Category Archives: abolition

Abolition in the Philippines with The Dinner Party and family

Abolition in the Philippines with The Dinner Party and family

[00:09:34 – 01:43:24]

"Abolitionism & Anarchy in the Philippines } TFSR 24-07-22" featuring logos for Abolisyon, The Dinner Party, PaglayaPup and Cavite Mutual Aid
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This week we’re sharing an interview that we conducted with anarchists and abolitionists mostly in and around Manila, the capital of the Philippines. You’ll hear from K, Honey, Adrienne, Castle, Magsalin and R. During the chat they share about their projects, discussions of abolitionism in the Philippines, decolonization discourse, informal organizing, accountability and challenging patriarchal dynamics in the traditional left and more.

Collectives Participating:

Other Links of note:

References relevant to what was discussed in the podcast

Kevin Rashid Johnson Update

[01:43:44 – end]

You’ll hear Kevin Rashid Johnson of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party talk about the continued denial of medical treatment at Nottoway CI in Virginia and thanking supporters who have been calling in. You can find details on how to continue the call-in campaign in the July 17th episode.

Sean Swain on Mass Shootings

[00:01:14 – 00:09:34]

Sean talks about the uselessness of police in mass shootings, basically.

. … . ..

Featured Track:

  • Abolish Work by The (International) Noise Conspiracy from The First Conspiracy

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with names, preferred gender pronouns, and location information you’d like to share? And it may also be helpful for you to mention your political perspectives and what projects you’re involved with. We can go into a little more detail after an intro if you want or you can just roll right into what your projects do.

K: Okay, I can start by introducing myself. I go by K, she/her pronouns. I’m from the Philippines, and I’m part of Abolisyon.

Adrienne: I guess it’s my turn next. I’m Adrienne, I use they/she pronouns. I’m also from Abolisyon, but I’m also with The Dinner Party. I’ll be speaking on behalf of everyone in The Dinner Party today, I guess.

Honey: I’ll go next. Hi, my name is Honey. I’m also part of Abolisyon, I am Filipina, but I’m currently in occupied Hohokam and O’odham land which is known to be modern-day Phoenix, Arizona. But I’ll be going back to the Philippines by next month.

Castle: I think I can go next. I go by Castle and he/they pronouns. I’m part of Paglaya and also Project Kapwa. But I also converse with people in The Dinner Party and Abolisyon.

Magsalin: Okay, so that leaves me. Hi, I’m Magsalin from Abolisyon as well. A bit of a writer, aspiring at least.

TFSR: Cool. It’s very nice to meet you all. I use he/him pronouns. Thank you all for being here.

You’ve mentioned Abolisyon, The Dinner Party, Paglaya, Project Kapwa. Could you talk a little bit about each of these projects in turn, the work you do, and how the projects came to be?

Magsalin: Abolisyon was started out as a working group in 2020. But later the team held an educational discussion on what if there were no policing persons, and from that developed a core group of people to expound upon abolitionist organizing here in the Philippines. And from there, it’s been growing a little. I like the growth so far. We’ve made some headway and actually getting abolitionist ideas – defunding police, restorative justice, these things out there. I’m pretty happy with what you’ve done so far. But we could still do more. Honey was actually one of the speakers at that event. So that’s why I think I’ve always looked up to Honey as a role model.

Honey: Thank you, Magsalin. We organize Abolisyon coming from that online discussion that we had. And we do a lot of things in Abolisyon. We don’t want to be confined to very specific kinds of organizing, because that’s something that we are trying to challenge within our group. We do survivor support, we do harm reduction and mutual aid, and we do a lot on transformative justice and accountability. We are trying to do a lot more on prisoner support. We’re trying to work on that because it’s hard to navigate it with our current political climate here in the Philippines. We are also trying to engage with other organizations and projects to engage them in abolitionist ideas and organizing. Anyone else want to add in?

Adrienne: The Dinner Party grew around Abolisyon and other adjacent and parallel projects with people who were similar or sharing different spaces and getting to know each in these related spaces together. We pulled everyone into just a random group chat and were like “Hey, maybe we should have a name for ourselves.” And then, we found one of these tweets that were targeting the affinity group we were in, and then they started saying, “We shouldn’t be too fluffy with our politics.” And they started saying things like “The revolution isn’t a dinner party.” But then we were “Why shouldn’t that be?” That’s how we got our name. The Dinner Party isn’t necessarily the collective, it’s an umbrella for different collective efforts like Abolisyon, Paglaya, and Project Kapwa, but it’s this space where we all come together and gather and just talk and share ideas and find interest, inspiration from each other’s different projects and efforts, whether it’s political or personal.

TFSR: This is pointing towards a question that I was going to ask later. But I’m curious about the genealogy of the term Abolition in the Philippines. It has a pretty specific historical context within the US coming from the movement to abolish slavery and then developing through a critique of the 13th amendment in the US Bill of Rights that said that slavery was abolished, except for when someone was convicted of a crime. And there’s a racialized and class element to who gets convicted of the crimes in the United States at least. And I would imagine, it’s pretty common in a lot of countries. But I wonder what abolitionist discourse is, how that trajectory developed in the Philippines, and how it looks different to your understandings from how it is in the US.

Magsalin: Basically, the name of Abolisyon is rooted in the black radical tradition, it’s very clear we borrow from and pay homage to it in a sense by the name itself. Other abolitionist groups probably have friendlier names, but we just thought that Abolisyon is declaring, with an exclamation marK: Abolisyon now!

Adrienne: While we’re very conscious about the difference in context, obviously, in Philippine history, we also had a context of slavery. But the context is so different, it’s more related to class than race or different ethnolinguistic groups or anything. So it’s that consciousness as well. I think we are also there when we practice and when we talk about abolition because it’s really a very Western concept that we’re working with, but we’re also trying to adopt a lot of ideas so that it really fits in our context in the Philippines better.

TFSR: Okay, thanks for that. I personally find a lot of inspiration that that philosophical and action-oriented heritage has found its way and expression in so many different contexts. And necessarily, in each of these different contexts, whether it be the Philippines or be abolitionist work in South Africa, or in Chile, or wherever people are implementing that terminology, there’s a lot of commonalities that even despite the different histories, you can say, we have these generalized sources of incarceration, we have these structures of policing, they may have a different history or slightly different scent to them, but they all stink in the same way. So I think that’s a really interesting point for me.

Would anyone from Paglaya or Project Kapwa want to speak a little bit about what those projects are, who’s involved in them, and what your goals are? Unless somebody wants to react directly to what I just said.

Magsalin: I’d like to react directly to what you said. It’s interesting to note that Alex Vitale, for example, noted that the model the American colonial government used in the Philippines was directly transplanted and used to suppress proletarians in Philadelphia. So it’s very clear how policing was brought to the Philippines as a colonial concept and then through the machinations of imperialism, this was transplanted and used against those in the core, the proletarians in the core. So that’s very interesting, very important to know that little thing.

Honey: I think it’s important to mention as well, that there are other organizing spaces or tendencies, specifically, the leftist movement, the National Democratic Movement, who do have a different meaning for abolition. They do want to abolish police and prisons, but they want to replace them with something else that represents their group, so they want to replace them with what they call the People’s Court and People’s Police. That’s different from what we do because we want to totally abolish carceral systems and with them, and their meaning of abolition is just abolishing the current power structures and replacing them with theirs.

TFSR: Is that party – one that we’re going to be addressing when we talk about interrelations between other leftist formations – would you say that that organization is on the left of a just an authoritarian strain that is wanting to just grab the government basically and implement it and by renaming stuff People’s this and People’s that it suddenly becomes a dictatorship of the proletariat type thing?

Honey: Yes, definitely.

Adrienne: There’s been a lot of antipolice sentiments in the past couple of years because of the pandemic and how it’s been utilized. One of the things we see a lot online is sentiments about abolishing the police but replacing it with people’s police or people’s defense or something similar to community police. But then for Abolisyon, it’s always been the question of why does it have to be the police? Why does it have to replicate these kinds of dynamics, and not just that, but even in the current relations, that are present in leftist spaces that are dominating our spaces now, it’s really clear now that their dynamics, the way they relate with one another, a lot of different movements and different organizations don’t really align with their ideologies are still very similar to the dynamics of policing. We in Abolisyon want to abolish such structures.

TFSR: I don’t know if anyone else had had commentary on that because that says a lot. And that seems like a pretty common struggle that we see here is that there are organizations that are “Yeah, all cops are bastards, except for the ones that we’re gonna hire and put in doing the job.”

Magsalin: Yeah, actually, it’s so wonderful, what we’re trying to do here. In our engagement with the leftists, we try to tell them how carcerality manifests in the left and how socialism is actually anti-carceral. Because socialism is about the abolition of classes, police and prisons are actually things that reinforce classes. So obviously, police and prisons can’t be instruments for a classless society. This is very hard because there’s a lot of resistance to the idea. But we’ve been trying to explain to them.

TFSR: There are some pretty clear questions that people pretty naturally have socialized into whatever system that you’re socialized into: you see harm exist in the society around you and between people in your community. And if the answer that’s given to how do we resolve issues of harm, how do we keep ourselves safe, and our neighbors safe and our family safe. It’s pretty easy these days to just say – if you haven’t done some thinking – “The solution is for this arbitrary third party to come in and be a giver of justice and balance the scales between the issues or resolve the issue by removing someone who’s been causing harm from the situation.” So there’s a lack of imagination on the part of those folks.

Do they react pretty well when you offer a picture of how the carceral system and policing operate within their society? Or do people point to “existing socialism” in other countries and say, “That’s a model that actually resolves this issue, their prisons, and their police work well”?

K: Yeah, that’s one of the things that we have to confront when we talk about these things. They do cite a lot of experiments with socialism and communism. But at the same time, when you try to point out how these things failed, or eventually will fail, or whatever issues are existing now, they will be saying, “Oh, but this country isn’t actually socialist or communist.” So they flip-flop in different ways. It’s very much a lot of dynamics is cherry-picking with what arguments work for them, depending on what context. And one of the reasons for that and the difficulty with really bringing these conversations to bigger spaces and engaging with them in a deeper and more meaningful way is because there’s really a struggle and issue with the lack of political imagination that exists in the Philippines. So a lot of the concepts and ideas we have about participating politically, getting involved, and talking to people are very much skewed towards just showing political will. It’s really a numbers game in a way, as well as just hammering people in with a lot of jargon that comes from leftist spaces, and not really much attention to how we prefigure politics and the future that we want in our current practices. In my personal experience as well.

In the different threads and sectors of the left here, you will see that they will be talking about socialist futures that are economies destroying and abolishing the patriarchy within their personal relationships, the dynamics are so fucked-up that they actually cause more harm than they do good in their immediate spaces. So there are a lot of predators and abusers and harassers that are loose, and they get excused in these spaces, because they’ll say, “Oh, these people are really good organizers and speakers, so we can’t just kick them out.” That forces a lot of survivors of abuse and harm to just lie low, go underground, or maybe totally drop off the space together. When we talk about Abolisyon and the future that we want to work on together, not just in Abolisyon, but even in The Dinner Party and maybe even Paglaya and Project Kapwa. It’s really not just about that distant future, but really trying to bring these ideas into our direct personal relationships in our immediate spaces. Because otherwise, they wouldn’t mean anything, if they’re not things that we can actually act on right now in the present moment. It’s just that these are building blocks for us. But for the mainstream left here, or for a lot of the leftist spaces, they would think that we’re talking about something that’s too idealistic. If it’s not too idealistic, it’s too soft, too fluffy. It’s not really political, because you’re just talking about relationships and the personal, but for us, it’s like why can’t these be arenas and spaces and battles in which we actually try to bring in and live these ideas that we already have and we already talked about a lot?

TFSR: Yeah. Castle, do you want to talk about the projects that you’re involved in?

Castle: Yeah, you were talking about accountability and how community organizers do organizing work in our spaces. Basically, Paglaya means ‘to liberate’ or ‘liberation’ in English. It was founded by a group of people deciding and realizing that we should go beyond common structures and hierarchies within our organizing spaces. So we are a group of people who were advocates, and we are still advocates of students’ rights and welfare, we were focusing on having strong legislation or even laws that would protect and uphold our student’s rights and welfare as students in the university setting. We realized that we should organize beyond legislation, and we’ve reformed.

We were empowered even more when our group was discussing what Magsalin wrote, actually. It was a paper discussing liberatory politics and anarchism in the archipelago Philippines. So we were ostracized in the mainstream organization movement in both our university and on the national level of organizing because as anarchists and the norm of organizing right now in the context of the Philippines, we are seen as the irrational number in organizing spaces. We often say that we should drop out of colleges and universities because it’s basically it’s what anarchists should do, but Paglaya is a university-based anarchist organization that explores, imbibes and prefigures anarchist practices. So it also hopes and organizes for and with autonomy, consent, direct actions, and free association. So within our spaces, we decided for collective total liberation and the cultivation of libertarian tendencies. I feel like that’s how Paglaya is and how we identify as members of Paglaya. It was just a network of people realizing that we should go beyond–

In the Philippines, when you say ‘progressive,’ that’s the right way to do it. If you’re a progressive individual, the politics that you’re in and the practices that you live by are the best things that you can do to contribute and to live as an individual. So we realize that, as individuals, especially in the university setup, we should go beyond progressiveness. And we should go beyond the established structure of organizing because we were ostracized by the seniors, by people who are part of the higher levels, by fourth-year college students, by well-known organizers in our spaces, because we were exploring, and it was dangerous because we do not have leaders to guide us in these organizing moments of our lives. So that’s Paglaya.

Talking about Project Kapwa, it’s one of us Paglaya members practicing and experimenting with how mutual aid goes. Fun fact about it actually: in the university set up, we have this one specific professor who did not attend one of our classes, so we just decided that we should reach out and explore, as proactive individuals in our university, we should try and encourage them, we should do our own activity and projects. That’s Project Kapwa. It is basically our channel and medium of practicing and prefiguring a society wherein mutual aid is mainstream, we live by mutual aid in terms of not just exercising but really espousing the society that we want when we are in crisis when we are struggling with different– Especially in the Philippines, since it’s an archipelago, we are really indifferent natural disasters and everything. So Project Kapwa and Paglaya are basically our new bodies of exploring and experimenting with anarchism and prefiguration.

TFSR: You mentioned Paglaya being limited within the realm of people relating as students and people wanting to drop out or get out. I don’t know how long or how institutionalized that project has been going, but if there’s room for it to bridge to the outside… Because having a space for libertarian-minded students seems important, even if the people that are in the group maybe are not wanting to be in the school space anymore. I don’t know if there’s room for a bridge to organizations or groupings outside of the student realm.

Castle: Actually, right now, because we were really attacked by both the administration and the student organizations within our university, we decided to structure it in a way that’s acceptable inside the university. But right now as our organization and our network are really growing, and we are learning anarchism and prefiguration, we are currently deciding on and talking about how we can destructure it and disorganize the network, to really go beyond the norm of organization of “When you are a student, you should focus on the student movement, you should focus on student organizing” because that’s how we were conditioned in the mainstream organizing of the left in the Philippines, that you should be part of the masses and be aligned with a specific strand of politics.

So right now, we are actively discussing and learning how we can destructure and disorganize Paglaya so that he can go on a more local setup and at the same time on an individual level, not just really organizing for being part of this membership, but like as people. We were talking within Abolisyon, TDP, and other anarchist spaces that rather than membership, we should build and work together within our societies and communities. So that’s how we see Paglaya right now in terms of the question that you asked.

TFSR: What does Kapwa mean in English?

Adrienne: Probably it is not a directly translatable Tagalog word, but I guess the closest word that was mentioned in the chat is fellow, ‘kapwa’ refers to an other, but it’s this other that isn’t necessarily a stranger, but someone you still actively care about and treat as part of your community. So it’s something like that.

