they would shut down the factories and the Amazon warehouses outside Bristol that are hotspots for the virus.

But I do think it’s also exposed a huge amount of ableism like in anarchist scenes. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was really like “suddenly, let’s look out for people with chronic illnesses who were previously pretty displaced from our communities.” Like if you get sick, or you burn out, or you have a health issue, or a caring responsibility, it’s quite difficult to participate in certain struggles because of people’s ableism. So I think yeah, BASE and Roses has been a nice example of how that’s been responded to proactively.

I think the pandemics just been this microcosm of class war, right? In terms of how the legislations used and all their repressive strategies and stuff. I think, as time went on, and people understood the virus more, there was more willingness to take to the streets and do demos and not be as pacified, thinking it was like a way of harm reduction. I was really nervous when all these big demos were happening because I live with someone who’s shielding and that just like made me very nervous. But it was also really clear that people had to be on the streets and stuff.

I know anarchists everywhere have been thinking about this stuff. And I probably haven’t answered your question [laughs]. I think there’s like tensions in Bristol basically between opinions about this. But obviously everyone is against the State violence and the State surveillance and the State repression.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s totally fair, and I appreciate you. Perfect answer: “It’s complex and here’s some of the perspectives that people are coming from.” I appreciate you also pointing to the the ableism that was present, continues to be, but at least it’s like visible around folks immune-compromised and and related issues. So thank you for letting me interject that question. Can you talk a bit more about what context the the Kill the Bill protest emerged from? And what did the protests look like?

Tom: The context that the March 21 protests emerged from was immediately because of the policing bill. But the wider context is around policing in general and State repression, State authoritarianism in general. So, for instance, you had that huge mobilization in Bristol in 2020, and the toppling of the Colston statue. But police attacks on communities in Bristol and in the UK, a constant policing which is racist and racialized in Bristol. If you’re Black, for example, you’re seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than if you’re not.

In the context of this history of what Nicole was talking about there, the resistance against against racist policing in Bristol, and in the UK. Earlier that year, and in 2021, at least two people have been killed in custody close to Bristol. In January, a 24 year old man called Mohamud Hassan died after having been detained in Cardiff Bay police station, not so far away from Bristol. Five weeks later, another young man called Mouayed Bashir died in police custody, this time in Newport in South Wales. That that’s the norm in terms of police violence. Since 1990 around 1,800 people, and this is recorded cases, have died in police custody or or directly after being in police custody in the UK.

The backdrop is this really harsh Coronavirus lockdown where where protest is illegal. And at the beginning of 2021 the government passed the SpyCops Bill. At a time when it was very difficult for people to express dissent because of this lockdown that was going on. And the SpyCops Bill, basically, was the State’s response to the ongoing legal cases that have been brought by women who’ve had intimate relationships with undercover police officers who posed as people that were involved in the radical Left and had relationships with them on this false pretext. There’s currently an inquiry going on about the undercover policing tactics that were used, but the SpyCops Bill made it expressly legal. Legal, not illegal, for State agents working for the police or for other State authorities, it could even extend to things like local authorities to break the law. It was essentially passing a piece of legislation which will make it legal for police officers to break the law in the future if they were on undercover duty. So, the State had done this and under the cover of the Coronavirus pandemic and lock downs.

The next thing that the State wanted to push through Parliament was the Police Courts and Sentencing Bill. It was, I would say, the most repressive piece of legislation since the the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of the 1990’s. Again, it was being done at a time when political dissent was very, very difficult. And the bill itself criminalizes the livelihoods of Gypsy-Roma and traveller communities, gives the police some increased powers to seize vehicles and also creates a criminal offense of trespass which is an attack on the livelihoods of Traveling people and a further attack on on squatters and generally on freedom in the UK. It introduces longer sentences which can be imposed on people and particularly for young people, it allows younger people to be sent to prison for longer. The bill gives police more powers to shut down and to impose conditions on public protests and processions, it widens police powers to arrest people for causing a public nuisance, it allows cops to impose conditions on protests if the cops think that the protest is too noisy or disruptive and it allows them to shut down protests encampments, too.

So it has a massive effect on protests in the UK. The other side of the coin is the State’s new prison expansion program to create 18,000 new prison places in the UK. I don’t know if you want to talk about that, Nicole?

Nicole: Yeah, so a major part of the bill which I think hasn’t had as much attention as the other areas of harm is that the British State wants to build 18,000 new prison places through a series of mega-prisons, which will most likely be run by private companies. And this legislation gives them the opportunity to criminalize more and more people and also to keep people in prison for much longer than they already are. So yeah, it’s pretty significant in the context of the prison industrial complex more broadly in the UK

TFSR: It seems like, outside of the shape of the bill, part of the context or one of the sparks that really would have lit people and sent them into the street was the the situation of Sarah Everard. Would you mind talking about that?

Nicole: Sure, yes. So, quite an inflammatory situation in the UK that was creating a lot of rage and despair in people was that police officer in early March was arrested for murdering a woman called Sarah Everard and I don’t know if people know the case at all or had seen it on the news, but he was a police officer called Wayne Couzens and he showed his badge and use the Coronavirus legislation to get Sarah into his car. And then he later raped and murdered her.

This was a really big deal. And there quite shortly after there was a huge vigil organized in London. And in this vigil there were 1000’s of people protesting. And, again, using the Coronavirus legislation of the police to try to repress the demo, including holding women down and assaulting them, which in the context was like pretty horrifying. It’s only one week after this vigil in London that the big Kill The Bill March took place in Bristol. So, there was a lot of anger about the police in the air.

In terms of the you know the actual demo and the riot, I actually had like a 38 and a half degree (Celsius) fever at home so I thought I had COVID. So I wasn’t there. But obviously the footage got shared all over social media and all over the world. There was a really big march and then people started moving towards the police station, towards evening time. The police stations is right in the city center. Police officers attack the crowd with batons, riot shields, pepper spray was used, people were charged with police horses, some people were bitten by police dogs. People really defended themselves, seized riot shields, grabbed helmets and batons to defend themselves.

By the end of the night windows of the police station had been smashed, there was like various vehicles on fire, police vehicles. There was also some famous very Bristol related photographs shared of one kids skateboarding next to this burning cop van, which went pretty viral. Yeah, it got it got pretty wild west.

Tom: And I think it’s important to understand what happened from the perspective of the community’s self defense against authoritarian policing and the police itself, which is constantly attacking the community in Bristol and all of our communities. The legal system tries to understand self defense in a much more limited way. If you argue that you are defending yourself when you’re being attacked by the police in a court of law, it’s going to be all about whether or not you were threatened at that point.

But I think we should understand self defense in a much more broad way. that we need to defend our communities against State oppression. I have to say, I’m really proud to live in a community where people did defend themselves in that way. And yeah, that’s one of the points that we’ve made as ABC and BDS is that we’re proud of the defendants and their resistance.

TFSR: Another unscripted question, just out of curiosity… I know in the so-called US, one thing that was experienced and has been growing over the last few years, but last year really sort of blew up the idea of or made it super visible and part of discourse, the idea of Abolition in general, but abolition of the police. I know that within the US context and the white supremacist anti-Black former more-recently-slave-State that’s still pretty contested, especially around the structure of prisons and racialization in the US. That’s a lot of terms sorry.

Abolition has a weight to it I think that in a lot of other places it would not. But around this time when it becomes all the more blatant what the State is doing, whipping out its police forces and these clear instances of police murders like those ones in January in the area and also Sarah Everard in the the impunity of the pig in that instance… Has abolitionism, or has just getting rid of the police, moved from outside of subcultural discourse? Have people talked about this? Have they said like, “Oh, this is a clear sign that this is what the police do. We’re just seeing it right in front of our faces right now?”

Nicole: Yeah, I think there’s been this Abolitionist tendency that’s been growing and growing, last year definitely escalated everything. I remember doing one webinar about resisting prison expansion with a group called “Community Action on Prison Expansion.” And there was 400 people watching it, it was pretty wild how many people got interested in it. Unfortunately, there was a bit of a sensation of like “abolition is the flavor of the week.” If that makes sense. I don’t know how many people will continue to do consistent prisoner support, for example.

But I think the interesting thing about the COVID time was that for people who through privilege hadn’t experienced State violence. Suddenly, everyone was witnessing the power of the State, if that makes sense. So, working class communities, people of color, other people that have historically experienced State violence, who like a lot more on side about criticizing the police… suddenly you just had the general population thinking about it. And I think there definitely is still quite a strong anti-police energy. It’s easy to be in a left wing echo chambers, but I think there really is a sensation now in UK of where people are talking about abolition, like a lot more weightily, as you said.

Tom: I also went to Zoom meetings that were attended by many, many people during the summer of 2020… and talking about abolition. But just linking it back to the riot. One of the most beautiful things about the riot was that one of the last police cars to be set on fire, before it was set on fire, had the words “defund the police” written across the bonnet [US: hood]. And so, clearly the people who were fighting back against the police on that night did have those ideas and those visions in the minds.

TFSR: So with the folks that caught charges… I think one of you had mentioned that folks are still being charged. But can you talk about the defendants? Can you talk about what charges and times that they face? What stages of conviction are they in. Also, most of our audience is based in the US and the criminal justice system has a specific shape to it here in terms of how the court process goes, and I’m wondering if you could sort of highlight some differences or some instances that would enlighten us to what the defendants are facing in Bristol courts.

Tom: Yeah, so 81 people have been arrested so far. And of the people arrested, the vast majority are pretty young, mostly in their early 20s. And, as Nicole said, some people have been involved in our movements, but many hadn’t so it was a challenge to get in contact with people and to establish connections with them for BDS and ABC. 41 of those 81 people have been charged now.

So what happens when you get arrested in the UK, is you get arrested taken to the police station, and you might be charged at the police station, or you might be released on police bail, or released under investigation. So if one of the latter two happens, it means you haven’t been charged yet, the police are still considering whether to charge you and to prosecute you. Almost everybody wasn’t arrested on the evening of the 21st of March. So, after the riot happened the police release photographs of people. They trolled through CCTV footage and they released photographs of people who they said had been involved in the rioting and there was lots of snitching that took place. So, the footage and the photographs of people that were wanted were put on the TV, they were also released on the front pages of national newspapers. And there was some snitching that happened where people called the cops and said “Oh, my neighbor was involved in the rioting.”

And, yeah, it has to be pointed out the complicity of the mainstream media, in doing the police’s work for them in putting out the photos of people in order for them to be repressed by the State. So, 41 people have been charged, and they’ve been being brought to court over the last month since since March. 3 people are currently on remand in prison. Being on remand means that you’ve gone through a court hearing, and the judge has refused to give you bail, and you’re in prison awaiting awaiting trial. People can wait for a year or more for their trial to take place and remain in prison for that entire time.

10 people have already been sentenced for the riot. So, those who’ve pled guilty to riot have received sentences of between three and five years in prison. And the remaining people have all pled not guilty. And so their cases will be between now. The first case is next week with a guy called Ryan Roberts, he’s in court in Bristol Crown Court on the 25th of October, and his case last until the 27th of October and he’s charged with Riots and Arson. Riot carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. The judge in the cases is saying that the starting point for sentencing is 6 years. And Arson carries a variable sentence, depending on the level of the arson, it can be a very serious charge also. So it’s a serious case. And Ryan has called for solidarity and he wants to make the case as politically as he possibly as he possibly can and he wants demonstrations outside the court.

We’re calling for people to pack the courtroom to show that there’s support for people to fighting back against police violence and defending himself against against the police. So, that’s next week. There’s also two demonstrations planned next week on the 25th and 27th in solidarity with Ryan.

The rest of the trials are scheduled between January 2022 and July 2022. People are still being charged so the people who are currently released under investigation are still going on people going on being charged. And unfortunately people are still being arrested also. The police are saying that there’s many more people that are wanted, unfortunately. We can see that it’s a long slog in terms of anti-repression work and in terms of supporting our comrades going through this process of the State trying to repress them.

The narrative which has come out in Bristol actually is, so far, really the State’s narrative. So when people have been sentenced in court after they’ve pled guilty, the judge has ruled out a long list of injuries sustained by the police a long list of Statements by the police saying that they were traumatized by people fighting back against them. At the same time, when the riot happened, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, again, made Statements to the effect that the people who rioted were thugs. Avon and Somerset police called people a pack of wild animals. The mayor of Bristol also condemned people for rioting.

Nicole: I quite like that wild animals quote, we should do a T-shirt with to the effect of that.

TFSR: Good fundraiser.

Tom: I think it was a mob of wild animals.

Nicole: Yeah. We could have all the West Country wildlife. All the foxes and badgers. [laughs]

Tom: Aw nice! So what we have is a narrative really set at the moment, unfortunately, by people with the most power. You know, what we need to do is to put forward our own narrative, to show the people in Bristol support people for fighting back against the police, that we’re proud of these people who fought back. And we also need to talk about the police violence on the 21st of March against the people who surrounded Bridewell [Bristol Central Police Station]. Not only on the 21st of March, but afterward, the police attack people as Nicole was saying, they smashed right shields over people’s heads. They attack people with batons, attacked people with dogs, and that police violence needs to be centered too.

We hope that will come out through the different types of anti-repression work that we’re talking about. Through the work of BDS and ABC, but also through the defense campaign and through the evidence of defendants in court cases. Ryan, as I said, wants to make his case as political as possible and that means talking about the police violence and talking about the violence leveled against people on the evening.

I alluded just then to what happened after the 21st of March. So that’s probably worth talking about. So there was a series of demonstrations, which happened after the 21st of March in Bristol. So Kill The Bill demonstrations continued two or three times weekly. And for the first few weeks at least, we were met by an army of riot police who were intent on revenge for the 21st of March. A few days after the 21st of March there was a gathering by supporters of Gypsy, Roma and Traveler People on College Green that was violently attacked by the cops. A line of riot police charged the entire gathering of people in tents etc. And slammed riot shields down on people’s heads. And that set the scene for the policing over the next weeks and months where the cops really tried to exact revenge for what had happened on the 21st of March by using the maximum amount of violence against people when they were coming out on the streets in Bristol to resist against a bill.

Nicole: Yeah, maybe I can add one thing. I think it’s worth saying with the defendants that, again, t’s quite mixed in terms of class and race but the people that are getting smashed with the hardest sentences are working class people who have had previous convictions, or who weren’t in touch with us who went guilty due to terrible legal advice, and they thought they were only going to get a couple of months, and instead they got four or five years.

So, I think that the riot itself was politically motivated in lots of ways but defendant support always crosses into different terrains. It’s a class issue and a race issue and the people who will get smashed are those that don’t have the same level of mitigation. And part of the defense campaign goals are to support people so that they don’t make cutthroat defenses. So they don’t set up narratives of good protesters and bad protesters.

We recently had a film screening of the Sub Media film about the J20 Resistance and while it’s quite different contexts, I think it did inspire quite a lot of the defendants of how maybe without that sort of political support and education, they might have gone down the route of being like “I’m a good protester. I’m a good citizen. I didn’t mean anything by it.” And and I think it’s nice to see people collectively becoming a bit more empowered and radicalized through this process. And I’m hoping, long term, that it will just backfire against the State. Bristol is already a very radical place and now we’re going to have people organizing prisoner resistance on the inside that we can support. We’re going to have an army of young people that have been dragged through the court system who want to fight back. I think the defendant work is quite interesting in that way.

Tom: Yeah, and just to say in terms of the number of people sentenced… 10 people have received sentences now to a total of 29 years in prison between them. I just wanted to say another bit of the context of all this against the backdrop of the riots across the the UK in 2011 [in the aftermath of the police murder of Mark Duggan in Tottenham in North London], which were really widespread by working class communities, predominantly, and people of color. I think one one criticism of the response by anarchists to those riots is that we really, really failed to provide infrastructure and support to the people that were arrested. There was a really strong State narrative. You had Boris Johnson going out with his broom and saying that “everyone should be part of this riot clear up.” So there was a strong State narrative that was saying that the rioters weren’t political, that it was thuggery or whatever. Sadly, I think actually people bought that a little bit I’m afraid.

With what’s going on now with building infrastructure for supporting the people arrested on 21st of March, I really hope that we can do better in supporting people than we did back in 2011. That’s not to say by the way that nobody organized back in 2011. There were some good attempts at defendant solidarity organizing but what was really needed was unconditional solidarity for those in court on a really, really large scale, and that didn’t materialize.

TFSR: It’s I mean, it’s refreshing to hear people taking those sorts of lessons, though and saying “We lacked then, we’ve learned, we were trying to do this now.” And being able to take the examples of international situations or situations in other countries. That’s really impressive.

You had mentioned that Ryan was calling for people to come out and demonstrate. There’s demonstrations on the 25th and 27th. And folks are going to try to pack the courthouse. For folks that can’t make it, whether because they’re abroad or ability or what have you, can you talk a little bit about other ways that they can offer solidarity, both to Ryan’s case and upcoming ones? Ways that folks can donate towards legal costs or survival needs of the defendants moving forward? Or, I don’t know, dropping banners in front of embassies and such abroad if that’s helpful?

Nicole: Yeah, sure. So, there is there is an international call for solidarity. we’d just appreciate any crews, any groups, any organization’s making that stuff happen. It could be writing Statements, it could be doing banner pictures, it could be dedicating actions to him. Also, things like letter writing. There’s a bunch of people in prison now and they’re new to prison. So ,this is a critical time for support of getting loads of posts. A lot of the defendants have felt a bit of shame about their involvement, maybe they’ve had shame from their family, in the media. But showing them inside that loads of people on the outside support them and have their back is really important.

So yeah, we’ve got a list of prisoners and their addresses on the ABC site. We do circulate graphics as well, but it’s always worth checking the site because people get moved to prison a lot and stuff like that. And yeah, funds are constantly needed. We send every prisoner at least 50 pounds a month, money’s going people’s families, to books, to clothes, and sometimes for legal costs, as well. Bristol Defendant Solidarity have a crowdfunder for legal costs. And ABC also has a crowdfunder for prisoner support funds. Yes, so there’s definitely loads of ways that people can can offer support.

Tom: And maybe it’s worth saying I think the response to those crowdfund is really encouraging. It shows the level of support from people in Bristol and people outside for the defendants. We’ve raised over £45,000. But, the amount of money that’s needed to provide financial support to people in prison and all the different types of support that Nicole mentions is really considerable, especially over the length of time that some people might be serving in prison. So, we’d really encourage people internationally to donate to those crowdfunders.

TFSR: Like I mentioned, it’s heartwarming to hear about y’all taking lessons from cases of repression and people resisting and organizing and other places. What are some lessons or some takeaways that you’d like people listening to this to come back with and that you’re learning right now through this process?

Nicole: I think one of the key takeaways is that it’s worth building infrastructure now. Obviously repression and State violence is ongoing in every community, but I think Bristol… we had a slight advantage on other cities in the UK, for example, because we’ve got that infrastructure like ABC and BDS. Lots of challenges come up when organizing, right? And if you’ve already got an established group in affinity with each other, and systems. That really helps. There’s a zine about how to start an Anarchist Black Cross group, It’s got advice and resources if people are interested in starting an ABC.

And the thing is, I think we haven’t mentioned it much, but repression really takes its toll on people and that support does need to be holistic. It’s not just doing legal work for people. It is also offering emotional support. So there was an emotional support group, which has transformed a little bit now because I think defendants prefer to talk to people one to one. So, we’re paying for counseling and therapy for some comrades and that’s really helping people. And even in terms of people’s health and stress and herbal support, things like that… I think it’s really good to really humanize people and realize that the defendants are experiencing a really stressful time. They don’t know what’s going to happen with their lives. They don’t know if they’re going to get eight years in prison or two years in prison. They don’t know if they’ll be able to get a job in the future. Their relationships are getting trashed, maybe their children have gone into care. There’s so many effects of State violence that we invisiblize. And I don’t want us to come across that we’re rubbing our hands as anarchists like “Ah, yes, theres this uprising in Bristol, and it’s really politically exciting!” Actually, it’s been really awful and traumatic for loads of the defendants. Especially people that already experienced domestic violence who are then getting beaten by male police officers, for example.

