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Adventure Capitalism with Raymond Craib

Adventure Capitalism with Raymond Craib

book cover of "Adventure Capitalism"
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This week on The Final Straw, Professor Raymond Craib talks about his book, “Adventure Capitalism: A History of Libertarian Exit, from the Era of Decolonization to the Digital Age” out recently from PM Press. We talk about capitalist fundamentalists attempting to create free market utopias, right wing so-called Libertarians, Ayn Rand, neoliberalism and the oxymoronic tendency known as “anarcho-capitalism” at the center of the recent HBO Max series called “The Anarchists”.

A quick note: the book on the Republic of New Afrika that Bursts mentioned was Free The Land by Edward Onaci. There was an interesting interview on Millenials Are Killing Capitalism podcast with the author last year.

Stay tuned next week for our interview with Sam & Alex of the antifascist podcast, 12 Rules for WHAT about their podcast and their two books, “Post Internet Far Right” or PIFR, and “The Rise of Ecofascism”. Patreon supporters can get this episode a few days early alongside other gifts. Check out that and other ways to support us at tfsr.wtf/support

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Transcription

TFSR: Do you please introduce yourself with any name, preferred gender pronouns, and other information that you’d like to introduce yourself to the audience?

Raymond Craib: Sure. My name is Raymond Craib, my pronouns are he/him, and I teach in the Department of History at Cornell University.

TFSR: Cool, I just finished reading your most recent book, Adventure Capitalism, and I really appreciated how much you covered and your treatment of history and the ideas presented in it. I have to admit being slightly entertained reading some of the snipings between Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman and Murray Rothbard, representing ideological strains that have deep impacts to this day in capitalist idealists, and also a lot of differences between the ideas. To set the stage, could you talk about some of these arguments, these thinkers, and what they believed, and if any specific tendencies are around today that you think people might be familiar with that would be representative?

RC: Yeah, sure. And thank you for having me. I appreciate the invitation. Thank you also for reading the book. So there’s a lot of these folks in the mid-20th century who I think, for lack of a better word, I call them US market libertarians because I’m trying to distinguish them from the classical notion of libertarian, which is anarchist, these people are hyper-capitalist. And they’re minimalist in terms of their ideas about government, which, essentially, we shouldn’t mistake as small government, it just means minimalist in the range of its functions. They still want a police force, they still want a military, they still want a judiciary to protect property rights, they want to be protected from fraud, and they want to be protected from physical violence. So that’s not a small state manifesto. It’s just a state that has a limited range of functions. Now, what those functions were is where I think people like Rothbard, Rand, Friedman – you could also probably throw in Robert Nozick here as a philosophical standard bearer for these folks. But Rothbard, if you look at a spectrum, I would put Rothbard in the 1960s and 1970s at the very far end of the libertarian spectrum in terms of– He wanted to do away with national defense, he wanted it to become completely privatized, and driven as a private for-profit entity, he made strange bedfellows at times because he was so adamantly anti-statist. And so at times, you could see him picking up on the rhetoric of certain sectors of the new left who were opposed to the Vietnam War and the like. So, Rothbard, a godfather of US-style libertarianism like this, was at the extreme end of the spectrum. And he changed over time by the 1980’s and the 1990’s. He allied himself with Pat Buchanan, began to advocate for brutal police repression, and became a Paleo-Conservative. But in the 60’s and 70’s, he was probably the most – for lack of a better word – purist in terms of his market libertarian positions.

Rand, I guess you could probably slot in between Rothbard and Friedman, if you were looking at a spectrum. It’s hard to talk about her in some ways, she’s very influential today. I can say more about that in just a second. But, she was, essentially, a Russian emigre, her family had been persecuted under the Bolsheviks – well, they’d been expropriated. And so they came to the United States, and she lived in New York City, but she also lived in Southern California. She was deeply influenced by the culture of Hollywood. It’s a myth about Ayn Rand being a product of what happened to her in Russia. But I think Corey Robin and other writers have made a very compelling case that she was also strongly influenced by the world of Southern California and Hollywood and a developing Orange County and so forth. And so Rand would not call herself a libertarian. She refused it. Her famous phrase, perhaps it might be apocryphal, I’ve constantly looked to see if I could find this quote, and it’s been an I haven’t been in had any success, but she said, “You have to have a state who’s going to jail the communists.” And so she was, again, a minimalist statist, she wanted, essentially, for the state to exist to protect capitalists, protect them from fraud, protect them from direct violence, protect them from the masses. She was worried about the masses and the idea of demagoguery. She had strong disagreements with Murray Rothbard. He saw in Rand and the coterie of people that she had around her what he called “a perfect engine for totalitarianism.” He really saw her as a charismatic, totalitarian, dogmatic figure. So, these are very strong differences of opinion, but Rand is right in the middle of that spectrum.