Castle: I can add on that as well. Actually, Project Kapwa was our envision, a project where we want to espouse the mutual aid aspect of the key tenet of anarchism. So, Kapwa, for us, is really someone who is your equal, equal with potential and equal with the knowledge that you have. Because in our spaces right now, in the context of the Philippines, you’re not considered as a Kapwa by part of the movement if you are not organized, and if you are not part of the membership. You’re not considered a fellow activist, even if you’re ranting on Twitter, if you demanding accountability on different platforms of social media, and different platforms on ground and online, you’re not part of our spaces. Especially on a political and theoretical level, if you’re not knowledgeable about such stuff. So, Project Kapwa really wants to acknowledge that issue. And at the same time, practice that. Even if you do not know these things on an academic level, you’re still part and you are still capable and able enough to be part of this community and organize mutual aid.

TFSR: Yeah, that totally makes a lot of sense. I think there’s a lot of jargon that activists can sometimes bring up and gatekeep others. That’s a really good approach – recognizing that a lot of the anarchisms that I’ve interacted through throughout my life… Sometimes it’s based on a lot of studies, but a lot of the practices are based on things that people normally do in community with each other and mutual respect as opposed to having a degree or being able to quote some dead bald or bearded guy. So I really think that’s a pretty cool approach. Was anyone wanting to speak about Cevite Mutual Aid?

Honey: I am part of Cevite Mutual Aid. I invited someone from our group to actually speak but they were unable to attend, after all. I don’t want to be taking that space because I’ll be speaking for Abolisyon.

Basically, Cevite Mutual Aid started before Abolisyon, it’s a mix of people. They’re not necessarily anarchists, but there are a couple of people from the anarcho-punk community. So basically what we do is mutual aid stuff. It’s somehow related to Food Not Bombs in Cevite. It’s basically not the same, most people from that group as well. Cevite Mutual Aid, there is already an established community for Food Not Bombs in Cevite, so it’s very easy for us to do food pantries or food distribution projects.

But also, since I’m in the US, I’m able to do fundraising and send some money over there to help with our projects. Another thing that we do with Cevite Mutual Aid is that we support the medical needs of people in our community. We’re basically the group that does the fundraising for them and distribute that money to them. But also we do a bit of survivor support. There are a lot of things that we do based on what people within the group are capable of– the same with Abolisyon. We call it a mutual aid group because that’s the main thing that we do in Cevite Mutual Aid.

TFSR: The Philippines being an archipelago and being a series of islands that are, surely, very culturally distinct – a distinction with the fauna and the flora across all these islands. And I’m sure that power is dispersed differently, whether someone’s in one of the major cities or in the countryside. Are you all based in the same location? Are there certain cities that you have in common?

Magsalin: We live in what’s called the National Capital Region, it’s a national core, which is an imperial core, but for a country. So this national core actually has a name, which is Imperial Manila, where Filipinos can see Manila as an imperial capital, where the peripheries always have to follow the rule of a very distant president very far away. And so this notion of core-periphery relations is something deeply felt by Filipinos. And yeah, we live in the core.

K: I do want to mention, though, that we do have members, people associated with our collective that live outside of the National Capital Region, but I think the majority of us live in NCR or have had a lot of experience within the National Capital Region.

Adrienne: That doesn’t mean by any means that the experience is monolithic because I live in a part of the National Capital Region or Metro Manila, as we call it, that’s a bit newer. It’s like a young city. And so a lot of the experiences I have in the periphery of the imperial core are a mix of urban realities with a more rural pace. So even within Metro Manila, because of the local governments, because municipal governments are Barangays. Even experiences within the core are very different. Different levels of poverty, different levels of government responsibility, and action or inaction. In Metro Manila, we have a joke about some cities being called the Soviet East because the cities in the East have a better functioning and more responsive government compared to the rest of Metro Manila. But even then, we still live in the core. And it’s just a difference between how competent people in government are not necessarily how much better they are at their job.

TFSR: Sometimes less competency is a better thing.

Honey: I think Castle and me are from the south. Specifically, I am from Cevite, I don’t know how to describe that place, but people used to refer to it as a Florida of the Philippines.

TFSR: That means a lot of things to a lot of different people.

I wonder if you would share a little bit about your understanding of the introduction of the theory of anarchism into the Philippines. Obviously, there’s a lot of really important discussion about whether the theory is the important thing or it is a way that Western philosophers were able to point to commonalities among communities and urges towards equality or tendencies towards equality and commonality in those communities. So the Circle A or capital A or whatever maybe isn’t the important thing but I wonder as an organized movement or project, if you could talk a little bit about anarchism in the Philippines and how it’s been suppressed in the past by communist parties, the church, the state in different ways at different times, and how did you all get involved in that tendency, or in autonomous anti-capitalism, if that’s more your jam?

Magsalin: Anarchist tendencies only emerged in the past 30 years in the Philippines. A long time ago during the American colonial period. In the first decade of the 20th century, there was anarchist literature spreading around the country brought home by the first Filipino socialist Isabelo de los Reyes. But this never really resulted in a coherent tendency. It didn’t ever become an anarchist tendency. They were just anarchist-inflected.

And later, because of the success of the Soviet Union and the revolution in Russia, they were absorbed into the old Communist Party in 1930. Then fast forward decades later, on the eve of the Marcos dictatorship, there’s this one historian suggests that the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan Mendiola, or the Association of Democratic Youths of Mendiola (which is the place) was an organization. And they commandeered a fire truck and rammed it into the Presidential Palace, which is pretty cool, but it’s difficult to tell if they were actually anarchists. I haven’t been able to find surviving literature from the period, so it’s still up in the air. But if they were, Paglaya is the first anarchist organization in 50 years, which is something. But they eventually were absorbed into the Communist Party, the new one, CPP, and they disappeared. That brings us to the 90s, where punk rock brought new anarchism to the Philippines that developed into a punk anarchist milieu that moved around Food Not Bombs.

Later on, we emerged in the last decade, I suppose. So that’s us, the latest wave. And we represent something hopefully new, not just new to the left, but also new to the anarchist scene because the anarchist scene here was what you call “manarchist.” “Manarchist” meaning is man plus anarchist – very patriarchal, very insular, very navel-gazing. So we’re hoping to introduce some new articulation that reaches out to more people, not just very niche circles. As a first impression, it’s very clear that the government suppresses the National Democratic Movement, which is a tendency that emerged in the new Communist Party of the Philippines. But they’re not all actually affiliated with Communist Party. Anyway, this tendency is the one that is most heavily suppressed by the government. And not only that, but the tendency inside the Communist Party also suppresses other leftists. 20 years ago, they started an assassination campaign against a Marxist Leninist & Social Democrats. And just last year, they bombed the Labor leader with “Centro.” And that was bad. They apologized, but they never were transparent why these things happen. We don’t actually know why he was killed. So this is the same Communist Party that thirty years ago murdered hundreds of their own country. So these people definitely can’t be trusted.

Honey: I think it’s very important as well to mention that for me personally, I think that a lot of people got into anarchism because of the anarcho-punk scene, because that’s my entry point, listening to music and then reading zines, such as Profane Existence, Slug & Lettuce, Slingshot, Maximum Rock’n’Roll. So more of my politicization is into zine readings and exchanging zines with people from abroad. From my experience as well, a lot of people from anarcho-punk spaces have been organizing long before like Food Not Bombs, mutual aid initiatives, and Really, Really Free Markets. Because there’s a very rich zine culture before in the Philippines, I think that’s where most of the anarchists in the Philippines’ entry point is, the hardcore punk scene as well.

Adrienne: To add a bit to what Magsalin was talking about a while ago. So, for a bit of context, I worked for someone who used to be intimately involved with the CPP. So my boss used to be involved there. One of the things that I learned from there was really how much of the leftist politics of what we would call the peak of the mainstream left here is really also super personalistic. It can get really petty. There are issues about money that have literally led to people being kicked out of the Party and then not being able to come back to the country because they’re blacklisted, and they couldn’t access any direct route back to the Philippines, etc.

And I think one of the conditions that they were talking about wanting to do for this was really acknowledging the bridges that happen and trying to help the families of the comrades who died back on their feet, like giving financial assistance to them. And so the leadership of the CPP rejected that, they didn’t want to get involved in it. They’re still like a stalemate. So you get a sense of how petty and not even ideological all these struggles and battles within the left are. But at the same time, it’s not just on the leadership level, because of the structure and that dynamic that’s going on in the party, it cascades and gets replicated even in the personal lives and interactions of a lot of the members of the mass organizations.

I came from a very different background, I came into anarchism by way of feminism. I really only got roped into it, because my professor who was also starting his journey into anarchism just pulled me in and said, “Okay, read all of this stuff that I’m reading.” For me, it felt like a natural progression in that direction. Because for me, a lot of the things that I believe in and identify as a feminist for are things that are common in anarchism, a lot of it is about really equalizing a lot of the vertical and hierarchical power dynamics and relationships, and really talking about how it’s not just about liberating people from the patriarchy, from gender oppression, and suppression and gender struggle, but also about a lot of how the intersections of class and gender, and ethnolinguistic background or race, religion, etc. are things that we have to collectively address and not just reduced into the issue of class. I got radicalized in the university, and I wanted to join the left. But then I found a lot of people who said that they had really negative experiences, not to discourage me, but just to give me a context of what I wanted to get into. So in my experience, a lot of these people would talk about how harmful the dynamics have been. And the organizations really focus a lot on class, the left here is very class reductionist. They would rant about anything that doesn’t relate to class as identity politics and dismiss it as a bad thing as if identity wasn’t an integral part of your humanity. And so for me, it was a constant and ongoing question of what is it really that we are experiencing? Why does it have to be reduced to class when we know that a lot of the things that we struggle against aren’t really things that will go away when capitalism goes away?

Just a bit of background: I’m a sociology graduate. So those are the questions that kept me up at night and helped me not get into a lot of mass organizing and mass organizations or groups really, because I felt like they weren’t really sufficient in addressing a lot of the fundamental inequalities that we struggle with, especially in the Philippines.

Magsalin: I’d like to point out that our milieu is not just an anarchist, but an anarchist abolitionist milieu, because we do have people who don’t identify as anarchists, but they are abolitionists. And I think that’s important because after all, the Invisible Committee said, “It is not up to the rebel to learn to speak anarchist. It is up to the anarchists to become polyglot.”

Honey: I’ve mentioned before that my politicization and my entry point with anarchy stems from the anarcho-punk scene. This is one of the issues as well that we have within our anarchist abolitionist milieu. Because we have a joke, where since people’s politicization are different, there is this division between anarchists in the Philippines where there are people who are anarcho-punk whose entry point is more on the music scene. And then some people are more into the academy. And so, from my experience, being involved in the anarcho-punk community, there is this fear of people from this space from engaging with people from the academy because of a lot of barriers with language. People from the anarcho-punk scene don’t like discussing theories a lot, but I think it’s important as well. And it’s crucial to challenge ourselves when we’re replicating harmful systems or harmful behaviors.

One of the challenges and one of the questions that we have within our group is how we are going to be more engaging with people whose entry point to anarchism, or whose politicization with anarchism is different from us. Say, for example, Cevite Mutual Aid, what I mentioned before, a lot of people from that group are from the anarcho-punk scene, and we would like to be able to engage them more with projects from Abolisyon, though we’re already doing that. We’re already supporting each other with our projects and initiatives. But we want more of an engagement, talking, discussions on how we’re going to apply our politics in our personal lives, how are we going to organize better that’s different from the normal organizing dynamics that there are, from the leftist spaces. If Adrienne would like to discuss more what The Dinner Party would like to do with this challenge…

Adrienne: Yeah. As mentioned a while ago, not only the existing left spaces, but even anarchist spaces here don’t really focus on how immediate actually in every day a lot of the political ideas we talk about can be. In The Dinner Party, we tend to focus a lot on this everyday aspect, particularly on relational politics, and building relationships with each other. Because we think that the harm and oppression that exists not only on a state level but on a very general structural level gets replicated a lot in our personal relationships because that’s how socialization works. That’s how these structures were supposed to sustain themselves, maintain themselves, perpetuate and survive. They have to really embed and incorporate themselves in the everyday lives of these individual people – of us. Even we, as people who identify as radicals, are also implicated and required to do the personal work of actually asking what does a better future look like? What does an anarchist Utopia look like for us?

The things that we’ve mentioned and seen in our spaces is that the politics that they talk about, that they preach about isn’t really something that they live. But for The Dinner Party, we find that it’s urgent, and it’s actually more concrete and doable when we start talking about the practicality of our politics existing in our personal relationships. Because when we talk about politics, it is something that we have to confront in our everyday lives. It means that it’s not just that the personal is political. It’s also that the political is personal. And therefore, it’s something that we have to really actively and consciously live in and live through. And one of the most immediate and certain ways to do that is in our personal relationships, in our friendships, in our families, in our romantic relationships, like the idea that the revolution starts at home. It’s not just some motto, or like some sappy thing that radicals say, it’s an actual truth. Because unless we look at how we replicate inequalities and violence and harm interpersonal relationships and change it, we’re not going to be any good radicals, we’re not going to be any good activists, we’re just saying, we’re just hypocrites, basically, because we don’t actually live and act on the politics that we talk about. Talk about it and keep on preaching to other people about it. For me, it’s not just abolition of the state, it’s not just a revolution in the streets. It’s actually a revolution that involves every single aspect of our humanity, of our personal life. So for me, it’s that thing that if you don’t struggle with the change, if you don’t struggle with your politics, if it’s not difficult for you, maybe you’re not doing it right.

K: I really resonate a lot with what Adrienne said. Just to give context, I’m actually one of those people who don’t identify as an anarchist, but I’m still part of Abolisyon, and I also engage with The Dinner Party. And I really appreciate spaces like these because I don’t feel forced to have to identify as an anarchist. Although I do feel like I have anarchist leanings, I do feel like I resonate with anarchist values, but being in this space, I don’t feel like I’m forced to be an anarchist to engage with them. It’s a very welcoming space. And I feel like I learned so much from them.

Personally, I’ve never had any experience in mainstream political organizing spaces, even though I did graduate from the university, I don’t think any form of like politicization and radicalization came from that. For me, it came from being exposed to Twitter. Initially, my view of mainstream organizing came from Twitter, particularly Philippine Leftist Twitter, and I did always get the feeling and notion that to be a legitimate organizer, you had to join specific rallies, or you had to be part of a mass organization. And this was something that wasn’t really possible for me because I have multiple health conditions, I can’t even work at a regular corporate job because I get sick very often. So imagine joining a mass organization where there’s a lot of work involved, I thought that was out of the question for me. So luckily, I was able to find this space. When I realized how organizing works in this space, at first, I was a bit shocked, because it really wasn’t the same organizing that I saw on Twitter. But I really appreciate that because to me, organizing was work.

And when I first got to Abolisyon, I did volunteer for a project, but I was unable to follow through with it because I got sick. And because I was dealing with a lot of personal things. However, it wasn’t taken against me at all. What I like about organizing in Abolisyon is that they really take into account what happens to each person personally. So there’s no forcing, meaning that you can engage with whatever level you’re comfortable with. If you have to take a break, it’s really not a problem at all. And this was really so different from what I saw, from the feeling I got from mainstream political organizing spaces.

Honey: One of the things that the leftist spaces, organizers in general use against anarchists or anarchism to devalue our efforts is to say that we need to measure our productivity when it comes to organizing. That’s a thing that we’re very critical about in Abolisyon, we don’t want to replicate those dynamics. I’ve been part of the National Democratic Movement for quite some time, but I’m already into anarchism during that time. I think I’m just looking for a space where I can organize because there aren’t that many organizing spaces that are focused on anarchism, or that are organized by anarchists. I’ve experienced that the dynamics in the leftist space is that they’re measuring your productivity when it comes to organizing the same way that capitalism measures you and I have a joke where at least under capitalism, I can take these off, I can file for PTO, and that’s something that you cannot do in the leftist organizing spaces because they’re gonna gaslight you. Someone else experienced it, but I’ve heard someone was told that “the revolution will continue even without you.” And that’s not a good thing to say to someone who might want to take some time to take care of themselves. Not only self-care, but it’s also supposed to be collective care, it is supposed to be caring for that person as part of your collective.

