Category Archives: General

Stop The Mountain Valley Pipeline

Stop The Mountain Valley Pipeline

Banners left on pipeline construction equipment, reading "Where Will You Go When The Waters Rise?" and "The Fight Continues"
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The Mountain Valley Pipeline, or MVP is planned to be a 300 + mile pipeline 42 inches in diameter being built to transport compressed so-called Natural Gas from the Marcellus formation in the Appalachian Basin, from northern West Virginia to southern Virginia for export. The pipeline started being built in 2018 and is slated to cross over 1,000 waterways, posing a danger to countless human and non-human animals and plants along the way as well as being responsible for 19 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to 19 million passenger cars or 23 average U.S. coal fired power plants each year. It’s being built by a number of corporations involved in other fossil fuel infrastructure like ConEd & EQT. As of November 2020, the project was 3 years behind schedule and over $3 billion over budget because of a coalition of on-the-ground grassroots direct action and resistance, geographically dispersed solidarity actions and court challenges determined to keep this Marcellus Shale gas in the ground.

This week, we’ll speak with Toby and Emily, two longtime activists resisting the MVP’s construction about the pipeline, some of the resistance history, MVP’s attempt in federal court to intimidate and identify folks who run the social media accounts called “Appalachians Against Pipelines” and how to get involved in the struggle to fight climate change. You can find thorough coverage of the topic, and piss off the extraction industry, by following @AppalachiansAgainstPipelines on fedbook and instagram and the @StopTheMVP on twitter. You can support the ongoing resistance by throwing money at the effort’s fundraising page: bit.ly/supportmvpresistance.

You can find our past interviews about the MVP, including with folks actively in tree-sits and mono-pods at our website (by searching Mountain Valley Pipeline), and as well as our interviews about the water crisis in West Virginia generally and in WV prisons (by searching “Elk River”).

To learn more about the struggle at Line 3 and folks who are doing anti-repression work around it, check it this link and the related site: https://www.planline3.com/support-the-resistance

In about a week, you can a transcribed and easily printable version of this conversation for free at https://TFSR.WTF/Zines. You can follow us on social media and find our streaming platforms at TFSR.WTF/Links. You can support our transcription and publishing efforts monetarily, if you appreciate our work, by visiting patreon.com/TFSR or checking out other methods at TFSR.WTF/Support. And you can find more about our radio broadcasts, including how to get our free, weekly, hour-long broadcast up on a community station near you, by visiting TFSR.WTF/Radio.

Announcement

Eric King Trial Support

Antifascist, vegan and anarchist prisoner Eric King will be heading to trial soon and his support is inviting folks to show up at the Alfred A. Arraj Federal Courthouse in so-called Denver, CO, October 12-15th to support him. You can find filings on his behalf and background on the case at the Civil Liberties Defense Center at CLDC.org, and find updates on the case at SupportEricKing.Org, and the support Twitter and Instagram.

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: So if y’all would please introduce yourselves with whatever names, pronouns, location or why we are talking and what you’re involved in for the audience, that would be super helpful.

Emily: Cool. Yeah. My name is Emily, I’m joining us from so-called Virginia, in New River Valley area, pretty close to where the pipelines currently being built.

Toby: I’m Toby, my pronouns are they/them. I am also in so-called Virginia, pretty close to the New River Valley, and also very close to where the pipeline is currently being built.

TFSR: This pipeline that we’re talking about is the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). And I’m wondering if you all could maybe tell us a bit about the plan of the MVP, what’s been built so far, the path that it is planned to take, what it will be carrying… just all the like logistical stuff about that, as it is up to this point. Maybe what the investment company behind it is called.

Toby: Yeah, totally. So Mountain Valley Pipeline, or MVP that we usually just call it is a 300-ish mile pipeline. It’s 42 inches in diameter, which is like a giant pipeline. That’s one of the biggest pipelines. It’s gonna transport compressed natural gas from the Marcellus formation in the Appalachian basin. And it’s gonna connect to an existing pipeline: The Transco pipeline. It runs from Northern West Virginia, all the way down through to Southwest Virginia. Then it’s gonna go 75 miles into North Carolina through its South Gate extension, which is still being decided in court. So, that’s going to go through like Rockingham County and Alamance County in North Carolina. When it is built, if it’s ever built (hopefully it’s never built), It would emit the 89.5 million metric tons of carbon. So that’s like 26 coal plants or 19 million passenger cars. It is right now being built by a company called Precision Pipeline, which is the same company that is building Line 3. The project itself is owned by EQT EQN Midstream who is based in Pittsburgh. And it’s like funded by like major banks who fund EQT EQN like JP Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, all the big name banks, and a lot of other banks. Emily, would you like to talk about maybe what they’ve built what they haven’t built?

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. They claim that they built a lot more, but it’s really only, like maybe 51% built. Some outside sources say, essentially, a ton of what they’re claiming to have built is not actually like completed to the point where gas could flow through it. But they have done a lot of work in pretty much most of Northern West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Franklin County in Virginia. But the vast majority of the pipeline’s water crossings are not done. And they have over 1000 water crossings that they will do over the course of the pipeline. Yeah, a lot of the work that’s going on is currently happening in Monroe County in West Virginia, and then Montgomery county and Giles County, in Virginia, and also in Roanoke County.

Toby: I think like they are claiming that like 92% of their work is done. But really what that means is they have done some work on 92% of the pipeline. But it’s really important to say that the work that they have yet to do is going to be some of their most difficult work. It’s going to be going over some of their steepest sections. It’s kind of hard to describe to people who aren’t from around here or who haven’t done a lot of hiking or spend a lot of time in these mountains. But when we say the steepest sections, we’re not talking about like “Oh, it’s a steep hill.” It’s like very few degrees off from a literal cliff that they’re going to try and build a pipeline through. And that includes trenching and grading and daisy chaining equipment down the hill so that they can actually do their work. Which is incredibly dangerous for themselves and for the environment around them.

Emily: Yeah, and they have already flipped excavators. I believe that one Precision Pipeline employee has already died because of their complete disregard for safety precautions or common sense perhaps.

Toby: Yeah, like they are building through karst terrain, which is really prone to landslides and sinkholes. And that mixed with the incredible steepness of the land around them and also the work that they’re doing producing lots of erosion. They are facing a lot of difficulties with their construction. They are three years behind schedule and $3 billion over budget. Some of that is $2.5 million in fines that they have occurred through over 250 water quality violations.

TFSR: So is that like they’ve caused erosion through their construction that’s leaked into water supplies to rivers outside of the scope of…. Is it called an ERC?

Toby: Yeah, those are what most of those violations are from. And a lot of that $3 billion over budget is the amount of work that you’ve had to do. That’s just sediment and erosion control. And they spend millions of dollars doing sediment and erosion control where if they were not building this pipeline, they would have not had to spend all that money.

Emily: It’s also important to note that most of those violations were recorded and tracked and submitted by a citizen watch group here. So that is this community being like “You are destroying our water, you are destroying our communities. We now have to go out every day and watch you do this destruction and take photographs of it, every time it rains.” There’s teams of people that go out along the path and observe and record what’s going on so that they can then submit that to the DEQ and try and get some sort of consequences for all this destruction. I think it’s really important to note that it’s not because the company is like doing anything. The company is leaving this all on the people who live in the path. All on the people who are fighting it. And the DEQ is also leaving that burden on us here

TFSR: Yeah, there’s not like Department of Environmental Quality workers out there, like you say, going up and down the path of the pipeline of what’s been built so far and testing.

Emily: They come out when they’re caught, right? And then they need proof, oftentimes, to be convinced.

TFSR: When it was quoted “19 million passenger cars” would be the footprint, is that like the the estimated amount of carbon produced by the lifespan of the pipeline and all that it’s like slated to carry through it? Or is that like a yearly thing? Or what? How is that figured?

Toby: Yeah, so that’s what they are predicting is going to be the annual emissions. So that’s like emissions from the combustion of the gas the pipeline would carry. That also comes from a predicted methane leaks across the gas supply chain, and emissions from the actual compression. Then also like the emissions from the gas extraction and processing that’s happening up in Northern West Virginia. So that’s not including the emissions that are currently happening from all the construction that’s going on. But the majority of that is the actual gas combustion. And then also 45% of that number is from the amount that this pipeline is going to leak. And just the standard leaking that all pipelines do.

I think because of the terrain that we’re in, and the amount of like ups and downs and also the fact that this pipeline has gone on for over three years that they scheduled for their construction, it means that it’s going to be way more susceptible to leaking, to explosions. Because if you think about it, the pipe in themselves, they are not rated to sit out in a field being exposed to the elements for three plus years. And that’s what certain sections of this pipeline have don. You drive by in this area, and you go by their pipe yards, and that pipe has been sitting there for years. It’s not rated to do that. The coating on it that’s supposed to protect it is not rated to withstand that amount of exposure. And they still are saying that it’s perfectly safe to put in the ground and to pressurize and put compressed natural gas through. They claim that they rotate every section of pipe that’s laying out every day. That’s what they claim. They don’t do that at all. But that’s what they claim that they’re doing to their shareholders and all the regulatory agencies.

TFSR: So besides the the weight of the methane leaks… All those other elements that you described along the 300 mile path, there’s also the what is the imminent threats to the viability of streams and waterways and aquifers that it’s traveling through. That would seem like that would also require constant vigilance of people in the communities along that 300 miles to be watching for breaks or for spills or for leaks just so that they’re not drinking poisoned water.

Toby: Totally. As Emily was saying there’s like over 1000 water crossings that they are going to do and that does not begin to describe the aquifers that it passes through and how many people along the route that get their drinking water from wells that would be impacted by spills and leaks. Karst terrain is a natural filter and a lot of people do have wells to those aquifers. If anything were to happen. If there was a break in the line or a leak then you are looking at people losing access to clean drinking water. And we’re in Appalachia, that’s not a new thing for people around here. That’s not a new occurrence. This region has a long history of being a sacrifice zone for the fossil fuel extractive industries and those industries poisoning their drinking water and their well water. So that’s not new. But that still doesn’t make it right.

Emily: Yeah. And I think something, also on that, is that it’s already happening, right? We’re talking about leaks and that’s totally a huge risk of this project. But just the construction itself, because of the geology of the area, because of the karst terrain, people have already lost water just from the construction. We know people whose wells have dried up and that can’t be undone. They just recently pierced a pretty big aquifer that feeds all of the families that live on an entire mountain. And they denied that they hit that aquifer. But because the water tables here are so complex… which is what leads to those sinkholes… Because it’s so complex if you hit the ground water there’s no way to know how far that impact will extend into the mountains.

TFSR: There was a couple of times back in…. I want to say 2012 and 2013… [correction, 2014] this show did interviews with folks that were doing water distribution around West Virginia, and around Virginia because there were two coal related spills. There was the Freedom Industries spill, where floodwaters had washed uncontained coal cleaning chemicals that were a private industry recipe. The company wouldn’t release what the actual chemicals that were involved in it to the state EPA in West Virginia but it was released into the water supply. And folks from around the region were going up and driving huge water buffaloes, huge tanks, driving pallets of water bottles down and up into hollers and into rural communities. Because if people are relying on these water supplies that are naturally occurring and they don’t have the infrastructure where they’ve got a local county or city government that’s actually filtering the water…. even if it could filter for some of these chemicals, and some of these toxins…

The phrase used, “sacrifice zone”, in Appalachia… this is a clear example in the last decade of when industry destroys people’s ability to drink water. I mean, people and that’s excluding all the other living beings that live off of these water supplies. I can’t imagine watching 300 miles worth of one of these pipelines and all the impacted communities who are going to be left. Not not only where poverty in some cases is endemic, but also the poverty is where people are lacking easy access to transportation, let alone going and finding another source of water. Poverty aside, that’s just going to be a huge problem for anyone, whatever their level of wealth is. With how isolated people live up in these mountains, it just seems like a really huge weight to put on. Just so that some corporations can extract the stuff that we already know is destroying the ability of humans to live comfortably on this planet.

Toby: Yeah, exactly. And again, I was making the point that the burden of finding out whether or not your water is contaminated rests solely on you, as a person who lives in this region. There’s no responsibility of the company after they built this pipeline. There’s no responsibility of any of the shareholders. None of those people are going to care about the folks who are left after this project is completed. If it’s ever completed. And no one is going to be there to support those communities or to support the people living up in the hills who lose access to their drinking water. There’s only going to be us who are left. And we have to like, not only find out while it’s happening, but also be aware after it’s happening that we have to continue to support these communities.

Emily: Yeah, I remember back when the pipeline was first announced and there were a ton of community hearings that people were showing up to just in droves to be like “We do not want this. Let’s make this very clear from the beginning, we do not want this pipeline. We think it is a bad idea. We think we will be put in harm’s way because of it.” They were absolutely right about all of that. And I remember, one of the ones in the Montgomery county area, folks were talking about some some people in the Brush Mountain area who were on well water. And the question put to, I believe it was county officials was essentially like “If our wells are destroyed, how soon can we get connected to the county water system?” And these were people who were maybe a five minute drive outside of town limits. They were five minutes from their neighbors who were on County water. Because it is a really difficult area to traverse and to build in safely. And because these areas don’t have a lot of disposable income for that kind of infrastructure investment. They were like “Three years. If it becomes a top priority for us from the minute that we decide “Yes, we’re gonna get you on to County Water. Three years.” So that’s obviously a long time to go without water. Yeah, and that’s already what’s happening as a result.

TFSR: I don’t know if you know the answer to this? But when people are resisting pipelines being built, and they go over schedule, and they go over budget by years and billions of dollars, if they’re just figuring that that’s like a normal part of the loss of the possible profits that they’re gonna be making, or if they’re contractually obliged to continue building it? Because projects do stop because of resistance. For instance, the ACP [Atlantic Coast Pipeline], right? As far as I know it went just so far over budget, and there was so much resistance at so many points that they just scrapped it. Which is an amazing story of success. But is there government subsidization? Like with the federal government stepping in and saying “We need energy independence, and so we’re going to fund projects like the MVP that’s keeping it afloat.” Or the hedge funds just so awash in money that this is an acceptable loss for them?

Emily: It’s a tough question. I studied economics, actually, in college and I still don’t understand how all of this really works. But I do remember talking to someone who was an expert in this. And essentially, because of the way that a lot of these companies are structured, they break the individual corporate entities down into being ‘midstream’, or ‘extraction’, or ‘processing’. They break it down into those separate categories. But they’re often owned by the same parent companies, or they have the same investors backing them. It’s this interesting sort of shell game where you really can’t follow the money very well. And of course, they also do really shady things like just straight up not pay some of their contracts and not pay some of their workers. That’ll happen to along the way.

But what I remember from that conversation with her and we were heading into a meeting with the governor or something, and she was explaining to me essentially, that you don’t actually have to have any gas flow through a pipeline for midstream partners and shareholders to make money off of that pipeline. It is such a bizarrely built industry and such an absolutely shady thing through and through. I do not understand where the money comes from most of the time and it seems to be a real confidence game where people invest in this. Then because people are investing other people see as a good investment and invest. It’s got the smell of a Ponzi scheme but I can’t get any more specific than that. But she really was like “No gas has to flow through pipeline for the people building it to make money off of it.” And that took my breath away. I still think about that conversation all the time. I wish I could find her and have her really spend a couple hours explaining it to me. But the industry is so craftily constructed. This has always been true of these industries. I mean, Enron was doing a lot of pipeline work and we know just how ethical their business practices were. It has always been this sort of like mystery fog that surrounds pipelines and fossil fuel industries. So that’s the best answer that I can probably give you. I don’t know if Toby can say a little more.

Toby: I mean, you’re the one that studied economics, apparently.

Emily: I try not to tell people that, honestly, most of the time.

Toby: I mean, it’s coming in handy right now. So I appreciate it.

TFSR: At least you’re on our side. So yeah.

Toby: I think we we don’t necessarily have a lot of economists who are giving us a lot of advice on how this system works, apparently. I feel like, I know that MVP is… if you listen to their shareholder meetings which are public, interestingly enough, you can tell that shareholders are not exactly happy with them. Which like, why would you be happy if you invested in a company that’s $3 billion over budget. They’ve definitely lost shareholders, but they apparently have not lost enough shareholders to say that it’s not worth it financially for them to complete this project. Even though we’ve also seen all of the economic trends that have been happening. Natural gas is not actually that good of a financial incentive. It’s not actually worth that much on the markets right now. And they’re trying to frame this pipeline as critical infrastructure. But in the end, it’s not going to be critical infrastructure, economic wise. It’s not going to be worth money. Dominion saw that. And that’s why they were like “We’re not going to do the ACP.” But the folks behind MVP have not yet made that decision.

Emily: Yeah, they haven’t wised up.

We have enough infrastructure actually to meet and exceed all of the natural gas demand in this area. So we do not need this pipeline for local gas demand. And we know that that’s true, because it won’t be going to locals. They they say that it’s going to be heating homes in the area, but it’s not. I mean, they signed contracts that have literally the bare legal minimum going into local consumption. It is entirely for export, entirely for that profit.

Toby: Yeah. And I think this is a trend. It’s not just this region where pipelines aren’t a financially good idea. Part of what happened with the Jordan Coe fight out in Oregon is that FERC [Federal Environmental Regulatory Commission] declined they’re eminent domain, because they’re like “There’s no financial incentive to grant the Jordan CoVe eminent domain. Natural gas is not enough of a financial incentive for us to deal with eminent domain of all of these landowner’s properties.” So like, like this trend of like it not being a good financial move is happening. But also at the same time it doesn’t benefit the company’s. The companies are like “No, we have to keep making money.” And, as Emily said, they don’t need to actually put natural gas in this pipeline to make money. And they’re going to continue being hell bent on this process, even though it’s at the expense of us living on this earth. And other creatures living on this earth.

TFSR: It’s obvious that they’re fleecing the shareholders. And that’s why they’re losing some of them, but some of them are just too dumb to realize. But it also just kind of smells to me, like the infrastructure plans that were over the last 20 years of war in Afghanistan. Where you just had like large infrastructure or private security companies or whatever taking public funds and building bridges to nowhere, as they say. Or just walking away with money. I don’t know if those are the same companies or if it’s public money going into it, but it just seems just ERRRRRRR.

Toby: Yeah, it does seem like that. It does feel like that, It is really hard to be like “Oh, this pipeline makes sense when you go around these mountains.” And you look at like their construction methods and the absurd amount of dangerous stuff they have to do to build this pipeline. In no way shape or form does this pipeline make sense. You just being here and hiking around… you’re like “Oh, this makes even less sense than I thought it would from an outside perspective, because of the terrain and where it’s going through.” You’re just like “How did any engineer think this project made sense?” I don’t know. As Emily said before, already, one worker has died. There have been multiple equipment accidents, where excavators have flipped over, other super dangerous stuff has happened on this pipeline route. So, you’re just like “Oh, it has to be something going on where people are ‘yeah, we’re gonna keep just drowning this projects with more money and even though it doesn’t make any sense.'”

TFSR: West Virginia is one of the states in the US that has a very long history of official acquiescence to extractive industries with, among other things, the promise of employment opportunities. There was already discussed the argument that it’s going to be fulfilling local supply needs for natural gas, which has been blown out of the water. But is this providing any reasonable amount of jobs for people in local communities? And is that is that one of the selling points that they’re trying to make for it?

Toby: They definitely make that point. It’s definitely wrong. You drive around and you look at where all the Man Camps are, where all of their work yards are, where their workers park, and all of those trucks are from out of state. Most of the pipeline workers are from other states where there are other pipelines being built. They get brought in. They come and they stay in Man Camps. They come in and stay at all the hotels. They’re from mostly out of state. I think the one exception to that is that some of their security they hire is local. But none of the bosses of the security folks are local. They all get brought in too. There’s a story that by where the Yellow Finch trees sits used to be, there was a logging project that was just coincidentally right next to it. And the loggers got into disagreements with all of the MVP workers because MVP had not hired local loggers to do the tree clearing, or the tree felling. So, they’re not hiring locals, they’re bringing people in.

Emily: Yeah, and I remember back in the beginning, again. They would waltz into these meetings being like “1000’s of jobs. We are bringing 1000’s of jobs to this area!” And people would be like “Really? Really???” And they would be like “Oh, we ran the numbers again, and we’re bringing hundreds of jobs! hundreds of jobs to the area!” And people would be like “Really? Really???” and then did their own research and they were like, “What you’re talking about in your own documents is less than two dozen permanent jobs, like less than a dozen permanent, jobs.” from what I remember from one of those conversations. Considering the amount of farms that I know that have shuttered in the construction process that has already out numbered. That’s already out numbered.

Toby: Even the jobs they’re providing to locals, the security jobs, as Emily was saying, they’re not continuous jobs. In fact, a lot of the security workers were pretty happy when a lot of folks started doing blockades again this year after the tree sits were extracted. Because it meant they were gonna get laid off, but now they’re no longer gonna get what laid off. That’s the thing is that they lay off a lot of workers. And even the workers that they bring in, they have large parts of the year where they can’t work, or there are stopped work orders and so they lay everyone off. So they’re not even providing jobs that are that good to all the folks who are being brought in.

TFSR: And just to keep on that topic around the Man Camps. I know when we’ve spoken to folks involved in resistance against pipelines, whether it be in so-called Canada or in the US. This can have different impacts in different places. Obviously, in in the parts of Canada where a lot of those pipelines are being built there’s large concentrations of indigenous folks living on their land, and being under threat of displacement or poisoning from this. And the Man Camps have a racialized element to them as a colonial force of displacement, as well as assault and murder against Indigenous women in particular.

But, I wonder if there’s some commonalities of experience around the Man Camps, as they’re called, along the MVP? I would imagine, and I’ve heard this sort of thing before that there’s at least higher like incidences of people transiting COVID because people are traveling back and forth over such wide distances and maybe don’t give a fuck about infecting locals at the hotel they’re staying at or the restaurant they’re eating at. But are there higher concentrations of assault around those spaces, or other concerns outside of the job site?

Emily: I mean, I’ll speak for myself here. I don’t really have a way of knowing and I’ve thought about this, and I don’t really know how to find out. A lot of those things probably wouldn’t go reported. We know for a fact that a lot of the man camps up north at Line 3 have recently been caught in sex trafficking, have recently been revealed as being sex trafficking rings. And again, They use Precision Pipeline. We use Precision Pipeline. There’s no way that it’s not happening, I guess, is what I’m saying. But I can’t necessarily speak to specifics of sexual violence around here. I will say that you’re absolutely right about the COVID transmission. I mean, they don’t wear masks. But also the cops don’t wear masks. Every every part of the construction process is putting… You know, the security workers don’t masks. A lot of the people who are out there are able to observe the people in their backyards doing the work every day. A lot of people that go out and do that observing are often older are often retired, because that’s who can show up when the people are working in their backyards. And so it’s a lot of older folks who are in close contact with these people who have no regard for their safety. None whatsoever. So yeah, you’re absolutely right about that.

TFSR: I guess getting back to the scripted questions. Thanks for going off so much with me. Can y’all talk a little bit about some of the history of resistance to the MVP? And what those old folks whose backyards are being despoiled by this… Who are some of the folks or communities that are resisting the pipeline?

Toby: Emily, would you like to start? You mentioned earlier that you have been doing this for seven years?

Emily: Oh, gosh, yeah. I mean, from the beginning it’s always been a really cross-demographic group I suppose. It’s actually, to me, been really beautiful being part of this community of resistance. Because I don’t think I’ve been in a lot of other spaces that are so multi-generational, across many different faith backgrounds, and geographically widespread. People really come together to show up for each other in this resistance. So that that’s been true since the beginning. I guess, when we talk about the people who’ve put their bodies in the path of the pipeline, it’s a lot of young people, it’s a lot of old people. It’s students. It’s grandparents. It’s people from far away that know that this pipeline is going to impact their futures and their loved ones futures. It’s people close by who have already lost their water or who also recognize that it’s such an incredibly urgent and far reaching crisis, that everyone is touched by it. And I think because of that, everyone really turns out for it. Yeah, that’d be my short answer. Toby?

Toby: Yeah. I think that what we see is there’s been years of resistance, since this project has been proposed, people like fought it through the regulatory process for years. It’s been opposed since the beginning. And while the regulatory fight has continued, there’s also been for over three years, a lot of direct action that has been used to resist the pipeline, and to stop construction that began in 2018, with the sits on Peters Mountain, in the Jefferson National Forests, where we had folks on top of the mountain in tree sits right next to where the pipeline would be bored underneath the top of Peters Mountain, which is where the Appalachian trail goes. And that’s the border between West Virginia and Virginia. One of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. I love that mountain. A lot of people here love that mountain. And it’s also an incredibly essential place for this region. It is a giant aquifer. It’s a place where there’s lots of different animals and species of trees, and all types of living things that are living there.

And then also, in the same National Forest a little bit later, there was the monopod that blocked construction for 57 days. That blocked one of their access roads that they use to get to their construction sites on Peter’s. So, I think there’s been not just an effort to fight them in court and to oppose them with regulatory process. But there’s been three and a half years of dedicated people putting their bodies on the line and risking their freedom to stop this project. We can keep talking about… We’re trying not to do the “And then this person did this!” I think the things that we were trying to think about this question and trying to be like “what are some of the major moments.” A lot of the major moments are where there has been a combination of local support and community support for these actions and for this type of resistance. As well as people coming to this region from all over to fight this pipeline. There’s been such a building of community that just transcends location and identity. It’s been like really incredible to see. Obviously, the best example, which is the Yellow Finch tree sit. They lasted for 932 days. And most of that was with the support camp. You met so many different types of people from all over who came to support the tree sits that way. And, obviously, that was just a space that a lot of people considered their home. But also was just a space to just build lots of resistance and capacity to fight this pipeline.

