Category Archives: Colonization

Monarchy In The UK

Monarchy In The UK

A crown crossed out
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This week, you’ll hear my chat with Jon Bigger about the status of the monarchy in the UK, the power it wields, the interventions it makes into parliamentary procedure and where we might see hopes of challenging it from an anarchist approach. Jon is an anarchist who is involved with the Anarchism Research Group, writes a column on UK politics at Freedom News and has been involved in the project Class War. You can find him online at twitter and at his website, jonbigger.uk

Further reading:

If you’re interested in some more commentary from politics in the UK, check out Red and Black’s bite sized opinion pieces on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/RedAndBlackTelly/

Announcements

Updates from Ukraine

If you missed our conversation from 2/25/22 with Ilya, a Russian anarchist in Ukraine, you should check it out. Crimethinc’s Ex Worker podcast just recently two episodes (part 1 or part 2) with perspectives from the region on the war that’s worth a listen. We shared a link tree site that contained ways to send international solidarity and keep up with viewpoints of anarchists involved in mutual aid on the ground that can be found at linktr.ee/operation.solidarity .

Since that broadcast, an anarchist and anti-authoritarian formation has announced itself and is seeking defensive and offensive support in the form of equipment and volunteers, an important improvement to the situation where fascists and nationalists will find fertile soil for recruitment and have already used the war in the Donbass to train our enemies abroad. You can learn more about the anarchist grouping and follow updates from the ground by checking out linktr.ee/TheBlackHeadquarter

Eric King’s Trial Begins Soon

Anarchist and antifascist prisoner, Eric King, is facing a jury trial beginning on March 14th in Denver, Colorado. His defense crew is headed by the Civil Liberties Defense Center and will be arguing that employees at the US Bureau of Prisons manufactured a scenario to add 20 years to Eric’s almost completed term as well as consciously endangered him from facility to facility by putting him in harms way of known white supremacist prisoners. You can learn more about his case and how to support his defense at SupportEricKing.Org and we hope to bring some updates with his legal support in the near future.

Bad News February 2022

Members of the A-Radio Network released the Feburary 2022 installment of our monthly, international, English-language podcast roundup with features from Brazil (via Slovenia), repression in Siberia by the Russian security forces, voices from Thessaloniki in Greece on recent police actions against anarchists, and from Poland on the struggle for legal abortion access. Check it out at A-Radio-Network.org or in our show notes.

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Featured Tracks:

  • God Save The Queen (Instrumental) by The Sex Pistols from The Complete Sex Pistols Sessions ’76-’77
  • Anarchy In The UK by Wild Billy Childish & The Blackhands from Play: Capt’n Calypso’s Hoodoo Party

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience with any name, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations and location info that could help the audience?

Jon Bigger: Sure, I am Jon Bigger, I write about anarchism and British politics for Freedom News — the world’s longest-running anarchist newspaper. I think I might be the only person writing a regular column on British politics from an anarchist perspective. Not much of a boast, but that is my boast, at least. I’m part of the British anarchist group Class War. I’m also a member of the Anarchism Research Group, which is based at Loughborough University in central England, and I also live in that town. I’ve got a collection of my writing at the website jonbigger.uk. And I’m talking today in a personal capacity about my absolute hatred of the British monarchy.

TFSR: Thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview. You mentioned that Freedom is the longest-running English-language anarchist publication. As well, it runs a bookstore and a publishing house. Kropotkin participated in it, among many others, Colin Ward, and tons of other amazing luminaries over the years. Could you say a few things about that?

JB: It’s something that I found out about when I was a teenager, I was born in a place called Lincoln in England, and I went off to university in London, and found out that my university building was right around the corner from where the book shop’s based. And at that stage, I probably thought of myself as a Marxist, I think, and I wasn’t quite sure about my politics, my politics were still developing. But I used to go in there and think what it would be like to be a bit more involved and whether I could write for them and things like that. I was interested in being a writer even then. But actually, what I ended up doing, after leaving university, was becoming a civil servant and working for the British government. And my political involvement with anything obviously had to go down, I couldn’t be quite so politically active. In the UK, people working for the government are supposed to be politically neutral. And so it wasn’t until I got sacked from that for organizing strikes that I started to get a bit more political. That was around 2013 and shortly after that, I started thinking, maybe I could write for them. I started getting interested in that. I did a few pieces, I think, in 2014. And then this idea of a regular column came upon me. Because I thought in the past, Freedom used to comment much more on politics and the events that were going on in the country and it stopped doing that to a certain extent. I thought maybe I could offer this as an idea. If people like it, they like it, if they don’t, they don’t. That’s how I got involved, I’m really proud of it. Under its current editor, it just goes from strength to strength: it’s fact-based, it’s really good reporting and I think it’s fantastic. And the fact that it covers the fullest range of anarchism is really, really important. I think a lot of us are involved because we’re Class Struggle anarchists, but it doesn’t shy away from the idea that it should be covering anarchism in its broadest sense, which I think is fantastic.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. I do want to ask about Class War for a little bit, which you’ve done some speaking and did a recent interview on Dissident Island Radio about. But were there any specific moments or experiences that brought you from that Marxism that you were experiencing when you were in college to identifying as an anarchist?

JB: I think I slowly began to realize that. Let me go further back to why I liked Marxism to begin with. I was studying sociology, and there’s an awful lot of Marxism in that. When I was 18, and discovering Marx had this critique of capitalism, I thought, “Oh, right, okay, someone’s done this work, and they can explain why capitalism is so terrible”. I have always had this hunch that it was awful. And suddenly, there’s this ready-made framework, and it’s nice, it’s lovely, that you’ve got this framework to go to, and everything is nicely ordered. There’s going to be modes of production, and there’s a view of history and we know exactly what’s inevitably going to happen. It’s almost like it’s a religion, right? So it appealed to me because it gave me the answers.

And then, as I was growing up a little bit more… A lot of Marxists like to think that anarchism is for immature people. I absolutely reject that. Marxism is for the immature. Anarchism is for people who have grown up a little bit and aren’t naive about the world. And what I realized was that one of the naiveties of Marxism is this idea of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. I thought this is horrific. What an absolutely terrible idea. And I suppose I was in my mid-20s when I found out that, I’m now in my mid-40s. So at that stage, I thought, “No, I don’t favor a dictatorship, I don’t care what you call it, I’m not favoring a dictatorship,” I realized that my socialism was in a different direction. And at that point, all of the glances that I’d had at anarchism, turned into proper looks at anarchism. And it really appealed to me.

Then we fast forward to me getting sacked from the British government. When I was a little bit older, back in 2013, it coincided just a few weeks after that, with one of the founders of Class War called Ian Bone— I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ian over the years. He put on his blog that they wanted candidates to stand in the general election of 2015. I’d heard about Class War at the same time that I’d learned Marxism way back when I was in my late teens. And I’d always wondered where they’d gone in a way because I’d looked for their newspapers and never really found them. After all, they’d gone into a bit of a decline in the 1990s when I reached London, and suddenly there they were wanting to stand candidates. I thought, well, when someone’s worked for the government for 13 years, and they’ve got sacked for their trade union activities, what’s the next thing to do with your life? Stand for Parliament as an anarchist candidate? Why the hell not? Well, there are lots of reasons why not, obviously. But I decided to embrace that idea and see what I could do with it. So that’s how I got involved with them. And as that developed and my involvement developed, I managed to turn that into a research project and turn it into a Ph.D. Which is basically how I spent my time and how I came to Loughborough was researching that from the inside and writing about it, and interviewing everybody who was involved with it. It was a really interesting project to stand anarchist candidates not to get elected, but to subvert the system, to get into spaces where anarchists aren’t normally allowed to get to. And just to cause a little bit of trouble, really.

TFSR: So at this time, there were a lot of anarchists that were— Listeners in the United States are going to be familiar with the Anarchists for Bernie phenomenon from 2016. There were the Anarchists for Corbyn that were happening around a similar time in the UK. I know that there were a lot of debates about whether anarchy should participate in electoral politics, how they should participate, and what efficacy they could have. You mentioned that you weren’t standing for the point of actually getting into office, but to trouble the waters a bit and get anarchist perspectives a little bit further into people’s minds. Can you talk about how that was received in the anarchist community, the participation, and also what effects of it, whether it was you or other people that were standing for parliament?

JB: There was a block of people who would simply say, “This is not what anarchists do. This is wrong. We shouldn’t be part of that”. And I perfectly respect that purity of position. I don’t agree with it. But I respect it. I understand where it’s coming from. What I’m not saying is everybody should suddenly start trying to get elected. If you feel comfortable in standing for the office and using it to your advantage, then fine, but if you don’t, I perfectly get that. So there were people who I would call anarcho-purists who perhaps reject it out of hand. What we actually found, though, in Class War was a staggering amount of people who’ve got behind it.

Now, it’s worth bearing in mind, you mentioned the Anarchists for Bernie and Jeremy Corbyn, there was an impact for Jeremy Corbyn, but Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party after the 2015 general election. So it occurred after the period that I’m talking about and I was standing in. And certainly, we have seen a lot of people move towards the Labour Party since he became leader, he’s now not the leader. And it’s not clear that those people have drifted back, but of course, we’ve had COVID and everything’s been affected by that. So it’s difficult to tell exactly where British anarchism is right now. I get the sense that anarchism around the world is declined in some ways. I don’t know. National activity seems to have depleted in the UK. And it might be the same around the world, particularly when we go back just a couple of decades and we see the mobilization around the environment and the global order and all the rest of it was really, really high. And people thought this is going to be the anarchist century. It’s not proving to be like that at the moment, despite all the movements, like the Occupy Movement or whatever, providing hope. That seems like a long time ago now, doesn’t it?

But what we got out of it was a sudden influx of people that rallied behind the idea. And what that allowed us to do was have people attend events. There were debates between candidates standing, so we got to actually meet the opposition, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. And we had a far-right party called the UK Independence Party, we had to meet those head-on and have debates with them in front of real citizens and talk about what anarchism was. And that also provided media opportunities, I ended up writing for a website that was based in the area where I was standing, they gave me a regular platform to espouse anarchist ideas. It was a really exciting time. And it offered up surprising things, actually.

TFSR: Yeah, for what it’s worth, I think that there’s a huge difference in political debate culture between the UK and the US.

JB: Ours is a very entertaining Parliament, and largely distracting as well. There is some serious work that goes on there too, where they actually listen to one another. But on the whole, the bits that get televised, are the bits that are not where people are listening to one another, they are shouting at each other, it’s like a bear pit. And to be honest, we used that culture to our advantage, we turned our debates into confrontational spaces, really. This is the state’s Big Day Out on election. This is where they prove their worth and say, “This is why we’re valid”. And certainly, my Class War supporters at my debate just started shouting murderer at the Conservative candidate, because austerity policies at the time were ripping through public services, and people were dying as a result. And he found that really difficult, he wasn’t expecting to turn up and have that barrage of-

TFSR: And there’s an expectation of respectability from the other standing candidates, right? I mean, they’re mostly of the same class…

JB: Well, that’s true. But also, if you go back further in time, back to the time when working-class people didn’t have the vote. These kinds of debates were like that. Working-class people were allowed in to shout stuff like that. Candidates were judged on how well they handled it. We’ve lost that now, because politics is largely polite, although what you’ve highlighted about the House of Commons is correct. But on the whole, politics is a polite event, where people are respectful because they’re all trying to run the country. And we’ve lost that edge in the UK. But we tried to bring it back. And I think we succeeded in some ways.

TFSR: Could you also describe a little bit more about Class War as a group? You mentioned Ian Bone, back in the 80s, there was a newspaper that was published regularly. There are the Poor Doors as the other thing that I can think of about the group. Where’s it at, and what sort of things does it do?

JB: Poor Doors is wonderful, I can talk about that a lot because I went to a lot of those demonstrations. Back in the 1980s. When I was a child, I wasn’t involved in Class War, obviously. It was started by Ian and some others, really, they were a bunch of punk rockers who were fed up with the non-combative nature of British anarchism at the time. And what I think they wanted was to bring that anger back to anarchism in the UK and to build a social movement based on that, based on working-class people rising up as much as they possibly could. And the newspaper was a big part of that, it was a propaganda tool, it was darkly humorous, it used violent language. It was confrontational. It was designed to horrify certain types of people and for others to embrace it. And it was very, very divisive in that way and in that way, they attracted the people that they wanted. So they took the newspaper to peace rallies and sold it to people at peace rallies and disrupted those sorts of events to get people to do things differently. There’s an argument to be said here that by the end of the 1990’s, Class War had achieved or helped to achieve exactly what it set out to do, that there was an angry anarchist culture out there. The anti-globalization movement was a big thing around the end of the 90’s. It was really engaging in an awful lot of Class War tactics. Class War got involved with theatrical protests as well, which leads me to Poor Doors.

Poor doors was this idea of socially segregated housing that rich people get their own door into a building, a block of flats, and the poor people in the block of flats get a separate entrance around the corner, with separate provisions, and so on and so forth. I think it first emerged in New York from memory. And it was publicized quite a lot in the summer of 2014, I’m thinking was about right. And immediately Class War hit upon this and wanted to do a regular protest. We were looking for a regular protest anyway because we wanted to meet up and build on this momentum running up to the election. So there was an idea here that we could get involved with something weekly, that would draw people together and we could do some election planning at the same time. We started a protest outside this building in London that was doing Poor Doors. And we made it our focus, very symbolic because it wasn’t the only building doing it. But we targeted that building week on week. As we did so, the protest grew, everybody knew what time it was going to start, what day of the week it was going to start. We got a lot of press coverage. We had occasional events like the London Anarchist Bookfair that took place in the October of 2014. We encouraged people to go from that to the building to have a protest there.

It was absolutely glorious times, to be honest. We got close to actually getting that building rearranged. We entered into negotiations, which I’m not sure it’s a good idea, to be honest. But we did enter into negotiations with the management of that building. And ultimately, we didn’t succeed, but we managed to highlight the issue. And for that, I’m pleased. It became quite a spectacle. Each week, we had musicians coming to it. It was something performative about those protests, there were few arrests as well. At times there was a heavy police presence, at times, there was no police presence. I remember an occasion where we actually got into the building. And Ian managed to knock over a vase with his walking stick, he’s got a walking stick these days. And he ended up being arrested for that. There are just all sorts of fun and games, it was really enjoyable. To be honest, it was just a really good time. Felt like we were getting somewhere.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Because you mentioned it, I’d love to hear a few words about the Anarchist Research Group and the work that you do. This is a very long introduction, and I hope that that’s okay for your timeframe, because I do want to talk about the royalty in the UK and everything.

JB: It is the Anarchism Research Group, because you don’t need to be an anarchist to be researching anarchism. Basically, it is a group of academics, scholars researching different parts of anarchism, and people can search for them online, there’s podcast series, there are videos out there. And it just is really a way of promoting anarchism in the academic world. And it’s just amazing, the number of different interests that anarchist scholars have. It’s the full range. Exactly what you’d expect, I guess, but it never ceases to amaze me how much is going on and how much it differs, once you get to that level of research at a university and universities. What you’ve got is people delving into such a niche subject, their own little area, and that can only be a good thing in terms of understanding anarchism, promoting it. I think what’s great about the Anarchism Research Group is that the people making sure that it all takes along and are really active on social media, getting some of this stuff out there as well in really good forms in terms of podcasts and videos.

TFSR: News over the last few months, possibly longer, has been peppered with concerns about Elizabeth Alexandra Mary aka Elizabeth II Queen of the United Kingdom and 14 other Commonwealth realms, following in the regal footsteps of her late husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, or stories about payouts that princes and other royals have made about sexual assaults on minors in relation to Jeffrey Epstein’s network, or biopics on the long-dead Princess Diana, or pomp of a state wedding or funeral, or slow-motion train wrecks of the public discussion of how anti-black the Windsor house is in relation to Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Racism, the abuse of young people or people in general by the wealthy, the borders between classes are all interesting topics and I don’t mean to minimize them by making a slight joke about their presentation. They’re worthy of discussion and action, but they grab the headline in the mainstream media as a soap opera of the Windsor house that focuses on individuals rather than systemic harms. So I was hoping that we could speak about the monarchy, the political and economic power that it wields, what sorts of opposition there is to it in the UK, the way that Royals are consumed under capitalism, and challenges that anarchists might pose to it. Thank you for being willing to be in this chat with me about it. I’m excited.

Well, first off, do you have any reactions to that?

JB: Yeah, I’m thinking, how long have we got here? Because that’s a hell of a lot, isn’t it, to think about? It’s amazing. You could do a whole podcast series about how horrific the idea of monarchy is, and this actual family is as well.

TFSR: It extends, obviously, beyond the realities of the royal family in the UK or other countries that still have monarchies. In the West, there’s not a lot of celebration of monarchies in Saudi Arabia, for instance, yet we support them with arms [weapons].

JB: Absolutely, yeah. Isn’t that ironic? Certainly in the UK, Elizabeth Windsor is called The Queen, not just a queen, she’s The Queen. That tells us a lot about the mindset of the nation that I’ve grown up in. It is a mindset that doesn’t often question its own faults and failures, I’m afraid, and that historically, it’s not a country that has accounted for or even begun to question in any real sense the legacy of empire and what happened in the name of the monarch, of course. So I sometimes think I’m living in a place where you can scratch the surface and there’s a lot underneath really.

TFSR: I feel you there for sure. Being from the US, everywhere has its own legacy of terror and mythos that they carry, that is not to say that they’re all the same.

Can you give us something of grounding details about the position of the monarchy in the UK, its history and its role, and how it shifted over the years?

JB: Yeah, sure. We could go all the way back to 1215 here and the Magna Carta, how about that? That’s a document that a lot of people around the world will have at least heard of, as well. That is where things started to shift. So a long way back, it was an absolute monarchy, and in 1215, the Magna Carta pegged the power of the monarch back a little bit. But the history of the monarch’s power being pegged back is not a history of the people rising up to stop the monarchy from being powerful. It is a history of other aristocrats and other elites taking power, and putting up with the monarchy, on the basis that they will not interfere with politics. That starts in 1215 and the monarchy becomes a constitutional monarchy more in the 1600s and the 1700s, where its power is really pegged back by Parliament. And then we reach a period where Britain becomes more democratic.

Incidentally, we still have a second chamber in parliament that is not elected. There are some hereditary Lords born into the position, and the others are appointed. So our parliament is not entirely democratic. Also, I think the only other country to do this is Iran. We have clerics in our House of Lords — Church of England bishops — because we have an official church, because of course, God has decided that the monarch is in power, or is on the throne or whatever. So we have this strange hybrid between a fully feudal country and a modern liberal democracy. It’s taken a long time to get here, but it’s happened, it’s happened gradually because the Constitution isn’t fixed. It’s not written down in one document. It’s not entrenched in— not the one that you’ve got. It can be changed with the Act of Parliament. Any government can come along and change the constitutional framework of the UK. But what we’ve settled on is the idea that the monarch can stay in power — and power is perhaps the wrong word — as long as they do not interfere in politics. That is the basic principle, that parliament is sovereign, we have what we call the Sovereignty of Parliament. That suggests that the monarch isn’t the sovereign, and that Parliament is. There is an interesting relationship between the two.

