Category Archives: Anarchist Media

Propaganda By The Seed (with Aaron Parker and Tim Holland)

Propaganda By The Seed (with Aaron Parker and Tim Holland)

Logo for PBTS featuring a tree, the words "Propaganda By The Seed" around te exterior with a circle-A in the roots of the tree
Download This Episode

This week on the show, we feature a chat with Aaron Parker of Edgewood Nursery & Tim Holland (aka MC Sole), who together form the Propaganda By The Seed podcast. You can find the podcast on the channel zero network, Libsyn, and a bunch of streaming services. We hope you enjoy this chat as much as Bursts did. We talk about their project of sharing conversations with various farmers, herbalists, propagators, scavengers, historians and cooks about plants, food autonomy, agriculture mutual aid and a host of other, related topics.

You can find a bunch of Sole’s music at his bandcamp. And, if you want to hear past convos we’ve had, you can find a chat Tim & Bursts had (when Bursts was wicked underslept) in 2017 or Amar & Bursts on the “final” Solecast in 2020.

The podcast that Bursts mentioned but never named is “The Strange Case of Starship Iris“. It’s great, you should check it out.

Amy’s Kitchen Labor Issues

For a few articles on the Amy’s Kitchen labor issues, since they closed a factory in San Jose, laying off 300 employees with no notice…:

Mo Evil Foods:

Announcements

Phone / Email Zap for Robert Preacher

Robert Peacher #881627 is a prolific jailhouse lawyer who is incarcerated at Pendleton CF. He has won at least 18 lawsuits against the Indiana DOC since being wrongfully convicted in the late ’90s. In retaliation for his jailhouse lawyering in defense of prisoners’ human rights, Peacher was fed rat poison by guards at Wabash Valley CF. As a result of that experience, Peacher now suffers from PTSD and can’t eat unless his food is delivered by someone he trusts. He has told officials that he can’t trust food delivered by custody officers but will eat food delivered by non-custody staff. He is now 48 days into an involuntary hunger strike and could use some support…

Please call and email IDOC HQ and Pendleton CF Warden Dennis Reagle to demand that Robert Preacher’s (#881627) food be delivered by non-custody staff, so that he can eat without triggering his PTSD!

16 On Hunger Strike at Harnett CI in NC

from ItsGoingDown:

On August 30th, sixteen prisoners housed in the SC-S 24 building of Harnett Correctional, in Lillington, NC went on an indefinite hunger strike. A supporter received the following statement, signed by all sixteen participants, with the request that it posted and spread online to make their grievances known. Stay tuned for future calls to action!

In the meantime, supporters can call the Warden of Harnett CI, Cathy Judge, at 910-893-2751 to express their support and concern for the hunger strike.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks Include:

  • Keeper of the Ecosystems (instrumental) by Sole from Worlds Not Yet Gone (Black Box Tapes)
  • The Old (w/ Oldeaf) by Sole
  • Flood by Sole and DJ Pain 1 from Nihilismo

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Would you two please introduce yourselves to the audience with any names, pronouns, locations, and other info you’d like to share?

Tim: Sure, my name is Tim aka Sole, I live in so-called Brunswick, Maine. My pronouns are he/his. Primarily, for my life and by trade, I’m a musician. But I’m also a podcaster. I do a podcast with Aaron called Propaganda by the Seed. I used to do the Solecast, I might do it again. Who knows? I like plants and food, and fuck the police. That’s me.

Aaron: My name is Aaron. I live in Wabanaki territory, so-called Falmouth, Maine. Not too far from Tim. My pronouns are he/him, I do a lot of stuff with plants, mostly seed farming and growing nursery stock. And I make that Propaganda by the Seed podcast with Tim. I am a partner parent, trying to get out into the community and hopefully do some cool stuff there too. And that’s mostly it.

T: He is also an educator. One of my favorite things about Aaron is that the permaculture industrial complex stuff that I really wanted to learn about in Denver was like $1,000, $150 a class. Where Aaron would do those things at the resilience hub for $15, pay what you want, no one turned away. And I was “Wow, that is how this stuff should be.” That’s awesome.

A: Educator/insufferable know-it-all.

TFSR: Well, many of us are suffering through it joyfully. I’m gonna cut that.

Thank you so much both of you for coming on the chat. I really appreciate it. And I really appreciate your podcast, I’ll gush about it in a minute. But I wonder if you could talk about Propaganda by the Seed. Also, Tim, I’ve heard over the years, you levy the cannons or whatever at permaculture as the industrial complex attached to it. I wonder if you could at least partially frame some of what you do with Propaganda by the Seed in terms of being in opposition to a model where people pay a bunch for really specialized knowledge?

T: Yeah, sure. You asked me so I’ll start answering. When I took my permaculture design certificate (PDC) course in 2015 or 2016, it was very expensive. It was a gift from family members chipping in. It really blew my mind in some ways. It changed my life. And I was “Wow, this is so incredible.” I can’t believe how expensive this is, I wish this information was free. And a lot of the information I was really interested in as a vegan, and was these plants like Turkish Rocket, Caucasian Mountain Spinach, Hablitzia, pawpaw – really stuff that isn’t very popular at all, and was really difficult to find information on. And because I had already built up a platform through podcasting and stuff, it was easy to start making podcast episodes with Aaron about all this stuff that you really can’t get good information on, unless you’re deep in the subculture. No nurseries and no people who are doing the work. Information everywhere is in chains and wants to be free. And I feel really keeping this project going. What’s so cool about it is you can plug into it at any time, five years from now, 10 years from now. And it’s a compendium of really great information, mostly from people Aaron knows.

And from my perspective, it started with– When I moved here, I had read about Aaron before. And so when we met and I found out he was an anarchist, and we became friends, and he started coming on the Solecast, doing random perennial vegetable podcasts. It’s crazy to have a comrade who’s one of the leading suppliers of these plants that I’ve been reading about for years, living close by. I pinch myself off to be on the other side of it, six years later, eight years later to be putting out this content for free and also framed by anarchists. A lot of the permaculture stuff is “get a PDC and then become an instructor.” It’s a pyramid scheme. Learn to grow food so that you can get free and share the information and the food and all that with everyone. Those are my motivations behind it really creating the content that I want to see in the world, this is what I want to geek out to. And again, I pinch myself that it’s part of my life, it’s really, really awesome.

A: I’ll hop in and give a little bit on my side. When Tim first showed up at my nursery, I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone so excited about Turkish Rocket. Usually, it’s a plant I have to sell to people and be like “Oh, it’s really cool because this, this, and this,” and Tim was like “Oh, that Turkish Rocket, there’s so much of it. I’m so excited. I’ve been trying to grow this.” And then as we became friends, he was like “We should do this podcast together.” Doing a podcast on plants is something that I had thought about and considered, but probably never would have actually done without someone to work with and someone to get the ball rolling. So I feel we have a really good working relationship on this project where Tim’s got a lot of connections and a lot more experience doing podcast stuff, and I have a lot of deep plant knowledge and connections to plant weirdos.

And it’s really fun to make. It’s a really awesome excuse for us to have a long in-depth conversation about this stuff with people that I might know or people that I have known for a long time. But to really get in deep on a particular subject. And I think something that our podcast offers that I haven’t really found in other podcasts about plants is we really try and go pretty deep and get beyond a 101 level. So there are lots of plant podcasts out there that’ll profile a plant, but it’s 15-20 minutes often, and can be a great introduction. But we tend to get in deep and get some more in-depth information that isn’t always easily found without really digging.

As far as the permaculture stuff, I have two kinds of critiques in my head… I don’t want it totally shit all over permaculture, I think has a place and is not necessarily beyond fixing, I don’t think we need to entirely scrap that word. But I think we need to look at it with a jaundiced eye and say there’s a lot of problems here that need to be addressed and fixed. So, one of them Tim already covered. It is this idea of the permaculture industrial complex, where people tend to go from taking this expensive PDC course and then turning around and becoming teachers and teaching expensive PDC courses without actually having a lot of experience. And I think that can lead to people who take a PDC and think they know how shit works, but don’t have on-the-ground knowledge and an overly rosy idea of what a designed ecosystem can be. And basically think that you can set up a garden that takes care of itself. And that’s completely imaginary as far as I can tell.

T: My yard. I prove that right now, by the way, here.

A: Yeah, one of the better ideas that are in permaculture is that humans are part of nature, and you have to be actively participating in this ecosystem that you’re trying to build. That means often a lot of labor. And that can be very joyful, that can be very fulfilling. I think a lot of people would be excited about being in the garden for a certain amount of time. But that isn’t always a reality under capitalism that you can spend that amount of time on probably unpaid labor. So that’s an issue.

And then there’s also this massive thing of cultural appropriation of indigenous knowledge that basically everything in permaculture, there’s no new ideas, really, it’s a synthesis of traditional techniques from around the world, not from any one place. But taking ideas from all over the world and using them, repackaging them in a commercial way that is often uncredited, often disrespectful, and often out of context to the point that the idea is no longer useful or doesn’t actually work anymore. So that’s a huge conversation that needs to happen and is, in some places, happening in the permaculture world. But it’s still one of the big things that I see as being “oh, permaculture is a bit of a trash fire.” And it’s not something that I think we need to totally walk away from. But if we can’t address the problems that are at the base, then we do need to start over with something else.

TFSR: If I remember correctly, it was developed as a schema by a white person in Australia. It’s a byproduct of settler colonial culture. And everything that exists in here, it’s got troubling roots to it that need to get navigated and need to get worked through.

T: I’m really glad that you brought that up. I think that one of the critiques that I’ve heard levied against permaculture- PDC is a permaculture design certificate?

T: Yes, sorry, for using jargon.

B: The idea that you’re selling someone on this, full, completed, enclosed system, that if they pay their way through it, they’ll get certified and suddenly, they can do anything, I think that, you’ve pointed to the fact that, nothing new is invented. And these are all ideas that are being shared and decontextualized in some ways. One thing that really impresses me about the show – and Tim said, a lot of the guests, Aaron, are your friends or your contacts – is the amount that the guests talk about being in online forums, or in discussion with people that are growing in totally different bioregions and having different experiences, the way that people are pulling knowledge from these different areas, but also in dialogue with people that are engaging with the plants and the natural settings that they’re at, to work with them or change them or challenge them or whatever. I’m amazed. It’s a little portal into a part of the world that I find really fascinating. But I’m also totally on the outside.

T: You know, Bursts, I feel that way about a lot of things but I have the same feeling, when I listened to someone whether they’re talking for a two-and-a-half-hour episode about mulberries, the cornelian cherry episode that we did was an hour and a half. I try to imagine these people being so focused on one plant, how can you afford to do that? How can you spend your whole life or 10 years digging so deep? And then really, they’re doing it mostly as a passion project. This guy Andrew out here has 150 hazelnuts, he’s breeding them. He doesn’t even think of it necessarily as this some money-making thing, it’s something he feels called to do. Anybody who’s deep into some shit that’s a little apart from our direct experience is always awesome, especially when it’s something– It’s that sense of wonder that keeps me coming back, and hearing people talk about all this shit is great, especially pre-internet stuff.

A: What strikes me – and this is something that I’m reminded of in my daily life – is this camaraderie that there is in the perennial agriculture world, where I have not a huge network, but a pretty decent network of folks doing similar work, most of them making their living at this, and there is virtually no sense of competition. So even among several nurseries, we’re freely sharing plant material and resources, and information. In the past 15-20 years I’ve been doing this, only once have I ever asked someone like “Oh, what are the real specifics of how you propagated that plant?” and have someone be like “Well, that’s proprietary information, I’m trying to run a business. I can’t tell you that.” For the most part, people are 100% down to share this information and be like “Yeah, let me get you cuttings of that. Let me give you seeds.” And occasionally it’s “Let me buy some of that from you.” But for the most part, people are like “Oh, let me give this to you. And I know that when you’ve got something cool, you’re gonna share it back with me.” And all these people, I haven’t gotten into “Oh, what are your politics but whether or not they’re into anarchist or anti-capitalist theory, they are, for the most part, living it to some degree, even if they’re, like me, trying to run a business to pay the bills and survive under capitalism. Even if that’s not the way they want to do things. A lot of people love plants, but there is a lot of cooperation that happens. That would seem to be outside of what you would expect in a capitalist system.

TFSR: I have a really crass way of talking about stuff sometimes. And I mean it to be joking and fun and stuff, but it’s like you plant people have toxoplasmosis for plants. And you start doing things, once you get really deep into it, you start reproducing my anthropomorphized version of what I experienced you talking about plants is finding ways to work with each other and running counter to what our society teaches us about that we’re in competition. It’s really inspiring to see people in a way, I think, act in “a more natural way” by being like “Oh, yeah, here, abundance, have some of this. I really love this thing. I want to share this with you.” Do you know what I mean?

T: Yeah. And also we need more of these specific plants that we’re very excited about in the world. Toby Hemingway, one of the prime people behind “permaculture” and food “forestry,” has this talk called Liberation Permaculture, you can find it online. And he was one of the first people I heard– When I read his stuff, it really struck me like “Well, this is some anarchists shit. But why are all the permies so liberal where I live?” So I started talking with other more radical permaculturists and my friend, Steven Polk who teaches at Naropa University, who was on the Solecast a few times, really liked to draw on Peter Kropotkin’s theory of mutual aid as a factor in evolution when talking about permaculture. Because it’s drawing out a lot of those same ideas that you were talking about – cooperation and mutuality and everything. That’s really interesting. There’s a whole field within permaculture called “social permaculture,” where they try to take these ideas of ecosystems through observing nature and try to replicate them with people and social things. And I even I got an email from one of my permaculture teachers back in Denver, from their social permaculture thing and it was a “Decolonize the Workplace” seminar on social permaculture, and I was like “Fuck, man, dude, this is the shit I love you do but, man, I don’t even know how to engage with this shit.” Decolonize the workplace – you mean, burn it down? What are you talking about? Throw some fresh mint in your water cooler?

TFSR: Some cucumber slices… People…

T: But those tensions exist in everything. You got your people who are on the same page, and you got some people that are on another page. Hopefully, we can draw people in the right direction. And when we started doing this, there weren’t a lot of radical resources for this thing. And so that’s another reason why– It’s like the Black Rose Federation idea of throwing up a left pole and having that be a gravitational pull away from the shittier stuff.

TFSR: I’ve told Tim this a bunch of times, but I really love listening to your show. I listened to way too many really political podcasts… Yours is political, but a book, discussions, or whatever else, new stuff. And I feel this tension building up inside of me when I listen to that sometimes. It’s important, but somehow, listening to you two talk with your guests about – maybe it’s the element of this – something this person is really passionate about. And you’re asking really good questions. And I understand maybe 40% of it because I’m not a person who’s put a lot of thought and study into how plants grow, into the biology of it. But I find it really relaxing to listen to and I think that I get stuff, but I can listen to episodes a few times and each time gets a little bit more out of it. So you’re my go-to-happy-space podcast, that and this other sci-fi podcast that I won’t mention right now (“The Strange Case of Starship Iris” -Ed.). Could you talk a little bit about the feedback that you get, because I’m sure that you get people who are into it and already know Aaron’s nursery, they know about Edgewood, or they know Tim from Tim’s music or what have you. So they may come from this large spectrum of knowledge around plant stuff. And probably different intentions of like “Oh, I want to make a little herb garden that can hang out on the balcony of my apartment, if I’m lucky enough to have a balcony or out the window.” Or “I’m sitting in the middle of a field of wild grasses. And I don’t know what to do with this.” Can you talk about some of the feedback that y’all have gotten so far in the show?

A: Sure. I would say we don’t get a ton of feedback. Tim might get some more than I see. But we definitely have a fair amount of listeners who have a surface-level knowledge of plants. And some of the stuff is washing over them. But it’s a pleasant thing to listen to while the world is on fire, and it can be nice to focus on something less traumatic and something growing in a positive direction, let’s say. And then some people are hardcore plant nerds who really appreciate all the super details of this plant or that plant and be like “I thought I knew what was going on with mulberries, and now there’s this whole another layer that we were able to bring out.” Generally, positive reviews, get a fair amount of emails with people asking for “You should do an episode on a such and such obscure plant.”

T: I get more feedback from the more anarcho side, with the more or less planty side, and I get email messages from people who are starting out doing land projects, people wanting to, and absorbing the information the same way. The thing TFSR you said, is that it’s relaxing, and it’s a joyful place to get to live in this person’s world for an hour to three hours, depending on who has to piss and how many times, but it’s not fluff. It’s not you’re listening to stuff that’s useless information. All that information is going in your brain somewhere. And when you go to work that land behind your house, you’re like “I remember this from that podcast, and I’m gonna go back and listen to it.” I get encouraging emails, it’s so cool to hear radicals talking about this stuff and nerding out on this stuff.

TFSR: As a renter, since the late 90s, I have moved from house to house. And since 2005, I have not felt confident enough living in a specific location that it’s felt good to gather plants together and try to grow stuff in the yard, because I figure I’m going to be moving within a year, and I’m probably not going to see any of that stuff come to fruition. And I’ve got scavengey friends, so I know a little bit better in my heart of hearts that you don’t have to own a piece of land, you don’t have to be stable in a place to have a plant move with you, or you have to know a grove of this nutting or fruiting trees to be able to take advantage and get in there with the squirrels and compete for some of those acorns. The acorn chat (PBTS episode Sept 29, 2020 -Ed.) keeps coming back to me, all the ways of processing that and all the ways of the guests that you had– I’m sorry, this is a couple of years ago now but I was going out driving some half hour-hour to go collect acorns where they knew that they were piling up and coming back and processing them over a long period and making a bunch of different delicious sounding foods out of it. It’s stuff, that I hear in the show, it’s inspiring to me. I didn’t mean to make it say as it washes over me, and it doesn’t come into my pores. But I get inspired. And I feel a little more enabled to engage with the things around me in the world when it doesn’t feel like I have to learn everything all at once. And I can approach your project like a compendium.

T: That’s awesome. I love getting those messages from you Bursts, it’s great. That’s the thing with podcasting is that it’s a one-way conversation for the most part because we’re not trying to spend all day on social media blowing that up. We don’t have time for all that. You get feedback when you ask for it. I keep wanting to add this thing at the beginning of the show like “Leave us a message about what you’re doing on your farm” and all this shit, but it’s so many ways to encourage listener participation and feedback, but then at the end of the day, it creates a little more work, and we like to focus on the conversations themselves and have that be the main point of the project.

TFSR: Were there any specific interviews that have stood out to y’all where you’ve learned something that totally surprised you that you were not expecting to hear out of the conversation?

A: Well, actually, I think the next episode (PBTS September 1, 2022) that’s going to come out was one of the ones where I learned the most. It’s on this thing called the Eastern Agricultural Complex, which is a thing that happened 1000s of years ago in eastern North America, or Eastern Turtle Island if you prefer. That area was one of the places where agriculture basically arose independently. So there’s a whole palette of domesticated plants, that, for the most part, have totally fallen out of cultivation. We have an interesting interview that’s going to come out the first week in September. So coming right up here, that gets really into it. So much of that was brand new and totally mind-blowing to me.

TFSR: Who did you talk to?

A: Natalie Mueller? Who is a, she’s an archaeologist, technically an archaeobotanist. But she’s not only studying archaeological sites but also growing out a lot of these plants that have for the most part fallen out of cultivation.

T: Aaron, did we talk about the Dawn Of Everything with her? I feel we must have to.

A: Yeah, a little bit.

T: That gives you an idea of– Aaron didn’t really know her, right?

A: I didn’t know her at all, she was actually mentioned in a different podcast that we recorded, and I was like “Oh, I should follow up with this person.” It took a year and a half, to eventually get around to doing this interview. But then we did. And it was fascinating.

T: For me, I learned so much. My role is really to make dad jokes. It sucks because when you’re sarcastic, you’re sarcastic, but then when you have kids, your sarcasm gets called dad jokes.

The one that stands out in my mind is the one with Mallory O’Donnell (PBTS March 1, 2022). All the stuff that they’re doing with foraged plants in this area, I learned so much from their Instagram. Sometimes you have a conversation with somebody and it’s the right one at the right time. And it keeps rattling around in your brain. Just hearing the way they use things juniper berries and plants that I see around, that are native in this area, that I would never even consider eating, where now it’s I’ll be walking down and be like “Eat a bayberry, eat a juniper berry.” I didn’t know those things were edible until they sent me a wild curry mix that had all that shit and it was so crazy tasting. That’s one of the things that gets me pumped. It’s the idea of new flavors. All we know is brassicas, broccoli, garlic, and salt and there’s so many piney flavors. There’s so much more that I’ve learned from this podcast. But that’s what stands out to me.

And the reason I love that one, in particular, is because it’s thinking of foraging, less about let’s get out there and dig up some vegetables to eat, and more like “How can we get out there and create an awesome cabinet of preserved seeds and saved spices and flavor, and how can you stretch those foraged ingredients throughout the year and enrich everything you eat?” And I love that approach, and I’m sure Aaron knows a million people who do that. But Mallory was one of the first people that I really got to hear, articulate their practice in full. And it made me so jealous, Oh, God, come over. Let’s eat!

A: Yeah, I know lots of foragers and people doing interesting stuff with food preservation, but Mallory definitely is doing some stuff that I had no idea was even out there. Georgian fusion cuisine and all sorts of really interesting stuff using foraged plants and spices. I don’t know anyone else doing that.

TFSR: It was awesome for me to hear, I think on that episode. Just going out and collecting wild seeds, grinding them up and toasting them and making a career out of it, making a paste. And I hadn’t even thought of that either. That blew my mind.

T: Even mustard seeds, until she sent us the curry mix, I’d never really been cooked with my own mustard seeds. I have mustard growing all over my yard that I’ve planted, but I’ve never eaten the seeds. And then afterward, I was like “I’m eating the seeds from now on.” They are so good.

TFSR: Doesn’t have to be one or the other. That’s great.

Tim, in the years that I’ve known you, you’ve also been a food alchemist. And this mixes in with what we’re talking about right now. Trying to find the most healthy and delicious vegan treats that you can and sharing them with others. Food seems to really bring you a lot of joy in the growing and in the making. Now you’ve got a veggie protein company in Maine, right? Can you talk about this and what stuff you’re working on? Are you a factory owner now, like Engels?

T: Yeah… I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 11. And so I’m 45, it’s a long time before veggie burgers. I grew up on pizza and peanut butter. I’ve always been obsessed with food. Because my whole life, as I’m traveling, you couldn’t get a dope vegan meal when you’re driving through the Midwest. So all these years of touring and stuff, food has been my obsession. I’m driving through Italy. Oh, what are they going to have for dinner tonight? Am I gonna have 20 pounds of pasta and zucchini? Is there going to be some protein in there? You get there, and it’s some squat. And I am getting crazy food you’ve never had. Crazy French cooking styles, different. I’ve been picking up all this stuff all the years. Like you say, I love food. If you’ve been to my house, I’ve probably cooked for you. Because that’s what I like to do. And that’s really what drew me to all this stuff.

No, I’m not a factory owner. It’s not something I necessarily wanted to do. I’ve had many things in my back pocket that I’ve tried to do over the years, some things have stuck, some things haven’t, but then when inflation kicked in, with two little kids working part-time as a dad, my income from music isn’t enough anymore. And so I had to do something. I had been talking with a friend for a long time about starting a vegan food company and then when it was time to start it, he bailed or he didn’t have the time. And so I was like “Do I want to do this? Yeah, I do want to do this. I’m still going to do this.” So I went and got all the certifications and all the state stuff and found a kitchen and then I started selling meals to the local health food store. The first week they took 18. The next week, they took 40. Next week they took 60. It keeps going up. And it’s steady and it’s turned into an extra day of work to supplement my income. And that’s good. I need that. And I don’t want to work for someone else, because then you’re getting fucked over at some point, and it’s not worth it.

I’m making vegan meats, I’m really excited about the smoked hams and stuff, and from there I am working on pastrami and bacon. The thing I’m most excited about is vegan cheeses. I’ve tried out various vegan cheese recipes from Miyoko and Pascal Baudar. I’ve combined those things and added my own styles and tried to come up with local vegan cuisine. And that’s been something I’ve been obsessed with since I started doing food forestry stuff. Just creating systems where instead of– I have 26 hazelnut trees in the ground, they’re small, but I would love to be able to produce all my own tofu and cheese from hazelnuts, walnuts, and acorns. I’m interested in that, our whole cuisine of vegan foods is based on West Coast foods that are grown in deserts and they bulldozed a million cashew trees last year. It’s not sustainable to-

TFSR: Or the avocado mafia. In a lot of countries, avocado exports are such a moneymaker. It’s one of these commodities that the avocado oil, the production of it, sort of palm oil in a lot of places, or even sand for concrete in some places. Some mafias control the export of it. Anyway, sorry to interrupt.

T: Yeah, stuff chestnuts, stinging nettles and then all the plants we talk about. And those are more exciting directions to go with vegan cuisine than keep doing the same stuff. So I rent the kitchen, I’m either gonna have to build a kitchen in my barn or find something else because the kitchen I work at is expensive. I don’t have any employees, I’m traumatized by my experience of Anticon Records of forming this collective and having it end in heartbreak. I really do things on my own, for the most part. That’s what I want to have – a small one-person thing where I can show up, make some cheese, make some meats, get them out to stores, I don’t want to run a restaurant. I applied to cook brunch at the local farmers’ market. And so that will be cool also. I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m winging it and putting everything into it because I want it to succeed.

TFSR: So, you’re the Proudhon of vegan proteins, the independent producer.

T: I’d like to think of it more of as an Emma Goldman ice cream shop thing. But instead of buying ammunition, I’m buying organic blueberries for my kids.

TFSR: For the children!

You mentioned chestnuts. Are there any protein sources that are outside of the realm of what listeners who do eat vegan protein or make their own that they might not have thought of making out of?

T: Not really. We did an episode on mulberries (PBTS June 11, 2020), and apparently, mulberry leaves are the highest in protein, but I read this article about some senator’s wife being killed by a mulberry leaf. Propaganda by the seed, you know? But I think foraging local nuts, not overlooking what is in– It’s so easy to overlook these things that are “common”, that we see all the time. In actuality, acorns out here, I have ground nuts on the river behind my house, that’s an indigenous root vegetable. That’s 25% protein. It tastes like taro. They’re difficult to dig and process. People have mixed feelings about those, I guess. But acorns – all day. Aaron, are you still eating acorn grits from two years ago?

A: I’m basically out of acorns and it doesn’t look like it’s gonna be mast year around here. So, acorns are more or less out of my diet until the tree has decided to dump a bunch on the ground, and then I’ll start eating them again.

T: Aaron, are there any proteins that you’re excited about that are missing?

A: The ground nut. Pea shrub is one that for a while I was telling people “Oh, you can technically eat the seeds of this shrub, but I don’t know if they’re actually worth it as far as how much they produce.” And then my friend Jack Cortez showed up at an event with a five-gallon bucket half full of them. I was like “Whoa, how did you get all those?” And if you have pea shrubs that are out in the open, they’re producing well, you can lay tarps around them, and give them a shake at the right time of year and all the pods burst and you’d get a not a ton of material, but they’re really tasty seeds. They’re about the size of a French lentil and they taste between a lentil and a walnut. So there’s stuff out there that’s potential. But as far as what you could plant today, it’s all annuals that are really going to provide a lot of protein. It’s soybeans, common beans, and peas that are really producing a ton.

T: With all the pea protein hype, definitely cool to hear that about the Siberian pea shrub. I have one but you were like “It’s not viable for a lot of food.” And so I didn’t plant anymore. But now that makes me want to. The Siberian pea shrub is a perennial shrub that produces little peas, for those who don’t know, it’s very interesting, it’s got thorns and shit. It’s a cool plant.

TFSR: Aaron, can you talk a little bit about the Mt. Joy Orchard? I actually went up to Portland (Maine, Ed.) and was able to take a tour, Tim showed me around, but it was a really cool place. And I wonder about its history and who participates and what it provides, in your view, to the Portland ecosystem.

A: Mt. Joy Orchard is a free-to-pick public orchard in Portland. It’s in a city park. It is sanctioned by the city. They’re cool with it being there. But it’s very much grassroots-organized and maintained with volunteer labor. And it started seven or eight years ago now, with the city throwing some apples into this field. It’s such a steep hill that the field wasn’t really getting used for much. There’s a path that runs through it that people use frequently, but the space was underappreciated. And the city arborist Jeff Tarling, who’s a pretty cool guy, was like “Oh, we should plant some apple trees in there.” So they did, but they couldn’t really have an orchard crew. So they started looking for community partners. And my friend Kristin was like “Oh, I could probably round up a few people to mulch those trees and maybe plant some comfrey. And I was one of the people that she rounded up. So we met as the original group, I think five people. And we’ve looked at the site and we’re like “Wow, this is such a beautiful spot.” We met in the evening and you can look out over the city and see the sunset and it’s a really beautiful piece of land. And we’re like “We shouldn’t do this bare minimum, we should go all out and have this community food forest or integrated orchard or whatever you want to call it.”

So, since then, we’ve basically met once a month-ish through the growing season to plant and maintain an orchard that now has over a hundred trees, over 20 species of woody fruiting plants, and probably 20 to 40 species of perennials, many of them edible, some medicinal, some that are more ornamental. There’s a lot of plants that are there for wildlife. We’ve seen a lot more species show up as far as birds and insects and reptiles and all sorts of wildlife use the space as well. And we have several goals with the project, I would say the most successful one has been to be a model of urban agriculture. So since this orchard was installed and people went and checked it out and go like “Ah, this is really cool. I want this in my neighborhood.” That basic model has been replicated several times in the Portland area, which is really cool to see. Also, obviously providing food directly to the community. A lot of the trees are coming into real production. But for the most part, everything in the orchard gets harvested by passers-by, and people living in the neighborhood. It’s a great project and has been really fun and fulfilling to work on and continues to grow.

There’s an area adjacent to the orchard that has to remain open because it’s a sledding hill. So we’re working on killing a bunch of the turf grass that’s there and replacing it with more of a native meadow-type environment. And that will include a lot of edible and medicinal plants, and hopefully, a much better pollinator habitat than is there now. And we continue to try and build community resources into the orchard. So we’re hoping to start the construction of a community cob oven that would be available to anyone who wants to use it, which is an exciting addition to the orchard.