Someone like Milton Friedman was deeply influenced by a couple of people who also influenced Rand and Rothbard. These are members of what’s known as the Austrian School of libertarian economics, or Austrian School of Economics: Friedrich von Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises, amongst others. Friedman was influenced by them and became part of the University of Chicago economics department. Friedman made a little more space for the role of the state: he and someone like Hayek were willing to accommodate state intervention in things like welfare programs, or certain subsidies to the population at large or business. And so they occupied a space on the libertarian spectrum that would be in some ways – I guess, these terms get problematic – but you might say a little bit closer to how we think about neoliberalism, which is not an anti-state program. It’s a state-generated program. It’s an alliance between capitalists and the state. And so here’s Friedman, this character who’s a little less dogmatic, a little less idealistic in his sensibility and a little more pragmatic. But so you have this spectrum. And these three figures are very, very influential, they remain influential. Rand is extremely influential in the culture of Silicon Valley today, this tech utopian world. And if you look at characters such as Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal, an early investor in Facebook, a strange supporter of Donald Trump, and also one of the owners of Palantir, which is the largest surveillance private surveillance operation, affiliated with the US government. Thiel is a big Rand fan, Musk, Bezos, all of these guys, the founder of Whole Foods (John Mackey), a lot of them are very Randian in this way. The Libertarian Party certainly was influenced by Ayn Rand and remains influenced by her. Ron Paul, his son, Rand Paul, Paul Ryan, I don’t know what it is about Pauls, but they all seem to be connected to Rand. So she’s had this resurgence over the years and of course she was Greenspan’s (the head of the Federal Reserve for many years under Clinton and the early Bush years) mentor. And Greenspan was right inside her inner circle and swallowed Randian objectivist economics and libertarian theories wholeheartedly and essentially had to issue a mia culpa in 2008 when everything collapsed.

Friedman is also still very influential today. He was the architect of the radical privatization of Chile’s economy under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. The ideas of Friedman and the faith in free enterprise were embedded in words in the 1980 Chilean constitution that was foisted upon the population by the military dictatorship. So “Free Enterprise” would be the only acceptable model for the economy in Chile, and that’s now finally being overturned. That constitution is being now rewritten with the enormous revolutionary transformations that have taken place in Chile over the past few years. Friedman’s son, David Friedman is a very well-known anarcho-capitalist, his grandson Patri Friedman, is also very much linked up with a lot of the projects that I talked about – seasteading Future Cities Inc. Free Private Cities in Central America, and the like. And a lot of this is connected to cultural emancipation or “lifestyle” emancipation if you wanted to use the critique of Hakeem Bay. Burning Man, polyamory, this idea that Burning Man in some ways might be a model for a future society. These are the three of the central figures, and in the background of all of their minds was not only a notion of private enterprise and market transactions being a pathway to individual freedom, but also a way to avoid the trappings of totalitarianism that they associated with Nazism, communism, socialism, they made no distinction between these things. All of those were considered to be totalitarianism, even though of course, it was communism that ultimately defeated fascism.

TFSR: Just a quick note on the critique of Ayn Rand as a totalitarian or whatever the term was that Rothbard had tossed that way. For any listeners that haven’t seen it. There’s a very entertaining and interesting documentary series called All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace that talks about the cult of personality that Rand developed around herself, which was referenced also in the footnotes of the book, which I appreciated seeing.

RC: That’s right. Adam Curtis, it’s a wonderful three-part documentary. The first part is about Rand and her influence on Silicon Valley.