What you end up with in a constitutional monarchy is the idea that the nation is embodied by this family. So there is a unifying aspect to this, it’s designed for us to get behind and be satisfied with. And obviously, we’re now in a situation where Elizabeth Windsor has been on the throne for 70 years. We’re encouraged to applaud that and “isn’t she a nice old lady who’s being devoted to her duty” and all that stuff? It’s just a really odd situation. But that makes her quite a powerful figure, really, in terms of the psyche of the country. Because if you attack the monarchy, or you attack things she’s done, you’re attacking an old lady. That’s quite powerful. Why would anyone do that? It makes it quite, quite tricky. I don’t think me coming on you is treasonable. I don’t think I’m gonna be dragged to the Tower [of London] or anything. But people listening to this will be horrified, I’m sure, some people, if they hear it, will be horrified. Others will think, “Well, thank God someone’s saying it”.

TFSR: I think a little iconoclasm is required in an anarchist discussion?

I listened to this pretty in-depth and amazing podcast called Revolutions. And they did this 30-part series on the English Civil War. And one of the characters — and I’ve seen this covered in British publications, I think in the 80s and 90s mostly — the Levellers, they seem like one example of a commoner movement to undo the concept of the monarchy and bring about direct democracy, get rid of aristocratic titles. But they also seem like a splinter fringe Anabaptist movement that split out of the New Model Army. Could you talk a little bit about them?

JB: I’m certainly not an expert in them. We’re going back hundreds of years as well again. We’re going back to pre-anarchism, really, but we’re talking about peasants, largely. And also it might coincide or combine with a discussion about the Peasants’ Revolt, which was brutally struck down, as well. There is a rich history of revolt. And in the UK, from what we might call ordinary people, not from elites. But actually, at every stage, what happens is that the elite takes over eventually, and it brutally crushes things. These events, perhaps aren’t as significant as they now appear because what they have never managed, of course, is a full-on revolution.

We can get a little bit misty-eyed about these things as well. Oh, wasn’t this amazing? It was happening hundreds of years ago, what people were saying. Yeah, people were talking about direct democracy thousands of years ago. It’s tricky. We can’t avoid the fact that monarchy is, bizarrely, an idea that has persevered and I regularly think to myself, “My goodness, it’s amazing. I actually live in a monarchy”. I think that’s astonishing that that is even possible in the 21st century. It just amazes me and when I look back to growing up and knowing the problems that the monarchy has had, I’m surprised that it survived because right now it looks really solid.

Elizabeth Windsor is very popular. There is no real movement to get rid of her. There is some reformist organization called Republic, which is arguing for a democratically elected head of state that has the same powers as the current monarch. And therefore it’s not a great big change, to be honest. It would be an improvement to have someone elected doing it, but it’s not the change that I really want. And they’re also interested in doing things like making sure that the finances of the monarchy are more transparent and things like that because they know that their campaign to actually get rid of the monarchy is stalling and not really getting anywhere. So there isn’t a groundswell of opinion that is against the monarchy. If I go back to the 1990’s, it was very different. Before the death of Diana in 1997, you had a period during which Charles and Diana got divorced. Andrew and Sarah Ferguson got divorced, nobody knew what Edward was going to do with his life. It came across as shambolic. The newspapers were after them. They were doing secret recordings of things they were saying. And the monarchy was at an all-time low. And people were saying, “How is it going to continue? How is it going to survive this?” There was a fire at Windsor Castle and John Major, the prime minister at the time, announced that the British public was going to fund the refurbishment, and the British public was up in arms. And suddenly, the money had to come from the royal family themselves. We’ve changed a lot since then.

I would say that the turning point in the popularity of the monarchy came after the death of Diana. As you can probably tell from the outpouring of emotion from people at the time, large sections of the population absolutely loved her. And they suddenly saw a monarchy, and particularly a monarch, who couldn’t show emotion, because that’s not what the monarchy does, or historically, and they requested change. And actually, the savior of the monarchy at that moment was the then Prime Minister Tony Blair, who encouraged Elizabeth Windsor to do a live TV speech where she did show some emotion. From that moment on, the British public forgave her for that. Things moved on quite dramatically. And now the monarchy just seems like it will always be there. I don’t believe that’s the case. I think, actually, what this shows us is that it’s a house of cards. I think it could blow over any moment if the circumstances are right. There’s an obligation on anarchists to try to get ready for that moment, if it comes, and try to influence such a moment. Because whilst it might look permanent secure, I’m not buying it, I don’t think so. There’s no justification for it that makes any sense whatsoever. It’s just wrong in principle, to have a monarchy. It’s just dead-easy to argue against. When you look at the arguments for it taking place and existing, most monarchists rely on the idea that it brings tourists to the UK. That is pretty much their argument.

TFSR: Not the unifying cultural principle?

JB: No! People might rely on that, but the one that comes to the fore nearly every single time, that’s really prominent is just how much money comes to the UK. As if we can’t open those palaces to the tourists anyway. Other countries have royal palaces that are raking in a lot more actually. It’s a ridiculous argument. They could be making me 1 million pounds sterling year for myself, and I’d still say as well.

TFSR: Yeah, couldn’t they just replace them with some animatronics, which is moved from room to room and do their waves and just have the House open? That seems amazing. Seems like you’ve saved a lot of money.

JB: How do we know that’s not happening already?

TFSR: That’s true… Clones…

You’ve mentioned the House of Lords and appointments. And you’ve talked about the deep pockets of the House of Windsor. Can you talk a little bit about what political and economic position— What power does the family actually wield within the kingdom and also within the Commonwealth?

JB: Let’s talk about political power, first of all, because it’s easiest, as I found out trying to do a little bit of research for this today. Finding out where they get their money from is really hard. But we’ll come to that in a moment. Pretty much everything politically happens in the monarch’s name. But that does not mean that they wield the power directly. There are an awful lot of powers that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet have in this country that are called royal prerogative powers. And they are powers that have passed from the absolute monarchy days to a more democratic situation. Whoever gets to be Prime Minister gets to wield those sorts of powers. An example of it would be the ability to move armed forces and wage war. It’s passed on the monitor to the Prime Minister.

So the constitutional arrangement is that they can be the figurehead of the country, but they cannot affect politics. This is really interesting because once you scratch the surface, there are lots of examples where they are trying to influence politics, and actually, some where they are succeeding in really serious ways, that a lot of people in the UK don’t even know about.

First of all, let’s talk about Charles Windsor, heir to the throne. He has a large piece of land in Cornwall, the Duchy of Cornwall. He is, of course, the Duke of Cornwall. He’s got a series of farmlands and all sorts of estates going on there. And he has a real vested interest in making sure that he can make money out of that duchy. And there is evidence of him writing regularly to government departments, to senior officials, and members of the Cabinet to press forward the regulations that he wants or doesn’t want to affect his financial status. What influence he’s had is difficult to tell, because… To be honest, people have been requesting the memos that he’s written, which are called the “spider memos”, because his handwriting is so terrible, apparently. The Guardian newspaper took a court case out asking for the “spider memos” to be released, and a few were, but not all of them. Her Majesty’s courts have hidden the information from the public. So we don’t actually know what influence he has had. But we know that he’s tried to influence politics. And of course, he’s the heir to the throne so he’s supposed to not be doing that. He’s not supposed to do it before he becomes the monarch and he is certainly not supposed to do it afterwards.

However, let’s move to his mother because she has been up to her neck in interfering all of her working life — which is the wrong phrase, as she hasn’t actually got a job, it’s a role. There is this little-known procedure called Queen’s Consent. And very few people have looked into it. Again, The Guardian newspaper has done some really good work on this to find out what it is. And what it amounts to, is a provision in government, whereby possible draft legislation has to be passed by the monarch first before it reaches parliament, if there’s a chance that legislation will impact the royal family and its interests. That’s a broad description. There is evidence to show — now that they’ve done some digging — that Elizabeth Windsor has raised a number of objections over her reign. At legislation that could potentially harm her interest or legislation that she just doesn’t like. Now, what Buckingham Palace says about this, is that at no stages, she blocked legislation. Well, that could be true. Let’s take them at face value. So she’s never blocked legislation. What they haven’t told us is what bits of legislation she’s asked to be changed. Remember, this is happening before it ever reaches parliament, so she’s not interfering with things once they’ve gone through Parliament or while they’re going through Parliament. This is before anybody’s ever read it. This is stuff that has been sent to her for approval, because she might have an interest and she might well have said, “No, I don’t like that bit, or I don’t like that bit”. And it turns out she has been doing this. There’s a whole section on the Guardian website of things they think she’s been interfering with.

That suggests to me that if you go down the line of argument that the current monarch is fantastic because she’s devoted to duty, I say, no! What she’s devoted to, is increasing her own assets at the expense of everybody else. This is the most corrupt, hierarchical practice you can imagine. Monarchy is essentially a form of abuse against the rest of us. And here she is actively doing it all the time. And she’s been doing it from the moment she had the opportunity. It’s disgraceful. It’s disgusting.

TFSR: The Guardian newspaper does have exactly some examples of what they think that she’s been applying. But because there’s a lack of transparency, they might not actually know. But in the UK libel laws are very heavy. If they’re making a claim, they likely feel that they can back it up in court, and it’s not just hearsay.

JB: Absolutely. So some of the examples would seem quite minor. The one that I can think of off the top of my head is that the Queen objected to an introduction of ensuring that everybody should wear seatbelts, and she had it so written into law, that that did not apply to the royal estates. It gives us a hint about her view of freedom. We could say, “Well, so what big deal?”, but that’s the information they aren’t willing to give out to us. What are they hiding from us? Are notes even being taken of what she’s objected to? What has she been objecting to financially? Most of that is hidden.

Buckingham Palace has accepted that Queen’s Consent exists? And what they have gone down the line of is saying that she’s never opposed an entire bill. Well, I say, put up the information, show us what she has opposed, let’s have this out in the open. Let’s have a proper public debate about it. Let’s see if some MP’s might be interested in this. Because she’s doing this against Parliament. If the constitutional arrangement is that Parliament is sovereign, then what is this one person doing by stopping things being debated by Parliament?

TFSR: That’s a very good point and the devils in the detail, and if they’re not going to give out the details, then what does that say about that devil?

You alluded that the sovereign or that the royal family might have been making some of these Queen’s Consent decisions concerning economic investments of the royal family of the Queen. Can you talk a bit about what economic power the family wields -or what’s known — either in terms of what stipend they get from the British government, in terms of what holdings they have domestically? And also, indigenous activists and so-called Canada that we’ve had on the show before have described the Canadian government as an extractive corporation serving the pleasure of the Crown. Does that hold more than a symbolic resonance in the situation?

JB: I love the description. I think that’s right. It alludes to the fact that we’ve got a hierarchy. And every bit of taxation that we pay in the UK, and indeed, 14 other Commonwealth countries, a portion of it will go to this family. Anything happening within the capitalist system, within those countries is contributing to this system. All of the horrors of capitalism and the Empire can be connected in some way to the monarchy and this particular family.

In terms of the finances, that pressure group Republic that I mentioned earlier, estimates that the royal family is getting something like 350 million pounds a year from the public. I’m not sure how they’re making their figures. And one of the problems they have — and I have — is that it’s incredibly difficult to find out. The information is hidden. What I found was actually this is true across all of the countries where Elizabeth Windsor is the Head of State. They’re all incredibly secretive about what money she actually gets. So in the UK, though, what I can say is that Windsor is paid what they call a Sovereign Grant by the government. And last year, this was around 86 million pounds. That money is made through the land that the monarchy owns. That’s known as the Crown Estate. And when I say the monarchy owns it, I mean, the monarchy as an institution owns it. It is not owned by her personally. What she’s getting at the moment amounts to something like 25% of the revenue that that estate earns. What happens with the rest of the money I’ve no idea.

It is a really confusing situation. Let me tell you what the UK Government website says about the sovereign grant. Because this is an interesting set of words. So this is a quote: “The profit of the Crown Estate is a reference point for the calculation of sovereign grant. The Crown Estate does not pay the sovereign grant to the monarch directly, it makes a payment each year to the consolidated fund. And Her Majesty’s Treasury pays the sovereign grant to the monarch”. It’s wonderful bureaucratic language to say. Does anybody know where this money is coming from? It’s just some civil servant had fun writing that circular nonsense. But it shows you that this is a smoke and mirrors operation, it’s magic. This money appears, and it could be yours, or it could be theirs, who cares, it’s going to them anyway.

On top of the sovereign grant, the monarch does own land, and lots of it. So one such example is the Duchy of Lancaster. That is worth around 22 million pounds a year for Elizabeth Windsor at the moment. That is money she’s making from that estate — 22 million pounds a year. But this is just in the UK that she’s doing this. Then on top of that — this makes it even more complex and difficult — the security bill for the royal family is picked up by the Metropolitan Police in London, and no figures around that are made available on the pretense that it could risk the security being given to them. We don’t know how much that is costing, that is obviously going to be money coming directly from the taxpayer. I don’t know whether that will be just taxpayers in London or wherever that’s across the UK. I’m not sure.

You mentioned so-called Canada. Elizabeth Windsor is head of state there represented by an appointed governor general who serves for five-year terms. And the governor general is also the commander-in-chief of the armed forces there. Figures I got for Canada from the Business Insider website suggested 50.5 million Canadian dollars a year, figures for New Zealand — 18.6 million New Zealand dollars per year. And they only tried to do a few countries because they found it so difficult to find accurate figures. We are talking about an insanely wealthy woman with an insanely wealthy family, not just from one country, but from 15.

TFSR: Yeah, and I remember her name coming up in the Pandora Papers too. There have been these large exposes where private real estate deals that haven’t been listed on the official receipts in the UK have come up and it turns out they’re doing real estate deals with the Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev that landed a $42 million profit. There’s so much obfuscation, it seems, as you pointed too, with all of this, as you say, abusive-

JB: Yeah, it is abusive. That legacy of Empire isn’t something that we just need to look back on, we can also see it’s stretching into the future of this arrangement, can’t we? It is something that we have to oppose. I would say that there’s a chance here for struggles across borders and across countries because this is something that is affecting multiple groups of people. That gives a glimmer of hope that we can oppose it collectively, in some way. We don’t have to all accept that— We’re not all facing it in the same way. We’re not all facing the same past from it or future from it but we can all at least, perhaps work together to try to end it.

TFSR: Like radical disinvestment from the monarchy and redistribution of what’s been skimmed off the top back to the former colonies or existing colonies of the monarchy might be a good discussion. I’m sure that there are tons of people, especially in those countries, or people who are from those countries or have heritages from those countries in the UK that are probably pushing for that thing.

JB: Yeah, absolutely. The figure that I got regarding the sovereign grant for last year was 86 million pounds. Well, the 70 million people in this country. It’s a sizable amount of money when you think about how those resources could be divided up and how they could be used and what causes they could be used for, rather than just one person’s satisfaction that they’ve been born.

TFSR: We talked about this already a little bit. But in terms of the symbolic power of the “sovereign”, I imagine that folks will throw punches or insults over party membership or which football club they support or what class they were born into and identify with, but that the role filled by the Windsors, it seems to really help to create this umbrella that can act to subsume those other conflicts. Would you talk a bit more about the role of unifying the domain spiritually and symbolically under the House of Windsor?

JB: Yeah, it’s difficult to know exactly how powerful this is. I don’t know what to say about it, to be honest, because I’ve already presented them as a house of cards, it could blow over at any moment. But there is something in the idea that they are a unifying force. And I think it probably ebbs and flows. And I think it probably depends on the circumstance.

During COVID times, there was a moment where the monarchy was focused on and at the moment, actually, she has COVID-19. And so there will be people who think, “Well, she’s got it, it can happen to anybody. She’s old, and we got to look after her.” She’s one of us, along with 86 million quid a year. At least, who knows how much it is really. There will be a sense of that —

Spiritually, that’s a tricky word, isn’t it? We’ve got a Church of England, nobody pays that any attention whatsoever. Even the people who are Church of England, go to such churches every week, are doing it more for social reasons, I think, rather than spiritual ones. If she genuinely believes that she’s been put here by the gift of some god, I feel sorry for her in a way, because that’s obviously not what’s happening. But it’s difficult to say how much of that really matters. Symbolically, occasionally, but again, part of it is about her, I think, the fact that she’s well respected, the fact that she’s loved by large sections of the population is part of this story. She isn’t going to be there for long, she’s probably not going to be there for much longer, to be honest. The person coming along behind her is not that popular. In a way, there are a lot of people who love the monarchy were hoping it might skip a generation and just go to William and Kate next because Charles is not popular. That again offers up some opportunities for building alliances and trying to achieve something new.

Also, I just wanted to mention, because I’m not sure how much people are aware of this, but we’ve also had a situation where the monarchy has actually lost some power recently because Barbados recently ditched the monarchy, peacefully, and moved towards a republic and is now a republic. I am taking the opinion that this house of cards will have some more people take their card away, as it were, if I can stretch the metaphor to beyond meaningfulness. But I have a feeling that when Charles comes along, there will be other countries that take a look at their relationship and think, “Actually, we’re going to change this now”.

Back in the 1990s, Australia was always talked about as a potential country to become a republic. That seems to have died down a little bit. At least, that’s my impression of it in the UK. It might be that there are people there who can tell you much more about that. But the fact that we’ve now got one country that has left in the last few months and ditched the monarchy gives me some hope.

TFSR: You’ve talked about a little bit of the opposition to the monarchy, that’s been coming from a Republican aim. But can you talk about just the opposition to the monarchy more widely, not just necessarily in one moment when the sovereign or the royal family is coming under fire in the media, but more generally, ideologically? What are some anarchist approaches? What do they look like? Or does the opposition all fall under this more Republican representative democracy-type umbrella?

JB: Yeah, I would say most of it goes under trying to get a republic. And the arguments around that are really complex. Do you have an elected president who does exactly the same as the current monarch? Or do you have an elected president with some power that transforms the British political system in a completely different direction? The former seems to be the easier of the options, so that is what people tend to campaign for. Like I said earlier, I think that would be progress in a way but we’re not really anywhere near that at the moment.

In terms of anarchist approaches, there have been a few over the years. It all comes down from the principle that this is wrong. Monarchical power is wrong. I think there’s a link to capitalism there. Because actually, although we might not have people formally born into positions of power and wealth, widespread in society, we do, people are inheriting huge amounts of wealth and using it to their advantage. There have been some interesting campaigns over the year. I might be going back at least 20 years, there was one called Moon Against the Monarchy, where people went outside Buckingham Palace and dropped their trousers and wave their bums in the air. Some of that has been performative and interesting in that way. But we’re not talking about huge amounts of people here, we’re talking about fringe elements, people that can be easily dismissed as freaks on the television news, like most of us are, really. This isn’t really sustained and serious. Part of that might be that a lot of anarchist action is about what’s happening locally, what’s happening in your workplace, what’s happening in your community. Anarchism doesn’t necessarily have to be a national movement, does it? So it might be connected to that.

It’s ripe for change, I think there is something here that can get going really and improved upon. But of course, it doesn’t require the time and the inclination to do something about it. When you see a really popular family, it becomes a little bit tricky. Where do you start? How do you build momentum when you know most people aren’t gonna listen to you? Maybe the time and the conditions will come around where it’s easier?

TFSR: Yeah, it’s hard to ask people to take part in large-scale politics when they’re just being extracted from all the time by capitalism, let alone living during a pandemic when they’re trying to just figure out how to live day to day.

JB: Also, this can look nasty, this can look personal. Because you’ve got this institution, which is made up of real people who have been there, and been there all their lives, and it seems that it can be presented very easily as a nasty thing to do and an unpleasant thing to do. “How can you hate these people, they’re only doing their job?” You can find yourself in a situation, which is quite tricky like that.

But the way that institution works is very interesting because we’re talking about an institution that is supported when the people involved in it are liked. It ebbs and flows. It’s not like the political cycle, the electoral cycle, where the moment somebody gets elected, they become the most unpopular president ever. Then election time comes along, they’re the incumbent and they get elected again. It doesn’t ever flow in that way, ebbs and flows along decades. It takes a long time to pan out this stuff. And that is what gives it that air of permanence and that feeling that you are helpless against it.