Emily: Yeah, being in that space was really special. Because you would see all these people coming from all over. You would build these amazing friendships. And obviously because people were coming from far away, there’d be a lot of coming and going, and a lot of coming back too. But then there were also the local people who I have memories of eating my friends banana bread in like week two, around the sits or something, and then memories of eating that same friends banana bread again, just a couple months before the support camp got evicted. That continuous local support that literally kept people fed and kept people safe and supported throughout is what has carried us through. There were tree sits that went up in Rocky Mount, they went by Little Teel Crossing. They were the Bent Mountain sits that lasted for five weeks. The monopod held for 57 days which was really incredible. That was the monopod on Peters Mountain.

All of that together, all of those tree sits and large actions, and our recent mass action were 100 people walked on to a site and 10 people locked down to equipment, plus all those smaller actions that still had huge impact, where people lock themselves to excavators or just put their bodies on the line. Locked themselves into cars on the on the path of the pipeline. In total, there have been 74 arrests in direct actions against the pipeline across 40 actions, and summing up to 1039 days stopped over the years of resistance.

Toby: To be fair, that 1039 number is in large part due to the Yellow Finch tree sits, which lasted for 932 days. The distribution across that… the average is a lot different of blockade length. Some of the actions that have been done like the monopods and the tree sits and all of the different aerial actions have been some of the longest lasting active blockades. Not necessarily the longest, but has been some of the longest lasting blockades in the history of this country, or this land. And yeah, that combination of these long term blockades and also smaller, shorter-term actions, where people go and put themselves in the direct path, or locked to equipment or somehow interfere with construction is mostly because of folks who are willing to risk arrests and their freedoms. Also a lot of people from across the country seeing this as a fight that is really essential and connects us all. It’s the same with any fight that is against petrochemical infrastructure or extraction.

TFSR: So a lot of that resistance that you’ve been describing is on the ground. It’s people directly observing or directly standing in the path. And that’s great when people can do that. That’s part of the skill set that they can bring to resistance. I’ve sort of gotten a big appreciation over the years of talking to folks that are involved in the sort of work that you all are doing for the combination of the on the ground stuff, and also tying up the legal side of things. I’m wondering, are there any ongoing legal challenges around eminent domain or around FERC filings or anything like that, and any groups that are participating in resisting on that landscape?

Toby: Totally, there are. It’s also important to say that MVP right now is kind of tied up with their own permitting process. Right now the West Virginia DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality] just submitted a draft approval for their water quality permits. They also need all of their water quality permits that they would get through the West Virginia DEP [Department of Environmental Protection]. So those are for all their water crossings that they have not gotten variances for and done. I think they still need to do about 500 of their water crossings out of about 1000+. Some of those water crossings are major water crossings. The Elk River, the Gauley River, the Greenbrier River all in West Virginia or the Roanoke River in Virginia. They also have to cross under some major highway. And a lot of that will be done through boring which they also don’t have their approval to bore. That could get conditionally approved pending the approval of their Army Corps water crossing permits and their DEQ & DEP water quality permits.

Right now they were granted a new right of way permit to go through the Jefferson National Forest. But they can’t work there until they get the rest of their water permits. So they’re part of the legal system is that they didn’t wait to start construction until they had gotten all their permits. So they are trying to get their permits as they go. Which a lot of people say is that they’ve kind of like shot themselves in the foot. They’ve definitely limited their success by not doing what companies normally do, which is get all their permits before and then start. So that’s why they’re involved in a legal mess of their own making with all their permitting. Yeah, there’s also a lot of nonprofits in the area. Appalachian voices, the Sierra Club, and Wild Virginia, they are also in court challenging a lot of decisions made by regulatory bodies with regards to MVP. Do you want to talk more about that, Emily?

Emily: Sure. Yeah, again, from the beginning, everyone was all the local experts. Scientists were really clear that building this pipeline was going to further endanger already endangered species. A really good example of that is like the Kenny Darter, which is a really beautiful and colorful fish. The Log Perch… a lot of these species can only be found in Appalachia. And Appalachia is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. It’s really, really special in that way. There’s like a lot of limitations on when they can build, because there are endangered bats and birds that need to have their habitats protected. Which, to me is insane, that they should be able to build at any time of the year at all, if we know that those are their habitats.

But yeah, that decision made by Fish and Wildlife, that decision that MVP wouldn’t impact those species has been challenged in court, and it’s actually gone really far. And I believe they’re going to be hearing some oral arguments for that in the next few months, which is exciting. But I mean, that case was filed so early on. And I think something really important to note is that that case wouldn’t have made it this far, the pipeline would have been built if it wasn’t for on the ground resistance. Also on the ground resistance would have been a lot harder if they’d been able to build across all parts of the pipeline at once. So things like the endangered species case, things like the Jefferson National Forest case, challenging the Forest Service decision to let MVP cross the Jefferson National Forest, Those oral arguments are also coming up.

Those cases have made it so that their construction is slowed down. The direct actions have made it so that their construction is slowed down and those two different arms of of the resistance against the pipeline really support each other. They’re very deeply intertwined. Which I think is something that people don’t often think about. A lot of the times when people lock down in the path of the pipeline, you see this in resistance all over the place, people will be like “Oh, well, you know, why don’t you go through the proper legal channels?” And it’s like “Not only did we from the beginning, but we still are!” It’s really necessary to use these outside of the legal system paths in order to actually make it through the legal system because it is so rigged in industry’s favor.

The last one South Gate, the South Gate Extension, so that was a permit that they were looking for to be able to like build really the entire South Gate extension and the North Carolina DEQ denied their water quality permits. They came back saying “Oh, you can’t deny it for this reason.” They denied it again. They denied it a third time. Toby’s absolutely right. This process has been so messy and it is because of their incompetence as well as the fact that this project just like shouldn’t be built. There’s no standard in which this pipeline should be built. And then on top of that, there’s also still a lot of people fighting the eminent domain claims, where they live and some of those eminent domain claims have actually been pushed to 2022. And yet, MVP is constructing in their backyards right now. Which I think is just wild that they do not have the regulatory or legal standing to be doing so much of what they do every day.

Toby: Yeah, I think that Emily was talking about eminent domain a couple of weeks ago, and that mountain MVP was starting to work and that’s a place where there’s a lot of resistance to the eminent domain of the pipeline going through people’s land. And people came out every day through the night to be close enough to work where they [pipeline workers] couldn’t work for days, while there was stuff happening in the courts trying to get an injunction to stop MVP. Eventually, I don’t think that the courts granted that injunction, but it was a time where people like got together. And as simple as “Hey, we’re gonna be here, as a group of people, as a community and just watch what they’re doing, but also be close enough so that MVP can’t do the work they’re trying to do.”

Emily: That community, actually, some of the folks were out there every day, every night trying to prevent blasting from happening in their backyards. And eventually MVP and security got together with the homeowner there and gave this essentially verbal agreement that they would not blast until the case had been heard in court. The case was scheduled for later that week, and then in the middle of the night, without doing any of the safety precautions, which they’re legally required to do, they blasted anyways. So yeah, not only is the system rigged in favor of them legally in the courts in the regulatory systems, but they disregarded anyways. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this, you can cut this out later, but they shit on it anyway.

TFSR: Yeah, Go ahead and say that.

Toby: Yeah, I like the point that Emily made earlier that people who are taking MVP to court or who are challenging decisions that the regulatory bodies are making in court, all of that builds time and space and delays in the construction that allows more resistance to happen. So whether that’s more resistance, like monitoring, or more legal challenges, or the direct action element, this fight would have looked a lot different for the past three and a half years if they were allowed to work on every segment of their pipeline at once. And it would have meant a much different image of what resistance looks like against the MVP.

Emily: Very succinctly put.

Toby: It also has meant that folks have had this challenge of sustaining resistance. I think there’s an extra challenge in that too. It not only creates space for more resistance to happen, but it also creates a challenge to sustain the energy and the resistance. And a lot of that energy comes from local support for the fight against MVP. These people are not leaving, they’re not moving, they are still fighting this in their communities in this region. And so a lot of the ability to sustain direct action over three and a half years and a legal fight over seven years, is the dedication and energy of the folks who live here. And it’s been pretty cool to see that be sustained. I feel like a lot of times with direct action, it’s very urgent, it’s very fast. How do you make sure that we still have support, and we still have there is still people who are like willing to put their bodies on the line when it has lasted over multiple years.

TFSR: It’s really inspiring. There’s been this group that’s at least has a social media presence, called “Appalachians Against Pipelines” that’s been doing a very good job for a very long time of bringing up news about the resistance that’s been going on against the MVP. And just making space for criticisms, and for news of resistance, and for ways for people to get involved and for fundraisers, and all sorts of different stuff. And it’s come up I guess, in federal court, where Facebook is being pressured by MVP, as I understand by the Mountain Valley Pipeline economic project, and construction project, to try to get information about the people that are behind AAP’s social media presence, or whatever other presence. I don’t know if that’s for the purpose of a SLAP suit or what. But can you all talk a little bit about this circumstance where social media is a very useful tool for sharing information and for rallying people but it’s also potentially being weaponized against folks who are speaking out against the Mountain Valley Pipeline project?

Toby: Yeah. Appalachians Against Pipelines just describes grassroots resistance to Mountain Valley Pipeline. As like a Facebook presence or social media presence it exists to help the fight gain visibility and educate people. It published news about the regulatory process in the legal fights, as well as news about different direct actions that people take. And it’s also to act in solidarity with other resistance struggles. That is the purpose of that Facebook page. And as of now, no admin for that page has been contacted by Facebook about the subpoena. So, there’s been no communication with Facebook as of right now that I’m aware of.

I think it’s pretty important to note that this is not the first time that MVP has used this type of intimidation to try and stop resistance. It’s a harassment tactic right now that they’re doing. And it’s just trying to seek out personal information, not just as like “Oh, we want to know who is behind this Facebook page.” But it’s also a scare tactic to discourage people from joining resistance but it’s also a scare tactic to try and get people to stop. Because it is terrifying to have a company know your personal information and your name and your address and whatever else the subpoena is asking for. It is terrifying to know that with the reality of SLAP suits and injunctions, and also police investigations and other law enforcement investigations. It is scary to have that like be a tactic that is being used against people fighting MVP.

TFSR: Or private security companies like Tigerswan that were conducting surveillance and counter intelligence work up at the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

Toby: Yeah, it’s harassment, and it’s intimidation. And I think folks who are resisting that Mountain Valley Pipeline, this is not the first time that this scare tactic has been used. This is not the first time that MVP has harassed people and intimidate people. And so I think that as before people are going to continue to resist this pipeline and refuse to be intimidated by Mountain Valley Pipeline and their subpoena.

Emily: Yeah, and I would add that, you know, this is just kind of my personal perspective, but it seems like a very desperate and cowardly tactic. I think all intimidation harassment tactics are. It has this very cowardly and disingenuous ring to it. I’ve seen people very courageously… the risk is real, the threat is real. And also, it’s disingenuous because people have been standing up vocally with their faces and their names out in public ready to take on those consequences from the start. And so to act now, like “Oh, there’s this shady group behind it all” is absolutely trying to disempower people in this area, and everywhere who have been vocally and boldly from the beginning been saying that this is wrong and been saying it in the face of a behemoth of a corporate behemoth and in the face of the state.

Toby: I think like in general, you see, other fights have similar social media presences. And we’re now the age where social media is used as a way of not only getting the word out about different actions and different fights and informing people but it’s also an incredible tool to get inspired by other fights across the world. It is how people like learn about different people resisting and different struggles. It just emboldens everyone. It emboldens people around here to see other campaigns or other fights going on and what those people up at Line 3 are doing putting their bodies in line. Like how they’re doing that. Or seeing the fights going on at Fairy Creek or against Trans Mountain or Coastal Gas. Learning about what other folks are doing is incredibly important to sustaining the fight here. So that’s kind of the benefit I see a social media presences of these types of resistances of course, also more it does open people up to more risk. It does. This is not the first time this has happened against a pipeline fight.

TFSR: It’s so inspiring to me the the correlation between the hyper-localized, like “this is what this landscape is, these are the animals that are impacted, these are the people who are being impacted, this is the landscape.” And then seeing the map dotted with projects that are similar where local people or people locally are resisting or coming from other places to go resist And looking at the fact that there’s this web of solidarity between the groups. The scope of damage and threat is not just local, but it is local, and that can’t be diminished. But it’s also global because of fucking climate change. It ties these struggles together and co-inspires them. My mind just reels at the thought. It’s so inspiring.

So, since President Biden has come into office have y’all seen any changes in the pushing through this pipeline, any differences from the way that the administration’s of Trump or Obama interacted with the project?

Emily: So there was a FERC nominee put up by Biden. A lot of people say that this nominee is also a fossil fuel crony, which, of course, is like nothing new for the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee. I’m sure there’s a lot of specific policy details that people could debate back and forth. But the reality is just “NO!” when you’re putting your body in the path of a pipeline, and the cops come to arrest you, it does not matter who the President is. The history of this country is a history of extraction, it is a history of exploitation. That has been consistent from day one. And this mega project, this massive project, this historic project really does just slot into a long line of similar devastating, high risk, destructive projects. That history, you know, it’s not like it has four years on four years off, it is a consistent history throughout.

Toby: Yeah, and I think Biden has paid a lot of lip service to wanting to fight climate change. But as we’ve seen with pretty much every single politician ever, it’s just lip service. No on is willing to take the actions that are needed to stop the impending climate crisis. No one is willing to take the strong enough action to actually limit emissions. It’s one thing to say what you’re trying to get elected, “Oh, I want to fight climate change.” But when you are actually elected, and you do nothing to stop the projects that are going to drastically impact our world by releasing so many emissions and are so far out of the realm of what you should be doing to actually stop climate change. And you’re like, “Okay, well, great. Another politician saying the thing doing nothing. No shocker. No surprise.”

TFSR: So, for folks in the southeast of Turtle Island, like in this region, how can they get involved? Or how can we get involved with a the anti MVP struggle in our own backyard? Who do you want to show up? And what sort of stuff can folks do remotely to support it also in case they can’t show up on the ground?

Emily: So yeah, there’s a lot of different ways to plug in. I mean, we so appreciate all the people everywhere who have donated. Who have started their own fundraising methods. Who have done solidarity actions at banks, demanding divestment or cutting ties. But also, if you want to come all the way to the mountains and join us, then come! You know, we want people who are dedicated to stopping the pipeline. We would love to have you. But also if you’re not near us and there’s a fight near you join that. Contribute to that. All land and water defense is really connected. And if there’s any abolition work, or any other kind of liberation work where you are, do that. Plug into that and that would make us really, really happy.

Toby: Yeah, as you said earlier, we like thrive off of that web of solidarity. We thrive off of seeing other folks in their communities fighting for liberation, fighting for native sovereignty for land, for landback, against extraction, against petrochemical infrastructure. We thrive off of that. And so if you can’t come out to the mountains join whatever fight is closest to you.

TFSR: 1492 Land Back Lane is an ongoing struggle in so-called Canada that is really inspiring. Line 3 has been in the media a lot as a place where tons of people, both indigenous folks and co-conspirators have shown up to put their bodies on the line to try to stop that construction. And I wonder, can you say anything about that struggle and if there are other… You mentioned the struggle On Fairy Creek for instance. Can you talk about any other struggles that are that you’re taking inspiration from that are land and water defense or land back struggles that you want to shout out or inform people about.

Toby: I personally, I’m pretty excited to see all the stuff that’s happening in Atlanta against Cop City. And I am excited to see the beginnings of the organizing that’s happening there. And I’m excited about that. Inspired by that.

TFSR: Can you describe what that is?

Toby: Yeah. So in Atlanta… I’m not definitely not the expert on this. Atlanta has a lot of parks, lots of forest in and around it. And there is like a massive project that is being proposed to deforest some of the land around it where the product of that would be half of that land would go towards the movie industry and then half of that would go towards building a cop training facility that I think people are calling Cop City. And that definitely is a struggle that is at the intersection of abolition and fighting resource extraction and deforestation. But also intersects a lot with the struggles against gentrification that are happening in Atlanta, and pushing people of color, Black communities out of Atlanta. It just seemed like the intersection of all of these different fights coming together in one is pretty inspiring to me. And that being so close to us as well is nice to see that blooming and coming up.

Emily: Yeah, first of all, I fully agree with everything that you just said Toby. And to jump off of what you were saying earlier about Line 3. I think staying up to date on that fight is huge, It’s really coming to the point where Enbridge is absolutely racing to finish. I mean, they are being reckless and just railroading over. But the resistance is still ongoing, which is incredible considering the real intense ramps up that law enforcement have been using, the violence that they’ve been using against water protectors there has been oftentimes hard to look at. But we can’t look away right now. And with the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who are now fighting their arrests and charges in court, ongoing court support for that fight is gonna increasingly become something that I think people from far away, can plug into. And so that’s something that I’m trying to learn a lot more about right now. And I’d encourage people to keep their eyes out for that.

TFSR: How can people keep up on the struggle against the MVP? And what are some good sites or sources or fundraising pages or whatever that they should check out?

Toby: To revisit this, check out Appalachians Against Pipelines? That’s a very good source for information and updates and also the donation link to support resistance. We also have a podcast coming out.

TFSR: Hell yeah.

Toby: We also have a podcast. Emily do you want to talk more about the podcast?

Emily: The first episode will be out soon on In This Climate which is a really great podcast. And then the following episodes that we’re hoping to put into production soon will definitely be shared on the Appalachians Against Pipelines social media, which is Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. So you can find them there.

Toby: That podcast is gonna focus a lot on people’s stories, and listening to the people who’ve been involved in this fight. So it’s a lot about people’s personal experiences and reasons why they have joined in.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Yeah. I get a surprise too! Cool. When is that first episode gonna be out?

Emily: Good question. We don’t have a date yet.

TFSR: If it was by the end of the week or something like that, then I would totally drop a link in the show notes.

Emily: It will certainly not be by the end of the week. But hopefully within the next three weeks, maybe?

Toby: That’ll definitely go out on social media. So people should follow Appalachians Against Pipelines to get notified about when there is a podcast coming out.

TFSR: Absolutely. Toby and Emily, thank you so much for this conversation. Thanks for all the work that y’all are doing. And yeah, solidarity.

Toby: Thank you so much for having us.

Emily: It’s been so great talking with you.

Firearm Safety and Education with Comrade Center

Firearm Safety and Education with Comrade Center

"Comrade Squid" color logo with a squid holding a lamp, sheaths of grain, an AK-47, red and black stars and flags and a large cog in the background
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This week on the show, we spoke with folks involved with Comrade Center, a leftist project focused on accessible education around armed self-defense in so-called New Hampshire. They were formerly known as Southern New England Socialist Rifle Association and while they’re no longer a chapter of the SRA, they are working with groups like that and individuals to purchase and maintaining a space for armed self-defense education outside of the right wing milieu in their area. For the hour we talk about mainstream, reactionary gun culture in the US, the impact of the NRA, the importance and empowerment of education around fire arms and other topics. You can learn more about the project at ComradeCenter.Org

Comrade Center links:

Other organizations we would like to shoutout:

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Featured Tracks:

  • K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) [instrumental] by Diamond D from Stunts, Blunts & Hip Hop (Instrumentals) ‎(2xLP)
  • All You Fascists Bound To Lose by Nina Hagen from Personal Jesus, cover of Woody Guthrie

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Transcription

Dave: Hi, I’m Dave, pronouns he/him, and I’m living currently in Boston, Massachusetts. I’m an organizer with Comrade Center.

Geoff: I am Geoff, pronouns he/him, living in western Massachusetts, and I’m an organizer with the Comrade Center.

The Final Straw Radio: Cool. Can y’all tell us a little bit about the history of the Comrade Center, the philosophy, points of unity, that sort of stuff. And, and as I understand, prior you had been affiliated with the Socialist Rifle Association. I don’t know if you want to say a few words about what changes happened, or why you decided to take a different direction.

G: Yeah, Dave do you want to start?

D: Oh, sure. So we all met through the southern New England branch of the Socialist Rifle Association, sometime back in 2020. And that’s where the germ of this idea for a leftist gun range started. We’re all some type of socialists the SRA is a pan-leftist organization — but we all share, you know, our point of unity for this project is that, really, it’s very difficult for folks with marginalized identities and folks who are traditionally excluded from gun culture up here in New England to learn firearms training and self-defense. And so we want to take on this project to sort of lower the barriers to entry to learning firearms, and gun safety. I don’t know Geoff wants to add to that.

G: I think that’s something that we’re going to touch on quite a bit during this conversation is that things are a little bit different up here in New England, there are not any real spaces for leftists, or anyone leftofcenter really to engage with or commune around firearms. And it’s considered a right wing only thing. And that monopoly kind of scares us.

D: I remember I went down to Durham, North Carolina at one point, and a friend who was living down there, they took me shooting to a public range where you could just go for free and target shoot. And I was a little blown away by this, this was a few years ago. So I think when I saw what folks down in North Carolina had, I was like this is, you know, this is really great. And nothing like that really exists up in New England, certainly not in southern New England, like Massachusetts, or Connecticut, that have really restrictive gun regulations. So when I joined the SRA, that is sort of the thing that sparked my interest was this project when I heard about it, and I knew I wanted to get involved.

G: I mean, it’s worth pointing out that New England as a whole, Massachusetts especially, is overwhelmingly a blue state. And your people that disagree with that are sort of like pushed into the shadows and the rural areas. And private gun range ownership is the thing. Most places you’ll find to go shooting our private clubs. They’re owned by, you know, one or two people or a board. And there’s certain bylaws. Not to dive into it too fast, but I was actually kicked out of a club recently, for bringing guests, which is within the bylaws of the club, that people did not agree with. I basically had trans people with me, and it freaked everybody out. And I was brought up on formal review for bringing outside people into the club. You know, you can point to bylaws all you want and say, Well, you know, I was observing the guest policy” and they’ll create some reason to get rid of you, in this case, some sort of official sounding statement that I was putting the safety of the club in jeopardy.

So that was the last straw for me, you could even say it was “the final straw” for me.

TFSR: [laughs]

G: And I decided that I needed to get involved with a project that was going to help people that really needed it.

TFSR: Yeah, I’m not sure about the space in Durham that you mentioned, but out in western North Carolina that we have here — and this is affiliated with at least here, I think the State Department of Fishing and Recreation, or whatever it’s called but there’s a public range in Cold Mountain or called The Cold Mountain Range where they have like a range officer that’s employed by the state government, it’s on the edge of state and federal forest lands and it’s upkept. I mean, they’ve improved it so much over the last few years. It used to be just one range, six or seven stalls, people flagging each other all the time, people not really paying attention. And now they’ve got a pistol range and a rifle range and a range officer who makes sure that people have their weapons down and you know, nothing in the chamber when people are going downrange to check their targets. So it’s, I mean, just havingpublic land use I guess in this part of the country is pretty important with all theall the big parks and stuff and I would imagine up in your neck of the woods, a lot less of that, a lot more like private ownership excluding folks, as you mentioned.

D: Yeah, and it’s-it’s worth mentioning that there is, you know, the we’re-we are kind of operating out of New England, but there’s a difference between northern New England and southern New England as far as gun culture is concerned. I think we all met from the southern New England, you know, chapter and that’s, you know, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut. You know, it’s quite different from Vermont and New Hampshire, in terms of at least gun laws. But yeah, the wholethe whole issue of space is an issue throughout the region. It’s just difficult to access gun range spaces.

G: Yeah, I mean, the southern New England region has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, excluding California, and, you know, that trickles down into how guns are recognized. I can’t imagine what a public-facing gun range would look like in Massachusetts, given the fact that, you know, laws are extremely restrictive, and it’s created a culture shift.

TFSR: Can you I guess, just to readdress, could you say anything about, do you have official points of unity, like you said, that you came out of the SRA, which is a pan-leftist organization, are there points of unity that Comrade Center upholds or like a guiding philosophy besides the general idea of getting self-defense tools and training and-and comradeship into the hands of folks that are excluded from spaces in the area?

G: Our steering committee is made up largely of allies. But we all came from the SRA, which means we’re all either socialists or anarchists or someone adjacent. But [snarky voice] whereas most leftist organizations would spend all their time scheduling meetings and fighting, we actually see the differences between our ML’s and our A’s, you know, creating very beautiful solutions to things. We’ve realized that, again, as allies, what we have to do is make space. And as we do more outreach, and we start to partner with other organizations, we are going to be the org that creates space and invites people to collaborate and help skill build. And that sort of agreement amongst our core membershipthe people who are making this project happen, doing the fundraising and doing the outreach and making sure that we have things organized and safe and secure the agreement between us at that level has bled into our mission statement and our vision for this future space.

TFSR: Cool. So what do you think, I guess more generally since you’ve been doing this kind of work, I guess you’ve talked about a bunch of different identities and marginalization and lack of access to the tools and the training and such, can you talk a little bit more broadly about the increased leftist approach towards taking space around armed self-defense and community self-defense over the last, I guess, 15 years? Like, I know that themy understanding is the first Redneck Revolt chapter started in around like 20052006 in Kansas. I know, it’s sort of like, really came up starting around 20152016 and spread out to other groups, too. But have you seen much of a shift over that period of time where y’all are at, having other groups with the sort of like, various specific or shared pan identities of leftist orientation to self-defense?