TFSR: Where you left that description of those thinkers and their trajectories lead perfectly to the question that I was going to ask after that. A central figure in your book is Michael Oliver, I’d like for you to talk about this man. As a Lithuanian Jew who lost most of his family to the Nazis, who barely survived the Shoah, himself, and who claimed that his sister was killed by occupying Soviets… Oliver moves to the USA after World War II and is, in understandable ways, allergic to totalitarian states and the destabilization that he sees coming from masses that have been whipped up to do the bidding of these totalitarian states and demagogues. How did he end up alongside white supremacists or CIA-adjacent weapon smugglers and attempting a staged coup in a decolonizing South Pacific Island?

RC: Yeah, Oliver is a central figure in the book, at least for much of it. And it’s a very compelling story that is both deeply painful and tragic. And at the same time, a story of the 20th century in some ways. He was born Moses Olitzky in 1928. You can imagine, he’s basically about 14 when things get terrible for him in Lithuania. His sister is taken away by Soviet troops and then when the Nazis come, his family is killed and he ends up in different concentration camps in Poland and is rescued by Japanese-American troops in 1945. So, he comes to the United States, to Nevada, and he becomes fairly successful. He’s in the US Air Force for a little bit of time, and he’s working in electronics. But he becomes a successful land developer and coin dealer and he sees in the 1960s a lot of things that raise fears for him about just the way the world can turn on a dime. And what’s difficult to read is that he sees these movements and he identifies his concern with totalitarianism and what he calls “Stormtrooper tactics” and things like this with movements that are essentially movements of people themselves trying to achieve some form of emancipation. So, you think about things like the civil rights movement, second-wave feminism, and gay rights… there are a lot of movements in the 1960s that are developing and the language that Oliver uses is a language that seems to indicate that he’s identifying resistance movements on the part of these social movements as where totalitarianism is threatening to come from and where demagoguery might be appealing. He doesn’t talk about things like the John Birchers, the KKK, the Christian Nationalists, or the movements on the right that were developing quite strongly, they have been strong in the 1950s, and they’d grown with Barry Goldwater’s run for the presidency that ended unsuccessfully in 1964. And so there is something there that is troubling and unsettling to have to come to terms with in how he’s identifying where the problems are going to come from, in his mind.

His first project is in the South Pacific, many libertarians, he is trying to develop a new country. He realizes that you can find territory to buy but you’ll have a hard time purchasing sovereignty. In other words, territorial sovereignty in which you can hive off and make your own country your utterly private estate in some form or another. And so he looks at the open ocean. This was not uncommon at the time, other people did this, Ernest Hemingway’s younger brother, there’s another man by the name of Werner Stiefel whose family had fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, he was a pharmaceutical engineer. There’s an array of people who tried this, and they saw – somewhat incorrectly – the high seas as places where they can establish themselves. And it just wasn’t the case. And there are a lot of legal questions around this, also engineering questions and so forth. But he tried in the South Pacific to build an island with the support of several different wealthy figures.

I want to point out here, it’s very important: Oliver is the front figure and much of this and he put himself out there, he did interviews with Reason magazine, he did interviews with People magazine, he published his book A New Constitution for a New Country in 1968. So he made himself a focal point, but he had substantial backing from very wealthy people, Willard Garvey, who was a wheat magnate based in Wichita Falls, Kansas, who also built low-income housing in places like Peru and elsewhere around the world and had connections with the Foster Dulles brothers, in the CIA and elsewhere. He had a big argument about Make Every Man a Capitalist instead of Make Every Man a Communist, and the way to do that was through home ownership, something that’s now come back to bite us if you look at the housing market these days. John Templeton from the Templeton Foundation, if you listen to NPR, you’ll hear the reference to the Templeton Foundation. That’s the same John Templeton was an investor specialist. Seth Atwood was a horologist watch collector, but also a yachtsman. They were an array of people involved in these projects. But Oliver was the frontman. And so the project in the Southwest Pacific to build an island didn’t go very well. But then subsequently, the next project was this effort to essentially back a group of people on the islands of Abaco, which are part of the Bahamas. And this is in 1973. These are islands Abaco, in particular, these are islands that were settled by loyalists to the British after the American Revolution. They fled, and they went to Abaco and settled there. And this includes not only white loyalists, but also Black, and also formerly enslaved people who the white loyalists brought with them.