TFSR: That seems like the root of the problem right there, is that it’s the emotional response to it is, “But we’ve seen whoever grow up since they were a child. Can you look at this baby photo? Look at how cute they are in their golden bassinet. Isn’t that perfect? They look like baby Jesus.” That’s not the question at hand here. The question is their bassinets made of gold while there are still colonies, and people are being extracted more and more day to day under austerity measures and the government? They still have their huge palace over there and they get to own countries and islands. It’s not about them as people, that needs to be extracted from them as being people.

JB: First of all, babies, the cute babies always looked like Churchill, no matter what.

TFSR: All the babies look like Churchill.

JB: But in terms of thinking about what change might look like, what you end up with is people saying, “If we had a republic, then we’d be like America”. Do you want Trump to be elected here as president? Would you want that?” It doesn’t matter who it is. They will say, “Would you want Obama? Would you want Bush? Would you want Biden?” Because that is automatically seen as worse than someone born into position, which is odd, at least you’ve got the chance of getting rid of those people at some point. I’m not advocating Representative Democracy. But I am saying it’s an improvement on someone being born into a position, that ordinary people do at least have some say over it.

I nearly started to debate about the Electoral College there. But I’ll stop with that.

TFSR: I don’t think there would be a debate here.

JB: People dead against it.

TFSR: No, there are a lot of people, anyone who believes that more democracy is better rather than representatives choosing representatives choosing representatives. It’s actually been a big point, it’s been brought up in the last five years, more than it has been in my lifetime, although, even around the 2000 election, I remember that being a major sticking point when Gore, (actually it was the Supreme Court that gave the presidency to Bush) but people more and more have been recognizing and talking at least in liberal and progressive media circles, and pushing towards abolition.

JB: I think some states have moved to have legislation that would abolish it if a certain number of states take on the same legislation, and therefore, you don’t need a constitutional amendment, which would obviously fail because the Constitution is incredibly hard to change, isn’t it? So it’d be interesting to see if that threshold of States is ever reached, and then people can stop worrying about what number of Electoral College votes the President is going to get. And it will just come down to the popular vote. I guess that will be progress. I hope people will like it if it happens. It won’t solve the world’s problems, will it?

TFSR: No. And maybe it doesn’t have to, but I think this last few years, it was able to be brought up along with the surge of discussion around abolition, as a holdover from slave ownership and slave owners having a certain higher percentage of votes per them. Interestingly, it was in that context, and for years, it was being pushed as being removed because it is such an impediment to even an indirect representative democracy. So maybe it takes more emotional discourse around the historical implications of that and then tying that to the taking away of the vote of populations of color and other populations that are disenfranchised in the US system. I’m not sure.

JB: It’s incredibly difficult as well, isn’t it? Because you’ve got two parties that are drifting further apart. The idea of some consensus developing on this is pretty slim, I would say.

TFSR: I’d say the Democrats are drifting around the center. And the Republicans are going WAY over here…

JB: So if we see them as being fixed, we are getting further away, but not necessarily moving to the left themselves.

TFSR: Do you have any suggestions for what might be good moves towards an anti-monarchist class-based, anti-authoritarian, anti-nationalist struggle against the Royal family? Are there any things in the past that have specifically piqued your interest towards a material struggle in that way?

JB: I certainly can’t speak for anybody else. And I can’t say that this action or this lack of action is happening because anybody else is at fault. We’ve got to take responsibility. And just as an anarchist in Britain. I’m just as responsible for the lack of activity on all of this. But I am certainly not going to going to speak for anarchists or groups in other countries. Definitely. The things that I’m attracted to are performative actions that get attention and force people to think, and sometimes that means repelling people. I don’t think we should shy away from that. I think we should do elaborate, interesting performative actions that are confrontational, if necessary, mildly confrontational, I don’t mind how confrontational it is, at least challenging. It should be led by action. What that action should be, I haven’t got a list. But there are so many issues to do and so many failings to do with the monarchy, that you pick something and run with it. I’d encourage people to think creatively really, and that should be with everything they do. I think everything anarchists should do should be creative in some way. And it will be difficult to build up a movement, but I remain positive about this. I think that the monarchy’s popularity is transitory, it’s not set in stone, it is going to ebb and flow, there will be moments of extreme dislike amongst the people of the monarchy.

They’re going to be really important, but it’s also important to stand up and be counted at times when they are enjoying popularity. In fact, I went to a Republic event, I went to an event they organized in London on the day that William and Kate got married. They organized their own alternative street party because people were encouraged to have street parties across the country. Things like that are important alternatives. That was actually quite a mild event and frustratingly so. It still had the Union Flag bunting and flags out. It was basically “We’re going to do the same thing but we’re not doing it in support of the monarchy” kind of thing. I think you need to be more creative than that. But that action isn’t worthless, i think how you pitch it is important. We need to build something up, I think, and that will take time, but there will be opportunities. Absolutely. You know at some of the figures in this family, and the things that they’ve done and the things that they will do. I know that that’s going to produce opportunities. Definitely.

TFSR: And if power corrupts, and such absolutist power corrupts so absolutely, divest some of that power, and let them be regular folks who can’t wield quite as much power over other people.

JB: Is it absolute power? It is absolute comfort, isn’t it? She’s got absolute comfort. And she’s and that is perhaps something that she can feel secure in. But actually, she won’t be that comfortable forever. And whoever comes along after her, whether it’s Charles or William, they won’t feel comfortable all their lives either.

TFSR: Jon, thank you so much for this conversation. Are there any things that I didn’t ask about that you wanted to put in?

JB: No, I don’t think so. I think it’s been a really interesting discussion. I wish I could announce to the world that there was more happening to oppose this institution. But I think it’s important to have discussions like this when you want more to be happening as well. And maybe one day we can discuss it again and talk about it in a different light. That’d be great.

TFSR: In the past tense. Once the UK has been abolished and the US has been abolished.

So people can find your writing at jonbigger.uk. You’ve got a Twitter account. Are there any other places that people can find you? Freedom?

JB: Yeah. They can search for me at Freedom News, and see what I’ve written about in the past. That is primarily about British politics. But I’m currently thinking, what on earth am I going to write about Ukraine? Because that is obviously going to— it has already impacted British politics. What a devastating situation that is. I haven’t quite formulated all my thoughts yet. I try to broaden things out a little bit when I can onto other issues, too.

TFSR: Thank you so much, again, for this conversation and for the research that you put in.

JB: Thank you.

IDOC Watch, Leon Benson and Abolitionist Organizing in Indiana

IDOC Watch, Leon Benson and Abolitionist Organizing in Indiana

IDOC Watch logo, a fist raising up and crushing a chain over a red background
Download This Episode

First, you’ll hear from Koby Bluitt talking about her father, Leon Benson and his struggle for release after 23 years in prison, 10 of which was in solitary confinement, for a murder charge in 1998 that he has consistently claimed to have not committed. More on Leon at freeleonbenson.org or leonbenson-freeleonbenson on facebook. The Mass Release & Clemency for Leon rally in Indianapolis is July 25th at Tarkington Park. [00:04:44]

Then, you’ll hear from Landis Reyonolds, a founder of IDOC Watch currently held in Westville Correctional Institution and who’s been in since he was a juvenile, and Ray, an outside organizer with the South Bend, Indiana chapter of IDOC Watch. They talk about their work to start study groups in prison, promote Prison Lives Matter, support jailhouse lawyers and recruit outside lawyers through the Prison Legal Support Network alongside the NLG and more. More info at IDOCWatch.Org or find them on twitter, instagram or fakebook. You can support them via their patreon as well! [00:38:08]

PLSN contact info

If you are or know an incarcerated paralegal in IDOC, please send a letter to:

IDOC Watch
P.O. Box 3322
South Bend, IN, 46619

or leave us a voicemail at (423) 281-5009 with your name, DOC #, a brief introduction, and legal training/experience. We will contact you by GTL.

If you are an abolitionist-minded lawyer, law student, paralegal, or have legal expertise and would like to assist:

Email Ray (PLSN outside facilitator) @ RaddishGreens@protonmail.com

Prison Lives Matter:

Sean Swain on Texas abortion laws at [01:19:58]

Announcements

Abolitionist BBQ in Richmond

Join abolitionists on June 5th, 2021 at Chimborazo Park from 2-6pm for an Aboliton Assembly & BBQ, hosted by the VA Prison Abolition Collective and Prison Lives Matter. You can find that and more events across Turtle Island at ItsGoingDown’s Upcoming Events page.

Drop The Charges in PDX

The Portland Anti-Repression Defense League, or PADL, is launching a campaign to demand all charges from the 2020 BLM protests get dropped. You can find a link to the press release in the One Year Rebellion post of the IGD column, In Contempt. And you can contact the organizers at pdxadl@protonmail.com.

International Solidarity with Palestinians

Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement and the Muslim-Jewish Anti-Fascist Front have called for weeks of actions in support of the people of Palestine under the title “International Solidarity Is The Weapon of the People.” We’d like to remind you that while occupied Palestine is no longer in the news as Hamas and Israel signed a ceasefire:

  1. the everyday brutality of the blockade on Gaza has been going since 2007
  2. Israeli courts, cops, military and settlers continue to displace and ethnically cleanse Palestinian Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists and others from the occupied territories as they have since the Nakba began
  3. the US government ok’d more weapons sales to Israel during this recent assault that left dozens of Palestinian adults and children dead, destroyed water treatment, housing, media, medical and other infrastructure

Eric King & CLDC Are Suing BOP

The Civil Liberties Defense Center, on behalf of incarcerated antifascist, vegan and anarchist prisoner Eric King has filed a lawsuit about the ongoing cruelty and torture Eric has faced since he was incarcerated in 2014 for an act of sabotage in solidarity with the then-Uprising in Fergusson, MO, after the brutal murder of Mike Brown, Jr, by police. Eric cannot be abandoned or forgotten, notably since he’s in the crosshairs of the state and white supremacists for his anti-racist and anarchist views. You can find an announcement of the lawsuit at the CLDC website, you can find a great writeup on the situation by Natasha Leonard on The Intercept, and you can hear our interview with Eric and his partner from 2019 at our website.

Skelly of CLE4 In A Halfway House

Joshua “Skelly” Stafford, a part of the Cleveland 4, 4 young anarchist men recruited out of Occupy Cleveland and entrapped by a paid FBI informant into a conspiracy, was released to a halfway house recently. We are excited to see Skelly on his way to full release. Keep an ear out for more details and possible ways to support Skelly post-release.

. … . ..

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Features Tracks:

  • Printmatic (Instrumental) by Soul Position from 8 Million Stories
  • Innocent by Leon Benson / EL BENTLY 448 · MeachThaGod
  • Stoned Is The Way Of The Walk (instrumental) by Cypress Hill from Cypress Hill

. … . ..

Transcription

Koby: Bluitt: My name is Koby: . I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana. I am one of two children of innocent political prisoner Leon Benson. His other child is Leon Bluitt. So that is my younger brother. And I’m here speaking on his behalf and my experience, just want to thank you so much for having me here.

TFSR: Would you tell us about Leon Benson?

Koby: : He has been incarcerated in the state of Indiana for 23 years. So, to rewind, in 1999 he was sentenced to 60 years of which he has maintained his absolute innocence, despite the Indiana justice system’s refusal to grant him justice in its appellate courts. To touch on these different things that we’re trying to get through the appeal courts, they basically were able to convict him of mis-identification by the state sole witness, she changed her statement from the original statement that she had, they had him in custody, they wouldn’t even line him up when they wanted to do an actual lineup for her to be able to identify the person that she claimed that she had seen when she was there. Also, there was a new witness that was actually on the scene, and the testimony was never heard in court. And also, they have been not even accepting his appeals to even reconsider the case, even to reconsider any of the evidence because there’s not even DNA evidence, the sole eyewitness seen, she described him as a dark-skinned male, and he had on a certain amount of clothing. If you guys have ever seen my pops online, or ever checked out his website platforms, like my pops is nowhere near darker complexion. He is a very light, very light brown young man. And also the clothes did not match, the clothes that the actual police had locked him up in, when he was locked up on that night, he didn’t even have the match of the description of the clothing at all.

There was a gentleman who they had got a tip from that actually had a disagreement with my pops. Prior to this crime happening that night, they were able to take his testimony, so-called, and this young gentleman I’m speaking of was someone who was known for using drugs in the area. And this guy basically gave the police a tip, because he was there out of spite to whatever he had going on with my pops. And I guess, of course, they wanted to get my pops anyway due to selling drugs or not that, so… And like I said if you guys heard my pops’ song called Innocent, he talked about how he sold dope. He talked about how he was on the streets trying to make a way for his family, my mom and helping her and everything, and not saying that that’s right. But that’s what he did. And then my pops had a witness who was actually with him that night that never got to speak in the trial, and they wouldn’t even allow him to speak in none of the trials, although he’s ready, willing, open to do it. And there are also other witnesses that did not get to speak on my pops’ behalf. They literally just used this young woman and this other gentleman who was known for using drugs, and he was already on parole, too. It was definitely some mess going on. Maybe a reduced sentence for this young man who actually claimed that he’d seen my pops do it.

Basically, where we are now is my pops has been really trying to get into the appellate courts, and they have refused. He has filed a petition of clemency. This happened back in October of 2020. They finally logged into the system about December of 2020. Within four months in the state of Indiana, they’re supposed to give you a decision on if they’re going to grant it or not. And it’s clearly been more than four months. Despite that, Leon Benson, my pops has demonstrated his humanity, growth, and rehabilitation. For the past seven years, he hasn’t had any misconduct, any write-ups, anything. And he has completed over 50 vocational, therapeutic, spiritual and educational programs, over 50. So he has used his time to really what they think in this criminal justice, incarceration system is supposed to work, people are supposed to get rehabilitated. He really took advantage of all the things that they offer. He is now an asset to society. This is a clear case of rehabilitation versus punishment. Are we going to continue to punish people, even after they have sought redemption from within, they have utilized all the services that are offered within this so-called prison system.

Just a fun fact for those who are listening. Indiana has only granted three clemency petitions since the 70s. Okay, and we are in 2021. And I’m sure there are other people who have sent in applications, and he is not the only one in Indiana who has been wrongly convicted. This is not a unique case. This is tragic when it’s known that it’s prolonged incarceration. And it’s not really to rehabilitate prisoners, we all know incarceration hinders mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. With hopefulness, we are going to basically where his case is now to keep things simple as that he filed for clemency, we’re waiting to hear back.

TFSR: Another thing that I’ve seen, talking to folks who are behind bars, who’ve been fighting for a change in the sentence, if nothing else, is that during that period of time, because of all of the “tough on crime” culture war stuff that was going on to the US from the Democrats and the Republicans.

Koby: Absolutely.

TFSR: There were people getting super long convictions. And since then, there have been reforms of the sentencing structures in a lot of states, where people like old-law people like Jason Goudlock, for instance, is one incarcerated activist in Ohio that I’ve spoken to. He’s talked about how the difference between the old-law prisoners, the ones who had the mandatory minimums, who had the 20 to life sentences, or parole as opposed to required release after a certain period of time that younger prisoners have. Not only is that an unfair situation, but that’s also totally political, where someone who is accused of a crime at a certain point… If your pops is innocent, he should be released anyway. I’m not in favor of carcerality and prisons like they exist in our society. But then again, it seems like it’s obviously a sign of the times of when he was convicted, and it wasn’t about him as much as it was about filling a cell, like you said, if people that are being convicted now of crimes that are similar to that are getting less time. It’s okay if you don’t have an answer to this, but is there a discrepancy between convictions currently versus the time when he went in in 1998? Is that any sort of leverage that you can make in the case?

Koby: Yeah, during that time, I don’t know if the listeners are aware of the prison industrial complex. Really seeing what that time looked like, and what it looks like now, and like you said, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, they were really pushing this “tough on crime” kind of thing. And this “tough on crime” attitude within legislatures and just within the drugs, right? A lot of drugs were going on and they were using that as a way of really getting these people who were black and brown and just even lower to middle-class people out of here. During that time, it was definitely more than just the person and the actual so-called crime, it was more of a culture, it was more of a push like “We’re gonna get all these people out of here, they’re a menace to society and they need to go. We’re not even open to hearing innocence. We’re just going to get them out of here”. And it’s a lot I can touch on. Absolutely.

That relates to… as you said, they have minimum sentencing back in the day, it was different things that they had in place. They still have that, right? Even to connect to why… he’s having clemency, we’re pushing for him to have a clemency hearing. And the thing is we may not even be able to participate in this clemency hearing because they’re supposed to let us know at least two weeks in advance, but with it being over four months, he filed in October 2020, and they logged it in their system in December 2020. And it is May 28 of 2021. This is an opportunity where he could have people come in and speak. And that’s something else I’m gathering, I’m gathering organizations here within Indiana that are involved in knowing that prisoners, their lives matter, they need to be present, they need to be here, focusing on rehabilitation versus punishment and all of that, but the thing is I think the system is just sets you up. We may not even be able to be in court to speak on my pops’ behalf, to let the judge know that he has support, to let the judge know he’s not just somebody, that you’re not just letting out a person who could be a menace to society. I don’t even agree with prisons in general, but like, nonetheless, we won’t even have an opportunity, possibly, because it’s so late in the game, they might just literally tell my pops a couple of days before that he’s gonna go to court, and we won’t even have enough time to get together, to be present for him. And they may not even let him know in enough time to let us know. So I definitely think the times that back in the day in the 90s, the 80s, and the 70s. Like there’s an amazing Netflix documentary The 13th just about why people should care if they don’t even have people incarcerated or know someone.

TFSR: Would you share a bit about Leon’s activism inside, his creativity, and the gift that he and others like him continue to share despite the dungeons that they’re kept in?

Koby: Yeah, for what it’s worth, my pops has not spent this time in prison and let it go to waste. He really got into books, he really got into unlearning to relearn about the world around him and culture and religion, and cultivated a new him, he had a lot of time to spare, clearly. I think a lot of people who are incarcerated, not even my pops, they come out with such an amazing, broader perspective on how do you take the pain and turn it into a passion of some sort, how do you take the pain and possibly be able to create a platform for your children to be able to begin, to create some revenue through learning about turning all that they’ve been through and learning how to get creative with it. And what I mean by that is, although, my pops’ body was locked up, although there are other men and women who are incarcerated, and their bodies are physically behind bars, their mind, my pops’ mind was free to roam, as he dedicated himself to writing powerful poetry and music and helping to create motivational and educational programs to benefit his other fellow comrades from the inside. He has also worked closely with community activists to push for statewide prison reform, to build a system that truly treats every citizen equally.

My pops has been a key part of forming and running several programs in prison meant to create a better system for others. So I want to mention that he was chosen to be a mentor for the staff that created the band of brothers. And this band of brothers basically taught realistic views of masculinity and help individuals to become better members of their families and communities. My pops has really gotten to the healing point that they so-called push for in prisons, he really got into that, but he created that with other individuals that he was locked up with, and they created that community with each other. And, he is a mentor to other men who are in there for different reasons. And he was tasked with facilitating this group and other group discussions and using his unique perspective to make sure that everyone got the most out of the program.