So I think having that broad overview is really important. And then if people do not know the film, there is an absolutely ridiculous, highly problematic, but hilarious film called Hot Fuzz. So if you want to take the piss out of Avon and Somerset police, it’s based in the West Country in England, you should watch it. It’s the best film in terms of laughing at our local cops.

Tom: I was just gonna say about the effects of repression, the emotional effects of repression. When I was going through a trial 10-12 years ago. The tactics that the cops used in the run up to the trial, were designed to separate us from our comrades through bail conditions, saying that we couldn’t speak to people, and were designed to make life as difficult for us as possible, through house raids, through arrests intended to come up with reasons to remand us in prison, etc. And I guess that really impressed on me the need for for prisoner solidarity.

The thing that really impressed on me, the need for solidarity for people going through repression, was just seeing several comrades really go through hard times. Even a couple of those comrades aren’t with us anymore. Just seeing the needs to have that infrastructure there, to have the backs of people that are going through this State repression. I think that’s a real motivation for for a lot of us.

TFSR: So in relation to the Bill and the Black Lives Matter protests, there was also the swim that statue of Edward Colston decided to take. I wonder if you could please tell us about the the 4 folks that are facing heavy charges and repression for alleged involvement in that.

Tom: Yeah. 4 people are facing charges for the toppling of the statue, and there’s been a massive campaign in Bristol to support them. One thing I didn’t say in relation to the Bill is that one of the parts of the policing bill makes the damaging of national monuments, punishable by 10 years in prison. And so that was specifically in response to the toppling of Colston and the toppling of other statues around the UK. That’s part of the State’s repressive response.

So, there’s a massive campaign in support of the 4 people who arrested after the toppling of that statue and they’re going to be in court for several weeks from the 13th of December. There are demonstrations being called at the start of that court case and there’s fundraising fundraising taking place and public events taking place in Bristol, which you can find out about on the Bristol Defendants Solidarity Twitter account. That’s also a focus of solidarity work this this year.

TFSR: Finally, another case of repression that’s been in the news recently is the prosecution in Bristol of Toby Shone who the State has identified as the web admin, I believe, of the anarcho-nihilist website 325.NoState.net – It was taken down alongside other insurrectionary and counter-info anarchist sites from around the world by pigs in the Netherlands. Can you all talk about Toby’s prosecution the level of international collaboration between police forces in different countries and how people can support Toby?

Nicole: Sure. So it’s worth saying that the terrorism charge that Toby was arrested on was dropped due to lack of evidence, so it’s all alleged in terms of like his alleged role in that website. But yeah, he was raided quite violently and remanded earlier this year in prison, and was recently sentenced this last week to 3 years & 9 months for drugs charges, relating to mushrooms, and I think other drugs that he uses to self medicate around cancer and depression and things. The terror terrorism related charges were dropped mostly but he’s happy for his details to be shared. I know it’s his birthday on the 20th of October so people can send some birthday cards to him. We’ll put his address in the show notes.

TFSR: Nicole and Tom, unless there’s anything else I really appreciate the conversation that we’ve had and the work that you all do.

Nicole: Oh, thank you for all your hard work like putting out this really consistent, amazing show that people should support.

Tom: Yeah, thanks so much for inviting us and, and yeah for for making the amazing podcast.

Fat Liberation for Revolutionary Leftists with Autumn

Fat Liberation for Revolutionary Leftists with Autumn

Fat Liberation cover with fist & roses by Tali
Download Episode Here

This week I am very excited to present an interview with Autumn (she/her/hers), who is an anarchist and scholar-activist, on Fat Liberation in all its many nuances, the pervasive, classist, racist, and colonial nature of fatphobia both in mainstream society and in far left spaces and thought, and the roots of Fat Liberation as a structure which originates and lives with Black, Indigenous, and brown, trans and disabled people. We also speak about Autumn’s syllabus entitled “Fat Liberation Syllabus for Revolutionary Leftists: Confronting Fatphobia on the Left AND Liberalism within the Fat Liberation Movement”. In this document, she compiles writings on the many aspects of fatphobia and gives her own analysis in bulleted form. This document is available for public use, and you can find it at https://tinyurl.com/FatLiberation!

To get in touch with Autumn, you can @abolishtheusa on Instagram.

People, works, and resources named by our guest in this episode:

Da’Shaun L. Harrison book “Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness”

Dr. Sabrina Strings book “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia”

Hunter A. Shackleford “Hunter Ashleigh Shackelford (they/she) is a Black fat cultural producer, multidisciplinary artist, nonbinary shapeshifter, and data futurist based in Atlanta, Georgia … They are the creator and director of a Southern body liberation organization, Free Figure Revolution, which focuses on decolonizing antiblack body violence … Hunter illustrates the relationship between Blackness, fatness, desire, queerness, and popular culture.” (Instagram: @huntythelion)

Jervae (Instagram: @jervae)

Dr. Dorothy Roberts’ work on CPS and how anti-Black racism and fatphobia infect this institution.

Health At Every Size, evidence based medical paradigm that heavily critiques the social constructions of “obesity” and diet culture, and aims to present folks with a compassionate and inclusive framework for taking care of themselves.

Books by Dr. Lindo Bacon (founder of Health At Every Size)

– podcast Food Psych with Christy Harrison

Marquisele Mercedes article “How to Recenter Equity and Decenter Thinness in the Fight for Food Justice”

Caleb Luna (Instagram: @chairbreaker Twitter: @chairbreaker_) “Caleb Luna (they/them) is a fat queer (of color) critical theorist, performer, poet, essayist, cultural critic, and performance scholar. As a Ph.D. candidate in Performance Studies at UC Berkeley, their research focuses on performances of eating, and historicizing cultural representations of fat embodiment within the ongoing settler colonization of Turtle Island.

Sonalee Rashatwar (Instagram: @thefatsextherapist)

– podcast Maintenance Phase with Aubrey Gordon (Instagram: @yrfatfriend Twitter: @yrfatfriend)

Fat Rose Collective (Instagram: @fatlibink)

Announcement

2022 Certain Days Freedom for Political Prisoner Calendars

Just a heads up that the pre-orders for the 2022 Certain Days has begun. You can bulk order copies to distribute, you can order individual ones from Kersplebedeb (Canada) or Burning Books (USA), and you can order them for prisoners through the site, CertainDays.org. Check out our past interviews on the calendar: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/category/certain-days/

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

Autumn: Thank you so much for having me. So, Hello! My name is Autumn I use she / her pronouns. I’m really honored to be here and appreciate you taking the time to have me on air. Some background about myself, I am an anarchist scholar-activist who focuses on abolishing racial capitalism, through a Fat Liberation and Disability Justice lens. I am a white, Jewish, anti-Zionist, queer person. I’m a longtime organizer around mutual aid, present and border abolition and anti-fascism Palestine solidarity as well as some direct action. So, some of my work has focused on bringing a fat liberation lens to revolutionary anti-State left movements and looking at how we can create dialogue and, more importantly, coalition between our movements.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Do you have any more words to say about the like, scholar activist aspect to your work?

Autumn: Totally. So I think that scholar activism is basically a way of how can we reclaim or liberate intellectual work that is kind of sometimes held captive or gate-kept by like academic institutions and by this very capitalist idea of production and producing knowledge within academia. So scholar-activism, one way it works is through taking resources from academia and giving them back to on the ground organizers. Or sometimes it works. And it’s a form of, you know, creating knowledge by and for our movement, and creating kind of collective knowledge as opposed to this sort of like, again, capitalist colonial model of like the brilliant academic or the brilliant individual.

William: I love that. Thank you so much for going into that. So we’re here to talk about fat liberation. And like I said, before we started rolling the tape. This is a topic that I have wanted to cover on the final straw for some time now. So thank you, thank you. Thank you so much for being willing to speak on this. How did you come to be working toward fat liberation?

Autumn: Yeah, that’s a good question. So firstly, my life as a fat person, also as a disabled person, as a queer person, as a working class person is deeply effected by anti-Blackness. So if I want my life and the lives of folks in my community and my loved ones to improve, I really have no choice but to invest in Fat Liberation on as a revolutionary struggle. On a more macro level, I have a strong background in community organizing, as well as some anti-capitalist organizing. And, you know, when I first started organizing, I began to notice that when I would enter radical spaces or organizing spaces, there would be zero analysis around factors other than shallow and incorrect ideas, that top audience were simply the tragic result of State and Capitalist violence, like food deserts, and that really like bewildered and upset me because so many of the struggles that I faced in my life were connected to anti fatness. Specifically, you know, getting denied health care that I needed, not being seen as a survivor of sexual violence. And, you know, seeing fat liberation being used as a tool of white supremacy, particularly anti-blackness. One of the breaking points for both my class consciousness and my fat liberation politics was when I was at one of my former workplaces and a co worker was sexually harassing me and I reported it to my manager. And my manager basically looked at me up and down and laughed and told me that I wasn’t “pretty enough to be harassed.” And so then slowly, you know, kind of, I developed a concept like a consciousness around about activism, and I was introduced to the works of activists and scholars like Jervae, Hunter A. Shackleford, Dr. Sabrina Strings, Marquisele Mercedes, Caleb Luna, Da’Shaun L. Harrison, and others. And that really inspired me to understand liberation is not only connected to other revolutionary organizing struggles that I was a part of, but like integral to them. So we cannot have other revolutionary struggles for collective liberation without fat liberation.

William: Definitely. Yeah. And we’re gonna get into some more of what you just mentioned, I think, later in the interview. So, you and I believe another person have compiled a syllabus, entitled “fat liberation syllabus for revolutionary leftists.” And it has as a stated objective to confront fatphobia within radical spaces and also the entrenched liberalism within the more mainstream fat liberation movement. To just begin though, for any listeners who haven’t heard this term, will you just begin by saying what is meant by “fat liberation” and where it came from?

Autumn: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a great question. So fat liberation is a radical, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, anti-State movement that was started by fat, Black and brown, disabled, queer and trans people. It locates fatphobia / sizesism as a tool of capitalism, the state, white supremacy, colonialism, and specifically a tool of anti-Black, State violence. Bodies, especially body is commonly thought of as “deviant” or “unhealthy”, are often sites for state and capitalist violence of how we should offer as a lens to revolutionary transform how we think about bodies, how we think about medicine, how we think about healing. Which is really crucial for us as revolutionary leftists and how we organize to take care of one another outside of the state and outside of capitalism, as well as our work to abolish capitalism and all, you know, all settler colonial states. I think it’s really important to think about that liberation is not just another box to check off for the sake of like, liberal “diversity” or “inclusion” quotas. But instead, it’s a necessary framework that we should always be operating within our activist spaces.

William: Totally. So you mentioned fat phobia’s roots in colonialism and anti-Blackness, and anti-Black racism and not to put you in a corner or make you talk about stuff from a subjectivity that isn’t yours, but would you just talk a little bit about that, from your perspective, and what you’ve learned so far?

Autumn: Yeah, absolutely. So I first want to say that some of the really amazing scholar-activists who have done that work, I just want to shout them out and give credit where credit is due. And you know, if any listeners have financial resources, and can support these people, pay these people’s Patreon or donate to them, I really strongly encourage that. So there are folks like the Da’Shaun L. Harrison, who just recently published a book called I think it was just published in August. It’s called “Belly of the Beast: anti-fatness as anti-Blackness.” Dr. Sabrina Strings, who wrote a book about I think two years ago now called “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia”. Hunter Shackleford, who is a really amazing, fat, Black, academic, educator, artist, and activist. And basically, they’ve explained that the origins of fatphobia are very intertwined with the rise of colonialism and racial capitalism. And unlike other systems of oppression, we only have to go back about 300 or 400 years to kind of find the origins of fatphobia. And so if we think back to the original colonization of Turtle Island, or the so called so-called North America and the inception of the violence settler colonial nation on whose land we said, the so-called US. That original colonization was from Puritan European colonizers and one of the kind of ideas that they brought with them was the Protestant work ethic, which basically says that individuals who are”godly”, if they are disciplined if they’re hardworking, if they’re able to restrict themselves, whereas it is, quote, unquote, sinful to be lazy, you’re overindulgent. So this was a way of basically looking at the body and understanding that “Okay, so thin bodies, especially thin white bodies are hardworking and are disciplined and they’re able to restrict themselves. Whereas fat bodies are lazy, they’re overindulgent. Those are sinful, quote unquote, bodies.”

And so kind of the origin of anti-fatness in anti-Blackness is, we see it very much arising in the era of like 19th century eugenics. And this idea that white European scientists were trying to basically look at, look at like, physical characteristics and use that as a justification for the superiority of European white people, especially like Western European white people. So in that the used the idea that “okay, Black people tend to be larger than white people. So that means inherently that Black people are more ‘primitive,’ and they’re not able to control themselves as more they need to be controlled and restrained. Whereas like white people are able to have discipline and they’re more intelligent and their political more advanced.” And then, in the era of 19th century eugenics, that was when body mass index or BMI was like developed as a concept, and it was very much used to label white bodies, especially white men’s bodies as, normative or healthy and label Black people’s bodies as obese and unhealthy. And so this continues to this day, where we see the entanglements of fatphobia and anti black violence continuing medical establishments, again, we’re fat Black patients are less likely to receive care that they need. I mean, fat bodies in general are less likely to receive the care that they need, they’re often just told to just lose weight. The state, when they surveil and target Black, brown and indigenous communities for having “high rates of obesity” and then using that as a justification to have Child Protective Services come in and remove fat children. There’s a lot of work done by Dr. Dorothy Roberts on the child welfare system not actually being about child welfare just being another way for the state to like control and monitor Black families or indigenous families or brown families. And disproportionately, Black and indigenous children are removed from their homes for non-justifiable reasons and because there’s this… It’s hard to find the racial statistics of children who are removed from their homes, but because oftentimes “obesity” is used as a justification for that,, I think it’s pretty like easy to infer that that’s oftentimes a justification for removing Black and indigenous children from their homes.

You know, in terms of state violence, fat Black people like Kayla Moore and Eric Garner, and recently Ma’Khia Bryant were murdered by the police and then the police in the general public, blamed their murders on their fatness. Da’Shaun L. Harrison, who I mentioned before, discusses this justification for the state murders of black people in their book “Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness.” Does that kind of answer the question?

TFSR: Oh, yeah, totally. And it’s such a like, vast top pet topic that, you know, I think that you like, shout it out some really amazing resources. Sabrina strings is the one who I’m most familiar with. And her book “Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia,” which is a fantastic breakdown by era: she looks at art history, she looks at the developing trade routes built on the back of enslaved people. She does all of this stuff. And it’s a really amazing, amazing resource.

Autumn: Absolutely. I really recommend that folks read that book and look into it.

TFSR: I also just want to like, name the… You know, you mentioned like treatment by your former manager, when you like brought concerns about your co-worker, and then saying that vile shit to you. That is like, completely unacceptable. And I’m so sorry that happened.

Autumn: Thank you. Yeah, no, thank you for sharing that. Yeah. And I think that that kind of highlights… I talked about it a little bit in the fat liberation syllabus, but there’s a really kind of disturbing intersection between fatphobia and rape culture that I don’t see getting talked about enough. And I’m hoping that those conversations can get started more.

TFSR: Absolutely. Hopefully this will like help start that conversation a bit. So, we talked about a little bit: in order to talk about how fat phobia and fatmisia, which is… Would you give a definition of fatmisia really quick?

Autumn: This is one of the first times that I’ve heard it, but I would say that it’s more kind of ideological understanding of this idea that fatness is something to be avoided or pathologized.

TFSR: And it’s like distinct from fatphobia in that like phobia is like a fear.

Autumn: Yeah, I’m not exactly sure how it’s… I think fat phobia is similar. I think sometimes fat phobia is used more in terms of thinking about how we internalize like anti fatness, and how that’s enacted in interpersonal interactions, or in communal interactions, whereas fatmisia is more like on a broader kind of ideological lens?

TFSR: That’s really helpful. Thank you. So, in order to talk about both of these things, and how they emerge in radical spaces, firstly, we could probably talk a lot about how it emerges in broader society. Since fatphobia, infects so much of the structures we are forced to contend with, like you mentioned, the medical industrial complex and the state for starters.. Not to like, start too big. This is a topic whose completeness may like be beyond the scope of a single podcast episode, but nevertheless, could you speak on this in a general sense, and the roots of fat phobia and fatmisia specifically, I know you touched on this a little bit before but do you have anything else you want to say about it?

Autumn: No, absolutely. So, and like any other system of oppression, there’s nothing natural about fatphobia or hating larger bodies. As humans, there’s nothing that’s like natural about us that says, oh, thinness is better. That’s completely socially constructed. Just you know, and this is a common disclaimer that I have to give or that a lot of like fat activists have to give. Anytime that we talk about fatphobia, one of the most common forms of backlash that I see is the claim that like, “Oh, it’s unhealthy to be fat, and there’s an obesity epidemic. And don’t you think that we should focus on health?” So, you know, I really wish that I didn’t have to give this kind of disclaimer, but you know, I won’t in this interview won’t be addressing the question of is it healthy to be fat, because health is multi dimensional, it’s not a measure of our worth, and nobody is obligated to be healthy. There are many people of all sizes, who have disabilities and chronic illnesses, who will never be “healthy” by normative standards. That said, it’s actually not unhealthy to be fat. And there’s a lot of scientific research and evidence that supports that conclusion. There’s a really valuable, evidence-based medical paradigm called Health at Every Size, which is readily available online, there’s a Health at Every science website, there’s a book by Lindo Bacon, called “Health at Every Size,” which, you know, people are interested in that you can go look at that.

And historically, you know, and before 300 to 400 years ago, fat bodies were actually kind of like revered and celebrated. I kind of mentioned earlier that the rise of fat phobia and the rise of the idea of the thin ideal is very rooted in the Protestant work ethic as well as this kind of neoliberal, bootstraps idea that weight loss is simply the result of hard work and discipline rather than the result of.. Most people who lose a significant amount of weight, gain it back within five years, and we have a lot less control over our weight over our bodies, than we’d like to believe. And, you know, importantly, our ideas about health and medicine are not objective or neutral. Black feminists, especially, have done a really good job at explaining how what’s often cast is supposed “objective medical facts” as actually completely socially constructed. There’s no evidence to support that. And again, as I mentioned before, in the age of 19th century eugenics, that was really the era that emerged that fatness was inherently unhealthy, and that people should be instructed to lose weight. You know, before that we don’t really see a lot of emphasis on weight loss is the key to health. People were really concerned about, like dying of dysentery. So, you know, if you were fat, you were considered like robust and healthy, because we’re less likely to die of all the infectious diseases. And so, as I mentioned, before, fitness became a marker of weight, especially Western European bodies being disciplined “intelligent, well controlled bodies” and Black bodies became seen as uncontrollable, and inferior political primitive. And, again, the fact that white scientists noticed that Black people were larger than white people that was used as a justification for the supposed inferiority of Black people.

And then in terms of the connection between fatphobia and capitalism… So there’s an at-least $2 billion weight loss industry. And as the center of the weight loss industry is this kind of myth of critical personal responsibility that you can have what is called the ultimate fantasy of corporeal malleability that is just like “if you just work hard enough, and if you’re just disciplined enough, and if you just, you know restrict… you just eat the right things, if you just eat like healthy organic food, and you just force yourself to eat that, that thinness can be achieved through that.” So and, importantly, there’s this kind of these two models of fatphobia that tend to emerge. This one of conservative contempt and this one of liberal pity or liberal fatphobia. So for example, conservatives believe that our people are simply lazy, that, you know, we just need to go to the gym or put down the cheeseburger. And then I mean, I wouldn’t even call the flip side cuz it’s not the polar opposite of this. But liberal fatphobia in this kind of liberal pity model looks down about people as objects of pity and views us as abject and diseased. And as the result of, you know, structural problems like GMOs and food deserts. And oftentimes, this is very racialized, like this is oftentimes, white liberals looking down at fat Black and brown people and just thinking “Oh, they just need to be taught to like, eat better, basically,” through a very kind of like paternalistic forms of intervention. And I just really want to touch on that, you know, conservative contempt and liberal pity, are not polar opposites, right? They’re kind of different sides of the same coin. Like they both result from this idea that fatness is pathological and that it needs to be eliminated.