This is one thing that we’re very critical of in Abolisyon. We don’t want to be replicating those dynamics. What we do in Abolisyon is that there will be a time that we’re really going to be full of energy, when it comes to doing projects and organizing, everyone is high, the chat is nonstop, and even at night, it seems like people are not slipping and just like putting in their ideas. But then there will be a time that people will be dealing with their personal struggles, with their personal issues or whatnot. And we aren’t going to ask much from that person, like say, “Hey, why are you not doing this? Why are you not doing that? Why did you stop organizing?” We’re more like “What we can do to support you, to make it easier for you? Not necessarily because we want you to go back into organizing with us. But because we want to support you in your struggles. It’s us embodying or living by example, that this is what anarchists do, this is mutual aid, these are the systems of care that we want to nurture, we want to create in our communities. That’s a very good dynamic that I’m really proud of in Abolisyon, and that we in other spaces that we’re creating, that we have established, like The Dinner Party, that’s the same dynamics that we have there. Castle’s project as well, that’s the dynamics that they have adopted. And so I think, because of that small effort, as other leftist organizers see our efforts, we have created systems of care not only in our spaces but in a larger space that we aspire to engage with our organizing or other communities that it’s not really part of our circle, but we want to engage with.

Castle: I just want to add to all of your frustrations with the mainstream left in the Philippines, especially on a personal level. I’ve organized with and worked with national organizations. It’s really damaging and harmful, realizing how they organize. And it’s really helpful and healing to realize that there are spaces like The Dinner Party and Abolisyon. They do not pressure you really. The Dinner Party, when they organize you – we are having a reading thing right now on joyful militancy – they don’t pressure you on reading on chapters one and two before moving forward. But in the mainstream left, you have to go through this process of learning, but you are not allowed to engage with the conversation if you’re not yet finished with chapters one and two.

That’s the general theme of how organizing happens right now with the left in the Philippines, you have to go through a series of training and educational discussions. With The Dinner Party, it’s really an open discussion of regardless of the level of learning and knowledge that you have, it’s open and really joyful, at the same time really accepting to the availability that you have, physically, mentally, in everything – in all aspects. It acknowledged you’re human and your being involved with other activities, not just in this discussion and such.

Honey: We are living by that article from Nadia from Crimethinc titled “Your politics are boring as fuck.” We would like to make sure that the way that we’re engaging with each other is the same way that we’re gonna engage with people who were not involved in any organizing or radical spaces. How are we going to talk to them? Is it the same way that we’re going to talk to each other? How are we going to treat each other as well? It’s like witnessing how our group is growing. We’re not necessarily everyone anarchists, there are abolitionists and other people as well, who are still in the National Democratic Movement, or who have left a space or movement engaging with us, that that’s like a very big win for us. Other leftist organizing spaces might see us as something small, doesn’t really matter. But yeah, for us, it’s a very big win. Very important.

Castle: I was thinking of discussing the culture of harm and violence inside radical spaces we have and the lack of accountability within the spaces. I feel like we should discuss it right now. In The Dinner Party and Abolisyon, I really learned a lot with them, along with them, how these things really impact our lives. I’m just new to this whole thing. In the radical spaces that we have right now in the Philippines, there’s really a lack of accountability, especially if you are running with a Party. The accountability is shrugged off your elbow, we have slang in the Philippines, “you are elbowed” when you demand accountability, because they have leadership and experience within these organizing spaces, even if they’re considered radical, they’re considered leaders, basically. So these are the tendencies that we should really look into and explore unlearning because the harm and the violence towards survivors in organizing spaces is not really acknowledged enough.

TFSR: It feels like when I’ve been in organizations, or in milieus where there are these informal hierarchies that I mentioned before, or where there’s an ongoing abusive style of relationship or communication or whatever, if a thing continues on for a while, it becomes more and more difficult to address it in a comrade-to-comrade manner. I wonder if that is a thing that you all have talked about is an informal – I know this is a Maoist term – crit-self-crit. How do you work on creating community spaces where there’s room for people to take each other aside, just informally and say, “Hey, check-in! How are you doing? You blew up at me during the meeting and discussion. Is there anything you need?” Room for feedback in that way. Does that undermine the building up of abusive formal or informal hierarchies?

Adrienne: This is why it’s particularly important that our political core and political base in our work really starts in relationships within The Dinner Party and our general milieu. Because when we talk about situations where the harm comes in or where someone gets hurt, or when there’s something that we really need to talk about, those personal relationships tend to be what eases and helps facilitate those conversations of confronting and holding each other accountable. For example, when we have an issue where someone made someone else feel uncomfortable, it’s really about talking with each other, bringing up that, “Maybe, am I crazy, or did this sentence or did this interaction come across like this to you as well?” When you get that validation – just because a lot of us have also experienced a lot of manipulation and abuse and trauma in our life, so we really need to have that survivor support, interaction going on as well. When we establish that thing that “Okay, this is how this is what happened, it is what you felt in that interaction,” we get to really talk with each other, and bring these issues up without feeling like we’re being attacked. Because when we talk about this thing or that thing, we’re talking and we’re coming from a place of love and care for this person.

It’s not difficult, because we just don’t have a strictly professional relationship with each other, we just don’t treat each other as comrades in the way the left typically uses it. We’re friends. And because we’re friends, we care about each other, and we want each other to be better. And we want to reduce the harm that we meet out on each other. And so it’s really a mutual work of trying to live our politics in better ways with each other. In such a way that we can hold each other accountable, and, therefore, bake politics into our personal relationships and make our personal relationships that space of prefiguring these politics that we really want to do and show the people that we can do without really having to resort to hierarchical structures and organizations.

Honey: We want to have this relationship with each other within our organizing spaces. It’s easier for us to call in each other, and address if we’re having issues because I do have experience being in the older anarchist milieu, and we are trying to stay away from that group. That’s why we call ourselves the newer anarchist milieu. I see the dynamics and differences in both groups. With the older ones, you’re not really into accountability or transformative justice. How do you resolve conflicts within your group? It’s more of replicating the same systems that we have right now, the 60’s thing. And so the question is how are you going to address conflicts or issues within your group, even if the state is gone if you’re replicating the same systems? This is something that we want to do differently within Abolisyon, within The Dinner Party.

And it’s funny because I think a couple of days ago, we had what we call a Kamustahan session with our reading group, which is for reading The Joyful Militancy. Kamustahan session is more of a check-in session that we have with each other where we just talk about anything too personal for other people to talk about, or to talk about in the organizing spaces. What I’ve seen from this is that a lot of cis men within a group are comfortable enough to share their experiences and admit that “Hey, with this experience of mine, I fucked up, I was sexist, I was misogynistic. And I’d like to do better, how can I? How can we do better? What else can we do?” And so from the previous Kamustahan session that we had, we came up with this idea of how about we create a workgroup or a space specifically for assessment within the group, to talk about how they can do better when it comes to being accountable, calling in each other instead of relying on women or non-men within our groups to call them in and do so much emotional labor for them to understand what their issues are. And how they can call in, or address these issues outside our space, with people who are not really politically involved at all? How are they going to do it?

Most of our discussions, we will have so much political discussion, but we – me and other non-men in the group – like pointing out domestic labor or about emotional labor that women and non-cis men does within a group and how we would like to distribute that labor because that is necessary. That should be like everyone’s work. At this time, it’s mostly women and non-cis-men doing survivors support, and how do we want to distribute that labor and want everyone to engage? We’re trying to create– Maybe we can have a discussion, we can have a workshop so people will know what to do. And then from that, we can extend that outside space.

Adrienne: Just to add to that as well, going beyond our spaces, I really noticed that what’s resonant with people who are political here, but hate the current state of politics and the left, or don’t want to get involved with the mass organizations, is really this whole message and focus on the relational and personal aspects of politics. That’s somehow one thing that I consistently notice from a lot of people. They would resonate with a lot of anarchists or abolitionist ideas. But it’s particularly because of how personal and focused on improving personal relationships these ideas are that they tend towards that direction.

So I think there’s really this existing critique, although maybe something that people can’t verbalize as well yet that there’s something really wrong with the political state of the Philippines, whether it be because of the state or the left. And so when you talk to people, or when you hear about their complaints, and how they struggle with participating politically, it’s really that focus, on the one hand, we know that the status shit fucking sucks, but at the same time, the left isn’t doing any better. So what space is there for us? We’re trying to nurture and incubate this space and help people find ways to express themselves and be able to create their own versions of our comfortable and safe spaces. So that it’s not just us, it doesn’t become like a centralized dynamic again, but it’s something that people can do with their own friendship groups, or with their own affinity groups, or with their own spaces. And, therefore, decentralize this idea that politics has to be a strict and formal organization.

TFSR: So the Philippines has obviously had a very long history of colonization and neo-colonial dictatorships that suppress popular movements and social welfare for the sake of extractivism. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that trend has been coming out from under the Duterte presidency, including during the early days of COVID. And what you see coming out of a new Marcos era, since the son of the dictator was just elected again. I wonder not only if you could talk a little bit about these dynamics nationally, but also about how you see your communities and how you see other interesting parts of what might be considered like leftist movements engaging around the concept of decolonization, whether it be in support of ecological struggles against extractivism, or around challenging or troubling historical hegemonies? Or language, cosmology or centralizing certain ethnicities in the archipelago?

It’s a big question. You’re welcome.

Adrienne: One of the things that we fell in and I talked about earlier, when we were discussing this question is that there’s really a particular historical context that the Philippines is also coming from. Because the archipelago, even before colonization, has really been deeply embedded in trading networks, especially because it’s an archipelago, it’s the middle of the ocean. There’s really no monolithic identity for it from the get-go. But at the same time, because it’s so accessible and has been so embedded in trade networks, the question of indigeneity is just not something that we can apply as easily as more landlocked discourse and dialogue might zoom in or how these dialogues might work. So for example, in my particular context, I am technically Filipino Chinese, I have Chinese blood. But I’m so divorced from the Chinese side of my family that I don’t really know what goes on there anymore. And I identify really more with a postcolonial or more neocolonial context of the Philippines and the identity aspects of it.

This isn’t just my reality, this is the reality of a lot of people who identify as Filipinos because you can’t really distill the identity of a lot of us into who’s indigenous and who’s not. Because from the very beginning, even before we were colonized, there have been intermarriages that have mixed and mingled with different cultures, backgrounds, and heritages. There have been intermarriages, for example, in the Taosug ethnolinguistic group and Chinese traders because they were really a hotspot for Chinese trading, even before Spain got to anywhere in the Philippines. Just talking about the colonization and equating it to indigeneity is such a difficult thing for us too, or for me personally to process and to understand, because the whole question is “who gets to be indigenous and who doesn’t?” How do we trace this heritage when a lot of us are really mixed blood? A lot of us are either children of people who came from colonizers or just people who came from trade intermarriages and stuff like that. And so I think, with the conversation on decolonization, there’s a particular context we’re coming from and that we want to center and that it cannot be reduced or simplified into a ground zero situation where we go back to the very roots, where we go back to talking about precolonial histories and identities because that’s just not the reality for many of us. So many people will be displaced, and so many people will be forced into situations or relationships of harm because it’s not discourse and reality that applies.

For me, when we talk about decolonization, it’s really more about talking about confronting “Okay, we’ve been colonized three times for over 300 years. And because we’ve been colonized in that way and our identity is basically not something you can cut off, or untangle from all of this history, cultural, transcultural, intercultural influences, and backgrounds. It means that when we decolonize, we actually have to face and confront head-on these realities because if by decolonization we mean going back to the pre-colonial, we mean going back to the indigenous, that’s just a simplification of wanting to go back to a non-existent time and point in our history, where our personal and political histories were not linked to one another.”

Magsalin can expand on this a bit better but I just think that the colonial discourse in the Philippines or in our archipelago is not going to be the same as the decolonial discourse that exists in other parts of the world.

TFSR: Is there discourse around decolonization going on in terms of people’s communities, and relationships with the rest of the world culturally? We’re all speaking English. That was brought up jokingly in the beginning, I find it very useful because my Spanish is poor, and that’s the only language other than English that I can speak any of. I value the fact that you all are willing to speak in English but I just wanted to touch on that general framework. Sorry to be long-winded.

Magsalin: We don’t speak Spanish because funnily enough, the Spanish never taught Spanish to us during the Spanish colonization period, although they did during the last few years of the colony, by then was still too late. So many people around Latin America who talk to us ask, “Why don’t you speak Spanish?”

We’re not really indigenous, but we are what Benedict Anderson would call Creole because they don’t exactly exist in settler colonies. After all, we were forcibly separated from our land and our traditions. Therefore, we are not colonized. As Creoles, we are creolanized. There are still indigenous peoples in the Philippines. So when in contact with indigenous peoples, creoles become settler-colonists. This is true in the sense of Turtle Island’s ideas of decolonization, so “land back” is quite applicable here. So the decolonization in this regard is the Creole respect for indigenous lands, the cessation of colonial logic indigenous people and lands, recognizing indigenous stewardship, all this.

But outside of the settler colonial zones, what is exactly Creole decolonization? If we are speaking of Creole decolonization as the transfer of sovereignty from a colonial overlord to a Creole state. In the Philippines, this was the United States giving the Philippines formally its independence. But we don’t really recognize it, because the new Creole state continues to reproduce many colonial institutions and features: centralized state apparatus, the police, the prisons. Before colonization, there was no state, the police didn’t exist, and prison didn’t exist. So Creole decolonization is really the replacement of one colonizer head with a Creole head. So with all the institutions of colonization still in place.

This project of decolonization is incomplete as long as they have state apparatus and settler colonialism, the Creoles and other colonizing patterns exist, the archipelago, the so-called Philippines, is not decolonized by virtue of having Filipinos in charge of the state, especially if we see colonization as the explicit process of state-building. In this sense, decolonization for Creoles – that’s us in Metro Manila – is the undoing of the state, the undoing of wage labor, undoing of the police and prisons. The colonization imposed these things upon us, so decolonization should mean doing away with these things. That doesn’t mean, however, that the decolonization is to return to an Eden before the colonization. This is impossible because we can never go back. Rather than decolonization is the recognition of these institutions of colonization. These institutions aren’t permanent features, aren’t inevitable features of society, and thus, there could be a future without these institutions, without the state, without the police, prisons, wage labor, without capitalism, all these things that colonizers brought over here, and the colonization continues to this day. So this thing isn’t really well understood by the left. National Democrats believe in Stalin’s theory of national democracy. National democracy is the idea that there should be a bourgeois revolution before a socialist revolution. This idea still reproduces wage labor, because you still have capital, you still have the building of productive forces, using capitalism, using wage labor, and you still have the state, you still have police and prisons. And we probably might even have gulags because after all, the Communist Party did kill all those people. The vision of the left doesn’t really take decolonization into its own terms, in terms of actually undoing what colonization did to us.

Adrienne: I want to respond more to the context that Bursts was talking about with this question on decolonization. So currently, the state has been taking up this project of devolving its powers in a way. They’ve been talking about federalism for a few years now, quite a long time, actually. And, as we’ve mentioned earlier, there are Barangays in the Philippines. Barangays are basically smaller communities, I guess they’re religious circles in a way, but the more local version of this. So there are local governments, Barangays, etc. that really govern and have authority within their very small localities. So the state has been trying to devolve its powers to the Barangays, the city governments, and local governments, so that things don’t get stuck in the central anymore, so that the national doesn’t have to do every single thing that happens in the local.