T: How fun would it be to bake some acorn bread there or something?

A: It’d be amazing, the oven will be almost under the canopy of huge oak trees. So that would be very cool. And I want to tie one more thing together, which you, Bursts, mentioned like not really getting into perennial plants because they’re always moving around and renting. I think projects this can be a way for people who are interested or excited about perennial agriculture to be able to do that without having long-term land access, to do it in this community setting where you can plant a tree that’s going to be there for a long time, and you can come back and you wouldn’t certainly have exclusive access to the fruit of that tree like you would if it was your yard and your tree. But you could have the experience and the interaction of being able to plant a tree and come back in five years.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I’ve seen in different places that I’ve lived middle-class liberal mentality bristle at public space being utilized in many different ways. I could see somebody being like “This darn pesky hillside is drawing in more deer and they’re eating my shrubs.” Or “Someone’s sleeping next to that tree and this needs to be gated off at night” or something. Have you all had to deal with the propertarian element of living within a city and people being NIMBY about the space?

A: Luckily, we haven’t had those issues yet. Knock on wood, there’s a big fucking condo development getting built right next to it. So hopefully, that doesn’t arise. So far, we haven’t had those issues. And I’m really glad that we haven’t because there’s a community garden that’s directly adjacent to Mt. Joy. And it’s amazing how similar and how different that is. So it’s similar and it’s like “Oh, there’s food growing in the city. And that’s really cool and beautiful.” But the community gardens are very much like you rent a little four-by-eight plot, and that’s your space. And people are really protective and onerous about that. And there’s a lot of gross shit that happens. Some people who have a plot there, live in the community, live very close to there, had their fellow community gardeners making very racist assumptions about what they were doing in that space. And it’s gross. And then you have Mt. Joy, where it’s open to the public and inclusive. If you want a peach, you pick a peach, they’re very different mentalities. And I think only one time have I ever had someone who was middle-class liberal, moved to the city, being like “Oh, this place could be really nice if we changed a few things.” And definitely had to push back a bit and be like “No, we do things this for a reason. And we mustn’t push people out by making it “nice.” That guy who’s sleeping on a piece of cardboard over there is as welcome in this space as you are. From my perspective, probably more.

T: I didn’t realize it was that new, Aaron, I thought I’d been around a little longer than that. So I got here when it was a couple of years old. And what I’ve noticed, because I and my kids often go there, when we’re in Portland, every time I’ve noticed that the use of it has really increased a lot. Now if I go there, there’s, it’s very joyful. And it’s pretty middle-class, too. Portland’s an expensive city to live in. It’s hard to be really broke in Portland, Maine. Every time I’m in there, there’s always people in there picking stuff. There’s no food they’re going to waste, that’s for sure. And it’s awesome. Every city needs 10,000 of those.

A: Yeah, and as far as a lot of the people utilizing the space being pretty middle-class, I think that’s one of the areas that we’ve failed on so far. Maybe not a complete failure. But something that needs more work and attention is outreach to immigrant communities. Because there are lots of pretty recent immigrants that live in neighborhoods adjacent to Mt. Joy, who I don’t think are utilizing the space for probably a variety of reasons. But trying to build a space that is welcoming to those folks and do active outreach, so that they can feel welcomed in that space and have a higher level of participation if they want to. It would be awesome.

TFSR: Cool. Was any direct responses to that, Tim?

T: I am trying to be Quakerish here, speaking when the Spirit moves me, or something. No offense, Aaron, I didn’t mean to co-opt your lineage or whatever.

TFSR: Well, that leads into the next question about Quakers. No, I’m kidding. I didn’t have one. I wish I had.

T: Aaron’s family is abolitionist.

TFSR: Oh, that’s awesome. Hell, yeah.

A: Yeah, that’s the cool branch of Quakers. And actually, it’s fascinating starting to look at some of the people working with tree crops in the late 1800s – early 1900s, there were a lot of Quakers, and a lot of the work was done in the public interest. Right up to fairly recent history. There’s a guy from New Hampshire, Elwyn Meader, who was a really interesting plant breeder and I still grow a lot of descendants and selections that he made, who was was a Quaker and felt plant breeding should be done for the community and for the public.

TFSR: So I have to say, I haven’t been vegan in a couple of decades. But I do love a good meatless protein option. A few years back now, we had a blow-up in Ashville at the “No Evil Foods” factory about their terrible labor practices and union busting. And I want to give a shout-out here to the media project Mo Evil Foods, I had a couple of friends that actually worked in the factory from when it started up. And the folks from Mo Evil were involved. It’s a media platform, they were folks that were involved in labor organizing at the space and who eventually got fired for it and have continued to call out the company since. And since that time, they actually closed their food production factory here and moved it somewhere else. But they’d hired an outside PR company that was talking about “how great the product was” and trying to throw the union organizers or anyone with labor concerns under the bus. They were doing all the same union-busting that you see with Amazon or with the nurses union here or with anything else. They’re forcing workers to sit through really long meetings, firing people for BS reasons, if they thought that they were people talking about union stuff. I’m from Northern California, Sonoma County, and there’s this frozen food production company called Amy’s [Kitchen], which they always used to provide lots of food to the food bank. Our Food Not Bombs would use a lot of it. I think their food is delicious. They’ve actually got a couple of fast food places in Sonoma County, as I understand. But I’ve also heard that they’ve shut down some of their production facilities recently, rather than allow them to unionize.

I would love to hear from either of you and tie this back to the podcast about food politics, how those two words can’t be extracted from each other or extricated from the society that we live in with the racist patriarchal settler colonial capitalism underpinnings of it. Go!

A: I don’t have a lot to add to that. We live in a fucked-up society and it is fucked up. Even if there are some good elements of any organization there, those can easily be overwhelmed by the bad aspects. So, you could say the same thing about Planned Parenthood being anti-union, and it’s oh, Planned Parenthood, they do lots of good. But also their union busting. Shit is complicated.

T: For me, it’s another highlight of liberal hypocrisy. If your Whole Foods cheese is produced by prison labor… Is it still organic if it’s grown by fucking drones in a vacuum-sealed greenhouse, where there’s nothing organic happening. And a lot of those tensions or hypocrisies that exist within capitalism, a lot of that is really coming to a head now because of inflation. And at the same time, you have workers really recognizing their power.

But at the same time, being someone who’s producing food now, I am starting to see how much costs. So when I go buy a falafel, and it’s $13 or something, I’m like “This fucking is crazy!” But then, once you’re involved in food production, you realize, all the time that goes into this stuff, there’s a thin profit margin. And places like Amy’s that are based around scale, huge scale. They can’t do that large scale if you have a whole bunch of unionized workers making $35 an hour or something. They can’t exist on that scale if people are being paid that much because then by the time you get that Amy’s potpie in the store, it’s going to be $35. And obviously, people need to organize, but that’s why I always think about this Pete Seeger quote: “the world won’t be saved by big things,” (I don’t think it’s going to be saved anyway) “it’ll be saved by millions of little things.” And that’s why I think small little worker collectives doing the work of Beyond Meat or Amy’s, where people are collaborating, working together, and making things. I think you can actually make a decent income doing that. You don’t have to be a multibillion-dollar organization with 10,000 employees. Part of this capitalist drive is things have to keep getting bigger and better and more and faster and cheaper. 2022 ain’t the year for infinite growth, it’s 2022 should be a period where people are reflecting on the limitations of the Earth, the limitations of our civilization that we’re trapped in, and looking for ways out.

The whole organic food, even with veganism– Is it vegan or is it plant-based? Well, it depends if you give a fuck about animals, as people who say plant-based are usually doing it for health reasons, whereas vegans are a little more political about it. It’s absurd, and my last anecdote response to this is the health food store I’m selling stuff to, I can barely afford to shop there. So I’m selling food there. And I got some kickback about using red dye #30. And people were asking if you’ll make it without the red dye. The Betty Crocker red dye that’s in birthday cakes, one little drop of that. And people are freaking out. It’s like “Do you realize that the water you drink has fucking plastic in it? We live in a toxic environment where we’re drinking antidepressants and lead, who knows what the fuck?” Our bodies are constantly bathing in toxic shit. As Aaron said, it’s fucked up and the best we can do is not be those people and limit their stranglehold on the world by – the same way anarchists do it – providing those alternatives.

TFSR: This episode is brought to you by strychnine from organically grown apples…

Was the concern about the toxicity of the red dye or is it that it’s got some part of production that includes shellfish or something like that?

T: No, some studies say it’s linked to cancer. So when I saw that, and it was pointed out to me, I was like “Alright, good, then I’m not gonna use that anymore.” I actually didn’t know that. But defensively, it still strikes me as hypocritical on some level. I’m new in the food world. So I’m trying to make people happy and make good food.

TFSR: Aaron had mentioned the Eastern Agricultural Complex episode coming up. Are there any other episodes that you’ve got coming up that you’re excited about that listeners can get a sneak preview of?

T: Chestnuts?

A: Chestnuts episode will be in October. Lots of people are excited about chestnuts. Lots of people are talking about chestnuts. And I’m really excited that we got to talk with Dr. Sandra Anagnostakis, who is retired now but has basically spent her entire professional life working on chestnut breeding at the Connecticut USDA Research Station. So she’s got a really deep knowledge of chestnuts and lots of fascinating information.

T: And worthy. I love that one. And we’re about to start recording season 10 of Propaganda by the Seed. So we haven’t even started booking yet. But I’m about to break some news. I want to track down those growers in Indiana who are growing cold-hardy Iranian almonds, would be great to talk to them. They’ve discovered an almond that’s potentially hardy to zone 4. And that would be crazy to be able to grow almonds on the East Coast up here. Do you think we’ll be able to, Aaron?

A: I don’t know. That’s a “maybe” from my point of view. Almonds are a stone fruit. There are Prunus and therefore, brown rot which affects all Prunus crops could be a deal breaker. Hard to say. But also, we’re so at the very beginning of the potential for a culture of growing almonds in the Northeast that it could be an issue that’s solved by breeding work. So if you can find some genetics that helps it resist brown rot, you could build that in at the beginning of a long-term breeding project. So I think it’s certainly possible, whether or not it’s practical without decades of breeding work. You won’t know until you try.

T: I’m gonna have to try.

A: I do know a couple of people who have had at least moderate success with peach almond hybrids.

T: Wow, do they eat the peach and then eat the pit?

A: No, if you’ve ever heard of Hall’s hardy almond, it basically is an almond. The fruit is a leathery husk that’s not human-edible, but it’s technically a peach-almond hybrid. And that’s where the extra cold hardiness comes from.

TFSR: If you could grow almond fruit leather, that’d be dope.

A: [laughs] There’s also another long-term project that I’ve been interested in, which is breeding other stone fruits to have an edible kernel. So people are generally quite familiar with almonds, and some people are even familiar with sweet apricot kernels, which is basically miniature almond that grows inside of an apricot, which is a really cool double harvest. So you get this sweet fleshy fruit on the outside that can be dried or eaten fresh or whatever. And then you break open the stone on the inside, and you get a little almond as a bonus. And according to some old information from the 1800s that I read about 1 in 100 peaches have an edible kernel inside them. So that’s basically the same size as an almond. Basically the same thing. So if you could have the ultimate stone fruit, it might be a peach that produces good peaches is brown rot resistant, and then also has that edible kernel.

T: That would be awesome.

A: I haven’t found one yet.

T: I was reading Forager Chef has this recipe of ground-up cherry pit flour to make a cake. And the same thing, they are almond flavor. It blew my mind, the idea of grinding up cherry pits and making flour. So Bursts, this is what goes on…

TFSR: How do you process that? Are that mortar and pestle? Because I wouldn’t want to put that through a Robot-Coupe-type thing or a Vitamix. And it probably would take a lot of drying, right?

T: The Forager Chef puts it in a dehydrator. I think he said for three days so they get really dried out. And then he blends. I think after three days you could probably blend it. Aaron, what do you think?

A: Hard to say. If you’ve got a burr mill, that’s what I would use. A burr mill is a hand-driven flour mill that uses metal burrs, and metal plates instead of stone. And they can be really cheap. I got a no-name, unbranded one for 20 bucks. And useful also for grinding up acorns, or making masa from corn. Because if you have stone grinding surfaces, which is really nice for flour, but-

TFSR: You can also get bits of the stone or flakes from the mortar and pestle actually getting into your flour mix, as I understand, which can be concerning.

A: Yeah. Some of that’s probably unavoidable, but I wouldn’t be too worried about it.

T: Yeah, it’s probably good for you. Unless it’s uranium or lead.

TFSR: So, I should send back my no-name uranium mortar and pestle.

T: I don’t know if your body can absorb quartz but maybe quartz dust. [laughs]

A: Quartz is really bad if you inhale it, but other than that, it is fine. [laughs]

TFSR: If you’ve made it, it’s delicious.

T: Alright, hey, we’re talking shit here, listeners. Don’t try any of this at home. Like they say, always ask an adult before you eat something.

TFSR: Dad jokes. So, Tim, you’re also known as MC Sole, you introduced yourself earlier. In March, you put out an awesome new album Post-American Studies. And shortly after released No Gods No Master Gardeners 2.0 and released a co-lab called Summer Heat with Alexander Brown that’s going to show up on an upcoming album by that person. A lot of this is available on your Patreon. Just this morning, I’ve relistened to the The Old w/ Oldeaf, which I thought was really cool to see you like “I don’t know who this person is.” They sent me this track and I’ve rapped over it. Do you have anything coming out soon that you’re excited about? Do you get many opportunities to do that thing like the Oldeaf track?

T: I could if I wanted to, I’m a 25-year-old musician. It takes a bit to get me really excited. I’ve been doing this my whole adult life. It’s one of these things where when I’m really inspired to do music, I use whatever I have around me and make art with it. But I’m not a studio dude who’s hanging out, listening to music, and freestyling all day. I’ve always drawn my inspiration from other things like walking around in nature, listening to podcasts, reading books, or whatever.

Honestly, I haven’t really worked on a lot of music lately. This summer has been sandwiches and cheese and meat. But now that it’s starting to get cold again, I’m very excited to work on some music. Me and Pain 1 have a record. I think it’s coming out on Emergency Hearts, I’m not sure. It’s called the Vault 1312. It’s a collection of music that didn’t make it on any of our albums. It’s the stuff people love Sole and Pain 1 for, the hyper-trappy, fuck-the-police militant shit. There’s a whole bunch of those songs that were too much the same to go on any of the other albums. And so we’ve compiled them onto one record and it’s cool. It’s not my new new new record or anything, but people, when they hear it, they are like “Oh, this is the sounds like Deathdrive era.” Those sorts of collections are cool, especially when they’re done well. I’m excited to get the mixes of everything back to Pain 1.

It’s crazy when you make music, me and Pain 1 have been working on music together for eight years now. And we have shit loads of music. I’ve got a ton of beats he’s been sending me from the new stuff, awesome beats, really cool stuff. I’ve got an EP recorded with this dude Televangel, formerly of Blue Sky Black Death. My favorite record from him is called Anthropocene Blues, you can check it out. That’s the vibe I went with on this record. It’s like an emo dad at the end of the world looking back on his life. In some ways, I’m channeling Benny The Butcher and all this Grizelda stuff I’ve been listening to a lot lately, which is really hard New York rap. But one thing he does really well is he tells stories about his past and is clever about it. And finds a way to talk about it. He’s been through and pulled the wisdom out of it in cool ways. So that’s kinda the vibe I went with for that record. I don’t know when any of these records are coming out. None of them are done. I’m starting to get into the cold season where I’m going to start making a ton of music again, I want to pull out my 4-track and make a mixtape of stealing 80’s beats or something and make something fun. It all comes down to time. Right now, the thing is I’m mainly focused on building up this food company. I also got a ton of beats, maybe I’ll put out an instrumental record. I don’t know. I’m a neurotic person who’s constantly trying to keep my demons at bay.

TFSR: That was cool. I didn’t know the Televangel had put out something called Anthropocene Blues. When you said that, I was like “Oh, I know that phrase.” Because that was in this track One Penny that you put out in collaboration with Televangel. That’s awesome. Could you say a little bit about Emergency Hearts?

T: Yeah! scott crow, one of my mentors, friends, and someone I love is a huge inspiration for me as far as theory and stuff. He’s been someone who, over the years, as I’ve been struggling with things or tearing things over in my mind, he’s always really given me the best advice anyone has given me. At least with life activist stuff. We have that connection because he comes from music and really values the role of revolutionary art.

A few years back, at my prodding, scott said he always wanted to make music, I said “Fucking get back to it then, if you want to make music, that’s what’s in you, do it. Who gives a fuck?” And so he got back into music and put together a record label based around the anarcho-industrial scene that he was associated with in the 90s. And it’s a scene I don’t know much about, the bands from that era are Genesis P-Orridge, and people he’s performed with like Skinny Puppy, all these bands that were going around, tabling with animal rights literature at electronic music shows in the 90s. Just hearing that blew my mind because I didn’t know bands like Consolidated and stuff I don’t really know anything about. But it was cool learning “Oh, so punk isn’t the only form of music that has really taken these ideas seriously.” And so he started putting together a record label championing that era, the Austin noise scene or whatever that he felt didn’t really have a home. It wasn’t being curated anywhere and risked being lost. A lot of stuff that’s pre-social media is-

TFSR: Just cassette tape sitting in hot cars…

T: Yeah, if someone’s not doing the work of curation and keeping things alive, this 90s industrial scene that scott is championing, it could be a 20-part Netflix show and everybody becomes Rodriguez. It could have the Rodriguez effect for some of those people. Or not. But regardless, it deserves to be there.

TFSR: Or Death, that Black punk band from Detroit from the late 70s, that was forgotten until one of their children came out, helped to get their music re-released and do a documentary about them. They’re amazing. And they were at this crossroads between Motown, soul music, and rock and roll, and then the beginnings of American punk before it hit either East or West Coast.

T: Oh, wow. I should check that out.

But yeah, scott started branching out and working with rappers and other electronic music, Televangel also works with them. It was at a point where I’ve been really busy as a dad in the last couple of years. And so it’s the opportunity to have some friends working with us and getting behind our music and doing some of that work. It sounds very nice at this stage in my life, to have trusted comrades working with you. It’s so pleasant on a day-to-day basis texting with people you care about when you’re working on something, rather than some company. Or usually, I do it myself, because I typically can do most of this stuff better myself. But when you have somebody who’s doing great and standing with you, it’s awesome. It’s nice to have more hands in the pot.

TFSR: I was going to wrap up with the general “where can people find blah, blah, blah question,” which I will do. But were there any things that I didn’t ask about that you wanted to mention?

A: No, I think we’re pretty thorough.

T: The only thing I wanted to say, is something I’ve been struggling with, and I think needs to be put out there for people who are interested in doing the land projects that I’m doing, or that they see. Aaron was saying earlier, that this is a lot of work, managing an acre with a family or even a small collective is a lot of work. And the idea that you’re gonna get some land somewhere and then destitute capitalism all at once, it doesn’t work that way. It takes years and years and years to learn to get things to come to fruition.

Time is money. We live under capitalism. We don’t want time to be money, but the outside world is there. It’s got its fangs showing at all times. I think people need to be more honest about their resources and their privilege. When they’re putting all this stuff out there, it’s like “Okay, well, that’s a nice land project. How’d you get it? Did you get that with a trust fund? How are you sustaining yourself while you’re on that land?” And these are the things that I am thinking about and when I was reading your questions, I was like “This is what this is something I want to say to other radicals out there.” It’s hard. It’s worth doing. People should do it. This is the way forward, in my opinion, autonomous, collective linked together farms, people building capacity for material, survival, resistance, and struggle. It’s worth doing, but it’s a lot of work. Just be ready for it. Right, Aaron?

A: Yeah, for sure. Let’s be realistic about it. If you want to make a living on the land, grow and stuff, expect to get up early, stay up late, and work really hard. It’s one of those things where you can both be into that and be like “Yeah, that’s what I want to do.” And be like “Fuck work.” Because it is meaningful work that– As long as you’re not doing it to a degree that you’re hurting yourself, which is definitely something that can happen. It can be like “Okay, this is awesome. I’m deeply invested in these plants and this project and feel good about it because it’s not bullshit. It feels real and important.

T: The CrimethInc. definition of work is important, “work is that which is subsumed by capitalism.“ Originally, when I started my food thing I was trying to do it farm-to-table. I was harvesting all the kale and random forest garden stuff. And I was like “Wow, I figured it out. This is the way to do forest gardens and earn income from it without starting a nursery,” which is the other thing I see. I was so excited but I figured it out. And then after doing it for three weeks, I was like “No, I’m not using plants from my garden anymore. It’s destroyed my garden, it’s made it no longer a place of joy. This is for my family, I’d be paying myself $2 an hour to sell this kale in my meals. This is for my family, I’m not selling this, this is to share.” So I had to draw a real distinction there. It’s tangential, but I think these are important things to think about with food and survival and autonomy, there’s no silver bullet to any of this.

TFSR: Yeah, for real. And with the point you said about how are you able to do this, how you were able to pay for that. I guess that’s where the community comes in and matters. It is like “Okay, being real, if you were able to get this piece of land because of the trust fund, or because of white privilege, or because of, obviously, you’re sitting on stolen land if you’re on this continent and you’re not indigenous. I don’t think that necessarily means that somebody has to stop, it means you have to think about where you’re stepping and think about what you’ve got. And think about how this whole work, the whole putting energy into sustaining yourself, there’s nothing unnatural about that. It’s the extractive nature of it that’s the problem. And if you came into this with some privileges and benefits, think about how you can use that to give back.” We’ve got mutual friends who have some property in Maine that grow a ton of food. And they’re always donating that food, working with Wabanaki Rematriation Project, or have been for years sending food back to urban communities living in cities that are attached to Victory Garden type things. You were mentioning before the chat that one of them has been working with Herman Bell on Victory Garden in New York State. I get so much excitement and energy out of seeing people actually giving back and sharing and building community through these and not trying to get their own. And whose definition of autonomy doesn’t mean “I got mine.”

A: Right. For sure.

T: Yeah, and we’re talking about Fire Ant, shout out to Fire Ant prisoners’ support, they’re doing awesome stuff. Huge inspiration. Good friends. Thank you for introducing me to them.

TFSR: Of course.

So where can people find your podcasts, the music, the saplings, the vegan treats and how can they support the work that y’all are doing?

A: Well, you can find Propaganda by the Seed on all major podcast platforms and on the Channel Zero Podcast Network and Patreon, if you care to support us that way. Also, positive reviews and ratings on podcast platforms are a great non-monetary way to support us and tell people about it. So thanks for having us on. You can find my seeds, cuttings, plants, and all that stuff at edgewoodnursery.com and you can also find me and the occasional dump of the unusual plant means on social media @edgewoodnursery on Instagram and Facebook.

T: I love that you stepped in and became a plant meme warrior.

A: I couldn’t leave it all for Poor Proles Almanac [podcast].

T: My stuff, you can go to my Bandcamp. That’s the best place to buy my music sole.bandcamp. You can listen to my stuff on all the evil streaming networks. I’m also on Patreon patreon.com/soleone. I sell seeds also on the Holland Farms Etsy store. But pretty much everything I’m selling you can get cheaper through Aaron’s store.

TFSR: Comrade, your anti-capitalism is base.

T: It’s his job, for me, it’s a fun little extra thing to do in the winter.

TFSR: Well, thank you so much for having this conversation. I really appreciate it and taking time out of your Sunday morning. Keep up the amazing work. You’re inspirational.

T: Thanks, TFSR, you are real good friend. I love you, dude. Thank you for your friendship. Much respect. I am sorry for calling you a dude.

TFSR: Oh, yeah. I’m all for that. I get duded, I’m into it.

A: Thanks for inviting me to this conversation as well. It was great. And in your kind words about our podcasts, that’s always lovely to hear that people are enjoying it. And that it takes the edge off of the stress of the modern world for an hour or two.

TFSR: I want to cry-listen when I feel bad, sometimes.

T: Entropy, the good entropy. Let divines take it all down.

TFSR: Some things are being eaten in a good way.

A History of Black Bloc, plus Bad News!

A History of Black Bloc, plus Bad News!

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

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

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

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

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

. … . ..

Transcriptions

Kreuzberg 1987

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some other important ideas were:

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

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

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

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

Beyond that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. … . ..

Free Social Radio 1431 Updates

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

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

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

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

. … . ..

Germinal Social Center in Trieste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dunstan Bruce on The Untold Story of Chumbawamba

The Untold Story of Chumbawamba with Dunstan Bruce

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

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

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

Chumbawamaba-related:

Some hijinks from the era:

Other music related projects mentioned:

Dunstan’s Other Docs

Announcements

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

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

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

Social Media Documentary from SubMedia

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

TFSR Fediverse Podcast

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

Bad News, May 2022

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

. … . ..

Featured Tracks (get ready):

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

. … . ..

Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: I’m not a very good interviewer.

DB: [laughs] But a good critiquer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: I think they were on Sony or something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Do you mean with Interrobang‽

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Praying for the resurrection, I guess?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Interregnum: Roundtable with Vicky Osterweil

The Interregnum: Roundtable with Vicky Osterweil

Download Episode Here

This week we are pleased to present something a little bit new for TFS listeners. This is a kind of informal round table discussion that co host Scott and I had alongside Vicky Osterweil, who has been on the show before to speak on her book In Defense of Looting; A Riotous History of Uncivil Action. We all sat down to talk about a short and thought provoking article which was published in January of 2022 called “The Interregnum: The George Floyd Uprising, the coronavirus pandemic, and the emerging social revolution” which was published on the Haters Cafe and we will link to it in the show notes for anyone interested in reading it.

An interregnum is defined as being a period of discontinuity in a government, organization, or social order, and it typically points to time frames at which there isn’t a clear monarch or reigning body in a given place. This article points to the many ways the George Floyd uprising, the covid 19 pandemic, the rise of anti-work, and what the article calls the Great Refusal (a pivot from the ‘Great Resignation’ nomenclature of some mass media) have all created the conditions for a possible broadscale social revolution. Also stay tuned to the end of this episode where we chat briefly about what books we’re reading right now. We hope you enjoy this chat!

((note to listeners, I’m now using the name I use in real life for this radio project, which is Amar. It’s become more and more important to me to be as fully acknowledging of my culture and ethnicity as possible, and this is one way I’m choosing to do that))

A note on the audio, I messed up recording on my side – my bad – but Scott saved the audio by doing their own back up recording!

In Defense of Looting interview with TFSR!

Announcements:

Disrupt Stone Mountain

In the south eastern US state of Georgia, there is a call-out for anti-racists and anti-fascists to show up and counter and stop the yearly demonstration organized by the buffoonish Sons of Confederate Veterans at Stone Mountain Park for April 30th, 2022. Stone Mountain was intended by “lost cause” supporters as a confederate Mount Rushmore, including a large bas-relief carving and was maybe the site of the birth of the second KKK in 1915. More info on the twitter for Atlanta Justice Alliance and some background can be found in a prior TFSR interview

Eric King

A call-in campaign continues until we hear otherwise for Eric King, the anarchist prisoner who recently won a court case against his jailers at the federal Bureau of Prisons. After that case, they decided to transfer him to a higher security facility across the country. The BOP has a history of setting Eric up to get jumped by white supremacist prisoners at other facilities and the worry is that not only is this move an obvious act of vengeance by the BOP but that he’ll be isolated and targeted at USP Lee or whatever facility they stick him in. You can find notes about the call in at SupportEricKing.org, in our chat with Eric on our April 3rd, 2022 episode and in the recent IGD This Is America interview on the subject.

Libre Flot

Libre Flot, a French anarchist and former volunteer alongside the YPG in Rojava, has ended his hunger strike after a judge released him for medical reasons but he’ll be electronically monitored by the state pending a future court case, as reported by Abolition Media. Likely future updates and ways to support Libre Flot can be found at SolidarityToDecember8.WordPress.Com.

Mountain Valley Pipeline Resistor Needs Support

Max is facing a bunch of legal fees for locking down to block the delivery of pipeline to the MVP construction project and is looking for support in covering costs. More info can be found at https://tinyurl.com/MadMaxFines

. … . ..

Featured Track

. … . ..

Transcription

Amar: Three of us are sitting down, me and Scott and Vicky Osterweil, who has been on the show before and who has written a bunch of really amazing stuff. In Defense of Looting; A Riotous History of Uncivil Action, primarily, we had her on the show to talk about that book. We are all here to talk about this article on Haters Cafe, which is a blog run by primarily black and brown proletarian folks. This article is called the The Interregnum: The George Floyd Uprising, the Coronavirus Pandemic, and The Emerging Social Revolution.

And we’re just all here to talk about it a little bit. It’s not an interview, it’s sort of a departure from the you know, format The Final Straw has gone in so far and I’m excited to talk with y’all about this really thought provoking piece.

Scott: Yeah, this is Scott and I thought I’d start by giving a quick little summary overview of the piece. The pieces written in points, but I’m going to kind of bring them all together. I thought this piece was really helpful and interesting because it ties together a bunch of different important phenomena, especially like recent ones. Not just the pandemic, the George Floyd uprisings and the great resignation, which this piece says we should rename the great refusal, but also the longer arc of rebellion over the last 10 years. Basically, there’s this claim in the piece that the insurrection that we saw from George Floyd uprisings has been translated into daily life. So the struggle has left the realm of the political and now is possibly moving towards a social revolution. I think that’s good to kind of set us up for a conversation.

Vicky: Yeah, totally. First of all, thank you so much. It’s so nice to be back here with y’all, on one of my favorite shows. It’s such a pleasure just to chat, especially under these circumstances. When we scheduled this… things have changed globally. So it’s exciting to sit and think, reground ourselves in thinking through our local contexts and what that looks like. It’s really valuable. So I appreciate you and appreciate the audience, too.

I think one of the things about this piece that I found really sort of activating I guess is the way in which it talks about the great resignation, which has been this wave of quitting. Mass wave of quitting jobs that has gone on now, basically, since the beginning of the pandemic, but it accelerated really dramatically in 2021. I haven’t seen January numbers, but I know that even through December, it continued to accelerate, people are quitting their jobs more and more. Some of that is almost certainly due to the pandemic and the conditions of work that that produces. Some people have, when I’ve talked to comrades about this piece some of them have sort of said, “oh, well, you know, I think the quitting is just about the conditions getting worse or people having to care for each other.” That might be true, but that’s also still a recognition that it’s not possible to do work under those circumstances.