William: That’s a really amazing breakdown. They like as a sort of like the double prong not even like dualistic because like you said, it’s not it’s not polar opposite like the conservative and liberal like lenses through which this is, you know, largely viewed in society is like really interesting to think about. And also the neoliberalism inherent in the weight loss industry to is I think we’re totally remarkable, like the whole like individual focus on like your individual effort or whatever it’s, it’s like tantamount to being “oh, all y’all who are like buying a new toothbrush every year, you’re, you’re causing climate change,” or whatever. You know, it’s totally ridiculous. But, at the same time, it just rules so much of how this is viewed.

Autumn: Absolutely. And I would say that that really shows how we think about health, and just how we think about wellness. Because I think that there’s this really great podcast that I maybe will mentioned in some of the…, I don’t know if maybe we don’t mention that later, but it’s called, it’s called Food Psych. And the person who like is the host, her name is Christy Harrison, she’s an anti-diet dietitian. And she talks a lot about the social determinants of health and how only about 30% of health outcomes are determined by individual health behaviors, including things like smoking, or having unprotected sex. Which are, you know, but no judgement, of course, it just causally linked to health risks. But I think that just goes to show that the real threats to our health are not necessarily like what we eat, or how much we exercise, but stress caused by racial capitalism, caused by poverty, caused by state violence. And I sort of wonder when we’re so focused on “how can I personally restrict my consumption? So I don’t cause global warming?” or “How can I eat as healthy as possible so I will have good health outcomes?” Rather than, like, “how has racial capitalism and how is the state making us sick, and basically having a really detrimental effect on our bodies and minds.” And it’s kind of like a distraction from the important questions.

TFSR: Absolutely. And just to support that, briefly, I have a friend who’s an ER nurse who says that about 95% of everything he sees is a direct result of racialized capitalism.

Autumn: Absolutely, just like, stress, especially stress that’s directly caused by racial capitalism is probably one of the worst things for our bodies and our minds.

TFSR: To touch also briefly on the liberalism in the fat liberation movement aspect of your work, specifically, you write and compile resources about the interaction of the “body positivity,” and “diversity” aspects to capitalism and toxic diet and culture. Would you expand on this and say a few words about how this also influences more left radical spaces?

Autumn: No, for sure. So the term “body positivity,” to me, it’s pretty meaningless and I feel like it’s basically become this kind of individualistic self help movement, which locates the solution to fatphobia in individuals loving their bodies, and, you know, separate from anything that’s political. There’s nothing wrong with with self love, I think it can be really helpful. But as activists, we need to be invested in a political revolutionary movement, rather than focusing on self help. And so I think that there’s just a lot of ways that, especially now, you will see capitalism really kind of co-opting body positivity. Like if you go on Instagram, like you’ll see so many companies like trying to sell you something by proclaiming how “inclusive” or “diverse” they are. I think what is especially harmful about that is when companies like do try and showcase fat people, or when celebrities try and showcase fat people in their music videos. It’s like fat people are like treated as props to show how diverse and inclusive a celebrity or a corporation is. For example, I think there’s like two years ago now, Miley Cyrus had a video, I think it’s called “Mother’s Daughter” and in the video… It’s supposed to be representation of… they show a fat person and they show someone who uses a wheelchair and they show someone breastfeeding. But then, you know, thin, white Miley Cyrus, able bodied Miley Cyrus is still the center of the music video. And so in that instance, it’s you know, that’s just an example I would say of fat people or disabled people becoming these props to just like prove, how invested Miley Cyrus’s and like diversity and inclusivity.

And so my theory is that there hasn’t really been a lot of conversation, at least in my experience, it’s changing some which is great, between fat activists and revolutionary and anti-state leftists. I think a lot of that is definitely due to fatphobia on the left. But more broadly, I think fat liberation tends to get siphoned off into these kinds of specific fields such as, at best being about like public health and at worst being on this kind of individualistic like self help movement that’s led by Instagram influencers with clothing companies. And so that doesn’t really allow space for us to draw connections and coalition’s between fat liberation and anti-state, anarchists or leftist movements such as, you know, abolishing racial capitalism, and abolishing prisons and borders, and why fat liberation as a part of that. And if there was that coalition, if those conversations were happening, we wouldn’t have people who have been really active in the body positive or the health of every size movement, being for example, Zionists, or endorsing Elizabeth Warren. One glaring example without naming names is there’s this person who has been a central figure in some “body positive” or “fat spaces,” is a fat person and has written some like influential books about health and advertising. And that person is a zionist, and has literally publicly claimed that fat activists need to support the State of Israel. And so a radical intervention into that line of thought would be to understand how colonial states like the so-called US and Israel often use the logic of diet culture and fatphobia to uphold genocidal violence and occupation. So, for example, Israel literally restricts the amount of calories and food that goes into Palestine. I want to be really clear here that I’m in no way equating being a fat person or being someone targeted by diet culture in the US with being a Palestinian living under Israeli apartheid or Israeli occupation. But I think understanding how diet culture and fatphobia is used as a tool of colonialism and occupation… I think that’s really important for thinking about fat liberation as an internationalist, an anti-colonial project and I think that that leads the way for some really exciting potential coalition between fat activists and, you know, those of us fighting for the Liberation of Palestine.

TFSR: Absolutely, I had no idea that the State of Israel was doing that bullshit. That is really Stark and very, very troubling. I’m wondering, too, so just to narrow the focus perhaps onto like radical and anarchist spaces. There’s many, many, many ways that fatphobia and fatmisia, like spin out in anarchist spaces and rad spaces. But one of those that you mentioned in your syllabus, is that people sometimes exhibit the unfortunate tendency to equate fatness with capitalism. Can you expand on how you see this happening?

Autumn: 100% Yeah, so I never want to see another anarchist, or another leftist graphic that uses fat bodies as a metaphor for capitalism, or bosses or the police. So I feel like I’ve seen a lot of graphics that show like workers tearing down the big fat boss. And I just want to facepalm whenever I see that, because that’s a great way to alienate fat comrades. That imagery is especially ironic because, like other marginalized groups, statistically fat people are more likely to be paid less, and they’re more and more likely to live in poverty. You know, and I think, obviously, gender and race play into that, but it’s unlikely that the CEO of a big company would be a fat person, even if it is like a white cis-het man. And again, I see this a lot of in leftist spaces, a lot of repeating diet, culture logic around fat being unhealthy and fat being something that needs to be eliminated. Particularly I see it come up in conversations around food deserts. And playing into the liberal pity idea that, fat bodies are this tragic result of food deserts, or food apartheid.

Autumn: Marquisele Mercedes, who’s a really wonderful critical Public Health Studies, scholar and activist and also a fat studies scholar, has a really wonderful article called How to recenter equity in decent or fitness in the fight for food justice. And she talks about understanding food apartheid, or differential access to food across racial and capital, and class lines as an intentional form of racial capitalist violence. But then the problem with a lot of liberal so-called food justice movements is that they use fatphobia and diet culture to distract from the real problem of racial capitalism with the focus being on again “obesity prevention” and trying to paternalistically “fix the eating habits of poor Black and brown people that don’t fall into a fat phobic, white-middle-class-centric standard of healthy.” This great article by Marquisele Mercedes also talks about how true food justice is not about what one person or organization believes that marginalized communities should be eating, it’s about supporting the community’s autonomy and control over their food. It’s about supporting people to be less stressed, well fed and nourished, however that may it look like.

On a side note, I found it telling how there is so much focus on trying to get poor working class people to eat more vegetables or eat less processed food. And you know, this idea that that’s going to be some kind of remedy for racial capitalism and state violence. Of course there’s nothing wrong with building a community garden but I encourage us to think critically about why we as a culture are so obsessed with food and exercise as the ultimate you know remedy when we know that there are more important issues that we need to address. Also I think there’s something to be said about the way that and this is gonna be an unpopular opinion maybe, with some people but… This kind of hatred and disgust of fast food and the way that I see sometimes in leftist spaces fast food being singled out as this really abomination disgusting abomination that nobody should be eating, but I think it’s important to think about “why do we think that and why are we singling out McDonald’s” when you know Whole Foods or the United Fruit Company or Sabra hummus are like active participants or causers of gentrification? Or the United Fruit Company literally supported the US military installing right wing military coups and Central America and the Caribbean or, you know, Sabra hummus is profiting off of the occupation of Palestine. And why do we single out fast food or food corporations that we see as unhealthy when there’s some very pervasive, racist, fat phobic and classist stereotypes about who is presumed to eat fast food. Let’s really think about when we think about people who eat fast food, who do we who are we thinking of? And why are we singling out fast food and that’s not necessarily accurate but it’s a very it’s a very unfortunately pervasive cultural trope about who is presumed to eat fast food.

I guess other areas of fatphobia that I see in leftist spaces in anarchist spaces… I feel like I hear it more from Marxist-Leninists with this argument that we need to get the proletariat fit and healthy so they can fight Nazis that makes me pretty angry because that’s just literally eugenics and diet culture disguised as a poor interpretation of anti fascism. You can kill Nazis on a moped! You know? There have been a lot of really kick ass fat and disabled anti fascists who are literally doing that work. I guess on the maybe on the more anarchist side I guess I see about phobia kind of coming up sometimes in lifestyle politics and this idea about in order to be a devoted anarchists, we need to be vegan, and we need to be dumpster diving and living in a squat. And I think we need to really kind of abandon those lifestyle politics. Um, you know, there’s nothing wrong with being vegan or dumpster diving, but it doesn’t make someone more of a comrade if they’re not if they don’t want to do that. And just like our politics are not defined by the food we eat or by, you know, why do we choose to live in a decaying squat?

TFSR: Yeah, thank you so much for talking about fast food and exercise. I definitely see that meme and anti fascist spaces that really fetishize this exercise the like “a fascist worked out today, did you?” or something like that. And the topic of veganism is also really interesting. There’s definitely a lot to be said about it. I think I myself have definitely noticed not all leftist vegans that I’ve come across have exhibited this tendency but sometimes I see people doing veganism in order to… And I don’t want to use judgy language and I might cut this out so like between you and me… To maybe mask some very troubled relationship with food itself.

And using politics to bury that or whatever. I mean, using politics to also bury classism and fat phobic tendencies as well. Be vegan, that’s fine, but do so for reasons that aren’t contributing to the oppression of people around you.

Autumn: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for saying that I agree with that 100% and I guess I just have trouble. I have no problem with people being vegan, if you want to be vegan, go for it. And that’s completely your prerogative. But I think just have trouble with this any kind of ideology that attaches moral values, the foods that we eat, and I think that there are and this is maybe it’s a longer conversation… But I think that there are, important things to be said about a decolonial or in or an indigenous worldview developing a more symbiotic relationship with animals and nature as opposed to this late very exploitative worldview coming from capitalism and colonialism. But I just have a lot of issues when people try to integrate speciesism into an intersectionality framework and claim that veganism is somehow anti-oppressive.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, Capitalist Veganism is just as oppressive to humans and to the earth as other things. I don’t know, there was, you know, all of this analysis about factory farming, which factory farming is traumatic, right? A lot of people are super traumatized by it. On the other hand, I’m not gonna tell somebody that they can’t eat some things they need to eat.

Autumn: Absolutely. And again, factory farming is horrific, it should be abolished with a question “Is the issue meat or animal product consumption, or is it capitalism and colonialism?”

TFSR: Totally. Yeah. And I think that the problematic common denominator is definitely capitalism and colonialism. I’m wondering your thoughts on how we as a scene, together could bring fat liberation into radical and anarchist spaces and thought, love to hear your thoughts on that.

Autumn: Yeah, I really appreciate that question. I think it kind of starts with naming and identifying fat liberation as a revolutionary struggle and actually talking about it and engaging with it. You know, thin people especially you to engage with this. I made a graphic that will soon be a zine, which I’m super excited for it to be a zine. But it should be on my friend’s Instagram, and I can send a link to that. It’s about making in-person militant actions with a diversity of tactics accessible for fat and disabled comrades. And I think sometimes it’s just a matter of whether it’s a direct action or a meeting, or community space, really asking the question of “Can we all go and everybody fit in this image space, literally?” I have been in a lot of spaces where I’m very uncomfortable because the chairs are not made for fat people or, you know, I feel like I’m the only fat person there, or the door is not wide enough. And I think that’s also really kind of hand in hand with Disability Justice and thinking about how accessibility and Disability Justice is a framework that we constantly need to be operating within. I think also, you know, it’s important to call out or confront fatphobia when we see it, whether that’s in the broader world, or whether that’s with our revolutionary or organizing circles. I think it’s really important to share and amplify the work of revolutionary fat liberation activists. So the names that I mentioned before are Da’Shaun L. Harrison, Marquisele Mercedes, Hunter Shackleford, Dr. Sabrina Springs, Jervae. Other folks who are doing really incredible work are Caleb Luna. I think that both her instagram and twitter is chair breaker. And then Sonalee Rashatwar who’s @TheFatSexTherapist on Instagram, who have some really incredible content. So I just encourage everybody to just go follow these people. Again, if you have financial resources, consider joining their Patreon, consider, you know, donating to them financially. You know, and I think beyond that, like it’s really important to reach out in fight for activists to be part of your movement and be in coalition with you. And I get excited when I hear other leftists just leaving fatphobia but I think I shouldn’t have to feel that way. Because fat liberation should be the norm.

You know, I think also again, kind of like rejecting the moralization of food and just understanding how oftentimes our hatred of fats of fast food is very in meshed with fatphobia and anti-Blackness like classism and capitalism. It just because there are a lot of like really pervasive, fat phobic, racist and classist cultural stereotypes around who eats or is presumed to eat fast food or processed food and no matter how much we try to masquerade our hatred of fast food or processed food as anti capitalist or as condemning the corporations that produce the food like that’s… No matter how much we try to mask read up, it’s still rooted in this fat phobic idea of that subject and food is better than other foods, in a post revolutionary world people will still have the options to eat hamburgers and fried foods if they want to and that’s okay. You know, I think also just, trying to hide hatred and disgust for fast food behind anger at the corporations and the exploitation of workers that doesn’t actually help fast food workers unionize it, or build power and organize. I’m a former fast food worker, and I can really attest to how that kind of attitude of being disgusted by so fast food workers.

TFSR: And I’m also a former fast food worker and definitely share that you mentioned, fat activists and fat activism, would you speak about the Fat Rose collective and how it came to be formed?

Autumn: Yes, totally. So I believe Fat Rose was formed in the summer of 2019 by fat and disabled activists who organized around the abolish ice movement to close the concentration camps. And they were specifically identifying that fat and disabled people have a specific seek in abolition because, again, our experiences are in no way the same of those incarcerated in presents or in ice detention. We do know what it’s like to be treated as disposable. And so my understanding is that fat rose really recognizes the radical potential of fat people to organize, as well as aiming to create spaces where fat people can organize without without experiencing fat phobia from other organizers. It’s not really my story to tell, but I know that there are folks in Fat Rose who have specifically sought out fat specific organizing spaces because of some really horrendous experiences with fat phobia and other lefty or progressive spaces. Fat rooms organized a really beautiful action in San Francisco at the ICE headquarters, where they demanded the abolition of ICE and the closure of the concentration camps. Caleb Luna, who I mentioned before, he was a scholar activist around for liberation read a really beautiful speech there. And this was the first time that I’d really seen anything to that magnitude that was explicitly organized from a Disability Justice and fat liberation focal point. Additionally, during the ongoing COVID pandemic Fat Rose has organized the no body is disposable coalition, which demands an end to eugenicist COVID triage policies in ICU where fat people, disabled people, elderly people, people who are HIV positive, and people who are living with other illnesses are denied life saving COVID treatment or taking off ventilator treatment. And there’s literally procedures for hospitals to take people off ventilator treatment, if the you know, fall into one of these categories. Fat Rose has been doing a lot of really cool work to organize against that. Since then, Fat Rose has put on a lot of really rad events. I know they recently did a series called busting out about fat liberation and prison abolition and transformative justice. I believe their Instagram is @FatLibInc, and their Facebook it should be fat rose. So I encourage you know also listeners to check them out on social media and follow them on social media.

TFSR: Totally, they have a really beautiful website, that’s just FatRose.Org where you can see a lot of you can see how to get involved. You can see essays that they have written you can see more about busting out. I’m looking at it right now. They have a cookbook. They have all this beautiful, beautiful material on their website. So I encourage people if they’re curious to go check, check it out.

Autumn: Thank you for showing off the website. Yeah. It’s really wonderful organization.

TFSR: Totally. You touched on this, like in previous answers, but I’m curious specifically, if you have more words on how might you encourage thin white people to show up for their fat comrades, friends and family?

Autumn: So I think you know, if you can’t just be fat people showing up for fat liberation. You know, as previously mentioned, I think it’s really important think about how you can name and show up for fat liberation struggles. Amplify the work of Fat Rose, again, if you have financial resources. Support or amplify the work of fat Black and brown activists, you know, join their Patreons, support them financially. Also, if you’re a thin white person who has a lot of social capital and visibility. Think about how you can reject the pedestal that you’re placed on and how you can pass this info onto others, especially other organizers. On a personal level, kind of interrogate who your friends or even lovers with, how you treat people in your lives, are your spaces accessible for fat people. You know, I think also it’s important to kind of unpacked desirability politics and especially unpack the idea that fatness is inherently unattractive. And I really just want to say that that’s not just about dating preferences, nobody is forcing you to date or sleep with fat people. But Caleb Luna, again, really brilliant proud scholar activist, recently wrote on their Instagram about how desirability politics affects them, way beyond just eating. It’s about how they’re able to access resources, like health care, and professional opportunities. And beyond that, I think in our radical and revolutionary movements, it’s really important to, again, make sure that we’re also talking about fat liberation and we’re naming and organizing around the intersections of fatphobia and racial capitalism or fat phobia and colonialism. So it’s about both like listening you know, doing some self reflection and introspection, as well as, materially showing up.

TFSR: Yeah, and if people are looking to start a reading or listening group, your syllabus really has just so much information in it. It’s broken down into categories, like there’s a category on anti fatness and anti blackness there’s a category on sis hetero patriarchy it’s really really really well organized and has a lot of reading resources if if reading is something that feels good to folks. How can people see this document? is it available for public use?

Autumn: Yes, thank you for asking it is available for public use. It’s available at https://tinyurl.com/FatLiberation if there are show notes you can put the link to that in the in the show notes but um that’s it available tiny URL please share it share it widely amplify it.

TFSR: There’s so much there. I really got a lot out of looking at this document and just going on these tangents and going down rabbit holes, and it’s a really, really, really well, well done document. Thank you so much for doing it.

Autumn: Well, thank you so much. And yeah, thank you so much for engaging with it. I also I do recognize that reading a long document is accessible for for everyone. If there are people who feel better listening to podcasts, there’s a really great one that I mentioned before whole Food Psych. There’s also following people on Instagram, like following @TheFatSexTherapist.

Autumn: Oh my gosh, there’s another podcast that the name of it is escaping me. But her name is Aubrey Gordon, her Instagram is @YourFatFriend, I think she has a link to the podcasts, but it talks especially about fatphobia and wellness culture and unpacking what we’ve been taught to think about wellness culture. So I just want to say that there are options that don’t necessarily like involve reading and other free resources. Jervae has also created a bunch of YouTube and TickTock videos and they’re a really incredible fat Black philosopher and artist, so they have a lot of also great resources that aren’t necessarily long documents.

TFSR: That’s awesome. And I’ll link those all of those that you mentioned in the show notes. How can people support you and your work and you’ve shouted out a lot of other folks how people can support them but how can people support you if you would like that?

Autumn: Yeah, thanks for asking. Um, I think so. I’m not on social media personally but I think just keep sharing the fat liberation syllabus, keep circulating it especially donate and amplify the works of, especially, fat Black and brown activists. You can donate to Fat Rose. One of my close friends has a Instagram and Twitter that is like I think it’s both @AbolishTheUSA on both Instagram and Twitter and they were they were the person who suggested I write the syllabus and on their platform that was where the syllabus was originally circulated from. So if anyone I guess wants to email me or get in touch with me specifically, maybe you could contact now at @AbolishTheUSA and say that you have a message for me.

TFSR: Autumn, those were all the questions that I had. Thank you so much for your time and having this conversation with me. I really appreciate your energy and the time that you spent in hashing all this stuff out. Is there anything that we missed in this interview that you want to give voice to or something that you’d like to say in closing?