I would like to raise the idea that the federalism project that the state is trying to accomplish and the devolution of powers that’s going on is something parallel to what anarchist ideas and abolitionist ideas would talk about, which means putting the power in the hands of the people who really know their context better, the people who actually live in that situation. However, there’s still this presence of authority, basically, of leaders who are making decisions for people without really understanding what’s going on in their personal lives, and what they actually need. Not to mention the fact that politics in the Philippines really focuses a lot on not only personality politics, but really a Padrino culture, which is basically getting close and cozy with people in power, and that whoever is friends with that person, they get positions, they get more resources, etc. There’s already an approximation at really giving power back to the people. But it still doesn’t do away with this whole idea that there has to be a figurehead, there has to be someone who’s running and calling the shots and stuff like that. I think with a project of decolonization, well, there’s one focus, or one reality, one attempt, at least, in the local about really giving the power back to the people, it still does not trust the people to be able and capable of doing politics themselves. Things are still patriarchal in that sense that there has to be a father, there has to be a leader, there has to be this figure who’s running things because people tend to get infantilized, they’re so treated like they don’t really know what politics means, what managing resources actually looks like.

To me, the decolonization project in the Philippines in that aspect doesn’t really have to jump through a lot of hoops in that sense, because even with the presence of governments, even with the presence of Barangays, people are already living life outside of the grasp of the state. They’re already trying to make ends meet on their own. They’re already trying to settle their own conflicts on their own. They’re already trying to get people out of trouble on their own. The presence of that devolution of powers existing parallel to people, already existing in the cracks of the Empire is what we refer to it in The Dinner Party. There are already such huge opportunities for people to be able to govern their lives and to really self-determine on their own. It’s really just a matter of getting people to believe in their own capacity and their own agency. And for me, that decolonization project is really bringing the power and not just giving it to the people but also making the people realize that they have had this power all along. So I hope that somehow addresses that more concrete and current framing of the question on decolonization.

R: Just to put everything into context, back in December last year Duterte signed an amendment to a law that allows 100% ownership of common carrier industries like mining, railways, and other big projects, as opposed to the 40% capacity that was instituted back in 1987. And during the election campaign, one of the big business-oriented platforms that Bongbong Marcos had is to allow, “sustainable mining” to operate in the country. So as far as foreign intervention and extractivism in the Philippines, we can only see that expansion in the future.

TFSR: Yeah, that was a helpful contextualization.

K: What I wanted to bring up was in connection with what Adrienne mentioned, and also relating to what we brought up in the beginning about the genealogy of abolitionism in the Philippines. Because earlier, Adrienne mentioned about people already trying to solve conflicts on their own outside of the state. And I just wanted to uplift the fact that in terms of Abolisyon, it’s not just about us as people who identify as abolitionists. Even without the jargon of abolition, and transformative justice, a lot of Filipinos already engage with ideas of abolition and transformative justice in their own ways. Since, for example, the War on Drugs affected poor Filipino families very disproportionately, a lot of people choose not to engage with the police, because they feel like it’s going to be more harmful to them. Indigenous people (IPs) fight against militarization and the like. So I just wanted to uplift that even if there are people who don’t identify as abolitionists, there are people who are already practicing ideas related to abolition and transformative justice.

R: Hi. I’m just going to try to build up from what has been established here, from this entire discussion. One of the main problems that we’ve had with the left and others is that despite their unwavering optimism, there’s still this insistence on taking politics seriously and taking it romantically. I’ve seen this in liberals, despite their pretenses of hope and positivity, there’s still this latent undercurrent of “this is the most important election of our lives, we have to do this, or we have to fight for some weird reason.” And it’s definitely draining, at least speaking personally. So the fact that people take themselves seriously, there’s this insistence, at least towards the people in themselves to burn out because the people think that these things matter too much, there’s a lot of pretenses towards this higher ideal, just because these things are in abstract bigger than themselves.

But this is one of the things that The Dinner Party wants to address – that in the first place, it’s not necessarily that we don’t want to have any pretenses towards something bigger than ourselves. Because in one sense, it’s a drain for people within this particular movement. And also, it’s a tired trope within our own society. So, in one way, I hope for The Dinner Party to have some – not a focus on politics in the sense of identities, campaigns, or ideologies, or at least the theatrics of it – but more focusing instead on the personal aspects of it, in which way we want to befriend people. We just want to have fun in general. You want politics to be less about the issues in the abstract, but rather about making it more like everyday life.

Castle: Basically the dictatorship of Duterte, now the threat of the Marcos dictatorship is really… Before Marcos was even pronounced as the president we were really scared because we know our history. We know our roots in the Marcos era. So we were really active in organizing in the university before the elections. But we are often attacked under the Duterte dictatorship because of how proactive we are in such spaces.

And I’m just going to share right now how Project Kapwa started from an initiative inside the university with Paglaya. We started from an initiative where we ideated from practicing mutual aid for animals inside the university. And from there we were somehow ostracized, because we were beyond our jurisdiction, at the same time beyond the orders of the university. So we realized that what’s the point of having spaces like these, but not being able to organize them? They also said, “Why are you focusing on animals? It’s the beginning of the pandemic? Why are you doing actions for animals?” So we’re checking on the people and how they would be receptive to mutual aid actions inside the university. So from there, Project Kapwa came to be so. Right now we’re focusing on local community action, building conversations within the community. I feel like it’s very threatening right now. Because we’re going against the structure of how authoritarian the current administration is within the dictatorship right now and the implications of the prior administration of Duterte.

If you can support Project Kapwa through PayPal, it would be really helpful, especially to organizers within the community that we are in right now. It’s @terreynera.

Honey: I’d like to add as well. I think what Castle – correct me if I’m wrong – is trying to say is the tendency with other leftist organizing spaces is that they tend to be class-reductionist, they tend to force people, especially in organizing spaces to feel like there’s only one important issue that should be addressed. So for example, the issue of Marcos being voted as the president, instead of seeing our struggles to be interlinked, or to be intersectional with each other, which I think is the reason why they’ve been questioning Castle as to why your group is doing support for animals instead of people struggling… Just looking into what’s the more important issue to be addressed, instead of changing that mindset and thinking that all our struggles, again, are connected, interconnected. And there are ways to address our struggles together instead of just focusing on one issue.

Magsalin: Jumping off from what Honey said, this concept that our struggles are interlinked is an important idea in our minds. We call it “our struggle’s in building,” this idea that not only that our struggles are already interconnected, especially how, for example, Cambridge Analytica not only got Trump into power but also got Duterte and Marcos into power. So we see how these sites of struggles – the United States and the Philippines – are connected to Cambridge Analytica. But these sites of struggles are connected in the sense that the Empire connects them. But those people in the sites of struggle do not necessarily connect their site of struggle to one another. That’s why we say that we should actively intervene in struggles together.

Another example, in terms of intersectionality, in terms of physical sites of struggle, men are oppressed by the patriarchy, and their liberation is ultimately tied up with the liberation of women, queer people, and trans people. Our challenge then is, again, to go back to the Invisible Committee, “it is not up to the rebel to learn to speak anarchist. It is up to the anarchists to become polyglot.” It’s up to us to speak all these languages of struggle to one another and link them together in some sort of common tale. And this is also what we’re been trying to do in Abolisyon. This is the last example. What do people who use drugs, sex workers, and incarcerated people have in common? Well, not much in the at first sight, but through the framework for abolition, these sites of struggles can be connected to one another, to actually resist policing in a way that combines all the sides of struggles together.

Adrienne: I just would like to emphasize everything that has been said by Castle and Magsalin about what we are really doing and aspiring to do in our spaces in Abolisyon and The Dinner Party, Cevite Mutual Aid, and the projects that Castle is involved with. Because again, the tendency with leftist organizing spaces is that they always separate what is political from what’s personal. They do not see that a lot of our personal issues have something to do with how we fight the system, with how we fight this state, and with how we fight systems of oppression. And without addressing those personal issues, we’re unable to really address these larger issues that we have.

As you’ve mentioned earlier, the leftist groups do have this concept of self-crit. I think that’s their attempt at accountability and transformative justice. But as Adrienne mentioned before, with our experiences with the leftist spaces here in the Philippines, they tend to focus more on not holding the person accountable because they’re very good organizers, instead of saying that that person can be a very good organizer, but there is still an opportunity to hold them accountable. And it’s possible to do, this is something that we can work on, instead of just shutting down survivors, shutting down people that have been harmed. Because most of the people that got engaged with our spaces have this similar experience where someone from their collective or their group has been harmful, and they try to address that issue within their collective, and the collective has been dismissive about it. And that’s something that I would like to emphasize that is very important with Abolisyon, The Dinner Party, and other spaces of our engagement: we’re really big into accountability and transformative justice, because we believe that without those, we’re just basically being hypocrites with our politics.

TFSR: If one doesn’t have an alternative to carcerality or the idea that someone can be thrown away to make the rest of society better, understanding that we have to work through these problems without just either sending in a third party with guns to deal with it… Yeah, we’re definitely losing a thing. And that topic of how do we address harmful activity? How do we point to someone’s activity being harmful, and that person not necessarily being a bad person, but having bad patterns? That if they want other people to work with them they should work through and that maybe somebody has space to work with them. And it’s not the responsibility of the person most directly harmed to do that work. Those are topics that I’ve heard coming up over the last 30 years that I’ve been involved in activism. I just don’t think that there’s one answer that’s a solution for everyone. But I think that that is super important to work through. I don’t know if that’s what you’re talking about, too.

Honey: Yes, yes, definitely agree with that.

TFSR: Well, thank you all for having this conversation, for staying up so late where you’re at, I really appreciate it. I do want to leave it open. If there are any subjects that you’re really burning, like “We didn’t get to this, and I really want to talk about it,” then I totally have space and energy for it. I understand if folks want to wrap up. Assuming that there isn’t something that someone wants to jump in with, I’d like to hear about where people who are outside can find the projects that you and Castle were kind enough to leave with, like a PayPal link for Paglaya. But if you have either writings that you think are important that have been produced inside of your milieus or ways that people on the outside can support or start to engage, either from the diaspora…

Magsalin: We’ve really been trying to expand abolitionism to other countries in Southeast Asia. So, if you’re from Southeast Asia, try to connect with us.

TFSR: Get a website or an email address?

Adrienne: I think one of the things that I want to bring attention to is the feminist struggle in leftist spaces and even especially anarchist spaces. It’s really been one of the biggest problems we’ve been confronting. The abuse and the harassment, the misogyny and trans misogyny, homophobia is just really, really bad. One of the things that I really wanted to do is to link up with different whether anarcho-feminists or just people who identify as feminists, wanting to link up and talk about our common struggle and political spaces as still being really violently affected by the patriarchy in the left. I would love to talk to more people and find out how we might be able to move through this together. So they can tweet us at @DinnerPartyPH.

Magsalin: Cempaka Collective is currently underground. But if they do resurface again, you should definitely reach out to them and interview them. They do really good work in Malaysia.

In Indonesia, Anti-feminist Feminists Club really does interesting work with anarcho-feminism.

TFSR: Well, thank you all so much for being a part of this conversation. I’ve really enjoyed meeting you. And again, thanks a lot for having a talk at this hour in English with me. I’ve learned a lot and I hope that we can keep in touch.

Adrienne: Thank you so much for your time and for giving us the space. It’s really a lot and I am really glad to be able to share this space with you and every one of my friends.

Honey: Thank you so much for the opportunity, for this space, and for sharing it with us. We really appreciate it. We were so excited and so excited up to now, I think because the possible connections or network of people we can connect with after the interview is a good opportunity.

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Sophie Lewis and text "Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis | TFSR 07-10-22"
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This week, Scott and William talk to Sophie Lewis, author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family and the soon-to-be-released Abolish The Family A Manifest for Care and Liberation (out in October, 2022) about the current political moment that is characterized by attacks on trans people and peoples reproductive abilities. They also talk through what creates this moment, where trans people come into the target of State power being weaponized by the far right, as well as the connections among these attacks against LGBT education, access to transition, access to abortion and critical race theory. Also discussed are some limitations of a legalization framework around abortion, as opposed to a decriminalization, the limits of liberalism (particularly liberal feminism), and also the ways that certain strains of feminism contribute to an anti-trans discourse. Finally, there is chat about how to approach people needing support people who need access to healthcare, whether it be transition or abortion, outside of the hands of the state.

You can find Sophie on twitter at @ReproUtopoia and support her on Patreon at Patreon.com/ReproUtopia. You can find a children’s book Sophie co-translated called Communism For Kids or a compilation she contributed to on the ecological crisis called Hope Against Hope.

Opposing Torture

[01:11:19 – 01:17:44]

In Sean’s segment, he mentions his new book, Opposing Torture, available from LittleBlackCart.Com

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Transcription

Amar: Thank you so much, Sophie, for coming onto the show. I’m super excited that you’re here. Would you, just to get us started, introduce yourself with your name, correct gender pronouns, if you wish, and speak a bit about what you do and what your interests are?

Sophie Lewis: Thanks so much for having me on. My name is Sophie Lewis, I’m a they/she pronouns person. I am a writer living in Philadelphia since 2017. I also teach courses on critical theory online at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. And I’m also a recovering or ex-academic. I’ve got British and German dual nationality, but I grew up in France. I’m very placeless in my background, and I’m trying to make Philly home in a meaningful way. I recently heard someone say that “small C communists” are just anarchists that went to Grad School. I felt read to filth by that, I’m not gonna lie. I am interested in anti-work theory, unorthodox Marxisms, and critical utopianism. I’m interested in trans, disability, and health liberation frameworks. I’m interested in reproductive justice. And I’m interested in the destruction of properterian kinship. And I share with my beautiful partner Vicky Osterweil – who I believe is a friend of your show – a strong interest in film and literature. I’ve never seen a dumb heteronormative reality TV show I don’t want to wax theoretical about.

Amar: That’s beautiful.

Scott: Thank you so much for coming on. I’m so excited to talk to you. Your views and analysis on things are always super insightful and helpful to me. So I’m really glad that you’re willing to come to talk to us.

Amar: I know that we are going to ask for another interview with you about your work on abolishing the nuclear family unit, as we know about, but would you speak a little bit about some of your past work, as well as some influences that you have or inspirations you had when writing or conceptualizing those works?

Sophie: Yes, great. My work in the past is varied. It’s funny, the thing that some people nowadays associate with me the most, i.e. more so than my book that you mentioned, is my essay “My Octopus Girlfriend”, which is to say, I got in trouble on social media a couple of years ago for my feelings concerning the queerness of octopuses. And we can talk about that another time if you want. But I do think it’s interesting to bring this up, partly because my more-than-human commitments and my commitments to the erotic do seem to be one of the reasons why there are plenty of people in the so-called normie left, at least online, who consider me in this moment of red-brown triangulation in so many words a degenerate.

But anyhow, in 2019– I guess… Full Surrogacy Now was published by Verso Books in 2019, and that book loosely represented my Ph.D., which was in geography, and what the hell is geography anyway? At the University of Manchester in England, I think geography is a place for all the odds and ends and ragtag misfits of academia and humanities disciplines to end up if they want to be abolitionists or anarchists or Marxists. Anyway, it’s called Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, and to be honest, I don’t think Verso Books or I expected anyone to read it. And things did turn out differently. It’s not a book, as they finally understood around the time that the paperback came out two years later, about the service or arrangement commonly known as surrogacy, so much as it is a family abolitionist manifesto for gestators. But that part about family abolition was a cause of much interest and so in October, I have a clarifying follow-up about that part of the politics, coming out. It’s very short. It’s called Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation, also with Verso or Salvage editions. I clarify this family abolition component. And especially, I extend its anti-racist dimensions a lot more. So I’m excited to talk to you about that in a future episode.

In general, I write a lot about reproduction and critical utopianism, which is why my handle is reproutopia. Although I guess once upon a time, I thought that that would be some professional handle. Whereas my rabble-rousing one would remain @lasofa or whatever, but I just can’t I can’t split myself that way. I just can’t do it, which is probably one of the reasons why I don’t have a job. Sometimes, I think I’m not even sure I believe in reproduction. Because maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe there’s only cogenerative coproduction, but you get the idea. I write against private property, I write against biogenetic property, I write against eugenics, I hope, and against patriarchal motherhood, the private nuclear household, and the privatization of care.