D: Yeah, I think that’s something that’sI’ve noticed that other people have noticed the past several years, at least being on social media. You have, you know, all these accounts, like Guerrilla Tactical and…I won’t name all of them, but there’s, you know, there’s several social media accounts have gotten popular, that have like a leftist bent to firearms training, and self-defense skills. And I don’t think that that’s a coincidence. I think those things are a response to material conditions on the ground, where we see in the past several years, the rise of right wing reactionary groups, like the Proud Boys and violent Trump supporters.

Just the other week, in Portland, there was a Proud Boys rally and there was, you know, a Proud Boy or someone affiliated, who opened fire on a group of protesters, and now the protesters were armed and fired back in self-defense. So I think these conversations can be difficult to have because you don’t want to come off sounding like an alarmist, but when you look at the news, when you look at what’s happening, I think it’s clear that there is a need for folks who are involved in popular movement work to reckon with the practicality of having some knowledge of self-defense and community self-defense.

TFSR: So let’s talk about Comrade Center, what’s the vision? What’s the impetus? Like, you’ve already mentioned thethe lack of spaces that feel safe for people to be able to train and be able to learn skills. What do you need? And what do you hope to offer?

G: Well, we started under the sort of umbrella of the SRA. And we are breaking off on our own, not because the vision of the SRA or the mission of the SRA doesn’t align with our own, but more to the point, it also aligns with a lot of other leftist organizations. And we want to be a central node for collaboration with these leftist organizations. We want to provide space, we want to provide the access to training, the access to actual firearms to train. This is about learning to use tools.

D: Just going off of what Geoff just said, providing a space for learning skills, and firearms training and self-defense. But also a point that I really like to harp on, that Geoff can attest to is that, you know, this is an important project, because I think, too often political work comes off as this dreary exercise, because we’re dealing with all these really important, heavy issues. But I see this as potentially something that people can get excited about. Because, frankly, going out to the range, and learning a new skill and shooting guns with your friends is, you know, it’s fun. It’s a fun thing. It’s something I grew up doing. It’s something I learned from my father. And it’s fun to teach other people how to do. And I think that the left broadly could really use more spaces for that where we can learn new skills, and also network with each other, and build community in this deep sort of way that you don’t necessarily get when you engage in other types of organizing, that are more centered around marching or going door-to-door for various issues. So that’s where I see the Comrade Center is something special and unique, is building a physical infrastructure for that sort of community building.

TFSR: Another thing, I guess a point that just occurred to me is when you had mentioned before, in terms of like a discussion of leftist approaches towards taking space to do these things and have these conversations, y‘all mentioned the marginalization of voices of people that want to practice skills, or have access to firearms. Partially, that’s through laws that are expressly like restrictive in certain parts of the country, and where you all are, southern New England, but also the way that sort of discourse around guns has become bifurcated, like in the mainstream, either an antigun position from Liberals who are concerned about public safety issues, or mass shootings at schools or other like atrocious events, or just like gun gun violence that had that occurs on a day to day basis around the country. And then the Right wing, oftentimes that takes the position of — I want to talk about Right wing perspectives and toxicity of gun culture down the road but just to sort of like “I need to protect my family, I need to defend myself, I’m kind of afraid of the world around me.” And it seems like this approach of approaching armed self-defense to people that are regularly targeted by systematic and individualized white supremacist, cis, heteropatriarchal violence, like it can be really empowering in a way. And it seems like it must bring about some, like a kind of conflict with people who might consider themselves on the Left, but really are like centrists or liberals who put a lot of their ideas about self-defense in the hands of the state. Is that the case?

G: Absolutely. Yeah, I’m searching for a way to comment because that was very succinct. I do want to mention, as you know, not as a way of diverting, because I think what you’re saying is important, too, but when you say, I think the phrase I used was create space, and you said take space, and you’re absolutely 100% correct, because we recognize the fact that the land we’re on is borrowedstolen, really — and especially in New England, where this sort of thing gets swept under the rug quite a bit, we realize that we are, you know, potentially purchasing land to build the center, we’re also doing it on somebody else’s property, we’re doing on somebody else’s land, we’re doing somebody else’s home. And we recognize that fact, and it just, it came up, as you said “take space because that’s the right way of thinking about it.

TFSR:
In the area that y’all are looking to purchase this land, do you have a relationship with the Indigenous peoples that are there or of there?

G: The area that were working in is home to the Abenaki and we have reached out and we have a good line of communication, and basically, since nothing has yet happened in the vein of actual land purchase, we are sort of in a holding pattern with them, but we want their input and we want their attention.

TFSR:
And collaboration I would imagine.

D: Yeah, absolutely. Maybe I can’t speak to this point quite as well, because there are other folks who are more in communication with them, but Indigenous people always, you know, theythey have knowledge about how to, you know, take care of the land that’s being used better than we do. So I think that’s going to be a really important aspect, especially considering potential negative effects of having a gun range and what andwhat that can do to the environment. So that’s going to be really critical down the line.

TFSR: Yeah, definitely. That’s a good point.

D: Sorry, did you have-did you have a question? There was a long phrase before, and I don’t wantI want to make sure that we answer it correctly.

G:
Right?

TFSR:
Oh, just, it wasn’t so much a question as a comment and like an invitation to comment back if there was any sort ofyeah, because II don’t want to assume necessarily who the audience for the show is. I know that, like for the podcast, it’s people that are looking to hear certain conversations, but sometimes we’ll get people on the radio or people who are new to it, or people not from the US context but are still interested in community self-defense and like individual armed self-defense, and so sort of delineating the way that discourse in the US gets broken down around this very politicized concept. That’s sort of what I was just trying to

D: Yeah, no, that was a really good comment and I would actually like to say something about that.

TFSR:
Yeah, please.

D:
So I think, you know, there was a podcast, It’s Going Down, they had an interview with the members of the Tenacious Unicorn Ranch, which is a collective out in Colorado, I believe, of LGBT folks who, you know, they own a ranch out there. And they were being harassed and intimidated by right wing reactionaries. And it was really a wonderful example of community self-defense in my mind, because, you know, they put a call out, and they got volunteers to, you know, go on patrol and protect the ranch armed. And thankfully, nothing happened, nothing negative happened. But they did have some folks, you know, some right wing folks who were around, who were trying to intimidate them and they didn’t take that sitting down. And I thought that was really wonderful. And kind of an example of how you know that, that doesn’t really fit the right wing, or the liberal centrist vision of what gun ownership means in this country.

G: Not at all.

D:
But I think it points the way forward to what we’re trying to do that makes sense.

G: And community defense is 1% firearms. A lot of people make assumptions about, you know, what that definition is from connotation and it’s more about supplying information, skills, connections and community to the people around you, and creating and forging bonds. I mean, how can you possibly work within your community, if you don’t know who your community is? It starts with sort of knowing and giving and taking and creating a relationship there.

And we’re harping on firearms here because it’s the most exciting part of this whole project, but really, it’s just unique, given our geographical location and our political location. It’s a unique offering that other skill building or other community-based organizations don’t have the ability to offer. We have, myself included, firearms instructors, where in a place like New Hampshire where you don’t need a license or state-mandated training, the role of the firearms instructor is optional. But in Massachusetts, it’s a necessary hurdle. And if you cannot or will not sit through a four hour course in the dark in a small club house in the woods surrounded by people that don’t really think you have the right to live, that is a barrier to entry and you cannot have your license without going through one of these courses. We’ve sort of developed our own licensing tracks and our own avenues for influence, our own avenues for information, and we think building that kind of dual path is important.

TFSR: Do you all partner with, like you mentioned that as, like one of the visions for Comrade Center is to act as a node for other folks to get involved with and and like including SRA, so do you have in your vision — since this isn’t a space yet, but you’re developing it do you envision having space for groups like Pink Pistols — although I know like nationally, some of the leadership that has been pretty reactionary, here we had a pretty good set of instructors for a little bit in like 20162017, who did not have a reactionary stance or The Liberal Gun Club or John Brown Gun Club or Redneck Revolt or other SRA chapters or anything? Like do you plan toto sort of facilitate those groups that have shared vision coming in andand doing their own instruction on the space?

G: So, like we said, our break from the SRA, which I wouldn’t even really call a break, it’s just, at what point does a closed relationship become an open relationship? [chuckles] You know, wewe hope to facilitate the needs of-of-of a whole spectrum of leftist organizations. And, yeah, we want to be a resource for a whole spectrum of leftist organizations. And since the organization is still a baby, right, the Comrade Center exists, but sort of in the ether, it’s in the tubes. But we don’t necessarily have, a piece of land with a gate on it yet, a lot of these questions have gone unanswered. So to ask about vision, to talk about how we see it in the future, we have labeled our project as an open ended educational mission. So the people who need it are going to help mold it.

The one thing we have in common is that we are leftists, and that we have points of unity, right? Belief in our fellow human. But beyond that, other than just an idea that skill-building will bring communities together and will help foster community-defense, it’s an open book.

D:
I will add to that, that we do have lines of communication to Liberal Gun Club, we’re in conversation with some of these groups, and we are working with an organization called Arm Your Friends, they have a pretty substantial social media presence. And they sort of, they’re kind of an interesting group. They, you know, they organize outings to gun ranges. They’re of like mind with us, and so we’re currently working with them to see, you know, what events we could coordinate with in the future.

TFSR:
Cool.

G: They also have excellent branding, so check out their website.

TFSR: [chuckles] Yeah, if you all, like if, in the show notes to this, I’m happy to link to thatto that conversation with the folks out in Colorado — that was a really good interview, The Unicorn Ranch — and then also any sort of friendly organizations that you want to pop into the show notes to share with folks so they canthey can check them out, I think would be awesome.

D: Oh, fantastic. Great.

TFSR:
Yeah. So critiques that I generally have space for around quote unquote gun culture include how a focus on individual self-defense reproduces the worst reactionary survivalism, spending lots of money on tactical gear and guns that feel like edgy consumerism devoid of community concerns, and it kind of reproduces this I got mine mentality, pervasiveness of macho paternalism, and white supremacist or xenaphobic attitudes that notably doesn’t leave space for critique and self critique.

Can you give a bit of a critique of mainstream gun culture as it exists, and sort of… When Geoff said that the community self-defense is 1% guns, and the rest of it is all these other things that mostly relate to, like individual knowledge and experience and interconnectedness…like that seems really… critiques that I’ve heard over the years of left wing approaches towards engaging around gun culture have felt kind of like people saying oh, cool, it’s my time, I get to wear my my patches, and I get to carry a gun, and that sort of thing. I’ve been really happy to see a lot of leftists approaching critically and saying, Yeah, we don’t want to just reproduce wanna be militias like III%ers, and the exclusionary and reactionary and quite frightening, like, offensive patterns that they build that sort of replicate exclusion of certain people from their space. So just kind of like to talk about, like, how you view gun culture and sort of like shifting it in that way?

D: Well, heck of a question, but definitely happy to answer it. So I think I take a lot of personal inspiration from Margaret Killjoy, and she has a podcast on you know, sort of, you know, survivalism, but with an anarchist bent

TFSR:
[jokingly interjects as if with a promo] Live Like the World is Dying”, it‘s a member of the Channel Zero Network of anarchist podcasts.


G:
[laughs]

D: [laughing] There we go. So I’ve really taken some inspiration from her and what she has to say on the topic. And I think that’s a clear line that we can draw between, you know, the right wing version of gun ownership and survivalism, if you will, and the left wing version is that: the right seems to have this idea I don’t know if you’ve heard the meme the Gray Man — where it’s like, they can just be like, an individual, like, totally like, you know, fend for themselves. And I think that that sort of attitude lends itself to edgy consumerism and the I got mine mentality that you referenced.

And the other side of that, that I think that we’re trying to foster, kind of recognizes the fact that we all have different skills, and that we all have different capacities to provide things for our community, and the Comrade Center is, you know, a project that kind of can bring all those things together. That’s that’s the vision at least right?

So, you know, one of those things is Geoff mentioned earlierwe’re going to be giving free classes to get in Massachusetts called an LTC a license to carry, and that’s required to to own and train with firearms in the state — so we’re going to be giving free classes at some point in the future. And that’s just an example of, you know, I don’t think that right wing folks would really be interested in that. But it’s something that we think is really important.

G: There are people that make a living doing LTC courses, and they are $100250 a pop, it’s four to five hour course, you get your certificate, and then you could apply for your license with the state. It is a business. We’re looking to dismantle that a little bit for the people who need it. And you mentioned the uhh, sort of all the baggage that comes with Leftists sort of adopting a Right wing culture. And there’s some pitfalls that are very obvious. There are things that, you know, we call them “chuddy” or “Fuddy” things. The wearing camo in public, you’re likely to find the Leftist doing that.

But there’s a lot of things that come with it that are hard to suss out. I think there are also some things that are a little bit more subversive. And given the fact that most of your leftist firearms communities are overwhelmingly white, there is a white-savior complex, that sort of bubbles beneath the surface. I have adopted this skill, I understand the skill, let me teach this to you, person of color, and then you can defend yourself. There’s a lot of blanks to be filled in there, and the concept of making yourself a target through ownership. There’s concepts that I don’t even understand because of my privilege. And unlearning and relearning as we open up our mission and we start to approach this educationally, it’s-it’s important, it’s really important to go slow, and understand exactly what you’re doing.

TFSR:
In prior interviews — in particular, I’m thinking of when you’re still affiliated with the SRA, probably the IGD interviewyou were clear to say that this project is not a militia. Can you talk about why this distinction is important for you — unless that’s changed and how right wing paramilitaries like III%ers Three-Percenters or Oath Keepers, in your area, engage with your organizing efforts? Like are you viewed as a threat? Are you kind of under their radar? What does that look like?

D: What a militia type organization is trying to do and what we’re trying to do, I think the goals are fundamentally different. We are focused on providing individuals who are typically excluded from firearm spaces with a space that they can safely learn the effective use of firearms. So I think that’s, you know, the last thing we want is for those folks to be intimidated by any sort of apparent militia affiliation. So that’sthat’s not what we’re trying to do. As far as the Three Percenters or the Oath Keepers are concerned, maybe Geoff can speak better to this, but we haven’t really engaged with them and we certainly don’t plan to. So we hope to stear clear.

G:
We could not be more different. I mean, the the reasons for getting involved in organization like that are completely different, more about taking than giving and more about feeling like you’re something special, when in reality a Leftist organization that revolves around skill building is more about feeling humble and helping. You know, Dave made a good point, it’s fundamentally different to want to organize as a militia group, or somebody who is taking up arms, as opposed to somebody who wants to teach skills and promote community through skill building.

It’s also worth mentioning that, just like firearms are 1% of community-defense, firearms are probably 10 or 20%, of our course offerings once we actually get moving. What makes our space unique is that we can also offer that, alongside other survival skills, community defense and organizing skills. And, you know, again, it’s going to matter who steps forward to help partner with us, which is sort of our open call right now, to other leftist groups that want to help and want to be helped, but that’s how we’re going to build community, we’re going to knit these things together.

TFSR:
And I think there’s like, just another little rant, there’s also a, in the US context, there’s a very particular history to militia that doesn’t really get unpacked a lot when it gets discussed. Like it’s meant to be supplemental to the State as it operates, it’s meant to be the reasoning, you know, in case of foreign invasion, or whatever we’re going to back up the constitution and, and whatever else. And I think there’s like a certain value — and historically, it was militia that was used to, before the formation of slave patrols, that was used to do that sort of work, it was militia that was used to attack indigenous populations. And I don’t think you can likethe idea of having an armed wing that falls into the command of the state in a settler-colonial society like ours, you can’t disconnect those things and have it do a different function. It’s like the idea of having like, a, like community policing, in the way that it’s idealized, you know, versus how it’s operationalized. It’s just another way of counterinsurgency against the the general population. Just as was said, like, who gets to feel special and carry the guns and take the commands and give the commands and whatever else, as opposed to this model where you’re, like you said, spreading the information, spreading the tool set, helping people keep themselves safe, and buildingbuilding community as opposed to like, a separate agency.

G: No, you’re you’re on the right track there. I mean, it couldn’t be more different from a hierarchical, militaryinspired survivalist attitude. It’s difficult to distance ourselves from that, because that’s what we know from TV and movies and anyanybody carrying a gun is like, oh, are they army? Are they police, are they militarized police? Like, we are facing a difficult task to not only do the work, but also break down the assumptions about the work.

TFSR: So the loudest gun organization in the US is the notoriously reactionary National Rifle Association or NRA

G: [sarcastically] Never heard of ‘em.

TFSR: [laughs] — which due to its high degree of internal corruption filed for bankruptcy in the recent past? I can’t remember if it was, I think it was beginning of last year, but I might be wrong. Could you talk about the prominence of that group? Often, like it’s viewed as the only go to option in folks minds when they’re thinking of getting training, when they’re thinking of advocating for themselves around use of weapons to defend themselves? And, sort of, what sort of shifts you’ve seen where you’re at, like— are people pissed about, about how the NRA has been operating in the disclosures? Or do they think it’s fake news, conspiracy stuff?

G:
It’s it happened to me too. I mean, my firearms training course was an NRA course. It’s all that was available. This is we’re talking six years ago when I decided after going through that experience that I wanted to become an instructor and help people, I realized that I would have had to basically train through the NRA to become an instructor because that’s the only thing available. Only after some intense googling did I find out that Massachusetts actually recognizes two dozen other courses to qualify for the LTC. The one I pursued was with the Liberal Gun Club, and I’m still an instructor with them. And I still believe in what they’re doing. I’m leveraging that experience to try to help as many people as I can.

But as far as the association with firearms in this country, and the NRA: you’ve got a group, as poorly run this they might be, who has managed to be the expert for our government, also a lobby group for manufacturers, and just, their tentacles are in so many different pockets, it’s impossible to sort of figure out where they start and where they end. I’m amazed that they ran out of money, it doesn’t make any sense.

D: And I’ll just add to that and say, I think that, yeah, the NRA is just… In people’s minds gun ownership and the NRA are, are kind of closely intertwined. And I think that’s done a lot of damage in the minds of folks who might otherwise be sympathetic to our cause. You know, they think gun ownership, NRA, we don’t want anything to do with that. At least in New England, in some of the liberal progressive circlessocial circles that I run in, that is sort of how it’s thought of. And from what Geoff said earlier, we’re trying to undo a little bit of that with our project.

G:
It’s a lot of work. It’s very difficult in a place like New England, that’s so anti-gun. And like Dave was just saying the association of guns with the NRA only makes that work harder.

TFSR:
Yeah, that makes sense. Do you ever have people come up to you and say, like, hey, so like the work that you’re doing is making our society more dangerous because it’s promoting more people having guns in their hands?And, for folks that are interested in engaging more around armed self-defense and armed community defense, for whatever reasons, do you have like a good response that they might think through? Or what sort of goes through your mind, or what you say to folks that are concerned about the proliferation of guns and that meaning more potential bullets flying?

G: [exhales] Have you, Dave have you had this happen to you?

D:
Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

[laughs] So these, yeah, I’ve had these conversations before not where I’m from, from Vermont — but when I moved to Boston, I’ve had these conversations, and they’re not easy conversations to have. What I try to say is, well, first, the fact there’s, there’s more guns than there are people in this country in the United States. So that’s a fact that sort of has to be reckoned with. A lot of those guns are owned by the police, they’re owned by the military, they’re owned by the KKK, and the Proud Boys and other right wing groups. And they’re not giving those guns up. And that is a fact that I think has to be reckoned with. And people have the right to self-defense. That’s something that I believe in, I think that’s something that everyone involved in this project really believes in.

So, you know, as far as the problem of the proliferation of firearms, that’s already happened. And I think that this is something that we need to recognize and move forward with, in the best way that we can. And, you know, we couldwe could have a whole conversation about, you know, what the left’s position on gun control should be, but the way I see it is state regulations that try to limit gun ownership, what that really ends up doing is it limits gun ownership for poor folks, for folks of color, typically marginalized groups. And that’s something that’s unacceptable to me. So…

G:
That attitude of, you know, promoting violence is extremely privileged. And the people I’ve spoken to that have had that attitude, they are just fine in their cozy little worlds. And, not to sound alarmist — right, that’s not why we’re here — but to that 1% of the time, to prepare in case something goes sideways, you have to allow for the fact that when someone is holding a gun, and someone else isn’t, there’s an extreme power dynamic there. And that is legal within our society. So, we’re here to help, we’re here to change that we’re here to balance that a little bit. But, you know, this concept that well if both sides have guns, that’s when the shooting starts. So privileged.

You know, what Dave just said was these common sense gun laws that are being implemented by some of your more leftleaning states actually create a sort of an economical bubble. And what happens there, and Dave back me up, I can own an AR15 in Massachusetts just fine. You just have to understand the laws and you have to pay for it.

What that means is: pre-ban firearms are perfectly legal to own. What does that mean? The cost of pre banned firearms has spiked. So those who can afford it can have I’m not gonna say it’s more advanced weaponry, but weaponry that the state deems inappropriate — as more of these laws pop up this continues to happen. It’s this sort of concept by the state of Massachusetts and other left-leaning states that, well, if you have money you’re not really a threat to society.

TFSR:
So an experience that I’ve had, being around firearms and learning more, has for myself, and I’ve seen other people express this too, that people that have been around may have had traumatic experiences with firearms, may have experienced, witness shootings, or had a gun pulled on them in the past. They may not like the devices, they may not like their proliferation, but at least there’s something to be said for making the choice to handle the device to learn how to make sure that it doesn’t have any bullets in it, and possibly to make sure it won’t function anymore. And you can’t do that if you just have a mystified view of a gun. And a training allows you to understand some of the limitations of the devices and some of the safety features that can be deployed to make them immediately less of a threat to the people around them.

Which sounds like I don’t know, it sounds kind of like running around the topic. But I think that when there is more education and more discussion around — if we want to talk about like comparisons to sex education: people are going to be having sex. If we aren’t having conversations, and there’s shaming around how we do it, and avoiding talking about the repercussions, positive and negative that we could see out of people having sex and not having the tools to have, you know, safer sex available, affordable or free to people, you’re going to have unintended pregnancies, you’re going to have people experiencing infections, not knowing how to deal with that stuff. But it seems like a good education around safety around firearms, how to disarm them, or how to keep them more securely, would limit instances of a kid getting a hold of it, because it’s not stored properly, because it’s not locked because they’re being unsupervised. Does that seem like a reasonable approach?

G:
Your approach is exactly what we’ve developed. We are putting together our curriculums for training. I already teach LTC courses from a conversational aspect, we don’t actually handle firearms till later in the class, everybody has a chance to sort of like acclimate a little bit. And we talked about past traumas, we talked about our concerns, that is the first third of the course. And we dovetail into the legality after that, because Massachusetts has a lot of laws. In order to be an educated gun owner, you have to at least understand most of them, or know where to find the information — but we go very gentle. We’re not shocking or awing people in this course.

We’ve also developed a class, which is either a primer or a standalone course, called Make Safe. And it’s about what to do if you find a handgun. Or what to do if you come across something. I mean, this happens more often than not, where it’s found in a vehicle, or it’s found in an attic, or something like that. There’s also situations where it’s found on the street. It can be extremely scary and knowing a bit about these mechanisms, about these tools, will make everybody a little bit safer.

It’s also gives people a chance to get over a fear that they want to get over. It‘s very difficult to confront fears of the firearm in our society right now. Because like, it’s not like you just walk into a store and be like, I’d like to hold a firearm, it doesn’t work that way.

So we want to provide safe environments where people can with people who know and, you know, actually start addressing this issue, if they would like to.

TFSR:
Yeah, that economic limitation to like being able to walk into a store and have a conversation and hold the device and expect the clerk to be, like, walking you through — they might be if they think they’re gonna make a sale — but, you know, otherwise, they’re probably not going to unless they know the individual. But because there is an economic limitation to holding a firearm, to owning firearm. There’s also like legal ones in a lot of states. If someone were to come across one and they had a felony in certain states, they would probably be aware, hopefully, of the way that the laws would impact them, but they may not be able to have as easy access to a training course where they can learn how to take the bullets out of the chamber, take the clip out of the gun, make sure to verify that it is clear and safe.

Yeah, butespecially thethe limitations of you know, if you’reif you’re limited by being able to purchase a pistol or a rifle to go take a courseI don’t know if that’s the case, necessarily — but it seems like making it more available to people that aren’t necessarily going to buy a gun for their own immediate safety… But they can go to a place where there are weapons available for them to learn how to handle more safely, they can make a better decision down the road, and they’re not gonna—

G:
— and then states like Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, basically, where this project spawned out of, you know, the amount of time between deciding that this is something you wanted to pursue and actually engaging with it is six months. So it’s not like you can just decide like, okay, I want to understand this tool, I want to understand its effects. I want to understand, you know, the science behind it and the culture behind it. You can’t just do it right then. That you have to go through a course, you have to apply for your license, you have to wait for that to come in. It’s a very lengthy process quite different than other parts of the country.

TFSR:
So how can folks reach out to y’all keep up with your work and learn more about the Comrade Center to support it?

G: So I would urge people to check out our website. As of now we are fundraising, but we are still trying to give back and start executing our sort of educational mission while that’s happening. Keep an eye out for courses coming up, up here in New England, they’re going to be offered sort of sporadically at events and community centers and other gathering spaces. They’re going to be free of charge, they’re not going to involve live fire. So, if you’re a little nervous about basically firing a gun, we’re gonna use the simulation training but free of charge — bring friends, sign up — and if you’re able, we’re also fundraising to purchase lands and create a sort of a training node. If you’re able to contribute, please do. Check us on GoFundMe and we, Dave, we have a social media presence don’t we?