Autumn: I think we got everything but I just want to thank you so much, again, for having me. And this has been just such a incredible experience. And I’m always super grateful to the Final Straw Radio and just you all are doing such amazing work and I’m really honored to be part of it.

TFSR: Thank you so much. The feeling is super mutual. I’m really happy to have gotten to meet you a little bit and it was really lovely to get to share some digital space with you for a little while and talk about this thing thatI really hope that people will take back into their spaces and like do some thinking and do some reading and stuff if they need to do that. So thank you so much.

Autumn: Yah! Oh my gosh. Thank you.

“For Trans Liberation, Capitalism Must Be Abolished”

“For Trans Liberation, Capitalism Must Be Abolished”

"Transgender Marxism" book cover with a trans flag color scheme of pink, white and blue and a transgender symbol mixing male & female iconography
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This week we’re sharing a chat that Scott Branson had about Transgender Marxism (2021, Pluto Press) with Jules Gleeson (co-Editor, Contributor) and M.E. O’Brien (contributor). Transgender Marxism brings together Transgender Studies and Marxist theory, exploring Transgender lives and movements and surviving as Trans under Capitalism. In the end, the claim of the book is that for Trans Liberation, Capitalism must be abolished. In this interview we talk about the: collective, material process of transition; trans visibility, assimilation and liberation; the history of Gay Liberation and Trans movements; being Trans in the workplace; care work and family abolition; and Trans solidarities against Capitalism and the State.

  • Jules Joanne Gleeson is a writer, comedian and historian. She has published essays in outlets including Viewpoint Magazine, Invert Journal and VICE, and performed internationally at a wide range of communist and queer cultural events. She can be found on Twitter at @SocialRepro and Patreon (QueerCom). Check out her awesome interview with Judith Butler that the GuardianUK censored due to critiques of TERFs, found in full at IllWill.Com.
  • M.E. O’Brien writes at the intersection of communist theory, trans liberation, LGBTQ social movement studies and feminism. Michelle is a co-editor of Pinko, and her writing has appeared in Social Movement Studies, Work, Employment & Society, Commune, Homintern, Endnotes and Invert. Found on Twitter at @GenderHorizon & on Patreon (MEOBrien).

Update on Sean Swain

This week, instead of words from anarchist prisoner, Sean Swain, I’d just like to share the info that Sean has been transferred back to Ohio, his state of capture, from Virginia where he was held at a Medium security facility for the last 2.5 years. It’s assumed that he’s back at the Supermax, OSP Youngstown for 2 weeks of quarantine and determination of status to decide what prison he will go to inside Ohio from there. When he was leaving Ohio for Virginia, he was close to graduating to a lower security, medium level, than where he was held and has not had any serious breeches of conduct since his transfer, so hopefully he’ll be heading to an easier and more comfortable facility.

For the moment you can write him at his old address where I’m sure he’d love some kind words or some books, posted in our shownotes and at SeanSwain.org:

Sean Swain #A243205
OSP Youngstown
878 Coitsville-Hubbard Rd
Youngstown, OH 44505

You can donate to his legal case to challenge his denied parole by sending money via cashapp to $Swainiac1969 and you can follow @Swainiac1969 for info on the upcomnig online raffle to help fundraise for Sean’s legal fees. To donate items for raffle, also contact the instagram mentioned above and keep an eye out for more info. As an update to prior mentions of Swainiac-fest, it was a success but is only a step on the way to covering his legal fees to get him the best legal defense possible. And remember, you can fundraise toward the $12,500 needed by the lawyer on your own or in community and if you want to send it to the TFSR venmo or paypal or a money order made out to us via our PO Box, feel free to do so and make sure you note Sean’s defense in the comment.

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Featured Tracks:

  • Gemini (instrumental) by Princess Nokia from Everything Is Beautiful

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Transcription

TFSR: This is The Final Straw Radio and we’re excited get to talk to an editor and a contributor to this new really, exciting volume Transgender Marxism which is published by Pluto Press. I wanted to first ask you to introduce yourself with your names, pronouns, any affiliation that you would like the listeners to know about.

Jules Gleeson: Hi. I’m Jules Gleeson, and I am one of the co-editors of Transgender Marxism, the new collection we’re here to chat about. My pronouns are she and I am only very loosely affiliated to things at the moment. I’m very happy to be joining you today.

Michelle O’Brien: Hello, my name is Michelle O’Brien and I am a contributor to the volume chapter on trans work and experiences of trans people in employment, both formal and informal. That chapter I wrote draws heavily from the New York City Trans Oral History Project that I worked with for some years. I write communist theory, teach Queer Studies at Gallatin, and work as a psychoanalyst. And my pronouns are she and her.

TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. I’m really excited, I did a deep reading of the book, it was really helped me think through my own positionality in the world. So I’m excited to dive into a lot of the ideas in there. Starting off, right away, one thing that keeps coming up in the book throughout different contributors’ pieces is the question of how transness might be useful for Capital. And this is being posed after this “transgender tipping point” where there’s more visibility, specifically, I think, for trans women and more understanding of transness, I guess, in mainstream worlds, although that might be questionable. So to start the discussion, what do you think are relative or limited, or positive gains made by trans people as a result of this increase in visibility?

JG: Yeah, I’m happy to pick up on that. So for those of you listening at home, who are not familiar with the “transgender tipping point,” was a phase around, I suppose, 2014 to 2015. Most notably, this famous Time’s cover of Laverne Cox, the star of Orange Is the New Black appearing on Time. And the transgender tipping point is pretty loosely this moment when suddenly there was an increase, a surge of popular familiarity, let’s say, with transgender culture and transgender experiences. After which – to me, the most obvious difference is – trans people seem to become a lot more numerous, which is measurable in everything from people applying to become patients of gender identity clinics to transgender-specific communities seeming to swell in size, and there are all kinds of ways we can talk about the measurement. But, clearly at this point somewhere around 2013 to 2015, things transformed pretty rapidly and seemingly permanently towards what had been a cluster of different subcultural circles, becoming something more like a mass culture. That’s my own reading. I think both myself and Michelle, this wasn’t our point of departure into transgender circles or transgender discussions, however, clearly the transgender question, I suppose, transformed thereafter. And the work of this collection is very much following on in the wake of that, and in the confusion that follows and is continuing to follow on from that.

MO: So I’ll say a bit. In the far queer and trans left in New York City, there’s a pretty well-developed critique of the trans tipping point that centers around a number of points. One is this discrepancy between popular media attention on trans people and the actual material conditions, social service infrastructure, material well-being, violence against trans people. And so there’s certainly a disjunction between the two and where there might be a lot of progress made in the symbolic popular media realm, that only occasionally corresponds to any material progress made in the lives of working-class people. And even when we’re talking about sort of material progress, I think there’s been a lot of good thinking around how, for example, anti-discrimination legislation that we recently won in New York City, a few years ago, doesn’t actually protect people very effectively against being highly marginalized in the employment market because of the dynamics of “at will” employment and the sort of broader forces of oppression and racism in society. And so we can recognize the limits of both liberal equality and liberal celebration, liberal recognition. And I think people are very right to point out and call attention to the trans liberation, trans well-being, trans life has to be something more than getting on magazine covers and having famous people mention the existence of trans people.

I will also say that I think that the increased visibility has had dramatic and substantial benefits. And one of the stark ones Jules mentioned is the increase in the numbers of trans people, that part of the dynamics of trans life is at any given time, there are probably a lot of people out there who have internally and privately a trans experience that they are not yet able to act on in the world, to come out, to transition, to find other trans people, to talk about their experience. In my work as an analyst, I certainly encounter a lot of people in this situation. And the level of increased visibility just has dramatic implications of enabling a lot more people to find each other and to build a life together in ways that I think are very powerful. And then the other is, I think there actually has been a dramatic and substantial increase in trans organizing and trans movement-building that’s happened concurrently and that has taken Black trans leadership and communities very seriously in some ways. I think the Black Lives Matter Movement is one of the most substantially trans-inclusive political struggles I’ve ever seen, more inclusive than, I would say, most LGBT rights organizations and organizing. And I think that Black Lives Matter has been very powerful in moving money, attention, and support to Black trans-led movements, and helped them a lot in gaining political grounds in a variety of ways: whether that means money or specific policy reforms, or much broader level of attention and infrastructure. Which, obviously, we have quite a long ways to go, but we’re out in the streets and then struggle together and the tipping point has been a dimension of this political process unfolding that has dangers, that has backlash, a backlash that has, in the words of one anthology, a trapdoor, but also has some really quite powerful opportunities in advances.

TFSR: Yeah, thanks for mapping that out. First, that historical moment that we’re in the wake of and then the complexities of visibility, how that can bring good things and also cause some harm. I also think it’s really important, as you noted, to talk about the Black trans leadership we see in movements – that’s a different kind of visibility than the media or TV show kind of visibility the tipping point refers to.

There’s one thing that, Jules, you and your co-editor Elle O’Rourke write in the introduction, “if trans life can’t be eradicated, it can be normalized and disciplined.” So I’m interested in this… I don’t know if you have more to say about this kind of double-edged sword where there are these gains, but there’s also maybe a risk of what we saw with gay liberation becoming a movement for marriage equality. I wondered what either or both of you had to say about this as a potential moment of capture by capital, by the state? Can we be distracted in the way that transness can be stylized and then normalized, and then sold back to us? Or is there also hope for the resistance to that capture?

JG: Yeah, I’m happy to talk about this and the introduction. Sadly, Elle couldn’t join us today, but this was the introduction that we cowrote together. I suppose just to say one more word on Black Lives Matter does: what the introduction is trying to capture is at once we have these remarkable and unpredictable breakthroughs, breakthroughs that sometimes are quite hard to keep track of and last summer, when Black Lives Matter was in full swing, was definitely one of these cases. This is one of the moments we touch upon, the cleaning-of-the-house moment that bought around the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn. And this is the optimistic aspect of it: all of these insurgent, intersectional connections, which are just being put into motion rather than just theorized, I think, like Michelle was saying, we’re just getting out onto the streets some of the time. But the other aspect is there needs to also be a realistic assessment of what’s standing in our way. And what you’re flagging up here as a section where we talk about the family, about private households. And this is, I think, still an intractable and still probably – I don’t know if it’s the majority of the harm that trans people encounter – but definitely any group of trans people you meet, if you talk to them about their relationships with those parents, extended families, even the friendship circles they’ve grown up with, I think maybe a minority will have had fortunate or blessed experiences, if you know what I mean.

So this is this passage which you’re flagging up that the repression and disciplining, and to drawback to what Michelle was just saying, it’s the privatization of transgender experiences where many people are allowed to furtively and secretly live out the lives they want to live, but then among the people maybe who raised them, the people who they grew up around, they have to don another face, don another attire. I think that’s something which there’s no reason to believe that is going to transform anytime soon. Maybe Michelle would want to say some more about it. Specifically, what we’re trying to do in this introduction is address the family, address private life as part of political life, which is a familiar concern for anyone, especially anyone who’s read feminist history. But we use a particular framework drawn from Angela Mitropoulos, who writes about Oikonomia / Economia, the binding and normative rules that appear in these private households. And that’s one way which we’re trying to approach this broader question, which is then returned to, in many different ways, throughout the rest of the collection. There’s basically this question of how can it be that exactly what’s supposed to be apolitical or de-political safe haven from political and capitalism – the household, our upbringings, our private lives – how can it be that those places are what any trans politics has to work through before it even exists? Before we can even take to the streets openly? That’s what this introduction is trying to cut up. I’m sure Michelle has some stuff to say as well.

MO: In the introduction, Jules’ reference substantively engages this question of the family. And you have another question, Scott, around thinking about family and family abolition. Family abolition is a very powerful way of trying to think through these pieces alongside each other, both thinking about the overall circuits of labor markets and capitalist society that the family plays a really integral role in. And then thinking about how, nested within that, the violence and tyranny and brutality that trans people face within so many structures of family. And part of the dynamics of the privacy of the family, is that it’s very difficult to make inroads in there. People are able to constitute a level of family or a form of family that’s protected against a certain kind of outside scrutiny, attention, a certain space of political struggle, and that a lot of our political movements are oriented to the state, perhaps to employers, the civil society, and it becomes much more difficult to think in political terms about what it takes to transform families. Like some of the dynamics of the workplace or some of the dynamics of the state, I think this is a real limit for contemporary social movements, that we are sort of trying to figure out how to politicize and transform these spaces that are that have deep structural dynamics in the reproduction of collective life. And it’s part of what leads a lot of trans people to be interested in science-fiction, in revolutionary politics in a more dramatic sense, in thinking about what could it mean to actually come up against and move beyond these limits.

TFSR: The experience of being trans within this bourgeois ideal of a white family that is still upheld, even though it contradicts the reality of what people are experiencing… Actually, there’s one way that you put it in the introduction, talking about how the families serves, not only in a moral sense, that is the way that is often talked about, but also in an economic sense as the project of neoliberal debt imperialism. Like allowing the state to continue to throw people into dispensable situations and somehow maintain itself while doing less and less. My question is about how this historical point we’re in, where there’s like more and more trans people, there’s still this relic of the family, but the family is not doing what it’s supposed to be doing. How does transness come in as a way to disrupt that? How can we use that increased visibility, the increased trans struggle to continue to work against that stranglehold of the family, not simply morally but also economically, politically?

JG: That’s a great question. In terms of us addressing the bourgeois family, obviously, the abolition of the bourgeois family is something that is not specific to radical trans theory or anything like that. It also appears in the Communist Manifesto, obviously, and this was something which various figures in the First International were committed to and published about in the writing in various ways. What’s being talked about at this point is the bourgeois family as in this type of household which brings up the new generation, but also transfers wealth and assets and fixed capital from one generation to the next one. So when the introduction is talking about this contemporary phase, very much what we’re drawing from is these extensive decades of work, now, that’s been done looking at the New Right where through the political framework, the New Right had envisioned was not only about the strong state but also about strong families. And this is still very much evident today. If you tune into Tucker Carlson, he’s not only talking about how the police need to be given powers to put down Black Lives Matter, last time I tuned in, he’s also complaining about how today your kid’s probably a stoner cause weed is legal, so your kid’s got bloodshot eyes over the dinner table and stuff like that. This is still a part of the Right Wing imaginary, part of the Right Wing horizon is that families need to be strengthened up and there needs to be more authority against generations and pure disruption of that. One of the things he said, though obviously, Marx didn’t really talk about white families, and I suppose this is saying which more came on to the abolitionist horizon from work like Hortense Spillers’ black feminist critique which is identifying how, specifically in the American context, what’s being transferred across generations for Black families through much of US history is not wealth and not fixed assets, but exactly legal dispossession. Being un-personed and so on is exactly what’s being transferred from one generation to the next. I’ve run out of things to say at this point. But the reason I suppose that this is the family abolitionist politics has been of relevance to me and several other people in the collection, is exactly because there is this moment where you feel like a lot of the existing left has strayed from the First International in ways which I think are a shame and ways which we consider to reunite with these questions of gender and household oppression quite easily. That’s my own project.

MO: I’m writing a book on family abolition for Pluto at the moment, and it’s in full swing, as Jules and other people know. I have just an enormous amount to say about all of this. I don’t want to take up our podcast time talking about it too much at length, but a few points… One is, in the introduction, Jules referenced the family as the site of privatized social reproduction. It’s very helpful to think about the family not just in terms of a sort of normative ideal that’s imposed through policy, that’s aspired to by people, an ideological form that exists on the right and in culturally conservative sections of the left, but also the family just concretely: who do you live with? Who do you share whatever limited resources you have available? If you’re not able to work, who are you dependent on that you actually know? Who do you cook for? Who cooks for you? These questions are really concrete social reproduction that can be done entirely in the market to some extent, could hypothetically be done in various historical times and for specific strata through a welfare structure or a state structure, but overwhelmingly are done through forming relationships of care, dependency, coercion, intimacy with specific people in our lives, and that the vast majority of children are raised in this kind of structure. People have these privatized households, and there are all sorts of political implications for that. One of those political implications is that it’s a total growing up as a queer trans youth, as a gender nonconforming child, if you are unlucky enough to end up in an extremely unsupportive household, things are bad, and there are very few opportunities for collective intervention in how to change that. It’s insulated from a certain kind of struggle and collective transformation, which is a tremendous problem for liberatory movements, and how we think about them.

In terms of race and white supremacy, Jules mentioned Hortense Spillers, I’ve been very inspired by the work of Tiffany Lethabo King, who rereads Hortense Spillers and Afro-pessimism and thinks about race and gender in terms of family abolitionism. And I think there’s a way of reading about the history of enslavement and the history of the pathologization of Black families in the United States in terms of an imposition of a white norm that demonizes and pathologizes the certain kinds of kinship structures coupled to an actual apparatus of state violence, of economic violence, of historically slavery…. really fragmenting kin relationships. And that there is a dynamic dialectic in the history of anti-racist, anti-capitalist struggle in the United States, between really seeing a white bourgeois family norm as something to aspire to and pursue versus thinking that we could do something very different and better. What would it mean to actually care for each other? And that there’s a wonderful, long legacy of people trying to form a chosen family, trying to depend on extended family, trying to depend on neighborhood and community, and that these are both inspiring and to be celebrated and defended, but also run into all these contradictions that have to do with what it means to try to constitute a household in the capitalist society. And uneven access to work, to resources, to public space, and the way it structures power dynamics internally. And we can point to the bourgeois white family as an extreme or particularly horrific example of that, or the Christian fundamentalist family. But that even in chosen family structures, the broader dynamics of trying to survive and reproduce ourselves in a capitalist society are going to torque those relationships, to distort those relationships and make it very difficult to figure out how to treat each other well. Anytime we are dependent on people, there’s an element, a dynamic of coercion that becomes a part of that, that we have to sort through and we have to sort it through politically and collectively in a way that the family as a structure ends up opposing.

TFSR: Thanks for that. And I’m also very excited to read the work on family abolition because I’m also super interested in that. Maybe we can talk about that when it comes out. Going back to Spillers, because both of you mentioned that at the end of Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe, Spillers says that the violent experience of women in chattel slavery made sort of ungendered is how she ends up talking about it, and she points to it as a place for rethinking and a resistant understanding and reframing of feminism from that experience. Maybe this is what you were referring to, is the dialectic with changing the impact of the state and economic violence that creates the situation of oppression into a place where you can start framing liberation. And I see that also that gets paralleled in the 60s-70s, gay liberation movement and feminism where the places that are excluded and marginalized are also places to form a resistance. And I wonder, to what extent do you think the trans experience within these structures is also actually the threat to the social order that the right-wing would claim it to be? I guess this could get back into that question of capture because it could also be domesticated in a way. But I wonder if you have thoughts on how trans experience could be liberatory in that way.

MO: I’m most attentive to the substantial intersection between transness and poverty. This is particularly true of trans people from working-class and poor backgrounds. It’s particularly true of trans people of color. It’s particularly true of trans women. Employment discrimination is quite widespread, is quite prevalent. And one of the things I tried to do in my piece is thinking about how coming out as trans, how transitioning, if you’re not able to be very stealth and very closeted and very lucky in pulling that off – and for lots of trans people being stealth is not a realistic goal – that’s going to have a huge impact on your employment trajectory, a huge impact on how you’re able to reproduce your class position, a huge impact on your economic chances. And that that’s true across the board. So you see a downward shift in class position for lots and lots of trans people. And then there’s a huge host of trans people from poor and working-class backgrounds for whom that shift pushes you entirely out of formal employment. Getting access to formal wage labor is extremely difficult. And so you see lots and lots of trans people, trans women, particularly working-class trans women and trans women of color, but it’s actually quite a widespread experience for trans women to spend extended periods of time engaging in sex work of various sorts, engaging in criminalized economies, in hustles. And then you see these little pockets of employment niches where trans people are able to reproduce themselves with some visibility, and that is most closely tied to the world of sex work and criminalized economies. I’d put HIV services, a lot of ex-sex workers or current sex workers end up doing HIV prevention services, and trans social services tied up with the world of HIV services. So, you have all these weird dynamics in fundraising and public health administration and biopolitical surveillance and criminalization tied up with this nonprofit nexus that people might use as a way of exiting out of sex work into like a lower risk, but also much lower-paying job, often with some stability. And in the Trans Oral History Project, they interviewed several former sex workers working in HIV services now and the dynamic of that trajectory.