My pops has been not only a father, he was a brother, he was a friend of his community. My pops is from Flint, Michigan. And he came to Indiana in 1995 and was sentenced to 60 years to life by 1999. He wasn’t even here this long, he’s not even from here, he came down here to help his uncle with his painting business, and to help them do home renovations. But nonetheless, my pops has really taken all his pain and turned it into a passion. Through his music, you hear his pain, but you hear his liberation, you hear his never dying, ending faith, that his music and his art and his poetry really speaks for itself. Some other things he’s been involved in is that he was chosen to be council praise team member and sermon group leader for the congregation of Yahweh, and basically a Hebrew spiritual, cultural community.

My pops is very spiritual, he is not religious, and he speaks about spirituality. That’s what we need to be going towards because we all know religion is a social creative construct. My pops spent 10 years in solitary confinement, where people are known to kill themselves, I don’t think there are any windows in there, it’s literally the size of a bathroom or even smaller, and 10 years in there. I mean, the man has amazing strength. And this is why when you hear his song Innocence, when you hear his song TND Truth Never Dies as long as we discover it, he created most of his art being in the shoe, being in solitary confinement. And so, Leon’s commitment to spiritual betterment has won him praise and respect from his peers.

And even from the people inside, and also, Leon became a demand educator, developing a course called The Streets Don’t Love You Back, where he educated hundreds of participants about the perils of street life, and how to escape and find your higher purpose. We know a lot of our men end up going to the streets, not because they “Oh, yeah, sign me up, I want to go, I want to get into things that could possibly get me killed or sent to prison for life”. No, they get into these things because within their environments, there are little to no options, especially coming from a single-parent home. My pops never met his father. And this is something unique for me. I didn’t know my biological father. I didn’t meet him until I was 16 years old. The reason why I’m here today is that my pops stepped up with my mom and said that he would help raise me. And he said he would be my father. Because he never had his father. My pops had character before he went in. Yes, my pops sold drugs, but he did it because that was one of the very few options that he had to actually provide for his family outside of the option that he came down to Indiana to do when that wasn’t working.

As I said, he taught an education course in prison called The Streets Don’t Love You Back and he educated other men who are in prison because of these things. He became a very gifted public speaker delivering over 300 speeches that could be inspirational, comical, tragic, or uplifting, all at the same time. My pops is very artistically inclined. While in prison, it allowed my pops to raise his creativity to new heights. He studied theater, Shakespeare in particular. He took part in several productions. He developed another program called Poetic Justice, in which he helped his fellow inmates to express themselves in words while learning about poem structures, style, and performance. Really turning all the BS and all the things that they put him through, he was able to make it because he was able to find meaning within all of this and is still finding it.

He’s also published several poems, and also several books that have even been stolen. What I mean by stolen is that there are books that he actually had produced and came out with, but they were stolen by different people who actually published them and actually did the legal work behind them. He doesn’t even own that material anymore. It’s just really crazy, but that’s never stopped him. He’s still going on, still creating, he actually has an album coming out called Innocent Born Guilty. And that will be towards either late July or August. He’s done a lot on the inside and has been a part of what prison is supposed to do, to so-called rehabilitate. But once you rehabilitate, then what? Do you still gotta pay? That’s where we are now. It’s been seven years that my pops has had any write-ups and any violations and as anyone knows, prison is a jungle. It may not be you involved in some mess, it might be somebody else, your cellmate, the guards are corrupt. There’s just so much that could happen but for him to be solid that long especially he’s in there wrongly convicted, so he could have really lost his mind and really snapped and crackled and popped. But he’s been really strong. His strength is so admiring for these past 23 years.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the Mass Release campaign? And how does it relate to the efforts to gain clemency for your pops?

Koby: I am actually working with IDOCWatch, an amazing organization. They have a chapter here in Indianapolis, Indiana. And basically, they have four things that they are working on within this Mass Release campaign, they’re working on actually holding the Indiana Department of Corrections accountable. We need to release some people, we need to release them all because people are not getting rehabilitated through this kind of system. And even when they’re rehabilitated, so-called, they shouldn’t have to sit and die in these prisons without their family and those other things. So there are four topics that are connected to the Mass Release campaign. One is compassionate release, and this is the release of the aging people campaign. The second is clemency. And my pops is representing this portion of the four topics that they are going to touch on within the Mass Release campaign, and also being able to get Direct Relief. That’s the second one. And the third point that they’re connecting with the Mass Release campaign is that when their so-called discipline and written up, people are getting their good time taken away. You can get time added to your sentence, really crazy things. And then the fourth one is that some people are getting sent back for technical violations. And literally, they have added like five to ten years on to their sentence. Even though they have good time, even though they’ve been solid for the last couple of years, if they have one violation or one behavior misconduct, they will add time. It’s designed to keep people in, it’s not designed for rehabilitation. With this mass release we must release them all and let’s rehabilitate them, release them all, and let’s actually create programs. As you guys know, if you don’t even have a member of your family incarcerated, our tax money, our tax dollars are going to build these prisons, we can put this money back into reconstructing some rehabilitations, get some social works out there, get some psychologists out there, therapy, we need it. But they’re focused on keeping people in. So with this Mass Release campaign and my pops, really calling on all those to stand in solidarity and for the state of Indiana to begin to reevaluate the mass utilization of the Indiana Department of Corrections. Even across the country, not even Indiana, but just other departments of corrections. They need to reevaluate this mass incarceration.

TFSR: What might you say to folks on the outside who don’t know that they know anyone in the carceral system, or don’t think that they have this vested interest in abolition about your dad’s case and about the mass release campaign?

Koby: We are all witnessing what is going on. People are getting screwed from different ends, to be very transparent, to be very frank, even just outside of mass incarceration, that is happening – our healthcare. There are just different things that are being screwed that if we all come together and stand in solidarity with one another, and it doesn’t have to be because you directly are affected, it is because that you are a part of this Earth and you have to walk the streets of a person who is affected, who is involved. And you have to make sure that that doesn’t mess up what you have going on, that is not deconstruct anything that your children-to-be are going to grow up. We got to think about what kind of world we want to be a part of, what is the change that we want to see. And it’s going to take more than the people who are actually affected by mass incarceration. And maybe you don’t have a father like me who’s been incarcerated. Maybe you have a brother, maybe you have a friend, maybe a friend or a mother who is a single mother because her boyfriend or the father of her children is incarcerated. And now she’s out here having to make ends meet. Now she’s out here making decisions that she wouldn’t have made if she had assistance from the actual father of her child. Now her children are put in spaces with different scenarios that could go left or right because now she has to make it by herself with little to no support. You’re seeing children that are ended up having mental and emotional issues within the school system, that may be sitting next to your child and class. And they may be having behaviors that are they’re acting out in school, or in high school, or maybe they’re in sports, and they’re a little aggressive on the field, and there may be some things that are going on, that you may not even know about, that have to do with their parents being gone incarcerated, that have to do with their parents having health issues, mental health issues, and have to do with their family, be in situations where they did not… the children don’t even have a say, so they don’t even they’re not even cared about. And it’s just that we have to be a part of a world that we want to see.

It’s gonna take all of us, it’s gonna take everybody. You are going to have to choose a side. You got to ask yourself every day: are you doing what you would want the world to look like in the future? Are you a part of the change that you want to see? Or are you remaining silent and being compliant? Because remaining silent and not saying anything and not being involved does not make you better or not. That’s actually a worse offense. Because if you see something, say nothing, then that lets you know that you are in compliance, that you are just as at fault as the people who are doing these things, the systems that are a part of oppression for different people.

And there are different ways. You don’t even have to be standing on the ground, standing in solidarity. Where’s your money going? Where are you donating your money to? Is your money going towards these efforts to get these things off the ground? IDOCWatch, have a Patreon and they have things that people can send in money because they’re actually working with prisoners. Also, they’re connected with Green Star Families, actually helping families be able to… Certain children are not able to connect with their parents. And because they can’t even afford a phone call, they can’t even afford to put money on the books of these incarcerated loved ones, right? We just have to remember: it takes a village to demand change. And we all have to do our part. You don’t have to be on the ground standing in solidarity. You can be redirecting your money. You could be writing letters, you can be reposting this campaign that you’re hearing today. There are ways to be involved. But I would say being silent is definitely not the answer. Your silence lets you and the world around you know where you stand. And if it was you or your loved one, you wouldn’t be silent. We just have to really think about that.

TFSR: So how can people support the efforts to get clemency for Leon Benson? And is there a way that they can follow the campaign?

Koby: Absolutely. One, we keep updates on his Facebook platform. His Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/freeleonbenson. And the website is very simple. It’s www.freeleonbenson.org. We’re going to have updates and that’s where actually you get to see the details of…

We’re going to actually have the demonstration on July 25 in Indianapolis, Indiana at Tarkington Park in connection with the Mass Release campaign. This mass demonstration will have guest speakers, it will have poetry, we’re going to have vegan food and ways that you can connect with like-minded individuals and network, and whatever else you want to do with being a part of a mass demonstration, being a part of something.

Also if you guys already are connected with IDOCWatch or you need to, get on them on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/IDOCWATCH/ and also check out his music, google Leon Benson. It’s a lot of information out there, he’s on a lot of different platforms, and see the story for yourself. You don’t have to just take it from my word, you can look up the facts and public information that is on this case, and you can see it for yourself. I encourage you guys to do that. I encourage you guys to support this clemency by seeing what’s next and actually being present for the actual demonstration. But if you’re not able to be present, you can definitely support the fundraiser we’re going to have, we’re going to have a T-shirt and different items that people can purchase. Be on the lookout for that. As I said, the proceeds are going to go to Green Star Families and IDOCWatch, and then half is to Leon Benson and continue the movement that he and I are doing which is Truth Never Dies. TND, that’s the movement that I am constructing for my pops myself and Valerie, which is his sister.

TFSR: Awesome, Koby, thank you so much for this conversation and for all the work that you’re doing, and good luck. I really hope to see your father free soon.

Koby: Yeah, and thank you so much for this opportunity, thank you guys, the listeners for listening and I hope to see you guys soon. I hope you guys you know really start to stand for something and you gonna fall for anything.

IDOCWatch

Landis: : My name is Landis Reynolds, I’m currently incarcerated in Westville Correctional Facility. I was convicted at age 17 and sentenced to 50 years in prison. I’m now on year 17. While incarcerated, my advocacy and activism began with juvenile justice reform, trying to get them to change some of the laws that they use, with respect to waiving minors to adult court and sentence them to adult time for offenses committed as juveniles. And as I began to study some of the background there and witness some of the horrors that take place in the penal setting. I just started to expand my activism a little bit, study more of the systematic causes and abuses that are perpetrated by the prison industrial complex.

Ray: And I’m Ray, I use they/them pronouns. I’m the PSLN outside facilitator and a member of IDOCWatch in South Bend.

TFSR: So for the listening audience, could you all maybe talk a bit about the IDOCWatch, what it is, how it developed? What motivates it, who it supports and why?

Landis: Okay, so IDOCWatch began rather informally. There were some incarcerated individuals in long-term segregation and in various prisons that reached out to individuals on the outside and began to form friendships and relationships with those individuals. And as those friendships and relationships blossomed, the individuals on the outside were able to see the daily struggle that incarcerated individuals go through in the Indiana Department of Corrections, they were able to see some of the systematic abuses and the violations that go on, and over time, as those friendships and relationships began to blossom. It morphed into what can we do to fix this situation? So, IDOCWatch is essentially a collective to provide assistance for those that are incarcerated, to fight back for their rights and assert themselves. IDOCWatch believes in a prisoner-led abolition. Basically, as we strive and struggle for abolition, we believe that it starts with the individuals that are incarcerated. We have to educate ourselves, we have to take those first steps in the fight towards abolition and asserting our rights. And IDOCWatch has grown exponentially and towards furthering those goals.

TFSR:

I’m curious about… with the organizing that y’all have been doing on the inside, how has the Indiana Department of Corrections reacted to prisoner self-advocacy, sharing education, sharing experiences, and building this community, as you say, and friendships?

Landis: They’ve responded in some overt obstruction, some of the obstruction is subversive. Anything that appears to be offenders or prisoners uniting is extremely frowned upon, any type of assistance or attempts to uplift each other is frowned upon. One of the things that we’ve begun to do is form study groups where we can help educate each other politically, assist each other with education, whether it be pursuing a GED, different stuff like that. One thing that we’ve seen at the location where we’re at is anytime a study group is formed, and we began making progress, that there’s a mass movement and the individuals that are taking part in the study group are scattered throughout the facility. You see administrative rules that are enacted where you can receive a conduct violation for studying in a group. Internal advocates, or what’s also known as jailhouse lawyers, can receive a conduct violation for helping to assist other individuals in legal matters. So there’s absolutely a constructive attempt to stop that type of solidarity and prisoner to prisoner assistance.

TFSR: It sounds like a lot of what you’re describing are rules infraction board-type assaults on individuals inside. Have they done anything that would resemble gang-jacketing participation or solidarity or study groups?

Landis: Oh, absolutely. Anything that same as in support of abolition or in support of solidarity, they actually refer to it as a security threat group activity. So when members get together in a study group to help uplift each other, they see that type of unity, even though it’s in furtherance of reformation and rehabilitation, they see that type of unity as a threat to the safety and security of the facility. And they actually can act pretty harshly against it.

TFSR: Ray mentioned the Prison Legal Solidarity Network. I’m wondering if y’all could tell the listening audience a little bit about how that developed and your partnership with the National Lawyers Guild and what the vision is for that?

Landis: Okay, so with PLSN, one of the things we’ve seen historically, is when it comes to any type of movement when individuals are asserting their civil rights, protesting, and things of that nature alone, without more, it is difficult to accomplish the goal. So various members of IDOCWatch, we put our heads together. And we see that in the correctional setting, many constitutional violations go unchallenged, because either there’s an ignorance amongst the prisoner population on how to challenge those constitutional violations, or what we’ve seen in recent years, is a meaningful or willful attempt on behalf of IDOC to keep offenders out of law libraries or make it difficult for them to assert their legal rights. So, with the PLSN we’ve seen an opportunity to not only build a network that provided the necessary resources for offenders to attack their criminal convictions or file lawsuits against systematic abuses within the correctional setting, but we’ve seen it as an opportunity to educate. One of the main pillars and objectives is empowerment. In that, we seize the opportunity to educate the incarcerated on the true motives of the prison industrial complex and the history behind the prison system as apparatus of class warfare and subjugation. We see it as providing the necessary resources to weaponize the very system, they weaponize against our communities, against the prison industrial complex. And it provides an opportunity for us to network and to build those friendships and meaningful relationships to continuously grow and progress towards the ultimate goal.

TFSR: Yeah, that kind of strikes a chord that I’ve been hearing a lot of quotes of, in the last few years, from prisoner organizers, which is I think a mixture of a quote from… I’m not… amazingly versed in George Jackson, but between George Jackson and also Ho Chi Minh, talking about turning the prisons into schools of liberation. When reading up on the Prison Legal Solidarity Network, I also came across the Prison Lives Matter which I’ve also heard referenced by incarcerated activists that I have spoken to. Can you talk a little bit about PLM and how the Prison Legal Solidarity Network engages with it and what that initiative is?

Landis: PLM is an amazing organization that was created in part by one of our members, one of our inside coordinators Shaka Shakur. And basically, it is to shine a light on the fact that just because the person was convicted of a crime doesn’t mean that their life doesn’t matter. It doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a legitimate shot at reformation. The public a lot of times doesn’t understand the factors that condition individuals and set them up to be incarcerated, number one. And number two, a lot of people think that incarceration is conducive to reformation. They believe that when you come to prison, you have the ability to take advantage of programs to reform yourself and to become a productive member of society. But that’s absolutely not the truth. They don’t understand that prisons are absolutely saturated with narcotics. They don’t understand that prisons are ridiculously violent. And that most administrations enforce policies and a culture that reinforces the cycle of addiction and the cycle of violence. And when an individual spends years at a time in these environments, without the opportunity for a meaningful reformation, that the system is essentially manufacturing monsters that they’re returning to these working-class and minority communities. And it creates that cycle of violence and failure and addiction and re-incarceration. And they don’t understand that that was the true meaning of that system.

If you look at the Indiana Department of Corrections, their model isn’t reformation, it isn’t rehabilitation. If you look at their emblem, it says, Employees Efficiency Effectiveness. So they’re utilizing employees to efficiently and effectively incarcerate individuals. It has nothing to do with the reformation, nothing to do with rehabilitation. So Prison Lives Matter was a formation to shine a light on what really goes on behind these walls and to start to put the mechanisms in place, to start to form the relationships and the networks to actually be able to create an environment that’s conducive to rehabilitation and supports what we’re striving for.

TFSR: And while the work that y’all are doing to co-educate and to engage other people that are behind the bars, it seems super important, especially since people are coming in and going and going back in, people have families and communities on the outside. And one of these major dehumanizing methods of the prison system in the United States is to attempt to, despite what it says, break up those connections. It seems like Prison Lives Matters gives an opportunity for people to gain more tools to be able to talk about what they’ve experienced to their loved ones on the outside and re-contextualize the reason that they’re in that place and engage the people on the outside to fight along their side too.

Landis: Absolutely, and what’s disturbing is when you’re incarcerated, those relationships and friendships with your family are already strained because of the distance and the difficulties that come with incarceration. But we’ve seen an effort on the part of the Indiana Department of Corrections to make that even more difficult. So one of the things that they’ve done is they’ve made it harder for offenders to receive snail mail. And one of the reasons for that is they issue began issuing tablets where we can send electronic mail to our families and everything, one more way that they can make money. So what they began to do is, instead of allowing us to receive actual letters, they began copying our letters and making it difficult and limiting the type of mail that your family can send you, they can’t send you actual pictures anymore, to force us to start to use these tablets. Now what we’re seeing, since COVID, is an attack on the contact visitation. One of the most dehumanizing things about incarceration is you don’t have the ability to receive that reassuring touch. And contact visitation, when you’re able to see your family and actually hug another human being, hold their hand, kiss your child, that reminds you of your humanity, that’s a motivation for you to continue to put one foot in front of the other. And here recently, we’ve seen an attack on that.

We believe that, and I’ve heard from a senior official that they’re actually trying to eliminate contact visits in the Indiana prison system and force us to have to utilize the video visitation to see our family. And that’s wrong on so many levels. Number one, not all families have the financial resources to do that. Number two, the Wi-Fi system is ridiculously unreliable. Frequently, one of your family members has scheduled a visit, and they can’t even get through because the Wi-Fi is not up. So as you were saying, maintaining these human connections is really important. And that’s another thing that we’re seeing constructive efforts to obstruct our ability to maintain that contact with those loved ones, our ability to maintain the network with individuals like yourself who support us and support our well-being.

TFSR: It’s a strategy that Departments of Corrections seem to be applying across the country, including at the federal level. It also increases the possibility of surveillance, right? If you’ve got emails shooting back and forth, and you’re paying 50 cents for an E stamp or whatever, through JPay, then suddenly, it’s way easier to run an algorithm to just search for certain key phrases or monitor your relationship with people on the outside.

Landis: Absolutely! One thing that’s particularly scary is for activists, without contact visits, without the ability to utilize snail mail at any time, people that are shining a light on the systematic abuses and oppression, they can cut you off electronically, stop you from being able to send electronic messages, they can stop your video visits. Because the way that it was set up before is they could restrict your visit, they could put you on non-contact visits, but at any time an individual could come up there and make sure that you were okay. But the things that they’re trying to impose now, where they’re making everything electronic, somebody who’s a thorn in the side of a particular administration, they would have no problem whatsoever cutting off all of your contacts with the outside world, and you would literally be at the mercy of that particular administration. So it creates a huge possibility for abuse.