I think it’s really interesting because I think we have gotten into this habit over the last 10 years that this piece talks about, sort of these movement waves where this big movement blows up in the streets. In 2009 there’s Oscar Grant and you have the student strikes, but it was really occupy in 2011 that really sort of starts the cycle. Those sort of would be defined by tactical innovation: the squares, or the riot in the case of Ferguson in Baltimore, holding a space with with rioting. Once that tactic was outflanked or defeated by a combination of the left/liberals and the police then we would sort of go back into a moment of waiting.

I think what’s been really interesting about the last year and a half that this piece sort of points out, really sharpened for me, is that in fact 2020 was so big and so consequential, the George Floyd rebellion, that we have this explosion of basically autonomous but not fully disorganized job-leaving. We’ve seen memes about it, people sharing those signs of a Burger King, “we’re all closed, sorry, everyone quit” but also the explosion of the Reddit r/antiwork which became such a thing that they ended up on Fox News and Reddit shut them down. They splintered into all these more reformist subreddits. But it was the fastest growing subreddit in years. There were 1000s of people posting about how much they hated work.

I spent a lot of time watching it as well. It had a very anti-recuperative tendency that was really strong. People tried to bring it into democratic politics or party politics and they would get shot down. It was really like, “No, no, no, the focus is on how our jobs suck and how our labor conditions suck and we have to destroy work.” That was really interesting that that space sort of developed spontaneously in this way that’s very similar to what the movement looks like, which is just people quitting their jobs and then millions. This piece brings that as like an attack, as opposed to a sort of tactical defense, which all those other sort of moments where, as opposed to like a political moment.

These are all interesting questions. This distinction between the political and the social and the attack versus the reactive or defensive movement I think is the stuff that’s really interesting for me.

Scott: Those are the two really important overarching points that I think I would love to dive into. “What does it mean to enter a social revolution or to move our sights beyond the political?” And then that question that always comes up because often a lot of anarchist organizing or anarchist action comes in spontaneous waves in reaction to things and then we’re always left scratching our heads, “how do we move ahead of the things that get thrown at us?” But yeah, Amar, I’ll pass to you.

Amar: Oh, Amar is fine. The whole Reddit /antiwork phenomenon is really interesting. I heard a little bit about it, because like I’m not a redditor. I know of it sort of nominally. But I gather that it was started by two anarchists. I gather that those two anarchists are also trans people. I don’t know if either of those folks are still involved in it. But for me and as an older millennial, the role of the internet and all of this is just fascinating. It’s just fascinating to see how this sort of not truly global because it’s still not yet accessible in all corners of the world, but this more global platform than I’ve actually seen in my lifetime has really furthered the anti-work sentiment, the great refusal sentiments, and it’s just super fascinating to see that.

Vicky: Yeah, exactly. And the other thing that happened last year, I mean, obviously most of the news attention went to the far right or right wing anti-Vax protests and obviously the more recent up in so-called Canada, the caravan. They were doing occupy again, like 10 years later. We couldn’t do occupy if we wanted. We would need 10,000 people rioting to hold a square. We needed that in 2020 to hold the square for a few days, but they needed like 100 people in trucks and they go to do occupy again. Whatever. It’s still scary, obviously, but the State is giving them a lot of tactical latitude. Anyway, that’s been where all the attention has been. That has been the “politics of resistance” during this period after the rebellion.

But there were also those moments of spontaneous looting, and the student walkouts. I think one of the things that the piece tries to pull towards is that a lot of these things that have been happening have been less visible. I write about this in my book about how during the Great Depression, there was this mass wave of looting that store owners wouldn’t even report it to the police for fear of it entering the news and people getting ideas. So we have no idea historically how much it was, except that it was widespread enough that we know that many people didn’t want to talk about it. That’s all we know about it and that’s from contemporaneous reports.

The collapse of like school grading… I know a bunch of teachers, both at the university and primary and high school level. School discipline has completely collapsed. Work discipline has largely collapsed. One of the things about all these people quitting their jobs is that the bad jobs… nominal wages, and again wages are very hard to determine, there’s debate about this, but nominal wages have gone up year over year in 2021. Faster than they had anytime since the 70’s. It led to this immediate wage increase. I think that that stuff is really interesting in this period when there’s a lot of demand from the left that we focus on organizing the workplace. Like, “Oh, you gotta organize the workplace.” Actually, we’re seeing all this workers struggle, but it’s not really being seen as that because it’s not taking this visible political form.

Amar: Do you think that… because I’ve seen that too. I used to drive to work every day and there was a McDonald’s on my drive and one week it was “now hiring $15 and up” and then it just went up and up every single week. Like 16, 17, 18 and now it’s a $21 an hour, which is just incredible. I wonder too, with the public perception of the refusal or anti-work generally, is that you see a lot of it coalescing in lower wage or fast food or jobs that are seen as unskilled or disposable. Do y’all think that that’s affecting how folks are thinking about it a little bit? Because I’ve definitely seen that. It’s not really seen as a general strike. It’s not really seen as workers organizing each other and I wonder if there’s some endemic classism in there?

Scott: Oh, yeah. Well, I mean when the pandemic first hit the hierarchy of jobs, I feel, became so apparent based on who was able to work from home and then who was an essential worker, which was unless you are a nurse or doctor, a devalued worker, right? Typically in the service industry or in the supermarket or something like that. So I think that stuff became kind of pretty clear right away. And listening to what you were just saying, I was thinking about how the people forced to work in service industry during the pandemic were also being forced to risk their health in ways that other people were removed from if they had these other options. That continues even now with the people in service industry being put into these positions that they can’t really say no to.

I think that one of the things that’s interesting about thinking about the wages going up is that this happened without workers making demands, and this piece really talks about how there’s a nostalgia on the Left for the traditional workers movement, for like labor organizing. Which is this kind of organized way to go in this particular workplace typically, not in a general way, and make specific demands within that instance. This is spreading in a very different way, not through the typical ways of organizing. I think that is another interesting phenomenon of social media and internet.

I think it’s interesting how this piece ties that together, also with the way that the discourse around police abolition and prison abolition sort of spread all of a sudden through the George Floyd uprisings. It shows us something like that we can’t go and lecture people to believe these things and hope that they’ll just take them on. There’s something else that is causing this spread. It’s not the Vanguard party going and doing political lessons for people.

Vicky: Totally. I think one of the things that’s really valuable for me, to sort of historicize this moment and think about it, is that there are these other incredibly successful general strikes in American history that are never seen that way. Increasingly, as people read Dubois’ Black Reconstruction, they’re starting to see the general strike of the enslaved as a real thing, as a thing that happened as he as he describes it. But every year, even before the Civil War, 50,000 enslaved people, obviously, most of them illiterate, in many ways, facing incredibly difficult modes of communication between separate plantations, even within plantations, although, as more and more scholars are demonstrating, they were very good at communicating and there was a very dense communication network that famously Harriet Tubman used to spy on Confederate soldiers.

In any case there was also in response to Jim Crow in the fascist regime in the South, the post-slavery fascist regime in the South or post reconstruction, you have the great migrations. Which I think don’t get talked about as labor action in the same way. Even though people like Ida B. Wells at the time understood them as such. The nostalgia for the classical workers movement isn’t just a Marxist, although it is often sort of worshipping of a particular industrial proletariat, which again lots of Marxist don’t do, but a lot of them do as well. It’s not just that. It’s also a refusal to recognize Black and indigenous forms of resistance historically in the country.

So I think it’s not surprising that in the wake of a Black uprising that spreads so widely to all of society that then we would be seeing these tactics that have a more historical echo with practices of maroonage, migration, mass networked action that aren’t necessarily organized into the “solidarity fist” of the union in exactly the same way. I don’t want to get all talking about Deleuze or whatever the hell… But I think there’s a real opportunity here. And the reason that I want to have this conversation, and I think we all did is because we are actually in a moment when things really feel like they’re at stake. Obviously, the war, and the murder, and all the events of the last few weeks have have increased that feeling that there’s high stakes. I also think what the piece says and I agree with is the proletariat, the class is on the attack. It’s on the offensive right now. I hate we have to formulation shit like that.

But it is a valuable opportunity to rethink how we think about struggle, because I think it was so vital over the last 10 years that we have all of these political struggles. It was so important and the piece sort of argues that without those struggles there was no way that the George Floyd rebellion could have emerged. But now, there’s this temptation to see things and patterns or as repetitions, to fail to recognize when things have changed especially under the conditions that we understand them of what politics looks like. Which is like unions, demands, parties, or even anarchists. Even uprisings, insurrections, I think we really need to move past that as well.

We, those of us who think of ourselves as insurrectionary types, or whatever. I think that all of these questions are really up in the air right now and if they were to merge with a street movement, it would provide a really serious opportunity for total, significant transformation. I think that’s the first time in my life I feel really comfortable saying that on the radio and feeling like that’s real. You know what I mean?

Amar: Absolutely. This is the first time in my life that I’ve seen a lot of these things happen. It’s incredible, not to parrot myself a little bit, but it’s incredible to see the things that are happening right now. And thank you also for bringing a historical context to the point of the general strike and all of that stuff. Because I think that that’s history that people are speaking of, but is a parallel that, I think is very well drawn, and needs to be drawn now.

Scott: I think, and there’s something in the piece and then the history that you just brought up, Vicky, too, there’s something about what gets seen and understood and what doesn’t get seen or comprehended in various ways. There’s a particular racialized and colonial history to that, that we know when we talk about US history in particular, there’s a uniform narrative that’s given that tries to fit things into progress, or sort of like a immiseration of particular groups of people as part of our collective history that leaves out all of these multifarious ways that people have resisted. If we don’t tell those stories we can’t learn that that happened. First of all, which is inspiring for today, but also learn that there’s flexible ways to do it.

So the most visible things that are also whitened, right? Or like the the labor strikes. I think for us as anarchists recently, it’s a certain kind of uprising. Those things are interesting because I think maybe one of the reasons that they get so much play and are so compelling is because they do play, like the piece says, into the spectacle, the image of politics. They also tend to have an end. I think sometimes in my anarchist thinking, I really get into this idea of the eruption of moments of liberation that we formed that are temporary and then they dissolve. But there’s something else in this piece that’s gesturing towards, “how do we not just wait for those untimely moments to come and echo across the years or whatever,” but like, “how do we sustain things in the meantime.” There’s these threads of sustained resistance throughout history that fly under the radar.

One of the things that the piece talks about, which I would love to hear what you all think, to what extent do we want things to be like clandestine and not talked about so that they can keep happening in a way that allows for spaces of freedom? And not either recuperation or violence from the State? And to what extent is that just a failure from the analyst or whatever to see that there’s really strong resistance going on?

Vicky: So for that final question, I think one of the things I’ve heard, a close comrade, a friend of mine when I was tweeting about this piece who has slightly different politics from me was sort of saying, “Oh, well, I think this movement of quitting will lead to mass repression.” I think that’s sort of the question you’re saying, when we make a struggle like this legible do we risk damaging it? First of all, yes, of course. I think that’s really important and that’s true. Also, though, particularly the great resignation is and anti-work is a trend that the right and the capitalists have noticed. They brought it to many of our attention, because this is happening at a scale that none of us can necessarily really see beyond sort of a meme of an image or whatever. But when millions of people are quitting the capitalists are scared, and that’s how we know it’s happening because they’re talking about it in Business Insider and the Economist or whatever.

So like on that level, the question I think is right. I think it’s right to think about, “do we try to wrench these things into politics?” When we do so we do so at great grave danger to their potential. But also, we do want to be able to speak to each other, and to have a context in which we can sort of organize and start to answer some of these questions. To speak to the first half of your point, though, if that’s okay. Unless you have something you want to sort of jump on on that?

Amar: No, no, go ahead.

Vicky: This is to veer away from the piece of it and get a little personal, but I’ve now been organizing in various capacities and writing and fighting for like 12, 13 years now. Maybe since 2009. What time is it? 2008? So yeah, for ages now, right? It’s been a long time. One of the things that has happened is that I have grown really dissatisfied with the waiting for the change to come and happen spontaneously. At the same time that I recognize that over the last decade none of us have really been able to predict how this stuff was going to break down and it hasn’t really been driven by political radicals either. I don’t think that’s going to suddenly start happening either. But we have these one lives. These one precious, increasingly threatened life.

I’ve always loved the anarchists tendency to say we have to try and build that world in the present in our own worlds to the extent that we can. I think we can apply that to bigger scales without it being dangerous to our goals. Do you know what I mean by that? There’s this really hard line to thread and we haven’t come up with the answers. I certainly and anyone who tells you they have is full of shit. Myself, even, I don’t have the answer I’m also full of shit.

But I think there is this tension right now with this real desire to have enough power, for lack of a better word, to act in a really in a way that increases those possibilities and opportunities, while recognizing what’s going on right now. Which is that on a sort of spontaneous, which isn’t a great concept, but on a class wide scale some of these attacks are happening now. They’re happening and can we intervene? Because I think there’s also a desire and the piece does talk to this. Sorry, I’m just rambling now. I guess that’s the point, right? We’re having a conversation.

But the piece speaks to the leftist desire to get out and be the leaders to be the vanguard. We saw that in the uprising where revolutionary organizations, I heard about this in every city with there were big things, would get to the front of a march and lead it in a circle, or lead it directly into trap. Or all these terrible things, all the swooping and stuff. So I think without wanting to be a vanguard and being satisfied to be participants in events, and nothing more than participants in events, how can we be the most effective participants in events possible? In a way that both makes our lives better and increases the chances for other people to reach for those things. That’s such a hard question because it’s about power and organization, but our terms for those are so limited.

Amar: Yeah, yeah, I think about this, too. And we saw, I think anybody who had two eyes and was paying attention saw the orgs get out in front of stuff in the George Floyd uprisings. I think that it was just such a typical tactic on the part of the orgs as a part of power accumulation and optics and all of these things. How do we not do that? And how do we participate as anarchists in a way that is anti-authoritarian, or anti-vanguardist, or anti-optics or whatever, if we can say that. I think that’s such an important question. I think that to answer that would maybe be to do something of a disservice to the scope of the question itself. Because it’s so important and it’s less of a question and more of a provocation for me. Just challenging folks to be like, “this is a moment, this is happening.” I remember back in the day people were really invested in this idea of a revolution and I’m just like, “Y’all, it’s here and what do we do with it?”

Scott: That’s like the thing that I really loved about this piece, because I’ve been reading other interesting pieces that are pessimistic or nihilistic. This one is saying we’re in the midst of at least a proto-revolution, if not a revolution. In thinking about this question about how we can be participants within it without trying to get out in front, which is so important. Thinking about the last decade and the anarchists involvement in all these uprisings, not to credit it to anarchists, and I don’t even mean a particular person who says they’re an anarchist, but tactics learned from anarchist uprisings or uprisings that have elements of anarchism within it. They’ve been accumulating over over this time. I think the anarchism, more than in my lifetime, you can talk about it and people are like, “oh, yeah, I have some ideas about this.” It’s less unheard of. It gets mentioned even in mainstream aspects.

I feel like, again, some of this spreading of knowledge or information, some of the ways that anarchists have shown up in the streets or organized mutual aid is becoming more baseline knowledge for people about how to defend yourself in this situation. I think that that might be a way to think about it. Again, this is to say that anarchists aren’t leading things, anarchists are showing up and doing things and those things are getting innovated over and over again throughout all these events.

Vicky: Yeah, I think that’s that’s exactly right. I mean, as someone who has been doing police in prison abolition stuff for almost a decade now, I remember having a conversation with a friend and we were talking about how for years it just felt like bashing your head against a brick wall. Then suddenly in 2020 you were just nodding and everyone was nodding along with you like, “yeah, abolish the police, abolish prisons!” I think there’s probably a tendency among people who identify as anarchists, especially who sort of form online to want sectarian identification as anarchist to be really present and stuff. There’s this counter tendency that I think, Scott, you just really well summed up, which is that, in fact, the tactics and the ideas are spreading.

I think that that’s also valuable in terms of attempting to the best of our ability to decolonize and abolish the whiteness of the ways and the Europeanness of the ways that we think about this stuff. Maybe the movement has gotten anarchist enough that we no longer need anarchists. I don’t know. I’m in a weird place now. But I guess what the piece has me asking myself and questioning and what the last 10 years have as well is this great refusal moment, in some ways, the George Floyd rebellion was a summation, and intensifying, and generalizing of all of the struggles that had come before. We saw all those tactics repeated. It was incredible and beautiful, and really, really important. And now something has shifted and we have to move away from our dogmas in a real way that is scary.

Part of the reason I feel is partially scared, and I mean not just the state of the world, but because I don’t see my comrades, all of whom I love dearly in my local area, I don’t see any of us moving in a way that makes me feel like it’s the answer. Even during the uprising my comrades, who I really love and who I was in the street with and who I would do a lot in the street for, I didn’t see us moving in a way that I was like, “Okay, wow.” Myself included. I was among this we, right? We were participating, and that’s cool. But I want to think about, because it matters so much, I want to think about what we can do and how we can we distinguish sectarian tactical, ideological things that we rely on from things that are really important actually and it’s really good that they become core.

I think there can be a tendency that I think is actually kind of creepy and proto-right wing to be like, “we must reject all of our previous knowledge.” Absolutely not. We have learned so much. We have to stay queer liberationists, trans liberationists, anti racist, these are all so crucial. But yeah, I don’t know. It’s a question. We’re in a moment where we can really start cutting back some of the stuff that isn’t serving us. As the piece says, in the spirit of the great refusal, you should think about how to leave those formations, whether they’re tactical or ideological, or just groups or whatever, that aren’t serving us right now in this moment.

Amar: I love that part of the article so much. The whole, “let’s think about how to translate a, not anti-work as sort of a hardline definition, but a refusal on to our anarchist politics and praxis.” I thought that that was such a cool provocation. And Scott, I wonder if you have anything to say about that. I was just super sparked by it. I don’t really have a lot to say about it. I mean, seeing folk and seeing how folk were moving in the streets, or like moving in the midst of the uprising, I didn’t see a whole hell of a lot of it, but I definitely was just like, “Hmm, we did that,” or like, “that happened.” There’s a question there, too.

Scott: Yeah, I’m thinking in current anarchists discourse that I’m finding most interesting right now is the stuff that Amar: C, Anderson’s Nation on no Map, where he’s been elaborating a Black anarchism that isn’t about self identification as an anarchist. He looks at the history of Black people in the US and sees anarchist, or anarchistic, or whatever, aspects of community self defense and mutual aid and says that there’s conditions that create this. and that there’s histories and knowledge of these ways of being and doing that sort of exceed the limited definition of anarchism that can be tied back to a particular European historical context.

That kind of stuff, alongside a lot of care work, accountability transformative justice, and disability justice work that I read that’s in an abolitionist vein tends to me to do this kind of loosening up of anarchism into something that’s not like who you are, but it’s the things that you do and the way that you do them. It can be in all these moments. I think when we take this into struggle, we get so caught up in being a thing and showing up to do thing as a kind of person all the time. I think protest is often, because it’s captured by the political, this is where I want to get right? Back to the idea of moving out of the political into the social. When it remains in the realm of the politics and we’re just announcing we’re anarchists and we’re here to fuck shit up or whatever.

One of the things reading this, it made me think. I had been translating Guy Hocquenghem and his writings on gay liberation after ’68 people. And the May ‘68 people were saying a similar thing about the social, they were calling a cultural revolution, because they were still a little bit enthralled by Mao. But they were like, “the revolution has to touch every part of life.” It’s not just the realm of politics. It’s not the labor movement. This is where you get the beginnings of gay liberation in France too. I think that’s really an interesting thing. In that moment, in the 60’s, late 60’s and early 70’s, that dovetailed with the hippies and a counterculture that wasn’t really politicized. I think the material conditions for a lot of the people who were involved in that were such that they could do a kind of subversive thing and still kind of be part of the system. So it didn’t translate into this social revolution that they were calling for.

But I think we’re in a totally different scenario. We don’t have the opportunities and all the kinds of props that were holding up the state and the market at that time have been thrown away at this point. The pandemic has just made it even starker. So to me, that explains a little bit why a political thing can translate more generally and pervasively through all the strands of life the way that this piece is arguing that it is or is starting to or can continue to do.

Just one more thought… So when the pandemic hit, this was my thinking, and this is almost accelerationist or something, I guess, but I was like, “oh my god, everyone is gonna just suddenly become a revolutionary because we’re just faced with the contradictions of you can’t work but you need to pay for rent and you need to pay for food, but you can’t get any of these things.” I was trying to do organizing just being like, “look like we have to do something! We can’t… this is ridiculous.” I got caught up in my organizing with people who are really stuck on old models for me. A lot of going back to, “we need to be clandestine, and we can’t say anything to anyone because then we will be known.” But I was like, at some point we just need to act right and do something. But in the immediate lockdown, those conditions did not create the kind of uprising that I had hoped for, at least, and didn’t really expect.

This piece says something really interesting that I would like to parse out about this. It says “the novel Coronavirus pandemic was a necessary but insufficient condition for the George Floyd rebellion and the great refusal.” So I was like this is going to do it. This piece is saying that this set some things up but then something else happened. Then the next line is “Anti-Blackness, ableism, and xenophobia were also necessary, but they are not novel, though the pandemic’s deepening of these societal codes.” In that kind of weird Interplay that something new happen that we weren’t expecting. I think that’s really interesting. Because again, it scrambles our ability and even our desire to predict things which is I think, where we fall into traps, often.

Vicky: Yeah. God, there’s so much there. There’s so many different things. I’m all over the place.

Scott: Sorry I rambled.

Vicky: No, no, it’s literally my favorite feeling. Too much to respond to is the best. But yeah, I think there’s this question of the Coronavirus and the pandemic. One of the things that actually I think is so scary, not to shift too much about the Ukraine situation is that, the Democrats seem malicious and out of touch enough to me to want to go to war to distract from the virus, right? The handling of the virus has been so bad internationally that I do think a lot of state leaders see, and it’s working as far as I can tell, in a public opinion way. There’s not a sort of 2001 Old Glory flags everywhere fascism coming back, exactly, but people have stopped talking about the pandemic, largely. This is the thing that is on people’s minds. I think the failure of the Biden administration’s response to the pandemic, should be understood in terms of the Great Refusal and the Great Resignation.

One thing that happened was that Trump gave us a bunch of money, and clearly the $600 for unemployment a week was like the Arrested Development meme: “It’s one banana, Michael, how much could it cost? $10?” Clearly a bunch of rich people were like, “how much do poor people make a week? $600?” And everyone got this crazy raise. We didn’t have to work, got on this huge raise, and an eviction moratorium. So there’s all this cash on hand and what people did with that extra space as well as the extra anger, alienation, the mass death, it’s not a silver lining. There’s no silver lining to the pandemic. These are just the conditions, and we can’t describe it that way. This is a this is an absolute utter catastrophe of a global scale that will never be forgotten, at least not for generations. It’s an utter disaster. But it produced both negative and positive conditions that gave people space to rise up, right? And people were like, “Okay, I don’t have to go to work. I can’t go party, I don’t have to pay my rent, I’ve got nothing to do. Fuck it, let’s get rid of these pigs!” That was this spontaneous feeling and tactic and desire that emerged.

I think part of what the Democrats have been doing is like, “Oh God, we can’t reproduce those conditions.” We can’t reproduce the conditions where people aren’t struggling enough that they can fight us. They also, I think, to some extent think that the uprising was all about Trump. What they classically failed to do is to recognize that the uprising happened. So many of us participated and we all remember. We all remember what it felt like and we were all changed by it. You can’t put that back into a bag with punishment, although they are trying.

I don’t know if that’s happening in y’all’s cities, but here in Philly rents have gone up way faster than housing costs. They’ve started instituting credit checks to even get a rental, which I’ve never seen anywhere. Not even in New York when I lived there. It’s wild. And that seems to me an at least slightly coordinated punishment of the working class. Not just for the uprising, but also for the Great Resignation. There’s all this repression happening and now the war is a piece of that as well.

But to be a sort of classic, “whatever,” as I am, all of this repression is in response to real movement that’s happening on the ground now and real fight that we’re giving. We’re on the offensive. I don’t know, I keep just circling back to that. Because Scott, as you pointed out, in the 60’s, even in the 30’s, the insurrectionary movement got kind of bought off by the New Deal. Then the depression got funneled into war production. It’s not clear how anyone can do that. In fact, the financial collapse still hasn’t quite happened. We’ve never recovered from 2009, the stock market has fully divested itself from our daily lives. It doesn’t feel like they have carrot to give us and it doesn’t feel like they can wield the stick well enough. So it feels like we’re chomping at the bit to overextend the metaphor. We have some capacity right now to move.

Scott: There’s another part of this piece to build off of that, that I find interesting. Thinking about how the Democrats have failed to play their historical role of siphoning off the energy of movements and recuperating them in electoral politics. You’re kind of talking about that. But it seems like such a an opportunity for the Democratic Party to take stuff. They keep having things thrown at them that they can totally wrapped up into their shtick and use it. But they’re not doing it. I mean, maybe it’s like you’re saying that they’re scared of the threat that they’ve seen and therefore grasping at straws. But I wonder if either of you had thoughts about why are they so doggedly going in this other direction than what they’ve typically done, which is to try to water down our movements with tokenism and naming policies that don’t do anything?

Amar: And recuperation.

Vicky: Do you want to join take a swing at it?

Amar: I’m uniquely ill-equipped to talk about party politics.

Scott: That’s a good trait.

Vicky: Alas, alas, I have some ideas. Bernie Sanders was was a slam dunk for them. Medicare For All. I mean, if they weren’t good historians they would know that in 1945 in the UK when the Labour Party, the NHS, ran the government for 30 years. The Dems could do it. They’ve got a bunch of slam dunks that are pretty easy. The ball is in the air. Why am I choosing all these bad metaphors? They have these opportunities. I think part of it is that they just are genuinely an imperial court. DC is truly divided from reality on the ground. The pandemic has somehow made that worse. They don’t even get in cabs anymore to talk to cabbies or whatever they do in their op eds.

So I think it’s that and also they are increasingly happy to be the left wing to the extent that they are the left to the Republicans, not as the recuperators of social movement. So I think that now that the Republicans are like, “you know what? We should be fascist because otherwise we’ll never win an election again.” The Democrats can just be like, “yeah, we’re just like utterly greedy, right wing capitalists, like, that’s all we are.” So I don’t know. I think it’s some combination of those things and fear of the uprising. I think in their heart of hearts, Democrats, liberals in general, not just Democrats, if you ask them “which is scarier a fascist uprising or an anarchistic/communist one?”, they think it’s scarier from the left. Because the fascists, maybe they kill them or their friends but probably they get to keep all their property and their nation. Whereas the anarchists, they lose their whole worldview. Like, that’s a lot scarier.

Amar: Yeah, indeed. I really likes this part in the article, and it’s skipping to the end a little bit. The article is written somewhat chronologically, but there’s a lot to sort of unpack in it. And it talks about sort of the right and the coup. This is bullet point 24:

“The lesson they seem to have learned from the coup is that increased calls for secession and the independence notwithstanding, their best chance for power is the 2024 election of Donald Trump. There is therefore something of a three way race between the proletarian movement, the 2024 election cycle, and Donald Trump’s physical death. The death or incapacitation of Donald Trump would represent a blow to the American fascist movement as currently constituted that would require at least another election cycle for them to recover from.”

I really liked this bullet point. I think that it relates somewhat to perceptions and fear and the anxieties of the Democrat institution. I wonder if you’ll have thoughts on this point.

Scott: So, I’m actively frightened by the far right and everything they’re doing. And maybe we can talk a little bit about all the kinds of State policies that are being proposed and passed that are incredibly frightening. But while there is a street movement and January 6 was a thing. It was a debacle. It’s kind of confusing and hard to really, totally understand. This point is saying that in the end, the far right is still attached to an election of a particular person. So, in a way that that gives me a little bit of a feeling of optimism that it’s so narrowly focused on this one thing that just seemed to limit it in a way or help contain it from me. Because in my mind all the time I’m surrounded constantly by Nazis, basically. Like walking down the street in my neighborhood, you know? And so thinking about how they’re still grasping at the old orders of power, and obviously that power still kills and hurts and degrades us all. But something about that was interesting to me.

Amar: Yeah. I mean, there’s been just an immense amount of things that have at least hit the newsstands. I had a text from a person that I hadn’t heard from in a while, and the text was just like, “I’m thinking of you. I hope you’re okay.” And I like genuinely didn’t know what they were referring to because there’s been so many things that have happened. It turns out that they were referencing the anti-trans stuff that was happening in the news with parents of trans kids now being liable for child abuse or some horrifying shit in Texas.

But yeah, there was a point on our notes that we were talking about fear and talking about anxiety and being like, “Am I coming out of left field being fearful right now?” I don’t think that anybody is. I think that there are a lot of oppression fantasies that are spinning themselves out. I’m thinking specifically of like QAnon, and COVID-denialism, and stuff that’s on the far right, that I like obviously have no sympathy for. I do name it as like an oppression or colonization fantasy, basically, that people are like, “Oh, I’m being genocided. I’m being colonized.” It’s just like, guys, I don’t know. It bears no spinning out here. There’s no reason we need to debunk that shit.

But I do think that we’re seeing sort of a creep into various things. I mean, we saw it in fucking September 11, back back back in the day. Maybe some listeners were not alive in 2001. But we saw that precipitated the formations of two extremely fascist institutions and those were the Department of Homeland Security and ICE. Ever since then, in my consciousness, it’s been an ever encroaching upon fascist creep or whatever. We’re seeing that really explicitly, and I think to react to that with fear and anxiety is really normal. And to react to it in a way that’s just like, “oh, I need to not have fear about this,” is to react in a way that’s maybe a bit rooted in survival. That is something we should honor, or one could honor. But I think its really healthy to acknowledge that kind of thing.