You might be interested to hear that I cut my teeth politically doing climate justice, direct action, and anti-austerity student stuff while I was an undergrad between 2007 and 2011, I was hanging out with anarchists and anarcha-feminists in the UK. And after that point, I was quite traumatized by getting beaten up by riot cops in Copenhagen where we were mobilizing for climate justice at COP 15. And I became really unable to think about climate individually or write about it. Instead, I’m part of a collective called Out of the Woods – which is not very active right now – but which published a book called Hope Against Hope: Writings on Ecological Crisis with Common Notions Press. And basically, it’s only when I’m being with them that I can bear to think about ecocide head-on.

You also asked about my influences. I’d say my big theoretic influences include decolonial and ecological sex radicals like Kim TallBear and Angela Willey. And then obviously family abolitionists, like the inventor of the word feminism Charles Fourier, the 19th century French Socialist Utopian and the left Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, and then sex worker liberationists femi babylon and Amber Hollibaugh, and anti-work philosophers like Kathi Weeks and Tiffany Lethabo King, problematic faves like Shulamith Firestone, and the early Donna Haraway, I’m just listing all my favorites. So the insurgent social reproduction theorists, basically, I’m thinking Francis Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance, or the Black women of Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians in the 70’s. I do visit the 70’s quite a lot. And at this point, I’ve written a ton of essays for magazines and journals, since I’m trying to earn my living as a freelancer. Albeit I wouldn’t be making ends meet if I didn’t also teach. And I wouldn’t be making ends meet if 250 people didn’t kindly patronize me. I get $1,000 a month on Patreon. That’s my only dependable source of income. Thank you to people who do that.

Amar: That’s lovely. And will probably ask you how people can support you on Patreon at the end of the show, or if you want to say it now.

Sophie: Oh, bless you. Yeah, it’s patreon.com/reproutopia. I appreciate it.

Amar: Hell yeah! You said you draw a lot from the 70s. And I think the 70s just gave us so much emergent thought crafting. I listened to an interview that you gave on This is Hell, that podcast in which you mentioned a friend of the show, the novel Woman on the Edge of Time, which I was really sparked by and very interested to– Maybe we’ll save that as a teaser for our discussion on Abolishing the Family and such topics.

Scott: I’m really excited about the way that you’re picking up on some of those legacies from the radical movements then, and one of the things that you just said that maybe could roll into the discussion and something that we can talk about is your intervention seems to be within what is called, in feminism, social reproduction theory. But I like how you were backing away from that term and talking about cogenerative. When we talk about social reproduction, we get caught in reproducing the same over and over again. And I really think about how the things that we do right now maybe can stop that endless repetition. But it does seem to be what is on the hook right now – what kind of world is being reproduced? Can we end that? And is it going to be ended in a good way or a really scary way?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. Pretty much agree.

Scott: Maybe you can transition to the point of our current discussion, though, I’m excited for the future one. It is thinking about what’s happening at this moment socially, and legislatively, with ramping up attacks on trans people and reproductive self-determination. Why do you think this is happening right now? What created the conditions for trans people to be under the target, youth, in particular, is weaponized by the far right, and why is this the moment that finally we’re seeing the culmination of decades of work against abortion?

Sophie: Really great opening question, albeit quite difficult, I’ll do my best. And thinking about the process of hollowing out of the political center that we’ve been seeing, I think, for some time. And the hollowing out of the center creates conditions in which marginalized groups can be flung sacrificially under the bus. This is complicated, but it seems to me that because of the extraordinary success of Black Lives Matter the establishment wants to– it’s not that they ever had to choose one or the other or their white supremacy isn’t still part of the DNA of every political maneuver by the ruling class in this country… But I think there is a pivot towards the sex panic specifically. And again, just to be clear, it’s always racialized at the same time, but I think the marginalized group to be scapegoated and panicked morally about is– You can think about Hillary Clinton’s “Black thugs.”

I think currently, the same people are worried very much about these two figures, the predatory trans woman and the mutilated child. And there are other reasons: the crisis of care throws up these specters. The end-of-empire panic about futurity expresses itself via demographic anxieties, right? On the far-right, it’s replacement theory and white genocide. That same anxiety is across the political spectrum. And that demographic anxiety about the survival of America as a settler colony enacts itself on the bodies of children whose fertility becomes fetishized.

What else? Capitalism needs to discipline the non-reproductive and the inadequately or incorrectly reproductive. I’m not doing a great job and just throwing out phenomena that I think are relevant. We are living inside the legacies of the pedophile industrial complex of the 80’s. The really significant reconstruction of the political landscape in the US around the carceralist figure of the innocent child, the figure to be protected at all costs on the basis of a-sexuality and, weirdly, fertility. This is the part that I think people don’t get enough about the figure of the cisgender or cissexual child that everybody wants to save right now. It’s creepy. It’s an avatar of fertility, that child, it is an avatar of the future.

In your notes to me before we began this talk, you mentioned Lee Edelman’s book, which is justly criticized for its slightly nuanced opposition to the maternal or the reproductive or whatever. But Lee Edelman’s book, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive talks about the “fascism of the baby’s face”, or the way in which all Politics requires this figure of the child to transmit and defer and displace any possible transformation into the future. I’ve been trying to think about whether that’s all that’s going on. Very specifically, in a time of demographic crisis and weird replacement-theory type panic, weirdly, it’s literally the genitals and the reproductive organs of literal cisgender children that become spectral-ly present at the front and center of so much political discourse. How’s that? What do you think?

Amar: It is just deeply creepy. As you said, when it’s broken down that way, when we’re fixating so heavily on the reproductive capability of, in some cases, literal babies, infants, and it just reminds me of the very profound extent to which cisheteronormative society just really thinks about children as property, which is codified into law too. It’s just very disturbing and creepy.

Scott: I was just thinking, it’s interesting, in my studies of gay Liberation stuff from the 70’s, reading Guy Hocquenghem, he’s saying that the price for a certain gay man to get some rights and acceptance in society would basically necessitate the casting out of figures of the trans woman and the pedophile. And he had this prescient view of it in the very beginning of gay liberation, and I feel we’re seeing the combination of it. But the way that as people, the three of us raised in this pedophile industrial complex, it’s always very strange to me… How it creates this weird situation, where children are unnecessarily sexualized, and all these moments where things don’t need to be fraught or weird at all. And people are worried about this stuff. And it’s actually, to me, always ends up pointing to the family as this really creepy scenario where there are parents obsessing over their children?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. There’s so much to say, I’m just worried that if I jump on your points about parental rights, we’ll rhizomatically follow who knows what kinds of paths. The very fundamentally racial character of the institution of parenthood should probably be noted, at least in passing. This goes back to elemental Black feminist theorizing around how Black gestators under chattel slavery in the United States were cast out from the domain of dyadic cisgender, precisely because they could not be inscribed in the social order as mothers. They were not the mothers in the sense of motherhood, the institution of property, really, of parental ownership over the product of their gestational labor. And that casting out from parentality also meant an ungendering of enslaved racialized Black “flesh.” To quote Hortense Spillers who actually uses that language of “ungendered flesh”. And this is still deeply relevant, the eugenic entanglements of all mainstream discourse about who should and should not reproduce in the United States today. It’s interesting to think about the intersections between that almost racializing definition of proper and improper parents. And there’s a contradiction that we’re seeing right now, the very same politicians who advocate parental rights, when it comes to things white parents on school boards banning “critical race theory” or anti-racist materials, they then willingly embrace separating trans kids from their parents. Anyway, I’ll pause there.

Scott: That’s a great transition. And this is something we wanted to talk about. It was really important that you brought up that racialized history of the property and also of the gendering and ungendering according to your racial positionality of parenthood. This is one of the things – that’s linking the current fascist agenda. You brought up critical race theory, we’re seeing all attacks against any education around queerness in whatever form, the access to transition, or care around transition, for youth in particular, but it’s also extending to adults, and then abortion more recently. And this idea of parental rights seems to be one of the organizing ideas. So if there’s more that you wanted to say around that, I’d be interested just because it feels like such a strange invocation. Also, drag shows as a particular focus. The youth drag shows is something that people are getting really worked up about right now.

Sophie: Yeah, as you say, these links are among the prongs of attack. It is a successful and well-organized banning of anti-racism and queerness appearing in school spaces. Who is the congressman who was brandishing just a couple of days ago Anti-racist Baby, the infants’ book? There’s a real obsession with the idea of the infant, even not the child, but literally the neonate learning about America’s history in school. And there’s a criminalization, as you say, at the same time, of trans-affirming childcare and abortion, of gestational labor stoppages – as I would also encourage us to reframe them, or at least also think of them as. All of these, as you say, can be linked directly to the project of parental rights. And they reflect specifically a vision of patriarchal familist authority that cannot be disentangled from whiteness and from a totally triumphalist flattened ahistoricism – a version of history that is entirely made up.

We need to pay more attention to the way that this Republican-allied Christo-fascist series of maneuvers going on all these fronts that you mentioned are part of a project to reinstall the supremacy of the family. I was reading a dialogue between Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah in Jewish Currents today. They were right to highlight together the Christo-fascist series of associations, which in a way– I almost want to say they’re right, it’s annoying to have to constantly almost want to say that our very worst enemies understand the material stakes of the private nuclear households’ links to all of these historical forms of domination: from enslavement and colonialism to patriarchy and so on. They understand that better than the liberal establishment, they understand the stakes. Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah we’re talking about the line of connection in their minds, the Christo-fascists’ minds, between abortion which disrupts the family and things like marriage equality or whatever, and the specter of trans freaks molesting YOUR kids in public bathrooms. They are linked in our enemies’ minds. They are all assaults on the– Angela Metropulos is another theorist I’m thinking of, who I am, unfortunately, not as acquainted with as I would like. But I think her theorization of this is probably more and more needed right now, as Christo-fascism spirals into more and more power in a way on this territory. She talks about the oikos and how capital and settler colonialism discipline this sphere by very violent attacks. On improper bodily pleasures that fall with outside of the domain of productivity and reproductivity. That’s why all of these different fronts at the same time, although they are insufficiently linked in the mainstream conversation.

Amar: Absolutely. When you were talking and using the very correct framework of Cristo-fascism to politically frame the dominant shift that’s going on right now, I couldn’t really help but think about how The Handmaid’s Tale is used to describe this and the shortcomings of that analysis. Do you have any ideas about that?

Sophie: It’s actually interesting because you probably know that I had for several years a real bee in my bonnet about The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s fertility apocalypse, or sterility apocalypse rather. But I want to actually say but, I’m beginning to think that I might have almost gone a tiny bit too far, there might have been an element of overreach in my annoyance, because Angela Metropulos pulled me up a little bit on this, because I’m broadly speaking, and I’m also not the first to say it, but beginning in about 2017, I began to lose my temper. The Handmaid mania of liberal feminism. And so I actually wrote several pieces, and there’s a bit in the very beginning of Full Surrogacy Now where I expressed this distemper about the bizarre psychic under tow of handmaid mania. I say provocatively that it’s a utopia, not a dystopia in a sense because what all the people cosplaying as handmaids in Gilead are unconsciously acting out is a desire for this world where women herd has been flattened back into pure gestationality. And wouldn’t that be nice because then you wouldn’t have class-conscious or decolonial or trans or Black feminists critiquing you all the time? Because as the op-eds kept saying, “We are literally living in Gilead.” If that were true, then you would be, as a cis pregnant white woman like Elizabeth Moss in the Hulu adaptation, the very most oppressed subject of America, right?

And it’s like “Okay, that actually happened. It happened to enslaved Black women, forced surrogacy is not made up.” And to some extent, Margaret Atwood was constantly saying that everything in her dystopias has happened before, but that’s very much not how it’s taken up. It’s not taken up as an anti-racist consciousness. It’s not taken up in a way that connects to reproductive justice struggles or centers the reproductive justice concerns of organizers from the South. But the thing that really is still number one, as enemy in women’s lives, is capitalism. It’s not theocratic fascists with guns. I feel now that Angela might have been right that there’s no need to downplay the danger of the Christo-fascists in order to criticize the de-racialized slave narrative that is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Scott: I love the way that you analyze that, but I see what you’re saying. Going back to the family, we’re in the last however many decades in a place where people are living perhaps less and less – and what I mean by people is people typically within the dominant form, in the more represented white suburban situations are living less than less – in that typical nuclear family. And yet, the idea of the family hasn’t really been knocked down as a controlling image, especially within TV, sitcoms, even if it’s a work show, it’s a family structure, right? It’s everywhere, but we’re not living in those things. And likewise, with the issues around abortion, there’s this idea that we’re progressing away from these really oppressive things. And I feel even for leftists and anarchists, there’s a blind spot or an unwillingness to let go of the roots of our society that we live in, that is structuring all this oppression that we’re living in now, because of this faith in a progress, that we’ve made some strides away from the thing.

The Christian fascist thing really points out to me, that what we’re seeing right now is a minority group taking power. The system that is in place that ostensibly holds checks against them, the people who are inhabiting those positions are completely unwilling to check them. They’re letting it happen. All the people, the president, they’re not doing anything. So on one level, Christian fascism seems ridiculous, but we’re literally seeing these peoples seize power, and no one is really doing anything about it. I can see also why that’s utopian to be “Oh, we finally understand what woman is, it’s reproduction” or whatever. Maybe you have some thoughts about the progress narrative and the way that facts are negating that.

Sophie: I think you’re absolutely right. The liberal mainstream is almost capable of noticing or saying that there’s a civil war right around the corner, but they literally do not intend to fight in it. It is so cognitively maddening. It’s almost as though that liberal establishment doesn’t intend to do a single thing, just as it didn’t in order to defend abortion because it imagined that its Republican dancing partners would play fair against all evidence to the contrary. Progressive narratives are an epistemic canker, it’s so difficult to completely get rid of, even when one knows better. We’re just swimming in this idea of “history as progress,” and you can never overstate the importance of unthinking it, unpicking it.

It almost gives me hope that there is so much rage right now against the Democrats and their non-response to the striking down of Roe. What could be done is to frame the fight back in terms of very much politics, not ethics – mass gestational labor power, prole power, not individual personal freedom, in a sense, and not individual tragedies, and also, not these terrible spectacular rising tactics that some pro-choicers are using right now, where they’re brandishing blood-stained white pants and coat hangers, and talking about “we won’t go back” and insisting that “thousands will die and backstreet abortions”. Why is that the imaginary, it’s not actually helpful? We are actually in a historically different era. They can surveil and police and incarcerate, and we need to get really good at organizing against that and de-arresting people and blocking their ability to charge people. We need to get really good at evading and operating undercover.

But it’s also really important to think about the time we are in and the future we could build, rather than– I feel we won’t go back imagining that the reproductive status quo ante was okay. Abortions are overwhelmingly safe today. Regardless of whether or not they’re legal. I feel that there’s this bizarre attachment to a Margaret Atwood-flavored catastrophe. We’re literally going to all die because of the abortions themselves. But no, actually, that’s not what’s primarily going to happen. It’s much worse in a sense. I’m not saying incarceration is worse than death. But the real story that this is is a prison abolition story. Yet again, this is an abolitionist lesson. The problem of abortion being criminalized, is an over-criminalization problem, it’s a prison industrial complex problem. It’s a police abolition problem. I’m not sure that really links to your progress narrative point, but it links it to one of the big movements that have swept the “national conversation” in recent years, which is “one thing has to change, which is everything”. It’s not a question of making little meliorative steps towards a better world.

Scott: That’s really important what you said, I just wanted to pick up on it. The way that these laws are being crafted, that is increasing surveillance, increasing criminalization, increasing the possibilities of incarceration, so there’s increased state power there, which is maybe also why the liberals and Democrats in power are not so against it because it’s a boon for the State. But then the other thing that I’m thinking about is how all these laws are deputizing citizens to be informants. That also, to me, speaks to the nascent fascism, which leads to vigilante groups or paramilitary formations of people seeking out who’s doing this, or crossing state lines to track people down? So, I just thought that was really important that you brought up the way that the criminalization aspect of it works. And it shifts the focus around the liberal reaction of performing grief around something that’s not actually live for them at the moment, too. I just wanted to pull that out.