TFSR: And so I guess while you all are working towards PLM as a project to garner more attention and get more support, more understanding on the outside, the Prison Legal Solidarity Network is a tool towards multiplying the number of people that are going to be able to advocate for each other and also build solidarity with each other, to advocate on each other’s behalf, help them through filing these lawsuits, challenging the imposition of this for-profit filtering of people’s real lives and ability to survive.

Landis: So, one thing that we have seen in analyzing history is movements such as this, like I said earlier, require more than simple protesting. In order for us to achieve the things that we want to achieve, we have to start to put the support systems in place to sustain an ongoing movement. One way to proactively counter PRC aggression, and to fulfill certain objectives, such as legal education, political education, the empowerment that we need collectively, was to put this support system in place. We also believe that we have to begin to put other support systems in place to continue to counter some of these moves to further the objectives of the prison industrial complex.

We see, especially at locations like this, where they only provide the minimum amount of education required. Here, under IDOC policy, they’re only allowed to teach English in the classroom. So one thing that I’ve seen is we have a large number of Hispanic immigrants here that can’t speak English. So those individuals aren’t provided books in Spanish, they aren’t provided a translator or individuals that can teach them English, and they’re still expected to be able to get their GED. And what’s even more unfair about the situation is in order to go on to a vocational school or programs like PLUS or other reformative programs, they require GED. So basically, individuals who are immigrants or don’t speak English have to do 100% of their sentence simply based off of a policy. And you see that if you study the policies, the policies aren’t geared towards reformation or reintegrating individuals in society, they’re geared towards keeping individuals here longer.

TFSR: Like handling a surplus population.

Landis: Absolutely. So, that’s two things that the PLSN is looking at right now is we’re looking at how they are deprived of good-time credit. And we’re also looking at the parole system in Indiana, and how they have absolute authority to re-incarcerate individuals at their whim, which is scary. Once an individual does their required sentence and they’re released on parole. If I forgot to report, a change of address, they can send me back to prison for the rest of my sentence.

TFSR: I’d also like to hear a little bit about – I know it’s off topic of the Prison Legal Solidarity Network – but if you could speak a little bit about what your experience with COVID has been in the facilities that you’ve been in, and what vaccination, if any, is happening among the guards, how prisoners feel about vaccines, because I know there’s a lot of hesitancy or distrust in certain facilities around the country.

Landis: Well, at the location I’m at with respect to the vaccine, there’s a huge distrust. We know that historically, prisons have been the place where they’ve done medical experiments, tested experimental medications. So amongst the offender population, there’s distrust for for-profit medical companies like Wexford, who could care less about our physical well-being, their main concern is their bottom line or profits. So very few of the offenders that I know have actually taken advantage of the opportunity to receive the vaccine, and most of them think we all had COVID. So what’s the point in getting vaccinated against COVID, if every person that you know has already had it?

The public has no clue what went on behind these walls during this pandemic. It was terrifying. So when we begin to see news reports about the severity of COVID, how serious it was, there was no meaningful response from the administration whatsoever. And the scary thing is this facility holds more prisoners than any other facility in the state. I just arrived here when the pandemic hit. We have a unit here called ANO where when you’re first transferred from another prison or you come from the reception diagnostic center, you go to that unit first, they assess you, and then they send you to your respective part of the prison you are assigned to. So, the first case was on that unit. And what they did is they tried to keep it hush-hush. They didn’t respond in any meaningful way. Then when we started to hear that they had positive tests in that unit, from what the correctional staff was saying that they instructed officers to stop, if you weren’t assigned to that unit, you weren’t supposed to go to that unit. But we were seeing officers go up to that unit, where they had positive cases, visit with other staff, and then go to other units within the facility. And within a few days, maybe a week, we start seeing individuals start to exhibit the symptoms of COVID. Once it finished sweeping through the prison like wildfire, then they step in, and they basically quarantine each dorm to their dorm. But they knew that the virus was already within each dorm. So, we weren’t issued masks. When staff was walking around wearing masks if an offender has made his own mask out of whatever materials that he could get, he received a conduct report for it. And then once they finally started to issue masks, at first, I believe those maybe one or two days, medical staff would report to each unit and check to see if guys had symptoms. But after that we didn’t see medical staff for months, there were instances where an offender would be so sick that we would have to threaten to riot to get that offender medical attention. It was a very, very terrifying experience.

TFSR: Sure. Although it sounds like you were describing an instance where maybe someone was transferred in and brought it into the facility as an inmate or as a prisoner, I don’t know if there were any concerns, if you would be aware if the guards had any quarantining going on among them, because they’re coming in and out of the facility, they’re not regulated in the rest of their life, where they’re spending their time, who they’re around, and if they’re masking up outside.

Landis: Exactly. None whatsoever, the guards were pretty much allowed to do what they wanted to do. The only thing that they changed, and this was after there was a ridiculous amount of positive tests, was they started taking the guards’ temperatures coming in. That’s it. And it’s crazy because we read a newspaper article, where the Indiana Department of Correction reported that there were 233 COVID cases, department-wide in every prison in the state of Indiana, they only had 233 people test positive, which is laughable. Because every dorm on the complex that I was in, pretty much everybody had it. There were periods of time where you wouldn’t see an individual for two weeks, and then they would pop back up. And you didn’t know that that person had been in their bed sick that entire time. They tested the dorm underneath the ANO unit. And I believe they had 93 people test positive out of 96. And they stopped testing after that. They wouldn’t test anybody else anymore after that.

TFSR: Yeah, I guess if they reported those numbers, that’s like opening themselves up to a federal injunction or something. They don’t believe in actually being held accountable for anything, let alone for prisoners’ health.

Landis: I’m going to be honest, I believe, because I read some articles on herd immunity. And basically, herd immunity means you let the majority of the population become infected. And basically, that slows… there’s immunity that’s built up on the antibodies. And that basically takes the place of a vaccine, and that’s what I’ve seen take place here. What they did, is they restricted the movement, and they just let the vaccine run its course to the detriment of the people that were incarcerated here.

TFSR: If we don’t know the long-term effects of what the vaccines will do, and there have been like small examples of the negative impacts on a few, a 100th of a percent of the population that’s been vaccinated. But definitely, we’re already seeing the long-term impacts on the cheaper version of herd immunity, which is just let everyone get infected.

Landis, you talked about how you’ve been in for 17 years, you came in as a juvenile, correct?

Landis: Yes, sir.

TFSR: And you’ve been an advocate around shifts and changes in juvenile incarceration in Indiana. If you could talk a little bit about what some of that work looks like and what maybe people on the outside don’t realize why there need to be major shifts in the way that people consider criminality, incarceration, and juvenile health.

Landis: The first thing that people don’t consider is that minors are physiologically incapable of making an adult decision. So anytime a minor is waived to adult court and sentenced to adult time for a decision they made when they were incapable of thinking as an adult, in and of itself, contradicts justice. For me, after I was convicted, I was at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, the most violent prison in the state of Indiana. I was placed in a dorm called K-dorm, it was a program called YIA, youth incarcerated as adults. And basically, it was like Lord of the Flies in there, it was violent. There was a lot of misconduct on the part of staff towards juvenile offenders, we really didn’t have any rehabilitative resources to speak of. And one thing that I’ve always seen is that if there’s any renewable resource, here, within the last 10-20 years, as a society, spoken a lot about renewable resources, if there’s any renewable resource, it is our children. If anybody is capable of reformation and redemption, it’s a child. But we’re the only country in the world where a child can commit a crime. And one thing that really isn’t taken into consideration is the background that this child came from, what motivations caused this child to commit this crime.

Not understanding that background, not understanding the inability to think at the level necessary, and sentencing a child to considerable term in prison goes against what our Constitution is supposed to do. Because here in Indiana, we have Article 1 Section 18 that says the Penal Code shall be founded upon principles of reformation and not vindictive justice. But what’s more vindictive about sending a child to prison where they have a choice between joining a gang and engaging in violent behavior, or being raped, or being robbed, or abused. Basically, when you send a child into this environment, either he has to become a monster to survive, or he has to become a victim. And if reformation is the goal, that makes reformation impossible. So looking towards the initiatives and the things, there is pretty much nothing in place that would allow a child to reform themselves.

TFSR: Thank you for saying that. I really appreciate that. And there’s some audio of you also speaking about your experiences up on the IDOCWatch.org website. Really just spell it out also, and very worth listening to. How can people who were in the listening audience support PLSN and get involved, support PLM, if you can speak to that.

Ray: As far as Prison Lives Matter, you can our focus is incarcerated people and people on the outside. You can reach us at PO Box 9383, Chicago, Illinois 6069. Or you can visit us at supportprisonlives.org. For the Prison Support Legal Network, if you are a jailhouse lawyer or interested in our initiative, you can write to us at PO Box 3322 South Bend, Indiana 46619, or leave us a voicemail at 423-281-5009 with your name, DOC number, and a brief introduction and any legal experience or training that you may have, and we will contact you.

If you are a lawyer in Indiana, a paralegal law student, abolitionist-minded with a little bit of legal expertise, we’d love to have you onboard as well in our external committee, and you can email me directly. That’s Ray at raddishgreens@protonmail.com.

TFSR: Ray gave us a little bit of information about how outside people can get involved with or find out more about PLSN and PLM. The website for IDOCWatch, or it has a reference to support for the demands of the 2018 national prison strike. About a month ago, I got to speak with someone from Jailhouse Lawyers Speak about the Shut Them Down 2021 initiative. And I’m not sure if you’re aware of this initiative, if either you as a member of IDOCWatch, or you as an individual, have any words for the audience about that call out for people to come together around the theme of abolition and engage with juvenile facilities, ICE facilities, BOP, local DOC, whatever and challenge them and educate each other.

Landis: With respect to this specific initiative, I haven’t really had an opportunity to read up on it or anything like that. But one thing that I can say is, without unity, we’re not going to make it anywhere. Every year, I see our rights eroded, I see the abuses become more blazing and more sadistic. But unless individuals come together and make up their minds that meaningful change is the only thing that they’ll settle for, things are only going to continue to get worse.

TFSR: I didn’t have any more questions that I had scripted out. So is there anything that we didn’t talk about? Or that I didn’t ask about that you want to be asked about or that you want to just riff on?

Landis: I don’t know, Ray might have some stuff. The only thing that I wanted to touch bases on is some of the long-term goals for PLSN. Because as a mechanism of genocide, the prison system is just one component. I think that people don’t really see things like public defender agencies as mechanisms of genocide or tools of the prison industrial complex. And what we’re doing is we’re developing some future goals and objectives and strategies for how we can continue to combat the prison industrial complex, not just in the prison setting, but on the street. So one of the things that we’ve started to develop is what we call the Indiana Criminal Representation branch, where most public defender agencies blame their inability to adequately defend defendants on the number of cases that they have. So, I believe that one of the strategies that we can utilize in fighting against the public defender agencies being able to feed working-class and minority individuals as to this horrible system, is by creating our own mechanisms for criminal defense, things like the PLSN, where we have professionals, we have lawyers and paralegals and jailhouse lawyers come together, and law students, and pooling resources to effectively provide that legal support.

If we start to put these mechanisms into place prior to incarceration, I believe we can really carve them out of individuals that are fed into the system and save a lot of lives. Another initiative that we’re looking at is non-profit bail bonds. In recent years, we’ve seen a movement for bail reform, because we know that the odds of an individual receiving an unfavorable outcome to their criminal case is a lot higher when they fight their case from behind bars. And that’s one of the strategies that they use for working-class minority individuals is they keep you locked up. And a lot of times the lack of these resources and these public defenders that either won’t or can’t perform their job effectively assist in feeding the prison industrial complex. If we could come up with mechanisms to where we can assist minority and working-class people in getting out of jail so they can find their cases on the street and start to implement some community-building with those programs. So for the individuals that take part in the indigent criminal representation, or non-profit bail bonds, where they’re actively doing community service, going to school, taking part in political agitation, assisting in initiatives like the PLSN, where they’re actively helping members of their community understand what the prison industrial complex is perpetrating against our communities. And further our goal of abolition.

TFSR: Ray, did you have anything to add to this conversation? I think this would be a good place probably for us to start wrapping up.

Ray: I think that what Landis said above and beyond covered things that I wanted to talk about, and that are call-outs that I mentioned, our buffer inside and outside, you mentioned that it was heard outside, somebody they’re in contact with that is in Indiana that is interested in being a jailhouse lawyer or being trained, contact us.

TFSR: How can people follow IDOCWatch?

Ray: You can find us on Facebook and Twitter, both with IDOCWatch.

TFSR: Landis, are you cool with people reaching out to you? And is it okay, do you have a preference of JPay male or I guess what remains is snail mail?

Landis: However they’d like to reach out, I’m definitely interested in sharing my story and participating with any organization where I can help further the goals of abolition or assist anybody who’s going through what I’ve been through or is going to go through what I’ve been through. In any way that I can help anybody, I’m willing to. You can reach out to me through GTL by downloading the Connect Network app or through snail mail. My name is Landis Reynolds, DOC number 157028, and I’m located at Westville Correctional Facility in Westville, Indiana.

TFSR: Thank you, all of you for taking the time and helping to make this conversation happen. I really appreciate it.

Ray, Landis: Absolutely. Thank you so much.

The Struggle for Likhtsamisyu Liberation Continues, Updates from Delee Nikal

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This week we had the opportunity to connect with Delee Nikal, who is a Wet’su’weten community member, about updates from the Gidimt’en Camp that was created to block the TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline (or CGL) that Canada is trying to push through their un-ceded territory. In this interview Bursts and Delee speak about ways folks can get involved, both in so called BC and elsewhere, how the covid pandemic is affecting their work, and many other topics.

The Struggle for Likhtsamisyu Liberation Continues, Updates from Delee Nikal

Click here to hear a past interview with Delee!

Follow @gidimten_checkpoint on Instagram and Gidimt’en Yintah Access on the internet for further ways to send solidarity, including a fundraising and wishlist link.

Links and projects mentioned by our guest:

defund.ca

defundthepolice.org

BIPOC Liberation Collective

Defenders Against the Wall

Help Get a New Lawyer for Sean Swain!

Before the segment from Sean Swain, we would like to draw attention to a fundraiser in order to get Sean proper legal representation. As we all may know by now, there is nothing restorative about the prison system, its only reason for being is punitive and capitalist. Sean Swain has been in prison for the past 25 years, for a so called “crime” of self defense and radicalized to being an anarchist behind bars. He has been targeted by numerous prison officials for his political beliefs, so much so that years were added to his sentence. If you would like to support this fundraiser, you can either visit our show notes or go to gofundme.com and search Restorative Justice for Sean Swain.

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You can write to Sean Swain at his latest address:

Sean Swain #2015638

Buckingham Correctional

PO Box 430

Dillwyn, VA 23936

You can find his writings, past recordings of his audio segments, and updates on his case at seanswain.org, and follow him on Twitter @swainrocks.

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In Solidarity with Italian Anarchists Facing Repression 

We send you our solidarity call with anarchist in Italy and some introductory words, asking you to spread it in the way you prefer. Thanks!From 2019 to today the Italian State has carried out many repressive operations and inflicted a series of restrictive measures on anarchist comrades, limiting their freedom of movement and forcing them to remain within the limits of their city or to move away from the city or region where they reside.

As recipients of these kind of minor measures, together we want to relaunch our solidarity with the more than 200 comrades involved in the various trials in Italy that are starting this September and that shall continue throughout the autumn.
In particular, the appeal trial of the Scripta Manent Operation will resume at the beginning of September: this trial involves 5 comrades who have been in prison for 4 years (two of them for 8 years) and which has resulted in 20+ years of sentence in the first grade.
During this trial the prosecutor Sparagna gibbered of an “acceptable” anarchism and of a “criminal” one, statements that contain the punitive strategy that the State wants to carry out, based on dividing the “good” from the “bad” within the anarchist movement and the ruling of exemplary sentences.”

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WHO ASPIRES TO FREEDOM CANNOT BE “MEASURED”

We are anarchists subject to restrictive measures following a series of investigations that have crossed the Italian peninsula in the last year and a half.

They would like to isolate us, but they cannot. They would like to prevent us from supporting our comrades in prison, but their repression can only strengthen our solidarity.
With these various investigations, measures and prison detentions they want to wear us out and divide us, but we remain firm in our ideas and our relations, also thanks to the strong and sincere solidarity that has never failed us and that is increasingly under attack in the courtrooms.

They want to divide us between “good” and “bad”, between an anarchism they call "acceptable" and one they call "criminal". We are aware that it is our ideas that have been put on the stand in the latest inquiries, all the more so when these ideas find the way of being translated into action, because as we’ve always believed, thought and action find their meaning only when tied together. And it’s not surprising that a hierarchical system of power such as the State is trying to knock out its enemies by playing dirty and reviewing history, precisely when social anger is growing everywhere.

We don’t intend to bow down to their repressive strategies and we reaffirm our full solidarity and complicity with all the anarchists who will be on trial from September: we stand side by side with the comrades under investigation for the Scripta Manent, Panico, Prometeo, Bialystok and Lince Operations, with the anarchist comrades Juan and Davide and with those who will be tried for the Brennero demonstration; we assert our solidarity with Carla, an anarchist comrade arrested in August after living more than a year as a fugitive, following the Scintilla Operation.

We know very well who are the enemies that imprison our comrades and against whom we are fighting and every anarchist knows in his/her heart how and where to act to demonstrate what solidarity is.
Even if not all of us can be present in the courtrooms alongside our comrades on trial or where solidarity will be manifested, we want to express all our affinity, our love and our anger to them and to all anarchists in prison.

Let’s continue to attack this world of cages. Solidarity is a weapon, and an opportunity.

-Anarchists “with measures”, exiled and confined

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Public Domain music for this episode:
Hustler – Retro Beatz  (loop by William)
BOSS – Hip Hop Rap Instrumental 2016  (loop by William)

We Need To Spread This Freely: JN On HK Under National Security Law

We Need To Spread This Freely: JN On HK Under National Security Law

A 2019 demonstration with laser pointers in Hong Kong following the arrest of activist, Keith Fong.
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This week, I speak with JN, an anarchist who works with the decolonial, leftist HongKonger platform, Lausan, talks about where the uprising against Chinese integration in Hong Kong stands, the National Security Law, tankie and rightwing narratives and international anti-authoritarian solidarity and resistance.

The interview about Belarus that I mentioned before was from a recent episode of Elephant In The Room, from Dresden, Germany, which is a member of the Channel Zero Network of Anarchist Podcasts.