But you have a few other pockets and those are growing. I’m certainly attentive to social work, there’s a presence of trans women in tech. As changes open up, the spaces of employment expand, but by and large, the experience of trans life is one of significant economic precarity. And so long as that’s true, and there’s a lot of reasons to think it could be mostly true for a long time to come, that has a dramatic impact on people’s politics. Being highly economically marginalized in a situation of a disappearing welfare state, of hostility and lack of support from your families of origin, of very little safety net, puts you in a position where you are relying on friends, on your own ability to engage in criminalized hustles, and makes it very clear that the world is a nightmare that needs to be overcome and destroyed. That’s not a universal response by any means. But the economic experience of economic precarity helps me make sense of why so many trans people end up in political struggles, in organizing, end up with anti-capitalist politics of a wide variety, and helps me make sense of under what hypothetical future conditions are trans people likely to be on the left or to be far-left. The circumstances of our political inclusion – obviously, a stratum of trans people could be politically included quite quickly – but really it depends on the question of employment and economic stability.

JG: There’s a few different chapters of the book that deal with this question of work, I suppose, as you’d expect from a Marxist collection. I feel like Michelle and Kate Doyle Griffiths’ piece, both addressing this question of how trans people managed to exist as workers. I think, as Michelle was alluding to, it’s also that any understanding of trans work has to understand the experience of being out of work long-term and unemployment relying on state resources or perhaps family and friend networks and so on. There’s also Zoe Belinsky’s essay, which is called “Transgender and Disabled Bodies – Between Pain and the Imaginary” and in another way, Anja Flower’s “Cosmos Against Nature in the Class Struggle of Proletarian Trans Women”, which is more using this framework of direct market mediation and the indirect in terms of the reproductive labor. So there’s a bunch of different perspectives addressing this question of both what it means to exist and make it in a workplace as a trans person and also the very commonplace realities that a lot of the time, that’s not really where we end up. Where we end up as more in the industrial reserve army of labor. You’re proletarians insofar as you’re stripped from the means of production, but not proletarians, insofar as you actually have a source of exploited toil, which you’re reliably committed to. Like Michelle, I definitely consider us spending so much time in the underbelly of capital and its reproduction a huge part of why it’s such a commonplace to find communist trans people, or leftist, anti-capitalist, whatever you want to call it.

TSFR: Or even anarchist trans people, which is the enclave I inhabit.

I like the narrative that Michelle poses away that a trans person could become politicized in a particular way. One of the things that the book in multiple essays grapples with is the extent of trying to survive under these conditions in a way that’s at least somewhat bearable versus having even the energy or the ability to fight the conditions that create that form of deathly oppression. A lot of the essays do a really good job of trying to talk about how we can create situations to survive and then also think about where we can fight against them. One of the most important things for me reading this whole book and reading everyone’s pieces is how it intervenes within the discussion of social reproduction and thinking about trans life through care work. This is something we keep mentioning, but I want to dive more directly into that. If either of you wanted to talk a little bit about how you think the transgender Marxism wreath frames social reproduction because there’s a feminist version of that, and I think that you’re building on that in here, but doing something different with specific trans experience. And specifically also talking about the transition through this lens. Maybe we can just start with understanding what a trans analysis of social reproduction might be.

JG: Yeah, that’s an exciting question, because social reproduction comes up in this collection in a bunch of different ways. Social reproduction appears on several different registers across the course of this collection. The first one is in the very first essay by Noah Zazanis, which is called “Social Reproduction and Social Cognition”, brings that Marxist feminist framework into dialogue with some more mainstream psych kind of approaches to how people develop their identities from a very young age. I guess the different approaches taken in this collection speak to the pretty broad set of approaches that Marxist feminism has increasingly come to deploy. And it’s worth mentioning that social reproduction is not actually a framework that every Marxist theorist or even every Marxist feminist is really committed to. So it’s not exclusively an SRT collection. However, I suppose that the reason which I first came to this framework of social reproduction that is focusing on workforces, what come to the workforces in the first place, how people come to the laborers and sustain themselves as laborers… The point at which I came to this, I suppose was exactly in the wake, as I was saying before, of the tipping point, and as part of my frustration that so few people really were providing any explanation as to why this was happening. And I actually found it to be very prevalent on the right, the right-wing accounts of these things were just depicted as some mysterious degeneration, or perhaps an ideological mania. But I also was finding that a lot of social theorists didn’t really seem to provide any satisfying or even helpful attempts at working out what was going on.

So social reproduction was the thing which I personally was pretty committed to around 2016. And I would say a lot of the collection is taking that meaning of the time and that avenue of inquiry, which is specifically looking at communities and subcultures, if you will, but I would rather say these reproductive circles, in whatever form they take, which provide people collectively with the means of making themselves transgender. Which has been discussed, primarily means surviving as a transgender proletarian, although it’s not the only variation, as we all know. That’s the primary meaning which I’ve been interested in and invested in. But as I say, this isn’t a settled question. And this is an ongoing discussion within Marxist feminist theory, what are the best terms to use and the best frameworks and understanding. I’m happy to say a lot more about that. Probably both myself and Michelle could talk all day about this one.

MO: I would distinguish three registers that I think of social reproduction as having a really huge impact on trans life. And I think Jules to some extent referenced each of these. One is thinking about the mutual aid networks, communities of support, that when somebody thinks they might be trans or gender questioning or knows with confidence that they are trans, they might go out and seek connections with other people to be able to help them think through both their gender identity and way of thinking about themselves, the concrete steps around transition. And this is I think, partially why we’ve seen just a giant increase in the numbers of trans people coming out with a steadily increasing access to the internet. People on the internet are able to find these communities. And why there are have been particular pockets of trans people for many, many generations, who are demographically numerous in highly specific social settings.

Like when I came out as trans in 2000, shortly after getting out of college, I looked around, I was in a kind of queer punk scene where there were a lot of trans masculine people and very few trans feminine people. And I looked around the country and I found three or four other punk trans feminine, trans women. And then I moved to Philadelphia and met like 300 black trans women my age who were the first trans women of my age I ever met. And it’s because they had this highly developed scene around balls and houses where they really figured out how to enable each other’s transitions. That certainly wasn’t available in the Women’s Studies Department, right? In my much more privileged background on some level, I was really lacking this supportive space and community. And I had various internet-based communities to try to figure out how to do this that have since really flourished and are much bigger. So that’s one meaning of social reproduction.

Another meaning is the violence and tyranny that we might experience in our homes, the dynamics of our family of origin, household as this private space of reproduction. And so social reproduction has been really key to thinking about anti-trans violence.

And then another register of social reproduction is that, depending on how you parse it, many people identify various formal wage labor sectors as being really integral to social reproduction. Nurses, teachers, daycare workers, elder care attendants – all these different people that are reproducing humans capable of participating in the labor market and society. And I think for various reasons, you see a lot of gender-nonconforming people in these sectors. These are feminized sectors, they are sectors that historically have had lots of women and queer people of various genders. I think there are different historical dynamics that have brought a fair number of trans people into working in these realms. And that these are realms of intense labor struggle, currently, and that some of the dynamics of de-industrialization and the shift to a late service economy, that these are not sectors that are easily automated, so that the need for labor isn’t easily reduced. So you really have a growing section, in the Global North, of people working in these labor sectors, and that these labor sectors have a lot of potential for uniting and connecting different sectors, strata of the working class, and bringing people together in different and complex and rich ways as part of their struggle for working conditions.

 

JG: Oh, just one more thing, quickly on the connection, I really appreciated that three-part breakdown from Michelle. I suppose one more thing in the collection, one way it appears is there’s this primarily historical essay by Nat Raha which looks at exactly the kind of movement struggles which brought what we now call social reproduction theory into being and she looks at one of these lesser-known groups, a British collective called Wages Due Lesbians, which was a counterpart of the much better-known Wages For Housework. That was operating in the context of the British New Right. And that looks at some overlaps that she perceives between this group and the much better-known STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) in New York City. That’s another approach that you can find in the collection. There’s at once a range of different social reproduction theory type outlooks, and also people who see social reproduction theory as a thing to talk about other terms.

TFSR: That was already helpful to think about what transgender Marxist perspective on social reproduction COULD look like in different ways. The last point that you made, Michelle, was talking about another possible place for politicization, given that trans people and non-binary people or gender non-conforming people would be working in specific situations for a potential radicalization. That was interesting to me as another reframing of that inherent liberatory perspective that sometimes gets through and around and to me, seems often like a very liberal feeling, just being trans in itself is somehow resistance. But you discuss more explicitly how that actually works through the work that trans people do in the care work that they do for other people.

One thing I might do to follow up. That visibility in the mainstream, the idea of transition often becomes individualized, like there’s a particular internal experience that needs to be brought out through transition. The liberal perspective will get brought into the nuclear family that somehow unchanged by the fact of a transgender child, when there’s a focus on a supportive family, but the thing that the book really brought out in me, a way more explicit to me that I personally experienced through transition is how much of this is done through community and, as you said, Michelle, mutual aid. We see that also in the pandemic, just like with hormones, when there’s a supply chain break, people are sharing hormones, for example. So, I wonder if you wanted to talk more about that actual work of transition, because that’s something that gets brought up a lot in this book, and I thought it was also a major contribution by a lot of the writers in here to think about the process of transition this way, rather than the transgender individual who somehow exists. I can ask more detailed questions, but if you want to, if you have something to jump in right there, I’ll leave it open to you.

MO: This is something that other contributors and other people have thought a lot more about. I said a little bit about it, in terms of thinking about mutual aid support, but I don’t have a lot more to add.

 

LG: In my essay, I guess this is one that tried to address this question. It’s called “How Do Gender Transitions Happen?” I think that simultaneously, you can’t do away with either the personal narrative, the personal process, the very self-directed, individualized labor which people go through, or the community working. But I think it’s interesting that these things appear to be at odds, or they appear as distinctive to each other and yet, from another view, they always unfold at the same time. You’re always drawing from collective resources, or at other times, as Michelle was saying, there’s a lot of parallel development, there’s a lot of different communities which are attempting much the same thing, much the same process of transition in very different contexts and with very different styles. The point which the essay is trying to address is how people will tend to switch between these different registers of approaching transition either as something which is a set of encounters that is continuously happening as you try and negotiate your way through the world or through the community rewriting and renarrativizing. Just the specific stuff which actual circles of transgender people can do together.

 

TFSR: There’s the passage in your introduction that really stuck out to me, that “transition must come to be understood by revolutionaries as a response to its own form of hunger. The longings that drive so many to reforge lives for ourselves that leave us thoroughly proletarianized, or cast out rendered surplus”. I like this statement because I think it leaves behind the gender as a social construction versus essential gender as not even something worth spending a lot of time on at this point, and focuses on the act of transition as politicized, political, and I think it gets articulated also as ethical. But one thing that came up for me reading this is how do we… I guess there’s this personal / political divide. I could see this being dismissed as a lifestylism or self-chosen marginalization. Subcultures often get dismissed, like anarchists or punks. The thing that I really want to pull out of here is the trans desire, and also how that position of surplus in capitalism and the state, which is historically needed for capitalism to function the way it does, but how that can we rethink that place as a set of insurrection?

MO: I’ll just briefly say that I think desire is really an underappreciated category in liberation movements and the far-left. Desire is both far beyond the question of individual choice or individual preference, or how we think about market options that I think in some transphobic, conservative left discourse, there’s this idea of people choosing genders in a free way, like a neoliberal subject chooses consumer items. And that, I think, is a profound trivialization of how deep, how powerful, how transformative, and how uncertain desire is. Desire is very much what sets us in motion, in unfolding processes of personal and collective transformation, desire for survival, desire for dignity, desire for recognition. These desires are not, they’re not trivial things, they are things that are not easily satisfied, they are things that set us on trajectories that we don’t know where we’re going to end up. And that brings us into alignment and into connection with each other. And that’s just a whole realm, a whole dimension of political struggle, that I think trans people, precisely because often most trans people have made a set of personal decisions around changing their gender, that was significantly at odds with major sections of our social world, our families, our jobs, whatever that is, and had some clarity that we had a certain, one could say, truth that we were trying to think through or trying to grapple with, that might not be an essential gender, or a kind of inner gender, but a certain kind of desire in the world. And that opens up some space for thinking about how the desire functions in terms of the entire working class, in terms of the struggle for the abolition of class society, in terms of the desire to destroy and remake the world. We need to spend a lot of time listening to that and thinking much harder about that, and thinking beyond these categories of individual choice versus structural determinants.

JG: So, I suppose we talked about desire and, talking about things in terms of hunger. This is a part of the introduction where we are talking about Georges Bataille, the French theorist, pornographic writer, very heterodox political economist, call him what you will. And Bataille exactly counter-poses this effort of previous anti-imperialists prior to Marx, who were trying to elevate things and talk in terms of eagles and surpassing things. This is his critique of surrealism, by the way. It’s a very eccentric essay. But his point is that Marx is more about the old mole, it’s more about the subterranean, and specifically he talks about the hunger of the proletarian bellies being central to what Marx was trying to do or the indispensable feature of that. The stuff you’re alluding to exactly, people are dismissing this stuff as questions of lifestyle, or marginalization or whatever. This is what I feel needs to be addressed. But even if they’re rarely spoken about in the political field, transitions are the consequences of cravings, breakdowns, powerful emotions that make themselves central to the decisions we make and to the things we depart on. So you use the word ethical and that’s exactly right, a transition is always going to be about reshaping your life, taking steps, and in some way engaging in activities that transform who you are, how you’re perceived, how you’re apprehended, how you apprehend yourself. Any approach to trying to do… Whatever trans theory that doesn’t include that is bound to failure. But also, I don’t necessarily see this as something we have to choose between. We know that people seem to be living lives that are filled with desperation and breakdowns and then they get hold of these endocrinological interventions, like they got a hold of sex hormones and this transforms the lives substantially, maybe doesn’t solve all their problems, of course, it never does. But it transforms the course of their life. That doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to do the political economy of sex hormones. I’ve actually been trying to look it up, but I can’t find it. Was it you, Michelle, who wrote this piece on the trajectory of sex hormones that’s going across work? I remember I was reading this in one of these trans studies collections. But this would be an essay from a long time ago, but I can’t remember if it was you or I was just reading this.

 

MO: Yes, in 2004, I wrote an essay about capitalism and pharmaceutical companies and hormones, that got reproduced many years later in the second Routledge Transgender Studies Reader. A very long time ago.

JG: So it was the second one.

MO:Tracing This Body” is its name.

JG: Yeah, a lot of it’s kind of talking about the shipping process and the way that these things move across continents. It’s 2004, so people have been working on this for a long time. This is exactly what I mean. But there’s no reason that we can’t look at these things in a way that applies an internationalist framework, which looks at how the actual ways that pharmaceutical companies interact with transition, not the conspiracy theory version where for some reason, pharmaceutical companies are trying to profit off incredibly cheap, low-cost medical treatments. There’s no reason that we have to say, “Oh there are all of these passionate sensations. And there’s been this political economy, and we have to look at one or the other”. But it’s exactly Marx’s kind of materialism that we don’t accept that as a choice, right? These are things that are continuously interacting, people are always trying to sort out their own lives on a very basic level, but then they run into this stuff, then they run into the reality of having a landlord and having a doctor. And all of these other lopsided social relations, which they have to work through. That’s what the point about hunger is, because as you say, I think this is a difficult argument to win. But also it’s like the most important one in a way.

TFSR: Thanks. Both of these are beautiful answers. What you just said, Jules, brings up for me, there’s the experience of the relationship of a trans person to the medical and pharmaceutical industry, I am trans and also chronically ill. And you’ll get leftists who will make this argument that your existence for either of these reasons could not persist post revolution, whatever vision of a revolution they have, because, in some way, you’re so reliant on these capital systems of production and shipping, etc. And I know that’s an interesting dynamic to see the ways that those genocidal ideas play out within a leftist circle. I don’t know if you have more to say about that. And maybe Michelle, that’s something that you were talking about in that earlier text.

MO: Thankfully, there are a lot of people thinking about this and speaking on it. I wrote a piece for Commune magazine called “Junkie Communism”. And I, in some ways wrote it, you wouldn’t be able to tell this reading essay, it’s a discussion of the Young Lords and them doing syringe exchange work in a detox in the South Bronx during the occupation at Lincoln hospital, and how that helped shape harm reduction today. And I wrote that essay, in my head, as a direct response to a really vicious and very ableist genocidal framework that I saw amongst Tiqqunists and some other anarchist strains in the United States, of like, “after the revolution, all these disabled people are going to die.” And like that gets referenced one way or another. I think it’s an “Introduction to Civil War” that they say that diabetics are objectively counter-revolutionary and I think that’s a current in the American far-left or in the international far-left. So it really has to be directly combated and there are various ways that we can challenge that and various ways we can critique it, and the one that I go to is a form of radical communist humanism on some level. A fundamental political principle has to be taking each other’s lives seriously and taking the profound preciousness of lives that are treated as disposable. A part of our political paths as communists or as revolutionaries, is to really cultivate an ethic of caring for each other, of defending each other’s lives, of treating the subtitle in the piece I wrote on Communism, “No One Is Disposable.” They’re really not participating in the kind of a ranking of the value of life. The trend obviously comes pretty directly out of my experience as a trans person and thinking about trans life as being treated as disposable on all these different social registers in the world.

JG: I definitely recommend people check out “Junkie Communism” as well. In the collection, there is an essay on disability, which I’ve already mentioned by Zoe Belinsky, who is also a diabetic in reference to the Tiqqun bit. This essay’s approach to this question of disability is pretty phenomenological, it’s looking at the philosophy of experience. And the main framework which Zoe was using is talking about disability in terms of this sensation of “I cannot”. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who is this communist philosopher Zoe’s mostly responding to, talked about things in terms of experience and our way through the world in terms of “I can”, so you encounter things and you think, “Well, I can rotate this square 90 degrees”, and that lets you understand the square. So Zoe’s always a social account here, looking at exactly where disability arises, where you think, “Well, I can’t do that”. I’m really glad that this essay is in there. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of it because needless to say, a lot of our contributors are chronically ill, I certainly am. I feel like it never quite works out, it’s not just additional to being transgender, it always overlaps and interacts with it and these things mesh in interesting ways.

But strangely, I feel like actual extended pieces about disability in my circles are unusual. There’s a lot of contributors who don’t talk about their experiences with chronic conditions, chronic illnesses in this collection, who’ve definitely been through that. So I’m hoping that between the essays we’ve talked about… I’m hoping that this stuff appears in the near future because it’s definitely a thing which is increasingly, on my mind, I felt like if you don’t really have an account of disability and the way in which it interacts with people that are preparing themselves for the workforce, then why not? This is obviously something that not only brings people into these struggles and says that people have to work through in order to survive but it’s also something that has been the site of so much organizing across so many different national contexts. It’s an ongoing point of crisis, definitely, in Britain I come from. I can’t see why people would leave this out of consideration. Other than maybe in Tiqqun’s case, I think it’s just edgy flourishes, I feel like they just don’t care very much, so they just put the stuff in to show that bad-ass insurrectionists or whatever. But I think we can do a lot better than that, an honest account of the people who become communists especially is going to include a lot of reflection on the stuff and how it impacts our lives.

TFSR: I appreciated that putting the “I can’t” as the primary experience. Other people who often make these arguments are like primitivist anarchists, and to frame that as the original experience of being a human rethinks that idea of there’s Essential or Integral Health before domestication, civilization, whatever you want to call it. I’m glad you brought that piece, too, because I think that’s really important.

I did want to go back to the question of desire and bringing us to the relationship between a trans liberation movement to the earlier gay liberation movement. One of the things I appreciate in the book is that there’s an argument against separating gender and sexuality as if there are two separate fields, which in academic discourse, became a thing for a while that gender and sexuality have to be thought of separately. But as both of you have emphasized, the desire inherent in the transgender experience, and also connecting it to these other readers like Bataille makes me think of Guy Hocqenghem talking about Fourier as a way to rethink Marx through the desire within an economy. So, we’re past the end of gay liberation and the ways that it had been co-opted. And we’re in a new era of uprising and resistance. How does the trans liberation still theorize desire as revolutionary without getting trapped in the ways that it can be enclosed into a liberal understanding of life choices as you put it, Michelle? And I had originally written some questions about earlier theorists like Guy Hocqenghem, Mario Mieli thinking about homosexuality or transsexuality as the horizon of liberation and as providing the means towards it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and what we can inherit from that older tradition of gay liberation.