And they, at least the secessionist movement on Abaco, did not want to be part of an independent Bahamas. There’s several reasons why this might have been the case. But clearly, race is one of them. Many people involved in this movement were very clear that they did not want to be governed by a predominantly black political party, the party of Walter Pindling, who was going to become the first prime minister of an independent Bahamas. And also concerns about communist influences, left-wing influences, the language around communism and decolonization, and so forth. This is something that comes back in other projects that I look at. So, Oliver attached himself to a group of people who were supporting the secessionists. And this included a Wild West figure Mitchell Livingstone WerBell III. His family was originally from Russia, he claimed that his father had been the head of the horse brigade for the Tsar. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But WerBell was in the OSS, which was the precursor to the CIA. He was in Southeast Asia with the E. Howard Hunt who went on to become a Watergate plumber was also involved in the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954. Lucien Conien was a French-American paratrooper and the point man for the Kennedy administration’s assassination of Diem in South Vietnam in 1963. And an array of other people… John Singlaub, who went on to a very prominent career in the US Army but also had pretty sketchy attachments to the World Anti-Communist League and things like this that have some proto-fascist tendencies, to say the least. So these were the characters WerBell was involved with and he became a PR man for a while in Atlanta which is where he was originally from and then in the 1960’s, you could find him in various places. He was in the Dominican Republic in 1964, right before a coup d’etat, he was working with Guatemala at various points in time in the 1960’s. He was creating silencers, sound suppressors for some of the deadliest weapons of the era, the Gordon Ingram MAC-10, in particular, which also had a very prominent role in many films in Hollywood. And WerBell also reportedly had many connections to the CIA and it’s very, very difficult to determine the truth and the fiction behind many of these claims. WerBell was an enormous ego and self-promoter. The CIA has not responded or never complied with my Freedom of Information Act requests, I have six or seven outstanding requests with them going back to 2013, so it’s 10 years now. The FBI did comply, and I have quite a bit of information from the FBI. So, WerBell was one of these individuals who was essentially helping to run this operation, to create essentially a private country in Abaco by supporting the secessionist movement in Abaco. And somehow Oliver was linked up with him. When they originally met, I’m not sure. But in 1974, they were clearly connected, because the two of them ran a meeting of eight people total in Washington DC in which they basically hashed out what was going on in the project.

The last figure I’ll just mention here is Andrew St. George, who was a journalist who covered that meeting in 1974 in Washington DC. St. George, both in his archival materials, which I’ve gone through quite closely– And also I’ve had conversations with at least one of his sons. St. George is quite an interesting figure as well. He had covered Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the mountains in 1958 before they overthrew Batista and the Cuban Revolution. He actually was close friends with Che and St. George was critical to the recuperation of Che’s body from Bolivia after his assassination later in the 1960s. So, St. George is quite interesting. And St. George had real concerns about Michael Oliver and about Michael Oliver’s political affiliations and connections with people who he was operating with. It’s extremely difficult to discern the depth of connection that Oliver had with people outside of and within WerBell’s orbit. But what we do know is that they worked together over at least a year, if not more, to try to bring the Abaco secession and new country movement to fruition. And it essentially fell apart because many of the individuals who were advocating for Abaco to not be part of the Bahamas were hoping that Abaco would remain part of the Crown, part of the United Kingdom. That’s what they ultimately wanted. And when that didn’t come through, many of them were clear that they did not want armed insurrection, and to be part of this new country project that would look a lot like, frankly, Freeport on Grand Bahama, which was this early, quasi-sovereign, tax-free, free zone, a free port. They call it Freeport, and they didn’t want that. And so, at that point, things fell apart. WerBell was being investigated by Congress and the FBI, and his name popped up repeatedly in the JFK assassination files. It became quite messy, and things fell apart. And the FBI was investigating quite intensively at that point.