A few of the media links mentioned by JN are:

Announcements

Charlotte RNC 2020

I’d like to remind folks that the 2020 Republican National Convention is going to partially be held in Charlotte from August 20-24. One group that is doing anti-repression work in the area is CharlotteUprising, which can be found on twitter at @CLTUprising, where you can find info about the protests at the event as well as their jail support, including how to make donations. You can learn more by following the hashtags #CharlotteUprising and #ResistRNC2020

JLS Call For Solidarity Aug 19 – Sept 9

You can read the whole release here:

To all in solidarity with the Prisoners Human Rights Movement:
We are reaching out to those that have been amplifying our voices in these state, federal, or immigration jails and prisons, and to allies that uplifted the national prison strike demands in 2018. We call on you again to organize the communities from August 21st – September 9th, 2020, by hosting actions, events, and demonstrations that call for prisoner human rights and the end to prison slavery…
On August 21 – September 9, we call on everyone in solidarity with the prison class struggle to organize an action, a panel discussion, a rally, an art event, a film screening, or another kind of demonstration to promote prisoners’ human rights. Whatever is within your ability, we ask that you shake the nation out of any fog they may be in about prisoners’ human rights and the criminal legal system (legalized enslavement).
During these solidarity events, we request that organizers amplify immediate issues prisoners in your state face, the demands from the National Prison Strike of 2018, and uplift Jailhouse Lawyers Speak new International Law Project…
The prison strike demands were drafted as a path to alleviate the dehumanizing process and conditions people are subjected to while going through this nation’s judicial system. Following up on these demands communicates to the world that prisoners are heard and that prisoners’ human rights are a priority.
In the spirit of Attica, will you be in the fight to dismantle the prison industrial slave complex by pushing agendas that will shut down jails and prisons like Rikers Island or Attica? Read the Attica Rebellion demands and read the National Prison Strike 2018 demands. Ask yourself what can you do to see the 2018 National Prison Strike demands through.
SHARE THIS RELEASE FAR AND WIDE WITH ALL YOUR CONTACTS!
We rage with George Jackson’s “Blood in my eyes” and move in the spirit of the Attica Rebellion!
image by StudioIncendo on Flickr
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featured track:
I Can’t Relate – Beatnuts – Hydrabeats Vol 5 (instrumentals)

Maxida Märak and Gabriel Khun on Liberating Sápmi

Liberating Sápmi with Maxida Märak and Gabriel Khun

Book cover of "Liberating Sapmi", PM Press
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This week we are pleased to present an interview William conducted with Gabriel Khun and Maxida Märak on the 2019 PM Press release Liberating Sápmi: Indigenous Resistance in Europe’s Far North. This book, of which Khun is the author and editor and Märak is an contributor, details a political history of the Sámi people whose traditional lands extend along the north most regions of so called Sweden, Norway, Finland, and parts of Russia, as well as interviews conducted with over a dozen Sámi artists and activists.

Maxida Märak is a Sámi activist, actor, and hip hop artist who has done extensive work for Indigenous people’s justice. All of the music in this episode is by Märak and used with her permission, one of which comes off of her 2019 full length release Utopi.

In this episode we speak about the particular struggles of Sámi folks, ties between Indigenous people all around the world, and many more topics!

Links for further solidarity and support from our guests:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription

Maxida Märak (MM): My name is Maxida Märak, I work as a hip hop artist and producer. I’ve been acting quite a bit before I started to do music, and I’m also known for being an activist in Indigenous groups and especially for the Sámis, cause I’m Sámi. We are the Native people of the Scandinavian north. We live and breathe in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and parts of Russia. So for people who are political, they will probably know me as an activist-artist, I would say.

I don’t know what more I can say, I live in Jokkmokk which is up north in Sweden. I have a daughter, she’s 8 years old, and yeah that’s me. Parts of me.

Gabriel Kuhn (GK): So my name is Gabriel Kuhn, I was born and raised in Austria, then I left the country about 25 years ago, and moved around a lot until I ended up in Sweden in 2007, and I’ve been living here since and work as a writer and translator. And I’m involved in various social and political projects.

TFSR: So, firstly I’d love to start out with a question for Gabriel. We are here to talk about your book Liberating Sápmi, which came out this year (2020) from PM Press. Would you lay out some groundwork about this book, and how you came to writing and compiling it?

GK: Yeah! So the book, basically it’s an introduction to Sámi history with a focus on the political struggle of the Sámi people and anti-colonial resistance. The book is laid out in two major parts, there is an introduction, which I wrote and is called “A Short Political History of Sápmi”, so Sápmi being the traditional homeland of the Sámi people. And that provides general background information, and then the main part of the book which makes up about two-thirds are interviews with twelve Sámi artists, activists, and scholars. So Maxida is one of them.

In addition there are illustrations in the book, photographs, and artwork. And there is a resource guide at the end of the book, which has information about more English language literature and music and film and some online sources that people can look into.

And the reason I got the idea for the book was that I thought such a book was missing on the english language market. There are quite a few books about the Sámi people in English, some of them are very good, but most of them are academic studies, they are hard to find, or they’re quite expensive. So my intention was to do a book that was accessible, easy to read, easy to get, affordable, and that’s how the idea came about.

TFSR: I loved the interview component of the book, the introduction was really well done and I loved it too, but I also loved the intertwining of the interview component in the book and bringing in voices from all over Sápmi and all of these different backgrounds.

GK: That was the most important part of the book!

TFSR: Definitely! And I wonder Maxida if I could ask you, insofar as this is possible would you speak about the history of Sápmi and the history of Sámi people who live on the land?

MM: Wow that’s a big question! Well we are Indigenous people, so we’ve been where we are for what you can tell for over 10,000 years. The hard part is that Sweden always wanted to categorize us as a “minority”, which we are, but not just a minority. We are Indigenous, and I think that one of the hard things has been to proving that because we have a history of not leaving trails. That we are guests in nature, so we haven’t left anything to find really, no big marks. But we are Indigenous people, we have been very isolated because we live in the northern part of Sweden which is for many people I think unknown ground. When you travel far up north in Sweden, and I’ll talk just about Sweden-Norway-Finland, it’s a lot different. The landscape is a lot different from the middle part of Sweden and down to the south. So it’s kind of hard to live there if you don’t know how to use the ground and how to hunt and fish. And so we had been kind of isolated.

Then around 16th century, like in many other places in the world, the Church became very central and started to travel. And to make a very long story short they started to go farther up north and of course tried to get the Sámis into the church for the same reasons as.. I mean they treated the Sámis the same way they treated Indigenous people all around the world. So it was a battle between religions I would say. Only the fact that Sámis never went to war, we don’t even have a name for war in the Sámi language. We’ve never been a people of war.

We’ve been mistreated and killed, and slaughtered, like other Indigenous people. And I can just go on and on about how they have been treating us. I can say that the Sámi culture is very different from the Swedish culture, which is also I mean, what I notice is that it’s hard to combine, the Swedish culture and the Sámi culture, or the non-Sámi culture and Sámi culture because we live a lifestyle where the goal is not profit. We have reindeer, we still do reindeer herding, we are the only people in Scandanavia that does reindeer herding. In Sweden we have no wild reindeer anymore, so it’s just like cattle but they are free. And we have the language, our history of the yoik [traditional Sámi singing and music], like I said I could go into specific areas, so if there’s anything specific you want to talk about I can tell you.

TFSR: I mean, this is a very complex question, because how do you distill 10,000 plus years of history of a people in a short answer to a question. But I think that the groundwork that you laid just now will be very useful for listeners in just conceptualizing the things that we are speaking about. And I do wanna talk about reindeer some more, I wanna talk about music, I wanna talk about a bunch of other stuff that I think will come up organically.

MM: I can tell you one thing that I usually tell people that don’t really know what Sámis are. And that is that I feel more related to my Native American friends and my Inuit friends than I feel related to my Swedish friends. So our culture is very similar to the other more known Indigenous people, and that’s a good way to explain it. That we are not Swedish, the culture is very very different from the Swedish culture.

TFSR: Yeah that makes a lot of sense to me, and there was a question that I had later in the interview about sort of the construction of race and the construction of whiteness as it relates to Sámi folks..

MM: That is a very interesting topic! A very dangerous one too.

TFSR: Especially because of, I was born and raised here on Turtle Island [decolonial name for the so-called US] and my understanding of race is very specific and very culturally rooted here. And I was wondering if you had any words on the construction of race and whiteness as it relates or doesn’t relate to Sami folks or you specifically?

MM: This is so interesting because in Sweden, they never ask me this question because the topic is so toxic. And in Sweden we don’t say “race”, like you can’t even mention it. I’ve been to the US or Canada, and there people will come up to me and say “what race are you?” And you could never do that in Sweden, ne-ver do that! That word is like, bad. Which is for good reasons, often. But for Sámis it’s very interesting to talk about, because one thing that we don’t always have in common to other Indigenous people is that you can’t always tell if a person is non-Swedish, or if they’re Sámi. We look very different.

Like I have friends that are very tall, very light skinned, you couldn’t tell the difference between a non-Sámi person and that person. But that person could still be a Sámi. And then I have friends and my own family who are very dark, like I said, people ask me all the time where I’m from. They can’t really put a finger on it where I’m from. And that is one of the of course terrible things when it comes to racism, that you get categorized in what race you are and valued by the tone of your skin. And that is horrible! But it has also been one of the things that I think has been hard for Sámis sometimes, that we have to hold on so tight to the other cultural things that we have as Sámis because you can’t really tell by just looking at us all the time.

And I know I’ve heard stories from my elders that when Sweden came, and when I say “Sweden” I mean the church or the people who collect the taxes, they would actually tell Sámi women that they think she was cheating, fooling around, because they had kids who looked so different, you could have one kid that was so dark and one that was so light. So, I mean that is a question that I think is even toxic to talk about among Sámis actually.

Of course we have groups in Sápmi that are very against mixing between Sámis and non-Sámis, still! Like that you should keep the blood “pure”. And more areas are more into that than others, and definitely how connected you are to the reindeer herding, I mean only 10% of the Sámi population in Sweden is working as a reindeer herder. That’s not a lot, but it’s still one of the biggest and most important thing in Sámi culture and that becomes very important, the question of are you in the reindeer herding business or not. And how much of non-Sámi blood do you really have, I mean that is definitely a topic but it’s very toxic to talk about.

And do you have a Sámi last name? I belong to one of the people, like I do have a Sámi last name. And many people don’t, and there’s a reason for that, Sweden came and took it!! I mean, we see now the results of what they’ve done to the Sámi people that is very hard for specific groups in Sápmi to “be” a full Sámi. If they don’t have a last name, they don’t do reindeer herding, they don’t have a membership in a Sámi village. And that is nobody’s fault but Sweden’s and Norway’s.

So yeah, definitely, this is something that does exist.

Can I give an example? I have such a good example, like I have a daughter, she is NikkeSunnas, she is turning 8 this summer. I come from a very culturally Sámi family, Märak, and my grandfather, he passed away this December. He was a living legend, and now he’s just a legend, but he was one of the greatest people we’ve had in Sápmi. He was the first Sámi to become a priest, that combined this other religion with the church. He helped so many people, he brought back yoik to the church when it was still forbidden, when it was a sin. So my family’s very known for that part of the Sámi culture, the yoik and the storytelling. And my daughter’s father, his name is Pärak, and he comes from a very known reindeer herding family. They’ve been doing reindeer herding since the beginning, and his grandfather was well known, well known. So my daughter she is now brought up in such a strong mi culture family, like she has 2 heavy last names, and her first name is also very heavy “NikkeSunnas Märak Pärak”. She knows how to ride a snowmobile, a four wheeler, she has reindeer, we have a lot of cottages up in different places in Sápmi. She has the whole package, and she looks like a little elf, you know?

They will never, no one will never question her ever of her heritage, where she’s from. Everybody knows her parents, her parent’s name, grandparents, the areas that we’re from. I mean, the history goes way back, no one will ever question her. She has a friend, and I won’t mention her name, but her mother is, well we say she is mixed. She is a little bit Sámi, a little bit Finnish, a little bit Swedish, a little bit something-something, you know? And her mother, I mean she was searching for her Sámi roots when she was a grown up, so she has not been brought up in the mi culture. She has a daughter with a man from France, so the kid is very mixed I mean she’s amazing. So my daughter and her friend they went to the same preschool, which is a mi preschool for the mi kids and they can speak their language and get a foot into Sámi culture. It’s mainly for reindeer herding kids.

When they were supposed to start school, this friend went to the Swedish school instead of the mi school. And the main reason why she started Swedish school instead is because her parents wanted to spare her from being that kid in the class that is the least mi of them all. She has no cottages, nobody knows her grandparents, she has no connection to the reindeer herding whatsoever. Like she’s just a kid, but she is of course mi! She has mi blood! But she has not been brought up in a mi culture family. Which can actually make it pretty hard, because all the other kids are so connected, we have this – I don’t know what it is – but I mean it’s a special connection, we share everything and all the kids go to the reindeer herding things, and all the kids go to the cottages during the summer and the wintertime.

And this kid would be an outsider from that. And she will get questioned when they grow up, like people will start questioning her “how much mi are you? Where are you from? Do you really belong here?” I wont say that that would definitely happen, but there is a risk.

I wouldn’t act the way that her parents did, because I believe that we are actually developing now and are not as harsh as we were before. But I mean, of course there’s a risk, and I don’t think the Swedish people know this. That there is such a cultural difference between the mis and the non-mis that they wanted to spare her from a young age from not being the outsider who wasn’t mi enough. So, that’s just an example. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, like did they do the right thing? I think they should have put her thru mi school, cause she will probably grow up like her mother and wonder like, hey why did you do this? Like I have a connection to this world and you made a choice for me. Because this is in one way a choice, I know this for a fact because I live in Jokkmokk. And in Jokkmokk there is only 3,000 people in this little town, so here it’s very much like “did you go to the Sámi school or not?”

If you didn’t you have to explain yourself, why? Ok, so now you wanna become a Sámi?? you didn’t have to go thru all the shit that we did, that went to the Sámi school, getting bullied and whatnot. But now that you are a grown up, now you want to become a Sámi, and have the traditional costume and.. ok.. you know what I’m saying? I mean, you can see this in different cultures but in Sweden I don’t think the people have any idea of how it is.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you so much for that example. I think that what you’re bringing up is making me think of really just complex currents of understanding and belonging, especially in communities and in people that are heavily impacted by the ongoing violences of colonialism and how complex that can look.

Gabriel, I would love to ask a little bit more about the book and about your process in writing the book, and about sort of how you approached this kind of research and history work as somebody who is outside of the community that you are seeking to uplift and do this kind of work with. And I’m wondering what sorts of things should other researchers keep in mind in your opinion if they are seeking to do this kind of work as well?

GK: So I think this is a very important question. It’s also a question that makes me slightly uncomfortable because just the fact that I decided to do this book as an outsider doesn’t necessarily mean that I know how to do that work, or that I did it the “right” way. So I’m sure there are plenty of things I could have done better, I’m sure that people have very valid criticisms, in general I don’t think there is a blueprint for how to do this.

So I can say in response to your question, it’s all going to be very subjective. Obviously I gave that much thought before I embarked on the project. I mean, this was in many ways but also in this way a very special project for me because let’s say I work on a book about sports, or I work on a book about straight edge, I do not question my validity as an author. If I feel I have a good idea for a book and I find a publisher who wants to release the book, then I get to work and do the best I can. But I don’t really go thru a process of asking myself “is this really my place?”.

Now with this book, that was a very big question, that was the decisive question. At the beginning I felt that I had a good idea but I was not sure whether I was the right person to do it. So the first thing I did, which I guess maybe is the first part of answering your question, the first thing I did was basically to look for approval within the Sámi community. Now the Sámi community is no monolithic block, people have different opinions, there are no individual Sámi who can speak for the whole community. But I was looking for feedback and opinions of people I knew, and people whose thoughts for different reasons were particularly important to me. And I mention this because – oh and I also mention it in the preface to the book – I remember there was one very important phone conversation I had very early on with Anders Sinna, a Sámi painter who Maxida knows well.

And I’m a big fan of his work, and I also wanted him to be one of the people in the book that I interviewed, which then he agreed to. And so very early on in the process I had a conversation with him on the phone and I presented the idea to him and was just wondering what he thought. And quite frankly, had he said at that point “ah, I don’t think that’s a very good idea” or “I don’t think you should be doing a book like that”, I might have dropped the project right away. But he didn’t say that, and he was rather encouraging, and so I reached out to more people who I also got encouragement from. So thru those steps I started to see a path that I thought I could follow and reach a satisfying result.

Now, what was important along that path, I think a lot of that is common sense although I’m aware of the fact that historically people who have written books about communities that they themselves don’t belong to, didn’t necessarily follow those common sense guidelines. But one thing that I felt was important was that I was very clear about my position and what I was able to do and not able to do. So I have no firsthand experience of Sámi culture, I am not an expert scholar on Sámi culture, my approach comes from a longstanding interest in Indigenous peoples and their struggles for justice. And so because of this interest throughout the years, because of travels I did and studies I did and conversations I had, I felt that I acquired enough knowledge that allowed me to basically build a platform in this case for Sámi voices to reach a broader international audience.

So to make this really short, I just felt I could be a facilitator to spread knowledge that I thought was important.

And then the second part related to that, and this is maybe even more common sense, is that in the process of working on the book, obviously I am 100 percent dependent on Sámi contributors and Sámi advisers. And in that process you gotta be respectful, you gotta be honest about your intentions, you have to acknowledge people’s contributions, put the community at the center of the project and not yourself. And again, I cannot speak for how well I managed to do that, but this is what I tried. I can maybe add one more thing that I think helped in this process, which is that this is not a book that I will make a lot of money off. This is not a book that helps me with an academic career that I do not have. And it helped I think because those aspects add yet another layer of ethical questions that I think are difficult sometimes to deal with. So luckily, I didn’t have to deal with those. So I think that also made it in a sense easier.

I think there are very general guidelines that would probably be useful for anyone working on such a project, but then of course it very much how that plays out specifically very much depends on the specific project that people are working on. Where they are and what their position is, what their relationship is with the communities they write about. So, exactly, there is no blueprint, I think there are some general guidelines, but if you decide to do a project like that these specifics you have to work out in that specific project you’re working on.

TFSR: One thing I am curious about, Gabriel and Maxida, what kinds of support for Sámi issues is there among far left and anarchist spaces and anarchist people in Scandinavia and any invitation or provocations that you might have for how people, people around the world but specifically how people on the land can have y’all’s back a little bit better or if they’re doing something really well and you want to name that, I would love to hear.

GK: How about this, I can say something about my experiences here in the broader activist community because that in a sense there was also a, I don’t know if motivating factor is the right word, but it played into my idea of doing this book. And I know that Maxida has things to add to what I’m going to say, and then we can maybe look at more specifically what especially people outside of the Nordic countries can do to support Sámi struggles.

So if I just speak about this, my experience here with the so called activist community, it was very surprising to me when I first came to Sweden in 2007 because from the time I spent in North America and Australia and New Zealand, my sense was that, again very broadly speaking, the activist communities there with all the flaws and shortcomings and mistakes that we all make, at least had a very clear and I felt sincere ambition to be good allies, accomplices, collaborators, whatever the preferred terminology was, to Indigenous people, so to stand in solidarity with them.

And I kind of expected that to be the case here as well, but I don’t think it is. So if you look at the non-Sámi activist communities in the Nordic countries, to me there was – and maybe it has changed since I got here – but I think there still is a surprising level of ignorance. I mean I’m simplifying here, but if you talk to the average leftist radical activist in, say, Stockholm, they’re often very well versed in what’s happening in Palestine, Chiapas, perhaps even on the Pine Ridge Reservation, but they’re very ignorant about what’s happening in Sápmi.

And I’ve thought about this a lot, and I think there are a few reasons for this and I’ve not really come to conclusions so these are kind of guesses, but I mean one thing is that this ignorance is a reflection of general ignorance among mainstream society here about the Sámi people. So in that sense it’s a reflection, but I think there are other issues as well. One is, I think that historically the left (and that reaches from social democracy to the far left) in the Nordic countries was particularly technocratic and “progress” oriented. So industrialization, technological progress, science including at the beginning of the 20th century racial biology, all of that was supposed to be a way toward socialism and was considered progressive. So if you have that picture, Indigenous people like the Sámi are basically a stumbling block, they don’t fit into this picture, so I think that is one thing that you can still feel people don’t really know. Its something that doesn’t fit into this historical leftist ideology and so people have a very difficult time dealing with that.

And more concretely, I think that is then enhanced by what I as a complete outsider because I am not even originally from the Nordic countries, see as a bit of a cultural problem. What I mean by that is that here in the Nordic countries, maybe particularly in Sweden, people often have a really hard time with dealing with conflict. Whenever there is conflict, or there are certain issues that are complicated, people get very insecure and confused. Now if you look at the broad activist communities here, and the views that people have and the issues that are important and the norms that are often attached to it, some of them clash with the realities in Sápmi.