JG: Well, I actually have an essay published in the magazine, which Michelle is a founding member of, PinkoMag, which deals with Mario Mieli specifically. The essay is a sketch of what they want to work on in the future. Mieli is the Italian gay communist thinker, whose work is mostly from the early 70s. His / their work definitely uses this term transsexuality underlying the homosexual experience and specifically that what triggers homophobia, what sets it off, is that there is this base level of transsexuality, that cross-dressing, male-male desire, and so on. All these things can cause the precondition of civilization like transsexuality to peek out. I love that stuff. I think it’s 1972. By all means, check out that piece on Pinko if you want to know anything about him.

But in terms of desire, which is what you began with, I feel probably what’s the most interesting thing is why would people want to do away with desire? Why would you want to think politics without our desires and needs? That is the thing that I feel needs to justify itself. The reason I come back to Marxism all the time is that exactly what Marxism seems to provide, for me, is an account which is happy to begin with the commodity. This is what Marx begins Capital One with, what he starts with the commodity, he says, “the commodities are a strange or curious or queer thing, he says “verdächt.So the commodity is this inscrutable object. And the reason it’s so strange, and the reason you look at it, and then you look at it again, see something different, is because commodities are, on the one hand, very straightforward, very simple things. Like you want to have a snack – you buy a pack of peanuts. There we go, what could be simpler than that? And yet, when you consider them several different times, we find that it is connected to the supersensual thing which is beyond our immediate experience. Like we were saying earlier, with sex hormones, they are something you need for your satisfaction, and yet that is also something which has been shipped from another country, fabricated probably in another continent, and it’s being prescribed to you by someone in an authoritative social position.

I felt like this is sort of the way with desire. Why do we need to lose it? Why do we need to not talk about these palpable feelings that seem to drive us and lead us around? Why have we got to put those in the cupboard? I’m not going to say the closet. Why have we got to get rid of them? And that’s increasingly what I’m not convinced about, I don’t think that we need to. That’s why I was putting together a Marxist collection. I hope that the different perspectives we’ve put together mean that you don’t need to do that. You can look at things psychoanalytically at one point, and you can even look at things historically and look at different movements. Or you can try and do several things at once. Why not? Just see what works.

MO: I don’t have a lot to say. But I think this has been a really central concern at Pinko that we’re really interested in trying to think through and to think hard about the legacy of gay liberation. Gay liberationism both has some really quite extraordinary and very powerful potentials and currents and has more or less been a catastrophic failure in a lot of ways for thinking about our current moment. And to think those alongside each other in a way that really tries to draw out, to reload what could be relevant for understanding our era, for understanding sexual and gender life today, I think Jules’ pieces are a very powerful example of our efforts of trying to do that as a collective and as a journal.

I think this question of the separation of sexual orientation and gender is largely relatively unhelpful. It belongs to – even though it was pioneered in circles dominated by continental philosophy – it really kind of reeks of an analytic attempt at separating out things in[to] distinct categories that you then can isolate their divisions. While, really it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of homosexual desire abstracted from gender difference was ludicrous, it is an invention of advanced capitalist society in the 20th century and hasn’t yet permeated lots of places. You look back on the history of sodomy, and a huge amount of it involved people that were gender non-conforming in a wide variety of ways. I have some problems with it, but I think Andrea Long Chu is very interesting for talking about transitioning as being very tied up with scopic desire, with the desire of what one sees, and what one wants to become, that I think some of our efforts at avoiding some transphobic discourse around this thing prevents trans people from spending as much time talking about or thinking about as might be helpful. But the question of sexual desire and sexual yearning and gender identity has always been deeply bound up. And separating them is an elaborate artificial conceptual edifice that we should question.

TFSR: I’m glad you brought up that last thing about the ways that people try to avoid the transphobic discourse to the extent that they end up maybe repeating or leaving those distinctions in place. Winding it down, I want to ask my anarchistic question, because you’ve framed this as a Transgender Marxism and one of the classical resistance between anarchists and a version of Marxism is this historical determinism or these ideas of blueprints and stages? I’m totally open to that being a misreading of Marx, it’s played out within authoritarian communist parties. And I think historically, we could see gay liberation, the historical gay liberation movement of the 60s and 70s being a reaction to some of those versions of authoritarian communism. So I appreciated that this book didn’t play along those authoritarian lines and also made a lot of space for historical contingency. So I’m wondering how you might frame this materialist account – all of the pieces really ground their analysis from a materialist perspective – how do we bring that into relation with unknown historical contingencies, the future solidarity is that we might need to elaborate and in the particular context of trans struggle? To me, this often is a place to think of anarchism as an intervention, but I’m wondering what you have to say about that.

JG: I was really looking forward to this question, because it is a juicy one. I suppose the very short answer is that I have always found the sectarian divide between communists of the kind I get along with, communists who are my comrades and anarchists to be very flimsy, even spurious. And communism, when I use the term, and anarchist positions are remarkably similar and definitely have significantly more common ground than they have divergences. And the divergences that do exist are primarily cultural scene history stuff. That’s how I put it. That’s the very short answer.

The longer answer is, I think, Marxist communist politics of the kind I affiliate myself with, of the kind I feel connected to, have always been implacably anti-state and had a position towards the state which considers its greatest strength to also be the things that make it the most threatening and most indispensable for capitalists. The state does things that no individual capitalist is able to do and brings capitalist society into existence, one generation after the next. That’s my position. I also feel like this is becoming a much more common position among Marxist theoreticians like David Nally really recently had a series about the state, which was basically saying what I just said in a much longer way. Michel Heinrich just had an appearance on the Antifada podcast where he’s talking about how the second part of his autobiography, which is across several books, is gonna focus heavily on Bakunin and in this much misunderstood, antagonistic relationship, which Marx and Bakunin had with each other, an antagonistic relationship that exactly was over the narcissism of small differences in many cases. Increasingly, this is the turn things are taking. Obviously, there is an enormous amount of bad blood between Marxist and anarchist traditions but in many cases, I think this is overstated in its substance. Any kind of Marxist perspective which I would associate myself with is fully aware of that.

Getting back to the transgender stuff, as we must, it’s really remarkable to me how in 2013 Nevada, this novel by Imogen Binnie, it’s intuitive that the protagonist, Maria, is into anarchism. I feel like today she’d probably be a commie. I don’t know. I feel like that’s something that has changed over the past five years. And I really don’t know why. They’re obviously still a lot of transgender anarchists out there. But I feel like now the meme is that we’re all communists. So if anyone has any answers to that one, please send me a postcard.

MO: There are various ways of parsing the distinction between Marxism and anarchism, and I think most of them are silly and somewhat unhelpful. But I define and understand communism as the need to overcome class society, as the yearning, the pursuit, the real movement that abolishes the existing order of things, and Marxism is an effort to make sense of how capitalism functions. The statist Marxism, statist Communism, this idea of the consolidation of authoritarian ownership-based states that control society through violence and wage labor as somehow a transition to Communism, hopefully, it was a historical blip that we will move past and not have to deal with. And I mostly don’t spend a lot of time in an anarchist tradition, however great my hostility is towards states, just because I see the dynamics of capital and political economy as so central to driving the dynamics of human societies, state violence, state policy, police brutality, I find talking about the production of surplus populations as really an essential starting point that happens through the dynamics of capitalist wage labor markets over time. So that’s my lens of Marxism, less of statist versus anti-statist, but instead, the starting point of trying to think through the world and what we have to destroy is the dynamics of capitalism. And if an anarchist thinks that, we have a lot to talk about.

TFSR: To bring it back to the book, maybe a final question, unless you have more that you want to bring up… I appreciate the fact that this book isn’t only an academic text. It’s connected to academic work, and there are people writing in this book who are potentially employed by academic institutions, although maybe not comfortably, especially when you’re out and trans, which is something I’ve experienced, making me more and more precarious. Marxism often gets lodged in the academy in a way that’s maybe not helpful. So I just wonder about the formation of the book and how it may have come out of solidarity struggle work, or how you think it could tie back into on-the-ground movement struggle work, instead of being set off into the realms of the theory that don’t connect on the ground as much.

JG: Speaking about how academic the book is, I actually have tried to count up… it’s a bit hard to keep track off. But I think out of the 16 contributors, we’ve got 15 chapters, a total of 16 people who wrote for it, including myself and Elle. Out of those, I think about a quarter of the book [contributors] are active university lecturers. One contributor, which is Jordy Rosenberg, who wrote the afterword, has tenure. So I would say it’s primarily not an academic book. But of course, this is only part of the picture. Obviously, it’s informed by academic discourses, and a lot of academics are reading it and teaching it. That’s not especially surprising to me. The academics we do have contributing in the main body, other than the afterword, are primarily not people in the most secure or lasting positions, like come back in five years’ time…

I think that this is actually remarkably similar to the way that things look in trans healthcare, which is that there is an enormous number of people who have some relevant training, whether it’s bioresearchers, registered nurses, and so on, but very few MDs who are transgender, and this is the reason why it’s all… Who are the people with the not only the security, the partners or parents to bankroll you through down years or whatever, but also the connections that would get you through medical school, that would get you onto a tenured job, and so on. Exactly all of those connections and those healthy inter-generational bourgeois relationships are what transition is very likely to rupture. There are, of course, exceptions. There’s probably more to be said about trans studies, which is, of course, something much more expensive than this collection, and probably has a kind of uneasy relationship in some ways. But that’s what I would say. Academia has a very specific set of like demands and requirements, for people who are ready to exist for that, and that’s a very competitive environment or you’re not going to be paid reliably for quite a long time. I feel like that’s probably not going to change very quickly. And who knows if it would even be a good thing if it did.

MO: Academic life seems a deathtrap in some ways. I am one of many more or less failed academics trying to write and think in the world. If people are able to make a living there, that’s great. But it’s extremely clear that we need to create revolutionary and left spaces of thinking and study and debate and analysis, that are outside of academic spaces, academic constraints.

JG: Samuel Delany actually recounts in his shorter essays collection… he is primarily a sci-fi author, but he talks about how in the later 20th century, he got into academia on the basis that he wanted a steady income, to supplement his sci-fi career. I really struggled to imagine anyone doing that these days.

TFSR: I started teaching in the area where he was, which is also where Jordy Rosenberg is and U-Mass. He was publishing pornographic novels and at the same time… Anyway, I feel like we covered a lot and went for a long time. Is there anything that you feel like we’ve missed? There’s so much in this book, obviously, we missed a lot. But there’s anything that you would like to put on the table or bring into this discussion?

JG: I feel really satisfied. And I felt like this is gonna give a good account of the book and hopefully entice your listeners who haven’t bought a copy yet to do that title. How about you, Michelle?

MO: This is great. I already talked about far too much that extends way beyond the book. But it’s a beautiful collection and a really magnificent set of writers and authors. Jules and Elle just did an excellent job editig it. It’s a great honor to be in it. And I think I highly recommend people being interested, on the one hand, gender struggles, gender theory, trans liberation, and on the other hand, anyone wrapped up in thinking about capitalism: to buy a copy, read it and talk about it and to share about it.

TFSR: Thank both of you so much for giving so much breadth to the conversation and so much analysis of the structures. I really appreciate thinking about transness through this lens which often gets left out in the mainstream discussion of it. And even in trans studies, I find that is often disappointing, so this politicization of it is really important. And connecting it to care work and the labor experiences of trans people. I appreciate your time and the book. Is there any place that you would want to direct, beyond buying the book which you can get from Pluto press, to direct people to follow you or hear more of your work?

JG: You can follow me on Twitter @SocialRepro and I also have a https://www.patreon.com/QueerComm. That’s everything from me.

MO: I am @GenderHorizon on Twitter, https://www.patreon.com/meobrien on Patreon.

Belarusian Uprising Revisited

Belarusian Uprising Revisited

Protest flags in Minsk on September 27, 2020 including black and black & red flags
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This week on The Final Straw, we spoke with Vasili and Maria, two Belarusian anarchists living abroad about the aftermath of the 2020 Uprising in their country of birth, lessons learned, the current political prisoners and the Lukashenko regime’s attempts to attack dissidents abroad. Maria is also a member of Belarus Anarchist Black Cross, which does anti-repression education and prisoner and legal support for anarchists in or from that country. More on that group and these topics can be found at ABC-Belarus.Org, including a form to send letters to prisoners in Belarus from the website and a link to a brand new fundraising campaign to help BABC to support their anti-repression efforts. Check it out and spread it around: https://www.betterplace.org/en/projects/99819-support-anarchist-and-antifascist-prisoners-in-belarus

You can find links to our social media at TFSR.WTF/links. You can find a transcript of this conversation online in about a week at TFSR.WTF/Zines.

Belarus-ABC can be followed via their:

Announcements

Eric King Trial

Antifascist and anarchist prisoner, Eric King, has had his trial pushed back to October 14th at 9:30am. If you can show up to court with an ID and your dapper court wear, you can show up to the Alfred A. Arraj Federal Courthouse in Denver to show Eric some support and that he’s not alone. For a good read, check out the recent article by Vice about the allegations from Eric’s legal team that the BOP deleted video of the incident in question in order to cover up his setup and torture: https://www.vice.com/en/article/bvzqqa/prison-destroyed-video-proof-of-guards-torturing-anti-fascist-lawyers-say

Protest AmRen

The annual American Renaissance conference, or AmRen, a gathering of vile ethno-nationalist hucksters is slated to occur in Montgomery Bell Park at the Inn and Conference Center, outside of Burns, TN, from Friday, November 12th to the 14th. Opposition is being organized from all over and you can participate with your crew. For a good intro to what’s expected this year, check out the link in our shownotes or visit the calendar at OnePeoplesProject.Com: https://tockify.com/idavox/detail/136/1636722000000

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Featured Track:

  • Johnny Ryall (instrumental) by Beastie Boys from Dub The Boutique

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself so the audience with whatever names, gender pronouns, locations, affiliation, or other info that could be useful for this conversation?

Maria: I might go first. I’m Maria, I go by she her pronouns, and I am speaking on behalf of the anarchist black cross Belarus chapter here. So I can’t expose my location at the moment. But at the moment, I’m outside of the country.

Vasili: And my name is Vasili, an activist from Belarus, who is not in Belarus right now. He him, and I’m involved in some anarchist organizations from Belarus.

TFSR: And Maria, can you tell us a little bit about Anarchist Black Cross Belarus, the kind of work that you all do and some of your history?

Maria: Right, the Anarchist Black Cross Belarus started, I think, around 2009. in Minsk, which is the capital. First, it was like, rather an informal kind of network of people who would just make random donations, just not really doing anything other than collecting money. And back then, before 2010, when the first wave of repression hit the anarchist movement in Belarus, the group was not really needed, because the state didn’t look so much at the anarchists as the enemies let’s say, but after 2010, the group was formed and you and now it has membership. And it’s a collective that has been running since then. And over time, we’ve evolved into a stable group that is doing fundraisers for us and supports anarchist and anti fascist prisoners in Belarus, and sometimes also people who have Belarusian citizenship, who have problems in other countries, because of their anti-authoritarian activity. We’re also trying to expand the support not just for material side of providing financial support, but also psychological support, not that we are providing that but we are like, open to pay for that or to look for either professionals or like self help groups and so on. Because we see like activist trauma, like post-repression trauma as like as a consequence of repression that needs to be dealt with, especially also after release from prisons. Yeah, so we’re trying to work on that.

And we’re also quite interested, and I think we were quite successful, in creating a new security culture in the movement, like trying to agitate for like not talking to the cops and giving a lot of trainings and seminars, producing brochures, about what you should expect once you get caught. And what’s the best way to behave and also showing some light at how the police is preparing themselves for psychological pressure, like what methods they use in order to actually make you speak. So this is what we’ve been doing. And I think this last year was a catastrophe for the collective because previously, we had to deal with like, let’s say, 3-6 prisoners a year, let’s say, and maybe also throughout the years would be like the same people who would just be in prison for longer terms, but this year, at the moment, there’s already like 26 people who are either behind bars or have already been convicted after the protests. And a lot of people had to flee the country, and this is also like our Congress that we will we need to help with like migration issues and also like settlement support and stuff like that. So yeah, this is why at the moment we have a lot of work and we also need a lot of support from the outside of the country as well.

TFSR: It feels like, we can also go back and touch on this in later questions too, but since we are talking about ABC Belarus right now, could you tell us of any ways people can find out about your work and any sort of like international organizations or movements that you participate in, like the week of solidarity or the Anarchist Defense Fund. Like that sort of stuff?

Maria: Right. I mean, ABC Belarus is like part of this probably shrinking network of ABC groups here in Europe. We have some connections to also ABC groups in the US, but not so much. But in general, we try to participate in any effort of solidarity here in this continent. And basically, you can find information about the group and also the news on like Belarusian prisoners, or general repression in the country on our website, which is ABC-belarus.org. And we are now trying to publish monthly updates on repression in the country in English. So it’s not only about fundraising, but also like you can forward or like repost, share messages from there, if you have an English-speaking website somewhere. Yeah, so basically, that’s it.

TFSR: Last year, I spoke with a comrade around November of 2020, about a year ago, about the uprising in Belarus, which had already been going for some months at this point. For listeners who somehow missed it, could one of you give a really brief overview of the uprising, at least up until that point and just sort of bring us up to date so that we can, we can move on from there?

Vasili: So, if you missed what was happening in Belarus in 2020… In August, after the elections of the president, pretty much the biggest uprising in the modern history of the country happened with first, dozens of 1000s of people go into the streets, and afterwards, hundreds of 1000s of people are going to protest against the dictatorship of Alexander Lukashenko. This lasted for several months. One of main the reasons that actually this whole thing was possible was the Corona-virus, but also dissatisfaction with the economical problems of the country and so on. And the protests had different momentums. Like in first days, it was really intensive and with a lot of clashes with the police and with a lot of repressions, and at least several people killed by the police. Later on, transformed in some kind of peaceful demonstrations marches every Sunday, however it never managed to grow to the extent that would destroy the governmental power and eventually put an end to Lukashenko’s rule in the country. By the end of 2020, most of the protests were over all around the country, a lot of people were repressed. I think, in this four months from August to December, over 30,000 people were prosecuted. 30,000 people in the frame of 9.5 million people living in Belarus, which was like super big amount of people. That means that everybody knew someone who was eventually repressed. Apart from that, over 1000 people were detained and put on holds for prosecution. 30,000 people were prosecuted through administrative codes, which was like a smaller violation of the public disorder, which would give you like 15 days in prison or fines. And this over 1000 people were arrested and are now awaiting or were prosecuted or waiting for trial for the criminal offenses, which would be, I don’t know, one year in prison up to 25 years in prison.

So the protests were crushed. And at some point, we thought that maybe the Belarusian government would go crazy for the next couple of months, and will calm down as it was happening normally, through the history that if there would be like a protest, there would be some repressions, but then the government would stop. Over one year, since the protests, the repressions are still going on and people are still getting arrested. The police are still processing the videos and photos that they made during the protests. And they are still like catching the protesters and charging them with the more serious charges than they were doing in autumn 2020. Also, apart from that, there is a big wave of migration that started with the mass repressions. Depending on the country, there are also dozens of 1000s of people left, mostly in direction of Ukraine and Poland, which are the nearest countries and some parts went into this mania. And the others went all around the world basically. But the biggest diaspora is right now are concentrated in Ukraine and Poland and trying to organize politically there in any way to undermine the Belarusian government’s politics in the region.

Right. So, at this point, right now, most of the political organizing is actually smashed so all the political organizations were destroyed. Most of the media that is not affiliated with the government is banned or got their license revoked, and journalists actually massively left the country because of the threat of prosecution. The human rights organizations are also en masse leaving the country. And there are several human rights defenders, like big ones in the political sphere, who are sitting in prison. And most of also non governmental NGOs not affiliated with the Belarusian government, are also getting shut down and people who are working for those NGOs are leaving the country to go abroad, under threat of prosecution as well. Yeah, so everything looks pretty dire.