On the other side of the progress narrative, there’s the long-running anarchist or anarchistic critiques of legalizing abortion because of the way that incorporated the grassroots formations of caring for gestators and childbirth and ending childbirth outside of professionalization, or outside of institutionalization dominated by men, in particular, patriarchal power structures. So I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about any of that. Or what we can learn from that perspective now in response to this, which feels so upsetting, but maybe there’s other avenues of response?

Sophie: You’re absolutely right. The fact is so much of Turtle Island has been operating in a post-Roe reality for so long. I don’t know how much that is really real to people. We’ve been post-Roe in a combined and uneven way for some time. This is the zombie lag of it becoming law. People understand, in the places where it’s been de facto post-Roe for years and years, that abortion care happens outside of professional structures and independently of experts. And there is also quite a wide understanding that Roe absolutely sucked in the first place, even before the Hyde Amendment gutted it, and even before the Casey ruling gutted it still further, Roe vs Wade absolutely sucked. And to the extent that it even legalized abortion, which we have to say isn’t even really clear that it did that, it legalized a woman’s or a family’s right to have a private conversation with a health care provider or whatever.

But we have to ask ourselves, “What good is legalization and why do we want that?” You call it an anarchist critique of the legalizing of abortion. It absolutely is that. It is also actually a critique that used to be quite common across the board in the 70’s and the 60’s. They achieved this pyrrhic victory of Roe in 1973. What if we want laws off our bodies, and indeed an end to all laws, rather than laws that legalized anything we might do without laboring uteri, and what if we want the repeal of all abortion laws, not just the bad ones? In terms of the mainstream conversation, for sure, this perspective has been pretty widely lost over the last four decades. But it’s not really just a post-Roe critique, it was actually primarily a pre-Roe critique. I like to call it “gestational decrim”? They used to say, “Off our backs.” The idea is that we get the state completely off and out of our flesh, not just its punitive functions, but also its supposedly benign regulatory functions. And the term gestational decrim is basically something I floated. I don’t know if it’s gonna take off. But it’s an analogy to the sex work liberation movements call for decrim, as you well know. Comrades have tirelessly made the distinction between partial legalization and regulation, the so-called Nordic model, which is terrible for workers, and full decriminalization.

Amar: On the topic of operating sublegally, there, as many listeners probably know, is a group called Jane’s Revenge that is seemingly attempting to destabilize pro-life or forced birth infrastructures. Could you talk about that a little bit? Just talk about what’s been in the news, and also some of your thoughts on how it’s been received and how we might think about it in a more productive way.

Sophie: I wish I had every single fact about Jane’s Revenge at my fingertips. I’m just gonna talk in generalities in the aftermath of the Supreme Court leak striking down Roe, a shadowy anarchist network calling itself Jane’s Revenge was reported on a lot, striking via graffiti actions, and allegedly, also a Molotov cocktail, some windows smashing. The graffiti tag that was used in various locales, and as you mentioned, the targets, Jane’s Revenge was targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are fake abortion clinics that are funded by the far-right to psychologically guilt and dissuade people from getting abortion care. There was reporting on Jane’s Revenge that their tag was “If Abortions Aren’t Safe, Then Neither Are You.” I have to say I love it. It makes a huge difference if you have a cervix. The terrain of symbolic solidarity is actually quite significant.

There is this extreme minority capture of this issue that makes out, this thing that really everyone supports, actually, the majority of people in America totally like abortion. If you’re into electoral politics, which I’m not, but when you campaign about abortion, it’s quite cheering, it’s actually one of the few things that are fun and uplifting to go knocking on people’s doors about because everyone likes abortion. And that is not present in the symbolic sphere. So when someone breaks a CPC window, or– I live in Philadelphia, I was driving around and saw a big billboard in the aftermath of the leak that just said “Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania”, which might seem a small thing, but when you have a cervix and you’re walking around in the aftermath of a ruling like that, something has shifted. Even if you know that concretely, not that much has shifted for many people, it’s symbolic violence that renders you less than a person. And it is a great act of love to let people know that the violence they are meting out against gestators is hated and will not be tolerated.

My opinion is not really the point so much, I would just say that anyone calling themselves a feminist or leftist could maybe, at the very minimum, not do the right-wing’s job for them and go out of their way to write op-eds condemning Jane’s Revenge, as Judith Levine did in The Intercept. And I was extremely, extremely angry about that. I couldn’t understand why it was necessary of all things at this moment. I don’t know if she’s noticed. I don’t mean to single out Judith Levine. Of course, she’s not the only one. She’s a leftist feminist. A lot of feminists have been condemning Jane’s Revenge for some reason. And it makes me despair a little bit.

Yeah. Facebook, or Meta ruled that Jane’s Revenge was a tier-one terrorist organization. And so any posts expressing neutral or positive sentiments about the actions of Jane’s Revenge will be deleted from Facebook? Apparently, there’s no one on that list of tier-one terrorist organizations other than al Qaeda. It’s actually absurd. And earlier this month, Axios reported that assaults directed at abortion clinic staff and patients increased 128% compared with 2020. There are 4,000 names on the dangerous individuals and organizations list and only 2 are associated with anti-abortion terrorism. But as we know, it’s the supposed pro-life camp that has bombed and murdered people for 40 years. It just seems extremely strange to back up the casting of Jane’s Revenge as terrorists when they are some of the few brave, symbolic actors in solidarity with all the people who have had their bodily autonomy stripped from them by the Supreme Court.

Scott: Yeah, it’s so interesting, because the liberal or even leftists, like the Judith Levine piece are like, “Militancy is great. Violence isn’t good.” But you read the pieces that the people who are calling themselves Jane’s Revenge put out, they are very explicit and clear in their definitions of violence, and what they’re responding to, which you mentioned, is this campaign of literal physical violence against people? Not! They’re targeting empty buildings. It’s property again, right? It’s how it comes back into it. They’re not doing the same thing. Other than the people who are continuing to do abortion care, as they had been doing in, as you also rightly mentioned, that places where Roe didn’t really matter, those people who can’t be very public about the work that they’re doing, Jane’s Revenge is maybe the only visible effective, perhaps, action that’s being taken. Besides the futile protests against buildings or whatever that people do. Also, it’s really exciting because it’s reproducible and anonymous, right? It’s a meme or whatever.

Amar: I love it. To approach all of this with an eye to hypocrisy is to maybe participate in an exercise of driving yourself up the wall. But the hypocrisy of somebody approaching these actions with hand-wringing about violence is pretty backward and very establishment and harmful and also boring.

There’s so much to say about abortion and there’s so much to talk about with how people’s rights are being war-of-attritioned away and how much of those rights actually truly didn’t exist. It was no walk in the park to get an abortion before, a month ago, it was actually quite difficult and more so for folk who live in trigger states and folk who live in chronically unresourced or deresourced places. I would actually really love to hear about your take on the whole groomer discourse that is being levied at trans people specifically, but gay people more generally. Do you have any thoughts about that? And how does that tie into these moments that we’re collectively experiencing?

Sophie: I suppose I already covered some of my thoughts about the weaponized innocence of the figure of the Child. And I suppose this links to the way that– None of this can actually adequately be tackled, including in progressive or socialist, or whatever liberal frames of trans solidarity or allyship, without actually going as far, getting as deep as the principle of youth or child liberation, or youth or child sovereignty. Which is totally lost, it was totally successfully destroyed by the 80’s and by the pedophile industrial complex being built. It’s just off the map more or less, apart from on the fringes of radical movements and, of course, there are wonderful things that are going on. There’s the Purple Thistle, a youth-led community center in Vancouver, carla bergman is an anarchist, reproductive justice militant, and zine archivist who has a book coming out with AK Press called Listen To Kids. There exists consciousness about the importance of actually countering the property logic around kids and including or better than including children in the political process, but it’s just completely fringe. I don’t think that we can actually successfully counter the entire narrative about groomers without actually advocating for something like children and youth liberation. Because groomers are just an outgrowth of the properterian fantasy that, as you mentioned, really weirdly sexualizes the children within the tiny little bubble of the private nuclear household based on eodipal kinship, which is a very strange sexual structure between parents and children, which pretends that it is asexual and projects all of its strange hyper fixated sexuality onto this predatory other.

And it requires children to be literally art canvases, pieces of inheritance, who do not have desires, who do not have sexualities above all, who cannot make friends across generations, and who cannot dictate or negotiate their own boundaries visa vie each other or elders or whatever, and who will be irrevocably harmed by the company of a drag queen. It’s just so boring and so endless, there’s an endless well of this in our culture right now. And I’ve obviously been called a groomer because anyone who talks about queer theory in the public sphere will be called a groomer and a pedophile by TERFs and Gender-Criticals and fascists, etc. And it’s terrifying, right? It’s really terrifying. The left has not got a great strategy worked out about how to be effective in defense against that and how to actually do solidarity with people being targeted by the pedophile industrial complex. I’d love to see more conversations about that.

Scott: Going back to the 70’s, which keeps coming up for us, we’re rehashing on the left the same splintering moments of those radical movements of the women’s movement and gay liberation. They came together in certain areas around abortion and around cisgayness and then splintered around transness. And then the way that it’s reformulating now where supposed radical feminists are taking sides with fascists and right-wingers is a really weird echo or return to that moment. But I wonder what you think about– With groomer, going back to the reproduction of the same and trying to reproduce something else, the threat of the trans child seems to me to be this idea that a kid has some autonomy to refuse the discipline and wages of gender that are forced upon them. And so in a way the groomers are pointing back at– Noah Zazanis wrote about this, too, that cis people are the most effectively groomed people. They’re the ones who do the thing that they’re made to do, and trans people are actually refusing grooming. But I wonder what you think about this, the threat that gay and trans people play is that wherever reproduction we have to do of our community is not sexual reproduction. It’s a different way of forming ourselves and our community. What do you think about the threat of transition and also the strange posthistory of anti-trans feminism?

Sophie: There are different things there. But perhaps, I don’t know what the listenership tends to know and not know. So if you don’t mind, I’ll just state the obvious – or not for some people – about the strange interrelation. I do think it’s important to disambiguate TERFs and Gender-Criticals and simple garden transphobes because sometimes when people hear these conversations from a position of relative unfamiliarity, there can be a real reaction against the seeming conflation of these things. It’s important to state that the State is waging war on trans people, both adult and children, and it’s polarized around the racialized, sex working figure of the trans woman of color, and then the figure of the potentially transed, seduced, groomed, potentially infertile trans child. And this war is being waged primarily in the United Kingdom, but increasingly in the United States and elsewhere. And many actors in this mobilization, which brings together secular right-wingers, Christo-fascists, and sadly, some people who are nominally on the left claim no connection with feminism. That’s maybe obvious, right? However, there is also this presence in their ranks, and even sometimes at their home, especially in the UK. There’s a significant number of self-identified radical feminists. That’s what TERF means – trans-exclusionary radical feminist. This was a terminology brought about by someone who was cis rather than trans. The TERFs don’t like being called TERFs, although it’s very obviously a neutral descriptor. They pitch trans people’s existence itself against the interests of womanhood, and they sometimes link this to a global patriarchal pharma capitalist conspiracy, which supposedly drives the phenomenon of transness. And this links up very beautifully with anti-semitic understandings of the world.

I sometimes think the only real difference between a gender-critical, which is another word for the general anti-trans component within feminism – not all of whom would call themselves radical feminists, so TERF is a specific subset of Gender-Critical – but sometimes the difference between a feminist transphobe, and a Christo-fascist woman, a Trad Wife who hates trans people, is the particular flavor vibe or orientation of their wounded attachment to a suffering-based definition of femaleness. So it’s like do they relate psychically to their own femaleness in a tragic way, which is the feminist transphobes way – we will be females, bleeding and dying in childbirth forever, it’s what makes us sisters – or in a triumphal way, which is the Trad Wife belief, which is really, really inherent, you can hear it, sometimes they say out loud, but the most beautiful thing a woman can do for America is die in childbirth.

And in practice, the links between the feminist transphobes and the anti-feminist transphobes are very well-documented, I can definitely recommend the podcast Blood and TERF, which monitors these relationships. That’s a podcast from the UK, the Heritage Foundation and funding bodies that are even to the right of them have sponsored British radical feminists traveling, advocating, and lecturing for over a decade at this point. I wrote in, of all places, the New York Times who asked me to write about this and explain TERFism’s ideological roots. Why is TERFism so big in the UK? Alas, it was in 2019. Now, it seems it’s a globally known phenomenon because of JK Rowling’s uptake of it. In my opinion, its ideological roots are in eugenic feminism, including specifically colonial English women’s feminist efforts to impose a certain hygiene in India and Africa about a century ago.

But you asked me also about the good news of this confrontation today. There is a real need on the part of capitalist order today to de-fang that disruptive potential that you named in trans kids and to contain the possibilities of trans insurrection within what Nat Raha callsTtrans Liberalism. And it’s really working. There is a spilling over, there is a recognition that there’s refusals of reproductive and productivity type training of that cis heteronormative grooming that Noah Zazanis talks about. The links between that active refusal and all the other issues that we’ve been talking about in terms of work carcerality, the private character of care, the foreclosure of the future in white national reproduction, and so on. When I’m feeling optimistic, there is an insurgency of feminism against cisness taking place. Emma Heaney talks about feminism against cisness. And she turns the history of feminism on its head and historicizes the moment when it became cis, which it was not, to begin with. And the long-standing and currently very potentially powerful insurgency of feminists of all genders against cisness threatens the social order by potentially decommodifying, deprivatizing, and reorienting away from production and reproduction all of the means of collective life-making.

And the question we can ask ourselves, this is from Kay Gabriel, what would it mean for gender to function as a source of disalienated pleasure rather than as an accumulation strategy? And the proliferation of the means of transition doesn’t necessarily but potentially contains a whispered invitation towards exploring that question.

Scott: I love what you just said. That, in my mind, could be a really good last thing to say.

Sophie: We’ve been talking for ages. I’ve taken up so much of your evening. Actually, sometimes it’s good to just quit while you’re ahead. I feel you’re right. Maybe that’s a nice note to end on. We can always think about everything we wish we said and note it down so that our next podcast can potentially– It’s lovely!

Amar: I love it.

Sophie: It’s a real pleasure speaking to you two. It really is.

Amar: The feeling is super, super mutual. I might just ask in closing, is there anything, a notion that you would leave listeners with or parting words that you would say to them?

Sophie: That’s a lovely question. I feel everyone has seen this quote, but it makes me happy when it circulates in times of despair. And it’s that quote from Ursula Le Guin about how the power of capitalism seems immutable, but so did the power of kings under feudalism. When I’m feeling up optimistic right now, I’m realizing that the center cannot hold, there is no center anymore. There is a very real sense in which – and this is very scary – masses of our siblings and neighbors are coming to grips for the first time with the fact that we take care of ourselves, the state does not take care of us, and maybe that provides an opening.

Amar: Indeed, I love that so much. Thank you so much for those words and that provocation that’s really important to keep in mind always, but perhaps especially now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Music for this episode is an edited version of:

  • Eyeliner by American Hairlines off of the Free Music

Archive on archive.org, editing by Amar.

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Transcription

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Hell yeah, thank you all so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Sorry, that is within 2021.

TFSR: Oh okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N: [giggles with appreciation]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N: [giggles in agreeance]

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

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

TFSR: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Download Episode Here

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

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

Announcements

Eric King Call-In Continues

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

Transcripts & Zines

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

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Not the TERFy stuff.

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

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

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

TFSR: Hell yeah, I will do my best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Is it SNY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Xeno, do you have anything to add?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C: Thank you so much.

X: Yeah, thanks for doing this

Abolition Mixtape with Chris “Time” Steel

Abolition Mixtape with Chris “Time” Steel

A mixtape audio cassette over a rainy city street background, featuring text "Time Talks, Episode 46: Prison Aboliton Mixtape Feat Bursts of TFSR"
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We are sharing a cross-over episode with the Time Talks Podcast (member of the Channel Zero Network alongside TFSR) where Chris “Time” Steel and Bursts share songs about the struggle for abolition and what they like about them.