D:
Please follow us on Twitter at Comrade Center and Instagram.

G:
Nobody types in URLs anymore, right? Everybody just Google’s things?

TFSR:
[chuckles] If you want to say, I mean, I wish that people with DuckDuckGo a little more honestly but

G: Sorry, sorry.

[G and TFSR both laugh]

TFSR:
Yeah, do you want to throw out an URL just to that, or a URL or however we want to say that.

D: Coming on anarchist podcast and talking about Google is
[Everyone laughs]

G: I’ll just show myself the door.

TFSR:
Edge Lord!!

[everyone laughs harder]

G: You can find us at comradecenter.org

TFSR: That’s awesome. All right well, thanks a lot. And good luck, y’all.

G: Thank you.

D: Thank you so much for having us on.

Eric Laursen on Modern Anarchist Conceptions of The State

Eric Laursen on Anarchist Conceptions of The State

Book cover of Eric Laursen's "The Operating System: An Anarchist Theory of the Modern State"
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One thing that sets anarchism aside from other radical, egalitarian critiques of Power developed in the modern West is the conception of the State as an enemy. But what is the State, how does it work, why and how do we as anti-authoritarians and anarchists oppose it? These questions and more are the focus of the recent book, The Operating System: An Anarchist Theory of the Modern State (AK Press, 2021). This week, we air Scott‘s conversation with Eric on the book, theorizing the State as computer operating system, the necessity of social revolution prior to a political revolution and other heady topics.

You can follow Eric on Twitter (@EricLaursen) and he has written for HuffPost, Z Magazine, In These Times, The Nation, The Village Voice, Counterpunch and The Arkansas Review. He also authored The People’s Pension: The Struggle To Defend Social Security Since Reagan and Duty to Stand Aside, The: Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Wartime Quarrel of George Orwell and Alex Comfort as well as Understanding The Crash.

The introduction of Operating System was written by Maia Ramnath, a historian and author of Decolonizing Anarchism and Haj to Utopia.

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Transcription

TFSR: So today I’m talking to Eric Laursen, who is the author of the new book The Operating System: An Anarchist Theory of the Modern State. And I want to welcome you to the Final Straw.

Eric Laursen: I go by he/him/his pronouns. I am, I guess, a longtime journalist-activist. And I’ve made a study of the state, partly as a result of not only my activism and my involvement in the anarchist movement but also just some of the work I’ve done as a journalist over the years on finance capital, corporate structure, aspects of the economy. So it all comes together in this book, which I call An Anarchist Theory of the Modern State. But I think of it also as an introduction to that. I want it to be a conversation starter for people, especially in the anarchist movement itself to think a little more systematically about what is this thing that we’re so opposed to? What is the state? We know what capital is, we think we know what the state is, but do we really, do we really understand the connection between the two as part of anarchist theory? And where does that get us? What I’m trying to do in the book is to throw out a new way of looking at the state or thinking about it, and then get more people involved in a discussion around that. It’s something that I think should appeal to non-anarchists as well, simply because, like most of us, people in the general public think of the state and they think, “Well, yeah, I understand what that is, that’s government or whatever.” But really, it’s more than that. And I think that anybody who wants to understand better what kind of a society we have needs to think about the subject very seriously.

TFSR: The book, I also think it comes at a really opportune time because we have this post-election where Biden’s coming in and it’s possible that people who are driven to organizing or movement work, because of Trump, might start pulling off from that when there’s apparent low of the really egregious harm that we can see so clearly with Trump’s administration. You say that, in more recent anarchist analysis, there’s been a loss of the focus on the state, in favor of analyzing power more generally, or in the forms of race, gender, and sexuality, but tracing anarchism back to its beginning, in the 19th century, it was distinguished by its anti-state stance. Why do you think it’s important to refocus an anti-state argument in our liberatory politics? And why is it not enough just to focus on capitalism? One more part of this question is how does the analysis of state help us understand better these other aspects of oppression like race, gender, sexuality, citizen status, etc.?

EL: Well, yeah, that’s a good question. I do want to say just at the outset that I’m not complaining about the direction that anarchist analysis and thought have taken over the last 30-40 years. I don’t think you can really have up-to-date anarchism unless you address all of the subjects that you just mentioned in a specific way. There has to be an anarchist angle on racism, class, obviously, on colonialism, imperialism, and so forth. All of those things. What I think is that the answer to your question is that the state is the organizing principle for these oppressions. You can look at it this way: Can you understand racism unless you understand how it helps promote and bolster the state? How can you understand sexism or gender inequality? Unless you look at them in the context of how do they serve the state? There’s a lot of analysis among Marxists about how capitalism benefits from these sorts of oppressions, but not a lot about how the state specifically does. And we have a tendency, the way we were brought up to think of the state as the solution to these problems, that through the courts, through the legal system, through legislation, and so forth, that those are ways to tackle gender inequality. What I’m suggesting is that ultimately, that is not the case, that the state has a stake in maintaining gender equality, maintaining racism, maintaining other forms of prejudice and inequality. And that we have to bring it back into those discussions before we can really deal with those problems.

TFSR: Right. So I guess before we go too far, if you can share what your definition of the state is. You said it is a sort of organizing principle, but is there more that you would like to expand on how we can understand what the is?

EL: Yeah, definitely. One of those rhetorical things I do in the book is I think of the state in two ways. There’s the state with a small ‘s’, which could be the United States, or Egypt, or Russia, or Mauritania, or any number of states that we have in the world. But then I also refer to the State with a capital ‘S’. And the state with a capital ‘S’ is a system that all of these individual states have adopted in one manner or another. The State, I argue, originated in Europe, and it’s been exported all over the world. It’s probably the most successful export of all time, on a certain level, at least in the intellectual sense.

So what does all that mean? State with a capital ‘S’ is what we’re really talking about in this book. And that is a system or a way of organizing reality, or the perception of reality. I compare it – and this is where the title of the book comes from – to a computer operating system, like iOS or Windows or something like that. And what that means is that the state is an attempt to create a framework with which we can organize reality and manage our lives within that reality. It struck me in researching computer operating systems that really, they attempt to be all-encompassing. Microsoft wants you to use Windows, so that everything you can do, more and more of what you do can be done within that operating system. You pay your bills, you get entertainment, you write, you create, you design art, you do all of these things. You manage your relationships with people in every part of your life.

And that there’s a continual effort to make these operating systems encompass more of what you do day to day. The state, the modern state, which is about 500 years old or a little bit more, is an attempt to do the same. It creates a framework that every aspect of our lives operates within. It’s how we govern ourselves, how we organize our economic life, the economic life of the country. It’s how we educate ourselves. It’s what creates everything from educational standards to weights and measures. The fact that we use inches rather than meters is something that the state came up with. It’s something that was decided upon by this institution. Capitalism is part of the state in the sense that capital is needed to promote economic growth, which is needed to help the state expand, strengthen itself, expand outward, expand deeper into the population. There are various aspects of this. But the basic statement I’m making is that the state is not just government, it’s an entire system that has been set up to essentially satisfy all our needs and it’s a framework in which all of our day-to-day planning takes place, all of our aspirations can be theoretically achieved within this framework of the state. It’s something that’s, I guess you would call it a totalizing thing. It’s continually to try to absorb more of the things we do that are new. Suddenly, we decide we need to travel internationally, which is something that people really for the most part didn’t do until a few hundred, couple hundred years ago. The state needs to regulate that. Everything we do, the state finds a way to fit into their framework, otherwise, it suppresses it. The question is, after 500 years, do we still want our lives to be regulated and directed in this way? That’s the challenge. But I hope that gives you some idea of the basic conception here.

TFSR: Yeah, the last thing you said reminded me of another point that you make is that the state intercedes, interjects itself in every relationship that we have, so that we have to go through the state to do anything, basically, more and more things. One line that you have in the book that really struck me is, and you talk about it in various ways, but I’m gonna quote you: “the state has trained us to think of it as a substitute, or perhaps, a shorthand for the collective, or the community.” And in a way, this calls to mind for me Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, and also the totalizing aspect that you talk about reminds me a bit of different analyses of fascism and totalitarianism. But I wonder if you have any thoughts on the way that your operating system analogy helps us to think about that totalizing aspect that the replacement, the image, imitation of life, and maybe how technology fits in that? Because you’re specifically outlining or elaborating on the technological aspects of that.

EL: Yeah, I like the fact that you use the phrase “imitation of life.” What I meant by a substitute is that the state provides us with something that, without the state, we might think about providing for ourselves through small-scale organizing, direct democracy, communal cooperative forms of economic production, and so forth. The state is a substitute for that. You don’t have to do this, we will provide you with the superstructure you need to do these things, we’ll make it easy for you. There’s a sense in which the state is a product that’s been sold to us. Because, yes, we understand that as human beings, you need to cooperate and work together in order to produce food, to reproduce, to tame the environment, or get what you need out of the environment. But we’re going to provide a framework that makes it easy for you, you can do it all through us. It is an attempt to relieve us of taking responsibility for ourselves on a certain level. It’s the same as if you buy a house with an alarm system, rather than actually having to get to know your neighbors and forming a community with them, we will sell you an alarm system so that you can sit in your house and not have to worry or think about the other people out there. That underscores a little bit the connection between capitalism and the state, that capitalism is one of the tools that the state uses to fulfill these needs and to make itself into this substitute that you’re talking about.

TFSR: I really like the way that your book includes an analysis of capitalism, but as necessarily linked to the state. Because sometimes we might focus so much on capitalism as this worldwide system, that we don’t think about how it operates through the state. But one thing that really comes into relief in your analysis to me is the fact that both the state and capital get the benefit of the doubt, as being permanent, inevitable, perpetual. And I was wondering why you think that is. You have said a couple of times maybe that it proposes itself as the solution to our problems, even though, as you’re pointing out in this book, they’re both also the cause of our problems. So why is it so ingrained in our mind, and why do we accept it?

EL: This is where we get to the cultural part in a way. The state has been one of the things very adept at creating an emotional link between itself and the population, in other words, us. In the early days, in the 15th-16th century, Renaissance period, when modern states really first appeared in Europe, there was the monarch, there was the king, or the Emperor, or what have you, who had a personal connection. There was an attempt made to make people feel a personal connection with these sovereigns, that there’s a sort of a godlike quality to them. Really, what they were at that point was dictators or warlords, if you look more closely, but the attempt was to say, “Alright, let’s form a tight emotional bond between Elizabeth I of England or Louie XIV and the people.” So they felt like there was almost a family that you were part of with these people. The next thing you had was the nation-state or the national state, where the state was the embodiment of a larger community that you were part of. And so, there was the family of French people or English people, etc, that you belong to. So that’s another form of an emotional tie. Fascism, you could say, is sort of the end result of that. That’s the ultimate in the nation-state connection. Although it’s really built much more on pushing other people, excluding certain other groups, rather than including the group that you’re a part of.

Then you have what I guess is known as the social-democratic or welfare state, which is something that we had in the mid-20th century before neoliberalism came in, and the idea of that was that the state is something that can really substitute for socialism, or for anarchism, or these other revolutionary ideologies that grew up. Yes, we can have racial equality, we can have reform, we can have a social safety net, the state will provide it. You don’t have to think about it anymore. Or you can give us your suggestions, send your representatives to Congress. The emotional bond there is this sort of bond over welfare, over safety and the ability to feel secure in yourself. Nowadays, we have what I call the neoliberal state, which has abandoned a lot of that. The neoliberal state is all built on the idea that “we give you the opportunity.” We don’t give you welfare, but we give you an opportunity to do wonderful creative money-making things and that’s the key thing. So each stage along the development of the state over the last 500 years has been a different rationale and a different way of building a connection between people and the state that the state relies on to legitimize itself. So that’s the cultural aspect of the whole thing.

TFSR: Yeah, that analysis, in your book, I found really helpful because it points to the way that we exist now in the hangover of the post World War II era where there was this welfare state, and also the concessions that were made to various civil rights-oriented movements, and even among like anarchists and other anti-authoritarians, you can see people who have an anti-state analysis will still have this knee-jerk reaction that the state would provide us some solution or is there for us in some way.

EL: And that it will again again if we push it hard enough, and we try hard enough to reform it.

TFSR: Right, which in a way explains a lot of the repetition of protest movements, because we end up repeating these old forms that no longer really working. To bring that to the present moment, what was one another aspect of your book that’s so helpful is that you wrote this in the wake of the pandemic, and also the uprisings after George Floyd’s murder, and we’re talking today after another black man was murdered in outside of Minneapolis, while the police officer Derek Chauvin is being held on trial. So there’s still this rebellion going on. But you incorporate this analysis of the virus and the pandemic and the very literal, invisible state violence into your analysis of the state. So it’s very up-to-date. And as the pandemic started, I started having some hope that the contradictions would be so stark to everyone, that we’re expected to pay rent and bills and we have no health care and the horrors of this all would become clear to everyone, but in ways, I’m seeing that go away. And I wonder if you have any thoughts about what events in the crisis like a pandemic provide us an opportunity for resistance and how we can avoid it being co-opted?

EL: That’s a really challenging question. And I think that ultimately it’s something that has to happen independently of any particular choices. But you’re absolutely right that when something like the pandemic happens, it makes starkly clear how incapable the state is and the system we have are coping with this problem that at a certain level it created. It’s the same thing with the death of George Floyd, for example, or this most recent atrocity we had, that it makes starkly clear that this is a pattern, it’s not a freak event, this is something that somehow must be in the interest of the state to allow, that the system is not broken down here. This is how this is supposed to behave. So yeah, these crises do make a lot of things very crystal clear to us that worked before.

The problem is that the State does have ways to recoup when these things happen, the state can throw money at developing vaccines. It can prosecute someone like Derek Chauvin and use that as a demonstration that “yes, we can do the job that we’re supposed to do in terms of making sure that everybody is treated fairly and equally.” Those are not permanent solutions. They don’t address the fundamental issue. In the case of the pandemic, the problem is that globalization has created a situation in which and the advance of industrial societies into wilderness areas, wildlife areas has made it almost certain that we’re going to have more pandemics going forward. And yet the state has not developed the ability to cope with them. It treats them all as emergencies rather than improving public health systems and so forth that would help us to be prepared for this thing, it has not done that.

In terms of the issues that are raised by the movement for Black Lives, essentially, no real reform or real fundamental change is made in the system of policing. It stays in place, it is never really reformed except in cosmetic ways. And things just go on as before. What I argue in the book is that we have to think of revolution as a two-part process. And that contrary to the way we’ve tended to think of it in the past, the social revolution has to come first. We have to start thinking about organizing in and beyond and outside of the state so that we have some conception of what we would put in its place, rather than simply… If a revolution happens tomorrow, and the United States government is swept away, we can put something in its place that’s better, that we’ve already conceived and we’ve already begun to implement, rather than essentially having to rebuild the state in an emergency, which is what has tended to happen with revolutions in the last 200-odd years. So that’s a big order. But I think that we have an opportunity in a weird way because the state has withdrawn from certain parts of our lives.

Under neoliberalism, the state has decided that the social safety net is not something that needs to provide or something it can provide only in a very limited way. That gives us some space to recreate something like that along more cooperative or collective lines. We can start to create a more humane community ourselves outside of the state because the state isn’t competing with us so much in that area. The interesting thing about the Biden administration, for example, is that there’s some understanding of this and some understanding that they have to do something to make it look to us as though the state is actually able to be effective in our lives and helping to improve our lives. It’s not going to last, it’s not going to work. The opposition to it is huge, and it’s not going to go far enough. What we’re going to find at the end of the day is that we do have to start implementing something new ourselves. This is something that goes back to the early, classical thinkers of anarchism, Bakunin and Kropotkin talked a lot about this, they didn’t use the word “prefiguration”, but the need to start the revolution now among ourselves, so that we have something to put in place this genuinely different. So that’s the challenge that I see.

TFSR: You talk about how the revolutions that some leftists will hold up as successful always end up reproducing the state in various ways. Because, I guess you’re arguing, that because that social revolution hasn’t happened, or the ingrained Statist thinking doesn’t get critiqued enough to say that we can’t actually use the state to achieve freedom. And something I really appreciate your book is that you use the State to talk about… you don’t make these distinctions among the states, because essentially, this larger system of States functions in a similar way, even if various tweaks happen from one state to the next. And they rely on the system to stay together. I wonder if you have any more thoughts on that failure of revolution, or the way that State thinking gets replicated? Or leftists get caught in the feedback loop of Statism?

EL: Yeah, it’s really powerful when you take a close look at it, because if you look at the Russian Revolution, the big one of the last 100 odd years, the first thing the new Soviet state started to do after it came into power was to essentially reassemble the Russian Empire that had disintegrated just before the October Revolution happened. The process of suppressing ethnic minorities or Russifying them continued, geographic areas that had succeeded were pulled back in, an immense military establishment was built up once again, an immense prison establishment was built up once again. Really, the pattern was put right back in place that had existed before the Soviet Union, maybe it was a little more efficient this time, but essentially, the ambition of that state was the same.

You can look at it similarly, if you look at sort of post-colonial states. You can look at India, which is a country that never existed really in that form until the British imperialists put it together. They created literally an Indian Empire. When Britain pulled out, it essentially turned that whole structure lock, stock, and barrel over to the indigenous people. And specifically to people who were English-trained, who were trained to think about the state as something fundamental, to think of economic development as something that powers the state. And who essentially ran that Empire along, in a lot of ways, remarkably similar lines. This is why I say that the state has been something that’s a European export because it’s essentially sold to at least a small stratum of people in each of the places that it comes in contact with. And they’d set up something that’s ultimately along the same lines, where there are territorial boundaries, there are certain kinds of institutions that are common, there’s a nationalist thinking in each of these places. And that’s essentially what we get. It doesn’t always work. We have failed states all over the place. But that’s the aspiration. And the remarkable thing, of course, is that if you look back even 100 years ago, there were vast parts of the world that had no state, where the State really only existed in name. Today, it’s very, very different. Almost everything is encompassed by the State now, and the parts of the world that that still resist or lie outside of it, such as, for example, people in Amazonia, there’s tremendous pressure upon them as well. So, the reality is that the State has almost become supercharged in the last 100 years. And anything that’s resisted it or stood in this way is being undermined increasingly rapidly and quite violently, in a lot of cases.

TFSR: Thinking about the way that the state has come to settle itself all over the globe is helpful too to think about it as that colonial export, especially since Settler State comes into more focus in a lot of critiques now within indigenous-led movements. But I wonder if also there’s a way that the State is used to try and consolidate power after a revolution. But there’s this other problem. And maybe this pertains to the system of states that you’re talking about, where if there was a revolutionary movement or freedom movement that was isolated, how does it exist as a non-State structure, while the system of states at large exists and would continuously exert that pressure for it to conform in some way? Do you have any thoughts on that?

EL: Yeah, that’s a problem. The answer to that, ultimately, is resistance. And in the book, I talked a little bit about the idea of insurgency, rather than revolution. And this has been an interesting topic lately, amongst other writers as well, is that insurgency is something long-term. It involves creating a prefigurative or an alternative community within the present State while we are resisting it. Insurgency is something that could include anything from the Zapatista movement in Mexico to the Landless Movement in Brazil, even in some respects to the agricultural Farmers’ Movement in India, where people are forced to organize outside of the State because there’s literally no way that the State can address their demands, however reasonable those demands are. And so you start to develop something that is outside the state, and that can eventually create institutions that can replace it.

Now, I don’t say this in the book, but I’ve thought this for a long time, is that ultimately, if the State is going to be brought down, most likely the process is going to start in the developing world, where state structures and power are more tenuous. They’re not exercised as uniformly literally in the geographic space. And where there’s room for people to develop alternative institutions. Most likely what we’re going to see is developments like this growing and really metastasizing in the developing world, and then perhaps extending to places like the United States, Western Europe, and so forth. Because I think also there are, in those places, more of the remnants of traditional ways of life that alternative structures can be built around, and this is something that goes back to the beginnings of anarchist thinking. In the 19th century, Russian anarchists looked to traditional peasant communities, as offering models to develop some an alternative system around, rather than this European state that’s been grafted on to the place. And I think that that’s going to continue to be something that we see.

Just getting back to the point we were talking about a second ago, one of the things that the Soviet Union did once it got into power was it essentially completed the job of destroying those traditional communities in Russia, which has begun under the Czarist regime. The Soviet Union essentially completed that task. So that’s the thing we see in empires or restored empires, even when they have leftist governments. I think that the answer is to start at home and to start locally, and to consciously, really consciously create structures where the intention is not to let them be co-opted by the State.

TFSR: You make the argument in the book that all the so-called good things that the state has provided, particularly in the last 100 or 150 years, maybe extending to that long have been co-opted: from community-based solutions and versions of mutual aid. Do you want to elaborate on the history of how those things have come to be seen as state-based programs that really came from communities?

EL: Sure. The example I use a lot because I wrote a book about the subject is social security. The social security and medicare systems in this country are something that really was born out of cooperatives from mutual aid associations that workers formed in the 19th century. You have people pouring into large industrial cities from the countryside, there was no social safety net, there was a need for people to provide these things for themselves. And so they did. Welfare systems or social insurance systems like Social Security and Medicare, in this country, were created as a way to nationalize that. In the early 20th century in the United States, when universal health care systems were starting to be discussed, there were people in the American labor movement, who literally said, “We don’t want to do this, we don’t want to back this because we feel that the state is going to at some point snatch back, it’s not going to be forever. They say it will be but it’s not, we have to organize this ourselves.” And that thinking died out.

But I think that these days, there’s a real need to revisit it and to look at institutions like Social Security, for example, or unemployment insurance, or these social safety net systems, and think about whether this is something we can essentially denationalized and turn into something that’s run on a cooperative basis. Because, again, what we have seen is the state makes a commitment to these kinds of programs over the last 100 years, let’s say, and then withdraw out of that commitment, they said, “Well, maybe this was a bad idea, maybe we need a lot less of this.” Well, no, we don’t need a lot less of this, but the state thinks we do. There’s a need to revisit that element of the social contract that the state imposed on us.

TFSR: To pivot our discussion more to revolutionary aspects. One thing you say is the state exists because we choose to let it, and that feels really empowering to think about as a way to, not choose to let it. But to me, it also calls to mind some of that social contract idea that keeps us within the circle of the state that we’re all here by some form of consent. Right? So I was wondering, what are your thoughts on and how do we choose not to let the state exist? What does that look like?

EL: I can give you a little bit of a visual. It looks a bit like the Capitol Hill occupation that happened in Seattle a few months ago. It looks like people rejecting the police, rejecting the presence of the police in their communities. It looks like people essentially forming in small clusters to self-govern themselves and then reaching out to other groups that are doing something similar. It can seem very small scale, it can seem minuscule compared to the power of the state itself. That’s the challenge. But I think that the answer to that is what used to be known as internationalism. In other words, smaller communities, right from the get-go need to link up and network with smaller communities in other places that are doing something different. We need to have a network that is as widespread and as diverse as the community that the state itself governs. We have to create a new, larger federal structure that is consensual, cooperative. We need to figure out how to do this.

An interesting model, actually, if you want to think about it, is, although there are problems with this model on a certain level, the committees of correspondence that existed in the colonies before the American Revolution, which is essentially people who were interested in independence, interested in freedom, who essentially formed a letter-writing collective among themselves. There wasn’t a lot of transportation or travel between the states or the colonies at that point. So you use the mail to essentially create a community that wasn’t there before. It’s a prefiguration of the internet and of social media, and what can be done with that. But the point is to find commonalities with people in other places and to share tools and methods of organizing that can work in more than one place. So there’s essentially getting creative thinking about how to organize going completely outside the state, but also outside of state boundaries, outside of specific state boundaries.

TFSR: That seems important. One of the things we’re talking about here, and you talked about in the book, too, is the State’s so good at scaling up, and I hear this often within anarchist organizing groups, that’s a problem that we have. We have our mutual aid network with our town, and maybe some neighboring towns, but how do we scale that to the region? Scaling, in a way, sounds like it could end up reproducing that state form. How do we think about doing that across the state lines and not within a state idea of bigness and totality?

EL: Well, the first thing is to keep in mind people’s specificity. Not everybody’s struggle is exactly the same everywhere. And so to be sensitive to that, I should back up a second. You said the magic word, which is “scale”. That’s the ultimate argument for the state: we have the resources, we have the reach, we have the depth, we have the technology and the expertise to do beneficial things on a large scale, you don’t. Okay, so that’s the primary argument for the State’s existence today. What we need to do is rather than thinking about scaling, to begin with, we need to think about addressing local needs and local desires. The federative part comes later. And if you structure an organization that’s built around fulfilling the needs of people in a local community, and doing it in a directly democratic way, there’s less likelihood of putting together a federated structure on top of that, that subordinates everybody to some big idea. That’s ultimately what you don’t want to do. But it has to originate at that local level. And they have to be focused that way.

You’re going to be a little surprised to hear this, but I would direct people to look at some of the things that Ho Chi Minh wrote during the Vietnam War, in terms of when he was talking about what’s needed to win this war. He stressed over and over again, there’s a need to go to the people and find out what they want. Don’t tell them what they want, but to find out what they want, and to give them the power to get those things for themselves. That was a big part of why the National Liberation Front was accepted in so many parts of the country because there was this constant emphasis on putting the question back to the people themselves and helping them to organize. And maybe it was a little bit phony, maybe people were induced to think this. The North Vietnamese system was fairly monolithic. But I think that he was right in terms of what the emphasis has to be for any liberatory movement. It’s got to constantly go back to that local level.