Apart from that, it’s also worth mentioning that when we came to the elections in 2020, Lukashenko was quite close to the Western countries, to European Union, but also to US, and he was getting funding from those countries. But as the protests escalated, and as Lukashenko was making more and more political mistakes, the European Union was kind of cornered into reacting to his bullshit. And now, the regime is under sanctions of the European Union and the US, and that kind forced Lukashenko to the search for another allies. And now his main ally is Putin who, well, doesn’t care about that people are blood flowing on the streets, as long as you are loyal to him. So Lukashenko’s regime is now heavily based on Russian support. And this was happening historically. All in all, Lukashenko managed to survive, because Putin or Yeltsin back then were supporting him economically, but also politically, on the bigger political arena.

TFSR: Are people going to those two countries, in particular, because of those country’s current relationship with the Russian regime of Putin? Or is there other reasons?

Maria: Yeah, I think the reasons are so simple. Just because for Ukraine, you don’t need a visa. So basically, you can just get out as quickly as possible, even if you don’t have any documents. And you can stay there up to 90 days without any reason. This is what people actually did. And also in Ukraine, people speak Russian. And this is like this kind of post USSR, mentality or culture that people are sharing. For those who don’t really speak English or other languages, is the best way to just change the surroundings without actually changing the context, let’s say. Also, because people are feeling more secure than, for example, going to Russia because Russian and Belarusian authorities and the police have like unified databases of people who are like dissidents, let’s say, and they actually can arrest you. And this has been done massively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where they have face recognition surveillance system in the streets. So people do not feel safe in Russia. That’s why they flee somewhere else. So, for Ukraine, it’s like that. If you speak about Poland and Lithuania, these are the two countries that were the first to react. I think, in October or November, they said they’re going to provide any assistance to people who have to flee the country and they started giving that so-called humanitarian visas. So that’s basically a National Visa that allows you to stay longer than a tourist visa, and you don’t need grounds, like having to work or like some studies and so on. So you can just basically get proof that you have been repressed and you’re going to be issued this visa and you can stay in the country and later apply for like a refugee status or production status. And also because the EU now, I think it’s effectively denying extradition requests from Belarus even via Interpol. So basically, this is where people feel more safe, in terms of not getting extradited. The I think these are the easiest options for people to go to.

Vasili: I would like to point as well that although Poland and Lithuania are giving this humanitarian visas and they’re openly accepting Belarusian refugees, the other EU countries are not that open, although they’re condemning the violation of human rights. It is way more complicated to move to other European Union countries like going to Germany or going to France, Spain, wherever you want to go. It is quite complicated. So for the people who want to, well, leave Belarus and have a secure, safe place, those are like the easiest places to go like you were in within the European Union. Poland and Lithuana in that case.

TFSR: Yeah, so Lukashenko is still in power, people are still having to go abroad, and still organizing resistance against the regime from abroad. If it’s… this is a strange way to put it, but this is like common parlance in the US, at least in English… There was a lot that seemed to come out in the uprising that my understanding and having spoken to a few people from Belarus, there were parts of the movement that seemed kind of unprecedented and sort of unexpected, like, for instance, the running battles with the police, the extreme violence that the police and the jails enacted on individuals when they arrested them from sexual assaults to like literal torture. I think there were some disappearances of people. And this is the thing that police do wherever because they’re police to, you know, at different times. But this is exceptionally cruel and concentrated, the apparent attempt to infect as many people with COVID as possible by cramming them into cells in the middle of the pandemic. And it seems like elements of the Belarusians nation were chipping away from what had been a sort of toleration of the administration to actually… You know, police quitting their jobs in instances, people targeting where police lived to try to pressure them to leave… Workers threatening strikes… This was a massive, massive moment.

And I guess the English term that I was going to point to is called a “post-mortem”. What sort of lessons do you take from that like, what worked, what seemed not to and and why the administration has continued to be able to stay in power.

Maria: My idea is that, actually it went the way it was supposed to go, let’s say. I mean, of course, all all the things you’ve mentioned, like the new expressions of like solidarity and new ways of protests, and actually like attracting masses of people to the protest was something new. And this was new for all of us. And for the people also, what I mean that it was supposed to end like this is because the state knows best tactics on how to suppress the protest. Because you have to understand that for many people in Belarus, it was the first time that they were actually politically interested, and were trying to promote or like, defend their rights, or let’s say, whatever, or a protest against anything. So these people have never been detained. These people have never seen an aggressive policeman beating up someone else in the street. These people have never been arrested, or detained at their workplace. These people have never been harassed, and threatened with taking their kids out of their family if they’re going to continue protesting. So these people have never experienced, like, cunning repressive mechanisms that the state has. And like, for example, for me, they’re not new, because I’m in the movement for 15 years. And like many of them have been used against me or against comrades or against like other people, just because I’m involved. And so many of them didn’t work for me. But people who went to the street in August and September, were in the streets it’s as long as it was safe for them. Like, as long as they could just be in the streets think that they’re going to change something peacefully… And here comes also the question of lacking the political analysis, or like the political history of let’s say, revolutions or like successful protests, or coup d’etat’s so and so on. So people like really thought and they believed that they even if they’re going to be a lot in the street for some time, Lukashenko will just leave. And this has never happened in in history. But for them it was the first time and they didn’t listen to anyone, that it should be like, okay, more offensive, let’s say. At the same time, there was also no one powerful enough in the media, who would actually call them to be offensive. Like everybody in the political sphere, was speaking about the fucking peaceful protest, like this protest was going on because it was supported and promoted.

And so when I was under arrest in October, I had a few women and myself who were at their door, taken to like a car with a black bag on their head, just to be arrested for 15 days. For me, it was clear that the police is just using this as a threatening mechanism. Like before it was really safe, you just go to the protest, you go home, nothing happens. And suddenly, you’ve realized that they know where you live, they come for you, and they bring you like as a hostage, in I don’t know, Afghan movies, or something like that. And they take like 1000 people like that. And these 1000 people is telling their neighbors, what’s what’s happening, and the neighbors starting to be afraid that they’re going to be the next. So like, for me, I knew that they were using it just for that to intimidate the population, and they were really successful in that. So, having this as a picture of like repression, or some kind of exemplary cases, it worked for people. And many people just left the streets as soon as they realized that they can’t post pictures of them in peaceful protests on Instagram, because now police is looking at the Instagrams and checking out the people.

Yeah, so basically, people were quite active, as long as they felt that they could be supported by others. In the first days, like you said, a lot of people quit the state managed jobs, the police, the national television, and so on and so on, like the athletes who are supported by Lukashenko and so and so on. So as long as people saw that everybody else is doing this, they were doing it as well. And they were also like, seeing a lot of solidarity coming. But then when they saw that, actually, nobody else is doing it anymore, and it’s just kind of you against the system, basically, or you and like crazy people like you who are still brave enough to show, this is when people started realizing that, okay, like, I’m just ruining my life because of that.

And also the solidarity structures were crushed. Because special solidarity structures were installed outside of the country to collect, I think they collected like 8 million bucks for solidarity from all sorts of businesses and like from individuals. So basically, they were promising that people are going to have that. If you are going to be repressed, you’re going to have it, for sure, if you’re going to be fired, you’re going to have like money, or salary, like in three months or something like that. And at first it worked, but then also these solidarity structures couldn’t actually process so many requests. So it ended up being super slow, like people who were fired would not get support, like in two months. And these are people with families, you know. And then, of course, everybody’s talking about that they are sharing that, “Okay, this solidarity is just bullshit, I asked for the money, but they’re like, verifying me for ages. I’m being arrested, I’m asking for the lawyers fees. And they’re verifying me for ages. And, like, my mother needs the money to get the food parcel to the prison today, but the money is going to be there after like half a year.” And also the more people got arrested and put behind bars, the more money they needed, right? Also, what they did is basically trying to transfer money in cash inside the country, and there were specific people who would like process tons of cash to pay for fines and to pay for lawyers fees, and so on. And these people were persecuted, they’re now in jail. So that’s why when, when other people who did the same saw that, okay, just for helping out others, I can get in jail, I’m going to stop doing it, you know? Like, I’m going to run out of the country. They weren’t showing some exemplary cases of how something you’re doing could ruin your life. And people were just thinking, Okay, so when we believed in victory, we could do that, but now, we’re doubting victory, now we don’t really believe in it anymore. So I think this is how it works like this, let’s say the morale it was destroyed. And it was like really effectively destroyed. This is why now people do not believe that there’s going to be at any moment a critical mass so they can join. A lot of people wants to join, but they feel like they’re alone in this.

Vasili: And I think, for me, the Western politics or, let’s say, Western Liberal politics played an important role in the way the protest develops. And it started not in August 2020, but historically if we look at the development of the liberal opposition in Belarus, we can see that through the money through like political support, Western liberal powers can control the narrative inside of the country. So, if you would have like really militant opposition leaders in the 90’s, who would be, you know, rioting or calling for riots participate, really confronted with demonstrations… Slowly this narrative change to a peaceful demonstrations, peaceful change of power, peaceful, peaceful, peaceful. And this became like a dogma that it was not possible to change anymore, that it should be always peaceful. And when we came to 2020, the people who were participating in the protests and people who were, let’s say, a political leadership of this whole mobilization, were still insisting on the peaceful protests for the first days, but also like afterwards. Although some of the people had clear understanding of the clear possibilities of clashes with the police. Like there were leaks for example of Tikhanovskaya talking to some allies in the smaller towns where they would be talking about possible clashes and what should be done and so on and so forth. But this cannot be publicly done, as if you start calling for riots, if you start calling for like a militant overthrow of the dictatorship, then you will have issues with those people who are eventually supporting you and do not support this kind of narrative. As the revolutionary agenda is spreading that if you if you start calling for revolution in Belarus, people start asking like “oh, we will so when changes so what are we going to do?” And I think for a lot of liberals in Western European Union or in US right now this narrative is really dangerous taking account the Corona-virus, dissatisfaction and all this stuff.

And of course, a lot of media that is in opposition to Lukashenko is still financed by some grants from the European Union or by some foundations that are also not accepting this kind of narrative, this kind of idea of a revolution happening. No, there could be a peaceful protests and like it was I don’t know when in their heads, and that’s it. And this played a really important role in during the mobilizations. Like a week since the protests started, there was this peaceful march that mobilized hundreds of 1000s of people and this was like a moment of euphoria, where we thought “okay, now the whole thing is over.” And there were a lot of people who were reproducing that narrative. So there were so many people that Lukashenko is like a political corpse, right? And I think like within maybe a German political context, he would be gone, like this is not what you do in a democratic country. But for dictatorship, killing a couple of people, sentencing or arresting 6000 people, this is not a problem. So Lukashenko was going on. But people started getting this idea of, okay, peaceful protest, everything is fine, we are winning. So nothing should be changed. We keep on going with this peaceful marches, and that was a certain moment of blocking. As the bigger crowds started, like doing only that, just Sunday marches.

And the people who were doing the mobilization had the problem that they cannot say to this bigger crowds, “Hey, let’s go and take over the fucking police station, or the City Council,” and stuff like that. And this was done because of the financing. We had as organized anarchists in Belarus, conversations with the media activists or bloggers who would say “We need like anarchists, we need some radicals who would call for radical actions.” But this was already like happening a month too late or something like that. And they started, like there were situations where anarchist calls for actions would be reproduced by the bigger media channels. But this was like too late because the repressions were hitting so hard that there was no mobilisational potential anymore, outside of the Sunday demonstrations. So I think this is the thing that was really important for Lukashenko to maintain his power that the Liberal thought is incapable of overthrowing the dictatorship not only conceptually, like bringing alternatives and saying, “Hey, this is a great idea, maybe jeans and bananas are not selling so well anymore.” But physically, like they cannot call in their liberal ideas for revolution for revolutionary changes. So liberals became a shadow of the liberal movement of the 19th century they were they were like, “Fuck yeah, we are going to free the population and so on and so forth.”

And yeah, so this was like it should show that was somehow happening inside of the country, but also happening outside of the country. And I think like, with what Maria said, people didn’t have experience in protests, people didn’t have experience with all this repressions. And they were searching a lot from outside as well. Like, “Who can help us who can explain this thing happening to us?” And who was explaining things were those liberal bloggers from Russia, or from some other countries that also didn’t have any fucking clue. But they would be so convincing that everybody will be like, “Oh, yeah, that person knows what he’s talking about, or she’s talking about” and so on. Yeah.

Maria: Can I add something?

TFSR: Totally.

Maria: I think also, like another part… I’m in two minds about what I’m going to say, but I’m just gonna mention it. I think one problem or like, one obstacle towards this kind of, like more radical revolution was also in the way that people didn’t know radical methods, like they didn’t know how to implement them, let’s say. And it was the first time people saw smoke grenades or tear gas exploding around them or something. And like basically people, the biggest like bloggers, or like telegram channels with like a massive readership, were advertising all the time “clenching hands.” Like “Clench hands, every time you see the police, because the police is going to take your comrades away, and you shouldn’t let them detain you.” And so people were trained to just be in a row clenched hands and like what I saw in the first days of like, post election protests, people like would just clench hands in front of the police trying to I don’t know, tear gas them or shooting them or something. People like really didn’t understand it’s, it’s a different method now, and you don’t protect yourself against detention, but it’s like a street fight, in a way, you know. Like, this kind of urban guerrilla is not something that people were familiar with. And I think those who understood were a minority group, it’s people who actually either participated in protests demonstrations in Europe, for example, like football hooligans, or some anarchists, and maybe people who just saw it in the media before. So they kind of knew how it should look like, but not really, what exactly they need to achieve with that. Like what would be the strategy with cops.

And I think that is one thing. People really didn’t understand. They wanted to hold a position. But why? They didn’t understand if they wanted to move cops away, or like to be offensive towards cops, they just wanted to be in one place. And that’s it. And of course, that doesn’t change anything, like okay, paralyzes the city for some time, but not really moving you towards a coup d’etat. And, on the other hand, a lot of people like you mentioned, the bloggers who are calling people to kind of go and smash policemen’s houses and, I don’t know, ruin their cars… And this is what people did. Like, they basically went there with their faces uncovered, disregarding the surveillance cameras, disregarding the fact that they were already other cops waiting for them there on the spot, because they were expecting attacks. So people were just doing like really stupid things without thinking about any security culture connected to the radical action or direct action. And they needed to know that but the bloggers didn’t care, like they would just call people do something really stupid, or like maybe smart, but you should be smart in all spheres with direct action. And people would just do it, because they were very emotional. And then they were put in jail and then they would realize that there’s not actually any solidarity because all the human rights organizations are supporting only the peaceful demonstrators and not recognizing political prisoners, those who have, I don’t know, smashed cops’ cars or smashed cops’ faces. So, that was a real kind of contradiction. Because on the one hand, people are getting a lot of information about the fact that they should be more offensive, but they were not explained how and they didn’t have any support after that.

So I think that was also like the biggest mistake and a lot of people after this, the change of the narrative that Vasili was mentioning, this kind of peaceful narrative when it came in… A lot of radical groups just left the streets because there was no place for them anymore. Like, because these groups knew they have to be in their neighborhoods, they know exactly. Together with people they know, instead of going and showing your face on a Sunday morning march, or something like that. So this audience was kind of lost, or it was waiting for some action, you know, like, was waiting for a good moment to step in.

And another problem was that at the same time, there was this split between like radical and peaceful. And the radical ones, or people who just wanted to use them, started organizing online in open chats. So they were basically forming chats, calling them “I want to smash cop cars in the street,” or whatever. And like just discussing it online, without actually protecting their accounts. It was really easy to identify people behind those accounts. And this was what is what cops used. So they were effectively identified a bunch of participants of these chats, and they just punished them, or they were just actually trying to organize actions together, and they would detain them in this in the scene, you know. So basically, people who wanted to be radical did really stupid things. And of course, I mean, anarchists is tried to change this narrative, tried to explain that you should only do a direct action with a person you really know, not just your neighbor you’ve seen for the first time or not that person from online. But anarchists didn’t have this kind of wide influence. We couldn’t spread the message as wide as possible.

So I think that was also something that people saw. Like, “Okay, I’m peaceful, a peaceful demonstrator, maybe I would like to use something else or like use another tactic, but I don’t know how, I don’t know, with whom, because these connections are not built. I know, some neighbors who are protesting, but I’m not sure they are up for it, you know? And I see that what happens with people who try.” So either they are getting caught by the cops, or they are just I don’t know, and then yeah.

But at the same time, why I said, I’m in two minds about that, because I don’t think that revolutions should be like, prepared and people like 100,000 people have to, like really be good at security culture and direct actions. Because usually, successful protests happen, like everywhere, where people are emotional enough, angry enough just to go and smash it. And, of course, in the Arab Spring, people also didn’t know how to do it. But somehow it worked in some cases. So, what I’m saying is that that was totally an obstacle, but I’m not sure that it’s a matter of just learning, and then it’s going to be successful. No.

TFSR: It’s fair to note that, that the Belarusian state had, like 25 to 30 years to figure out, not that they came out of nowhere, but they had decades to figure out how to repress public uprisings. And like y’all had been saying, if people are just suddenly coming to the like, if they’re getting this information, pumped at them, these images of what a revolution looks like, you know, or what’s acceptable, then it seems pretty hard to expand your imagination past that.

Vasili: I think that what is also important in terms of imagination as well, is that the internet is not as it used to be [laughs]. And that means that all the regulations that are passed in, let’s say the US or in some European Council, or whatever, are actually to regulate the internet to prevent terrorism or extremism distribution or whatever shit they have in their hands are affecting what is happening in the other countries. And a lot of bloggers and a lot of people with like media power had fear that if they, you know, start posting pictures of burning police cars, or they would put how to make Molotov cocktails on their channels, the channels would be blocked, because there are regulations that can be like, you know, activated to block this kind of terrorist content. And this was happening, like there were channels, there were groups all around the internet that were blocked by that. This was like the result of not what we were doing in Belarus rather that what the legislators were doing outside of the country, and this is like a fucking circus. Imagine, you know, like the Soviet Union invades Finland, and then Molotov cocktail distribution is banned by the German state or by some crazy fucker sitting in US and saying like, “No, no, this is really bad what you’re making, like, try to stop the Soviets with your bodies and with your mind.” And this was what was happening in Belarus a lot. And this was, I really find it really problematic and most probably it will shoot back in coming years for sure.

TFSR: I was hoping to put opinion that the discussion of Telegram and the mass usage of it and the fact that both of you pointed to people’s anonymity being compromised in the way that they were organizing. Because there were people from the uprising after the execution… er the police killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore in, I want to say 2015 in the US, there were people… youth using snap chat and Instagram and all these other apps to document what they were doing and that came back to bite them afterwards. In Hong Kong, people were using a lot of online apps to communicate back and forth that also, I don’t know how much that came back to bite people but Telegram… You know going back to the Arab Spring Uprisings, Youtube or Facebook and Twitter were things that the media at least has pointed to as being important tools for organizing, Vasili, the point is well taken that the internet is not what it used to be and all of these regulations, but there’s also… We now have micro computers in our pockets that are often registered to our names and that can track our movements around and data capture is a really easy thing. And I wonder if you could talk about any sort of lessons learned about Telegram, in particular, as a platform that was used so widely and efforts that people have made once they’ve seen the danger of that platform in particular being used to organize potentially illegal activities. What sort of educational or cultural interjections that people have made?