So to take an example, is like animal rights, people here on the left are often anti-hunting. Hunting is a part of traditional Sámi culture, reindeer herds are protected from predators, for example wolves. So here we have one example where that sort of clashes with what is often perceived as an anti-hunting norm. In the left, similar with environmentalism; people are in support of green energy, this is fine. However if you look at how that plays out in reality, wind parks are predominantly established in Sápmi because that’s where they least disturb mainstream society although they majorly disturb reindeer herding. So there you have another conflict that some people on the left find difficult to deal with.

Also things like national identity, a lot of Sámi activists would speak of the Sami as a nation and find that important. We have one contributor to the book for example Aslak Holmberg, who speaks of cultural nationalism as something that’s important. That clashes with some of the criticism of anything that has to do with the nation among the left here. So I think rather than addressing these issues and accepting that this is challenging, and thru dialogue and conversation which can be painful and complicated, modify your position or enhance your positions, people would rather just shy away from that and pretend it doesn’t exist which means that very often, you know, Sámi issues would seem to become too “complicated”. And I can’t just as a final example which I thought illustrated this well, there is a well known Swedish writer who writes a lot about this situation in the northern provinces of Sweden, and urban rural divide, the social injustices implied in that. He doesn’t write anything about the Sámi, and he once explained that saying “oh no, that topic is just too complicated, whenever you write it’ll be wrong” meaning whatever you write someone will criticize you for that, perhaps harshly.

And while that may be true, and I understand on a personal level that you don’t want to put yourself in that position, if most people have that approach you will miss out on debate.

And then a third aspect that I might mention, and Maxida knows a lot about this because she has experienced all of this firsthand, is that if you look at the tactics that again, the sort of average Nordic activist employs, and that’s nothing that’s specific to the Nordic countries that’s true for all of western europe, it is very much based on an urban environment. So you can be a pretty anonymous figure who attends protests and meetings, but if you want to go about your daily life you can do so pretty much undisturbed. This doesn’t work in an environment like Sápmi, or any rural environment for that matter, because people know you and there’s not place to hide if you’re outspoken on certain issues. It also means the risks you’re taking are much higher and the demands are very different, so I think to political activism. And what a lot of people in the urban general leftist activist communities are used to. So I think that creates another complication.

MM: You’ve done your job Gabriel!! Everything that you said is exactly how it is. I mean, that is so correct.

I mean, in Sweden people here are so afraid of conflict. And I’m sad to say that there is not a lot of true activists in Sweden. I have a word for this which essentially means a fake activist. I know a lot of people and a lot of so called activists groups that say that they fight for justice, when you come down to it it’s not about justice at all it’s about making yourself heard, about making yourself look cool, but when it comes to the source like what do we fight for? Or should we really fight, shouldn’t we try to gather? They back out.

So like Gabriel said, there’s a lot of so called activists, that it clashes with the Sami way of living. One example is one of my close friends, he got prison, seven years of prison, because he was accused of killing a wolverine. And I can tell you that his family, they got so thrashed for years from the so called activists, the animal friends. So I mean, we struggle with both the politicians in Sweden, the Swedish government, and the so called activists. A lot of the the Indigenous friendly people are allowed to go to the US to protest, I mean do you know how many people from Sweden went to Standing Rock? We had so many Swedes that went there, for the Native Americans! They want to put a feather on their fucking head and pretend to be some kind of spirit animal. But they would never, never, go up north to do the same for us.

And I think that is also because, Sweden I mean, the history that we have, now you can really tell the difference tho between for example the US and Sweden. Sweden has been pretty protected from war, so the Swedish people don’t know what a revolution is. The people in Sweden that have been abused are the Indigenous people, and the people that immigrate of course into Sweden. But the Swedish people have not been thru trauma. So I think this is a result of that, that when it comes down to it, they get too afraid. They will never choose a side. Like if you ask Swedish people what they vote for, 95% will not tell you. Ever. NEVER will they tell you. And if you do, you have a mark on your head and you will live with that for the rest of your life.

I mean so, that is like Gabriel said, it clashes. We have a lot of so called activists in Sweden, but to be honest, there’s not a lot of real activism going on here in Sweden. And I can just agree to everything that he said and it was very interesting to hear him speak about it, he can see it from an outside perspective, because I think that Swedish people would probably not agree. And that is also why, it’s kind of hard to live in this world because sometimes it feels like we have everyone against us, we can never do anything right. The whole culture and the way that we live and breathe up here just doesn’t combine to anything else in Sweden. We have the same temple and this is of course the Swedish government has been very good at keeping quiet, like not teaching Sámi history. So when we claim our rights, people don’t even know that we exist, it’s kind of hard to claim your rights if they don’t know that we exist. And then we get questioned about that.

So everything that Gabriel said is completely true. Which is sad! It’s very sad.

TFSR: It is, and it’s making me think of sort of something that happens here a lot, there’s a running, not a saying but, but the Indigenous people here who have been kind enough to talk to me about issues of decolonization is lean into the discomfort, because colonialism affects everybody and it affects you, the colonizer as well, and it disproportionately affects people who are impacted by the ongoing violences of colonialism and colonization, but it affects everybody. Decolonization is an uncomfortable process. It’s not like sunshine and rainbows and puppy dogs, it’s a very uncomfortable process so like, that’s making me think of conversations that are happening here about the specific situations that are happening on this landmass. But thank y’all so much for going into that!

I’m wondering if you have any ideas on, or if you even want to have more of a solidarity with the far left and what do you think that will take if that’s a desired thing.

MM: Definitely, but still I think it’s also a bit dangerous because you still want the right people to be on your side. The far left can also be fucking crazy. And that’s one of the things that I try to tell people who come out and ask us is you have to stop the fight. People love to put themselves into different groups and just fight among those groups, the more groups the better. And I try to remind people that what is the goal? My goal is to get people to be on my side. And if I just stand there and scream and disrespect people, and expect people to know everything about me already before they open their mouths. So you want to have people from both sides to have our backs.

Of course not the far right, right? But I feel it’s dangerous to categorize a whole culture to just be on the left, I think the goal is for people to understand that this is our norm and we need people on every political party – except for the racists – to be on our side. And not just activists, but normal people you know what I’m saying? People that are non-activists, people that don’t dare to be an activist. You can’t expect everyone to be the way that I am, I am very outspoken and I’m very unafraid, but people are not just like that. Everyone is not like that. So of course the goal is to get people on our side, but for the right reasons and in the right way.

And you have to aim high. You have to aim for the Swedish government. You can’t just be a grassroot, you know? That’s what I said when I started as an artist, and some people started to question me when I went to big events with all kinds of people like known artists and politicians, like ‘why is she there, she used to be in the woods screaming?’ yeah I used to be in the woods screaming, but my goal was to be in on the fucking round table!

I have to be up there with the big horses, to speak out because I need them on my side. Not just the grassroots community, you have to aim high. So I want the Swedish government, that’s my fucking goal, to get them on our side. And hopefully the next generation are smarter, but it’s important to not just look at the leftists, cause then we put ourselves in that little group one more time. The group needs to be bigger and more welcoming. The rights that we claim, they are weird! Like why shouldn’t we have our rights? it’s common sense. I mean if we start to educate people in Swedish history, colonization, what is actually been done to the mi people, what is happening NOW to the mi people, a lot of people will understand.

Cause I believe in the good in people. The dangerous thing is when you believe that most people have bad intentions. If that is what you think about everyone you’ve already lost. And I have to believe in the good in people. Maybe I have to say things ten times before you get it, but the tenth time, maybe you’ll get it. And then you will come over to my side. Cause in the end it’s about human rights, you can rape a person, you can kill a person, and the police talk to you for fucking 24 hours and then you’re out again. But if you kill a wolverine, you get two and a half years prison?! And that’s only for reindeer herders, cause our cattle are free, so that’s why we aren’t allowed to protect them, cause they’re free. Like if we had them as cows or pigs, that is different rules. But only mi people have free cattle, so we have different rules. I mean, that’s just an example of how it looks today.

And when you tell people this, a lot of people actually understand. I’ve met all the big politicians in Sweden, I’ve done TV shows with a lot of them. And I’ve been criticized for sitting with people who vote for different parties than I do. I’m very left, my heart is to the left. But I have friends that are from different parties, and of course there are parties in Sweden that I would never ever socialize with. Like any racist party, I would never do that. But I’ve been criticized for having friends who vote for different things than I do.

But then I tell them, they meet me and I’m the first and only Sámi they will ever talk to, and they hear my history, maybe I will change someones political views. Maybe they will think different the next time the question about mining industry comes up, and they will remember me. And they will remember that I respected them, and they will remember my story. And maybe the outcome will be different.

So I just think that love and respect, I mean it sounds very cliched but that is actually very true. The dangerous thing with activists is the people who do it for the wrong reasons. Just for the fight. And in the end we don’t want the fight, we want peace. We have to live next to each other, we have to know how to combine different worlds, that is the only way that we can survive in the end is to get along. Not to kill each other, not to fight. So I think that the true activists need to have that in mind. That of course I want the left to be on my side, but I also want the right to be on my side. And if they are on my side, they will become left!

TFSR: You know, the whole love and respect thing being a cliché, people really respond to it positively. And I see people from all over the world saying it, we just need to understand each other. So thank you for saying that.

MM: Of course I wanna say too, Nazis and racists are a completely different question. Just to be clear.

GK: Just real quick, since we are not at the peace stage yet, but there are struggles ongoing, I just wanted to get back real quick to what you said earlier, what was implied in your question about how people can concretely support Sámi struggles today if they wanted to. I was wondering just a very practical thing, when this is going to be aired can you add links? Cause there are cases that are ongoing about resistance to development projects, mining, there is a big plan for a railway that is supposed to be built on the Finnish side of Sápmi. And there are ongoing court cases about different things, land rights, hunting, the forced culling of reindeer herds, so there is information that people could access and they could spread it. Very often the is very concrete information on those websites, about how to get involved.

TFSR: I would be interested to hear from both of y’all about, Maxida you mentioned far right Nazis and racist political parties. We have all seen the rise of a street level and government level far right, alt right, and fascism all around the world. I’m wondering what kinds of impacts that has had on Sápmi and on y’all specifically.

MM: It’s very ironic! Because a lot of people are like yay, because we have the Swedish Democrats (a racist political party). And I often get the comment that ‘oh they will love you Sámis because you are the native Swedes!’ And that is definitely not the case, no no no. They are against probably everything that we do and especially the reindeer herding. And like all the parties, except for the left ones unfortunately, are for for example the mining industry. And the Sámi people especially the reindeer herders take up so much land.

I mean, they are against everything that is not “really” Swedish culture. And we are I think, when you start to talk about what Swedish culture is, is where you can really see that the Sámis are different from the Swedes. So I mean, of course we are affected by it, and if they would get more power than they have it would be a definite issue for the Sámi villages and for the reindeer herding industry, definitely. They want to open up the Sámi villages, and this is kind of hard to explain because then I’d have to explain what exactly a Sámi village is, but you could almost call it a tribe. And in this so called ‘tribe’ you have to have a membership, and only if you have a membership can you have reindeer. And we have specific areas in Sweden for every village which can have reindeer on. And on those areas, for every specific village or tribe, we have fishing and hunting rights. And we are the only ones who actually can fish and hunt there, because we are the so called protectors of it. So people won’t come there for vacations or a sports trip, or whatever. And so that’s one example, they want to open up the Sami villages and make it free for everyone to have reindeer, and everyone to fish and hunt.

And the result of that would be catastrophic! We would lose everything! So I mean, yeah we are definitely affected, and affected in ways of course that they are just racist pigs that hate everyone that is not white.

GK: So if I can add one thing that I think is interesting, if you observe the especially the far right parties that now are in all the parliaments of the Nordic countries, so the Sweden Democrats here in Sweden, and the so called ‘Progress Party’ in Norway, and the True Finns in Finland. I think if you look at their policies toward the Sámi, it’s interesting because it reflects a trend on the far right that goes from let’s say traditional very crude forms of racism based in biology to you know, what is sometimes referred to as ‘ethno-pluralist’ or basically cultural forms of racism. I find it interesting that sometimes you can have representatives of those parties pay lip service to cultural traits of the Sámi – the language, or traditional clothing, or whatever – something that appeals ideologically to their idea of national coherence and unity and whatnot.

However, at the same time all of those parties explicitly deny any special social or political rights to the Sami as Indigenous peoples or just minorities –

MM: Exactly!

GK: – So what you end up with is they are allowed to be part of the nation state project of Sweden or Norway or Finland, as some kind of exotic spice or possibly a showcase of how supposedly ‘tolerant’ those people are, because they let these ‘minorities’ who don’t speak their language or whatever.

But what it essentially means on the ground is that you deny them all civil and democratic rights which are essential as a foundation of sovereignty and self determination. Or if you want to put it the other way around, the only way that Sámi can get civil and democratic rights is if they become fully assimilated as citizens in the nation state project.

And this is a very deceptive, and thereby also a very dangerous form of, and I would speak in terms of ongoing racism in that case that these parties represent. But also as Maxida said you can see that very concretely here in Sweden, for example the Sweden Democrats are very clear in wanting to take away the exclusive right to reindeer herding from the Sámi. In Norway, the Progress Party is very clear about wanting to abolish the Sámi Parliament, which is one of the most important at least symbolic political institutions of the Sámi, and they want to turn it into alternatively a museum or a hotel or whatever.

So those attacks are very clear, this is nothing hidden, but there are sometimes accompanies by as I said these statements ‘oh but of course the culture is great and the culture is beautiful’ so this is very dangerous.

MM: Yes this is coming back to that question that you asked before about race, cause here it becomes very important that we have to claim our rights and they question like, either you are Swedish or you are not. What are you? So we get questioned, like Gabriel said, they want to take our rights away. Because if we live in Sweden and we claim to be Indigenous, then why should we have special treatment? That is one thing that they really push out, like, no special treatment for you guys. And this is just history repeating itself. And this is also why some people have memberships in Sámi villages and some people don’t. There are Sámis that did reindeer herding before the Swedish government and the history, they let them keep their membership in the Sámi village, and if you did not do reindeer herding you got kicked out from the village and lost your membership.

And this is the same thing that the Swedish Democrats are doing now, like, either you are Swedish or you’re not. You claim to be Sámi, then get the fuck outta here. If you want to still be in Sweden, then ‘act Swedish’. I can just see history repeating itself once again.

But like I’m saying, this is also very interesting, we live in a time now of climate change for example, and now we have this fucking coronavirus just taking over the world. And I can almost laugh and say they’ve been trying to kill us Indigenous people for ever! But they never fucking succeeded, and why is that? Because in the end the knowledge that we have is the most important knowledge. That is one thing that I notice now in Sweden, now people are starting to get more interested! Like ‘how do you live up there?’ and they want to learn, even vegans are thinking about learning how to hunt. Because we see that when the world collapses, money and guns don’t work, you have nothing!

That is a war that everyone is prepared for. So if you have guns and money and power, you can fight a war. But with climate change and a virus?? The most important things to know is Indigenous knowledge, that is how you survive. I just want to say that because that is a change that I see now, that now for the first time I hear people becoming more interested in how we live. This is also probably history repeating itself, and this is probably why they never succeeded in killing us. Because something always happens in the world, like catastrophe and trauma, and when it comes to that it’s a special kind of knowledge that you need to know. It’s a special way of living that you need to know that will make us all survive. And I just find that quite interesting actually!

TFSR: That is really interesting! This gets into a question that I had specifically about reindeer herding. I was interested in reading Gabriel’s introduction to Liberating Sápmi, sort of horrified to read that Sweden, or like the colonial governments, were sort of gate-keeping Sámi identity, and maybe this is a misrepresentation and please let me know if so, but gate-keeping Sámi identity by saying essentially that if you don’t herd reindeer you’re not Sámi? Is that correct?

GK: What is true specifically in Sweden you have this strong distinction which comes from a law from the early 20th century between reindeer herding Sámi and non-reindeer herding Sámi. There were some particular rights granted to reindeer herding Sámi that were not granted to other Sámi, and that is a classical example of a colonial divide and conquer strategy that has caused big problems also within the Sámi community which maintain to this day. So I think this is the part that you are probably referring to.

MM: Yeah I mean, parts of this definitely still exist. Like I said before, you have to have a membership in a Sámi village to have reindeer for example. And with having a membership you get specific rights, and if you don’t have a membership you don’t have the same rights. And that is also a part of that whole history and what Gabriel talked about, and that has definitely been – and still is! – a very toxic conflict in Sápmi, that forces Sámis to fight against each other because we still have families that try to get back their memberships in these Sámi villages, but there’s not enough space for them to have reindeer. We are only allowed to have a certain amount of reindeer, because we only have this and this much land to be on.

So I mean the conflicts that we have in Sápmi are horrific, and that is a definite result of the Swedish history and how they’ve treated us. Now we are left to solve all this without any rights as an Indigenous people, and it’s very hard to solve these conflicts. So that definitely still exists, that the reindeer herders have rights that non-reindeer herders don’t have.

GK: But then one could add maybe that the rights of the reindeer herders are also controlled by the government. So that’s where the forced culling comes in for example, because the number of reindeer that a specific Sámi village can have is still determined by the nation state government. If the numbers are too big, the government will come in and say ‘ok, you have to slaughter – whetever – 20% of your herd because your herd is too big’. And this is one of some of the most current, prominent examples of conflicts in court between Sámi and the governments.

TFSR: It’s really reminding me of the government of Canada and how that government really gate-keeps and detrimentally affects the lives and identities of the Indigenous people who live there. I would be interested in hearing y’alls take on, so Sápmi is a pretty large territory, it spans many hundreds of miles, and it gets crossed by several colonial borders, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia.

I know in Canada, there are many peoples, the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Mohawk, and Coastal Salish and others, all those territories are crossed by a very heavily militarized colonial border, to say nothing of the colonial border in the South. And I’m wondering how that colonial border has affected the relationships between folks who are Sámi who live in Sápmi. I wonder if y’all have any words on that?

MM: I would say that this a beautiful thing with this culture, is that we still see Sápmi as, if we could say, one land. So for us we know, I mean I am Lule Sámi, which is one type of Sámi, and my people we go way into Norway. So I speak the same language and have the same traditional clothing as a lot of people in Norway, so for us they [the borders] are non-existent. We really see Sápmi as one area without borders, but of course we know that they are there! It affects the reindeer herding a lot. But I think for us, that is one of the most beautiful things in the Sámi culture is that we don’t have any borders, we have family in every country, and travel like nomads did before over the borders and everyone knows everyone.

Politically, we definitely notice it.

GK: The practical problems, just right now I mean with the pandemic-

MM: UGH oh my god!!

GK: – you know with the European Union and special treaties with Norway, since that opened up the borders generally, I think they’ve lost some of the significance they’ve had up to 20 years ago. But just right now, I mean all the borders came back up. I just emailed or texted with people a few days ago who live along the Tana River which for a very long stretch, maybe 100km, marks the border between Finland and Norway. And you have Sámi families literally on the opposite sides of the river, so some of them live in Finland and the others in Norway.

And suddenly you now have the borders coming up it becomes very difficult for them to visit one another. So obviously the practical complications that these borders create and have created, they were partly responsible for forced migration historically. As Maxida points out, that would have been my impression from talking to everyone, every Sámi I’ve talked to in connection with the book, the stress that for Sámi identity those national borders don’t matter.