TFSR: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And yet, in your book, you also keep an eye on the fact that there are these huge problems that affect everyone, like the climate catastrophe that is happening and worsening constantly, it is inescapable for everyone to some extent, and then you also talk a lot about the forced migration and displacement of people that are being caused by climate, by state violence, by economic and trade agreements. I want to get to the strategy that you articulate at the very end of the book. You talk about making a reasonable demand that is impossible for the state to fulfill. Can you explain that strategy and how that relates to these very big problems that we’re facing?

EL: Yeah, with climate change, it’s easy, in a way. There’s nothing easy about climate change, but it’s easy to address that point with it, in that if you look at the measures that are contemplated through the Paris Accords to deal with climate change, they are inadequate. A reasonable request of the state in a time of climate change is to do what needs to be done so that we don’t all die, so that the planet doesn’t become uninhabitable for us. Nothing that has been proposed, including the proposal the Biden administration has made over the last few weeks or started to formulate, will do it. Well, it is a reasonable request that we be able to continue to live a healthy life on this planet, the state system has proved pathetically unable to meet that. It’s for a very simple reason, which is that the State is built on this model of rapid economic growth at all times, it cannot reconcile itself to a world in which that is directly antithetical to survival, it can’t do it. And so, essentially, we asked theSstate to address this problem of climate change in a realistic way. It falls back on things like carbon trading, or efforts to sort of shoehorn this back into the private enterprise system in some way or other, clunky innovations, desalinization and removal of carbon from the air and so forth. Innovation is going to solve the whole thing. Don’t worry about the inequality part. Once we start to ask for reasonable things, that the state can’t deliver, we start to expose the workings of the State, its MO, the way it operates, and how the way it’s operates is antithetical to the lives that we want to have. So it’s a matter of exposing what’s hidden there, essentially.

TFSR: Going back to a discussion of the pandemic and the response to demanding an end to state violence is more state violence. Those moments heighten the hypocrisy of us relying on the state to solve these problems.

EL: …more of the same and getting the same results. Sorry.

TFSR: Right, exactly. I was interested in your use of the term of making a reasonable demand that’s impossible for the state to fulfill. I see people and using the impossibility theoretically within anarchist or anarchist-influenced or adjacent ideas, and I wonder what your thoughts are on that category of impossibility as part of our thinking through, shaking off the State, as you said?

EL: Right, that’s where we have to have a dialogue with other people on the Left, essentially, we agree about the demands with other people on the Left, who are not necessarily identifying as anarchists, also want a healthy planet, they want an end to racial injustice, and so forth. But they think that it can be done through the State. And what we need to get across is that that’s not possible anymore, that these are problems that cannot be met by the State because of the State’s own interests clash with any attempt to really address these problems seriously. That’s where that discussion has to go. I hope that people will go on upon reading this book.

TFSR: Putting all this critique of the State into an accessible and easily digestible form… These are things that I’m aware of, and yet putting them all at once and seeing how glaring the failures of the State are, when listed off in this way and analyzed in this way…. I don’t know, I think it really makes it even more imperative. And then, as you emphasize, the anarchist aspect of it, anarchism always gets dismissed by even Leftists as impossible. When you put the word impossible on the state as the solution, we see that anarchism doesn’t look so impossible anymore, because it’s actually perhaps one of the few hopes that we have to actually get at something like surviving.

EL: Yeah, in a way it’s the attempt to continue to use the state to achieve something that it’s not interested in achieving. That is unrealistic, that is impossible. And we can continue to beat our heads against that wall, or we can try something else. I’m really sensitive to the fact that in this book, in terms of dealing with the problems that the state creates, I don’t suggest any magic bullets or any quick fixes, or here’s how we organize… here’s the step by step, this is how we organize in order to overthrow this thing and to do what we need to do. These are not easy things. There are no easy solutions. But the beginning of it continues to be organizing locally, understanding our needs as a community, being our communities, and working from there, that’s a step that we can’t skip. There’s no way to finesse that.

TFSR: It might be suspicious even to have a clear blueprint, but one of the things that I see your book really insisting that we do as anarchists and people who are getting opened up to these ways of thinking is to see to what extent we still contain these vestiges of the state in our attempts to solve the problems of the state, or we get caught up in the traps the state sets for us as a means of redress or something. Your analysis helps us keep trying to de-link from the state in various ways.

EL: Right. That’s what we need to push for constantly, is that capitalism, the state are enormously adept at co-opting. That’s what they do. That’s one of the ways they evolve is by co-opting things that are done on a community level by individuals outside of the system. It is honestly hard to avoid. But, as I say, in terms of the social safety net, is that it is possible to find gaps, to find places where there’s a vacuum, places that the state has not entered into yet, or the state has withdrawn from, in fact, because it doesn’t think it needs to address these things anymore. Like having a social safety net. That’s been the hallmark of this sort of the neoliberal era is just eroding the social safety net. And like I say, that gives us some opportunities to fill those gaps with something different. We still have to guard against being co-opted, because the State might come running back in and say, “Hey, looks like we better do something about this.” But we can at least be sensitive, and we can be aware and we can keep pushing into those areas.

TFSR: Another tactical question for me is do you see a flaw in the totalizing desires of the state? And furthermore, where would you locate right now the biggest threat to the state on the side of freedom, not on the side of further fascism or something like that?

EL: When you say flaw, you mean something that is a weakness in the State, a chink in its armor?

TFSR: Yeah, exactly.

EL: Okay, something that makes it vulnerable?

Well, a lot of it is actually very physical right now, and I’m talking from a high level here, the way relentless economic development has destroyed parts of the world itself. You have places like the Sahel in Africa that are basically being desertified, that used to be farming areas, you have the Amazon that’s being destroyed. Global warming is one piece of this, but you have devastation of the physical landscape going on all over the world in one way or another. And ultimately, that’s going to make it less likely for the state to be able to continue its path of all-devouring economic development. I bring this up a little bit in the book and the more fanciful thinking that people in the economic and political elite have about spaceships and space stations and colonizing other planets.

You see the talk about that among people like Richard Branson or Jeff Bezos, you can see that talk multiplying as it becomes clear that we’ve already devastated huge parts of this world. Well, let’s just go somewhere else and do the same song and dance there. The problem is that leaves the vast majority of us stuck with a basically alluded world. And so that’s the thing that I think is going to create a crisis. Again, global warming is part of that, but there are multiple facets to it, that we can take advantage of, where we can point out, this is what essentially the plan that these people have for us is, we have to do something about it. So we need to point out where they’re essentially creating a world we don’t want to live in, they don’t want to live in.

TFSR: Yeah, because they’re preparing the rockets. We’ve been talking for a while, and maybe I’ll ask a question about anarchism. Anarchism, specifically, was developed in a particular context, historical context and geographical context in Europe as a response to a specific stage of state development and capital development. It also calls to these stateless societies that have existed and do exist and existed before the state and capitalism. I wonder how you feel anarchism, given that historical origin, serves us today in this context, and why it still is so helpful for thinking about the path towards liberation?

EL: In two ways, anarchism is more relevant today, or more clearly relevant today. Number one, I hope my book is reflecting a certain amount of thinking on the part of other people who already said it, is that we’re not dealing with a situation where all we have to do is end Capitalism or tame Capitalism in order to get out from the dilemmas that we face now. It’s a more complicated project than just using the State to tame this thing. That doesn’t work. And I think this is becoming more obvious to us over the last few decades.

The second thing is that anarchism doesn’t just look forward, it encourages us to look backward and to look around us for other systems, or elements of other systems that might work. So, anarchism is an invitation to think creatively about how we organize society. There’s nothing determinist about it the way there is a lot of times about Marxism, like we must go through this stage of historical development before we can do this. No, we can look at the way people are organizing things in indigenous communities, we can look at the way people were organizing things in fourteenth-century Europe, we all have these things, our ideas and tools and notions that we can put to use. So that’s the exciting part of anarchism is that it tells us that we’re not bound by some historically determinist process. We can change the process. These tools are here, if we want to use them, we don’t have to go through a hundred more years of capitalism in order to think we’re ready for it. So there’s an exciting creative element to this. That’s not something I talk about a lot in my book, because I’m talking about some fairly depressing things in my book, but that’s the part that has a lot of promise, where there’s something really optimistic we can grab onto.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s like a really helpful way of putting it because something that struck me in reading your book and other things I’ve been thinking about is that we get caught in the status way of thinking, even when from this a lot of leftist traditions, by agreeing to the inevitability of the state and inevitability of capital. And anarchism allows for a way of viewing history as more contingent, unless evenly developed on this road of progress or whatever, that allows for the creativity that you speak of. I could ask you so many different questions. And a lot of things came up in my mind that I hadn’t even prepared for while we were talking, but to wind it down, are there any like things that you want to bring to our listeners’ attention that we didn’t cover, or that you’d like to expand on as a way to close it out?

EL: Yeah, I’d like to suggest something actually. We touched on this a little bit earlier. There’s an anxiety people have when they think about life without the State. Well, there are so many things that we have acquired that we like in the last 500 years. We have fine art, we have computers, we have music, we have access to all kinds of culture that we didn’t use to have, people have much more of an opportunity to rise out of their social class, all these various things, and there’s an automatic fear that if we didn’t have the state, we wouldn’t have a framework where we could get all these things. And what I want to suggest is that that’s something we have to get over. It’s not true.

The example I like to give is, if we hadn’t had the state for the last 500 years, we would probably have computers now, we would have software systems, they’d be different. They’d maybe be less hierarchical, they’d be organized differently, but we would have got there. Would we have not had an Einstein, if there hadn’t been institutions of higher education to nurture people like that? Well, we probably would. They’d just be less hierarchical, and they wouldn’t be designed to reproduce an elite the way they are now. So the framework the state creates, it creates the mentality, a lack of confidence in the world outside of that framework. And that’s something we have to try very consciously to overcome. It’s not just that there won’t be chaos, it is that we can have all the same things that we really, really value now, that we value for good reasons, for honest reasons. And we don’t need this framework in order to get them. I think that’s an important lesson for people. And it’s something that is very hard for people to get over this sort of fear factor, or this feeling that we have to stay in the sort of womb of the state or else we’re going to lose everything. That’s the ultimate big scare we have to get over.

TFSR: Yeah, that seems like the other side of that contingency or that it’s not inevitable that the things that we have, the so-called fruits of the state could have come in other forms, and aren’t worth the pain and violence that we have to experience to have them. That’s a really helpful and important point. Well, thank you so much for talking to me, explaining some of the ideas, and refocusing our analysis on the state. I’m really excited about this book and I loved our conversation. So thank you for your time.

EL: I got to say your questions were great. And you pressed me on some points that are really good to press me on. So I appreciate that actually. Because, as I say, I want the book to start a conversation, not to end it.

TFSR: Exactly. I think it will, it’s making a really important contribution, and I hope it will help inject this focus on the state into the regional mutual aid networks and projects that are going on right now in such a dire time.

EL: That’s really encouraging.

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
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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]

  • Transcript
  • PDF (unimposed) – pending
  • Zine (imposed PDF) – pending

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.

Colectivo Subversión on Protest in Colombia and Global Battles for Dignity

Colectivo Subversión on Protest in Colombia and Global Battles for Dignity

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

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

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

Social media:

Further reading and research topics:

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

Good articles in English:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alive With Resistance: Diasporic Reflections on the Revolt in Myanmar

Alive With Resistance: Diasporic Reflections on the Revolt in Myanmar

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This is a conversation with Geoff Aung (@Rgnhardliner on twitter), a Burmese American Marxist anthropology Phd candidate at Columbia University living abroad, about the current uprising, repression and revolutionary potentials in Myanmar. We discuss the evolution of tactics on the ground as revolutionaries adapt to the brutal murders of protesters by the state. Geoff also talks about the ways in which this movement is different from similar current movements in Asia and some of the historical context of struggle in Myanmar.

The host, John, wishes they’d had more time to dig into further questions. There are some links below of news sources and articles on the struggle in Myanmar.

For further anaylsis from Geoff Aung, please refer to the below articles as well as his twitter.
Geoff’s latest articles on the subject:
Some good sources for news on Myanmar:
Some interesting contextual podcasts on Myanmar/Burma from “The Arts of Travel” podcast:
Ways to show solidarity from abroad include:
  • focus on companies internationally doing business with the Burmese Military Junta: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-56133766
  • Show attention to Myanmar government offices in North American cities
    • US:DC, NYC and LA
    • Canada: Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver
    • Mexico: DF
  • Donations to the movement in Myanmar  https://www.isupportmyanmar.com but be aware that when the regime shuts down the internet it makes it impossible to get money and it has been difficult getting money there.

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Transcript

John: Welcome back to the Final Straw, my name is John, I’m a guest interviewer and today I’m interviewing Geoff Aung. Geoff, do you mind introducing yourself a little bit?

Geoff: : Sure, I’m a PhD candidate at Columbia in the Anthropology Department and my work focuses on large-scale infrastructure projects and political struggles that tend to coalesce around them. My main work is in Southern Burma, Southern Myanmar.

John: Oh yeah, and we’re going to be talking about the current conflicts and uprising in Myanmar, as well as a little bit of the history of uprisings and ethnic struggle there.

Geoff: Awesome!

John: I wanted to first ask this very simple question, but a lot of my friends ask me if they should be saying Burma, they should be saying Myanmar or if it’s like one is woke and one is ten key? In my mind, they’re both both, but I don’t know if you could actually help me clarify that.

Geoff: Yeah, they’re shifting the political register of those two names. The thing is they both mean the same thing, right? They both signify the Bamar, lowland Burman majority and at different points in time, one or the other has been seen as the worst name by different people. I mean even in the 30s, actually, a bunch of the Thirty Comrades, a bunch of anti-colonial leaders, specifically chose to use Burma because they felt Myanmar too closely signified the Burman majority and arguably, that’s flipped over time, and now some people think that Burma, as a name, is too closely aligned with the Burman majority. Myanmar is supposedly more inclusive, but the name goes back to the same route.

John: In the language Burmese, “Myanmar” means “Burman”.

Geoff: Yeah, and for a while, you could tell people’s political leanings by which name they used. I think that’s less and less the case. I grew up using Burma, and in my family, Myanmar is still a word that is closely associated with the military and military rule, so I still find it a little bit difficult to use the word Myanmar. They mean the same thing.

John: That’s the same in my family, especially because I think the official name change happened in 1989 or something, right after the failure of the 1988 uprising, and so I think, there were very sensitive feelings around that, although now I’ve noticed it seems like even generationally, younger people just grew up saying that, so they say that…

Geoff: Yeah, I think that’s accurate.

John: But I heard Amy Goodman make a big statement about it being like “Burma or, as the military calls it, Myanmar”…

Geoff: Oh really? I wouldn’t go so [far]. I wouldn’t really put it in such stark terms these days.

John: Totally, I think it’s just a product of maybe her longer activism and age.

Geoff: Yeah, could be that for sure.

John: Another question I was wondering about and maybe I’ll phrase it in terms of my experience… Growing up with family from Burma, I was really exposed to the anti-Pepsi and Taco Bell campaign’s early on, and I think that that really influenced my butting into capitalism, especially by starting to understand the contradictions of growing up in this country, with all this excess and stuff. But then these companies are supporting this government that is killing civilians and enslaving people. All these obvious things. But I was curious if you also had a similar experience.

Geoff: Yes and no, I would say that the exiled political world and some of the advocacy groups that have existed in the States, they’ve had different kinds of things going on. So, on the one hand, as you point out they had these boycott campaigns – and I do think that for sure, for me as well, those were formative. What they taught me, I would say, is that something like business, economics, investments: these things are not politically neutral. You have to understand them in a political context and in Burma, for a long time, they were helping to prop up the military regime. So that was a basic thing that I picked up on. On the other hand, in some of the advocacy work and the exiled government world, you also had what became, I would argue, a neo-conservative flavor of activity where you had people all too willing, in my opinion, to reach out to people like Mitch McConnell on the relatively far right end of even the American political spectrum, which is already pretty far right, to begin with, especially after 9/11, and especially with the Bush Doctrine foreign policy of democratization. So there I think I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up on a kind of anti-capitalism. But with some of the boycott stuff, I think that’s fair to say…

John: Totally. I remember hearing Bush mention Burma in speeches and being like “Ah, it feels very complicated”, but also democracy is a meaningless word that we love over here. I wanted to also ask if you still have family in Burma.

Geoff: I do. We have family in Yangon. We have a distant family in Pakkoku, up by Mandalay and in Mohnyin as well, but the family we’re in touch with are in Yangon.

John: Are they relatively safe with all that stuff?

Geoff: Yeah, they’re doing okay, my dad is our contact with them and there’s a particular uncle that he’s in touch with and they spoke again recently, they’ve been in touch and they are doing okay. Uncle’s sons are staying home. One of them actually has been sending me selfies from protests, but he has been laying a little bit low more recently.

John: That makes total sense. I was perusing Burmese Instagram and it is interesting – I don’t know what your cousin is like, but there does seem to be this whole, I don’t know what you call it, a kind of revolutionary shift in people where you could look through their old selfies where it is just a dude working out all the time, working in an office, and then the next picture is like full militarized black bloc with a shield, and I find it interesting that the Burmese state is incredibly authoritarian, but also people are like “Yeah, I take pictures of myself in riot gear and post it”, but I guess it’s more dangerous to be shot on the street than the long-distance repression that we are more familiar with here.

Geoff: Sure. I was thinking about the discussion over the summer in the States, the George Floyd rebellion stuff and a lot of discussion about like “Make sure you don’t take pictures of protesters who aren’t masked and maintain anonymity, be very careful”, all of which is totally good and then in Burma, it’s hilarious how people are posting pictures of themselves, all over the place, in the protests and everything. It’s a different kind of threat.

John: It’d be clearly an understatement to say that the situation on the ground is changing rapidly, maybe every half-day that I check on the internet. There’s updates about different bombings or massacres or the most incredible acts of resistance I’ve maybe ever seen, but I was curious if you be willing to and could talk a little bit about the most recent changes.

Geoff: Sure, as you say, that it’s hard to encapsulate everything that is going on and I think that’s basically impossible, but at least a few things that I’ve noticed. I would say, for one thing, certainly we’ve seen a shift away from some of the mass demonstrations that happened early on in February, where he had these occupations of major intersections, these have fallen away. Security forces have reclaimed a lot of central areas in urban centers and the recurring demonstrations that have continued, have gone a little bit smaller and have tended to take place in tighter residential neighborhoods, where, among other things, it’s easier to build stronger barricades. It’s easier to maintain disciplined formations with shield bearers at the barricades, a second group in the back dealing with tear gas and then maybe a third group, more general protesters behind them. So you’ve seen maybe the spatial shift into more residential areas, and in some of those areas, it’s been possible to fight the cops and soldiers to a standstill. So there’s been recurring holding patterns in different places. It’s hard to make a ton of headway one way or the other by either side basically. And you’ve also seen a shift towards more peripheral industrial areas of eastern Yangon were Hlaing Tharyar of course. Repression has followed this shift. So it’s not like the cops and soldiers retook downtown Yangon and decided to chill. They followed people elsewhere obviously and so Hlaing Tharyar, for example, there was massive bloodshed. It’s the largest concentration of factories in the country. Chinese factories were set ablaze. You had this crazy, really intense stories of workers who are armed with shields rushing police lines as live rounds are being used, that kind of tactical implications of which are a little bit difficult to work out, but very striking, very militant and in North Okkalapa, where there is quite a bit of bloodshed, another industrial area.

I would argue as well that actually, as some of the urban centers have been maybe reclaimed at least to a degree by the security forces, rural areas have become maybe more and more important, at least in the south, where I work around Dawei. Dawei town, which was the site of very militant demonstrations for weeks and weeks, has quieted down. I mean, there’s still recurring marches and demonstrations, they’re smaller. I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of more militant activities again, but the villages around Dawei have seen an upsurge in marches, demonstrations, strikes. On Facebook, you see all of the rural areas are underway. It’s kind of amazing, they’re alive with resistance and in a way that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected and that’s been really cool to see.

The other big rural issue is that the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military, has been bombing ethnic areas. The Karen National Union, KNU territory in the east, there’s been airstrikes, something like 12,000 people have been displaced, according to the KNU. The Thai government shamefully has been fencing out refugees and the KNU has also been sheltering protesters who fled urban areas, it’s the total replay of 1988. And there’s talk of protesters training on firearms, hand grenades, tactical strikes on military facilities, a lot of talk of broadening armed struggle. That’s where things have gone. I think, as we were chatting before and some of the notes you put together you also mentioned – and I think this is also really important – is these local administrations have really consolidated or tried to set themselves up apart from the military regime. There’s been almost an autonomist streak lately, where you have some ward in neighborhoods that are claiming their own small-scale governments. Oftentimes aligned with the CRPH, which is the formally elected government, I guess we can call them the elected government. So that there is that connection. But there’s been this kind of autonomist, maybe anarcho move with some local governments as well, which has been really cool to see. I guess, I’m tempted to think of it in terms of dual power in some sense, but it’s maybe a bit early to go too far in that direction

John: Yeah, it was envisioning in some ways. I guess in a way that I’ve been trying to not convince but some of my friends and the comrades I have are like… There’s a suspect approach towards stuff there, but I think it’s because of liberal demands. But also because of just feel like spring revolutions in the past, like the failures of Egypt and all these things. I guess in my mind, this is, despite the horrifying violence that is taking place from the military, almost one of the most ideal revolutionary circumstances that we might see right now. I was going to ask you about this, but there’s a general strike and then there’s militant resistance. There seems to be almost, not uniform support but pretty close, and then there’s guerrillas taking up space on the outside. So, in some ways, it just seems like if the revolution there can’t succeed without US intervention or something, there’s actually may be very little hope for revolutions to succeed if the military doesn’t break apart and doesn’t want to give up power anywhere in the world. Maybe that’s a little too convoluted…

Geoff: I hear you and I agree. I do think it’s pretty fair to say it’s a genuinely revolutionary situation where you have a fairly small institution – I mean, it’s a big institution but relative to the entire country, it’s not huge – trying to cling onto power right now with absolutely zero or next to zero hegemonic purchase, let’s say. Nobody likes the military. And there’s been this militant resistance that’s really electrified the country, literally from Putao, just like the Himalayan foothills and far north Kachin down to the Kawthaung, which is the farthest point south, right north of Phuket in southern Thailand.

It’s been really interesting and in some ways surprising, because I think, for a long time, a lot of us who were working in Burma or paying attention would look to Thailand for the last ten years and see the kinds of popular struggles that have erupted at different points. The Red Shirt struggle, the occupation of downtown Bangkok, even the Yellow Shirt occupation of the airport which has had awful political principles, but was an impressive popular struggle. And we’d look at them and say, “That’s amazing, but it’s hard to imagine in Burma just because of the openly violent nature of the military. They would just start shooting right away and blood would run and it’d be impossible to maintain anything,” and we have obviously seen violent repression and there have been 550 people killed. This is intolerable, but people are coming back and there seems to be this resilience, this unwillingness to bend. It’s really amazing. It’s hard to find the words, it feels silly to say it’s amazing, but I don’t know what else to say.

John: I don’t have Twitter, but I looked at your Twitter and it appears that you are like me or you just spend most of your non-working or whatever time, looking up news from Burma and following other accounts, but I might spend about an hour a day off and I’m crying in either sadness or that kind of being moved crying. Especially, I think, for me at least, and maybe we can talk about this more, but it’s across every ethnicity in the country, it seems like people are resisting and people are dying. And you see these funerals with Muslim coffins, you see funerals of Buddhists and Christians and I assume, animists. But there’s something about that unity that maybe you can speak more, but it seems not like something I could have imagined coming from Myanmar Burma five years ago with situations like Rohingya and the Kachins and just different situations that just… It’s very moving, I guess.

Geoff: Sure, what’s happened is surprising and it is not surprising. I’m as surprised as you are. I think, if it’s not surprising, it’s only because, this is very vague and abstract, I guess, but as we’ve seen with revolutionary struggles at different points in history, solidarity is formed in struggle and it’s not always something that you can assume beforehand. And I think that’s kind of what we have seen here. There’s a lot of talk of unity. Unity is a term that occurs and recurs across political discourse in Burma a lot. I’m who is… One of my minor acts of… it’s not really resistance. But friends in the south, in Dawei, around this big project, when we’ve had unity in our materials. I always like to try and go and cross it out and put solidarity instead.

John: Yeah, I guess, solidarity is a better word. You are right though.

Geoff: It’s been really powerful to see that. It’s difficult to gauge, at least from where I am, which is quite far away, I should say. It’s difficult to gauge how much, how deep is this kind of reconsideration has gone. So when we’ve seen on social media people like these sort of effusive claims about Rohingya staff, like “oh, we got it wrong. I can’t believe we’ve swallowed the military’s propaganda about this. We need to do better than this”, this sort of thing. There have been a lot of these statements. I don’t know how to quantify that. Having seen what’s happened in the last ten years and obviously not only the last ten years, not only Rohingya stuff, it does seem to me that some of these divides run pretty deep, and I hope that what we’re seeing is the beginning of the transcendence. But it’s difficult to say for sure.