Vasili: I think the whole thing is a huge topic with Telegram, right? Because you can start with the person this who started Telegram, Durov. He’s like Russian businessman who went to US, who actually before that started VK and which was like an alternative to facebook for Eastern Europe. And he was selling his app as the security solution for all the activists, everybody. This was marketed great and he was really aggressive. He has money, he was advertising that, and one of his main audiences is like Eastern Europe to see him say “Oh, I’m so great, I’m going to stop actually any work with Russia over with Belarus. I am really together with people fighting for freedom.” And I think people started buying that and the further you go, the more this narrative is actually getting sold really, how would you say, successfully. And forgetting the fact that VK for really long time, under Durov as well, was cooperating with the Russian government in also repressing the anti-Putin movements in Russia. So Durov is not like an evangelist of freedom, who’s going to give voice to everybody, doesn’t matter who, and this is something that’s just a commercial application, which doesn’t earn a lot of money to the person who made it. And Telegram is really hardly connected with the phone number, which is a horrible idea, as in some countries, I think in US you can still buy sim cards without registration to your passport. In Belarus you can’t do that, in Russia you can’t do that, and this is basically like you get an ID that is connected with to your passport, to your ID, to your name, to everything that is attached to that. This is an incredibly horrible thing, because it is also something that you can’t just drop out of. It’s like your whole contact list is connected to that. Your whole social network is connected to it. Imagine Facebook is doing that from time to time that you need your passport to prove blah blah blah. But imagine you have to register with the Facebook by just sending them your passport and sending your phone and all the shit. Then the phone connected to all of the geo-location data. That’s what happens with Telegram and that’s what happened exactly with Telegram during the protests. All the phones that were used to register people who were protesting were connected with it to their IDs, to their passports.

Of course, if you’re like a turbo anarchist, you could find a way to register a Telegram without using a sim card with your name, but most of the people aren’t turbo anarchists. So most of the people had their like passports already speaking into Telegram to get arrested. And some people had can hide and there is this thing and this thing, but at the end of the day there is there’s dozens of ways to figure out the people’s ID’s and that’s what happened. People were prosecuted for the fucking stupidest shit that can happen. Like there is news of a police officer and when he is home and what he did in the last like two months and then someone writes out “this fucking bastard is a swine dog!”, right? “He’s a pig dog!” That’s what happened to one of the people I know. And he got like two years in, ah, I dunno, house arrest or something like that, right? And this was connected with the fact that this person couldn’t be anonymous to write that that cop is a fucking pig, or pig-dog or whatever he wanted to say in his creative mind.

So the infrastructure of Telegram played an important role in repressing the movement through giving this kind of a platform at the beginning, but also in the long run played an important role for the state to repress people. And I think this is also like a, you know, a poisoned apple that you’re like jumping on it and really eager to eat, but then you’re ending up with I dunno, like diarrhea or five years in prison. And as we see right now, what is happening is that Telegram blocked in Russia, we’re not talking about Belarus just jumping to right now, yesterday, the elections in Russia and Telegram blocked the bot for smart voting that the opposition was trying to organize in Russia. Basically, by signing up with the Russian state in repressing this opposition attempts to create some, I dunno, some system that would give people possibility to vote in a different way than Putin organized. Telegram is already giving their, let’s say, open mind to helping repressive apparatus to destroy the efforts in bringing down the dictatorship, and this is going to go further and further. Mmm, yeah. I mean it’s a it’s a huge problem that we are still facing and we have no fucking clue how this will be in the next years. For sure people will switch to another app in, like, three or four or five years, but right now it still goes on and there are people still getting arrested constantly because of their phones once having been connected to their Telegram and Telegram exposing their phones to police and shit like that. Yeah.

Maria: I got to just answer their primary question [laughs] about what people did. Because Vasili didn’t mention that one other thing is that not only identifying people by their phone, but also trying to break in, like hacking the accounts by just cloning sim cards. Because the authorities have the right… well they don’t have that right, but they can. So basically cloning the sim card receiving the SMS with a code, like putting it on their computer and, I don’t know voila, they found an admin of the chat, they found an admin of another channel, of a protest channel. And this is what has been done a lot. And I think, of course, Telegram offers now all layers of whatever security. But the thing is that these layers are not switched on automatically when the person is logging in for the first time, everything is open. And like you need to go through all smallest details until you’re kind of protected. Like if, say nothing of the number, but just to switch on this two-factor identification and la la la everything is so that it’s actually not so easy for the people. We have to also realize that a lot of elderly people like people over 40, 50 and so on, they are not so good with apps. Like they can’t just go, and I don’t know, like manage the VPN and connect to the Telegram in a way that always works when the Telegram is on. I don’t know, like track their traffic, check their IP’s…

So, basically, you can provide some security with Telegram but you’re like needing to be like knowledgeable about this. And people weren’t… It’s too much for a Belarusian person who does the protest for the first time. They need to learn about the security, they need to learn about the facial recognition system cameras, need to know how to speak to cops. Now they need to know how to use Telegram. Everything we had to learn like in ten years of political organizing, they now have to learn in like two months or even less. So, I think answering your question about what was done to education was done by also bigger bloggers, or owners of Telegram channels that where calling people to make the [messages] less unsafe, let’s say. But the problem with Telegram that hasn’t been solved is that people still use it. I think one of the reasons why it’s popular is because it combines a messenger and the news. So, if you want to read the news feed, it’s really easy for you to just change the tab and go and chat with someone. And I think all the options like, let’s say Signal or whatever, that could be a little bit more secure, did not offer you this opportunity. So you, like can’t really read news on Signal or like Facebook is not at all protected in this way. I think there were calls for people using something like Briar or some apps that would be be not tracking the IP or like, but they are quite marginal like that people yeah, it doesn’t catch. Like, people would still use something that is easy to install that their friends are using because everybody’s communicating to each other, where it’s easy to create a chat and so on. So I think yeah, like I said, I agree that this problem has not been solved. I think now, just more people know how to make their settings a bit more secure, that’s it. But people still continue communicating on Telegram.

And I think one of the things they’re trying to do now is like spreading bots. Pretending that they’re making secure bots that are not logging anything but again like how can people check it? If I don’t have knowledge, I can’t really trust it. If my friend is not like an IT specialist or whatever, we don’t know what the servers are and there have already been cases when some oppositional structures were gathering some information from people by bots, and then this information was hacked and like the cops have like all the numbers and all the users who submitted information. And I just wanted to mention that one of the, let’s say, hopes of the protest at the moment is the creation of a bot that is called “Victory Bot” and it was started by Tikhanovskaya and by Pol, which is Belarus police in exile. So, they have created the bot, where you are supposed to register, provide information, including where you’re living, like basically the actual location, where you work, like what is your profession, in which way you would like to help the revolution? Are you ready to be like more radical or not and so on? And so basically they say as soon as they get like enough users, they would later use the bot to send instructions. Like, let’s say they collect five hundred people in one factory who are using the bot and are ready to act, they would just send them the instruction to like block the production or something. But these are promises. I think they started the bought in May and I don’t think there are enough people there to for them to start using it. So yeah. I think, for the moment this problem has not been solved.

TFSR: I can’t imagine what could go wrong?

Maria: Yeah yeah?

Vasili: Actually, the cops already created a bot that has kind of the same name, having just one letter different and people mistakenly would go to that like Belarusian cop bot and they would register there and the data will go to the police and the police would go and arrest people who just wanted to join the Victory bot, but the wrong Victory.

But I think what I forgot as well is the comparison to Hong Kong. And I think for a lot of us was there was kind of a moment of hope that we knew experience from Hong Kong, where people were using Telegram and they were using this kind of chatting, quite intensively, to organize for Belarus, it didn’t work out at all. Like if we would have a chat with five ten thousand people, this is just the garbage like you can talk to people there. It’s just basically like a flow of thought, everybody’s just writing what they think but nobody’s reading what is going on. This is a complete chaos. As for going on the streets with Telegram, the internet works when there is internet. You know this is like a really simple rule, and what Belarusian government was doing is that it was fencing, basically, the zone of demonstration and switching off the internet there, like mobile internet and stuff. This was playing an important role in actually like preventing this, you know, fast communication that Telegram or Signal app or other apps. And it was working pretty well, and people were sometimes quite confused because they were counting on this kind of like coordination through Telegram, they would end up on the street and they wouldn’t have any idea what to do next, like “Okay, we didn’t read the Telegram what are the next steps, so we are not going to self-organize and do some stuff. Rather, we are going to be searching for the internet for next half an hour somewhere where there is no internet.”

 

TFSR: We’ve talked a bit about what repression has look like with, after the fact, people are being surveilled or having their prior images being put into databases and then they’re getting arrested for stuff that they were videoed participating in months before. Or joining up on, apps like the victory bought and kind of turning themselves in. But there are a few instances of the international reach of repression of the Belarusian state that I wanted to point to and see if there are other things… Because, obviously, this is an international concern, this is why I wanted to and very happy to have you both on on the phone, because we resistance struggles in different countries against repression and against capitalism and and hierarchies have to be able to learn from each other, and we also have to be able to offer support to each other. We have an understanding like there’s so many people, as has been mentioned, who have who are now living in exile in Poland or in Ukraine or in other places. So, it’s not just an issue for Belarus and the same repressive apparatuses that are used in all these different places like in Hong Kong or in Belarus are similar they’re controlled from outside. They there’s a lot to learn anyway, blah blah blah. You get the point!

Two examples of the kind of international reach of the Belarusian regime in trying to grab back Belarusian rebels that I can think of that sort of caught my eye: the downing of the Ryan Air flight over Belarus when the plane was forced to land by the Belarusian government, basically saying that there was a bomb on board which resulted in the whisping away of Roman Protasevich, a blogger who ran some of these Telegram channels. And there was also, in the recent past of the last couple of months, the attempted arrest of Alexei Bolenkov in Ukraine. Can you talk about these and other examples that the international audience might want to know about?

Vasili: So the plane story was one of the major mistakes of Lukashenko and what happened there was that for Protasevich was coming from Athens to Lithuania and when you fly back then from Athens to Lithuania, you would pass Belarus if you fly directly. For Lukashenko, somehow he got this awesome idea, or maybe his KGB or maybe his analyst or maybe his fucking dog got this idea “Hey, let’s arrest this guy!” Although his main enemy, Tikhanovskaya, was actually flying on the same flight the day before, which they do didn’t do any kind of arrest. But they decided that they’re going to do him like they’re, going to arrest him. And what happened was this idea that the bomb and then the Belarusian state [started] trying to play the stupid face with [saying] “Oh, this was actually organized by… Hamas” and they showed the email [claiming to be from Hamas]. And for them, it was a thing from one side [of the Belarusian state saying] “Oh, we are going to show all the position that we have control over your body over your freedom and we can snatch you at any point we want!” But at the same time, what they did here is their they actually attacked the power of the European Union in in the world politics. Because Ryan Air is part of the European influence, European property. Let’s say like that. And that arrest pushed quite a lot of action from the European Union, like the the biggest sanctions and the biggest pressure started happening actually after this airplane action of Lukashenko’s. This is not something that happens quite a lot. I think this was the first and only time when Lukashenko did this kind of crazy action. But they are trying to use the, for example, InterPol databases quite often to get the people back or to try to build up pressure. And that was happening as well with the case of an anarchist from Belarus, Bolenkov, about whom Maria will be talking.

Maria: Alright, but don’t you want to the consequences of this downing of the plane?

Vasili: In the sense of what happened to Protasevich, you mean?

Maria: No, no, like in general for the country, politically. It basically was the beginning of all the sanctions that were imposed and also the prohibition on flights from European countries and to European countries? So, basically at the moment, you can’t fly out of Belarus, I think, apart from Russia or like Kazakhstan, something like that. And all the tourist planes have to make a curve around Belarus to even go there or land there.

I think if we speak about anarchists who are persecuted by the State… So, in Belarus at the moment, a lot of anarchist have been arrested because of some prior actions or there prior affiliations, let’s say. Only a few anarchists were arrested just after the protests and in connection with the protests and there’s a case of an
international anarchist criminal organization. And it’s international because they have found one anarchist organization, it’s called Revolutionary Action, that existed in Belarus. Then I think they opened a chapter in Ukraine and they [the Belarusian State] also claimed that ABC-Belarus is also a part of this network according to the police, because the Anarchist Black Cross is supposed to kind of finance all this criminal activity Basically, probably providing solidarity means financing criminal activity. What happened is that they arrested a few groups of people in different cities and, at the moment, they’re all in one big case of this “criminal organization.” And they face think up to 10-12 years, I don’t remember exactly. They are accused of participating in anarchist actions in previous years, so like not really connected with the protests, but they just use the protest and the use the momentum of repression to persecute everyone who could be at some point active in anything in the future.

And the cops also issued a list, I think it was like a 25-person-list, with names of people who are potentially involved in this case or need to be questioned as witnesses and Bolenkov was one of them. He lived in Ukraine for like 7 years now, and basically the local security services came to him and tried to give him the special document that they issued (not the court, but they just issued it from their office) saying that he has to leave the country. So, they didn’t really extracted him, but there it was clear that they have like cooperation with the security service in Belarus and they don’t want these kind of person in Ukraine. They offered him to just leave the country voluntarily. Basically, now, he’s been like trying to appeal it for 4 months. Recently he got the court decision that didn’t up happy did not uphold this order, so he can stay in Ukraine, but the cops appealed again. So now he’s gonna go to the Supreme Court, so the case is not closed. And here we see, like when I was talking previously about safety of Ukraine for people who flee the country, it is safe as long as you’re not an anarchist are not someone who is also being persecuted by the Ukrainian State. So I think the example of Bolenkov is clear about that. This is basically how instrumental cooperation can be between different security services and that you can’t really run away from the State, can’t really run away from the capitalism or from cop’s view. I’m not sure how the case is gonna end, because the pressure from the NGOs and all this kind of concerned public, this is not useful for their Ukrainian police. Probably he’s gonna stay but, anyway, I wouldn’t imagine my life if I was Bolenkov. It would be really weird to just continue living somewhere where you know the [security] services are interested in you and following you and following what you’re doing. It’s it’s a bit hard.

And also, like you said about the other examples… I was already mentioning a few examples of arresting people in Moscow and Russia, so that’s like a kind of the clenches of the regime are there and one of the antifascists from a regional city [Brest], he was persecuted in Belarus for mass riots and he ran away to Moscow. Now he’s been in jail for like half a year. The decision was to extradite him, but his lawyer appealed to the European Court of Human Rights and the court said that Russia can’t do that because he could face threats to life or health. So, basically for the moment he still is in Moscow, but we don’t know like what will happen because Russia can also disobey and doesn’t give a shit about this European court decisions.

TFSR: Please correct me if I’m wrong about this, but I think I recall that last July, the [Belarusian] administration released a bunch of long-standing political prisoners that they were that they were holding onto…

Maria: When you said last year, July, I think you mixing it up in with 2015. There were a lot of people arrested in 2010, anarchists included, and also people who protested the 2010 presidential elections. And, back then, the last pack of people was pardoned in 2015, including Mikola Dziadok, and Igor Oliněvič, who are anarchists and who are in jail again at this time. They were arrested in November of last year.

So, what’s happening now, just to mention the pardoning tendencies, Lukashenko is trying to do it again. Although it’s really, really, weird because what’s happening is that he has a person who was previously a political prisoner and then he was set free, probably on the pretext of cooperation. So now he has formed like, kind of a party or a movement for like democratic change or something like that, and his organization is sending out letters to all the political prisoners and asking them to write a petition for mercy, and some people do [this]. I think it has now about twenty people who has been pardoned starting from March, but either it means that not so many political prisoners are actually writing these petitions for mercy or it means that not all of them get pardoned.

Getting back to prisoners that ABC supports, at the moment, like I said, there is the group of the “international criminal organization”, around 9 people I think. [There are] 4 people from that is called “Anarcho-Partisans”. These are people there who were arrested in the forests on the border between Belarus and Ukraine, and they are accused of setting fire of cop cars or or some prosecutors offices or police stations in the region, in the provinces. And Mikola Dziadok, he turned out to be a blogger recently. So he had a anarchist Youtube channel or something, and he was decided to stay in the country and he was arrested in a [supposedly] “safe flat” (safe house). They found him by surveillance cameras and face recognition system. And there’s a few groups of former football hooligans of the antifascist football clubs that were also participating in the mass riots or attacking cops and stuff like that. So, there are some more individual people who were arrested really recently, because in the late July and August, cops actually attacked like everyone they had on a list or everybody who was even like in contact with anarchists. And some of the people were arrested for fifteen or thirty days, but some actually got to criminally charged for just being in the streets participating in marches. Not really mass riots, but just having a picture of you standing on the roadway is already blocking the traffic or something like that. These are people who now come to my mind but, like I said it’s about like it’s a little bit less than 30 people.

And just to mention it, there’re up to 4,000 people that day prosecution reports about as being prosecuted for mass riots, all for offending the State, offending the president, offending cops online. And a little bit over 1,000 of them are behind bars. So among them are 30 anarchist and anti fascists. And if you realize that the anarchist movement is not so big in the country, the anti fascist movement doesn’t really exist at the movement. So, there’re pieces of some groups, leftovers of like this antifa hooligan scene, let’s say who are not like really organized. We are speaking here about 300, 500 people max, like you are just affiliate themselves with the ideas. And having like 30 of them behind bars out of this number and 1,000 of the millions of Belarus who were protesting means that’s our part of the movement got repressed quite a lot, if we speak about like percentage.

TFSR: Can you talk about the upcoming crowd-funding to the ABC Belarus is going to be enacting, how much funds are needed, where the money would be going and how people can and get involved in supporting that?

Maria: Right. So, basically, like I said previously, we are trying to help people financially in the first place with legal fees and care packages to prison. But also with paying for therapy sessions or providing money for people who have spent like a month in jail, for example, but they couldn’t work at, but they have to still pay for their flats. Or people who have migrated and need some support, at least in the first 3-6 months. And that’s a lot of people. We don’t really receive a lot of the nations in Belarus because there’s almost no one left, everybody is either in jail or outside of the country. Also, it’s not safe to have a personal account where people could donate in Belarus. So most of our donation channels are like electronic wallets or bitcoin, Paypal, or European bank accounts. Which is not to really useful for people in Belarus, because Paypal doesn’t work there and European bank account would require a lot of fees. So most of our donations are coming from abroad and each case costs us like around 5,000 Euros or $6,000 – $7,000. And these are ongoing. Like, people are going to stay in jail for like 5-10 years if nothing changes. And in order to provide assistance on an ongoing basis, once a year we’re putting on a big crowd-funding campaign trying to attract funds. So, it would be really cool if people could spread it, and I think the link was going to appear somewhere in the description to this episode. It would be really cool if you could spread the word, because this is something we really need now.

TFSR: Were there any other things that you wanted to say before we ended this interview?

Maria: Maybe I just wanted to mention that it does sound like a failure and I think it is a failure in a way if we just think about it as that the aim was to change the regime. Let’s say that for me, as a participant in all these process of transformation of the society that used to be totally apolitical and totally not interested (also a little bit anti-anarchist, let’s say), I saw a lot of good things about it. And I think actually, I’m happy that it didn’t change in like a month that people just have another president now and think they leave in democracy. I think it’s perfect that people had to go through this process. Of course it’s painful for them and it’s like maybe doesn’t make sense for many of them, but in general it feels that the next time when something like this happens- and it will happen at some point- we’ve got like a lot of people in the country with experience, with the anger, and with probably not so much illusions about the peaceful protest or whatever. And also people who have experienced solidarity, who have organized solidarity by themselves or who got to know their neighbors, tried some kind of self organizing methods and so on. And especially now they’re got really interested in… not really anarchist ideas, I would say, but… Anarchists became people that everybody likes, let’s say, without knowing what exactly they’re doing, but I think the anarchist movement got like this kind of credit of trust and I think it’s important for us.

Vasili: And I think that for me, what is also important is that for a lot of people in the so-called First World, anarchism is some kind of an abstraction that may be leads to some bizarre utopia, but it doesn’t have connections to the reality. While for us in the east, it is a reality. We are not just, you know, fighting for some utopia on some island or on some other planet, but rather we’re trying to push the anarchist revolutionary ideas towards the society and the moment that we had in 2020 was the moment when the society was transforming as well, under the anarchist influence and under anarchist ideas of horizontal organizing and self-organizing in the neighborhood assemblies and so on and so forth. So, it is really important to remember that we are not standing for some thing that will never happen, rather that we are standing for revolutionary transformation of society that will happen if we believe in that, if we are fighting strong enough. And Belarus is still fighting, and we hope that we will, well, destroy the fucker’s regime and we’ll live not only in the beautiful new Presidential Republic, but will live in the country that is giving an example to the rest of the world, how to be free, how to organize, how to smash the authoritarianism!

TFSR: Thank you, Maria and Vasili both for participating in this conversation and sharing your experiences and perspectives, and I look forward to sharing this with the audience.