TFSR: His story is so complicated that I mixed up a few of the elements there by asking that question about the South Pacific because there was Minerva, there was Vanuatu, and three different attempts at creating a free island or at least occupying and settling and creating “free” commerce or “free” enterprise-ruled space, allegedly. [laughs]

RC: Vanuatu was his last one, after the Abaco experiment fell through, he then turned his attention to the New Hebrides for five years from 1975 to 1980. And that ended with a rebellion that Oliver and his allies in an organization known as the Phoenix Foundation helped foment, essentially. I should mention them briefly. One of the things I did was I went to Vanuatu and I was very fortunate to have some good support from folks there, many of whom remember the Santo rebellion in 1980 and got me access to the files of the person who had been head of British Special Branch there by the name of Gordon Haynes. And so I got access to his archives. He died, I think, in 2015. And these were embargoed until after his death. But clearly, Haynes made the standard British imperial moves: he was in parts of Africa; and then when those decolonized, and the British left, he moved to the Solomon Islands; and they moved from the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu and so forth. He was a civil servant. But Haynes, essentially his job from 1970 to 1980 in Vanuatu was tracking American libertarian speculators, real estate speculators, and libertarians who were trying to do various projects there. So this included Michael Oliver included a real estate speculator from Hawaii by the name of Eugene Peacock, and several other individuals as well. Clearly, his files show me that the core of his job was tracking these folks.

TFSR: God, that must have been boring, the most mayonnaise people.

But by presenting context on the history of colonialism, which is a thing that I really appreciate about the story that you tell, and about extraction and crony capitalism (as if there were any other kind) in these areas of the world that mostly white men have tried to impose their land grabs on. If that’s possible, you kind of undo the erasure of the concept of Terra Nullius, which, as you show, often harkens romantically back to the mystique of settler colonialism, as it beckons adventurous citizen-consumers to forge their new destinies. And for all their talk of voluntary association, there’s no note of the violence inherent to exclusionary property. So would you talk about the settler imaginary in the US and right-wing libertarianism and these neo-primitive accumulation schemes?

RC: Sure. Thank you for that question. Every once in a while, before the book came out, I read some shorter pieces about this, and a number of people who are “fellow travelers” with these projects wrote me and wondered why I was calling them right-wing and, I was trying to explain to them because it was the primitive accumulation property paradigm, that’s the issue here. It’s not about whether or not you support the Republican party or something, this silly, narrow bandwidth that American politics suffers from. So the primitive accumulation and property question is key. Even to step back and look at the project of building an island in the Southwest Pacific, Oliver’s first project, the Ocean Life Research Foundation, which he created to raise money and the idea was to go to these reefs called the Minerva reefs that sit south of Tonga and Fiji, in between Tonga and Fiji, up to the north, and in New Zealand in the South. And the whole premise here was that these were free for the taking, that you could just go and take these things, and that they weren’t under anybody’s jurisdiction. This was an era in which things like the exclusive economic zone and the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea hadn’t been totally hashed out. And so there was a lot of lack of clarity about this. And there’s a lack of clarity simply about also when you say that the high seas of the oceans are a Commons for all of mankind, what does that mean? Is it a free for all? Does it mean you can create an artificial island? Not create an artificial island? Can you have a floating island versus an anchored island? These questions were up in the air. But many people took this to just mean that these were places that they could just go and colonize.

And the problem – and what I try to explore in close detail in all of the chapters – in the case of the Minerva reefs is these were places of seasonal use by fishermen, lobstermen, crab men, and others from places like Tonga and Fiji. These were places where there had been terrible shipwrecks, including in 1962, in which three Tongan passengers on the ship carrying Tongan boxers and others to Sydney crashed and they were there for three months. And three of them died and were buried on the reefs. These are places of mourning. These are places of history. These are places of poetry. These are not just spaces for anybody to just waltz in from afar and lay claim to and colonize. And so I try to take very seriously how archipelagic peoples, Oceanian peoples think about the ocean, not from a continentalist perspective and not from a proprietarian perspective, but certainly from a perspective of the meaning of history, of use value, and the like. And certainly, these are not places where someone else can just come in and print a property paradigm in the way that the Libertarians tried to do. This has come back, of course, in more recent cases like the Seasteaders, And I can talk about the Seasteaders in a few minutes further when I get to some of the more contemporary projects.