John: That’s also my fear, I guess, is that people will forget again that in 2007, the military killing people in the Saffron Revolution, but seven years later them supporting the military killing other people that are an ethnic minority. I hinted at this, but I just wanted to ask the question that I think is maybe hard to answer or ask, but do you think that there is a chance that this revolution can win?

Geoff: Absolutely! I do think so. Is there a chance? There’s definitely a chance! I find prediction to be quite difficult. Here’s some things I don’t think.

John: That makes more sense.

Geoff: I don’t think outside intervention of one kind or another is something that anyone can count on. I don’t think that the United Nations, I don’t think that responsibility to protect, I don’t think the US of all countries, I don’t think these are realistic things to pin one’s hopes on. If there’s something that I would hold on to, it is this recurring willingness to return to the streets, return to urban centers, to keep the marches going, keep the strikes going.

The question is: how can that be maintained and to whatever extent even scaled up and generalized even more – where possible? I think for me, that’s the decisive factor. It seems to me, everything depends on that. There’s been a lot of discussions understandably, and I’m not super involved in it, so I can’t really speak to it in a ton of detail, but a lot of strategic discussion about the CRPH, about Dr Sasa, about their relationship to the general strike committee or the general strike committee of nationalities and their attempts to woo different people in New York and Washington DC, and how to spin up an alternative government and how do you legitimate it, and how do you take over some of the economic channels that the military has? I think those are important things to consider. Oh, and security council action as well. I’m not against working on all that stuff, but I do think that if you can manage to get something done at the security council, it’s not gonna matter if people aren’t out in the streets, if the strikes and demonstrations and marches aren’t happening. If it’s not possible to show mass defiance of the military, then I don’t think that elite civil society or alternative government strategies are gonna have very much traction.

John: Yeah, totally. I was wondering if you thought there would be any potential for breaking apart the unity of the military? Because it seems like that’s also an important part of the revolution, and we didn’t really see that in 1988. There was some defection of maybe airforce folks and police, we’ve seen the police more willing to break away. It seems like recently there was an attack on a police station, by a former police officer in Kalay, which has been a really big site of resistance. But the former cop in regaining his humanity by attacking the police was killed in the process, which is sad, but also a true hero. He lead an attack on the police, so it seems like the police are more likely to break, but I guess I haven’t seen in history the Burmese military break apart. And it does seem like that tends to be how revolutions succeed, right?

Geoff: That’s the historical precedent, it’s true. I can’t really speak to that historical precedent so much, but my sense is that is the case. In terms of the military and the police, what we see is that these are two institutions that are not the same. The police as an institution has a different kind of presents, it’s not as closed. The military is often referred to as a state within the state, and the history of the institution going back to, let’s say, the 1950s really consolidated itself in the post-colonial period. It really understood itself as the sole guarantor of national unity. There’s that word again. I think some people think that that was a claim that they try to make. That was not like something that they could really protect, but this was really their genuine self-understanding in some sense, and I think in many ways that remains the case today. From what I understand, the military really is this quite closed off institution in terms of schooling, in terms of residential arrangements. I think that helps to explain why we’ve seen defections from the police and not so much the military. But hopefully, at least, you can imagine that in a hierarchical institution like this, you could see people who are not at the top of that hierarchy understanding that what might seem obvious to us, which is that this institution does not have their interests at heart and that perhaps there is a line or fracture that one could identify and that might take shape. I’m not a keen analyst of the military. I can’t really say too much more than that. I’ve been interested to track some of their economic activities, but in terms of their internal community, it seems to be pretty solid, unfortunately.

John: With the recent uptick of ethnic armed organizations, either actively throwing their support behind the protests or tacitly making statements about it, and then also with some protesters going up to the mountains or down to the mountains and maybe getting training, people have been talking a lot about civil war, and there already is a civil war going on in Burma. There has been war since forever literally, it seems since World War II, right before independence even. But I guess they mean a full nationwide civil war and a lot of western media is fretting that it would be a new Syria, which I could see, but I was wondering if you thought this was accurate. Obviously, who knows, but if you felt if there are key differences here?

Geoff: Yeah, I’ve seen that comparison a lot as well. I guess I can understand why people raise that. I don’t think it’s particularly likely. For one thing, as we’ve seen with 1988 in the past, and we’ve seen urban protesters go to the jungle and try to build a more generalized armed uprising beyond, as you said, the civil war that has been simmering for a long time regardless. And that has never really taken off, and I think part of the reason why we haven’t seen a kind of Syria-like conflagration and it is just because their regional interests are entirely different in terms of neighboring countries, in terms of people who might want to be running weapons into the country or training insurgents. There’s this destabilizing influence of the US, but not only the US, in Syria has been maybe the main factor in some ways. And as I said before, I just don’t see the US having any interest in doing anything like that in Burma. There have been reports of Chinese troops massing at the border, and even there, I doubt very much that it would come to that. The Chinese government has had different kinds of positions over the years. They’ve supported some of the armed groups in the border areas much to the military’s chagrin, but they’ve also not been happy at all to have any refugee flows coming into China. It would be quite hard to imagine a Chinese military intervention and I don’t think the US, certainly not Thailand or India. That’s the big difference to me with Syria. You had a great power struggle that took place in Syria and I don’t think that struggle gonna be happening in Burma.

John: That makes sense. I didn’t even think about that. I was thinking about how there is this shadow government that, in theory, does have a bunch of functionaries already set up waiting to take over, although obviously, they don’t have the economic ties that the military does, but it does seem a little bit more united, but it does seem like there is more centralization, maybe for the revolutionary side.

Not that I want to give credit to the NLD, or that I like them, but they have been serving as state functionaries since 2011 or 2014, but I don’t know if you saw this but right before we talked, I was looking online and one of the Burmese news sites was reporting that a Chinese ambassador actually started talking with the shadow government and has actually made phone calls. It’s just an interesting development, it appears that China is probably just waiting and seeing how this goes, and so I imagine they are hedging their bets.

Geoff: There’s been a lot of speculation about China’s position relative to evidence that happened in the past couple of months. And then there’s is a popular misconception, I think it’s fair to say, that China has somehow been backing the military to the hilt, has been supporting this coup. As far as I’m aware, there’s no evidence for that. The Chinese ambassador even made a very rare move of giving an interview in which he said that the coup is not something they want to see and, as you say, they’ve made overtures to the CRPH as well. There’s a lot of Chinese investment in Burma, and the Belt and Road Initiative runs through the China-Myanmar economic corridor in the western part of the country, they look to work with whoever ends up consolidating power. I think that’s fair to say.

John: I hope, no one reads us as us being like Tankies” or “defend the honor China”, but I think China’s just does whatever is good for their economics.

Okay, I had a question about the demographics of the protests. I’ve read a couple of articles discussing the central role of women in protests, and especially I was reading about in ethnic regions and that also I’ve seen some photos and a couple of articles about queer participation in the demonstrations, and I was curious if obviously, you’re outside of Burma right now, but if it seems like there is a redefining gender roles coming about through struggle.

Geoff: I think there’s been some of that. I think a little bit like with the earlier question that we’ll see how it goes because there’s a long way to go. But it’s been powerful, encouraging to see what we’ve seen. As you say, I think it is fair to say that there is quite a strong institutional infrastructure for women’s organizations in a lot of different ethnic areas. So organizations like the Karen Women Organization, similar organizations in Mon State, Shan State, Shan Women’s Action Network, in Kachin state as well. I wouldn’t put it entirely down to these organizations, but there is a history and a precedent for very strong women leadership in a lot of ethnic areas, and we see that reflected in the current resistance for sure.

I would also say that in Yangon, the industrial workforce is something like 80 or 90 percent women. And the industrial workforce has been absolutely crucial in driving the largest demonstrations early on and then in trying to keep things going right now, and so in that sense as well, you see really strong roles for women, definitely. And a bunch of those unions have really strong woman leaders. people like Ma Moe Sandar Myint for example, really impressive. I think it’s also important to recognize that the military, as well as the NLD are both highly patriarchal institutions. So there might be an extra element of opposition that comes from that. The NLD too, of course, has Aun Saung Suu Kyi at its head, but is otherwise a gerontocracy of old men without a lot of strong youth or women and its leadership ranks. So when we see that’s the redefining of gender roles in the resistance, I think this is how we have to understand it, maybe in the context of two kinds of patriarchal institutions, civilian, political leadership as well as the military. These are what is being contested through struggle, and I hope we see this continued overturning of those patriarchal power struggles.

In terms of queer participation, it’s a little bit more difficult to say. I have seen definitely reporting that emphasizes queer participation, which is also been totally awesome and not something that I’ve seen at least in 2007 or 1988 as well, but queer politics has been it’s a pretty active space in some sense in the last ten years, with a lot of really interesting… Some of them are more liberal civil society oriented organizations and networks, and then some more left-leaning activist work as well, and so this is also what we see reflected in this current resistance and long may it continue.

John: I have three more questions. Speaking on another group of people that are… I’ve seen in media, especially in the media I consume, but it seems like there’s a small handful of anarchist punks in Yangon, it’s been on the radar of punks and anarchists in other parts of the world, but I think since around the genocide against Rohingya, because I remember seeing punk songs “Fuck racists monks” and stuff like that. They were very present in the early days of the protests and actually still have been, as far as releasing music in solidarity. I’ve also seen a representation of anarchy signs and black flags at some things, and I was curious if you thought there was… Cause it seems, at least from my perspective, they do mutual aid and it seems they do mutual aid at these demos, but also they are an educational project in some ways. I was wondering if you thought they had any influence on the moment now or if they’re just a part of a giant patchwork of things, which makes sense.

Geoff: I’d say, they are a part of the patchwork, but I wouldn’t want to discount their importance or anything like that. There is this kind of subculture, it’s pretty awesome, and they are really active in a lot of leftist scenes in Yangon in particular, and they were, much to their credit on Rohingya stuff, they were really outspoken. They really pissed off some of the monks and ended up apologizing in a ceremonial manner at one point, which I think lost them like a bit of cred, but as someone who’s mostly far away, I don’t wanna judge them too hard for that, cause what I’ve seen in terms of their social presence, it’s pretty awesome, and as you say, you could see it in educational terms. At a certain point, after 2011 it did become a little bit of a cliche for foreign journalists to come in and do photo shoots with some of the punks and then they would turn up in magazines in western countries. There’s a little bit of a head scratch in that sense, because some of the discussion around this was a bit superficial, not that I have super ended up insights on them, but they’re part of a larger story. Technically, they are a great influence to have, and the mutual aid work, like Food Not Bombs at their hands, is totally excellent.

John: It’s interesting, they are a small constellation there, but it seems like there’s this whole southeast Asia / southeast Asian Pacific islands punk anarchist world that blossoms in Indonesia. There’s thousands of them. As a kid that grew up as an anarchist punk and just a regular anarchist now, it’s funny because I think my commitment to revolution or whatever and being able to interact with normal people pushed away from the punk, but it seems like there… And it’s the same as in Mexico. Punk and anarchism are very tied together still. Anyhow…

On the note of southeast Asia, Asian things, I wanted to ask you about clear inspiration from Hong Kong and Thailand, that’s been in these demonstrations, especially the early ones, but also the differences, because clearly there are much higher stakes, even though obviously people are fighting for freedom in different ways, but I think one person was shot in Hong Kong and that was the biggest deal in the world. And from friends that were around there, it felt like our American riot were – except for maybe the summer – but where you could step a couple of blocks away and just be shopping, you’re going to coffee, just the ways in which the tactics are similar. There are similarities, but also the ways that they’re different.

Geoff: No, I think the differences are really worth paying attention to and it has been increasing Milktea Alliance discussion, but actually, I guess it’s always been there from the beginning since February. It’s sort of an old question with internationalism or cosmopolitanism maybe in some sense. With some of the Milktea stuff, what you get sometimes is collapsing some important distinctions, like the antagonist in Hong Kong, Thailand and Burma are just wildly different, and so the stakes I think it’s fair to say are quite a bit higher in Burma, which is nothing against everyone in Hong Kong and Thailand, not at all, but I think that the stakes are higher. The forms that struggle has taken have gone in many ways more militant directions, they had to, and so I wonder sometimes how useful those comparisons are. However, I would say that those connections do seem to resonate with a fair amount of ordinary protesters, demonstrators, front liners. In particular, the kinds of tactical knowledge sharing that we’ve seen, especially between Hong Kong and Burma or Myanmar, has been really important. In late February, as it became clear that there’ll be an escalation in violence, like everyone else, I was sharing these crowd-sourced images in Burmese that came from people in Hong Kong about things like how to build barricades, how to deal with tear gas, want to do with smoke bombs, how to treat gunshot wounds, when the shooting starts, what do you do? Do you run, do get low? And how long do you wait? What kind of formations make sense in street battles? That stuff is fantastic, it’s priceless almost. For that information sharing and collective knowledge production is totally important. I just wouldn’t want to lose sight of some of the different stakes in different places.

For me, at its best, these linkages are internationalist insofar as they maintain a distinction between the oppressor and oppressed people in nations, which is something that I think is lost in a lot of cosmopolitanism discourse where it’s like “Oh, these are all young people, Gen Z, millennial, hashtag activists who are just like young people elsewhere, and they are rising up against faceless authoritarians in Asia”. And this framing is a bit of a straw man, to be fair, but I think there is an element of this in terms of how Milktea stuff gets discussed. That I don’t think is particularly useful.

John: If I can spare you from your family for one more question. For the rebel groups that are currently attacking the state in solidarity / just because they were already doing that, but specifically, the KNU being the Karen National Union and the KIA, the Kachin Independence Army, and also maybe the frontliners. Is there a political ideology that any of these groups seem to have other than just nationalism or defending people in a democracy?

Geoff: That’s a tough question. To be entirely honest, it’s difficult for me to say too much on that, just because the history and politics of the different armed groups is such a huge area. It’s not really my area of expertise, but I mean it is fair to say that there’s quite a lot of variation, which might sound like a cop-out, but it’s true. Some of the armed groups historically have been more likely to embrace broadly left-leaning political visions and others have not. Others have been very sort of right-leaning, ethno-nationalist, anti-communist in many cases, and some linked very closely with the communist insurgency, for example. And the Thai-Burman border is also has had different shifting political winds over time with different armed groups, also shifting their alliances and their vision. It’s really difficult to say. One question would be if there is so much variation among them, is it possible to imagine a broad-based ethnic struggle in solidarity against the military? And that’s what people are hoping for. You would have an alliance formed between urban front liners, people from lowland towns, cities, villages, and armed groups in the borderlands who are very well-trained in guerrilla warfare. Well-trained enough to maintain these guerrilla struggles for generations upon generations, which is no minor task at all. Is it possible to imagine a sort of shared political project? It depends on who you ask. For me, and it might depend on people temperamental in style and meanings. I guess I worry that, in the past, even just in the past twenty years, which is not very long, there have been so many times when there have been attempted alliances formed between armed groups and it’s always been so difficult to form and maintain any sustainable ethnic alliance, and there are also good reasons for that because there is such variation among the armed groups that for some who might be, in some sense, more principled, how much sense does it really make to line up alongside others that are perhaps less principled? There’s been a lot of hope for that solidarity over decades, and it’s been unfortunate. It’s fallen away time and time again. I hope, like everyone else, that maybe that will change this time. We’ll just have to see, I guess.

John: For sure. For frontliners / workers… The unions seem like they at least come obviously out of a leftist tradition, based on their flags and slogans and Burma just happening in the past to be completely leftist, but is there some sign of leftist politics or right-wing politics, or is it exclusively to spread democracy, which I don’t understand?

Geoff: It depends, to be honest, even the largest union federations have been quite active within the democracy movement and also had of significant exiled presence as well, which is great, I think, also places them in a broad liberal political tradition and so even some of the smaller labor organizations, not the trade unions per se, but some of labor NGOs, activist groups that are working in industrial areas. Even these will be hosting human rights trainings, these kinds of activities. I don’t see a lot of explicit articulate in the direct sense of sort of leftist political thought.

But that’s the question: to what extent do we need to speak or articulate our leftist vision or to be leftist? When you see the general strike, maybe people aren’t passing out copies of, I don’t know, the Communist Manifesto or something, but this is a militant movement based on overthrowing, in part, certain economic relations in the country. And so there’s a lot of explicit political discourses is liberal, obviously, but there are economic demands that are in play as well. And in some ways, that doesn’t necessarily bother me, just because I think the question of leftist revolutionary movements in the past. I’m not nostalgic necessarily, I do think they’re good and important independent leftist political genealogies in Burma that are not simply a question of the authoritarian socialism that congealed in the state. Before Ne Win’s dictatorship, but even during in some ways, you had worker and peasant writers activists who were articulating a leftist project that had nothing to do with authoritarian power. In fact, quite the opposite. Maybe we could think, okay, are people appealing back to that right now? Not really, and maybe that’s unfortunate, in some sense, but if we acknowledge that political thinking depends on material circumstances in some way, the material conditions have changed.

There’s no reason to believe necessarily that in the current moment the explicit political discourse we hear would match what we heard decades ago. I don’t think it’s a problem really that there’s no overt leftist discourse or not that much anyway, there is some. I think that as material conditions shift, we see shifts in political visions, political strategies, and I think some of what we’ve seen with the massive general strike has been the most encouraging phenomenon that we’ve seen along those lines for quite some time. In terms of the formal demands we’ve seen, I do wish some of them might be a little bit more targeted in an anti-capitalist direction. People were discussing what would that mean to demand the nationalization, the breaking apart of some of the military conglomerates, which just have a massive choke-hold on not just the economy, but everyday life of a lot of ordinary people, just stealing from ordinary people in many ways. What would it mean to try to break those apart or what about something like land reform, something like at least repealing a couple of awful land laws passed in the so-called reform period around 2012. Maybe there could be demands to repeal those in a way that might do a bit to speak to real material circumstances. There hasn’t been a ton of that discussion yet, but I think would be a mistake to see that this resistance as not being a material political movement. It’s founded in a general strike, and that’s important to remember.

John: For sure. Thank you very much for speaking with us. I really appreciate it, and maybe I can trick you in the future and talk again about the history of Burma.

Geoff: Very cool, thanks for having me, I should say I am pretty far away, these are just things I’ve picked up on from here. But if for your listeners or anyone, obviously, I’m just always trying to pay attention to what people do at the barricades and otherwise in the country and we can also see what they’re up to and pay attention to what they’re saying. Thanks for giving me the chance to chat at least. I really enjoyed it.

John: I enjoyed it too. Thank you.

Aric McBay on “Full Spectrum Resistance”

Aric McBay on “Full Spectrum Resistance”

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This week we are re-airing a conversation that Bursts had last year with Aric McBay, who is an anarchist, organizer, farmer, and author about his most recent book called Full Spectrum Resistance published by Seven Stories Press in May 2019. This book is divided into 2 volumes, and from the books website [fullspectrumresistance.org]:

Volume 1: Building movements and fighting to win, explores how movements approach political struggle, recruit members, and structure themselves to get things done and be safe.

Volume 2: Actions and strategies for change, lays out how movements develop critical capacities (from intelligence to logistics), and how they plan and carry out successful actions and campaigns.”

This interview covers a lot of ground, with topics that could be of use to folks newer to movement and ones who have been struggling and building for a while. McBay also talks at length about the somewhat infamous formation Deep Green Resistance, some of its history, and tendencies within that group that led him to break with them.

Links to Indigenous and Migrant led projects for sovereignty and climate justice, and some for further research:

Links for more reading from Aric McBay:

Announcements

Xinachtli Parole Letters

Chicano anarchist communist prisoner, Xinachtli, fka Alvaro Luna Hernandez, has an upcoming parole bid and is hoping to receive letters of support. Xinacthli has been imprisoned since 1997 on a 50 year bid for the weaponless disarming a sheriff’s deputy who drew a pistol on him at his home. The last 19 years of his incarceration have been in solitary confinement. Details on writing him letters and where to send them can be found at his new support site, FreeAlvaro.Net, as well as his writings and more about him. He is also one of the main editors of the Certain Days political prisoner calendar, author and a renowned jailhouse lawyer. Parole support letters are requested no later than March 20th, 2021.

Mumia has Covid-19

It was announced last week that incarcerated educator, broadcaster, author, revolutionary and jailhouse lawyer Mumia Abu-Jamal has been experiencing congestive heart failure and tested positive for covid-19. There are actions scheduled in Philadelphia before the airing of this broadcast, but you can find more info and ways to plug in at FreeMumia.Com

Transcription, Zines, Support…

Thanks to the folks who’ve been supporting this project in various ways. You can pick up merch or make donation that support our transcription work with the info at TFSR.WTF/Support. Our transcripts are out a week or so after broadcast and we’re slowly starting to transcribe older episodes. Zines can be found at TFSR.WTF/Zines for easy printing and sharing. You can find our social media and ways to stream us at TFSR.WTF/links and learn how to get us broadcasting on more radio stations at TFSR.WTF/radio! Thanks!

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Transcription

TFSR: So I’m very proud to be speaking with farmer, organizer, artist and author Aric McBay. Thank you so much for taking the time to have this conversation. Would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself, what stuff you’re farming, for instance, where you are, and what sorts of organizing you’re involved in?

Aric McBay: Sure. And thank you so much for having me on your show. So I farm just east of Kingston, Ontario. We have a vegetable CSA farm Community Supported Agriculture. So we grow about 40 or 50 different varieties of vegetables, and we provide those to about 250 households in our area. We do kind of a sliding scale to make it more accessible to people. And we normally host a lot of different educational events and workshops. But of course most of those are on pause right now.

In terms of community and activism or community engagement, I have worked on many different causes over the years. I’ve worked with militant conservation organizations like Sea Shepherd or doing tree sits. I’ve been a labor organizer, I’ve been a farm organizer. I’ve helped start community gardens. A lot of the work that I do right now is about climate justice and about other issues that are topical, at different times in my area, especially prisons, and housing right now. Prisons are quite a big issue that the nearest city Kingston has the largest number of prisons per capita of any city in Canada. So prisoners issues continue to be very important and I think that the situation with COVID has only kind of highlighted the ways in which prisoners are treated unfairly, and in which the prison system actually makes us less safe, makes our society more dangerous rather than less so.

TFSR: Well, you did an interview with From Embers at one point, which are friends of ours and members of the Channel Zero Network. They also had a show recently, or I guess a couple of months ago, about the pandemic and the history of pandemics in the Canadian prison system. And it’s like, yeah, it’s pretty sickening. And you’re on occupied Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee land, right?

AM: That’s correct. Yes.

TFSR: And this is Tsalagi and Creek land where I’m calling you from. So you’ve been thinking and working around big picture ecological survival, and as you said, ecological justice for quite a while. For someone picking this up on the radio and maybe not keen on environmental concerns, can you give a kind of a quick snapshot of where the civilization is in terms of destroying the Earth’s capacity to carry complex life?

AM: Sure, and it’s so easy to forget about or to push aside because the other emergencies in our daily life just keep kind of stacking up. So right now, we are in the middle of really a mass extinction on on this planet. And industrial activity, industrial extraction has destroyed something like 95% of the big fish in the ocean, has fragmented huge amounts of tropical forest and deforested many tropical areas, including much of the Amazon at this point. But it’s really climate change that’s kind of that global, critical problem. The temperature has already gone up nearly one degree from their kind of pre-industrial norm, but the emissions that human industry have put into the atmosphere of the greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane, are already enough to set us on a path of significantly greater warming. That’s even if we stopped, you know, driving cars, or burning coal today.

And so that produces a bunch of different challenges. Of course, we’re going to see already more and more hot weather heat waves, like we’ve certainly been seeing this summer, more extreme storms happening more frequently. But in the long term, the outlook is potentially very grim. Depending on the emissions that are produced around the globe, we could be looking at not just one or two degrees of warming, but potentially five or six degrees of warming by the end of the century. And that produces a very different world from the one that we live in. Even two degrees of warming would be enough to essentially wipe out all of the coral reefs on the planet, to wipe out entire biomes.

We’re at the point where even relatively conservative international organizations understand that climate change could displace hundreds of millions of people, could create hundreds of millions of climate refugees around the world. And there’s never been any displacement like that. You know, when you talk about making a place where where potentially billions of people live, much harder to live in, and much harder to grow food. And, you know, we’ve seen things like the so called Arab Spring, for example, and the situation in Syria where those areas of unrest or those uprisings were triggered, in part by prolonged droughts and agricultural failures. And we have seen the streams of refugees coming from those places, especially in the United States, has really increased the amount of xenophobia and racism I think that a lot of people on the right feel comfortable demonstrating.

So the ecological crisis is not just about fish and trees, it’s really about the kind of society that we’re going to have in the future. For human beings, are we going to have a society where fascism is considered kind of a necessary response to streams of refugees moving from equatorial areas, as of local economies collapse? Are we going to see an even greater resurgence of racism in order to justify that? Are we going to see much more draconian police response to deal with the unrest and uprisings that could happen? So our future, our future in terms of justice and human rights really depends on us dealing effectively with climate change in the short term, because climate change is not something that we can kind of ignore and come back to and 20 or 30 or 40 years. There’s a real lag effect, that the emissions now those are going to cause warming for decades or even centuries. And the response is really nonlinear. So what I mean by that is, if you double the amount of greenhouse gases that you’re putting out, that doesn’t necessarily double the temperature impact. There are many tipping points. So as the Arctic ice melts in the Arctic Ocean, and that white snow turns to a darker sea, then that is going to absorb more sunlight, more solar energy and accelerate warming. It’s the same thing in the Amazon rainforests, the Amazon rainforest creates its own climate, creates its own rainfall and clouds. So you can easily hit a point where the entire forest is suddenly put into drought and starts to collapse.