Vicky: Yeah, I really appreciate that point from both of y’all. I think two years into this pandemic when all of our forms of comfortable social reproduction and making ourselves feel better and hanging out… all of them have been disrupted for years now and we have watched as world governments have utterly refused to try and fix that. The thing they claim to be good for is something like a pandemic or whatever, right? And they just have literally no interest in helping us at all. Some countries are more brazen in that than others and that has to do with their internal political and domestic stuff.

But in any case, I think even without that 2015 to 2020 the rise of street fascism was traumatic. I don’t know if y’all had this experience, but there was a lot of movement, but also everyone was hyper-vigilant all the time. Everyone was in a fight or flight constantly. That was utterly unsustainable and we didn’t get to rest from that because the pandemic dovetailed with that perfectly. I think we have not had an opportunity to grieve. One of the things that I think about a lot with regard to what you were saying a while ago, Scott, about this classical Workers Movement is that I actually think that there has been a real repression of grief among revolutionaries for the 20th century in general, the experience of that in general.

I hate “Don’t Mourn, Organize!”, which was a thing Joe Hill said about his own death, it was not a slogan. When someone asked him what they should do to honor him. He said, “Don’t mourn, organize.” That is an individual’s request and the fact that’s been turned into a slogan, I think, is disgusting. Don’t organize, mourn, y’all know those really weird squishy stress toys? They have the bulgy eyes if you squeeze them. They all squeeze out or whatever. The way I, and I’ve had to experience a lot of it unfortunately, grief and rage… If we just tried to repress it, like those toys, it just pops out from in between your fingers. It comes out in other ways and if we just like try to organize through it, or fight through it, the grief is going to shape and the pain is going to shape the stuff that we do, or the fear is going to shape the stuff that we do. It’s such a crucial gift from the queer movement and the feminist movement to be like, “no, stop, take care of yourself, take it seriously.” Everyone rolls their eyes at the idea of self-care. Okay, fine, whatever. That term is probably useless now, but like we need to take care of each other.

I do think that like the mutual aid in its less formal ways that it has appeared, which I think has been cool, but have looked a lot like charity or social services to me. The spreading of the concept of mutual aid among everyone as an organizing principle for people’s lives has seemed really powerful to me. We’re all at such low capacity. We tend to think everyone’s going through it, “Well, that’s just life, buddy.” If you have a very specific tragedy, “oh, that’s really sad” but if everyone’s going through it, “Buck up!” No! When everyone’s going through it, it’s so much harder because no one has capacity to help each other. That stuff’s all really, really important and serious. As we talked about tactics and what can we do to move forward we also do need to be able to hold each other in this horrible, horrible time. It’s been seven years of this. There have been these glimpses of hope that have been beautiful, but for the most part it’s just been awful.

Scott: I love that you brought that up, in terms of feeling the feelings. In the last two years during the pandemic, it’s been really hard to know, because of so much isolation, you don’t have the same kind of benchmarks to know how off you’re feeling in relation to any kind of normalcy. So it’s just like, “oh, there’s something wrong with me, but I don’t quite understand it.” Just like losing your kind of orientation has been hard. I’m also thinking, and maybe this is like my psychoanalytic… or just the fact that I’ve read Hamlet so many times, but thinking about how mourning is also a refusal, right? If you let yourself mourn, you’re refusing to do the things of a productive life, right? You’re like, “I’m not going to play the role. I’m like so immersed in my grief that I refuse to work.” I think it would be interesting to kind of think about some of those emotions and affects and feelings that we have, and how they could relate to this social revolution of how they withdraw us, or allow us to refuse the wages that we are bribed with.

Amar: Which are just paltry. Not even scraping the bottom edge of inadequate for maintaining any kind of life.

For me, in relation to the government and in relation to sort of political power systems at large, what the COVID pandemic really showed me was how little those structures think of the populace. They hold us in such deep, abiding disdain and that to me, is one of the reasons why people are like, “No, fuck this, anti-work, I’m gonna walk out of my job.” It’s amazing to me, too, that a lot of folks who are entrenched, to call back to the Arrested Development meme and those fuckers who think that a banana cost $10, they still think that people are quitting their jobs because of the pandemic money. Which is incredible. Because that was not all that much money really, right? I mean, prices have gone up. Every single time I go to the grocery store, I’m like, Oh, this should be $25 and comes out to like, $55 or $70. That’s maybe a whole other conversation but perhaps related. I don’t know, I kind of lost my thread.

Vicky: But I think you didn’t lose the thread. I think the thread is right there. This is in the piece too. The pandemic demonstrated this total disregard for us, even at a basic “we are necessary for the economy to function” it’s better if we’re healthy. Even at that level, even just using us as workers, they’re not even willing to do. They’re like, “well, maybe we could force you back to work and some of you will die, whatever.” There’s just the total disdain and hatred. And the way that that reflects on the future of ecological catastrophe, obviously, and war…

I don’t know about you two, but I have found it absolutely horrifying to see the world governments, and media, and politicians, and leadership, and Economy act as one so decisively against Russia. Not because I want to defend Russia, but because they had this power all along. They could have been doing this to the pandemic, they had operated so fast and so thoroughly against Russia, and whatever, Russia is literally engaging in an imperialist war of aggression, fuck them. But they could have done this two years ago against Coronavirus and they’ve shown us all that. And they’ve shown us that what they’ve done for us instead is told us to get COVID and die. And that is horrible, but it also is really ‘mask off’ no pun intended. I think things are really clear right now and the clarity is gained at to great expense, and it’s not worth it, but I think we might be able to make use of that clarity.

Scott: You know, it’s interesting, because I teach young people, mostly late teens and early 20’s, and this maybe connects back also to the grief but I have found over the last two years of teaching that students are just in crisis after crisis after crisis of their own health, they’re caring for a family member, they’re losing their housing or losing their job, they’re working too much. All the time, I’m just making space for them to just have the crisis and not worry about repercussions from me. But I’m just thinking about how that generalized panic and scramble and care work and grief that is happening, how that’s going to affect a mass population moving forward.

To me that is what I was expecting to happen when the pandemic hit, which is the contradictions become clear and everyone refuses. But we’re being put through it in this horrible, torturous way. I think that’s going to change people’s outlooks. Obviously, when I come and talk to these students I’m saying a lot of these kinds of things. This is happening to you and you don’t deserve it. But just thinking about that, I don’t know what we’re coming out of this or what that would even look like at this point. But people are carrying along with them this experience of unprecedented struggle in their “personal lives” is going to have a strange ripple effect, I think. Hopefully one that allows more people that keep unplugging from this system.

Vicky: Yeah. And I think, not to be too pessimistic, but one of the things that gave me a little bit of strength and historical analysis under the Trump regime was thinking about how the historical fascist regimes and indeed the regime in India right now and in Turkey to a large extent, they drew on a huge body of traumatized war veterans for whom life had become cheap and meaningless right, in the trenches. There was no commensurate experience in the United States until the pandemic. So we have this now, this population that I think is going to be capable of accepting very radical answers, and I don’t necessarily think that those are going to be good. Because trauma, as anyone who knows, doesn’t make you a better person. It’s about how you respond to it. Which is part of why it’s so vital right now that we respond to that trauma seriously, and that grief seriously. It’s so funny that we’ve ended up here from starting in this conversation about like the social revolution. It feels telling also, you know?

Amar: I think that’s such an important point, Vicky. Traumatized populaces are more readily accepting of increasingly radical or fringey or whatever solutions to stuff. I think that that’s something I’m gonna be sitting with for a while.

Scott: I’m thinking about more news recently about how much worse than expected climate catastrophe is going to be, and how much quicker. We get something like that every year, I guess, or more frequently. That’s the stuff that we’re facing in the next decade. We get inundated with the narratives of ‘lone wolf’ survivalist competition over resources stuff to steal us for this horrible catastrophe that we’re facing and you put that with the kind of trauma… It almost stacks the deck for just a horrific response. I’m hoping that somewhere in there, the caring for each other that people are doing will create some other possibilities.

The caring, not just like intimately or in kinship and family and whatever… I do agree that mutual aid stuff has been not necessarily as radical or politicized or however you want to call it as it could be, but the knowledge of that that’s something that you do that you’re that you have resources and spread them rather than hoard them and save up for the future that’s not going to happen, or whatever. I hope that that is something that will hopefully stave off a really violent trauma response.

Vicky: Yeah. And one thing that’s been weirdly giving me a lot of hope lately, I’ve been reading David Graeber, rest in peace, and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything. Which is a book about prehistory. It’s a book about an anthropological overview of prehistory. Just the extent to which so few societies have ever been organized on these bases of exclusion and then private property and hierarchy, like exclusively on those things. Those things have all existed, but they’ve rarely been coalesced in authority like in the way that this current social system has, is sort of what that book is about. So I think that, well, I obviously brought up the specter of mass fascist movement. It’s already happening, it’s already here. Obviously, it’s not at the specter anymore. Alas.

I also do think that the reason I bring it up is because that’s a possible future. But I do also think that that’s precisely why it’s so important to think about how to care for each other now, and how to start moving in these other directions, because we can see this other thing that is perhaps further in our history for many of us, for all of us, in fact, who have been forced to live under this white supremacist, settler, colonialist, European regime for as long as we have.

There are deep, deep roots to the extent in our history, and I want to call it our history, not our nature, or whatever, in our history that are very different. I think as things start to break down, or continue to break down, rather, as this stuff all breaks down, we can make gestures and movements together to take care of one another, that push against that, and that can radiate out, in much the same way that the sort of political tactics of struggle were imitated and radiated out over our movements over the last 10 years.

Amar: One great thing about the mutual aid sphere that’s been being fostered through institutions at this point, like Food Not Bombs, and Prison Books and related stuff, I think it has provided a really, not gentle, but easily accessible entry point for people who are just getting radicalized. There are just a lot of people who are getting radicalized in all sorts of different directions right now. I’ve seen the mutual aid be really… anarchism historically not the greatest or most accessible thing to come to.

I can remember being a baby anarchist and being like, “can I hang out with you guys?” People were just like, “actually, no. Keep coming to prison books for about a year and then maybe we’ll invite you to the potluck as well.” In a way that was really nice to hear, because I love rules, I love parameters. So there’s a parameter here, “okay, I’ll come to the prison books for a year.” But it’s been nice to see that people can go do the mutual aid and then have society through that and have like anarchist community through that and it’s just wonderful. That’s giving me a lot of hope right now.

Scott: One thing that’s been in the back of my mind during this conversation, so a lot of people will say, “why did the anarchists or the left or whatever allow the fascist and right wing people to come out in front in this anti state demonstration against mandates, when we could have like articulated a different version of that that wasn’t about business and people dying?” I’m talking about anti-vaccine and anti-mask stuff. For a while I was hitting my head against that this was an opportunity and what is the anarchists response. Maybe that’s the wrong question and picking apart this piece is kind of helping me think that a very visible left/anarchists movement around State control and surveillance through the pandemic, I don’t think would have been the right direction anyway.

What we see with the right wing demonstrations and the fascist demonstrations around this, we see them making their own beds in a way and we don’t need to participate in and then the anarchist stuff that’s happening is more clandestine, right? It’s like these relationships that are being formed through mutual aid, it’s the relationships that are being formed in the streets that I think do a lot more. If you really need to be convinced that wearing a mask is not a big deal and that it helps people, that just doesn’t seem to be the place that we should be putting our effort and time into.

This was just helping me think about that, because it’s something I’ve been wondering about for a while. Why did that space go to the right when it’s typically an anti-state stance?

Amar: This is reminding me of… did y’all read that piece Against the Liberal Creep?

Scott: I did.

Vicky: I flipped through it. I didn’t read the whole thing.

Amar: I couldn’t really tell like how much of it was a shitpost. Like, really couldn’t tell, but I feel like, Scott, it was really going in that direction of being like, “the right got this anti-state mandate thing and we should have jumped on that and pivoted the narrative.” Among many other things I’m not doing really doing this piece justice. I’m like honestly not sure if I would recommend it. But it’s interesting as a thought exercise. I guess.

Scott: I actually read this piece and and the Interregnum piece around the same time, and I really didn’t like Against the Liberal Creep and what it was trying to say and then and then I think I went to Interregnum and I was like, “oh, okay, here’s a more helpful analysis” for me at least, than the Against the Liberal Creep one.

Vicky: Yeah. One of the things that happens, and that really infuriates me, as someone who tends to think historically is how much people are happy to forget our very, very immediate recent history. In 2016, 2017, 2018, a lot of people said, “we got to try and pull out from the right, we got to try and organize, we got to get in front of their talking points, or whatever.” Most of those people have gone to the right. Most of those people are now on the right. They didn’t pull anyone to the left, they’re on the right now. I think people will have their own particular example of who I’m talking about because there were a lot of them. They were mostly grifters.

I think there’s this idea that we have to convince people, [that] it’s our job as revolutionaries who are enlightened to convince people and obviously I’m here on a radio show. I think education and discussion and ideas are really important. I write not quite for a living, but I get paid to write sometimes. I do not make a living doing it. So I think that stuff is important. But also, it’s the wrong idea of the relationship to it. The thing that Marxists have often gotten right historically is the conditions of people’s exploitation and lives is sufficient to educate them about what’s wrong. Anarchists are good at that too, often. People know, and yes, there will be edge cases where someone gets radicalized the wrong way. Maybe you encounter them in your life and it’s worth arguing with them and trying to flip them. Definitely.

But as an organizing principle, I think what this moment is really showing us is that since 2020, since the George Floyd uprising is that a lot more people spontaneously are on our side, just numbers wise. There’s just a lot more people under these conditions. And that really matters, because liberals will do everything they can, as we’ve seen both in the rises with both Mussolini, and Hitler, and Trump frankly. Liberals will do everything they can to hand power to the fascists to keep it out of the hands of the left or the revolutionaries or whatever you want to call it. But we don’t have to convert those liberals because they are enemies. People get confused between people who are just spontaneously humanitarian liberal because they haven’t really thought about it, versus people who are Atlantic subscribers or whatever. They’re 15 or however many there are left.

Scott: Yeah, I think there’s a difference between them. People want answers often and there’s a liberal position that seems to offer answers through electoralism and slight reforms on the status quo. It’s the same thing, though, with authoritarian communists. They seem to have the answer. I think they draw in certain kinds of people who aren’t okay with the unknown, with embracing the unknown. I think also, we want to know the right way to act and I think that’s commendable, really. So I don’t know about convincing people of other things, but maybe just like opening the door for more complexities and unknowns.

Actually, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot is how much people are motivated by being afraid of showing that they don’t know something, and how much damage that causes in every kind of situation that you could think of. Just leaving more room for that. That is another thing about this piece that I think it is calling on people who want to contribute to a revolution to do, is to not know it, not get in front of it, be part of it, open up for it, be honest about what’s happening. Not try to frame it or theorize it or whatever. Just be like this is happening, this is really happening right now.

Vicky: Yeah, it’s really happening and it doesn’t fit any of our theories very deeply. That doesn’t mean that we therefore have to jettison every previous theory, but it means we have to think and act differently in some ways. That means being unknowing. I always get into trouble with that literally with my friends and relationships. I’m always getting into trouble pretending to know shit. Then people are like, “you’re bullshitting.” You are right. It’s a real problem. It’s such a problem for everyone. It’s really hard to embrace unknowing. It’s really, really hard. But as your expert guest here on this podcast I would like to give my expertise to say, “I don’t know shit, and you don’t either and that’s kind of a beautiful place to start.”

Amar: Yeah, I love that. And I think the popular narrative is very slowly skewing toward that. So that’s also really nice to see.

Scott: I feel like this could be a place to wrap it up. I keep thinking about going into the horrible policy stuff that’s going on. But I’m like, “No, let’s not bring that back in.”

Vicky: Yeah, I mean, I’m really loving talking to you both. So it’s tempting to just keep going. But I think probably. Yeah.

Amar: This is so lovely. It’s really lovely to get to talk to y’all two.

Scott: I love doing this. It’s really helpful to me as a person who who likes to think in dialogue in real time. Dialogue is really nice.

Vicky: That’s a really nice thing in the Graber book, actually, they talk about that as a critique of Descartes.

Scott: I have it. I haven’t cracked yet.

Vicky: Sorry. I’m literally reading it to my partner because they just never think spontaneously to read books by men. So whenever there’s one that I think is going to be interesting, I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna read this one to you.” Otherwise, it’s never gonna happen.

Scott: I love that. It seems appropriate.

Amar: Having distance for books by man is really reasonable.

Vicky: It’s not even conscious. I don’t think they’re even aware of it.

Amar: That’s even better.

Vicky: It’s incredibly charming. I’m obsessed. Honestly.

Scott: I’m actually reading a book by man and I’m regretting it, so.

Vicky: Often the case.

Amar: I’m now I’m reading a book by a man, but it’s about it’s about the Amazon strikes, and it’s mostly interviews. At least I think this person’s a man. I’m actually not sure. We’ll see how it goes. It’s good so far. What are you reading Scott?

Scott: I just started reading the most recent Jeff VanderMeer science fiction novel for reading at night and I don’t like it. I might not finish it, I don’t know. I was just reading a bunch of really awesome queer and trans stuff. Then Jeff VanderMeer. Like why did I do that?

Vicky: I had that experiences in 2021. I think it’s literally the first year in my entire life since I’ve been able to read. I didn’t finish a single book. It was so intense, like, I could not read. N.K. Jemisin cured that for me this year. I just read her trilogy in the weekend. But it’s been wild. I found the pandemic so antithetical to that kind of sustained, quiet, focused dialogue with with a voice that’s not my own. But that’s also alone.

Amar: I can relate to that Vicky. I also was having trouble finishing anything. Finishing movies or TV shows or just not having this sort of sustained focus. That’s so interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever heard folk talk about that much.

Vicky: That’s so funny because I bring it up and then I hear very similar. I hear something like, “oh, yeah, actually I couldn’t do that either and I haven’t really thought about that.” I think it was a collective condition.

Scott: Yeah. I’m in this queer book club and people have said that in the book club. That last year they didn’t read books at all. It’s that was exceptional for them.

Vicky: What a time we’ve been living through.

Scott: Yeah, it’s fucked.

Vicky: Jeez! I mean, personally, I think 2016 year six is the worst one yet. The worst 2016 yet.

Scott: Yeah, I feel that. I’m sorry that you’ve been bearing all that in. But thank you for also talking with us now.

Vicky: Oh, my God. Literally I have to keep marking that for myself. But it’s been such a pleasure. I wasn’t sure. I had this long day. But this has been so delightful and given me so much life and I feel so held and among friends and comrades and it’s beautiful. Thank you both so much for organizing this and having it happen.

Scott: Yeah, thanks for being willing.

Amar: Thanks for being willing. This was definitely medicinal for me as well. It just feels like it’s getting to talk to y’all. Sometimes I think that anarchists fall into this trap where we don’t really talk about politics, as weird as that might sound, delving down into sort of nitty gritty and I really love that that happened here.

Vicky: You just made me realize when saying that how often my interlocutors on that call themselves communists. Like when I want to talk about politics with someone it’s mostly with people who call themselves communists. I mean like anti-State, Left-Communists or whatever, but it’s interesting how few anarchists comrades I have who I get into that broad strategic political questions because that has so often been associated with such bad left politics, obviously. So it was a real delight.

Scott: Sometimes I feel like I want so bad to be around people that I just assume we know and share something. So with anarchists, there’s a version of that. Same with queer/trans people or punks or whatever. Yeah, we know something. We don’t have to say it. But then, I want my anarchist friends to like, I want to hear what they have to say and think about something because they have really good ways of thinking about stuff. I need to parse it out with them. That piece was a nugget in my head and so talking it through is really helpful and bringing things together and I appreciate it.

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

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

cover of "Grievers" novella by amb
Download This Episode

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

You can support us by sharing our content in real life and on social media, more info at https://TFSR.WTF/Social!

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

Zine Catalog

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

. … . ..

Featured Track:

  • Locusts (feat. Finale) by Invincible from Shapeshifters

. … . ..

Transcription

amb: I’m adrienne maree brown, I’m a writer. I write speculative fiction, science fiction and nonfiction that is about… maybe it’s called transformative fiction, transformative nonfiction. I’m really thinking about how we transform our conditions and transform ourselves to transform the world around us. And I recently moved this year from Detroit to Durham. Although I still feel my roots in Detroit and I’m shooting new roots down into the ground here in Durham, and I’m an auntie and a Virgo and a voracious feeler.

TFSR: That’s really exciting to hear. You’re in the same state as where we’re based in this podcast. I’m over here in outside of Asheville right now. So… welcome!

amb: I keep hearing I need to go there.

TFSR: Yeah. It’s a place. There’s a lot of good people there.

amb: It’s a place. [laughs]

TFSR: It’s beautiful.

Well, yeah, I love that idea of transformative fiction and I’m also thinking about speculative fiction. I first came to your work through Octavia’s Brood which is a collection of science fiction. It was so exciting to see fiction by people who are grounded in movement work. I use the stories when I’m teaching around liberatory science fiction. I feel like from that time, you and your co editors and contributors are making the case that science fiction and liberation work go together to envisioning a new world. And then you also kind of develop that in your nonfiction by kind of like theorizing through Octavia Butler, who’s a very wonderful science fiction writer. So I just want to start kind of generally, because I know people, especially people who are committed to changing the world will sometimes dismiss fiction as not important or escapist. I wonder if you want to talk a little bit about what you think stories can do, and especially stories outside of strict realism and how they help us?

amb: Yeah. I think that a lot of people throughout history, who have been trying to organize and change the world have realized that ultimately, what we’re trying to do is change the entire narrative inside of which we live. And that the narratives inside of which we live are what allow us to either accept the oppression, accept the oppressive conditions we’re in and participate and become cogs in them, or to see ourselves in resistance to those systems, or to see ourselves as transforming and creating something beyond those systems. And Gloria Anzaldua said that “we have to dream it before we can create it,” I’m paraphrasing. I also think the work of Toni Cade Bambara and the thinking of our work as artists is to make the revolution irresistible. That always comes into play for me here because anyone who’s organized for any period of time, we learned very quickly that if we don’t have a story that people can see themselves a part of, it doesn’t matter how good our data and our facts are, right? People are not going to radically change their climate impacting behaviors, because we’re all going to die because of what’s happening to the climate. We need a story in which we fall back into right relationship with this planet and what that can look like.

So I think, every advance that we have made for human rights, social justice rights, economic and environmental rights, there’s a story in there about how humans are changing that helps us to make that advance. So then the work of writers becomes really important. It’s actually on us in some ways to figure out what are new stories that feel compelling for people to move towards a future that involves changing themselves. And that’s one of the things I think Octavia Butler did really really well. I think she is like the master class of that because she did not write easy futures. She did not write utopias. But she did write worlds where we could imagine ourselves still wanting to persist and wanting to figure it out and wanting to form the kind of relationships that could persist through change. I hope that’s the lineage that I’m picking up and that there’s a whole generation of writers who grew up reading Octavia. Who are shaped and inspired by her and by so many other Black speculative fiction writers. And Ursula Le Guin – feminist science fiction writers and other folks. I hope that that field grows and grows. I want to see lots of people who are up to movement work also writing the stories of our future.

TFSR: I love how you’re talking about that and it made me think about people sometimes talking about how we need, on the Left, some kind of myth that is compelling. But there’s often a feeling of danger with myth, because we’ve seen myth be motivated, obviously, for horrific violence and fascism. And I’m wondering if you have thoughts about myth-making. Myth is a spiritualized story in a way. It has has kind of ritual and practice, that’s often part of it. I’m wondering if you think spirituality is connected in this fuller vision of the world that our movements need to engage with?

amb: Yeah, it’s interesting, I feel like I’ve come back around to it. I feel like this past two years has really been kind of a shock to my system as an organizer, and someone who has just deeply loved and cared about humans. Watching what this last two years has looked like, and how far we are from a future in which we could think collectively and make decisions for the community and not just for ourselves. So, I have been driven back to the spiritual realm, more in this period, in the sense of, I don’t think it’s enough to have a great case and a great set of information and a great even set of practices or a road map. I think that we have to attend to the aspect of humanity that thinks of ourselves as having some kind of destiny, some kind of purpose, some kind of calling for being here. I think, if we don’t, we cede that territory to the purpose of capitalism, the Manifest Destiny, the destiny of colonial efforts which is: we constantly grow and we accumulate more and more territory and material and then we die. You’re just trying to win the game for while you’re alive, and then you’re gone. And it doesn’t matter what you leave behind.

If we have a radically different purpose, which I think we do, I think our purpose is around loving each other. I think our purpose is around finding ways to be in relationship that transcend difference, that actually created biodiversity out of a bunch of different peoples. If that’s our purpose, which does feel spiritual, to me. That work feels spiritual to me, in the sense that it is greater than the material. It’s something that happens that we could feel in the body. I feel deeply connected to ancestors who I knew while they were living, and now they’re not in a body anymore, they still shape my decision making. They still tell me things that I need to do and pay attention to. I feel very connected to those who are not born yet. Generations that are yet to come, who have intentions and designs for what this world could look like. And I feel deeply connected and driven by the non human elements of this world. I feel that the water has a design and the air has a design and the creatures all have their purposes. I think we’re the lost ones. I think the humans have lost our way inside of the greater, greater narrative.

I think in the myth piece, the thing that comes to mind… I was recently taught this wisdom that an Ojibwe elder who has since become an ancestor, Walter Bresette, shared which is that the most European thing is to think that there’s one way to do anything. When I think about that, that colonial impulse, then the opposite of that is to have many, many myths, and to live in a world in which all of them can coexist and dance with each other. I like that. I’ve read some really beautiful collections of stories of origin stories and myths that people hold for the beginning of the world. They’re all really perfectly logical for their location and their time. I think we need to create myths that feel perfectly logical for our location in our time.

TFSR: I kind of want to pick up on this thread, but grounding it more and Grievers your recently published novel, which I really loved. And because In this discussion I’m going to talk about what happens in the novel, so I guess I’ll have to put some “spoiler alerts”. But the main character who we follow closely throughout, she, Dune, is grappling with some of this stuff very specifically, especially as it comes to grief and loss. But before I go more specific to that, there is a reflection that she has on this idea of cultural appropriation in the kind of rituals that we do, and wondering what her place is in that. Thinking also about the formation of Black culture and the history of cultural theft and how she’s trying to piece things together or sees the her elders doing that and what’s okay for her to do? And I thought that discussion in your in the book was really perceptive and flexible in thinking about how cultures…. what we do. I wonder if you want to talk a little bit about that and the formation of culture in our present actions in relation to the histories that we inherit?

amb: Well, I think if you’re okay with it, I want to read that paragraph that you’re referencing. So in the book, Dune is a very analytical character. She is someone who doesn’t think of herself as spiritual at all and she’s been raised by a mother who is very spiritual, and a father who was highly analytical, both of whom have now passed. And so she’s creating this, what she thinks is a research project in her basement, about all the death that’s happening in Detroit. And her aunt comes over and she’s like ‘it’s an altar. It’s a sacred space, actually, that you’re creating.’ So, Dune is hesitant about that, because she said ‘we never had a clear lineage, and I don’t want to be…’ and she talks about that kind of grabbing everything all around me. She says ‘I don’t belong to anything, it doesn’t belong to me.’ And what Eloise, her aunt, says to her is ‘when everything has been taken, filling that emptiness ain’t appropriation it’s something else. It ain’t pure, none of it. I think of these practices, my Orisha, my altars, my prayers and chants and all this accumulation of spiritual armor as something to comfort me when my ancestral ghost limbs hurt, because I need spirits so much. I answer what calls me. Spirit is bigger than any one lineage. It comes through all these channels. It’s complicated, beautifully complicated, but it ain’t appropriation. Not amongst displaced and denied peoples. It’s different. At minimum, it’s sacred data.’

So when that piece of writing was coming through, I was very uncomfortable. It felt like it was something that was coming from beyond or coming from another place that I needed to contend with and sit with. And it felt like something that also felt true as it came through. And I feel like I have sat in rooms full of displaced peoples. Peoples who, through the process of colonization have been intentionally pulled away from their indigenous stories and their indigenous landscapes and their indigenous songs and wisdom, whatever that originally was. And not only displaced, but then the multiracial and interracial pieces start to come in. Dune is an interracial character. And most of us in the US at this point are interethnic, if not interracial people no matter how we are viewed. There has been some straying from whatever that indigenous singular identity was. So I’ve been in so many spaces where people are being called by spirit into an action, and then are catching themselves and stopping themselves and in a way policing themselves. ‘Is this right? Is this okay?’ And I think that it’s such a complicated piece of ground.

In my own life have felt myself really drawn to spaces that had an intention to be shared. So I’ve been really drawn to the wisdom of Aikido. I’ve been really drawn to the wisdom of Buddhism. I’ve been really drawn into some of the wisdom and practices of Yoga. Things where there was an intention. There were teachers who were like ‘we want this to go as far as it can. We think there’s something universal here that everyone can use.’ And I’ve always defaulted to the idea of if someone in the room has this practice that they can authentically bring in… that’s good news. But I do think we all need practices. And so I think that there’s a big question for me right now, for everyone to be figuring out. How do I find the spiritual practices that help me line up with Spirit helped me actually hear Spirit? And how do I do that in a way that is what I think of is right relationship? Where I’m not dishonoring stealing or taking. And I just love this wisdom from Elouise that it’s like ‘if everything has been taken from you, then accumulating some practices is not a bad thing. It’s actually okay.’ And I think a lot of us need some permission to find those ways. And then inside of that to figure out how do I do this without causing harm? What does that look like?

TFSR: I really resonate with that. As a person who was brought up Jewish and pretty observant, and then rebelled against it, because it felt like it didn’t align with the way that I wanted to live in the world and then recently finding community with other trans and queer rad anarchists Jews. I was like ‘Oh, we can do this in a way that works for me.’ And keep some of the rituals that I grew up with, or rethink them. It’s such a big part of me but I don’t have to get rid of it.

amb: It’s even like a thing of releasing the shame that comes from not having those things, or from having them tied to a politic that you don’t agree with. I grew up in a Christian household and going to Christian church services. And I still love more than almost anything to be in a group of people singing together. Singing spiritual music, singing hymns singing in harmony with each other. It moves me. I love praying with other people. I love laying hands on people when it’s time to heal. All of those practices still generate in me a connection to Spirit, even if I needed to move them outside of a political context that was homophobic, and transphobic, and racist, and hierarchical and all those things that don’t align with my politic. I think there is something about reclaiming the practices that are around you, and that you grow up with.