Show Playlist:

  1. Dead Prez – Behind Enemy Lines
  2. Archie Shepp – Attica Blues
  3. Vic Mensa – Shelter feat. Wyclef Jean & Chance the Rapper
  4. Zack de la Rocha – Digging For Windows
  5. Ric Wilson – Fight Like Ida B & Marsha P
  6. Invincible – The Door
  7. Apani B. Fly feat. L.I.F.E. Long – Outasite
  8. JP Robinson – George Jackson
  9. Rocky Rivera – Headhunter feat. Bambu
  10. Blackbird Raum – Lucasville
  11. Sole & DJ Pain 1 – FTL
  12. Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak

Asheville Responses to Recent Repression

In relation to the subject matter of our late December interview about housing and homeless camp sweeps in Asheville and persecution of activists weeks later, we have this to share:

We stand in solidarity with the 7 defendants in Asheville currently facing charges brought against them in an act of blatant state repression. On Tuesday February 8th, our comrades will have their first probable cause hearing. As these proceedings continue, our comrades are asking our community to amplify their story and continue the essential, revolutionary work of mutual aid.

You can also offer financial support by checking out Firestorms fundraiser (Twitter, Instagram) and donating directly to the Blue Ridge ABC Bail & Legal Solidarity Fund (venmo: @BlueRidgeABC).

Coming weeks will see a series of online workshops featured by Firestorm Books on anti-repression subjects online for free:

  • Tues, Feb 8th, 7-8:30pm EST, Anti-Repression 101:
    • What to expect during door knocks, arrest, jail, & court.
    • Register here 
  • Tues, Feb 15th, 7-8:30pm EST, Digital Security 101:
    • How to secure phones, computers, and communications from falling into the wrong hands.
    • Register here
  • Tues, Feb 22nd, 7-8:30pm EST, Advanced Directives:
    • How to make a crisis plan when facing state repression.
    • Register here

. … . ..

Additionally, featuring:

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.

. … . ..

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

. … . ..

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.

Asheville Survival Program

Asheville Survival Program

"Asheville Survival Program" in a circle, around dandelions and the word "donate"
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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.

Stop The Legal Lynching of Ernest Johnson

Stop The Legal Lynching of Ernest Johnson

"Clemency for Ernest Johnson", picturing protest at Boone County courthouse
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On February 12th, 1994, Ernest Lee Johnson and his ex-girlfriends’ two sons participated in the botched robbery of Casey’s General Store that took three victims’ lives: Mable Scruggs, Mary Bratcher and Fred Jones. Mr Johnson has no recollection of the murders, was in despair and had been drinking and smoking crack in the hours after his ex-girlfriend broke up with him. A Black man with intellectual disabilities and no former, violent convictions, he was convicted by an ill-informed, all-white jury with the help of Boone County, Missouri, Prosecuting Attorney, Kevin Crane. Ernest Johnson now faces an execution date of October 5th, 2021.

This week, we spoke with Elyse Max, State Director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty about the life of Ernest Johnson, the media and court situation he faced, his twice overturned death penalty, the links between the lynching of Black people in the US and the current death penalty, intersections of race and class in who are the victims of capital cases and who sit on death rows, the mishandling of Ernests intellectual disability in the case and other topics.

You can learn more about Ernest’s case, including ways to help press Missouri Gov Parson for a commutation of Ernest’s execution and the work of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty by visiting MADPMO.org. You can follow their work on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram via the handle @MADPMO.

Some other useful links:

More info on Swainiac Fest available on Instagram (@Swainiac1969)

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Featured Tracks

  • For Pete’s Sake (instrumental) by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth from For Pete’s Sake
  • Hangman by Al Dean from The Hangman’s Blues: Prison Songs In Country Music
  • Reflections (instrumental) by Diana Ross & The Supremes from Reflections

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with any name, gender pronouns, location, affiliation, or other information that will help listeners orient?

Elyse Max: Sure. My name is Elyse Max. I am the state director at Missourians For Alternatives To The Death Penalty. We are a statewide organization in Missouri and I work from Kansas City, and my pronouns are “she” series pronouns.

TFSR: We’re here to talk about the case of Ernest Johnson and the Missouri Supreme Court’s execution death warrant dated for October 5 at 6 pm. Would you tell us a little bit about Earnest, about his upbringing, about who he is as a person?

E: Sure. Ernest was born 61 years ago in rural Missouri in Pemiscot County and the city of Steele, Missouri. Ernest was raised in rural Missouri, he went to school in Mississippi County in the city of Charleston, Missouri. Ernest’s family… According to the court documents his father identified his occupation as a share-cropper. And we can see in Earnest’s family history that his maternal and paternal grandparents worked on farms in rural Missouri, which had ties to enslaving people. When Ernest went to school in Mississippi County in the 1960s, it was a segregated school. He never passed the sixth grade, there weren’t services at that time for special education or testing as we know it today. And so Ernest had a rough upbringing, his family history includes many people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities. He had a brother who was institutionalized and passed away. His mother died from what he says is alcoholism. And he didn’t have an easy life. But the folks that know Ernest that grew up with him and that know him now describe him as kind and gentle and soft-spoken. Earnest has no history of violent crimes, and only crimes of poverty, theft, things like that until he was convicted of triple murders in 1995.

TFSR: Do you know much about the context that led up to, as you said, crimes of poverty? What happened that we know of with the robbery at Casey’s General Store in 1994?

E: It was described largely as a botched robbery. We know a lot from media reports and court documents. The crime was committed by Ernest and the kids of his girlfriend at the time. According to reports, his girlfriend had broken up with him that day. And Ernest was in despair, he was drinking and smoking crack at the time. And he went in to rob this Casey’s General Store with his girlfriend’s kids. The three people that were working there were murdered that night: Mary Bratcher, Mabel Scruggs, and Fred Jones. There was evidence that they were bludgeoned by a hammer, some stabs, some shot. To this day, Ernest says that he has no recollection of that night. He was the only one convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death for those crimes that happened in 1994.

TFSR: You mentioned looking at the descriptions in the media at the time. Can you talk a bit about what the trial looked like and what the media landscape looked like for him?

E: Yeah, at the time Boone County, Missouri, it happened in Columbia, which is where the University of Missouri is and it was much different than it is today, it was pretty much a small town. So this crime really shook the foundations of Columbia, Missouri at this time. It was pretty well-covered, with a lot of media attention. It’s stoked a lot of fear in the public. Ernest was prosecuted by Kevin Crane, who was the prosecutor in Boone County at that time, and he is well known in Missouri as a highly problematic prosecutor. He was responsible for the wrongful conviction of Ryan Ferguson, who is now exonerated. In fact, he is now a judge in the state of Missouri. But part of the problem with Ernest’s trial was that his intellectual disability claim has only ever been heard by a jury. In most states, if you have an intellectual disability claim, there is a pre-trial exemption where a judge will settle that before it even goes to court. We believe that’s what should have happened in Earnest’s case. But in Missouri, the law is such that the prosecutor has to agree to the pre-trial hearing for the ID claim. Kevin Crane rejected that, and the judge sided with the prosecutor. So it was just moved directly to a jury trial.

In fact, Earnest’s death sentence, not his conviction, was overturned two times due to errors in the presentation of evidence about the ID claim. In the third trial, he was sentenced to death by an all-white jury that was pulled from Pettis County, and they sentenced him to death for the third time. His intellectual disability claim has never been heard by medical experts, has never been determined by clinicians. And when the Supreme Court made it unconstitutional to execute people with intellectual disabilities, they left it up to the states to determine what those criteria would be. So in Missouri, the criteria match what the APA’s definition is, meaning low IQ, early onset, as well as adaptive deficits in everyday functioning. But because that wasn’t determined by medical experts, the prosecutor relied on racial stereotypes and stereotypes of people with disabilities to win over these juries. The prosecutor, in the third trial, told the all-white jury to rely on their gut, rely on their common sense. And obviously, Earnest had street-smarts. He’s incarcerated, and he can play cards, complicated card games, he can play basketball. Really just urging the jury to rely on nothing that is medical evidence. That’s a huge problem today. So part of our campaign is to push for a board of inquiry that can look at the ID claim from that perspective and make a recommendation to the governor on clemency based on medical and clinical advice.

TFSR: To make it super plain, can you talk about the constitutional basis in which that’s grounded or the moral or ethical basis in which the idea that someone needs to be competent in the US system to face punishment for a crime and actually be held and be considered fully responsible for it?

E: Sure. In 2004, the Supreme Court ruling was Atkins vs Virginia, which made it unconstitutional to execute someone with an intellectual disability. I don’t know the answer to whether or not this is the same as a competency claim, because it isn’t about competency to stand trial, it’s more about being ineligible for the execution. So it’s different than not guilty by insanity because they’re still guilty, but the highest punishment they could receive would be life without parole, so it just makes them ineligible for execution.

TFSR: It’s a strange delineation for me. The way that I’ve always approached was that if someone is considered to be experiencing a different reality than other people, you can’t hold them to all the same standards, as someone who you understand shares the same experience of reality as yourself, or the same ability to cope with the reality and responsibility of what would be a citizen or whatever. And so if the argument that the courts are making by saying, “Look, he can play basketball, he can play complicated card games. Therefore, he understood the ramifications of what he was doing at the time…”

And I’m speaking as if the assumption that somebody deserves to be killed because they’ve hurt other people or killed other people, is the decision that I want the state to make, which is not the case. I don’t think that that decision should be made, which pragmatically is one reason that I think that this conversation is important besides all of the other white supremacist ramifications of this case, in particular. But it seems that in order for someone to get executed for a thing if we assume that that’s the thing that the state should have the right to do, there should be degrees of responsibility taken for an action. And if there is a limit for who can take responsibility for such a heinous crime and receive that sort of punishment, they have to be considered to be operating at the same standards. And it’s reasonable to have the same expectations of participation and understanding and competency that you have of everyone else in the system. Does that make sense?

E: Yeah, that absolutely makes sense. I think that’s very confusing, and it was especially confusing to a jury of laypeople, is that proving that someone has an intellectual disability doesn’t necessarily mean they didn’t know what was going on, or they didn’t understand what was happening. But it means that they didn’t have the same kind of agency that someone that doesn’t have an intellectual disability would have. People with intellectual disabilities are more likely to have coerced confessions, they’re more influenceable. Their agency isn’t the same as someone who would premeditate something and go out and commit a crime. They don’t have that same degree of agency. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that he had no idea, he doesn’t know what he’s going to be executed for, he had no idea what happened on that night. In fact, we recently had a jury sign an affidavit that said that they would reconsider their decision if they had known what the clinical definition of an ID was because the prosecutor was trying to argue that Ernest was coherent, he knew what he was going to do. They said he cased the joint earlier in the day. So it was probably premeditated, but his agency, especially in acting with two other people, was less than someone who didn’t have an intellectual disability. So he shouldn’t be eligible for the ultimate punishment of execution, although he could still be eligible for first-degree murder, which would be life without parole, which arguably is more than sufficient of punishment for anyone. That’s a great question. I think there is a lot of confusion around that, and in no way shape or form should a jury be ever diagnosing or determining what someone’s intellectual disability or what their capacity or their agency is, in that sense, without understanding the medical and the clinical reasoning behind it.

TFSR: I appreciate you responding to that. Thank you. That was muddled “blah, blah, blah, but it doesn’t seem right”.

E: I hope that helps clarify because it isn’t right. And it is hard to understand. It is hard to articulate because it is so almost outlandish.

TFSR: Can you tell us a bit about MADP, Missourians For Alternatives To Death Penalty? How did you get involved in Ernest Johnson’s case? And what’s the current campaign’s goal?

E: MADP, we are the statewide death penalty abolition group in Missouri. We’re the only ones with that single focus. Missouri is not a state that is ready for full repeal. So we do what we call “abolition by attrition”. We just chip away at the system that is so very broken. Things like revising our intellectual disability laws, so that they require a pre-trial exemption for people with ID claims. We are basically just trying to make fewer people eligible for execution. In fact, in Missouri, we have 20 people that are currently sentenced to death. We don’t have a death row, so to speak, they’re integrated into the general population further proving they’re not a future danger to society. We work on the front end and the back end. We follow pending cases, pay attention to prosecutor races in high-use counties, as well as assist legal teams. We follow their lead at the end, like we’re doing with Ernest Johnson when it comes time to bring awareness to the clemency campaign around an execution. We are there, we’re across the board, working throughout the whole spectrum. Before a case even becomes death-qualified, it’s on our radar. And we’re trying to work with legal teams and the folks that have been impacted in order to stop this. And so for Ernest Johnson’s campaign, there are several balls in the air. The biggest issue is the constitutionality of the intellectual disability claim. Our hope, since the Supreme Court of Missouri recently unanimously rejected his habeas petition, our hope is that the governor will grant clemency, grant a stay, to call the board of inquiry to review the ID claim. Our governor and our attorney general have claimed to be champions… For communities of folks with disabilities, they base a lot of their pro-life arguments on the fact that our attorney general has a son with a disability. We really think they’re embedded in that community and that is the issue that could penetrate their hearts and minds and make them look at this in a rational way instead of a political way. And the death penalty is always political.

TFSR: For the audience that maybe didn’t pick it up when you were describing Ernest going to segregated schools in… Missouri is one of the states in the US south but it’s considered to be Midwestern. It’s great plains. But it was under segregation. And you mentioned coming from a sharecropper family. So for folks that don’t know, Ernest would be considered Black under legal standards at a certain point in the United States legal system and has suffered from anti-Blackness, multi-generationally. So can you maybe unpack a little more? You mentioned the makeup of the jury earlier, and there are a few matters in terms of the competency of the jury to make decisions about whether or not he is an individual with developmental delays and disabilities should be held to the standard of the death penalty. But there’s also the wider claim of the constitutional right for someone to face a jury trial by a jury of their peers. Can you talk about the makeup of the jury in Ernest’s case, in any of Ernest cases, and the importance, the underpinning argument of why in southern states where white supremacy is much more near the surface in public discourse than it can be in other parts of the country? Well, that’s unfair. Let me re-state that part because, you know, America, right?.

Can you talk about the importance of that argument and why you’re arguing what he had as a jury during his trial does not hold up to that standard of a jury of peers?

E: Yeah, sure. I think that’s such a great point. The jury is supposed to be the consciousness of the community. In death penalty cases, a jury has to be what is called death-qualified. While they’re selecting jury members, they have to already believe that they can impose a death sentence. So how is that a jury of your peers in the first place? And then to pull an all-white jury from Pettis County, a county which had racial terror lynchings, which had enslaved populations in the past? Those things are our linkages. Really, if we look at the historical acts of racial terror, there are direct linkages between those counties and the modern-day mass incarceration system. And that’s one thing that we do at MADP. Looking at our state work, we look at counties that had high numbers of racial terror lynchings that, had high numbers of enslaved people on the census and overlie them with other indicators, like the Secretary of State’s traffic stop reports – the likelihood that you’re pulled over driving while Black. These historically problematic counties are problematic today. That’s where we see our high number of death penalty cases. Mississippi County just had an extrajudicial murder of a Black man passing through town in their county jail. And that’s where Ernest went to school. There were also four historical racial terror lynchings in Mississippi County, three in Pemiscot County. We work closely with the Equal Justice Initiatives and they connect this history with our modern-day criminal legal system. We know that there’s just such a huge disparity on who is sentenced to die in the United States, and that’s reflected in Missouri. African-Americans nationally make up 40% of people on death row, but only 13% of the population.