And that would also include the Sámi community in Russia, which especially in the 20th century with the Iron Curtain, was very isolated from the rest of the Sámi community. But my sense is, and Maxida I would assume would confirm that, is that they are a clear part of the Sámi family and community because of the strong historical and cultural ties.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you for talking about that, and thank you so much for your time and your willingness to come onto the show, it was an absolute honor to get to speak to y’all about the work that y’all are doing and your experiences. Is there anything that we missed in this interview that you want to give voice to in closing?

MM: Shoutout to my Natives!!

I think one of the powerful things is that in percent, we are not that many Sámi, and there are not that many Inuits in Greenland, and whatnot, but wow what a huge group we are as Indigenous people. And that is so powerful to see, some of my closest friends are Indigenous from different countries. And when we ally and hold each other’s backs, I mean the government should fucking beware this new generation coming up, and just how easy it is now to have contact with one another! I mean you know Tim “2oolman” Hill of A Tribe Called Red? He is one of my closest friends, and just to see how powerful it is when Indigenous people gather as one is just amazing. And I just want to say that I am so grateful for being in this community because it is so powerful and so loving, and they can just keep on trying to kill us but they will not succeed. So never shut up, my Natives!

TFSR: And that was our interview with Sámi hip hop artist and activist Maxida Märak and author and activist Gabriel Kuhn about Kuhn’s 2019 release Liberating Sápmi; Indigenous Resistance in Europe’s Far North available now thru PM Press. If you are interested in learning more about Sámi struggles, which cover a lot of ground between government’s forcing reindeer culling and anti-mining campaigns, check out our show notes for links from our guests.

Josh Harper of SHAC7 and Voices from Gidimt’en Access Point

Josh Harper of SHAC7 and Voices from Gidimt’en Access Point

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This week, we feature two portions of the show.

 

 

Josh Harper on ‘Animal People’ film

First up, we’ll hear Josh Harper, a co-defendant from the SHAC7 case and former political prisoner talking the struggle to shut down the company, Huntington Life Sciences, a contract animal testing laboratory, in the early 2000’s in the so-called US. Josh talks about the case, his post-release experience, archiving the history of earth and animal liberation with The Talon Conspiracy (currently on hiatus) and some views of moving forward. Josh and the other co-defendants are the focus of a recent documentary film called ‘The Animal People’, which is available on all of the paid streaming sources, which speaks with participants in the case and their prosecutors, plus journalists like Will Potter who documented the Green Scare. Gut wrenching is a great descriptor for the film.

Check out our early interview with Will Potter on ‘Green Is The New Red’ and consider listening to the recent episode of the IGD podcast with Josh Harper and Andy Stepanian for a larger assessment of the Animal Liberation movement and more.

Voices from the Gidimt’en Access Point Barricade

Then, you’ll hear the voices of three warriors who were on the barricade on the road to Unist’ot’en Camp at the Gidimt’en Access Point. Eve Saint (Wet’suwet’en land defender), Anne Spice (Tlinket land defender) and Shilo Hill (from Onandaga nation, Haudenosaunee, Six Nations) were there to defend unceded Wet’suwet’en land from the Canadian state’s violent imposition of the Coastal Gas Link pipeline. They talk about what brought them to the Gitdumden Access near so-called Houston, BC, the buildup to the impending raid by RCMP troops, indigenous sovereignty, land and water defense, the long road to decolonization and the importance of outside support and solidarity from indigenous and First Nations peoples and their allies and accomplices.

On Thursday morning, the day after this recording, at about 5am Pacific, the RCMP began their raids and arrests in an attempt to impose the injunction and clear the land and water defenders from the Wet’suwet’en lands. Media have been detained and released and at the time of this publication, 6 land defenders have been arrested and refuse to sign and conditions imposed by the Canadian state and so are still in state detention.

Members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation are asking for people to take solidarity action in support of their autonomy. Solidarity actions have looked a lot of different ways in the last few months across Turtle Island, so-called USA and Canada. Take a moment and listen to your heart, find your friends and do what you think needs to be done to get the ball rolling.

You can keep up with news at the Unis’tot’en Camp website (Unistoten.Camp) or on fedbook, YouTube and twitter, Wetsuweten Access Point at Gitdimten fedbook and instagram or at the sites Yintahaccess.com and Likhtsamisyu.com, all of which will be present in our show notes. You can also keep up on solidarity actions posted on the Montreal Counter-Info site (MTLCounterInfo.org), North Shore Counter-Info site (North-Shore.Info) and ItsGoingDown.org

To hear a few audios we’ve released, including with Delee Nikal and Mel Bazil of the Wet’suwet’en community, Chief Smogelgem and two other members of the Likhts’amisyu clan you can visit our site.

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playlist

Anarchy and Indigenous Resistance to AMLO in Mexico

Anarchy and Indigenous Resistance to AMLO in Mexico

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This week on The Final Straw, an anarchist living in Mexico talks about the reign of the MORENA gimpparty of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO), the new face of capitalism it presents, it’s relation to social movements and indigenous sovereignty and the anarchist and indigenous resistance to the regime. We cover mega-projects being pushed through around the country, the repression of activists and more in this whopper of an episode.

Here’s a great English-language blog based mostly out of Oaxaca that covers struggle in Mexico and across the northern border: https://elenemigocomun.net/

 

To learn more about the Anarchist Days that our guest spoke on, you can email janarquistas2020@protonmail.com!

Channel Zero Fundraiser

The gofundme can be found at https://gofundme.com/Channel-zero-network-2020-fundraiser/ .To check out the video to match the audio you just heard so you can enjoy and spread it around, check out our show notes or at https://sub.media !

Final Straw Notes from the guest:

If you want to understand the politics of Mexico, listen to the voices of Indigenous peoples and communities, women in struggle, campesinos

Indigenous populations and megaprojects:

Airport Lake Texcoco

New International Airport of Mexico City proposed in 2001 by Vicente Fox, but cancelled shortly after due to organized resistance

AMLO cancelled project after carrying out a “popular consultation”

Cancel one mega-project to impose three more

  • Expansion of Santa Lucia and Toluca airports
  • Naucalpan- Toluca highway
  • Interurban train

– Tren Maya (Mayan Train)

  • 950-mile train connecting principal tourist destinations in the states of Chiapas, Campeche, Tabasco, Yucatan and Quintana Roo
  • 17 stations including Playa del carmen, Tulum, Palenque, Merida, Cancun
  • Infrastructure projects to be built around train stations
  • For tourists and cargo

– “Corredor Transistmico” Interoceanic corridor

  • Industrial corridor connecting the ports of Salina Cruz, Oaxaca, on the pacific coast, and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, in the gulf of Mexico.
  • The project is meant to compete with the Panama Canal, as a route of land transportation connecting the Pacific with the gulf of Mexico.
  • United States has been trying to get this project going since the 19th century
  • Train routes and a super highway, modernization of ports, and various older train routes

– Proyeto integral de morelos (PIM) (Integral Project of Morelos)

Project that began in 2012 and has faced stiff resistance from the Frente de pueblos en defensa de tierra y agua Morelos-puebla-tlaxcala (People’s Front in Defense of Land and Water Morelos-Puebla-Tlaxcala)

The PIM roject includes:
  • Thermoelectric plant in Huexca, Morelos
  • A natural gas pipeline to supply gas to the plant which passes through 60 Indigenous and campesino communities in Tlaxcala, Puebla and Morelos
  • An aqueduct that seeks to move 50 million liters of water daily to the thermoelectric plant from the Rio Cuautla
  • Italian and Spanish transnationals

Zapatismo:

Armed Indigenous rebellion in Chiapas in 1994. After failed talks with the government, they took the path of autonomy
2003-formation of five caracoles (zones of autonomous self-government) The caracoles are regional administrative units where autonomous authorities come together and from which clinics, cooperatives, schools, transportation and other services are administered.
The Zapatista communities are managed by the Juntos de buen gobierno (Good Government Councils), which are made up of representatives of the autonomous councils of the rebel municipalities.
Expansion of autonomous territory: In august of 2019 the Zapatistas announced 7 new New Centers of Autonomous Zapatista Rebellion and Resistance (CRAREZ) and 4 new rebel Zapatista autonomous municipalities. Added to the 5 original Caracoles for a total of 16. In addition to the 27 original autonomous municipalities, giving us a total of 43 (CRAREZ). Made up of different assemblies, autonomous municipalities, etc.
Zapatista communities made up of Insignous tzotziles, tzeltales, mames, choles, tojolabales y zoques
 
Zapatista activities in December of 2019: Celebration of Life: A December of Resistance and Rebellion
Film Festival 7-14 of December 2019
Dance Festival December 15-20
Forum in Defense of Territory and Mother Earth December 21-22
 
3,259 women
95 little girls
26 men
From 49 countries
Celebration of the 26 Anniversary of the Beginning of the War Against Oblivion December 31 and January 1
EZLN declaration to continue struggle.

CODEDI assasinations:

  • On February 12, 2018- Ignacio Ventura, Luis Angel Martínez and Alejandro Diaz Cruz.
  • On July 17, 2018- Abraham Hernandez Gonzales
  • On October 25, 2018- Noel Castillo Aguilar

COPIG-EZ assasinations:

  • Concejo Indígena y Popular de Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata CIPOG-EZ (Indigenous and popular council of Guerrero-Emiliano Zapata)
  • May 2019- José Lucio Bartolo Faustino, Modesto Verales Sebastián, Bartolo Hilario Morales, and Isaías Xanteco Ahuejote of the Nahua people organized as the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero – Emiliano Zapata (CIPOG – EZ).

Other assasinations

  • Samir Flores Soberanes of the Nahua people of Amilcingo, Morelos.
  • Julián Cortés Flores, of the Mephaa people of the Casa de Justicia in San Luis Acatlán, Guerrero.
  • Ignacio Pérez Girón, of the Tzotzil people of the municipality of Aldama, Chiapas.
  • Juan Monroy and José Luis Rosales, of the Nahua people Ayotitlán, Jalisco.
  • Feliciano Corona Cirino, of the Nahua people of Santa María Ostula, Michoacán.
  • Josué Bernardo Marcial Campo, also known as TíoBad, of the Populuca people of Veracruz.

Political prisoners

Building international networks of solidarity, both anarchist and otherwise, with Mexico

Anarchist Days- July 13-19, 2020 in DF Email: janarquistas2020@protonmail.com

Las jornadas en defensa del territorio y la madre tierra “Samir Somos Todas y Todos” February 20-22, 2020

. … . ..

Music for this episode by:

U.N.E. – Explosion Humana

Sima Lee on Resistance, Repression, Hip Hop, and Creating New Worlds

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This week we are super pleased to present an interview done with Sima Lee, who is a queer Afro-Indigenous hip hop artist and community organizer of long standing, about a recent raid that occurred at Maroon House in DC this March. We speak about Maroon House, its story and what it is in the process of becoming, the ask for support in helping this movement build and heal from the brutal police repression, her newest album Trap Liberation Army, and many more topics.

Sima Lee has given some interviews recently about her political trajectory, her life, and relationship to anarchism in detail. Rather than having a repeat of those words, we are going to link her past interviews below!

Link to Bandcamp where there was an ask for monetary donation to help support the Maroon Movement and the Food, Clothing & Resistance Collective.

Ways to get and stay connected:

@simaleerbg on IG

@simaleerbg on Twitter

Sima Lee on Facebook

Food, Clothing & Resistance Collective

Maroon Movement

Further interviews:

November 2018 interview on The Solecast

June 2018 spot on Academics in Cars with Jared Ball (IMixWhatILike)

And You Don’t Stop: Trouble documentary on anarchist hip hop by SubMedia featuring Sima Lee among many others.

Independent artists and labels:

Soul Trust Records

The Beat Konductaz on the web and on Fedbook

Guerilla Republik

. … . ..

Music for this episode:

Khid Ja RPK – Lataa (instrumental)

Sima Lee – It’s On

Colonization and Revolt: E. Ornelas on the Radical Potentials of LeGuin’s “The Word for World is Forest”

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This week we are pleased to present a paper given at the 2019 north american anarchist studies network that took place this year in Atlanta Georgia by e ornelas who presents a thoroughly de-colonial reading of Ursula K. LeGuin’s novel The Word for World is Forest. The paper is entitled “If You Wait, It Is We That Will be Burned: Exploring Violence and Resistance in Ursula LeGuins The Word for World is Forest”. You can find the full text of this book up at the anarchist library. This book of LeGuin’s was written in the early 1970s and was first published as part of the anthology “Again, Dangerous Visions” and subsequently published as a separate novella as part of LeGuin’s Hainish Cycle, to be read in a loose trilogy with her other novels “The Dispossessed” and “Left Hand of Darkness”. As e ornelas states in their paper, this novella is not among LeGuin’s most popular but carries very strong anti-colonial and anti-militaristic overtones which was in part a reaction to the invasion of Vietnam by US imperialist forces, also called the Resistance War Against America, which occurred from 1955-1975 and whose traumas and repercussions can be felt and seen to this day.

This book was striking to me in the sense that it presents a world view that starkly challenges that of colonial “westernized” minds through themes of an intense sensitivity to and interconnectedness with the environment and of the relationships with language, dreaming, and culture. What was great to me about this aspect to the story is that it shows very plainly the extent to which colonizers find “illegibility” on the part of Indigenous people to be deeply threatening, but can also be a pivotal place of strength with potentials all their own, and we can see this aspect in real life all around us as well.

While I have my own problems with the book, and would love to hear listeners responses to it if they have them, it also gives me a sense of a thru line between past struggle and analysis all the way to now, an intergenerationality that we are sometimes lacking in as anarchists.

I’d like to read a short quote from the introduction to the book by LeGuin, and this gives a little bit of a sense of why she wrote it and what was happening for her at the time:

“All through the sixties, in my home city in the States, I had been helping organize and participating in nonviolent demonstrations, first against atomic bomb testing, then against the pursuance of the war in Viet Nam. I don’t know how many times I walked down Alder Street in the rain, feeling useless, foolish, and obstinate, along with ten or twenty or a hundred other foolish and obstinate souls. There was always somebody taking pictures of us—not the press—odd-looking people with cheap cameras: John Birchers? FBI? CIA? Crackpots? No telling. I used to grin at them, or stick out my tongue. One of my fiercer friends brought a camera once and took pictures of the picture-takers. Anyhow, there was a peace movement, and I was in it, and so had a channel of action and expression for my ethical and political opinions totally separate from my writing.

In England that year, a guest and a foreigner, I had no such outlet. And 1968 was a bitter year for those who opposed the war. The lies and hypocrisies redoubled: so did the killing. Moreover, it was becoming clear that the ethic which approved the defoliation of forests and grainlands and the murder of noncombatants in the name of ‘peace’ was only a corollary of the ethic which permits the despoliation of natural resources for private profit or the GNP, and the murder of the creatures of the Earth in the name of ‘man.’ The victory of the ethic of exploitation, in all societies, seemed as inevitable as it was disastrous.

It was from such pressures, internalized, that this story resulted: forced out, in a sense, against my conscious resistance. I have said elsewhere that I never wrote a story more easily, fluently, surely— and with less pleasure.”

After this talk, we are gonna play some music commemorating the the 20th anniversary of the WTO Protests in Seattle, which occurred from November 30 – December 1st 1999.

Both of these tracks were found on a 2003 compilation for attendees of the WTO protests in Cancun, Mexico. If you’re interested in learning more about the protests, check out writings up at crimethInc.com, there’s a video up there called “Breaking The Spell” with tons of original footage. It’s way more legit than the bs, liberal, star-studded movie called “The Battle Of Seattle.”

The two songs are:

“Eugene The Anarchist” by Desert Rat, a socialist songwriter, parodying the menacing media coverage of insurrectional anarchists from Eugene and other places in the pacific northwest in the run up to and following the 1999 WTO protests. Ooooh, property destruction…

“PSA #12” by The Infernal Noise Brigade. This doomy marching band was known to show at large demonstrations and percussively stoke the fires of revolt with their horns, drums and dark xylophones.

So there has recently been attempts by ICE and DHS to investigate radical groups in Asheville. This scrutiny is coming amid an escalating pattern of ICE and DHS presence and terrorism all across North Carolina, some of which we have covered on this show before and has been all over other media as well. Since its inception in 2002, ICE has continued a trend of targeted and racist oppression, and as it stands it is the largest investigative branch of DHS. This past month saw opposition to ICE in Raleigh where ICE Director Albence was being hosted along with Acting Homeland Secretary Wolf in a press conference given by the Republican Speaker. The group Never Again, which is a Jewish group formed to counter ICE violence with a specific aim to oppose the systematic dehumanization which is the cornerstone of how ICE operates, is holding a month of actions all around the country this December. More about that at neveragainaction.com.

And Asheville is no different, we have seen an increase in ICE and DHS all over this town. Here is a statement on behalf of the newly formed group Asheville Anti-Repression which was developed to deal with this situation:

“Asheville Anti Racism was recently alerted to the existence of an investigation being conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security on November 4, 2019. Riseup.net received a subpoena requesting any and all records/information related to names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, IP addresses, MAC addresses, payment information for the following email: ashevilleantiracism@riseup.net

Riseup responded to the request on October 21, 2019 indicating that they do not keep records of the information that was requested and that they planned on notifying the account by email after one week of the existence of the subpoena.

ICE is a threat to our communities, regardless of whether you are a citizen or not. We maintain the position that ICE should be abolished and will continue to push back against this investigation. There are no individuals named in this subpoena and we do not know the reason for this request. With the knowledge of the existence of the investigation we bring you a reminder to not talk to agents of law enforcement.

Please take care in the ways that you discuss this investigation as to not endanger yourselves or others: Speculation, gossip, and rumors can only harm yourself and you communities. We do want people to not feel afraid to continue to work together, to act, and to stand up for their ideals for a world without borders. Please take time to make sure you have access to an attorney, and to refresh yourselves on your legal rights, security culture and technological security practices.

If you need access to more resources to a lawyer or if you are approached by an agent, please send an email to AshevilleAntiRepression@riseup.net

Reminder that we are not lawyers, and cannot offer any legal advice. Additionally, please do not disclose sensitive information in an email to us. We will connect you with an attorney so you can confidentially discuss the details of your situation.”

Guest Interview: Eli Meyerhoff on his book ‘Beyond Education’, Battling Recuperation, and Operating on the Margins

Download Episode Here

This week we are presenting a special guest interview, done by Scott who is an anarchist academic and regular listener, with Eli Meyerhoff about his book “Beyond Education: Radical Studying for Another World”. In this book, Meyerhoff “traces how key elements of education emerged from histories of struggles in opposition to alternative modes of study bound up with different modes of world-making. Taking inspiration from Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, and Indigenous resurgence projects, he charts a new course for movements within, against, and beyond the university as we know it.” and this quote is from the University of Minnesota webpage, who also published his book.

I found this interview really thought provoking and well crafted, it brought up a lot of issues I hadn’t really thought of in such terms, specifically about the historical and colonial construction of what we think of today as education. In this interview, Scott and Eli talk about his book, the vast terrain that the book covers, experiences in academia when one is operating as politically radical, and some alternatives to education that we can see and experience in the world around us.

Eli Meyerhoff can be found at elimeyerhoff.com, the Abolition University at abolition.university, and the Abolition Journal at abolitionjournal.org for more info on the conference happening in may 2020.

To read the intro to Beyond Education for free, head on over to this UM link.

If you are a listener and want to submit an interview for broadcast, just get in touch with us by emailing thefinalstrawradio@riseup.net and we can walk you thru the process!

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Music for this episode by:

LSD – School’s For Fools

Suburban Studs – I Hate School