Then I think there’s also, for me in my lineage, recognizing some place it got cut off that I need to be in a worshipful relationship with the moon. But I know that I need to be in a worshipful relationship with the moon, because the moon tells me that directly. Then I can and I have, can go research and try to figure out what are the practices for this. And what I’ve cobbled together is something between what I’ve researched and learned and what I can feel called directly to. And I think that feels really important to me. That as a human being on land, in relationship to the earth, in relationship to other people, there’s some of this that we have to be able to feel. We have to be able to trust that that feeling can cut through the divisiveness that colonialism implanted in our society.

TFSR: Yeah. I think that spiritual are the ancestral phantom limbs is a really perfect way of saying saying that. I think it’s an experience that people have, who might not even identify in those ways of having lost something or knowing that they lost something.

amb: On a deepest, deepest, deepest level, I think that so much of our fighting with each other, so much of our power tripping with each other, is because we have lost that place in us that needs to be in relationship to something much larger than ourselves. There’s a part of us that needs that. And if you’re like, ‘but it doesn’t make sense to me, that’d be one white guy on a throne.’ If that story doesn’t ***jouje out for you… then it’s like ‘oh!’ What I feel like I’ve been learning slowly is that almost every people’s has some part of our story that is about being tied into the land, being tied into the actual superstructure of nature, of the natural world, and that we are not outside of that, but part of it. That, for me, has been the way that I’m like ‘it doesn’t matter what other things are going on in your belief system. If you can go out and get in relationship with the land you’re on… you’ll be heading in the right direction.’ And it needs to be a real authentic listening relationship because the land has borders and boundaries of her own.

TFSR: I want to get a little bit to like place but sticking with ritual, thinking about grief, one of the really moving parts early in the book is the extended scene of Dune doing the work of dealing with our mother’s body. Cremating her. So I’ve been thinking about this via other texts, like how grieving itself can be a political act, and certain rituals can be forms of resistance. I’m just one wondering how you think what kind of act is doing undertaking in that moment? Is it just for her? Or is it belong to the movement in honoring her mother and her father, because they’re both people who had who had been part of movements?

amb: So I think that this is a ritual. I have done a lot of reading around death rituals. And it’s so fascinating to me how recent it is that there is this economy around death. That takes the bodies away from their families, away from their home, as soon as possible. That fills them with chemicals and puts them on brief display and then puts them inside of a box, that’s going to make decomposition very difficult, and then puts them in the ground, somewhere. That’s a very recent practice inside of the long history of humans. A much more common practice, in most places, has been some variation of washing the body, some variation of sitting and honoring the body, being with the body, everyone getting to come and say goodbye. And then a process of burying the body into the dirt or burning the body, setting up a pyre pushing it into the water. But there was so many ways where it was like ‘return to nature, you came from the dust and into the dust you shall return.’ Right?

So in this story, it’s an economic resistance. Dune is like ‘this system did not care about my mom, it did not protect her did not keep her alive, and they don’t get to touch her now.’ So there’s a part of that that’s just the resistance that poor people get to have of ‘I’m not going to keep giving my body over to systems that do not care about me. I am not going to give the bodies of the people I care about to these systems. I’m gonna take her into the backyard and do this myself.’ And then I think there’s the labor of it. It’s very much Dune setting off on an individualistic path. I hope that readers see throughout the whole time that there’s all these places where Dune probably needs more people around her right now, but she keeps turning in towards herself. What happens when you keep turning in towards yourself. This is that first big move. What would that ceremony have looked like if she had invited her community members into it with her? What would have happened if she had let movement hold her in that moment? She’s not ready to do that yet. It’s also why it’s the first novella in a trilogy, because this is a long arc. I think it’s a long arc to move from that individualistic path to something more collective.

TFSR: That was actually something I wanted to ask you about because I think that’s a huge dynamic in the book – between isolation and community and the conflicting desires that one can have around that. So Dune, for much of the book, is isolated in her grief. But I think in addition to the family members that she’s mourning, she’s grieving that community that she doesn’t feel like she can take a part in or there’s some obstacle for her. Even though she was kind of born into it in a way because her parents and her grandparents were part of this community work. So this also connects to the illness and the theories behind the illness in the book. What do you think the relationship is between grief and an attempt to recover this intergenerational sense of struggle? Is there like a need to do personal work to be able to get to the community? Does it prepare us for community?

amb: One thing I wanted to interrogate was, I know a lot, a lot of people in movement who have kids. I know a lot of people who are like ‘ Oh, because my parents were movement people I wanted to do something different.’ And a lot of people, even if they ended up coming back into movement, there’s a part of them that’s like ‘I need to go somewhere else.’ There’s some natural rebellion, that natural differentiation from your parents. So part of it was I wanted to write that. You can be steeped in it, and then your rebellion is to go the other way. And so in some ways, Dune’s rebellion is to be this introverted isolated character, who comes from hyper-extroverted, deeply interconnected people. She’s never quite felt that connection, that space to get to be her authentic self.

There’s a critique of movement inside of that, that movement can have a very prescriptive way that you have to be in order to be accepted in it. And if you don’t fit in… I see people doing this contortion all the time to try to be like ‘how do I fit in and belong here?’ I want movement to be the kind of space that sees itself. All the movements that are concurrent, to be spaces that see themselves as sanctuaries for people to come and be, however we are, moving towards justice. And instead I think it can become this narrow path. ‘If you’re like this, you’re gonna get to justice.’ It becomes heaven. It’s like ‘if you just do All these little rules, you’re going to get to the utopian end game.’ And otherwise you’re cancelled! Or something else is going to happen to you. So I wanted to get permission to Dune to go about this in her own way. And then I wanted to be in an exploration of how do you authentically awaken the desire in someone for community? And then how do you authentically meet that desire with community that can actually nourish what the Spirit needs?

TFSR: In a way, that moment with Eloise is sort of a crossroads for that. But one of the main conflict of the book is that everyone that is surrounding is getting stricken by this illness. Thinking about, that still on idea of grief… One of the theories that is in the book, because there’s not an explanation necessarily of what’s happening, but it’s only afflicting Black people in Detroit. One of the theories is that the illness is some kind of accumulation of grief, mourning the movements and I was thinking about our last conversation where you were talking about how we haven’t fully grieved the effects of COINTELPRO on on the Black freedom movements. What are you trying to capture about Black grief in this book? And the contradictions? Because Dune experiences contradictions, also being interracial. What do you hope to convey about the experience of intergenerational Black movement work through that affect of grief as the main one?

amb: That’s a great question, Scott. I mean, for me, I think there was something I am interrogating around Blackness in general. Which is, there’s this expectation that we will persist and keep trying and keep living and keep creating culture and joy and magic without an acknowledgment of how much oppression, how much trauma, how much torture, how much death, how much accumulated conditions are still impacting us. So there’s never a moment of ‘wow, that was horrific what happen to y’all.’ and reparations? ‘Wow, this should not happen.’ Abolition. It’s never clear like ‘no people should have to live through this level of police killings. Seeing the data, we recognize, we need to change our ways.’ It never happens like that. So what happens is, we’re constantly in pandemic conditions. Combined pandemic conditions, depending on where you sit inside of Blackness plus your economic status, plus your educational status, plus these other things.

So, when I was living in Detroit, I started writing this back in 2011. And what I was seeing was, the city was just towards the end of this massive economic crisis. We were heading into the emergency manager period, and there was just this idea of ‘how much can you try to humiliate a Black city and act like Black people don’t know how to govern or how to manage our own budget and finances and our water.’ Just the insult of how people respond to Black leadership. And the inability to give any space for learning, right? We’re supposed to go from having no access to power to sitting in those positions of power and doing it perfectly without that space in between to necessarily get to practice what does it look like to govern in different ways. So there’s a grief, there’s shame, there’s rage, and all of that is accumulating in the Black body. And it shows up as early death.

What I was noticing around me was the Black people in my life don’t live as long and the deaths tend to be so unnecessary, and so tragic and often born of exhaustion. Things that might happen to other bodies, but we don’t have the spiritual immune system to respond to it because of how much we’re carrying. So I wanted to write about that, and particularly Detroit. I’ve had a lot of people say that they see their city in this book as well. Folks are like ‘there’s a lot of Black cities in this because there are so many similarities of what it means to be Black city in this period of history.’ But I wanted to spend some time there and I wanted to feel my way into it and feel into what does it look like to pay a debt of grief? Is it possible? Is it possible?

In this book, at least, the initial answer is even trying to begin to turn towards it… It overwhelms. It’s that much. And I think that a lot of us feel that way. If I actually stopped to let myself feel everything that me and my people are going through on a daily basis, I would not be able to go on. That feeling is always right there. Just there. You got to just push forward. Because if you look back, it’s your you’re going to get sucked into that. So I also wanted to name that and see if we can still find something compelling to help us move forward.

TFSR: That’s interesting. I’m hearing you on that idea of if you’ve stopped and let it catch up with you… I feel like that’s still an internalization of that need to be productive and a kind of individualized feeling that doesn’t actually reflect on the way that this kind of pain and death happened to individual bodies, but it’s the effect of a larger social war that’s going on. That’s creating the conditions in which people perish.

amb: This is part of it, too. I know you can’t compare pains. I deeply believe that. I know people from every kind of possible background. And what I know is that the human experience is mostly aligned and similar. Mostly we are struggling to belong. We want to feel safe. We want to feel dignified. We get hurt. We’re trying to recover. For everybody, of any background. So then inside these constructs that get set up, the whole idea of these constructs is to divide us from having these common human experiences, so that some of us can be manipulated, can be oppressed, can be overused. So that we can produce what others need. And for me, the tenderness when you recognize that just by being born as a Black person, there is nothing about me, that is necessarily distinct from the human experience. Every human is miraculous, and has the capacity for all the same magics. It’s all there.

But because of this construct that someone came up with, which again, the story, the power of story. Someone came up with a story of superiority, and because of this story an unimaginable and too heavy amount of trauma has been allowed and enacted upon my lineage. Yeah. And right now is this interesting moment where Black people are looking each other like ‘Okay, our lives matter, we’re gonna raise the bar, we’re gonna hold this standard.’ It becomes necessary than interrogate what is Blackness inside of this ‘Black matters’ right? If our lives matter, do we mean everybody Black? Monolithic Blackness? and we started to really have to name ‘we mean Black trans people, we mean Black disabled people, we mean Black queer people, we mean Black homeless people, we mean Black people with HIV and AIDS, we mean Black incarcerated people. ‘We’re really talking about all the people who have experienced the brunt of this weight. Those intersectional Blackness’s. Those are the lives that we want to center and uplift inside of this mattering. So even those kinds of conversations, there are people who are like, ‘I’m not even there yet!’ We’re in a really interesting moment inside of Blackness.

One of the things Octavia Butler always did brilliantly was say ‘a Black story is a human story. If I’m telling you a Black story, no matter who you are, you should be able to relate to it because it is also a human story.’ And I think we’re in that moment on a grand scale. The story of what’s happening with Black people, not just in the US, but globally. The story what’s happening with Black people is the human story right now. And it’s not the only human story. The story of what’s happening with immigrants is the human story right now. The story of what’s happening with incarcerated peoples is the human story right now. What we have to constantly be able to do is recognize our humanity as never, ever actually separate from those that we are trained to see as lesser than us. That’s where the path has gone astray. And that’s what we have to figure out how do we return ourselves to ourselves?

TFSR: Yeah, that quotation from Octavia Butler also makes me think. What I love so much about her work is how complex the worlds and the situations and conflicts and emotions. Nothing is straightforward. It’s always kind of ambiguous or ambivalent in ways. It made me think also about James Baldwin, and Everybody’s Protest Novel, He’s like, ‘the novel isn’t here just to send a message of Black politics, it’s to render the complexities of experience.’ And so in your book, there’s this tension between is this a Black illness, which in a way makes Blackness this simple thing. But what the illness is, is that accumulation of grief through the stories and the history. And that goes back to the way that you’re kind of parsing Black Lives Matter to not be the monolithic, we know what we mean when we say Black, but that it’s this weight of it, and it’s this history, and it’s all these intersections.

amb: Exactly. It feels important to me to note that I know a ton of Black people who have never been stopped by the police. I know a ton of Black people who’ve never been arrested. I know a ton of Black people who mostly have not even felt that personally endangered by the police. But when they start to pay attention to those numbers, then they have to interrogate ‘Okay, where in my own Black experience am I tied to that and disconnected from that?’ And what made that the case? I have a friend who was like ‘Oh, I went to an all white high school, and from there kind of moved on to a path where I was mostly socialized inside of white spaces. I experienced micro aggressive racism, but I never experienced that overt institutional racism until a later, institutional experience.’ It opens up the idea that there’s so much complexity happening within the Black experience right now, today. That’s why Black people run the entire gamut of politics. You have your Black anarchists and you have your Black Republicans. Everyone’s having these human experiences and trying to figure out ‘how do I relate to these constructs?’

I think it’s a really hard thing to want to be free of a construct. And for some people to think ‘if I deny the construct is there, I will be free from it.’ And for other people to say ‘we have to actually point at the construct, all of us together and tear it down, for it to not be there.’ And yet others to be like ‘that construct is permanent.’ All of that is happening concurrently. I get really curious all the time about that, because I can see that ignorance is bliss. I can see there are definitely some Black people are just bopping along like ‘it’s fine! It doesn’t happen to me.’ You know, whatever. And maybe it feels good inside of that. For me, when I’m denying something that is true. When I’m denying pain that is actually happening to myself or others, it actually causes me more suffering. It’s not just the pain, but the effort to hold it down. Or the effort to keep it locked behind a door. Eventually that effort becomes exhausting. So for me, I’m like ‘let’s bring it into the light and see if if we can be deconstructionist?’

TFSR: Yeah, what you just called to mind is Joy James who tries to distinguish between threads of Black feminism. There’s liberal Black feminism, there’s even conservative, and then there’s radical revolutionary. And she says ‘Black women in the position that they’re placed in our society in the US are seen as default radical.’ Even just speaking up against racism, which doesn’t need to have a radical perspective to be like ‘that’s wrong.’ That’s placed into this, ‘Oh, my God, that’s an outrageous thing to say.’

So I was just thinking about how there’s all these different ways to relate to this. To make this into a question… Because you’re writing this within the history of Black movements, and other kinds of community movements and liberal liberatory movements… I feel like one interpretation could be that these people who succumb to this illness are failures in some way. But I don’t think that’s the story you’re telling in the book. They’re not, right? But there’s not a revolutionary response, at least in this volume of the trilogy. There’s something else happening.

amb: Yeah, it felt important to me. I hope that it, as people keep reading the trilogy, I hope that it shows as a form of discipline, but I was really trying to be realistic. And what I’ve experienced every time there’s been a massive crisis is that even if people want to move straight to organizing, the part of us that needs to feel happens first. And even just this past couple years going through COVID processes, there was that first initial wave. People are actually grieving. People are losing folks and were really confused. We don’t actually know what to do. Let’s just follow the CDC even though we’re all anti capitalist, socialists, anarchists. People were like.. ‘Sure! Now, we’ll follow what they say.’

I wanted to be really humble in some of this. Because I totally got caught up in the corrective policing behavior of the beginning of this pandemic. I deeply did. I still feel the vestiges of that. I’m really trying to tease out in myself what is policing and what is protection inside of me. When I am walking out and I see someone without their mask on, the part of me that wants to be like, ‘You need to put your mask on!’ And then quickly this other voice is like ‘you don’t know what that person’s situation is! You can’t make assumptions!’ My responsibility is to keep my six feet of distance and wear my mask. What is the collective move that’s needed right now? All that still happens and I’ve been a radical organizer for 25 years!

So I wanted to be in that where we don’t always know what to do, especially when it’s happening when it’s overwhelming. And then there are organizers and what we see Eloise doing in this book is really holding the position of the organizer. I wanted people to see that even though Dune is on this individual path of her grief, organizing is still happening. People are being like ‘we need to figure out the response here.’ And one of the things that I love about Eloise is she’s like ‘we have to resist, but I don’t even know what way we need to resist yet.’ And I think that happens to us a lot. Where we’re like ‘we know this isn’t right. But we haven’t quite figured out which way we need to go.’ We get caught in the tension. Where my Emergent Strategy brain comes into this is that I think we need to be more open to the idea that we’re going to run multiple experiments concurrently. So in a way, to me, the book is that. There’s multiple things concurrently happening, and we get to see Dune’s experience up close, but there’s also other experiments going on.

TFSR: Interesting to relate it also to COVID. Initially when COVID happened I was like, ‘Oh my God! These contradictions of what we’re supposed to and do not supposed to do are gonna hit everyone and we’ll all rise up and do a general rent strike!’ Then that didn’t happen, but then the George Floyd uprising…

amb: I thought we were gonna be so clear. Eviction moratoriums and rent strike and the whole thing but then it was like… we’re not. But Minnesota turned the fuck up! They were like ‘Oh, well. We’re just going to take to the streets and y’all gonna catch up.’

TFSR:

I think that’s related. I think the conditions also what’s happened in Minneapolis wasn’t isolated to Minneapolis, but spread across the country and across the globe was in relation to the pandemic and the work that people are doing that isn’t as visible as a riot, but the kind of mutual aid care work that people were doing in the immediate effects of COVID and having to figure out how to survive when you’re abandoned.

amb: Right, and also the analytical work that people are doing all the time. I think that when something happens, when something like COVID happens, if we don’t have an analysis, then it can feel like an isolated event. Or we can be like ‘we don’t know why this is spreading the way it’s spreading and hitting certain communities the way it is and we don’t understand why these variants are emerging or anything.’ When you’re steeped in organizing, then you’re like ‘Well, I do have a sense of why and, actually, it is deeply tied back to what’s happening to George Floyd.’ Being able to make that connection of if you don’t care about the life of poor people, you don’t care about the life of Black people, you don’t care about the life of indigenous people and immigrant people, if you don’t care about the life of people who have disabilities or people who are struggling with a system, struggling with substances. If you dehumanize those people, then when something like COVID happens, that same pathway of thinking is just going to burn it all down.

Now, we’re in such an interesting place and I think Grievers in the real world are very aligned in that way. that we’ve lost a huge portion of people. It’s like ‘How do I still be normal? Now do we function? Now do we go back to normal?’ It’s a little bit more pronounced I think in Grievers, that normal is not available in the way that we currently seem to think it is. But in terms of the actual impacts, is just as unavailable to us now. What’s happening right now, it’s people who try to go about things as normal die. Then you sort of move back into a boundary, and then repeat the cycle. And because we don’t have any strong enough leadership to be like ‘actually, we’re going to change the rules, so that we can actually survive this a different way.’ We don’t have that kind of leadership.

TFSR: I mean, it’s like the negative side of running multiple experiments. Where I live, the school board just decided to lift the mask mandate in the elementary schools. And I got a kid in there. The people in the school are preparing for a spike, obviously, because this is unsafe. Everyone has a hand in this and no one’s actually on the same page.

amb: I think this is the interesting thing… From a scientific perspective, you run the experiments so that you can reach some conclusion. You gather the data, and then you apply that data. What I think has happened is that we can see the multiple experience happening around the globe. So my friend, Sonya Renee Taylor is down in New Zealand. So I’ve been watching how New Zealand is navigating this experiment versus how the US is. In New Zealand, they’re like ‘we got a case? Quarantine everyone. We’re going to track what unfolds.’ They are like ‘we found out exactly the moment that these two doors were opened in a hospital, and the Delta variant was able to move between the rooms and that’s how this person got infected.’ That’s something unimaginable that we would be tracking and be self responsive, and be able to say ‘we’re shutting everything down for three weeks until we have contained this’ and so on, and so forth.

So even at that level, we do have the multiple experiments happening, but we, as the US, is very locked in, we’re not going to learn from anyone else’s experiment. We will not let new data change our position. Which is a very American way, right? There’s really a commitment to ‘I’m going to put what I believe over any new incoming information.’ Because superiority makes you think that that can create a different reality. I don’t know if you’ve been following, but I can’t look away from the stories of people who were hardcore COVID deniers, and hardcore anti-vaxxers who are dying. I just keep reading these stories and feeling in myself, the complexity of emotions that get generated in that. Because I’m like ‘you are loved by people. There’s people who care about you.’ And in some cases people were like ‘we were fighting with them till the very end’ and they just refused to get help, they refused. And I find myself really mystified, like I really want to understand. As someone who’s in this novel writing journey, I really want to understand what it is in our human nature that allows us to create and maintain conditions of illogical danger.

TFSR: You know, I hadn’t thought about this before. But, a novel I really love is Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo, which is also about a pandemic that is about Black cultural crossover into white culture and, and when the way that Ishmael Reed talks about Western culture as a whole – it’s a death cult with a propulsion to kill everyone in the end. Even the white people who are like helming it.

amb: I write about this in multiple ways, but…There is something you know, I’ve written about this in a number of ways, but I think that there is something…. if you feel really truly disconnected from spirit, like if you are like ‘I’m not connected to something that’s larger than myself. I don’t, I can’t feel it.’ I feel my connectedness to aliveness so viscerally that nothing can take it from me. There’s no argument to it. It’s so clear in me. It’s taken a lot of work to uncover that and get into it, and trust it, but it’s there. And I think there’s a lot of people who don’t feel that. In the not feeling of that, I think the terror is so absolute, you have to almost disconnect from being connected from any desire to continue living. That death cult piece, I think there is a grand scale collective suicidality that is at play and has been!

I don’t think it’s always been that way, which is important for me to remember. This is not our human nature, because there were many, many, many, many experiments in humans that have not moved towards death, or towards war, towards violence, towards guns, towards domination. There’s all these other experiments. But how do those experiments actually survive the onslaught of those who are really obsessed with moving towards death. Because in some ways, if you’re trying to move towards ‘power over’, you’re ultimately constantly moving towards death, because you have to always be in a position of defending that power, or having that power taken from you in a violent way. And, to me, that’s the invitation of ‘power with.’ You can be in a power that is not fatal with other people.

I’m cultivating that landscape in Grievers. It’s my thing for myself. I don’t know if you’ve read Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like. But it’s a memoir, political memoir, of a South African, anti apartheid organizer that I love. But I write what I need. I write what I need. Sometimes I like what comes out. A lot of times, I’m just like, ‘Well, it’s true, or it’s honest. It’s true to me.’ And what I feel like right now is I’m like ‘I need to write something that helps me see a compelling way out of this time. Because it’s breaking my heart.’ So I’m writing from that place.

TFSR: And I feel it in the book too. You talking about wanting to be realistic and you render the world in it really beautifully and richly. I love some of the striking combinations of adjectives and stuff like that. One thing that I just pulled out was ‘the calm waves sweeping Dune’s parents away.’ Thinking about it as a calm wave, but like the motion… I think that’s interesting to juxtapose with the speculative aspect of it. It’s really physical, palpable, embodied, and also connected to the seasons really strongly in a way that’s maybe counter-intuitive too. Because hardest time is summer, and then winter is where she’s reaching out to people. Do you have thoughts about the way that you were trying to render that kind of physical embodied experience in a novel?

amb: Oh, yeah. I really wanted to pay homage to Detroit as a location and what it feels like to move through the year there and what it takes to survive a winter in Detroit. It’s so cold and it can get so isolating, and you just need people so much. I have such sweet, sweet memories of discovering how to stay warm inside of a cold place. And then sweet, sweet memories of what spring feels like after a Detroit winter, which is incredible, and enlivening. And then summer. I also wanted to capture the fact that the places that are rotting, the places that are not being tended to… the summer can be really dangerous and fatal time. And so that’s what’s happening in this book.

I think we’ve been learning a lot about the seasonal aspect with COVID. It’s been interesting. Actually, the winter is so dangerous and summer actually gives us more space. So I wanted it to feel for people like no matter when they read it, that it can feel current. Like they can feel themselves in that world and in that particular Detroit. This is my book of grief, too. So it’s a grief of a certain time and place in Detroit, a certain set of people. So I also wanted to bring it to life forever, or as long as the book exists. I wanted it to be like ‘if you need to go be in that Detroit where Grace Lee Boggs was alive and Charity Hicks was alive and Shetty was moving around and David Blair was spitting poetry. If you need to visit that Detroit, it’s still here in these pages.’ And I hope other people also write about that time and place and people. But this was my offer.

TFSR: I want to actually pick up a little bit more on Detroit because you said people reacted to the book saying ‘oh, this could have been my city.’ But in a way I felt this is very much a Detroit novel. And I just read a book, a novelization of the riots in ‘67. And thinking back then the abandonment that’s so commonly known about Detroit was happening so so long ago, right? It wasn’t just in the ‘80s. It was like that in the ‘60s.

amb: And it’s moved in waves and waves and waves. Part of it is it’s a river city and things are always moving through that city. Detroit is a place where people have survived for such a long time in the absence of what we would call ‘success’ or being a ‘successful city’. And it’s one of the reasons I think Grace Lee Boggs said that ‘Detroit is what the rest of the country has to look forward to.’ Because every city goes through these cycles in different ways. Some cities never recover from them. And we forget the names and other places continuously recover. Detroit feels particularly unique in it’s not-going-to-give-up-ness. Because there’s been many moments where it’s like, ‘Okay, I think that might be it.’ But then organizers generally keep on going. People who wouldn’t call themselves organizers. One of my favorite things when I was living there was, that would I would meet people who were doing all the work of organizing, and they were like ‘I’m not an organizer. I’m a community member. I live in this community. And so I’m doing this.’ And I think it was that spirit in that location unlocked something about persistence that I want people to know about and think about and consider.

I also think it’s like a vortex city. Like Sedona, Arizona has that spiritual vortex around it. I think there’s something similar happening in Detroit. And I want people to consider that, that there’s a reason why it doesn’t disappear. There’s something Karmically that the city is moving through and learning about its true value, which I think is in its collectivism and in its fecundity, it’s in the proximity to the water, it’s in the Blackness that has moved up from the south, up the Underground Railroad. I think it’s a sacred place.

I know we are at time, but I also want to say to people that I hope that the book invites people to read a lot more from Detroiters and about the city. I’m a student of Grace Lee Boggs and her autobiography, Living For Change, is a beautiful piece of work. But James Boggs, who was her partner, an incredible labor organizer has a ton of writing an ‘American revolutionary.’ There’s so much good content that’s come out. And then there’s people who are living and writing and thinking and creating around the city now. So I hope that it’s an invitation to people to get curious about what is coming from Detroit.

TFSR: You really feel the space and the place and the relationship to the history and the people there and a knowledge of how people live and survive. So yeah, thanks for extending that to the larger canon of Detroit literature. Well, thank you. I could talk to you about lots of different things for much longer, I’m sure. But I want to keep this succinct. So thank you so much for taking the time.

amb: I always love our conversations Scott., I really do. I appreciate you inviting me on and I hope they’re of use to the listeners.

TFSR: Yeah. And I’m looking forward to the next the next volume of the trilogy. Thanks so much.

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
Download This Episode

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.

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

Black & Red Flag background, purple cat in foreground holding a star in its mouth like a mouse
Download This Episode

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

Mèo Mun links:

Other Links of Interest:

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

. … . ..

Transcription:

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Thanks for being here!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Of course!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Love your Fatherland, love your compatriots.

2. Learn well, work well.

3. Good unity, good discipline.

4. Good hygiene.

5. Be modest, honest, and brave.

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

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

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

Oh, Stalin!

Alas, do the earth and sky mourn Your departure

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

and myself one, then I love You ten.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will: Yeah, also it’s 800,000 people.

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

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

Will: Yeah, well…

Mai: Definitely, yeah [laughs]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mai: Thank you!

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

Dixie Be Damned: a regional history of the South East through an Insurrectional Anarchist lens (rebroadcast)

Dixie Be Damned (rebroadcast)

Book cover of "Dixie Be Damned", featuring African-American folks in the 1960's holding the streets at a march
Download This Episode

This week, we’re excited to (re-)present a 2015 conversation with Saralee Stafford and Neal Shirley, editors and authors of their book out from AK Press entitled “Dixie Be Damned: 300 years of Insurrection in the American South”. The book is a study of Maroon, Indigenous, White, Black, worker, farmer, slave, indentured, women and men wrestling against institutions of power for autonomy and self-determination. All of this in a region stereotyped to be backwards, slow, lazy, victimized and brutal. The editors do a smash-bang job of re-framing narratives of revolt by drawing on complex and erased examples of cross-subjectivity struggles and what they can teach us today about current uprisings in which we participate.

Throughout the hour we explore some of the examples that became chapters in the book, critiques of narrative histories and academia and what new ways forward might be towards an anarchist historiography.

Announcements

Benefit for Pepe from DIY-Bandits

Asheville-based punk collective called Bandits Never Die, in conjunction with the DIY-Bandits label, is doing an online fundraiser for Pepe, the founder of DIY-Bandits who is doing time in Federal prison. We interviewed Pepe before he went in in 2019, you can find a link in the show notes about his reflections of preparing for prison and what he’d learned about the realities of families of people serving time in the BOP. The benefit is a limited time print of a t-shirt and or poster and 100% of proceeds will go to support Pepe while he’s in prison (https://banditsneverdie.bandcamp.com/merch/i-want-to-believe-t-shirt-poster-combo). You can also see Q&A’s and some videos of Pepe before he went inside at his blog, https://preparingforfreedom.org

Giannis Dimitrakis

Anarchist bank robber and prison rebel in Greece is still healing from the attack he suffered at Domokos prison at the hands of guards under the New Democracy administration. G. Dimitrakis was held for a period in solitary confinement after the attack rather than be transported to a hospital to help treat his serious wounds, likely as an attempt to inflict permanent damage or kill the rebel. There is a new letter from Mr Dimitrakis that was kindly translated into English by comrades in Thessaloniki available on June11.org that we invite listeners to check out and will link in our show notes, alongside the original Greek. You can also find his firefund to raise court costs to argue for a quick release for Giannis Dimitrakis at firefund.net/giannis. Our Passion for Freedom is Stronger Than Their Prisons!