But even more so than the defendants’ race, it’s the race of the victim. So in Missouri, if your victim is a white female, you are 14 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if your victim is a Black male. And these are the types of remnants that we see with historical racial terror lynchings that, in the 1940s, they went inside because it became a shame to lynch people publicly. In 1972, the death penalty was abolished in the United States because of the racial bias that was apparent. If you look at the death row in the south, it’s like 75% of people are African-American. So then, when it came back in 1982, they decided that you couldn’t just eliminate the death penalty because of racial bias, but each individual case would be allowed these many rounds of appeals, so they could be sure that they were not imposing racial bias when imposing the death penalty. But as we know, that hasn’t really helped if they’re pulling all-white juries and if we’re having these problematic prosecutors that are remnants of the same thing that happened in the South as is the case was Kevin Crane and the complaints against him. So, Ernest’s case just coalesces all of these broader systemic issues and anti-Blackness within the system, but also connections to our own deep history in Missouri. We were a Union state but allowed to keep our enslaved population, we were just a very divided state. So we often, I think for Missouri, want to appear to be Midwestern. But our economics, our capital is based on racial capitalism. That is still the case today. And that’s so strongly reflected in our criminal legal system, not just statistically but when you look at the way that people of color, especially Black men are treated when they’re going through these trials and these rounds of appeals.

TFSR: I think that the racial capitalism element is a really important thing to contextualize this, too, because there’s, besides huge and visible racial disparities in terms of who is accused of being the assailant in an instance, there’s also an overlap of that with class. And when you look at again, to go back to Ernest’s family history of being sharecroppers, there’s a lineage right there of you are being denied the ability, you’re having your wealth extracted from you, your lives were taken to serve the white supremacist capitalist state, or feudal at that point. And then afterward with the Black codes and with other laws going into the system that, again, Michelle Alexander’s a good example of showing this history and the perpetuity of white supremacist continuation of slavery in the United States. So, generation by generation kept in systemic private poverty, through being forced to go to underfunded segregated schools, through redlining, through all of these economic ventures, people who get the death penalty, almost never are rich people. And when you’ve got the confluence of multigenerational, not poverty, but inability to conserve and hand down wealth that people of color and Black folks and indigenous folks in the United States have facing them. You can’t hire a really expensive lawyer to argue your case for you. You’re stuck going with public defenders, who are systematically deprived of the time and energy to be able to give enough focus to an individual and their case, to actually argue on their behalf and pull the strings and file the paperwork.

E: That is very true and every single person on the currently sentenced to death list in Missouri is with the public defender system. As we watch these new pending cases pop up, that is very evident to us. If you have a private attorney, you’re usually getting your charges dropped to second-degree murder through a plea agreement. And if you have a public defender, oftentimes, there’s not even a plea bargain on the table for you. That is pretty stark. You mentioned Michelle Alexander. If anyone from Missouri is listening, there’s a great book by Walter Johnson called The Broken Heart of America. And it is about the racial capitalism of Missouri, and specifically St. Louis, and how that evolved from Native American genocide all the way to Ferguson and modern-day hyper-militarization of the police in St. Louis. If you like to drill down on that, it’s a really good one to look into.

TFSR: It seems clear with the lines that you’re drawing…. This show identifies as abolitionist as well as anarchist, most of our guests are not necessarily anarchists. My understanding is that your organization is not explicitly an abolitionist organization, but as you said, you could view trying to reverse these and offer support to individuals facing the death penalty in the move towards eventually retracting the death penalty in Missouri as abolition by attrition. Can you just say a few words again about the continuity between lynching and the lack of subjectivity afforded to Black and brown folks in this country historically, and how the death penalty is a continuation of the same struggle, and the struggle against the death penalty is the same struggle towards the abolition of that same un-personhood that we’ve struggled for centuries in this country around?

E: Yeah, sure. The linkage between historical acts of racial terror and the modernity mass incarceration system is well-researched and well-versed, particularly with lynching being manifested within the use of the death penalty and their actual litigation on lynching that happened when it went inside. In the 1940’s, it wasn’t a public spectacle anymore because it actually became embarrassing to gather around it to celebrate these things because of the way public perception was changing in the 40’s. They moved it inside and tried to make it a matter of the judiciary. But there wasn’t the same due process that we have around the death penalty today. So a lot of times it was an accused before the judge, and they went right to lynching. And so the death penalty actually was abolished, Georgia v. Furman, I believe that was in 1972, because of its racial application of it. It came back 10 years later, and the Supreme Court said, “You can’t just abolish it because it’s racially unjust, you have to bring each case and present the individual racial bias in each case.” In fact, last year, North Carolina just granted retrials to every single Black person sentenced to death in North Carolina understanding that there is so much racial bias. Everybody who was sentenced gets a chance to have a retrial where they’re able to present what would have been the racial bias in their case at the time they were sentenced. The connection legally is there. We have this idea that, with the death penalty, there is due process, but the way the death penalty is stacked up, where you have to even be death-qualified to sit on a jury that determines whether someone should receive a death sentence. It’s just…

TFSR: Mind-blowing…

E: It is mind-blowing. I don’t know if I’m trying to find the right word that is appropriate for publication. It’s pretty evident when you trace it back. The museum in Montgomery, Alabama, it’s From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, where Brian Steven works with the Equal Justice Initiative. They collect jars of soil from lynching sites across the United States, they’re on display in the museum. And that’s what we’re working on now in Missouri. There were 60 recognized victims of racial terror lynchings during Reconstruction, and we’re collecting those jars of soil to keep in a statewide exhibit. And through that work, it’s where it really became apparent that historically problematic counties are current problematic counties, where they’re applying the death penalty more often, where there are more traffic stops if you’re driving while Black, where you have higher levels of mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings of Black people. So we need to look at that history and address that history. And that’s part of what our racial justice work is like, I don’t know if we can abolish it until we have come to terms with where these things in our system come from.

So, while our organization isn’t explicitly abolitionists, we’re not trying to abolish the whole criminal legal system, if we take what I believe is the tip of the iceberg, which is giving the state the power to determine who lives and dies through the power to execute, once we can get rid of the very tip of the iceberg, it blows open everything else it. That’s why they won’t abolish the death penalty on racial discrimination grounds is because the Justice has said, “Well, then we’re going to have to look at every single felony, every single life without parole case”. Because the stuff that we’re allowing people to murder by is really the same stuff that is contributing to our whole systemic mass incarceration problem. So I feel strongly as an abolitionist that my work with the death penalty is only going to further the abolitionist cause, even if my organization dissolves formally because we’ve succeeded in our mission of abolition, which would be great. That is only going to blow open this wound that is just going to require more work to be done. We have to be glad and we have to celebrate victories because this work is so hard. Even though I’m not personally a reformist, I know that each step along the way is getting us closer to what we want to see the world around us looking like. I’m very proud of our work and I think that it does contribute greatly to the abolitionist cause overall.

TFSR: Thank you for that. It pretty much started off saying that Ernest Johnson has a standing execution warrant dated for October 5 at 6 pm. That’s very soon. How can listeners help in these coming weeks before that date comes to pass? And it’s not a foregone conclusion that there won’t be a stay, but the very high likelihood and possibility that this man will get executed by the state.

E: Yeah, I think that people inside Missouri and outside Missouri can go to www.madp.org. We have a toolkit that is constantly being updated. For Ernest right now we’re targeting the governor, he’s got the ultimate executive power to grant clemency right now, although I know the legal team is working up to the wire to get litigation going all the way up to the last minute if they can. We’re focusing our efforts on the governor. So there’s information, there’s a call script on our website, a toolkit, some cut-and-paste social media posts you can be making. As we move closer we are going to have a few phone apps and Twitter storms, as well as there’s a petition on change.org that currently has about 18,000 signatures. And we’ll be partnering with the NAACP and several organizations to deliver that personally to the governor on September 29. On our website, we made our homepage The Clemency for Ernest’s page. And also, we have a great comms organizer. So our social media is on fire, I’ve been told. I would just suggest people follow us there and then keep their eye on the toolkit for up-to-date information on how to help.

TFSR: Obviously, there’s a timeliness to Ernest Johnson’s situation, that’s really important. So it makes sense that you have converted the homepage as focused on this case and getting people involved. Are there other ongoing parts of MADP that you want folks to know about and get involved in the longer term? Like, are there ways for people to invest their energy in the organization towards that longer goal of abolishing the death penalty in Missouri?

E: Yeah, thanks for asking that. We have as I said, 20 folks sentenced to death. Unfortunately, 75% of them are in their final rounds of appeals. With the way the United States Supreme Court is and the Supreme Court in Missouri, we need your support, and we need people to get engaged in the issue. Fortunately or unfortunately, the media picks up on innocence cases quite a bit and oftentimes leaves behind the death penalty until it becomes salacious, like the night of the execution, just like they do with the crime, where they want to only focus on the salacious and made for TV parts. And oftentimes, we hear from folks that they didn’t even know we weren’t actively executing state, they didn’t know that we even had the death penalty in Missouri. So we do want people to stay engaged. For the past three years, we have had one execution a year. While that’s less than Texas, we are one of only four states that are currently for 2021 have executions on the books. Just going through the website, we’re a membership organization, you can join for $50 and get our newsletter.

We also are unique in that we have chapters across the state. So it’s great, we have a base that we can activate, we will be activating them on October 5, and as things come on, we’re always using all of our tools – email lists and things like that. And we have several petitions. So we need people engaged all the time. Please don’t be like the media and only focus on it during times of execution. Because these people need support. We have a pen pal program, we hook up folks with spiritual advisors, and all of this is an effort to really just to bring some humanity to people that are in the system, which is what they lack the very most. So lots of ways you can get engaged on very small levels. And also you can make larger commitments as well. Thanks for asking that. I think it’s important that we aren’t only focusing during times of execution.

TFSR: Personally, as someone who entered political organizing around the death penalty, I feel like the movement seemed to hit a national peak in the late 1990s. With media representations like Dead Man Walking and the advocacy and publication of books by sister Helen Prejean, and the popular push to commute the death penalty against former Black Panther, Mumia Abu-Jamal, among other folks. So I guess the timing of that matches up with the 1996 signing by Bill Clinton of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. I remember that happening at the same time. And that feels like there’s some concordance between those events chronologically.

Where do you see the anti-death penalty movement today, as far as a nationwide movement? And how can people find out more in case they’re not in Missouri and want to get involved where they’re at in this penalty that has no take-backs?

E: That’s a great question. You’re right, it does have no take-backs. I think that there was a peak in the 90s maybe as far as public perception goes, but we saw the tough-on-crime rhetoric. You’re right about the Crime Bill and Clinton, when he was running for president, made a huge public deal about rushing back to Arkansas because he had to oversee an execution. So while I think public perception has changed, that takes a while for that to change in the political sphere. And to the common issue that voters care about, and something that they’re even asking people to care about. I think we’ve come a long way. And really, last year, Virginia became the 24th state to legislatively abolish the death penalty. Actually, they’re the first southern state and they’ve executed over 100 people in Virginia. So it’s very inspiring to see that happen. This isn’t gonna happen through a moratorium. Obama had a moratorium and all it did was set up Trump to execute 13 people at the end of his regime. Biden has a moratorium right now, but he’s still pursuing capital cases, or let me say the Department of Justice is still pursuing capital cases. Eight federal capital cases are happening in Missouri, on top of the 19 state capital cases in Missouri. So a governor-imposed moratorium is a good start, but it’s not enough, this has to come from the United States Supreme Court. We have to determine that it is cruel and unusual. We’re one of the few countries that still continue to keep executions on the books. We’re in the company of China and Saudi Arabia. This has to come through the Supreme Court. I’m inspired by the 24 states abolishing legislatively, because once we can tip the scales and get 26-27-28 states, then we can argue before the Supreme Court again, that it is cruel and unusual and it’s being used rarely and not often, and that it should just be completely abolished.

Part of that is that public perception has to change. They have to run out of people to put on juries. That’s what we’re seeing in Missouri, juries aren’t giving death sentences. So as much as our AG and our prosecutors want to try, the juries aren’t doing it. I think it is moving in that direction, it is a slow haul. The death penalty is as embedded as white supremacy is in America, and they go hand in hand. And so the work that we have to do when acknowledging our past wrongs needs to happen for us to realize what the death penalty actually is and what we are doing by allowing the government to kill in our name. But people that do this work are faced with so many different barriers and challenges in all of the work that we do that I understand why it often gets forgotten.

So it would be nice to have a little sister Helen public revival. Just Mercy came out last year, which is a great movie based on the book by Bryan Stevenson. It’s bringing it back into public opinion. And certainly the slaughter by Trump last year brought it back into the public discourse in such a way that there is now a Federal Death Penalty Abolition Act in the house in the Senate, that’s trying to work through things in that way. It is a long haul, we’re just trying to chip away at it and save every single life that we can, because unfortunately, what we know is that states that abolish have very few people left on the row. Virginia, I think had two people left at the time that they abolished. Missouri has 20 right now, so hoping we can get there but also knowing what that could mean for us is a lot more hard work and sadness ahead.

TFSR: Yeah. A lot of what you talked about in terms of where the decisions get made, we need Supreme Court decisions to say that it’s unconstitutional so the courts can stop applying that. And in order for that to happen, or/and as a stopgap in the meantime, legislative decisions made state by state to say we need to abolish the death penalty, we need to impose a moratorium because they’re less easily retracted than when it’s an executive simply putting something on the books, and then the other party gets in power and they remove it. Then back to organizations like yours that are going out there and applying pressure on the public officials that are supposed to listen to public opinion. What you said about the juries having trouble getting people to sit on them, I think says something about a shift in the public consciousness, I would like to think. That’s not to say positive or negative about people voting or not voting, but it says, if people vote, a lot of people choosing to vote says something about the legitimacy that they feel about the system. And what you’re seeing there is a lack of a voice, which is a statement, even if it’s not clear as to what it’s saying, or the other.

People refusing to participate in trials, because either they just somehow recuse themselves, or more specifically, recuse themselves because they say, “I cannot give a pro-death penalty decision in this case. So you have to kick me off of this jury” says something, says a lot. At the foundation of this and the less visible side of it is public participation in discussions and in organizing with their family and talking to the family about issues like the death penalty. And ideally, that should be what creates the wave that would force to some degree the hand of public officials and courts to actually impose stops on these sort of acts. So that’s why I’m excited to talk to you is because, for people in Missouri, this is a place that they can plug in, this may be more their speed than going out and protesting outside of the jail if they’re an abolitionist, it may be more their speed than doing a number of other things. It’s a way, especially that a lot of people of faith can engage around the issue of life or just people who think that the state shouldn’t have the decision to take someone’s life, that that’s not a choice that the state should be able to have. Sorry, that was repetitious. Are there any national networks that MADP is involved with, or that you know about that do really good works that might have participant groups inside of them that are reflective of specific states?

E: Maybe? I know the Equal Justice Initiative. They have community remembrance projects across the United States and we work closely with many different groups: Amnesty International, the 8th Amendment Project (they don’t have chapters per se), ACOU is a great partner to us. I think that intersection. But making sure – and this is something that we’re working really hard to deal with – is we need to talk about the death penalty as a wrongful conviction. So whenever anyone’s talking about wrongful convictions, they think about innocence and really harsh sentencing. We just need to put the death penalty in all of those discussions. When we talk about progressive prosecutors, they have to be against the death penalty. You can’t be against cash bail and pro-death penalty and, if you’re a prosecutor, that needs to be confronted and I know progressive prosecutors have community coalitions that support them.

 

So we need to hack the culture, so to speak, so that the death penalty is seen as a wrongful conviction. Murder isn’t ever a public safety measure. So the deterrents argument and all of that is just so obviously untrue when you look at the data and the research. I just want people to start talking about the death penalty and discussing it in the way that we talk about all other wrongful convictions because essentially, that’s what it is. It’s ugly, it’s messy, it’s murder, it’s not fun, and so it gets left behind until it becomes an execution date. I appreciate you bringing attention to it today and understanding it as part of a system and not an anomaly that is just gonna continue to perpetuate these types of injustices.

TFSR: Elyse, thank you so much for participating in this conversation and being available to talk to me and all the great work that you’re doing. I really appreciate it.

E: No problem, nice to talk to you. Thank you so much.