We really need to prevent those tipping points from happening and to act as quickly as possible to prevent catastrophic climate change, because it’s going to be almost impossible to deal with, in a fair way once that happens. And that’s really the idea of climate justice, right? That the impacts of global warming are disproportionately put on people of color, on low income people, on poorer countries. And so if we want to have a fairer future, then that means those of us who are living in more affluent economies have a responsibility to reduce those emissions. Those of us who have more affluent lifestyles, their main responsibility to deal with that, to produce a future as well, that is fair and just and where human rights are still important.

TFSR: And like to, I think, reiterate a point in there, it seems like fairness and justice are good rulers to kind of hold ourselves to, but it seems like it’s for the survival of the species, as well as for the betterment and an improvement of all of our lives with these eminent and emergent threats. Resolving this and working towards working together with everyone is the best option.

AM: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s true. And I think one of the reasons that I’m interested in organizing around climate justice is because it’s one of the ultimate areas of common ground, right? It kind of connects people who are in many different places and working on many different struggles. Because activists who I work with, who are mostly anti-racist activists, understand why this is important. I mean, we’re already seeing that impact around the world. And activists who work on food security and hunger, I mean, it’s totally clear why climate change is important, because our ability to grow food in the future depends on avoiding catastrophic climate change. When I’m working with anti-authoritarians, it’s the same thing. So I really do see climate justice as an important movement building issue, something that can connect a lot of causes that might seem more disparate from from kind of a distance.

TFSR: I think your work does a really good job of pulling together, the fabric, sort of like weaving together these pieces and patchwork to say that these are all interrelated. And for us to ignore one of these elements means that we create a much weaker fabric, if even something that’ll hold together at all. Your most recent and huge two part book was entitled Full Spectrum Resistance, and the first subtitle was Building Movements and Fighting to Win, and the second was Action and Strategies for Change. Can you share what you mean by “full spectrum resistance”, and what you hope these books will bring to the table for folks organizing to not only stop the destruction of complex life on Earth, but to increase the quality of our survival and our living together?

AM: Of course. So I wrote this book because I’ve been an activist for more than 20 years, and almost all of the campaigns that I worked on, we were losing ground, right? I mean, that was the case for many environmental struggles, but also in struggles around the gap between the rich and poor, around many other things. But I saw in history and around the world, many examples of movements that had been incredibly successful. And the fact that a lot of the rights that people take for granted today – a lot of our human rights – come from movements that learned really valuable lessons about how to be effective. Movements that didn’t know necessarily know at the beginning, what would create kind of a winning outcome. And so full spectrum resistance is an idea that I think encapsulates some of the key characteristics that successful movements need to have, especially when they want to move beyond maybe a single issue or a local concern.

So one of those components of full spectrum resistance is a diversity of tactics. I think that’s really critical. I think one of the reasons that the left hasn’t been as successful in recent years, is that it’s really been whittled down to a couple of main tactics, it’s been whittled down to voting, and to voting with your dollar, right? To kind of ethical consumerism. And those are very limited tools. And they’re tools that leave out the vast majority of tactics that movements have used in the past, right? Successful movements like the Civil Rights Movement, or the suffragists or their movement against apartheid in South Africa. They used a huge range of tactics. I mean, they certainly use things like petitions and awareness raising tool at different times. But they also use tactics that allowed them to generate political force and disruption. So a lot of people don’t realize that, you know, to win the right to vote suffragist movements use property destruction and arson quite frequently. When people are talking about Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement, people often use Nelson Mandela, ironically, as a reason why we shouldn’t be disruptive. They think of him as this really peaceful guy because he spent close to 30 years in prison. But Nelson Mandela helped to create the underground armed wing of the African National Congress. That was a struggle that used armed self defense and sabotage extensively in South Africa. And allies used all kinds of economic disruption, especially divestment around the world to try to pressure the South African government. And we can take a look in more detail at some of these case studies if you want. But I think a diversity of tactics is really critical in building movements that win. Because if we stick to only one tactic, then that really limits our ability to escalate, and that limits our ability to adapt. It’s easy for those in power to understand how to undermine one tactic, if it’s the only one that we use.

I think another aspect of full spectrum resistance is cooperation among different kind of…constituencies, you might call them. So those in power can stay in power through divide and conquer, right? That’s one of their primary tools is to split resistance movements or social movements into different manageable chunks, like “militants” and “moderates”. So they can split the people who are willing to go out into the street and protest with kind of maybe a broader, more moderate group of people who support them. And they can just go ahead and arrest you know, a small group of militants in the street, if they’re able to separate those people.

Let me, actually let me give you an example of how a diversity of tactics and this cooperation can work. One of the movements that I talk about, or one of the campaigns that I talk about in the book, is an anti-apartheid group that organized in New York City at Columbia University in the 1980’s. And they were an organization that was trying to get Columbia University to stop investing in companies that did business in South Africa, right? South Africa was kind of a resource empire at the time, there were huge mineral resources that were being extracted, and people were making a lot of money. But because of the racism, because of the authoritarianism of that apartheid system, people around the world were really struggling to generate political force to put the pressure on to end the system of apartheid.

And so Columbia University, like many universities had big endowments, big investments. And there is this group is called the committee for a free South Africa at Columbia University. And they started with kind of classic strategy of awareness raising, so they held discussion groups and teachings about apartheid. They had, you know, petitions to try to convince the government of Columbia University to divest from South Africa. And they really did everything that you were supposed to do, right? They did all of the things that we’re kind of told, told that we are supposed to do in order to succeed. They built that public awareness and understanding, and they hit a wall. They got to the point where the administration and faculty and student representatives in the student government all voted for divestment by the top level of government, their board of trustees overruled them. And I think that point that they reached is a point that a lot of our struggles eventually meet, right? Where we’ve done the things that we’re supposed to do, but still those in power refused to do what is right. And it was a real turning point for those anti-apartheid organizers. And their attendance at events started to decrease after that, because well people thought “hey, this struggle is over, the Board of Trustees isn’t going to diverse, so what can you do, we just lost this one.” But those organizers, they weren’t willing to just give up, they realized they needed to escalate to win.

They decided to plan a series of disruptive simultaneous actions, they started a hunger strike. And they took over a building, they blockaded a building on campus and said “we’re not going to go anywhere until Columbia University divest.” And this was a big risk for them, right? Because they’d seen this declining participation. But it actually worked. They started with a handful of people at this blockade. And more and more people started coming. There’s this fascinating statistic about this campaign. Before the blockade, only 9% of the student body considered themselves at least somewhat active in that campaign for divestment. So only 9% had shown up to a rally or you know, signed a petition. But in the weeks to come, 37% of the entire student body participated in that blockade, by joining rallies or by sleeping overnight on the steps.

So, you know, that kind of divestment campaign, I think is very important. Now, in part because that campaign worked, Columbia University eventually did give in and did agree to divest. And that shows to us, you know, the value of a diversity of tactics, the value of disruption, the value of cooperation between people who are using different kinds of tactics. I think that really is something that we can learn and apply very effectively. And then the current day, another key part of full spectrum resistance is that solidarity between movements, to avoid the divide and conquer tactics that those in power try to use. And the fourth thing is really an intersectional approach is to try to synthesize the different ideas and the different philosophies that motivate different campaigns and that motivate different movements. Because we’re in a time when I don’t think single issue campaigns can succeed anymore, certainly in the context of climate change, but also in the context of rising authoritarianism. We need to look at how we can build that shared analysis, build genuine intersectionality in order to create movements that are truly powerful and effective.

TFSR: So with the Columbia example, it’s really interesting to point to that, I hadn’t heard of that before, and that seems like there’s a lot of lessons to be gathered from that. With what we’re talking about with the scope of climate change, like the larger scope of climate change, obviously, is you can break it down into smaller and smaller points of this extraction thing happens in this place, those materials are transported here, they’re processed here, they’re consumed or subsidized by these populations are these organizations. So I guess, like the level of amplification of resistance that you’re willing to apply to a situation should scale according to what you’re trying to succeed at doing.

With this wider scope of resistance to something that you could look at as a whole as the way that governments backup energy infrastructure, and monocrop industrial agriculture, the scale of this…I get kind of lost between that point of pressuring the people at the top of the university to divest once all the other steps have been denied, like the scaling between that and looking at, say, for instance, the US government and pressuring them…I kind of just get lost in the clouds at that point. I’m like, well, the US government is going to want to continue business as usual as much as it can, in part because of its investors, much like Colombia, but also because it’s sustaining a more “holistic” system. How does the anecdote of Colombia and the resistance there fit into a wider scope of looking at governments and the ecological destruction that they’re involved with?

AM: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I think one of the biggest challenges of the climate justice movement is the way that climate change and fossil fuel emissions, it all just feel so overwhelming and so diffuse, it’s hard to figure out, where should we actually focus our energy. But I think that many, or most movements in history, at some point, faced a similar problem, right? I mean, the anti-apartheid movement that Colombia was was a part of and were supporting. That was a movement that lasted for generations, the African National Congress was founded in 1912. And certainly at different points it was very unclear what people should do, you know, what was actually going to work against such a violently repressive regime. And so for me, I think there are a bunch of things that we can and should do to help address problems that seem really overwhelming or diffuse. And one of them, of course, is just to keep building our movements and to keep building our capacity and our connections. Because as long as we feel like we’re kind of isolated individuals or isolated pockets of resistance, it’s hard for us to see how we can tackle bigger problems. And that isolation is not an accident. Any authoritarian power especially wants to keep people divided and distrustful. So it’s important that we build cultures of resistance, that we build real connections with each other, and that we celebrate movements in the past that have won, so that we can kind of build up our capacity.

And I think it’s also important to look for areas where we can have early wins or kind of low hanging fruit. Areas where the problem is not as diffuse, but where the problem is more, is much more concrete or much more tangible. And so a great example of both of those things that work would be some of the mobilization against fossil fuel that has happened in so-called Canada in this year, and in recent years. So I don’t know if all of your listeners have been following this, but in February and March of this year of 2020, we saw some of the biggest Indigenous solidarity mobilizations in Canadian history. And those were kind of provoked by a particular flashpoint on the west coast. So there’s a settlement called Unist’ot’en which is on a pipeline route, there’s a site where the Canadian government and a variety of oil companies have been trying to build a series of pipelines to the west coast so that oil and fracked natural gas can be exported. And the Indigenous people who live there, the Wet’suwet’en, the traditional hereditary leaders have been very committed for many years to stop that from happening, and have essentially built this community on the pipeline route to assert their traditional rights and to assert their Indigenous sovereignty.

And in February at the beginning of February 2020, the government sent in really large armed force of RCMP officers and other officers, to try to kind of smash through different checkpoints that Indigenous communities had set up on the route leading to this site on the road, and also to destroy the gate that was keeping oil workers from going in and working on the construction of this pipeline. And the community there had been really good at building a culture of resistance over years, not just amongst Indigenous people, but among settler allies across the country. And so when that raid began, there was a really powerful response from many different communities. So a Mohawk community located just west of me, Tyendinaga, they decided to blockade the major east-west rail line that runs through Ontario, and that is kind of a bottleneck for the entire country. And other Indigenous communities started to do this as well, to set up rail blockades. And essentially, the entire rail network of Canada was shut down for weeks. You know, there were massive transportation backlogs.

And there were other disruptive actions as well, things like blockades of bridges – including international bridges – blockades and slowdowns of highways. And there was all of this mobilization that a year or two ago seemed inconceivable, it seemed impossible that any kind of disruption would be able to happen on that scale because nothing like that had happened before. And it was a really powerful movement that did cause the government to back off and cause the police to back off and start these new negotiations. And you know the COVID pandemic was declared at the same time as a lot of this organizing was still happening, so it’s kind of unclear what might have happened if that action had continued without a pandemic. But the rallying cry for a lot of organizers at that point was “shut down Canada”, which the pandemic did on a much larger kind of unanticipated scale.

But I think that example of the Wet’suwet’en solidarity and the disruption around it really points the way to potential successes and potentially more effective styles of organizing for the climate justice movement. And I think they have done a lot of things, right. They built that culture of resistance. So they didn’t just wait around for kind of a spontaneous uprising to happen, which I think almost never happens. They had built these connections over many years and build capacity and people had trained each other and trained themselves. And they had a particular location that they were trying to protect, right? So it wasn’t just “let’s go out and protect the entire world and protect all people.” You know, it’s hard to mobilize movements around something that’s so vague, but there is a particular community of a particular group of Indigenous people on a particular spot. And I think it’s much easier to mobilize folks around tangible sites of conflict like that.

The last thing that they did that was really effective, and that I think we can learn from, is that they turned the weakness of having the fight against this diffuse industrial infrastructure into a strength. So instead of just saying, “Oh, well, there’s so many pipelines, there’s so many rail lines, there’s so many highways, nothing we can do is going to make any difference.” The movement kind of said “Hey, there are all of these pipelines and rail lines and highways that are basically undefended, and that we can go and disrupt – even if it’s only for a day or two – and then move to another site. This actually gives us the potential to be incredibly effective, and to cost oil companies a lot of money and to cost the Canadian economy a lot of money.” Because that’s often what it boils down to right is “can we cost a corporation or a government more than they’re getting from doing this bad thing?” And I think that the Wet’suwet’en struggle has been an example and a demonstration of how to do that.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that points to a really cogent point in terms of how to think about this sort of resistance. There were, what, 200 years for the Canadian government to think about its relationship to Indigenous communities and the sovereignty of like…them just pushing through sovereign territories to get what they want to extract, to run railways, to put pipelines in or whatever. And so appealing to the logic or the “reasonability”, or the sense of justice of the people that were representing the bodies that were sitting in the chairs in the suits in government – who were enacting the logic of capitalist settler colonial government – was not working.

But what did work was showing that if you do not see this point, we will shut down your ability to do this, or we will escalate to the point that you will have to like, step up further, and push back. And I think it’s a point that often gets lost. And I think, consciously, it’s been inculcated out of us, I guess, that’s a way to say it? Like, in the United States at least, we’re educated that the example of the suffragettes, the example of Gandhi, the example of the resistance to apartheid in South Africa, all of these examples, the winning view that’s given by the power structures when they educate us is that reasonability won out because of the justice of the cause. And because people went out and put their bodies on the line, but also like their petitions were eventually heard, their voting actually was the effective measure that changed the balance of power and that forced those in power to recognize the justice of the demands. And I think that’s like pandemic offers an interesting insight into, again, how that’s BS, like marches don’t stop people in power from making decisions. The threat that marches bring with the amassing of angry people who can do damage, or who can disrupt things, is what actually makes people in power look at marches and why that specific way of engaging is considered dangerous to those in power and why they want to stop that sort of thing.

I think that there’s a parallel to be drawn between that great example with the Wet’suwet’en folks and the resistance that was given to the attack on Unist’ot’en and Gitdimt’en gate, alongside of what we’ve seen, during this pandemic, in a lot of countries, and particularly the United States – where I’ve heard this morning on the radio, which, hopefully, hopefully, it’ll be wrong by the time this gets broadcast – but the US where I’m based, has a quarter of the deaths from COVID-19, around the world, and yet we are something like 5% of the world population. Those are similar numbers to how many people are incarcerated in this country versus the rest of the world. And people in power, at this point are not representing that they have the ability, the capacity, the interest, the will to actually stop this pandemic from spreading, and killing off the people that are most marginalized – starting off with the people that are most marginalized – in our society.

And so it seems like appealing to that same wing of power, the ones that profit off of ecological destruction when it comes to scaling back ecological destruction, and trying to reverse that trend, doesn’t seem that reasonable. But the sort of like direct action instances that you’re talking about, in coordination with other methods of dialogue and culture building, feels really important and exciting to me. I don’t know if you think that seeing the reaction of governments during pandemic is comparable to the vast amount of knowledge of ecological destruction, is an apt comparison or not?

AM: Yeah, I think you make very important points. And I think that, especially under capitalism, one of our continuing challenges with those in power is that they always consider profit more important than life, right? They always consider profit more important than human safety and human wellbeing. And that applies whether we’re talking about incarceration or COVID, or climate change, or police departments. And because of that, those in power are almost never convinced or persuaded by arguments to do the right thing. And that’s the case in the examples that you’ve mentioned, as well. If we look at those historical movements, we have been given a really sanitized kind of false narrative about how things like the Civil Rights Movement worked, or the suffragettes – or the suffragists, rather – we’re told, hey, that, you know, the Civil Rights Movement, just finally convinced people because people like Martin Luther King were willing to risk getting beaten up. And that’s what changed things. But that is not primarily what changed the people who are in positions of power, right? I’m sure there were a lot of people on the sidelines, especially in the north, who saw Black people and white people being beaten up by police on the Freedom Rides, for example, and that changed their opinion about things, or that helped mobilize them to do something about racism. But the racism, especially in the Southern states, and segregation, that didn’t end because of the Civil Rights Movement, giving a good example, that was dismantled, essentially, because of different kinds of force, political force, and sometimes physical force.

So in the Civil Rights Movement, we can look at the example of the Freedom Rides, when groups of white and Black organizers rode buses through the South where they were supposed to be segregated. And those buses were attacked by police and vigilantes, violently attacked, people ended up in hospital, buses were set on fire. And that didn’t actually end until essentially the federal government intervened, the federal government sent in troops to escort those Freedom Riders around the South to kind of complete their journey. And I think that’s something that people forget often, that racist violence didn’t just end because of a good example. It ended because there was some other form of force being employed. And I think people also forget that a lot of the non-violent demonstrations, the Civil Rights Demonstrations in the south, were protected by armed groups like the Deacons for Defense. The Deacons for Defense were an armed group before the Black Panthers, that was in many cases made up of military veterans, Black military veterans, who decided that they were tired of seeing civil rights marches getting attacked by the KKK or their police, and said we’re going to use our right to bear arms, and we’re going to go down there and defend people. And so a lot of the nonviolent actions that happened, were protected by armed Civil Rights activists.

So these sorts of things get written out of the history, especially by the in power, because those in power want to seem like the good guys, right? They want to seem like, “Hey, we are the ones who are going to come down and give you the rights, if you can provide us a good example, we’re just going to gift you these rights, these human rights” and that’s almost never have things will wind they will one because people were willing to struggle and people who are willing to disrupt.

I think that ignorance of social movement struggle is a form of white privilege. I have seen this at many different workshops, and many different talks that I’ve given, that often at the start of a workshop, I’ll ask people when they’re introducing themselves to name movement that inspires you, or name a campaign that inspires you. And oftentimes, the people who are coming to that workshop who are white organizers, who are newer organizers, they don’t have such a large repertoire to draw on, right, they’re much more likely to name a movement that happened locally or a movement that’s been in the news. Whereas a lot of the organizers who are people of color or from other marginalized communities, they can list off a ton of movements that inspire them that they’re learning from. And that’s important because marginalized communities understand better how to deal with those in power, how to get rights and how to protect your rights. And that’s often through social movements and through struggle, whereas people who are used to those in power looking out for their interests, especially, you know, middle class white men, they can afford to ignore social movement history, because they haven’t really needed social movements in the same way, or they don’t appreciate them.

And so when we have situations like we have now with growing authoritarianism, much more obvious racism, the climate emergency, people who are in positions of privilege, they find themselves at a loss, because they don’t know that movement history, so they don’t know how to respond. And it’s often movements of color movements of marginalized people, those are the movements that are going to teach us how to deal with these deep systems of injustice, these deep systems of inequality.

TFSR: So I guess, shifting gears back to like questions of wider approaches towards resisting ecological change, over the last couple of years there have been a few groups that have garnered a lot of headlines, and gained some sort of recognition and interplay with mainstream media, with governments around the world. I’m wondering what your full spectrum approach towards resistance sort of use the efficacy, or the impact of groups. I’m thinking of 350.org, Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, do those feel like single issue approaches towards ecological struggle? Because I know that there was some critiques definitely in the UK about extinction rebellion, specifically, the leadership weeding out people who are wanting to bring up questions around not only ecological devastation, but also around racism and around the existence of industrial capitalism, and its impact on that.

AM: Yeah. And I think that’s a big problem. I think that you can’t really address climate change without talking about capitalism, you can’t address climate change without talking about racism. And I think that, in general, the big liberal movements against climate change, or the big liberal organizations have failed. Partly for that reason, probably, because they’re not, they’re not looking at the root problems. They’re not radical organizations, right, they’re not going to the root of the issue. And so they’re not going to be able to use the tactics that will resolve it.

I think at this point, companies like Shell Oil, and you know, a variety of petroleum companies were very aware of climate change, going back to the 1960s. I mean, they had more extensive research at that point into climate change than the general public. And when I’ve done research into organizations that have fought against offshore drilling, for example, you can see that even in the 1980’s, oil companies like Shell are already building their oil rigs with taller legs in order to compensate for the sea level rise they expect to see. So the issue is not that those in power are totally ignorant of climate change, it’s that they’re making a lot of money from climate change and they think with all of the money they are making, that they can deal with the consequences for themselves personally, although not for everyone else.

And so that’s a huge problem and in some ways it’s slightly different from COVID. You know, in Canada, I think one of the reasons that we’ve seen a much stronger national response is because very early on the prime minister’s wife tested positive for COVID. And so clearly the impacts of the Coronavirus have been disproportionately bad for communities of color and for low income communities, but there still is much more potential for affluent people to get it. Whereas something like climate change, I think those in power have felt very isolated from especially in more northern countries. So that’s a huge problem. And that’s one of the reasons that just appealing to the good sensibilities of those in power is not going to succeed.

Maybe I’ll speak mostly about Extinction Rebellion, because when I was doing my book tour last here, and traveled from coast to coast in Canada, I ended up doing workshops about direct action and movement strategy for a lot of different Extinction Rebellion groups here. And I think, you know, from what I’ve seen, the people who have participated in those events have been very committed and strongly motivated, they understand that it really is an emergency, but they don’t always have a lot of history in kind of activism, or they don’t have as much movement experience as some of the other groups that I’ve worked with. Which can be good and bad, right? I mean, I think, you know, a lot of the liberal left, the reason that groups keep failing to address the climate crisis is because there’s kind of a standard issue dogma about how we need to convince governments to change and ask politely, and so on. And that’s really a dead end. So I think for people new to a movement or getting newly active, they are potentially more open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.

But I think that the Extinction Rebellion kind of movement in general, in Canada, and definitely in the UK, has not done a very good job of, of including the needs of Indigenous communities, and has not done a good job of including the needs of communities of color. And in particular, I think we see that in the relationship between Extinction Rebellion, and the police. This was a discussion that came up in almost every XR group that I have spoken with, that that kind of official line from XR in the UK is that you’re supposed to have a good relationship with the police, you’re supposed to go to the police in advance of an action and let them know what’s going to happen. And, you know, as a direct action organizer myself, and on many different issues, that sounds absolutely ridiculous, for a lot of reasons. One of which is that you lose the element of surprise, which is one of the key strategic advantages that smaller resistance movements need to have. But also, because if you go and try to cozy up to the police, or try to expect them to give you a good treatment because you’re bringing them a cake or something, I mean, that is really kind of a white focused thing to do, right? And that ignores the long standing grievances of Black and Indigenous communities in particular, because of the violent treatment that they’ve experienced at the hands of police. And of course, that has become even more obvious in recent months, and you know, the amount of attention and mobilization is long overdue. I think that’s been a real weakness of Extinction Rebellion, and I think it’s going to need to address that, and other climate justice movements will need to address that in order to succeed.

I think another challenge to Extinction Rebellion has been that they still are kind of assuming that if they make a strong enough argument that those in power will change their behavior. Because one of their big demands has been for those in power to tell the truth. And from my perspective, as an organizer, that almost never happens, right? Well, those in power rarely tell the truth and you don’t want to give them the opportunity to dominate the messaging. Those in power, whether it’s the corporate PR officers or government PR, I mean, they almost always dominate public discourse. And so if we have an opportunity to put in our own message, we should be doing that not kind of punting it back to those in power so they can either repeat the same business as usual line, or try to co-opt or undercut what we’re saying. I think there’s a huge strategic mistake. And what it means is that even if you’re blocking bridges, you can be doing that essentially as a form of militant lobbying, because you’re putting the potential for change in the hands of other people. And I think that movements that have succeeded in overturning deeply unjust systems In the past, they have been able to build up communities of resistance, they’ve been able to build up movements that can direct the changes that need to happen, and movements that are led by the people who are affected. In climate justice, that means, you know, we really need to highlight the voices of Indigenous communities, we need to highlight the voices of communities of color in the global South. And if we don’t do that, not only is it morally wrong and a moral failing, it’s going to be a strategic failing as well, because we’re not going to have the experience and the perspective we need at the table to create movements that will win and to create strategies that will win. It’s a real dead end.

So, you know, from my perspective, the most exciting movements that I see around climate justice are being led by communities of color, are being led by Indigenous communities, and that are incorporating people from a lot of different backgrounds. But keeping in mind that it’s not an option to fail here, it’s not an option to say, “Oh, the government should reduce emissions. And if they don’t, I guess, oh, well, we’ll go back to what we’re doing”, we actually really have to commit ourselves to to winning this struggle. And I think a lot of affluent white communities, because they’re insulated from the effects of climate change, at least so far, they don’t have that same motivation. They don’t have that same drive to win, they don’t have that same genuine sense, I think maybe of desperation even. So for them, the risk of getting arrested a few times maybe feels like a bigger risk than the risk of the entire planet being destroyed. I think the calculus of risk for Indigenous communities is often different, which is why we see them taking so much leadership like in the case of the Wet’suwet’en.