TFSR Housekeeping

As a quick reminder, you can find transcripts of each weekly episode of our show at our website by clicking the Zines tab, as well as on each episode’s page. We also have choice past episodes transcribed and available for easier reading, translation, printing and mailing.

If you want to support TFSR’s transcription work, you can visit TFSR.WTF/support and find a few ways to donate to us, one time or recurring, or by buying stickers or shirts as merch. If you sign up to support us via patreon.com/tfsr you can find thank you gifts as well. Thanks to our transcribers, zinesters and those who support us by sharing us with their communities and on social media. We also air on a dozen or so radio stations around the country, more on how to tune in or how to help us get on more airwaves at TFSR.WTF/radio.

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: We’re speaking to the editors of a new history book out from AK Press “Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South” – Saralee Stafford and Neal Shirley come on down. Thank you so much for your time.

Saralee: Thanks for having us.

Neal: No problem.

TFSR: So considering the relative popularity of regional histories and what this book is actually about, what brought you to write this book? And how does it diverge from what one might expect from a Southern history?

Neal: Yeah, there’s a lot of regional histories out there, and Southern history is sort of its own genre that draws up, perhaps a niche, but highly, highly fanatical crowds. So, that is something we encountered when we first started talking about writing the book. You know, our take on it, first and foremost was that we’ve read a lot of those histories, but always found them really unsatisfactory in either even remotely dealing with these kinds of rebellious moments and social movements and whatnot that we deal with in our book. But when they do deal with them, there’s these sort of very highly-scripted narratives, choreographed almost, if you will, that seek to explain the kinds of tension, social tension and social war that you see in the South. You know, just the short answer to your question, I think, is just that we found those explanations, highly unsatisfactory, in actually explaining, the roots of those tensions, and the kinds of conflict that happened in those rebellious moments and how those moments speak to today. Right? How they speak to the present. You know, we’re anarchists, we sought to write a book about Southern conflict and social conflict and social war in the South that speaks to those politics, but also just that actually speaks to the present in general.

Saralee: And I think that while there is volumes and volumes of regional history, specifically about the South written. There’s not much to speak of regional history written by anarchists right now. And we hope that in doing this, also, it inspires others to kind of take on regions that they live in and look at inspiring histories of revolt from around different regions in the South, and not just the South, but the country. And I think, furthermore, this problem that we have a lot as anarchists, especially Southern anarchist, is that we are constantly looking at history that’s in one sense, not our own, for inspiration. Whether it’s to the big cities in the US or Europe. And I think for us, it was about trying to find things that resonated. Because in order to have the history be relevant in your present, it is important to know about what revolt has looked like in your own region.

TFSR: To be a little more direct, Neal, when you were talking about tensions that get danced around? Can you talk more explicitly about what kind of tensions you’re talking about, in terms of histories written of the South?

Neal: Yeah, absolutely. It’s something we deal head-on with in the book, and that have this hypothesis as we’re doing the research and from our own politics and experiences. But that became more and more frustrating and explicit, as we learn more, and as we talked as collaborators and thought more was specifically like the way the progressive narrative has shaped the South. And I mean that in the broadest sense possible. I don’t mean, like left Democrat. I mean any narrative that seeks a sort of progressive version of history. And so with that the specific examples like you’re asking, could be the the way that people who do history with that narrative, gloss over social conflicts that are inconvenient to this idea that progress with a capital P is something that happens gradually over time and inevitably that it happens through modernity, industrialization, citizenship, the granting of rights from the State, etc.

And so there’s these pockets of conflict that we probably disproportionately focus on in the book. For example, after the Civil War during Reconstruction, pockets of conflict during the Civil Rights Movement, that breakout of both rights and Black Power, organizing models, labor conflict that breaks out of the workplace, only model. So these are kinds of examples that we focus a lot on in the book. To give a very specific example for Reconstruction, a lot of the major social conflicts that emerged post-Civil War involve various populations of dispossessed either, you know, for example, all Black communities or former slaves or mixed race communities of Indians and former slaves and poor whites in other areas of the South, challenging not just the former Southern regime, the former Confederate regime, but also simultaneously challenging Northern models of redevelopment that bring in waged work that bring in contracted labor that bring in certain industry. And so they’re fighting sort of a war on two fronts: one against this “capital S South” and one against “capital N North”.

That war, the fact that dispossessed people would actually burn down plantation property in rejection of the idea of labor contracts. And the rejection of paid labor doesn’t match with the traditional historical notion that slaves were trying to transition from slave labor to wage labor. So that breaks with both the traditional kind of lefty progressive vision, also the Marxist vision that people like W.E.B. Du Bois would would espouse.

Saralee: Also, in a lot of these registries, even Leftist academic ones, you have the problem that was that Reconstruction failed, right? That it was the Southern backwardsness, and there was this failure to instill this Northern project. So what we’re looking at is not that it was a failure, but that it was also rejected, actively rejected from the beginning.

Neal: That’s maybe a more specific example of what we’re trying to dig into real deep and get at this idea that the alternative to the traditional notions of like the conservative South that’s posed by most folks as like rights, citizenship, democracy… it’s not a real alternative in that actually those things existed and came about as ways to contain social conflict. And that’s a larger truth that’s sort of taken for granted and anarchist discourse, but we wanted to dig really deep into Southern history and figure out how that’s played out here. And we wrote this book for an audience at large, not just for Southerners. Because a lot of the major conflicts in the United States that have determined where political economy has gone, where social movements have gone, have all honed in on the South. So the major wars fought on this country’s soil: Revolutionary War, the Civil War, really primarily deal with the question of what to do with labor and political economy in the South, what to do with potentially rebellious people in the South, specifically what to do with people of color, specifically, African folks. And so this history becomes meant to anyone interested in questions of social movements or recuperation, or how social conflict is happening today.

TFSR: When y’all talk about the American South, what are you pointing to? What does that signify geographically, historically, and culturally?

Saralee: Yeah, this is a… this is one that we wrestled with a lot at the start of the of this project, one, because, of course, we wanted to include so much, you know, we wanted to think as broadly as we could about the South and include as much interesting conflict as possible. But obviously, that wasn’t… it’s not possible. And we are already kind of recovering in working with a lot in the 200 some pages that exist now. But I think one of the ways is to look at where, in kind of a pre-Civil War idea and definition of the South in terms of how specifically slavery played out in the Southeast, was an important marker.

What were the slave states? What were the states that did withdraw from the Union and engage that conflict. Because we knew we were going to be dealing with a lot of Civil War and post-Civil War land struggle. And so that was really relevant. I think, also, a lot of it had to do with what we found and what we had access to, and narratives that kind of found us in the process of writing the book. Neal and I have spent most of our lives in North Carolina. I spent a lot of my life in Georgia. You see a lot of Appalachian struggle show up because those are histories that are really palpable when you’re trying to look at these things like autonomy and less politically motivated struggle. Appalachia always comes up. So, I don’t know… How else would you characterize?

TFSR: First off, what do you mean by less politically motivated forms of struggle?

Saralee: Well, what I mean by that is in the way that people defined how they were in conflict and what they were rebelling against and what they were working towards. And so we definitely were trying to find periods, you know, in areas of rebellion that were not kind of self organized as Marxist as socialists, even as anarchists, but were more organized through kinship, through through ideas in connection to land, through ideas and connection to various forms of dispossession. Does that make sense? Rather than for a specific Political agenda, party, organization, platform.

Neal: Yeah. So, I think that sort of anti-political bent, if you will, and I realized that’s not a conventional use of the word. But I think Saralee summed it up pretty well. But that anti-political bent becomes important for two reasons. One, is that it speaks to our current political moment in the 21st century, where, you know, increasingly, you’re seeing riots erupt all over the country all over the world that don’t betray in immediate politicality in the sense that you can’t point to it and label it very easily. You can’t identify clear demands, clear representatives, clear negotiators, until those people try and emerge from outside kind of like the the ambulance chasers of whatever riot you’re talking about. And so, because so much defines our current political moment and the moment that anarchists seek to intervene in and engage in, that makes the history in which social struggles will also look like that back in the day, really important because it speaks to the present.

The other reason I think that anti-political bent is very important is because without it, you can’t actually digest social conflict in the South, because the South hasn’t had a lot of the same degree of politicization of social movements that have happened in the northeast, for example, or the Midwest areas like Chicago or the west coast, where you have, for example, large immigrant communities bringing very established philosophical ‘isms’ like anarchism, socialism, communism into social movements, and really giving a very clear political trajectory to those movements. That happened a lot less in the South for a huge array of reasons. And that’s not to say, when we say that a social struggle isn’t political, we’re not saying that it doesn’t involve visions of new ways of living, new forms of life, that it doesn’t involve questions of decision making, or egalitarianism, or questions of power dynamics, or ethics of care, strategy. What we’re saying is that it doesn’t involve an institutionalization of narrative of structure, if that makes sense. And I realized that’s a little vague, but I think that becomes particularly important in the South because of how the South developed differently.

TFSR: What stories do you focus on in your seven chapters? Why did you choose those? And what are you hoping that the reader will derive from them?

Saralee: I guess, just to give an overview… the book starts in early 1700s, and runs along the colonial territories of Virginia, North Carolina, and the Great Dismal Swamp. Looking at a kind of evolution from the Indian Wars against colonial settlements into maroonage as a form of both escape from plantations and slavery into a form of attack. So the Great Dismal Swamp was an area that was deeply feared and hated by colonial Europeans. They didn’t understand that kind of geography, they didn’t like the animals in it, and then quickly became associated with territories that were controlled by escaped slaves. And so that area is… it’s important. Not only because of how long of a period of revolt that went for well into the 1800s. But also, just from the beginning of the book, setting up the importance of the figure of the maroon, and the social position of the maroon as not something that was just an identity formed out of escape or running away from these systems, but directly engaged in attacking and trying to end slavery.

So I think that creates like a strong basis for some of the kind of subjects that we look at throughout the rest of the book. And then we move on into the Civil War period, specifically in the Ogeechee area between the Ogeechee rivers and Coastal Georgia. Where we are looking at the kind of struggle for land and autonomy and for life without labor contracts that Ogeechee people were engaged in, in that area. So from like, 1868, to 1869, but definitely starting from the onset of the Civil War to well into like the early 1900s. Along all those tracts of land that Sherman initially had kind of gifted back over to former slaves, and then that was immediately rescinded by Johnson.

So looking at that, and then into another period of really interesting Reconstruction Era revolt called the Lowry Wars. Which was in coastal, eastern North Carolina. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the Ogeechee struggle because while the Ogeechee insurrection was pretty much entirely Black former rice workers, were rice slaves, the Lowry Wars focuses on a multiracial banditry of Lumbee Indians, poor Scots-Irish whites, who had kind of integrated into the Lumbee ethnic and cultural world, and also former slaves who had escaped and joined the Lumbee tribe. And their attacks on Reconstruction plantation society similar to Ogeechee in that planters were returning to lands trying to trying to kind of reassert their power that well at the same time Northern labor institutions like the Freedmen’s Bureau were trying to get people to go back to work through introducing of the wage contract to the labor contract. And so we see a lot of different forms of resistance in the Lowry’s there. And then there’s a little bit of a leap into the coalfields and Tennessee and I’ll let Neal talk about a couple of chapters there.

Neal: Yeah, so from there the book sort of takes a bent towards focusing on what at first glance might be a more sort of traditional radical or lefty history in the sense of focusing on labor and labor battles. But the labor battles we choose to focus on are pretty specifically chosen to highlight a struggle that challenges that model. So, the next chapter that comes to pass is called the Stockade Wars, which refers to a heightened period of conflict in the early 90s in eastern and central Tennessee, between Black and white free coal miners, as well as almost entirely Black prisoners in conflict with various mostly Northern owned coal companies and railroad companies as well as the actual state of Tennessee and the National Guard. And they’re they’re basically fighting against the convict lease, which is what a lot of listeners will be pretty familiar with, probably, but was a system of re-enslavement by which almost entirely poor Black folks were imprisoned for small offenses, and then they’re physically leased out to private companies to do their labor, especially in mining and in railroad, also often timber as well in the deep South.

They’re fighting that system, which was a way to undermine the power of waged workers as well as exploit the dispossessed generally. So that resulted in a pretty unusual alliance of people fighting out of their own interests and social networks against those companies in the state of Tennessee. You know, what comes to pass is that laborers and prisoners end up burning down company property, looting company property, and then setting prisoners free, giving them clothes and food and helping them get out of the State. So you have a situation where Southern white folks are actually freeing Black prisoners and helping them get out of the state. And so some pretty unusual alliances develop in that context that we don’t often read about or think about. It’s not a typical workplace struggle, if you will.

And then, with some interludes, we skip on to a Wildcat struggle led by women also in eastern Tennessee, in the mills, in 1929 in Elizabethton, Tennessee. It’s a bit of a leap, but it involves similar issues that are at the fore. But we focus also to a large degree on some of the gendered constructs that break down in the heat of a wildcat struggle at primarily to mills and Elizabethton, Tennessee in 1929. And the dynamics of conflict internal to that movement. The ways that the union sort of helicopters in at the last moment to try and sort of negotiate the struggle and how that dynamic plays out and how that prophecies what’s going to happen in central North Carolina with the much larger mill strike activity starting in 1930.

From there, the book goes on to focus on a period of Civil Rights as well as Black Power and urban riots that happens in the late 60s, sort of dealing with like, digesting how the New Deal and how other government programs managed to kind of subsume and contain that period of radical labor conflict. And so what you see decades later is a lot of really heightened social conflict that deals directly with the identities around which some of those new deal concessions, avoid or sell out, right? So Black folks, women, queer folks, things like that, movements like that.

And so we deal next with urban riots that erupt beyond the boundaries of both Civil Rights and Black Power as narratives. And we try and deal with some of the urban riots that are have often been ignored in the South as emblematic of a kind of social struggle that can’t be contained by the Political narrative with a capital P. And so it exposes some of the limitations of Black Power and identity, as well as the rights framework that the Civil Rights movement is basing itself around.

And then to sort of close out the book. The last chapter deals with a large women’s prison rebellion in 1975, in Raleigh, North Carolina. We chose that because we wanted to focus on a prison struggle that hadn’t been talked about much we also chose it because we wanted to focus on something dealing with prisons, just because of how that’s emblematic of where political economy and institutions of control and exploitation are headed. But in that time period in the early and mid-70’s, it prophecizes against sort of the world we live in today. And so we focus on a five day uprising at a women’s prison in Raleigh, North Carolina, and sort of internal dynamics of that revolt and how activists sort of negotiated for it and within it, how the administration’s dealt with containing it, etc, etc. And then we close out the book with a concluding sort of a more meta chapter that basically is our own notes for historiography that might break beyond some of these leftist narratives of Southern history that we’ve been attempting to challenge throughout the book as a whole.

TFSR: So the 40th anniversary of that struggle in the Raleigh women’s prison is coming up in June. Is there anything going on? Do you know?

Neal: There should be! It would be a great June 11 thing for people who celebrate June 11. I guess, for listeners who don’t know that is, but it’s the remembering and celebrating long term anarchist and eco prisoners struggles. But yeah, no, I mean, there absolutely should be.

Saralee: Every Mother’s Day there’s a big demo, which was just last Sunday, at the… what’s kind of closest to what was the North Carolina Correctional Center for Women. So it’s basically the same facility in the same neighborhood. And I think maybe because of that, it’s hard to turn around and do a June event, but there definitely should be.

TFSR: I’m not trying to interrupt the flow of questions. But since you’re gonna be doing a book opening right around that time… the event will be spoken about in a public setting again, which is pretty damn cool.

Saralee: Definitely. That’s a really good point. We should we should bring that up.

Neal: You should just show up. And, you know, yeah, go ham with that.

TFSR: Throw bananas from the crowd.

Neal: Why aren’t we doing anything for the 40th anniversary? But I don’t know sir!. Who’s that crazy man with a banana?!

TFSR: And I warned you!!! Can you talk a little bit about the process of collaborating and writing this book, like do the chapters come out in each of your voices? Or do you find a different, not third position, but like fourth or fifth?

Saralee: Whoah, that’s deep.

Collaborating has been for both of us one of the most frustrating and surprising and just kind of alchemical experiences of the last few years of my life, I think. Neal and I came into this project with a lot of affinity and I think a lot of seeing a lot of each other in each other. That makes sense? And being like, “Oh, we can work together!” And then, you know, obviously, through any kind of deep collaborating like writing a book together, I think we just were able to strike this balance where my writing background is deeply abstract and theoretical, and I had never written anything this kind of concrete and material before. And I think it was really helpful to have Neal’s writing background which is really different than mine. To be able to force deadlines, and also to just kind of know. He’s had five more years on me of writing. So I think we kind of ended up playing this dance between deadlines and having to just like force stuff out and just get it done. And then also, having a really good editing process between the two of us. We both catch different things and see different things. I don’t know, it’s been really interesting.

Neal: Yeah, I feel like if two or three years ago, somebody’s been like “you’re gonna collaborate with one person on a writing project for two and a half years.” Or two years, or however long it’s been? Maybe three at this point? I would call them crazy, and never want to do that. But I think, because it emerged gradually, we learned how to do it sort of over time in a way that was… you know, it wasn’t like we were writing for a university that gave us a deadline. This is our own project that we’re passionate about. And that we have written in… basically in the cracks of the things we actually do with our lives, which are a lot of wage work, and then a lot of actual political activity in the streets and projects that are our primary priority, I think.

And so, you know, and all the friendships and ethics of care that have to come along with those things. Those always take priority. And so this is a project that emerged in the cracks of those, and I feel like at least for me, I got a lot better at collaborating without an appropriate amount of space for it to take up and ways to communicate about it. But it’s an intense thing. I think for anybody who’s listening… everybody knows if you ever tried to just write text for a flyer with another person, it can be really hard. You know, you can kind of be like two bulls with horns slamming into each other about it. But try doing that for three years! You know?

It’s been a joy. I’ve actually really enjoyed it. I’ve become a much better writer and a better thinker, and I think a better person through it. Hopefully a better communicator too. In terms of your question of voice. I think that’s up to the readers to tell us what they think, that we did a good job with the voice. But I think at least what we were going for was the same voice in all of the chapters. Our vision for the project at the beginning was not to have the book be read and experienced like an anthology by different authors but by one voice and one political vision and set of ideas and interpretations. Which is not to say me and Saralee probably agree in terms of interpretation about everything, but for the most part the book is a singular shared set of narratives around what we’re researching. And I think we did a pretty good job with it. I feel pretty good about it, having read it more times than I care to ever again, through the editing process.

TFSR: So would you say it’s the kind of book that someone could just pick up and delve in anywhere? Or does it serve the reader more to start from, you know, introduction and go through the whole thing?

Saralee: Well, I think if you start from the introduction you get more of a… I mean, definitely, we wrote in the introduction to be read, not as some kind of like aside. We spent a lot of time collaborating on the introduction and conclusion and was most fun, I think, for both of us to write those. But no, the thing I love about this book is that you can just pick it up, start in a section that you already have interest in, or maybe something’s inspiring you to read that. And then if you like it you can read the rest. So I do think that’s helpful. Especially in dealing with such a big book. I don’t want the size and like the scope of the narratives to be intimidating, or to feel like, “Ugh, I have to read all of this?!” So yeah, people should read it however they want, really.

Neal: I’m gonna add one thing on there. I do think, you could pick it up. You could be in a bathroom and pick up one chapter and just read the chapter by itself and get something out of it. But the chapters are inter-referential both directly in the sense that you’ll see a sentence that’s like “just like in Ogeechee blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” That’s the next chapter, whatever. But they’re also inter-referential in terms of the ideas. Just to give an example, the kinds of interpretation we have over conflicts around citizenship and assimilation that occurred during Reconstruction period speak directly and immediately to the kinds of internal conflict and recuperation and containment strategies that the state uses during the Civil Rights period.

Specifically those two moments Reconstruction and Civil Rights 60’s / 70’s era. They speak to each other in history, so they speak to each other in the book. You’re going to get a lot more out of reading about those urban riots in the way that the state contains them if you read about the way the State sought to contain conflicts post-Civil War. Because the strategies are very much related and the way they manipulate and exploit and contain Black rage, specifically Black rage are highly connected. And so actually, the book is very much a unified whole, in that sense. And I do hope that people read all of it.

TFSR: Through a few sections of the book you talk about the creation of whiteness, can you talk about race and how y’all tried to handle it in this book?

Saralee: I think that any book or text that is grappling with the history of the American South, but also the history of this continent has to directly deal with the forced enslavement of millions of Africans, of the genocide of the people that were here before colonizers showed up. And also, through that the creation of whiteness as something separate in a privileged kind of non identity, then the marked identities of people of color that were created through these violent colonial regimes. So it’s not a separate topic, you know what I mean? It’s just how we have to look at this history. Otherwise, it’s irrelevant, right?

So I guess, I don’t want to treat race as like a separate topic. It’s part of the narrative and kind of spirit of every single chapter throughout. In terms of specifically the creation of whiteness, one of the reasons that the Great Dismal Swamp was really important for us, just looking at the struggle on the dividing line of North Carolina & Virginia, is that some of those very first distinctions between the indentured Anglo servant and the enslaved African happened in these territories and in these struggles. So what happened when an indentured white and an enslaved Black… Well, those terms weren’t even used yet but an indentured Anglo and enslaved African ran away together. What happens when they’re both caught, right? And so, the history of how those two subjects are created differently is the creation of Whiteness in that early period. And then you see it evolve throughout the book. You want to talk about the evolution of it?

Neal: Yeah. I mean, so I really like what Saralee said. We are not interested in talking about race as like this separate thing, or even as a separate product of identity. But part of this larger whole of development and resistance that are always happening, you know, in tandem with each other and against each other. We talk a lot especially in the earlier chapters about primitive accumulation as this sort of… it’s a classically Marxian concept but we take a pretty different take on it. And we’ve been influenced by people’s like Sylvia Federici’s understanding of that, whereby primitive accumulation is not a one time event, but something that continues to happen over and over and over again. It’s sort of capitalism, or what the State or various structures sort of constantly weeding the field, if you will, to renew their own projects.

In much the way that Sylvia Federici highlights a focus on the witch hunts and women’s reproductive power and women’s bodies in Europe as an often overlooked aspect of primitive accumulation for capital in Europe, the creation of Whiteness as a concept as something which previously sort of disparate groups could could gather around. And likewise, the creation of different ethnic groups and identities and Blackness becomes a part of that process, it’s part of primitive accumulation in the United States. It’s something that hasn’t been talked about, perhaps as much as it should be as a way that Capital made its own development possible on this continent. It couldn’t have happened without it.

And so on the one hand that’s where you find the origins of Whiteness. It’s also where you find the origins of Black identity, not just as a victim of these forces, like democracy or divisions of labor, but also in the process of resisting those forces. So, Blackness emerges in places like the Great Dismal Swamp where people, on the one hand, are victimized by Capital and plantation life and the State, but they’re also coming together and forming a sort of pan-African identity vis-à-vis their resistance, so they have direct agency. And that’s also something the Marxian narrative of primitive accumulation never takes into account is the actual agency of the dispossessed. They tends to view them as sort of passive pawns. And we see this process of primitive accumulation also as one in which resistance takes place. And that’s the source of a lot of these identities. And so when we talk about race, we’re trying to take that larger picture into account and you know, whether or not we succeed in that is up to the reader, but that’s what we’re going for.

TFSR: And I like the way that you see on page 268, where you address this. Like where you suggested, for example, that race and its inherent violence could be re-framed from question of identity and belonging to a method of government. And where you go on from there, I thought was also another interesting way of posing it, not only in direct relation to that ongoing process of primitive accumulation.

So you get a bit heady and introspective with your views on history, historiography and storytelling. So, what were some of the things you were wrestling with in writing and editing this book concerning… I guess, in particular, what I was getting at with that question is…

Saralee: Well, I think an interesting thing that happened in writing this book is that… There’s a theorist, Walter Benjamin. He was an antifascist, and I don’t want to call him a communist because he would have hated that. But he lived in in the early 20th century in Europe, and he killed himself at the at the border between France and Spain when he thought he wasn’t able to escape the Nazis. He wrote these really beautiful, right before he died, these really beautiful theses on the philosophy of history. It’s a text that I discovered when I was really young and probably really misunderstood it. It didn’t really actually come to make any sense until I was engaged in this writing project. And Neal had also been reading Benjamin and been playing with that as well. And, honestly, I think to give a shout out to the work done by folks in the West Coast who wrote that and I think they they brought Benjamin into the anarchist context in a really fierce and relevant and beautiful way that made me realize it was okay to read non-anarchist theorists and use them when trying to write a book like this.

But yeah, I think basically, the work by Benjamin by Federici by Foucault, you know, all those kind of European all-stars. We don’t use them to to try to sound important or to try to like obscure our own ideas, but I think we tried to pull out threads of their concepts of history that just felt really relevant in our context and more specifically for Benjamin. So, our goal in working with such a large amount of material and definitely having to… we had to order the book in somewhat progressive fashion just in the sense of dates. But we wanted the actual work to speak beyond that. And so, for us getting away from the linear progressive narrative that Neal was talking about earlier is looking towards a version of writing and doing history where capitalist time, colonial time, all these different structures of time, that are that linear progressive narrative break down in these in these moments of rebellion.

And that’s the word rupture that we use a lot, right? Is to kind of mark where the time of work, or the time of imprisonment, or the time of enslavement is destroyed, even if just momentarily by those actors, by those subjects. The difference between something like a rupture, or what we would say, and what we’re referencing a lot in the insurrectionary time and historical materialism an introduction, And then something like a progressive version of revolt is that at the end of a progressive revolt, the idea is that the subjects are reinstated and are just in a better position than they were before. Right? Those are things like rights and things like getting your demands met, right? And then what we’re looking at that breaks with that concept of time, is the time of the rupture, where you don’t return to the same subject position afterwards with just better conditions, right? Life kind of halts for a while, and new life forms and new forms of activity are created. And obviously, we know these are temporal. These are temporal junctures, they don’t last. But they’re important for us to to seize on and to hold up. And it’s those memories that get washed under, and get erased, and get ignored in progressive histories. Is that helpful?

TFSR: Yeah, definitely. It seems like, and I hope I’m not just reiterating, but in those moments, if you ever experience those moments of rupture, when the world stops, it’s like you can see the potential for a line of flight out of it at that point. It’s like you can see that utopia or not…you know, whatever, whatever Uopia. You know?

Neal: Yeah, I think for us, that’s where for, well I should say for me, but I think for us? Where, for example, a lot of these writers, these theorists, but especially Benjamin, becomes really exciting because he had a lot of courage to basically break with the Marxism of his day which was saying that communism is a product of these inevitable but gradual historical forces. And, you know what that does is it takes agency away from us as actual people acting on the world. And it also means that to a large extent it’s this inevitable, despairing version of history. There’s not really… for example, I remember Marxists, orthodox Marxists responding to the Zapatista rebellion when that broke out and was big in the late 90’s. They would be like, “well, it’s really inspiring, but doesn’t really matter because they haven’t become proletarians yet, so they can actually progress”

Saralee: Or Du Bois says says the same thing about the Maroons In the South.

Neal: Right, Du Bois sort of writes off the Maroon rebellions as this thing where like, well, they haven’t become wage workers yet. So it’s like, they wouldn’t know how to make communism yet. It’s kind of arrogant. And it’s also just writing off this period of really important history. And so in our historiography, and you in the conclusion we sort of… it is a bit heady, I suppose. But also we try and get into a lot of concrete examples as to how that progressive version of history causes historians to ignore really important stuff. Because they don’t find it interesting, because it doesn’t present any possibility to them of the gradualism they’re looking for.

And to your point, the important things in those insurrectionary moments… One thing that’s important is that sometimes a riot leads to an insurrection, which leads to a social revolution. So, it’s not just a visionary, imaginary exercise, they do actually lead to real ruptures that can be permanent. Right? But also, even when they don’t do that, like what you just said, Bursts, that I really like is that they are these lines of flight. You’re in this moment, behind a barricade and you suddenly realize life doesn’t have to go back to normal. The line of flight can go towards any of these things that we have words for like the commune or anarchy or the wild or whatever.

And so doing history differently allows us to see, I think with more clarity hopefully, those moments that provide a line of flight. Whereas, for example, doing history of vis-à-vis, the traditional labor history model, just to give an example tends to not give you a line of flight so much as a way to see how to press for individual workplace demands. And that doesn’t actually provide you with the same kind of line of flight, as might a Wildcat strike in eastern Tennessee whereby they burned down all the city infrastructure and steal from the rich. And so it’s not just a matter of they’re more militant, it actually is that the content and substance is different.

Saralee: And how people are transformed in those moments are different.

Neal: Yeah, that is another aspect of this messianic quality that Benjamin talks about is that it changes the actors themselves. And that becomes really important when you talk about all the ways that race and Capital and gender and the State have made us who we are. We need those moments of transformation. We need Fanon’s psychoeffective violence to change ourselves. We have to go through that violent process or otherwise we can’t change ourselves either. So, there’s an individualist component just as much as a collective one. Yeah.

Saralee: Yeah, like that.

TFSR: Yeah.

Saralee: Yeeeeeah. Psychoeffective Violence.

Neal: That’s, by the way, my DJ name.

TFSR: I was about to say that! I was about to say that needs to get looped, and just like… a good beat underneath it. Anyway, this brings me to the question about what is an anarchist historiography? And are you attempting to frame one out at the end of the book in the conclusion? Or is it more of a challenge and a call?

Saralee: I think we attempt to frame it out, but it’s definitely through the context of the narratives in our book. And so, we don’t kind of transpose an idea of our historiography onto just a blanket future concept, if that makes sense. I think it is a call for sure. For me, this whole book is a call. I want to see more anarchist in this work and doing history. And I hope that it’s a provocative call in the sense of it creates dialogue and creates more discourse around what an anarchist historiography could be, because I think we’re definitely also looking for that in comrades and looking to push these ideas and make them better, make them more present to our times constantly as well. But what would you say Neal?