And so I tried to do this, and in all three of the examinations of the projects that Oliver was involved in the 1970’s, I wanted to take very seriously the social histories of the places where these projects unfolded. There’s a lot of writing about these projects is nudge, nudge, wink, wink, isn’t this funny, let’s yok it up. Look at this wacky stuff. I find that problematic, I think we need to make an effort to understand Michael Oliver and the people who funded him where they were coming from, but I also think we need to really understand the places, why they selected the places they selected, and how those populations essentially experienced these projects and the terrible consequences in instances. We’re talking in a place like Vanuatu of a rebellion, in which significant numbers of people were displaced, and a couple of people died. Or you talk about the case of Tonga and the Minerva reefs, or the Bahamas, these are the things that put enormous strain on governments, who are trying to deal with the process of overthrowing colonial rule. And so I wanted to take very seriously the histories of these places, how people understood property, land, the ocean, their own histories, colonialism, and the like. And so you take the case of the New Hebrides, for example, the land was a huge issue there. Anti-colonial politics ultimately arose around the question of land in the 1960’s. And it’s a very intricate process that unfolds there. And I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about it. But I do want to say the upshot of the anti-colonial politics of the 1960s, the process of decolonization in the 1970’s is that with the independence of Vanuatu in 1980, all land comes under the control of native indigenous Vanuatu inhabitants and that land cannot be sold. It can be leased, and it has to be leased according to the agreement by the customary owners of that land. But that’s embedded in the Constitution and it comes out of an understanding of the land, but also it comes out of the context of 70 years of colonial rule in which increasing encroachment into the interior, increasing destruction of the forest in order to raise cattle had unfolded. And so I really wanted to pay attention to different ways of thinking about land, property, history, and use that don’t fit this narrowly defined property paradigm that tends to hold sway amongst the libertarian Exeters.

TFSR: It’s not surprising at all, having read some history. But one part of the struggles that you talk about in Vanuatu, with the Ni-Vanuatu, and you do mention there’s a broad brush painting by reactionaries for the most part around the world and often Colons or settler colonizers in various decolonizing areas where there is the conflation of communism with decolonization. Or, in a lot of these instances, like in the Bahamas, the fear of black majority parties taking control. And at least one of the major trajectories in the independence struggle among Ni-Vanuatu was a party of people that had, among other things, been engaging with this decolonial thread throughout the world, interacting with not only black power movements in the United States but also in decolonizing Africa. And I thought that was really fascinating.

And I didn’t really have a question so much in relation to this as much as last night, when I was thinking about this, I was remembering this book on the Republic of New Africa [Free The Land by Edward Onaci] that I had read through not that long ago, and it was talking about the borderlessness– That project when it was territorializing itself for a period in the so-called US South still wanted to have a decolonial relationship with indigenous people who’s stolen land that people had been re-territorialized on to as their ancestors had. But that’s placing decolonization within this web of relationships… And you could see, that they were deeply influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X and many others, and the concepts that land and freedom are the two central things that decolonization struggles need to struggle with. Just thinking about the influence of some of those same teachers and movements and thinkers and individuals in Vanuatu was pretty inspiring for you to mention the book.

RC: Yes, thank you. There’s been some really remarkable work in recent years that I relied upon and drew from. So there were two political movements in Vanuatu that initially were allied, for lack of a better word. One was the Nagriamel movement of Chief Paul Bullock and Chief Jimmy Stevens. Jimmy Stevens and the Nagriamel were allying with Michael Oliver, and they’re the ones who are supported by Oliver in the Phoenix Foundation in their efforts to secede in the Santo rebellion in 1980. The other party was the New Hebrides National Party, which renamed itself the Vanua’aku Pati, the Land Rises Up Party. And there’s been some really wonderful writing in recent years on Black Power in the Pacific and its relationship to decolonization more broadly. Quito Swan has written two really fabulous books on this, Tracey Banivanua Mar, Robbie Shilliam… there’s really this flourishing of literature that’s looking much more closely at these relationships globally and not solely looking at the places that tend to dominate the literature.