TFSR: So there’s the example of the Wet’suwet’en in terms of not only a sovereignty issue, but also the ecological impacts and the solidarity that they’re offering to the world by trying to blockade the extraction and eventual burning into the atmosphere of, I believe the tar sands, right, from Alberta. And then skipping to a not specifically ecological movement, the Black leadership and leadership of color in the Movement for Black Lives and the movement against white supremacist violence and police violence that sparked off with George Floyd’s assassination, but also has spread around the world because anti-blackness is so endemic in Western civilization. I’m wondering if there’s any other examples of current movements, particularly around ecological justice, that you feel inspired by that are led by communities of color and frontline communities?

AM: Hmm, that is a great question. I think that we have seen, you know, in Canada in particular, but all over we have seen many different movements that are Indigenous lead, I think that’s often the movements that I end up working with or supporting. The Dakota Access Pipeline is another example of a movement that has been Indigenous lead and has been very successful. I think, around the world, I see a lot of hope in organizations like La Via Campesina – the international povement of peasants and small farmers – which is a very radical movement that looks to overturn not just fossil fuel emissions, but also capitalism in general, that looks to create fundamentally different relationships between people and the planet, and to create community relationships. I think that sort of thing is really exciting. And I think when you look at food and farm based movements, there’s a lot of mobilization potential there, because food, like climate, is one of those commonalities between people that’s common ground. Everyone has to eat every day. And so I’m very excited about the tangibility that movements around food like La Via Campesina have the potential to lead to. I think there are a lot of migrant worker and migrant justice movements as well that really understand the connection between climate and justice in a way that a lot of liberal movements don’t.

I also think that a lot of the really effective movements and groups that are led by people of color, they’re often more local, kind of environmental justice movements, they are not necessarily as big or as well known. And they sometimes don’t want to be, right? I mean, they’re not trying to kind of mimic the corporate structure. They’re not trying to become a gigantic NGO. And I would encourage people to look for those movements that are close to you, to look for those movements that are led by communities of color and that are led by Indigenous people, and to try to connect with them and to support them. If that’s not the work that you’re doing already, how does that work connect? And how can these movements help to support each other, and to develop a shared understanding, and a shared analysis of what’s needed for action.

TFSR: Cool, thank you for responding to that one. One thing I thought of was the Coalition for Immokalee Workers – which is an immigrant led struggle based out of Florida – they do a lot of media work, but they also are addressing like the real impacts of the epidemic on undocumented populations and farm worker populations in so called USA.

So people who are also familiar with your work are going to be familiar with the fact that you co-authored a book called Deep Green Resistance, alongside Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen some years back. And DGR, besides being a book, is also an organization or a movement, a call out for a movement. And I know one notable thing that was mentioned around Extinction Rebellion was the idea of putting your name out publicly and saying “I’m going to be participating in this direct action”. And that was the thing that I recalled anarchist being critical of DGR, and ecological resistors, where people were asked to sign up publicly and make a pledge to participate in this movement. But I know that you’ve left DGR, you have made public statements about why you have left Deep Green Resistance, but I would wonder if you could reiterate those right here and talk about the group and like why you came to leave it?

AM: Sure. So when writing Deep Green Resistance, what I really wanted to do was help people to understand the climate emergency and to understand better some of the tactics that would be required to deal with it. I do think now versus 10 years ago there’s a much greater understanding that we are in a climate emergency, and that more effective action is called for. It wasn’t my intent for there to be a group or an organization by that name. I kind of figured well, other people who are doing work already and other organizations will hopefully incorporate this analysis, or it will help to mobilize new people as well. And when some of the people who had read the book said, “Oh, we should make an organization about this”. I said, “Well, okay, great”. And it was really a fairly short period that I was participating in that, in kind of the first few months, because unfortunately, what happened when groups started to organize and people started wanting to get together for kind of trainings and conferences, my co authors became very transphobic. There were, you know, people who are asking, very reasonably, “oh, can I use the correct bathroom when I come to this event?” And they would say no. And, you know, it reminds me a lot of what’s been happening with JK Rowling recently. Instead of kind of responding to this critique, or instead of responding to people’s concerns about this, they really doubled down in a way that made it impossible for me to keep working with them, or to keep working with that organization.

I’m someone who is fully in support of trans rights and trans inclusion. And I think that their anti-trans attitudes were really detestable and really destructive. In part, because, you know, a lot of experienced organizers who had been getting connected to the organization left after that, totally understandably. So, it was really disappointing and heartbreaking. And I think that the choice that they made, basically destroyed the potential of that organization to be effective, to be kind of a viable movement organization, because it was such a toxic attitude. And I believe that, in general, it’s good to give people a chance to change their opinions or to learn from their mistakes, because there’s no perfect organization, there’s no perfect movement, right? There has to be potential for growth and for improvement, there has to be potential for everyone to kind of take feedback and learn. But at the same time, if it’s clear that someone is not going to do that, then I’m not going to keep working with them, because it’s not a good use of my energies, and it’s not an I don’t want to be connected with an organization that’s going to be transphobic, or that’s going to endorse any other kind of oppression.

It was a very disappointing experience in a lot of ways, but I think there’s still a lot of valuable content in that book in the book, Deep Green Resistance. I think it still had an an impact and beneficial ways in that it helped to in some communities or in some sub cultures, to accelerate and understanding of the climate emergency. It’s just disappointing that that was the outcome. I think that hopefully it will be a lesson for other activists in the future and for other organizations, to really, from the very beginning of your organization, to set out so much clearer ground rules and clearer points of unity about anti-oppression that everyone will agree on. I think a lot of movements or organizations can emerge out of kind of an ad hoc approach, can kind of coalesce together. And I think it’s really important to pause and make sure that you’re on the same page about everything, before putting in too much effort before putting in too much commitment.

TFSR: So besides the transphobia, another critique that’s come to the DGR approach that that was sort of laid down in the book, was valorization. Maybe not in all instances, but in some instances of like a vanguard, or like a military command structure. Which, in a military scenario and like combat zones, I’ve heard it like I’ve heard anarchist talk about like, yes, it makes sense to have a clear lines of communication, someone who’s maybe elected into that position for a short period of time, and who is recallable, be a person that will make decisions on behalf of whatever like a group is in an activity. Is that an effective approach towards organizing ecological resistance? On what scale is that an effective or appropriate model for decision making? And is there a conflict between concepts of leadership versus vanguard command structure?

AM: Sure, I don’t think that we should be having military style command structures. Part of the critique that I was trying to create speaking for myself, was that consensus is not always the ideal decision making structure for every single situation. And I think, especially in the early 2000s, in a lot of anarchist communities, there was this idea that consensus is the only approach and if you don’t believe in always using consensus, then you’re kind of an authoritarian. And I think that’s really an oversimplification. I think consensus is very good for a lot of situations, right? It’s good for situations where you have a lot of time, it’s good for situations where people have a similar level of investment in the outcome of a decision or where people have a similar level of experience, perhaps.

But consensus has some flaws, as well. And I think one of them is that, you know, if you have a group of, say, mostly white people and a handful of people of color, who are trying to make a consensus-based decision about something that has to do with racism, then you’re not necessarily going to get the outcome that you want, because that is a system that can downplay inequalities in experience that are real, right? Some people have more experience of racism or, or systems of oppression and consensus doesn’t always incorporate that.

So we were talking a lot about the Wet’suwet’en example earlier, the Wet’suwet’en struggle. And when settler allies have gone to Wet’suwet’en territory to help, they actually have to basically sign off and say, “Yeah, I’m fine to accept Indigenous leadership for the duration of my time there. And if I don’t want to accept it any more than I can leave.” And I think there’s a place for a lot of different kinds of decision making structures. So for me, it’s like tactics, right? I mean, there are some tactics that are really good in some situations, and really not very helpful and others. And I feel like with decision making, it’s the same way. For myself, I prefer to work in consensus situations most of the time, because that’s a way of making sure that you’re incorporating a lot of different perspectives. But I think when you do have a very tight timeline, you know, it makes sense, as you mentioned, to consider electing people or to have people who are maybe on a rotating basis kind of in charge for that action. I think that there’s room for a lot of different approaches in terms of decision making. And like our tactics, our form of decision making has to be matched to our situation and to our goals.

TFSR: So it feels like when talking about ecological devastation, and like the precarity of where we’re at as a species, in particular – again in western civilization – that there’s this misanthropic approach towards looking at problems and solutions in terms of human caused ecological unbalance. It’s sort of a Manichaean approach. And people talk about there being too large of human populations, or historically, that sort of numbers game kind of leads to a eugenicism position. That puts blame on poor people or indigent people, and darker skinned people, as they tend to be more marginalized in the settler colonial societies in this parts of the world. And often, like, even just those nations are taking up more resources, those nations are developing in a way that’s inconsistent with you know, ecological balance.

It feels like that sort of approach is one that ignores the question of how populations are interacting – or the economic systems that populations are kept within – with the world with, quote unquote, “resources” with other species. And there’s often a presumption affiliated with that, that we as a species are alien to or above the rest of the world, that we’re not a part of nature, that we’re separate from it. And I think there’s some kind of like Cartesian logic in there, because we can think about ourselves to be self aware, in a way that we understand. We presume that not only is there a lack of agency to other elements, within our surroundings, with other living things…I guess it goes back to, like, in the western sense, stories of genesis. Of human beings being given control over the natural world to determine how those quote unquote “resources” are used, as opposed to being a part of that natural world, and that we have a responsibility for ourselves and for our siblings. Can you talk about why it’s important to challenge like, sort of the fundamental weaknesses of the misanthropic approach that looks as us as outside of the natural world? And how shifting that question actually allows us to make the changes that will be required for us to possibly survive this mess?

AM: Sure, yeah. I mean, I understand why people get frustrated with humanity. But I think, both from a philosophical perspective and from an organizers perspective, blaming humans in general for the problem really kind of obscures the root of the emergencies that we’re facing, and it obscures the things that we need to do. I think some of what you’ve talked about, it’s really different forms of human exceptionalism, right? There are some people who don’t care about the environment at all, who are human exceptionalist, who think humans can do whatever we want, we’re immune to the same kind of rules that other organisms follow. We’re immune from the effects of the weather or the planet or the ecology. And of course that’s ridiculous. But at the same time, we have at the other end, people who really believe a different form of human exceptionalism and believe that humans are doomed to do bad things, that we’re kind of doomed to destroy the planet. And I don’t think either of those things are true. I think, you know, if you look at that history of humanity and our immediate ancestors, for millions of years we managed not to destroy the planet, or even put the planet in peril. It’s really a fairly new phenomenon that specific societies, and especially specific people in specific societies, have been causing this level of destruction. And that destruction is not really about population, it’s about wealth.

If you look at someone like Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon who’s bringing in what? $12 billion a day that he’s adding to his his fortune, $12 billion in profit every day, compared with someone living in, say, Bangladesh, who’s barely emitting any carbon dioxide at all. There’s a huge disparity. And I think that people like Jeff Bezos would probably be happy to have us say, “Oh, well, the problem is just humanity. The problem is we’re going to destroy the planet. And I guess we have to build rocket ships and go to other planets, because that’s the only way to solve this problem.” Whereas really, it’s about wealth and capitalism. It’s that people in very wealthy countries, and especially the richest people in those countries, are doing most of the ecological damage, and who also have the power to stop doing that ecological damage if they chose and if they were willing to give up some of the money that they’re making every day.

So as an organizer, one of the reasons that I avoid that misanthropic approach is because it just doesn’t give us a lot of options, right? Like, if humans inherently are the problem, then do we just wait for humans to go extinct? I mean, I’ve certainly heard people say, “Oh, well, I guess the earth is going to come back into balance.” So you know, that kind of line of thinking. But for me as an organizer who works on many different issues, from prisons to gender equality, to you know, farm worker issues, that’s not a good enough solution. It’s not good enough to just throw your hands up and say, “oh, what can we do? It’s human nature,” because it doesn’t address the root power imbalances. And it also doesn’t give us any models for how to live better. Because that’s also what the misanthropy kind of obscures. It obscures the fact that the majority of Indigenous societies for the majority of history have lived in a way that has been beneficial for the land around them. And there are still many traditional communities and many societies that managed to live without destroying their environment and destroying the land.

And so I think, you know, if we say, “Oh, well, humans are just the problem”, then that kind of frees us up that burden of of learning more and actually changing our lifestyle, maybe, or changing our approach. I think it’s really important we look at the root of the problems that we’re facing, which in terms of climate, and many other things, is really about capitalism, colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, these overlapping systems of inequality. And I think, again, the solutions that we need to find have to do with looking to those communities that have been living in a better way, whether that’s Indigenous communities or communities that have struggled for genuine equality, genuine racial equality, gender equality, all of these things. And those are the kinds of communities that can help us to not just survive this climate emergency, but after that, and now to have communities to have societies that are actually worth living in. That are fair and inclusive, and where people aren’t constantly in this competitive struggle, and on the edge of precarity in this, you know, doggy dog situation. I think it’s a very good news story to look past that misanthropy and to look at societies that are worth living in.

TFSR: So your two books, in a lot of ways – just at least by the titles and by what we’ve been talking about – a lot of what they map out is strategies for resistance and strategies for challenging the current system. And I’m not sure if there’s a strong focus on what you’re talking about right now the like, “what are people doing in other places, what have people been doing?” Are there any examples, or any good roads towards gaining that knowledge that you can suggest? You mentioned just listening to people that have been living in other ways and to the people that have been most affected by the impacts of climate change and racialized capitalism? Are there any authors or any movements in addition to the Wet’suwet’en for instance, that you would suggest listening to or looking to?

AM: Sure, well, in closer to me, I think the Indigenous Environmental Network is a movement I look at a lot, the Migrant Rights Alliance is an organization that I’ve been paying a lot of attention to. So a slightly older book that I think is important is called Igniting a Revolution: Voices in Defense of the Earth, which is edited by Steven Best and Anthony J Nochella, and that’s a compilation of writings from many different people that kind of brings together anti-racism, anti-colonialism, anti-capitalism. I think that book is a really great place to start. And I think also, for me, a lot of the case studies that I talked about, a lot of movements that I talked about, are examples of people who’ve tried to kind of bring this intersectionality together in the past; Black Panther Fred Hampton was an incredibly powerful organizer who brought together, you know, this anti-racist, anti-capitalist approach. People like Judi Bari, the environmental activist who put forward a philosophy she called “revolutionary ecology”, that synthesized feminism and Earth First! and kind of working class analysis of capitalism.

I think people like that are really important to listen to. And I think, you know, it’s no coincidence that Fred Hampton was assassinated by the police, or that Judi Bari was bombed by the police. Those in power are really terrified by movements that take this intersectional approach and by people who do this, because, you know, when we start moving in this direction we can be incredibly effective and bring together a lot of different groups and movements, and have a really powerful transformative impact.

TFSR: Thank you so much for having this conversation. Aric, could you tell listeners how they can get ahold of any of your books or where they can find your writings or follow your ongoing journalism?

AM: Yeah, so you can find out more about Full Spectrum Resistance by visiting fullspectrumresistance.org. And you can also download some additional resources and read or listen to the first chapter there. If you want to look at some of my other work, you can visit aricmcbay.org, A-R-I-C-M-C-B-A-Y dot org. And I also have a Facebook page, Aric McBay author.

TFSR: Thank you again, so much, for taking the time to have this conversation. And yeah, I appreciate your work.

AM: Thanks so much. Likewise, it’s been a pleasure.

TFSR Transcription

Transcription

(edited 2/18/21)

a buncha white NYT reporters in the news room in the 1930's

TFSR has begun transcribing it’s episodes beginning January 2021 with funds raised on Patreon. You can find links to the pdf’s on our zine page.

We’re excited to now be presenting our episodes in text for easier translation, for web-crawling by search engines, and easier digestion by folks with hearing difficulties or for whom reading is easier than listening. We also have been formatting the text for printing to ease sharing with folks who don’t have free internet access, such as prisoners whose news is direly limited by administrative censorship.

Class Power on Zero Hours: A chat with Angry Workers

Class Power on Zero-Hours: A chat with Angry Workers

"Class Power On Zero Hours" book and a molotov, classy
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This week, you’ll hear Kiran and Marco of the Angry Workers, a collective of anti-authoritarian communists struggling to think through and build workers autonomy from the UK. For the hour, they talk about their organizing and the book they just published, “Class Power On Zero-Hours” (available from PM press and currently 50% off if you purchase from the publisher using the discount code ‘GIFT’).

Over 6 years, the Angry Workers got jobs in West London in factories, warehouses and logistics, building relationships with coworkers and neighbors from origins worldwide, and getting their hands dirty building working class power alongside other precarious and gig workers. The book documents attempts at building a solidarity network, their newspaper to open dialogue (called Workers Wild West) and engagements in workplace action and organizing. They worked inside and outside of trade unions and the IWW, assessing victories, defeats and lessons to move forward with and sharing glimpses into the struggles and ideas of the people they worked and lived with. This book is an amazingly detailed exploration of building solidarity, learning from mistakes and working towards a collective vision for liberation amongst the labouring classes at the points of production and reproduction.

Announcement

Jason Renard Walker Parole

Incarcerated journalist and author Jason Renard Walker, minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) will have a parole hearing coming up soon in Texas. Jason has faced serious backlash from white supremacist gangs and guards due to his activism and reporting while held by the TCDJ, so much so that he was recently transferred to a new prison, apparently because of the threats he was facing at Clements Unit. Jason’s book,about which we got to interview him earlier this year, “Reports from Within The Belly Of The Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice”, is now available in paperback as well as digital via Amazon, and his writings have regularly been published by the SF Bay View National Black Newspaper. Letters of support for his parole will go a long way toward getting the parole board to release Jason so that he can finish his Federal stint and get back to the outside. Check our show notes for details on where to write and suggestions on content.

Here’s some information about supporting Jason in this effort:

Dear Supporters of Jason Renard Walker,

Jason’s parole hearing is coming up and we urgently need your help with writing letters. Here is a guide on how to write a persuasive parole letter if you need it:  https://pigeonly.com/pigeonly-blog/how-to-write-a-parole-support-letter/

Letters should be sent right away to:

Board of Pardons and Paroles
8610 Shoal Creek Blvd.
Austin, TX 78757

Things to mention (per Jason):

* Your relationship to Jason,
* Any credentials you have,
* Positive things you know about Jason,

When Jason is paroled from Texas he will immediately begin a minimum six-year federal prison sentence.

Jason said that the most common reason for denial of parole is that the prisoner is a threat to the community, and that his continued incarceration will prevent him from any contact with the general community. He is also worried because TDCJ has poor covid prevention measures.

As many of you know, Jason was facing problems with a white supremacist gang recently and in response, he has been moved to another prison. Jason’s current address is:

Jason Renard Walker #1532092

Michael Unit

2664 FM 2054

Tennessee Colony, TX 75886

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Featured music:

  • Anotha One by Apollo Brown from Trophies (instrumentals)
  • Class War by The Dils

Eviction Defense, Community Resiliency, and Getting Free: an interview with Durham HEDS-Up!

Eviction Defense, Community Resiliency, and Getting Free

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This week I got the chance to sit down with Olive and Yousef of the Durham NC based eviction defense group HEDS-Up! HEDS-Up! stands for Housing Eviction Defense Solidarity and is a group which formed in Durham North Carolina when COVID was first hitting the area and folks’ housing was becoming more and more unstable.

We get to talk about a lot of topics in this episode, among which are gentrification in Durham, what the NC eviction process might look like, and about the group’s handbook the Eviction Defense Handbook, vol. 1312, as well as their all points call for autonomous, abolitionist jail support, on their website https://cantpaywontpaydurm.org/.

The Eviction Defense Handbook is extensively written and researched, and was put together by HEDS-Up! for educational and empowerment purposes. It covers topics from abolition, to how one might structure an eviction defense team, pertinent information regarding COVID and evictions, how to look up information on a specific property, a step by step of what to expect in eviction court, and many more topics.

You can email HEDS Up! at hedsup@protonmail.com

Announcements

Wabanaki Community Herbal Apothecary Support

The Wabanaki Community Herbal Apothecary in so-called Maine is working to support their tribal communities during these Covid-19 outbreaks. They are asking for herbal medicines and medicine making supplies or monetary donations to support these efforts. The supplies list can be found on their fedbook page, linked in our shownotes, and monetary donations can go to their fiscal sponsor WhyHunger, via https://whyhunger.org/ewrematriation/.
You can contact livmoore16@gmail.com for coordination or more details.

Loren Reed

Loren Reed, a 26 year old Diné (Navajo) man residing in the small town of Page, AZ, is facing ten years for comments left on facebook during the nationwide protests because some dumb ass white with no scruples or sense of humor reported him to the cops. There is a breakdown of the case available at ForgiveEveryone.Com/blog . At the end of that, you can find Loren’s address and tips for writing him, as well as how to put money on his commissary, how to make donations to Tucson Anti-Repression Crew via cashapp ($TusconARC) or paypal (PayPal.Me/prisonersupport), noting “For Loren Reed” in the comments.

Santos Torres

From PhillyAntiRepression on Twitter via the website, PHLAntiCap.Noblogs.Org:

“As of last week, Santos Torres-Olan (#ML7947), a comrade of Dwayne Staats of the #Vaughn17, is on hunger strike at SCI Albion. He’s protesting the physical, psychological, and emotional abuses at Albion — the prison administration uses meals, showers, rec and mail as a form of punishment, retaliation, and psychological torture. His protest is against the prison system as a whole. Santos has also been charged with assaulting a guard, and the courts, public defender and prosecutors are trying to railroad him. He ended up having to go pro se in order to fight his case.

Help out Santos’s struggle against the prison system by calling SCI Albion at (814) 756-5778. Ask to speak to the superintendent and make sure they know people on the outside are paying attention to their torture and abuse of prisoners.

Our incarcerated comrades are struggling against prisons on a whole different level — we MUST support them from the outside when they ask us for help!”

Jay Chase

Jay Chase, the last of the defendants of the 2012 NATO3 conspiracy case, is free! Support his post-release fund to get him on his feet: https://www.gofundme.com/f/jay-chase-of-the-nato3-is-free

Jorge Cornell and Covid-19 at FCI Fort Dix

Since late October, there appears to be a spike of Covid-19 at the Federal BOP’s prison at Fort Dix, jumping from prior reported numbers of 57 infections to at least 127 cases. The BOP is exacerbating the problem by moving all of the folks with infections onto a single floor and the back to their former dormatories, increasing spread. FCI Fort Dix is also denying PPE, medical care and compassionate releases from the prison population.

Jorge Cornell, 44, has two daughters, and recently moved to Fort Dix. Jorge has high blood pressure, sleep apnea, and is obese and borderline diabetic. This, along with a previous heart attack, make him high risk. He is being held on the third floor of Building 58-51.

Jorge is a friend of many in central NC organizing communities. As an outspoken community activist, candidate for city council, and police critic, Jorge was frequently targeted by law enforcement. Despite beating dozens of bogus charges prior to his current incarceration, Jorge is currently being wrongfully held thanks to overly broad RICO laws and targeting by the FBI, leading to a trial and conviction in 2012. He maintains his innocence, but still has 15 years left on his unjust 28 year sentence. You can hear two interviews about the case from 2013 at our website by searching ALKQN.

To press FCI Dix administration to give PPE, free medical care, stop spreading the virus in the prison by shuffling people around and to give compassionate release to people like Jorge with compromised immune systems, you can contact:

  1. FCI Fort Dix, calling 609 723 1100 ext 0 between 8am and 4pm ET, asking to speak with Warden David E Ortiz or request that the operator pass on these concerns. You can email FTD-ExecAssistant@bop.gov and dortiz@bop.gov .
  2. Federal BOP Health Services Division: 202 307 3198, press 4 for “other” and then 6 for “general medical inquiries” and select any of the four available recipients, leaving a voicemail with your demands. Email BOP-IPP@bop.gov or PublicAffairs@bop.gov .
  3. BOP Northeast Regional Office can be called at 215 521 7301 where you can reach Regional Director Nicole C. English or request that the operator pass on your demands. You can email NERO-ExecAssistant@bop.gov and ncenglish@bop.gov .
  4. Senator Cory Booker in Newark (973 639 8700) ,Camden (856 338 8922) and/or DC (202 224 3224) and ask to leave a message. You can submit an email using the form at https://www.booker.senate.gov/contact/write-to-cory

Brian Caswell McCarvill

Regular listener, Jay in Aotearoa brought to our attention this week the passing of anarchist prisoner, Brian Caswell McCarvill in the so-called state of Oregon.

Brian McCarvill was a radical social prisoner who in the early 2000’s was involved in taking the Oregon Department of Corrections to court challenging their censorship and rejection of anarchist publications for prisoners with his cell mate Rob Thaxton. The ODOC was attempting to declare anarchists to be members of a Security Threat Group, sort of like a gang, based on their shared political tendency and use of language and symbols, their stances to protest unfair circumstances. By winning the court case he forced the Oregon prison system to allow anarchist materials into its prisons.

Brian had terrible problems with his health and following his victory in the court case, he was being punished by the authorities for taking a stand. He passed on his 68th birthday, September 27th 2020, causes unknown to us. Rise In Power, Brian!

. … . ..

Public domain music for this show:

90’s BOOMBAP – RAP INSTRUMENTAL / Old SChool 2017 FREE USE