Neal: Um, yeah, I mean, in its best moments I think it could be interpreted as a call to new kinds of historiography. Speaking personally, I mean, I am an anarchist. But I’m not really highly invested in that word as an identity. And I’m not particularly interested in things like historiographies, or critiques or things like that being connected to that word. I question how useful it is. I think, for me, I want historiographies that are negative and critical of the things that exists now. I’m sort of less interested in them affirming a singular narrative and then calling that anarchist. I think it would be a step backwards. Anything that presents itself as singular or universal. I mean, I don’t think we could substitute an anarchist narrative for a progressive one, or for a Leftist one. I think that would be futile and bad. You know, a step backwards.

So I’m interested in people writing history and interpreting and taking on that task, seriously, as it informs the conflicts we’re living in now. Because it does. And I’m interested in people doing so in ways that are just as critical and combative as like all the sort of fiery polemical communique type things that we read now on the internet in utter abundance. You know, I think people should fight over and delve into these ideas that are historical with that same degree of passion. I guess I would be interested in seeing that. I would never expect a singular anarchist historiography to emerge from that. I would expect a diverse and contradictory array of historiographies to emerge that have certain sort of principles in common, like a rejection of Leftism, like a rejection of the progressive narratives that we were confronted with now.

And also a rejection of the way that the Academy owns history. That’s something we don’t have in the interview, but it’s something we’ve talked about in public discussions and talks that we’re hosting with this book. Pretty much I think anytime when we go and talk at university, we’re probably going to be basically presenting front and center a critique of how the academy owns this material. Because we’ve had to confront that in our own research as non-academics doing a somewhat academic kind of project in all the degrees of the real things like money and time and professionalism and salary and tenure that invoke privilege around who gets to own and do history are something that anarchist should also deal head on with. Anarchists already have been dealing head on with as well as a lot of non-anarchists. But in terms of the historiography, I’m probably a little skeptical. I am less interested in it being anarchist, but I’m definitely interested in more critical historiography is emerging. And, and having a deeply sort of negative and critical take on how things have developed with history. Is that vague? I don’t know.

TFSR: No.

Neal: Okay, good.

TFSR: Where can people expect to run into y’all on this series of speaking engagements? Do you have a schedule slated?

Saralee: Yeah, we have the beginnings of a schedule. We’re having an actual release party like a bacchanal celebration, no formal speaking, you have to dress up.

TFSR: Like what? Like Bacchus.

Saralee: Yeah

TFSR: Toga party.

Saralee: We’re hoping that people actually bring their formal attire. We don’t get to see each other in formal attire enough because we’re poor. But I think that’s May 31, in Durham at the Pinhook. So that’s kicking off a couple of weeks of local events. So then we’ll be Greensboro, June 1 at Scuppernong Books. We will be in Durham, June 3 at the Regulator. We will be at the International, which is an anarchist run space in Carrboro, on June 8. June 14th will be in Atlanta at the Hammonds Museum with some people who have been involved in struggles in Atlanta that were actually written about in the book and mentioned in the book. So it’ll be really exciting. June 14. That’s a daytime event. And then June 20, in Raleigh, at So and So Books. We’re hoping to be in Asheville in July whenever Firestorm opens and invites us. And then in the fall, we’ll be doing some stuff on the west coast. And then we’ll also be doing a big Southeast Midwest tour. Then eventually in the Fall also in Northeast tour.

Neal: We took joy in making the Northeast have to be last. Sorry!

Saralee: Yeah, if you want to see us soon, you’ve got to come to us in North Carolina or Georgia, but we’ll come to you at later.

Neal: Yeah, and you can get the book off of probably AK Press’s website. You can also get it from us. I hope you can get their website. You can get it from us as well if you come to our events. I want to, if it’s okay to do a totally disgusting plug, we also have a poster series that we’ve put together that deals with like four or five of the themes of different chapters. And they’re really big, beautiful, like three foot tall, full color original watercolor art themed around like protagonists in different chapters with text that was written by us and Phil. And they’re really big and beautiful and wonderful. And they’re going to be sold with the book at different events and stuff pretty cheap. So thanks to P&L Printing for helping us with those because it gave us a really, really good deal.

TFSR: Thank you, Denver.

Saralee: Yeah, what’s up?

TFSR: Oh, cool. Thanks so much for chatting. And is there any other disgusting plugs you want to make before we stop recording?

Neal: Yeah, go crazy on June 11th. Get real. Get hard. Go hard.

TFSR: Stay hard.

Neal: I want to send some shout outs anybody listening to this who helped us with this project. Or was a patient ear or who gave critique, because there’s a lot of those people out there and we owe so much of this work to them. So, thank you to all those people.

Saralee: Thank you to all the rebels in the last two years that have given us inspiration as well.

TFSR: Yeah. And go hard, stay hard.

Neal: Yeah, that’s good. Why don’t you make that a T shirt.

TFSR: Hey, I’d actually be stealing it from Ida.

Saralee: And Atlanta…

TFSR: Yeah, they won’t mind. We’ve been speaking with Neal Shirley and Saralee Stafford about their new book “Dixie Be Damned. 300 years of Insurrection in the American South” published by AK Press. More about the book can be found at AKPress.org

Free Xinachtli! and Updates from Greece

Free Xinachtli! and Updates from Greece

Download Episode Here

This week, we’re featuring two main portions of the show. You’ll hear updates from Greek comrades at 1431 AM free social radio in Thessaloniki and Radiozones Of Subversive Expression, 93.8 FM pirate radio in Athens. Both of these were featured on the latest episode of Bad News: Angry Voices from Around The World, available the middle of each month at A-Radio-Network.org. Prior to that, you’ll hear anarchist prisoner Xinachtli talk about his life and his case.

This segment was first aired on TFSR in 2013 and then again in 2015. We thought it was time to share some of the story of Chicanx, anarchist-communist political prisoner Xinachtli, in his own words. Throughout the segments original audio, I used his state name of Alvaro Luna-Hernandez as he had not yet adopted the moniker Xinachtli, which means “seed” in Nahuatl. Xinachtli is a collective member at and editor of the Certain Days political prisoner calendar.

Xinachtli is serving a 50 year sentence since 1996 in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for aggravated assault on a Sheriff in Alpine, Texas. The Sheriff was serving a warrant for Xinachtli’s re-arreast at Xinachtli’s home. When questioned on the nature of the warrant, the Sheriff pulled a gun and Xinachtli was able to disarm him and make an escape without harming the Sheriff significantly.

After a few days of man-hunt, his mothers house was surrounded by numerous local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the house was beseiged. It was only a 9-1-1 call from Xinacthli made stating that he was not being allowed to surrender that caused the troops to stand down and he allowed himself to be taken into state custody.

The grounds for the arrest warrant have since been overturned, but based on the post-facto word of the Sheriff that Xinachtli had pointed the gun at him, Xinachtli was sentenced to 50 years. He’s been determined to be a political prisoner based on his participation in multiple cases against abuse by prison officials and police, his jailhouse lawyering, advocacy for Latinx and other marginalized people in Texas and his political stance that the US and state governments occupying the Southwest of Turtle Island is a racist and illegitimate regime.

Here is featured an interview with Xinachtli that we received from comrades in the Anarchist Black Cross who were doing support work for him. The original interview was incomplete, missing the voice of the interviewer, so we did our best to edit and reconstruct the audio to better fit a conversational format and present his conflicts with the Prison Industrial Complex, his views on his political prisoner status at the time of this interview and his views on his case. More info on his case, plus his writings and ways to get involved in his support campaign can be found at FreeAlvaro.Net.

You can write to Xinachtli by addressing your envelope to:

Alvaro Luna Hernandez #255735
W.G. McConnell Unit,
3001 Emily Drive,
Beeville, Texas 78102

Be sure to use Xinachtli only in written content meant for him, prison staff likely won’t deliver envelopes with Xinachtli written on them.

. … . ..

Featured track:

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: Could you tell listeners about your persecution by law enforcement in Alpine and other parts of Texas and your participation in the Chicano rights movement?

Xinachtli: The history of my involvement in the community organizing, not the original movement, but after back in the 70s and 80s, which led to my my re-arrest – aggravated assault case. That started everything back in Alpine in Brewster County, Texas. Well, you know, my incarceration now, is unjust. I’ve been persecuted by the police in Alpine because of what I was doing and my long history of involvement in exposing police brutality in Alpine. For example, I was a witness to the murder of Ervay Ramos, a 16 year old friend of mine who was shot and killed by Alpine police – Bud Powers, in June, the 12th 1968. And I witnessed the murder of Ramos because I was with him that night. In fact, his case was published by the US Commission on civil rights.

You know, just like everything else, Powers was given the probated sentence. I don’t think he even served a day in jail. I think he passed away a couple of years ago, but he never served a day in jail. And of course, you know, this is just a continuation of a legacy of police brutality against Mexican Americans by the police in a multitude of social injustices that happen in Chicano Mexican American communities and so forth. Like education, racist education, segregation.

TFSR: What was it like to grew up there for you?

Xinachtli: When I was raised in Alpine? I attended the Centennial School, which was a segregated school. I mean, back in even in the 60’s… 68, 67… all the schools were still segregated. That was part of the legacy of hatred that the police always had for me, because I was… in a sense, I was a rebellious youth, you know? I mean, I was supposing police abuse of Chicano youth in the barrio and from that point forward pushed into the criminal justice system at a very young age. I even spend time here close to a facility here when it used to be the Texas Youth Commission. It used to be the facilities for juvenile offenders. And it used to be in Hilltop. I did a year. I think I was 14 years old. I did I did a year then. And, I mean it’s just been confrontation with the police, with the criminal justice system, and so forth. You know? Until until back in 72, 73 I was sent to prison at a very young age again for destroying some police cars. Right there in Alpine. And from that point forward, I mean, it was just have a lot of problems with the police and so forth. Then which led up to this wrongful capital murder conviction, which to this day, I have always proclaimed my innocence, you know, I had nothing to do with it.

TFSR: Can you tell us about that capital murder conviction?

Xinachtli: The robbery and murder of the night clerk at the Ramada Inn in Alpine in September of 1975. It was Capital murder. The state was seeking the death penalty. My court appointed attorney was Melvin Gray, out of the San Angelo. I was charged. My uncle, Juan Herandez was charged. Palmina Hernandez was charged. And allegedly she was the one that turned state’s evidence and put the blame on me, see? But it was her and my uncle who had robbed the clerk and killed him. I had nothing to do with it. I was nowhere around there. But since all the evidence showed that I was never around there. I mean, like the footprints, all the tests that was done on the evidence that was collected by the police never matched. But they never said anything about it. They wanted me. They didn’t want them. She was granted immunity for prosecution. She died in a car accident a few years back. Juan Hernandez, he was convicted in a jury trial in Crane County, but his conviction was overturned on insufficient evidence. He’s also deceased.

Okay, so see? The state was seeking the death penalty. The jury couldn’t agree on the death penalty. So the state waived the death penalty during the punishment phase and they said “well just give him a life sentence. That’s cool.” So the jury gave me a life sentence, but the state was seeking the death penalty. And they had just opened the jail in Fort Stockton. The brand new jail, but they had me housed in Pecos, Texas. Close to my trial, they they move me to the new jail in Fort Stockton. Pecos County that’s Pecos County Jail.

TFSR: Here Xinachtli tells us a bit about his most recent conviction, garnering him the 50 year sentence and what led up to it.

Xinachtli: So when the jury found me guilty, I was awaiting sentencing. Me and three other inmates overpowered the jailer and took his gun, locked him in the cell, open all the cell doors for all the prisoners and told them they could leave they wanted to. And we took the jailers car and we drove all the way through Marathon to the Big Bend National Park and into Mexico. You know, of course, there was no bridge there at the Big Bend National Park. So we left the car and we swim across the river into Mexico. When they saw the car two or three days later through the air, because there was a big manhunt for us. They saw the car. They started trailing us and…. Texas Rangers, FBI, the Mexican police. So when they accosted us on the other side of the river…. we had to shoot out because we had…. I took all the Sherrif’s arsenal. I had all the weapons from the Sheriff Arsenal. I took them. Machine gun, and shot guns, and weapons, pistols and all that. So when they came up on us, we started shooting. Nobody was hurt, nobody was shot, nobody was killed. We ran out of bullets. And that’s when they apprehended us brought us back across the river. I think we were what? Two, three miles into into Mexico? Right there in Santa Elena, Mexico. And they brought this back and that’s when they had me handcuffed and in leg shackles and all that. And that’s when they beat me up.

TFSR: And at that point, some of the officers saw the severity of the beating you were getting and reported to higher authorities to save your life. Right?

Xinachtli: Yes, some of the officers saw the beating, and they went and called the Justice Department. They told them to go check on me because they they thought I was dead. So that’s when the Justice Department Criminal Civil Rights Division got involved in the case. And they indicted indicted Hill and May. And prosecuted him in Federal Court. John Pinkney. He’s in private practice now in San Antonio. John Pickney, he was the assistant US Attorney handling the case. Although I never did testify against him because being said that it was a trial strategy. He never called me to testify against them, but they weren’t convicted. The other inmates did testify against them. Because because they were first offenders and they had no criminal record. I already had… at that age, I was 22 years old. But during all this time I became I became politically aware inside prison. You know, I was involved in the Ruiz trial and the Ruiz case. You know, we went to two federal court to testify on behalf of all all Texas prisoners and so forth.

I was on parole on this conviction. March 11 of 1991. I was paroled after serving 16 years in DDC. And I went to Houston. I was very involved in community organization. You know? I was a delegate for the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. I organized a lot of civil rights groups and so forth. Married Elizabeth Perillo. And then after a few years, we had a divorce and I went back to Alpine. And when I returned to Alpine that’s when the police started harassing me.

TFSR: Xinachtli talks about the aggravated robbery charged that the Sheriff use to legitimize the warrant for Hernandez’s arrest.

Xinachtli: If it hadn’t been for the aggravated robbery case, there would have never been the assault case. Some drunk guy in a bar said that I had snatched some money from his from his hand. And the bartender was right there witnessing everything. And he said that the drunk man was lying. Because he witnessed everything. He said, he followed me and him outside. And he had a wad of money in his hand and the wind blew the money up from his hand, because it was real windy on the outside of the bar. And because I brought all these witnesses in at a pre-trial hearing, I was acting as my own attorney. They had no choice but to have it dismissed. They dismissed that case. But the assault had had already happened. I mean, it was it was as bogus as they come.

TFSR: So this 50 year sentence that you’ve been serving since 1996. Tell us about it.

Xinachtli: This new sentence stems from my act of self defense against Sheriff Jack McDaniel. He’s also deceased. He was the sheriff of Alpine. And I was on parole up when I was charged with aggravated robbery case and made bond. He goes to my house to arrest me and he gets mad because I asked him for the copy of the warrant of arrest. I was never notified of the withdrawal or anything. So when I questioned him, he went for his gun. And you know, when he went for his gun, I took the gun away from him. I disarmed him. You know, to be honest with you, I was scared. I thought he was gonna shoot me. Because I have seen all this brutality from all of them. You know what I’m saying? I mean, I had seen when when Ron was was killed, I had seen a lot of brutality from the police. You know what I’m saying? Well, I took the gun and I ran. And then about a few blocks down the road. My wife picked me up, and she took me to Marathon, 30 miles away to the Marathon Post. On our way back she was arrested. See, she was pregnant, then she was expecting a child. Alvaro Jr. On our way back she was arrested and charged with hindering apprehension. I was indicted for the aggravated assault on the Sheriff. So after, you know, after that I had a jury trial. They had a change of venue to Odessa, Texas, and I had a jury trial and I was convicted on one count of aggravated assault on Sheriff McDaniel and not guilty on another account of allegedly shooting a police in the hand, Sergeant Curtis Hines. And I was given a 50 year sentence.

But the the old…. the ’75, ’76 conviction was used as part of the justification for increased punishment. The aggravated element comes in when the sheriff said that I pointed the weapon at him. The way it happened, really, by me disarming him and fleeing from the scene… It’s not aggravated. See, the aggravated even though it was a weapon, I never used the weapon. See what I’m saying? But he’s saying that I took the weapon away from him, and pointed the weapon at him, and threatened him. See? That’s what makes it aggravated. KOSA TV channel 7 in Odessa did a live interview because when I fled the scene, they had a manhunt for me, and it was broadcasting all throughout West Texas. They were they were hunting for me. There was a manhunt for me. So when KOSA TV goes to interview the Sheriff initially… he tells them exactly what happened! That I disarmed him, took his gun and fled, which is true. You know? I disarmed him. But I never threatened him with it. I never pointed the weapon at him.

My hired trial attorney, Tony Chavez out of Odessa, subpoenaed the video. And I remember as if it was yesterday where the news anchor Daphne Downey out of Odessa KOSA TV came into the courtroom. She had a copy of the VCR video and they was gonna play that before the jury. But it was never played before the jury. Mysteriously, this video has come up missing. Nobody can locate it. Daphne Downey from KOSA TV said that since they moved location to another building, that all of their videos, all their archives were donated to the University of Texas at the Permian Basin, the journalistic department. Twitch and a lot of other people have tried to help me locate that video, but nobody seems to know where it’s at.

TFSR: Xinachtli, is there anything that reporter could do if the actual videotape of the Sheriff’s testimony is missing?

Xinachtli: If the reporter can recreate? You know, what the share of relayed to him then. See, because there’s partial testimony. In fact, even some of the some of the offense reports that the sheriff wrote that initially, he told the truth: that I never threatened him with a weapon. I just disarmed him.

TFSR: And when did the Sheriff’s story change?

Xinachtli: After he talked to the District Attorney. Because probably what happened is that the District Attorney told him “Well, I mean, it’s more serious if you say that he used the weapon against you, and threatened you with it. That makes it aggravated, that makes it a first degree felony, which carries a more aggravated sentence, a harsher sentence.” And that’s exactly what happened. See? Because at that time he started… the sheriff started filing all kinds of charges on me. For example: He charged me with disarming him. He charged me with assault. And then he charged me with resisting arrest. I mean, he just kept finding all kinds of charges on me. And then he finally charged me with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Which was the more serious of all the charges. But in a lot of his police reports, even his pretrial deposition that he gave in the case.

Another thing about my lawyer, he was a paid lawyer. Tony Chauvez was a hired lawyer. I think it was about about two months after I get convicted. The federal government hits him with a Rico Indictment for drug distribution, drug conspiracy, involvement with a with a Ojinaga Cartel, Midland Odessa Cartel. They issue 20 some count indictments against him and he immediately enters into a plea bargain with the federal government and pleads guilty. He agrees to surrender his law license, and he gets 30 months in federal prison and he was disbarred from the practice of law. See, at that time… at the time of my trial, the federal government had been investigating him for over five years. And in fact, his home and his law offices were being wire tapped.

I have never been able to obtain copies of those wiretaps. Because my theory of the cases is that if the state and the federal government law enforcement agencies were working together in this big criminal conspiracy out of West Texas, involving the use about 30 or 40 defendants. If they were working together then the prosecutor that prosecuted me knew that Tony Chavez was under investigation by the federal government, because the case started as a state case. All these legal grounds that I had, like the suppression of evidence, the wire taps, the lawyer being under investigation being convicted.

Some of those issues have never been really fully developed, because some of the evidence…. I don’t even know. Because I’ve never had a chance to get a hold of all this evidence, like the wiretaps on his office. What was the nature of investigation? You know? There are some people that have filed some Freedom of Information Act Requests. And, the state and federal governments, they have released some documents, but they haven’t released all of the documents, and they’re claiming exemptions on the other documents. Refusing to release them. They have deleted some of this information, because, you know, I’ve always said that there was a conspiracy between between the police. The police didn’t want me back in Alpine. They knew that I was back in Alpine. And as soon as I got back from Alpine from Houston, they started harassing me. They had me under surveillance. They even sent this heroin addict, by the name of Mary Valencia, to try to entrap me. She later told me this. You know? But the lawyer never called her as a witness during the trial.

TFSR: Who was Mary Valencia?

Xinachtli: Well, see. She was a worker at the motel in Alpine. I was staying at this motel in Alpine. Bienvenido Motel. And she was a custodial worker there. She used to go in and clean rooms in the motel. She was a local heroin addict. I mean she had a bunch of theft charges. And, she later told me that the police had approached her to try to set me up. The police had approached her to find out what I was doing. Because at that time, I was doing some freelance paralegal work for an attorney out of Fort Worth by the name of Alex Tandy. You know, and I used to spend a lot of time in the law library at the (unclear) State University or at the county Law Library. In fact, one day, when I was at the Law Library in the county courthouse I saw Sheriff McDaniel as he was walking by, and he looked at me and he said… These were his exact words. He said ” Well, I see your back.” I told him, “Yes, I’m back.” And he said, “Well, just keep your nose clean.” I told him “Well, the people who need to keep their nose clean are the police, and you! Because all you do is steal from the county. That’s what you do. Steal from the county and beat Mexicans down.” And you should have seen him, he got really agitated.

From that point forward, I mean, they continuously stopped me on the streets. I mean, they even had the Border Patrol drug dog run through my car. You know, they they were all under the impression that I was using drugs that I was selling drugs, because I had started dating this girl who was known for drug use. Maria Imelda. Imelda, was her name. She was an old friend. And, that’s why they always said that I was using drugs. That I was a drug addict, and all this. Which was, you know, I was just trying to, I was dating her, and I was just trying to take her off the streets. In fact, she was the one that got pregnant and had my child.

You know, she was the one that was there at the at the house when Sheriff McDaniel came up that morning to try to arrest me. She was nine months pregnant. Two weeks later, she had the baby when I was in jail. See? And she testified on my behalf, even though they told her that if she testified…. they tried to intimidate her by by threatening her that if she testified on my behalf, that they were going to charge her too. She said “I don’t care. I’m going to tell the truth.” So, you know, she testified. And she testified to the truth. That I never pointed the gun at the sheriff.

TFSR: What is the likelihood of your parole?

Xinachtli: Well, see? I’m under the new law, which is the Half Law. That’s the new aggravated law. You got to serve 25 calendar years out of 50 to be eligible for parole. That’s just to be eligible for parole. You know, that’s why they The Half Law. You get 100 years, you got to do 50 calendar. If you get 50, you got to do half. 25. So that’s the aggravated element of a felony first degree case where there’s a weapon involved. Where you use or exhibit a deadly weapon. You know? And there is a factual finding an affirmative finding. What they call an affirmative find in the use of a deadly weapon that automatically makes the case aggravated. Under the Half Law, you got to do, you got to do half before you even are eligible for parole.

And my case is… see? I’m considered a political prisoner. I’m recognized internationally as a political prisoner because of my community involvement in the streets, as an organizer, as somebody who would protest, police brutality, protest injustices and so forth. You know? I mean, I was a delegate before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, because of that involvement with my community. When I was in Houston, my case has been mentioned in law journals and books and so forth, including my Jailhouse Lawyering back here in prison, Mumia Abu-Jamal and his book *Jailhouse Lawyers*. He mentioned me. There’s that book by Matt Meyer, *Let Freedom Ring*. They also Chronicle my my case from going all the way back to to the Alpine case.

TFSR: So, Xinachtli, where do you stand with your appeals process?

Xinachtli: And of course, I’ve exhausted one full round of appeals. You know? When I was convicted, I appealed my case to the Court of Criminal Appeals. They denied it. I filed in Federal Court. I went to the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals. I went to the Supreme Court. I’ve never had licensed assistance from an attorney on post conviction. I did all the work myself. You know, I never was able to collect all the evidence that was withheld. Although I did ask for it. They never they never released it. You know, like the wire taps, all the other evidence, because I know, there’s a lot of evidence that that could be developed on the prior convictions. If I could reopen that case… that would certainly knock out this other case. But I have to take it against one step at a time, you know. I mean, right now I’m in a Control Unit back here. I’ve been back here for 10 years on basically what they call administrative segregation. I’ve been in solitary confinement for the last 10 years back here on this unit on this new sentence.

In the cell by myself, when I go into recreation, I go by myself. Every time I exit the door, the cell door, they have to handcuff me with my hands behind my back. We get searched every day. I get back three times, two times, a week outside recreation in a yard. Which is… you know a cage. That’s all that is, cement, high walls, all you can see is the sky. The day room is in front of the cell. You know, I mean, you can see the next inmate who comes out to recreation, but that’s about it. There’s no contact. There’s no… I mean, you go to and recreation for an hour a daily. Like this morning I was out there this morning. After you finish rec, you go to shower, and then they put you back in a cell. You know, this is just it, I mean, you go out once.

TFSR: Can you talk to the other inmate as you pass? Can you carry on a conversation?

Xinachtli: Well, I mean, you could holler at him. But I mean, that’s all you hear: hollering. Back in this facility in fact, they just had one that hanged himself last week. There’s a lot of people who have hanged themselves. Who have committed suicide. And I have always complained about that. You know, I’ve always complained. But no. The repression. The the sensory deprivation, the isolation. I mean, we don’t have access to TV. We got access to a typewriter. We got access to a radio, small little radio, but you got to buy those on your own. You know, we have no access to television. Yes, we get Law Library, about three times a week. We order a Case sites from the law library. And that’s how I do my legal work. Well, there’s no limitation on correspondence, but there’s a ten person limitation on your visitation. And you can have visits every week, as long as you maintain a clear disciplinary record. Because if you violate serious disciplinary rules, then they’ll send you to another part. And you have to serve 90 days segregation, minus all of the other privileges. They totally strip you of your property and everything.

TFSR: Xinachtli before this interview in late 2012. When was your last visitation?

Xinachtli: I hadn’t had a visit in a while. uhh… years! Yeah, I think… Let me see the last visit I had. I’ve had a few friends that would drop by. Twitch has come by. A friend from Canada, Sara used to drop by every now and then. I had some family members sometimes come, but I hadn’t had a visit… you know, in a while. Very little. The expression that you find is through pen and paper. It’s through my typewriter. And I mean, you could sense through, I guess, through my writings… the passion, the anger, you know, the despair. Still, there’s…. I cling to hope. You know, because I’ve seen a lot of injustices. What the system has done to a lot of people who speak out against it. They try to crush you. They tried to break your spirit. I mean, They try to just isolate you and just crush you. You know what I’m saying? That’s the power of the state. And I realized that. But no prison or no solitary cell will be able to break my spirit.

I know that I’m right. I know that my cause is just. And I know that. I know that the police assaulted me. But I have no power. You know? They have the political power. They own the court systems. How many Mexicans are killed down across the border every day? And who gets charged all the time? Ya know? we do. You know? we do. So that’s the power. That’s the power of the state and the political process. I know. That’s the only hope that I have like reaching out to people who who have a sense of justice. You know, people that I can appeal to for a sense of justice. Because I know that there’s a lot of people out there, powerful people, that don’t want to see me free. Because they know what I can do. They know the power of my spirit. They know what I could do as far as organizing people making people stand up to fight injustice.

And that’s what I do, that’s what I used to do. If you don’t conform to the system, to the political system. If you step outside the political system and you seek independence from from the political process from the social economic process, then you’re a troublemaker and the only place they want to put you in jail or put you in a grave.

Updates from Greece

1431 AM, Thessaloniki

Greetings from Thessaloniki, Greece. From Free Social Radio 1431AM. On 23rd of April anarchist Vangelis Stathopoulos was sentenced in 19 years in prison. Solely because he tried to help an injured comrade, Chatzivasileiadis. Late he was self injured during the theft attempt. There is no solid of evidence that *Stathopoulos participated in the theft. But even in that case, he could only be sentenced for a misdemeanor. But after phony evidence and anonymous calls, a counter terrorist service, he was tagged as a member of a terrorist group called a Revolutionary Struggle. Basically, Stathopoulos is in prison for his anarchist identity, which he clearly defended in front of the judges and for his attempts to get injured adversary and to have access to a doctor. Since then, many actions of solidarity have taken place throughout Greece, until the every cage is burned until everyone is free.

Child Custody

On May 12 a new law was passed by the greek government about child custody. The law states that child custody automatically and compulsorily goes to both parents equally in case of divorce or even when both parents recognize legally a child born outside of marriage. Up until now usually the custody was given to the mother with some rights of visitation from the father, and in the cases that the custody was given to both parents it was because they both peacefully and collectively agreed so, not because a judge decided so. This new law and its authoritarian power over a child’s life does not include parameters of the child’s benefit or opinion, and even more for cases of domestic abuse, as it recognizes that a parent loses the right for shared child custody only after if they are found irrevocably guilty of physical violence, which is rare in cases of domestic violence. Under this law, all decision for the child must be taken from both parents, and if they don’t agree on something then it’s up to the court to decide. A parent can appeal on this decision but it can take years of court hearings and meanwhile the child is shared like an object with its abuser.

Anti-Labor bill

The Hatzidaki’s bill is the continuation of a long series of laws of the Greek state, where under the pretext of increasing the competitiveness of companies that will thus contribute to the economy, started the overall deregulation of the labor market with the main characteristics of changing the schedule from fixed to flexible working hours, reducing labor costs and labor rights. The modern working day that has been shaped thanks to the previous legislations that have been implemented, is full of insecurity and pressure due to the fear of dismissal, low wages, “split” working hours, increased rates of work. Many bosses in Greece don’t pay the workers their gifts, put employees who are suspended to work, insure the employees for 4 hours and make them work 8 and 10 hours, sexually harass, commit violence, bully.

All this with the support of the state that consciously allows such practices to be perpetuated and even proceeds to consolidate and worsen them, probably submitting on June 17 the aforementioned bill, in which you provide: Elimination of the eight-hour period and imposition of 50 working hours per week, with the imposition of individual employment contracts.

Bosses will be able to employ employees up to a maximum of 10 hours per day, without additional pay, provided that within the same 6 months they pay the hours with a corresponding reduction in hours or breaks or days off.

Increasing the hours of legal overtime to 150 hours, with the increase of the limits the legal overtime work will become cheaper. The possibility of a legal claim for re-employment is abolished (even in the case where the dismissal is deemed abusive) with the payment of compensation, thus giving the bosses full immunity for the dismissals.

Abolition of the SEPE (Body of Labor Inspectors) and its transformation into an “Independent Authority” (in fact it will be fully controlled by the state)

Criminalization of the strike guard that will lead to the termination of the strike with a court decision under the pretext of the possible physical or psychological violence that can be exercised by the strikers. At least 33.3% of the services are required, in addition to the security staff, which means that a large part of the workers will have to work during a strike.

Remote voting, electronically, in particular for a strike decision. The measure undermines both the exchange of views and the General Assemblies themselves

Mandatory file of all members of a union and its activities, so that employees can exercise their union rights, in the already legislated Register of Trade Unions maintained in the information system “Ergani” of the Ministry of Labor Flexibility in remote working in the form of either full-time or part-time employment.

R.O.S.E. 93.8FM, Athens

Open Assembly Against Green Growth

On June 6, the open assembly against Green Growth and Wind in Agrafa called together with other collectives in Tymbanos, where work has begun on the installation of wind turbines, and the construction of the substation. Taking advantage of the pandemic and destruction of the area from the Mediterranean Cyclone Ianos. Despite the attack by the repression unit, the protesters resisted and regrouped, continuing the mobilization, shouting slogans, making it clear that they will not back down until the work is stopped. In it’s call, the open assembly calls on the inhabitants of the agrarian villages in the cities of the plain to be vigilant for a cessation and blocking of the works for a relentless struggle for land and freedom.

Sexual Harassment on Athens Social Transport

On the occasion of ever increasing complaints about incidents of sexual harassment in the neighborhoods of southern suburbs, a mobilization was organized on Friday, the fourth of June 2021 at 9pm with a call the metro Argyropouli station. The mobilization is inspired by the Reclaim the Night Movement that emerged in the 70’s in Britain from feminist groups to reoccupy the city for women in the night. The central slogan was “On the street, on the metro, at night, to be free, not brave.” The Gathering in the metro station of Argyropouli in a very positive atmosphere remained in the area for about an hour to highlight the collective presence and protection of women against the incidents that took place in the metro Argyropouli in previous weeks. Then a block of up to 150 people was formed that crossed nearby streets and alleys within the next two hours and finally passed through the shops and ended up in a nearby Square. The march had strong chants with slogans against gender based violence, patriarchy heteronormativity, police violence and sexual harassment in the restaurant. Many people reacted positively, went out on the balconies, applauded and even went on their way. The initiative was organized by the newly formed Witches of the South Team. These mobilization, the first of its kind in our region, leaves behind an optimistic mindset in terms of struggle.

Government Witnessing Changes

Since first of June, according to an instruction of the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum. Public servants are prohibited from attending as witnesses in trials where the public is accused of illegal acts as it is said to safeguard the interests of the Greek state. The directive informs the Civil Servants that the testimony in favor of the opponents and against the Greek state constitutes a disciplinary misconduct and a criminal offense. As mentioned below, the affidavit of ministry officials is allowed only to support the allegations of the Greek state. As always in the ministry against which a series of serious cases are pending even at European level. The state is getting shielded in every way.

Colectivo Subversión on Protest in Colombia and Global Battles for Dignity

Colectivo Subversión on Protest in Colombia and Global Battles for Dignity

Photo of a street mural with nature themes reading, in Spanish, "This is the Time of the voice of the Communities"
Download This Episode

This week on the show we are pleased to present an interview with María Kamila, who is a teacher and a popular journalist who works with the anarchist Colombian journalism and counter-information collective in Bogotá called Subversión. We originally reached out to talk about the current wave of protests and riots in Colombia, and this interview covers many topics, ranging from a historical contextualization of the current moment, who are on the front lines of the protests, Indigenous solidarity with anarchist accomplices via the Minga – which is a pre-colonial term for collaboration, meeting or communal action – , and many more topics.

Much thanks to our comrades at Radio Kurruf, doing anarchist media in the Biobío bio-region of so-called Chile in occupied Wallmapu, for putting us into touch with Subversión.

Paypal donations for supporting frontline protestors: surterraneomusic@gmail.com

Social media:

Further reading and research topics:

  • [00:20:00] min Mention of Carlos Pizarro Leongómez of 19th April Movement, assassinated Guerrillero
  • [00:24:00] minutes Minister of Finance Alberto Carrasquilla Barrera who was forced to resign
  • [00:28:00] minutes Guarda de Cauca , an ongoing struggle of Indigenous people fighting for land sovereignty
  • [00:40:00] minutes: Minga (or Minka), Indigenous, pre-colonial term for collaboration, meeting or communal action

Good articles in English:

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

. … . ..

Transcription

Maria: Thank you, pretty much for this space, I have to really say that it’s pretty important to be here. So well, my name is Maria Camila. I’m a teacher. And I am also a popular journalist that is part of a collective called subversión. Let’s say our main job is trying to communicate from some other points of view.

TFSR: Do you have… Or could you speak a little bit more about your collective Subversión? How did this group begin and what is what is more about the work that you do?

Maria: Yes, of course. Well, first, the group started in 2015 as an organization close to the anarchist student group, or here in Colombia. Let’s say that these books started with the need to confront the state propaganda… Right? Government, media, and all those kind of information they gave us as people. So let’s say that we saw the need to dispute some truths that were broadcast on television and social networks. And we try to speak a little bit about the work of people, right? How were they dynamics, for example, in the neighborhoods? How the student movement was doing in that time? So let’s say now we’re trying to connect and link every single kind of struggles we have been doing. So for example: we link with the communities of Cuaca and CRIC (the Regional Indigenous Council of the Cauca) & Liberacion De La Madre Tierra (Liberation of Mother Earth). We also have anti-prison platforms, we have some art collectives, in terms of graffitis, in terms of music. So let’s say that’s our main purpose.

We also realize maybe that there are very, very few experiences of anarchy or libertarian media and in that minority, we could notice that a large part of them speak or pay more attention on the international work. International work such as Greece, Chile, Mexico, so they beat in focus pretty well in the local reality itself. So we tried to do it. That’s a little summary about it.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I think it’s really cool that it started coming out of the anarchist student movement. That’s really powerful, I think. So just to kind of give a little bit of context about what y’all have been going through this last little while. Could you talk about how the Covid 19 pandemic and maybe more importantly, the government’s response to it affected your ability to organize?

Maria: Okay, well, of course, Covid 19 pandemic lock-downs was pretty shocking for people in general, I’d say. And let’s say that in terms of organization, it’s been quite hard. Because… For example, here in Colombia, we still are facing arbitrary quarantines. And let’s say that the government tries to tell us “Okay, this is for you. This is necessary.” But we already think that it’s not like that, in we could say that these kinds of quarantines are being more pro-exploitation than pro-healthcare maybe. So it’s been really, really hard, obviously, because we have no basic income. There are no relevant money the government has to give us in order to stay home. So basically, you can go out during weekdays. But on weekends, you can’t do it… Because of your health, supposedly. So it’s just having a permission to go out to work. So it’s quite hard and quite difficult, of course.

Let’s say that many spaces that we had, in a presentational way, had to be more into the rituality, we had to transfer those kinds of spaces, some of them got lost, of course. For example: the anti-prison movement, and the anti-prison platforms are not finished, but it stopped. Right, because of the pandemic. I could also say in, I think it should be an advantage. And it’s the resistance from other spaces, for example, social networks, forums, popular schools, because let’s say that education can have these alternative that is mutual. So let’s say that we try to take advantage of it. However, it’s really, really difficult because of time, mostly, most of the companies. I don’t know, they feel like if you’re at home, you have to work every single day. So the schedule you used to have, it’s not the same one, because your boss can call you, I don’t know what 8pm and tell you “Hey, I’m really sorry. But I already know you’re at home. So could you please help me with this?” So let’s say that I don’t know the line we had before going to our job and coming back home… It’s not anymore, because we are working from home. So yeah, I’d say that. That’s a little matter of where we are facing in here.

Also, for example, the control of the spaces, of course, the public and the common places to be, are not anymore places to be. In they are not public anymore. So they are being managed by the government. So they basically decide, and they basically say “Okay, this place, since it is more from the government and for people… Can have tables on the street” But the restaurants… I don’t know, the popular restaurants in the neighborhood… A lot of business that basically are in order to help and are made by popular people, they can’t be opened. So of course, we have these kind of a class issue, right? So it’s been really hard. So yes, that’s a little bit about it.

TFSR: Thank you for talking about that. I think that the COVID 19 pandemic has sort of created a lot of circumstances that the government and the state and the prisons are using to sort of expand their power, like you said, with the bosses calling you at 8pm when you’re supposed to be off at 5 or whatever time to be like, “hey, you’re still at work, because you’re at home.” So you’re always at work. And I think that’s a very dangerous expansion of the state and the prison and the works power, like into our lives, so we never have a break from it.

Maria: Yes. And I think that due to this expansion you were talking about. It’s really, really tough because in some cases… Well, personally I feel in some cases, my bosses are just putting a lot of work… Telling me “Okay, you need to do this and you need to do this” just in order to make you work in that’s it. Like, I don’t know how I could say, but it is like they need to show themselves that you are working. So it’s really difficult mostly, for example, in my case, as a teacher It’s been really hard because you need to create a lot of reports and you need to send them to many people. It’s really, really stressful. So yes, the expansion of power, of course, it’s really tough.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. I feel like we could talk about that probably for a long time. But we’re here to speak about the ongoing protests in Colombia. But this current situation has been unfolding for some time now. Will you speak about the protests which occurred in 2019 to 2020, in response to police corruption and austerity, among other things?

Maria: Well, I would like to start this answer by saying that during the last 20 years, Colombia has experienced a series of strikes, protests, riots, that have grown through the time, right? So these stages or these riots and these consecutive strikes, has been in response to the criminal policies of the far right government of Uribe, of course, which I don’t know he has had hegemony in the executive branch since 2002. So imagine, and let’s say that the police violence that we have experience in current years or in recent years is a clear example of the doctrine they form the state security forces. In these doctrines about the internal enemy, right, so the people you’re trying to protect, you don’t really have to protect them because they are your enemy. Right? So to this, of course, we need to add the increase in poverty that they have of the population closely to they have rising poverty in leaps in poverty. So they eat once or twice per day if they eat. So of course, there are more than 20 million people who don’t live with dignity under the power of the state.

In regarding 2009, that I consider is the initial stage of the strike that is taking place currently, I would say that the reason for the protest was a dissatisfaction of a large part of the Colombian population with the economic, social, and environmental policies of the government of the President. And as well as the handling that was given to the peace accords, with the FARC with the guerrilla, and of course, these had many consequences, such as murder of social leaders, where you can find peace and indigenous people reinserted ex-guerrillas in of course, the corruption within the Colombian government. I mean, Colombia is one of the most corrupt countries you can find around the world, not only Latin America, but the world. So I think it would also be important, you mentioned in historical key maybe, that the mobilizations or the riots and strikes of 2019 and 2020 have previous situations in the student strike of 2018. In the agrarian strikes of 2015, and 2010, which leads us to talk about the student movement of 2011, called MANE, or Mesa Anti-Nacional Estudiantil.

So, I could say that these information is really important, because we can notice that the government has done nothing for trying to fix what they need to fix. So, strikes that happened previously or that is happening right now. It’s just like a chain. I imagine, since the poverty is a chain since discrimination is a chain and poverty. Well, we also need to react that way. So we also need to say “Hey, this is not good. This is enough!” So we need to do something. So… Yes.

TFSR: It seems like Colombia is experiencing what a lot of places are experiencing, which is a rise in far right, fascist governments and also paralleled with just like increasing austerity. I understand like, the Colombian people are living underneath a really oppressive tax law that maybe we’ll talk about a little bit later. But yeah, thank you for going through the progression of you know, riots and strikes and student movements to sort of set the stage for the things that happened later. So like you mentioned, there have been other protests and riots in response to murders by police since 2019. Would you speak about these kinds of and how they sort of lead into what is currently happening?

Maria: Let’s say, related to this topic, we could talk a little about the historic overview of the deeds done by Policia Nacional and ESMAD (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios/Mobile Anti-Riot Squad) that start with the murder of Nicolas Nadir around 15 or 16 years ago. Nico was a teenager who was killed in the working riots the May 1 manifestations. So we could start from there. We could also mention Oscar Salas, Dilan Cruz, among others. And something to highlight here is that the collective memory has been a result of these events. For example, in related to 2019 2020, the police massacre that occurred on September 4th, 9th, and 10th has in the neighborhoods where these events took place. So the friends and relatives of the victims have organized themselves in several organizations to be able to demand for justice denounce the criminality of the state and the police. And it’s quite sad, because so far, we haven’t known the response even in the command lines of those days. I mean, we have no idea who ordered these kinds of crimes. And related to these, a group of graffiti artists and street artists has also been organized to commemorate every single month by making some murals in the city, denouncing the massacre and making memory of the people who are not with us anymore.

I think it is also important to talk about street action itself. Bringing the confrontation to the neighborhoods, it’s a new paradigm in recent history of the urban level that has no correlation since the 77 Strike hitting Colombia. Of course we need to speak a lot about in a historical way and the history about Colombia, because now the discontent of the jungle people who suffer harassment by the police. And of course, in that sense, although the actions have denoted in specific circumstances, such as the murder of Javier Ordoñez or the rapes and violence based on gender, at the end, we are involved in confrontations of historical roots. Right? That establish in of course, as I told you before, we are aware that the authority is our enemy. Right? No matter how they try to sell us the speech of “peace and dialogue, we’re just here to help you and protect you.” It’s not like that. And we can try to talk about this from the facts that happened and that you mentioned.

Of course, I mean, police abuse in Colombia is something really, really sad and frustrating, because, of course, they are quite like an arm for the government. So it’s, I mean, they are pretty bloody. They don’t care about tasering pregnant women, old people, they don’t care about it. So you already know that when ESMAD arrives in a protest, it’s going to be a riot. Right? So you need to either run or face what you need to face in that time.

TFSR: Yeah, that sounds really terrifying. And, you know, of course police violence is a sort of truth wherever there are police. But you mentioned… And this wasn’t one of the questions that I sent to you. But you did mention the disarmament of the FARC. And I understand that the FARC isn’t…. It has its problems, to be sure, very many of them. But I’m wondering what you think about how the disarmament and persecution of former FARC members has contributed to the current oppression of far left and anarchist organizing currently? If that makes any sense?

Maria: Yeah, yeah. I think the Actually, we have a book, whose name is “Reflexiones Libertarias Sobre El Acuerdo De Paz en Colombia.” And it is something in English like “Libertarian Reflections about Accord Peace or Agreement Peace” let’s say that since we stood into an anarchist position, we could say that democracy has always had a better place to be, right? And of course is related to the power. So we didn’t predict what was going to happen related to the persecution and all those deals. But let’s say that the government has not been clear, has not done anything about these kinds of agreements in terms of… For example, trying to give the peasants back his/her lands, his farms. I could say that this is not new, at least in Colombia. It has happened for twice maybe.

So for example,when we talk about 19th of April Movement, it happened the same. They did a peace agreement, a and they said okay, we’re not going to be armed anymore. We’re going to try to solve this conflict in the dialogue and all those deals. In some of them were murdered. Right? Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, for example, was murdered a few days later. So I’d say it’s something that we expected. Of course, we didn’t want to happen. But it was something that yes, we expected.

TFSR: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, sadly. Would you speak about the current protests and what led to them? We would also love to hear about who is on the front lines or Primera Linea. And what does this say about them and say about the general nature of the protests?

Maria: Yeah, of course. Well, first, as I told you before, the strikes this year are the continuation of the strikes that we experienced at the end of 2009 and in the beginning of 2020, we stopped those strikes because of pandemic and because of covid 19. In first the National Strike Committee, that includes retired organizations, some transport, there’s basins in the public… Colombian teachers have insisted in creating a plan to fight against the reforms that the government of Iván Duque has proposed since the beginning of his government, such as health reform, education reform, and now the tax reform. And obviously this committee doesn’t represent people. This committee is led by maybe the bureaucracy and some political parties that are looking for consolidating their electoral power for next year elections. And fortunately the demands of the committee have been overcome by the people who are confronting the police, and is much in the street. And the population that has been in the streets wants Duque to quit basically, in I would say, we could make it out since two ministers and a police captain have already resigned. This is specifically started with La Reforma Tributaria without him.

However, of course, it was not our main purpose. We could achieve that these reform couldn’t achieve in the congress and the number of votes they needed to do it. But we are also trying to establish the power from the strike, right? Not like the revolution we already know. But it’s really important for example, in related to the committee, the strike committee. There are no young people. All of them are old men and old women who don’t know what we need, what university people need, what a teenagers need, what children need, because they don’t really care. Right? They are looking for a power in the future.

So yes, that’s basically what happened. There was also something that produced the anger of the people. It was something that Alberto Carrasquilla Barrera said. Carrasquilla was the Minister of Finance. The Canasta Familia, I don’t really know how to say that in English. And these months, a journalist asked him how much a basket of eggs was? And he said, “10 dollars and 8 cents.” No, my God! That is like a half dollar maybe. So imagine, of course, the people say “What!? That’s not possible!” So if the person that it’s supposed to be in charge of telling the people how much we should and we can pay for food or services? Well, we need to do something in that. That was the last situation we accept.

So people started to say, “No way, this is not gonna be possible. You can’t do that.” Because you don’t really know how the real situation needs. For example, I couldn’t go out on April 28. But my mom said, okay, we need to support the people who are on the street. So you could walk through the neighborhood, and you could see some ads, maybe or some poster saying, “No to the Reforma Tributaria!” I don’t know, for example in my house, we wrote “We love beans. This family loves eating beans. But without Ivan.” So let’s say that the creativity and the union that this strike has been developing, it’s been amazing because not only are they the same people who are on the streets, there are not only university people. There are also school people, there are also private teachers. There are also people who are in charge of trading, people who have also suffered the pandemic, in that are aware of these crazies we are going to face if we don’t change what they want to do.

And I almost forgot it. Related to the first line… The first line has been made up mostly of young people from the popular neighborhoods in the periphery. And it’s quite shocked, because recently, we have seen the formation of the front lines of mothers who have been suffered political abuse or that they have just lost his or her children in this strike. So it’s like a fresh line being made by mothers. And I would say that, we also believe that the first line has been constituted by indigenous people who is made up of the indigenous guard or Minga. Let’s say that these kind of people, they are an autonomous group of indigenous, they have a lot of processes. And they have been in the cities and they have faced police, and ESMAD in the riots.

And I guess we could talk a little bit about the boom of the first line that has been built here in Colombia. It’s thanks to the Chilean experience, where the creation of these fronts was fundamental to face the state violence in the streets. And regarding the first line, it is worth mentioning the work of Black Flags, which is a first line that is anarchist. They mostly help in Medellín and thanks to the social media, they have helped other cities to share the abuse. And the violence made by my the police and that ESMAD also has committed. So let’s say that this first line has being really really important.

It has a disadvantage that maybe we already knew that was going to happen and it was related to the stereotype. Right? So these kinds of guys are there because they are vandals, they steal the city, they don’t do anything here in Colombia. There is sort of a like a sort of, like a saying really, really common into the right wing people. And it’s thats the people who protest its because we want every single thing for free. So yeah, it’s funny, quieren todo regala. So, yes. Let’s say that the front line has suffered, of course, this stigmatization. But they had faced in a pretty good way in they had, I don’t know, they had showed us that they are really brave in that they are not just fighting for fighting, right? They are fighting because they already know what they are fighting for. So education, basically, for eating three times at least a day, for having a job, for having a life that allows to say to you that they have dignity, right? So yes, it’s been really interesting.

Here in Bogota, the main first line is in Portal de las Americas, that is on the south. And of course, this area of the city is forgotten by the government. So the government that just because of having their TransMilenio, or public transportation, they were going to have a better life. But of course, we know it’s not like that. So yes, it’s been amazing. It’s been really, really nice… That job, and mostly because they also have education spaces, maybe. So they discuss about the situation, they say, “Okay, here in this neighborhood, we need this and this, so we need to make people know why we are here and what we need.” So let’s say it’s a really, really complete and connected struggle that they have done.

TFSR: Thank you for going through that it’s sounds like so dynamic and vibrant. And the international media has been seeing a lot of sort of the violence of the police, in places where the strikes and the riots are most intense and horrifying stuff, terrifying police activity and violence. But I think it’s also really good to keep in mind that, you know, there’s really beautiful things that can happen as well, in situations like this. And that sounds like a really amazing people coming together and, you know, struggling towards something together. I’m also really interested in your suggestion to talk about the Assembleas Barriales, which are neighborhood assemblies, which have been forming during these moments of riot. Will you speak about this, and how’s it been doing anarchist organizing throughout these efforts?

Maria: Let’s say that understanding that this strike has been as organic as it has been necessary, because most of the people didn’t expect to last the days it is lasting in it is really important trying to understand that it’s really organic, because these allow us to assume the need for political and historical formation of the protesters. So with these purpose the neighborhood’s assemblies have arisen in to try to create spaces for discussion, information and it’s a crucial execution of the strike from the neighborhoods. As I told you, it’s not the student movement who is in charge of it, or who is leading this process. It’s people who are mostly young people of the neighborhoods.

So of course, the historical political education, it’s quite important. So that’s what Assembleas Barriales are for. In with this purpose the neighborhood has started to create little groups and they have created some instructions, let’s say so for example: I don’t know there are people who are in charge of collecting food. The other people are going to be in charge of keeping everything safe in all those deals, in artistic days, maybe have been seen I don’t know, there are so many pictures about town cities with anti-Álvaro-Uribe slogans. So that’s a result of the discussions and the debates that are in the neighborhoods. Okay, here we have a political position and we don’t want Uribe here. So they have painted the walls with this, they have painted the highways with this. And, of course, the tributes to the big themes in the in the strike. And there had also had a lot of artistic shows and artistic masterpiece around the city.

And let’s say that due to the police abuse, training about human rights has been mandatory. What to do in case of an arbitrary detention. And of course, we as a collective or as a contra-information collective, the support has been attained in these spaces in trying to commit communicate before, during and after, these assembleas happen. And I also think is really important to mention that the participation of the anarchism as a movement, we already know that is marginal because of its nature. And maybe we could relate the anarchist movement into the efforts of collectives and individuals in terms of education, right? We could also mention the community organization. So they are also based in horizontal structures and they are rotating responsibilities. Of course, they need to have a self management of the spaces. Let’s say that we could relate these kind of practices and these kind of routines from and since the libertarian movement, taking into account the autonomy and the self action we need to have, of course. Because trying to make people realize we don’t need a leader in order to make good things and in order to make things work.

TFSR: Yeah, that all sounds, you know, also really amazing. And I could imagine it being like perhaps a bit chaotic, to be organizing as anarchists and doing any kind of sort of collective process in the middle of like, popular street movement going on, I think we can all sort of relate to that, from personal experience, to varying degrees. So it sounds like people are holding it down, which is really amazing.

Maria: Yeah, totally and these kinds of meetings and these kinds of assembleas has also allowed and acknowledge about the people who were before protest. So of course, we said, “Okay! Right, you’re now facing this. But do you remember in 2019 when you saw or watched on the news, that students have been debating and have been on the streets? Remember?” So it’s been really interesting, because, of course, it’s, I don’t know if respect is a real word, but every single person that attends to this kind of dynamics, has been aware of the social, of the matter and the importance of the social movement.

TFSR: I think we can all sort of understand that the world at least the documented world, in so far as you know, we film and you know, we take pictures and stuff, that kind of documentation is becoming perhaps like a bit more riotous or, you know…. There’s been a lot of global like, struggles around the world against fascism. And many have commented on the connected nature of these fights. Fights against fascism, like I said, the police state and settler colonialism all around the world from these extra judicial acts of violence, and also people coming together to fight those acts in Colombia to the State of Israel bombing refugee camps in occupied Palestine to the government mismanagement of COVID in India to the fights against pipelines and unceded indigenous land and so called Canada, and to the battles for Black lives here and the ongoing battles against gendered violence all over the world. Would you speak about this from your own perspective? And has your collective been sort of speaking about this as it’s been unfolding?

Maria: Well, let’s say that we could talk here about the indigenous struggle, the Minga of 2008 their plan for life and struggle, such as the recovery of lives and the historical memory of these people, right? During these days, some of the monuments that are in the cities have suffered an indigenous trial made by the indigenous themselves, causing the demolition, for example of the statues of Sebastián de Belalcázar, of Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. I could say that it hasn’t happened before and I could say it’s an achievement that indigenous people have had. Mostly because people who live in the city don’t care or don’t know or don’t want to know about this kind of struggle. Because they feel and they think indigenous people are really, really far. Right? So bringing the Minga to the cities, having these kind of spaces with them has allowed us to recognize the real roots we have, right? So of course, a lot of people say, “you know? How are we gonna do that? It was Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, he did this… He bla bla bla.”

I love of these kind of movements and indigenous people because they are also in the mood of teaching. So for example, if you go to them and you tell them “okay! I don’t agree with you.” He or she is going to tell you “okay! Let me explain you.” So they are also in the mood in the teacher mood and this is really necessary nowadays. So I could say that this struggle…. It’s been so hard in so far in terms of time, thanks to them, because they have been with us on the streets, on the committees, in every single way we could discuss and talk about and face this strike. And I definitely have to say that the struggles are connected, because at the end, they express nuance and differences of context, the deep contradictions of capital, the colonies, patriarchy and ecological destruction, for example. And it is not a coincidence, not only in the temporality, but also in the similarities on the demands, repositories of a struggle, the dispute for the lands of the peasants the working rights, maybe citizens are trying to look forward. And this allows us to observe or realize or notice that the peoples are also twins in this common conditions of oppression.

It is a system that operates on a planetary scales, and we need to say that it is sustained by the people that are lead to exploitation of the mass of people for the benefits of opulent and rich minorities. And I also feel really necessary regarding the tranversalities of the struggles that we are talking. We need, of course, to speak of the gender struggles that have been growing, and they have been stronger in the same way. It’s also pretty important to understand that police repression and police oppression is marked by the perception of women’s bodies as the spoils of war.

And in consequence, there is an instrumentalisation of these bodies that we have had. For example, in here during these days, we have had 87 reports of gender violence, including rape, including a girl who committed suicide because she was abused by ESMAD. Abuse and sexual aggression as well as threats and harassment. So of course, these struggles have to be connected. It’s really important. I would say that it’s an advance. If we look a little bit to the past, it is not something that people in the past could achieve. And I think that this strike has a lot to connect and link all struggles we have had through time. So students, workers, indigenous people peasants, teachers, of course public teachers, private teacher, every single person in a same place. And that place, of course, is a struggle place.

TFSR: I think that’s such a good point that you made just now, how police repression is marked by the perception of women’s bodies, and how there are the similarities and demands of striking and rioting people all over the world. Like we can see this in India, we can see this in Palestine. We can see this here in the so called United States. So I think that’s such a good point that you just made. And I’m going to be thinking about that for a while.

Maria: And it’s been pretty cool, because…. Well, cool in terms of political way, in really interesting…. For example, in some protest people riot. I don’t know, fight like Colombia, resist like Palestine, and vote like Chile. So it’s quite interesting how this journey of strikes, has made aware to the people that this is not just in Colombia, this is around the world. And this is around the world in terms of land, in terms of gender abuses, gender violence. It’s also about, of course, exploitation problems and issues. It’s also something related to the Black movement, right? Because every single person, I say, has suffered in some way, maybe a lot of people are not aware of it. But one of the achievements and goals that we have already did, was making people aware of the difficult situation, and the matter that if we don’t change this, it is going to be worse. With taxes, with violence, with insecurity, with a lot of deals here.

TFSR: Yes, I think that is very true. So what can listeners do to help support you?

Maria: First of all, be aware of alternative media, such as Subversión, of course… And try to spread all information among people who are fighting to change the world. Try not to believe too much… For example: our national information media channels, because they don’t say the truth, maybe they try to change a lot. I also think joined the act of denunciation and protests in front of the of the embassies and consulates of Colombia. That has helped a lot in terms of international points of view, because they world know what is going on in here. So of course, let’s say that currently, several campaigns are being organized from different organizations to make these actions. So for example, we know that the I.W.W, which is affiliated to the International Confederation of Workers, established a statement in solidarity with the struggle of the people here in Colombia, and they are planning actions of denunciation.

So if you can do it, wonderful. If no, you can share, for example, you can post, you can use the hashtag in all those deals. In terms of money we’re having a collect. Mostly for these first nine made by moms that I already told you. And we’re trying to support the art. So the art collectives are being supported by us. And yet, I would say the most important view should be and could be to spread the information and spread all information that you think it’s useful to other people now.

TFSR: Absolutely. Where can people donate to the collection for Primera Linea and the art collectives?

Maria: We have a PayPal account, which is…. I don’t know how I could send it to you.

TFSR: If you if you want to send it to me, I will publish it in the show notes.

Maria: Okay, perfect. So I’m gonna leave it to you in today’s chat. So that sounds great. Yes, through PayPal, you can donate through there. I guess it’s the easiest way.

TFSR: Maria Camila, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me and talk to me about what’s been going on and for doing… It should be mentioned too, that you did a lot of work to consolidate voices from the collective that you’re a part of to so that they could have a voice in this interview as well. And that takes a lot of work. It’s been really wonderful getting to talk to you and sit down a little bit. Is there anything that we missed in this interview that you want to sort of give voice to in closing, or sort of any last words that you would leave listeners with?

Maria: I really appreciate this space and meeting with you because I think it’s the better way to spread the information and try to make people realize our current situation. So thank you very much. And I think, I don’t know, it was really enough, maybe the interview. I would like to highlight that it’s quite important to the education, maybe? Through this topic. And let’s say that one of the flags maybe they strike has now is make you realize the art has to be political, in that sense. And in that way. It’s like an invitation to listen to, for example: are these support the strike? Listen to some group music that talk about the situation in Colombia? Follow for example, the collectives of the people who are in charge of the murals, of course, follow us! In terms of having you informed about the situation in Colombia, because we are a communicative collective. So yes, I could say that in order to conclude and of course, thank you pretty much.

TFSR: It was amazing. Please see our show notes for further topics that our guests discussed for any reading or research he would like to do based on this interview, including more about the MINA and the Guarda de Cauca and ongoing struggle for indigenous autonomy from the Colombian government and corporations. We will also link to subversión PayPal, through which they are fundraising for much needed medical supplies for people on the front lines of the protests. You can also look forward to a complete written transcript of this episode for reading along, translation purposes, or for sending to a friend at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org follow subversión on Instagram @subversión_CC and on Twitter @ccsubversión_