You’re right, what’s quite interesting in the case of Vanuatu is that there’s an internal conflict, there’s an internal conflict between the mostly Anglophone Vanua’aku Pati, and the Nagriamel movement which is mostly in the northern islands of the archipelago. And over time, they come into conflict increasingly with each other, and I try to go through why and how that happens. And why somebody like Jimmy Stevens in the Nagriamel anti-colonial movement, who was a very adamant anti-colonialist in the 1960’s, why he would end up allying with Oliver in the Phoenix Foundation, and he would articulate an argument about: instead of an independent nation called Vanuatu, there should be a Confederation. And this was not unusual. All West African anti-colonial intellectuals also suggested similar things, that nation-state status wasn’t the only option for decolonization. And so this was something that Stevens was fairly adamant about, but in the process of doing this, to bring his dreams to fruition (and he also had his own political aspirations) he ended up allying himself with these other characters. And things didn’t go well, the Santo rebellion was put down, Jimmy Stevens was arrested and sentenced to prison for a long time, and some of his closest allies were sentenced to prison and ended up dying. One from tetanus, right after entering the prison. The after-effects were quite intense.

And of course, the Libertarians, just like the British and the French, went home, they went home free people. It’s a troubling history, in that respect. But it also points toward the complications on the ground, there’s an enormous amount of, again, going back to how sometimes these projects are written about, they allied or ignored the agency of local actors, who are complicated and complex and make all strange decisions and predictable and unpredictable decisions. But oftentimes, they’re ignored, and they shouldn’t be ignored. And unfortunately, those things are being repeated in contemporary writing about Libertarian projects in places like Honduras and Tahiti and even in Chile, there’s been a couple of efforts to put together some of these things. Incessantly, they’re invariably named after John Gault and Ayn Rand or Fort Gault this, John Gault that… and it’s depressingly predictable. But again, the local commentators, the critics of these projects make the same mistake that the generators of these projects make, which is that they’re clueless about the local context.

TFSR: Could you talk a bit about if we consider the international movements for creating spaces – physical, terrestrial, oceanic, in Space, digital, whatever – to create autonomy among– Not to make it too big because you cover a lot of stuff in the book, and even just touching on all the different tendencies and ways that people are trying to experiment with this. Can you talk a little bit about where this venture capitalism or Exiter strategy is now and maybe some of the movers and shakers like Peter Thiel… ? And how has the supposed model of individualism that Oliver and a lot of this early adherence to this thing were presenting, how has that shifted into elitist sovereignty ideas?

RC: Sure. I’ll start with the last point you just made, Oliver embraced this Ayn-Rand, hypercapitalist, individualist, what she called “Objectivist”, philosophy. I think, ultimately, due to his experience and because of his fears about totalitarianism, he called it a moral experiment. If he wanted to avoid taxes or make a lot of money, tax havens were a dime a dozen, he had the money to hire attorneys to help them hide his money. It wasn’t about that. He called it a “moral experiment” and he believed very profoundly in it. I think it was a mistaken set of beliefs. But he believed in those quite profoundly, and it was his concern about totalitarianism and demagoguery and states and their repressive nature that drove him. The contemporary projects are different, you see the projects that Oliver was involved in a lot of these, many different versions of these were experimented with in the 60’s and 70’s, and you start to see them fade away in the 80’s. And I think you see them fade away, in part, because a lot of people that previously might have been interested in them become less interested in them. After all, they can really socially secede in the United States under Reagan, and also in England with Thatcher. The real intensification of the neoliberal revolution began in the late 1970’s, it really takes grip in the 1980’s and the 1990’s. And so you see a lot of people who were more base in their motives in terms of taxation and things like this didn’t need to territorially secede. They could increasingly live in gated communities outside of Atlanta, they could go to the exurbs, and so on. Their tax rates were going down. So, you don’t really see projects like this, there are a few, but I mentioned one of them, which is quite amusing. But I won’t go into it for now for the interest of time, but they’re really not many of them.

They come back in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. And really, with the growth of digital life and the internet. And so then you really begin to see this reemergence of interest in stuff like this. I don’t talk about some of the more extreme versions or futuristic versions of this transforming your consciousness into digital code and embedding yourself into a computer that out-survives your corpse… Even the outer space stuff takes an enormous number of people on planet Earth to keep one person alive in outer space. I don’t think that stuff is going to happen anytime soon. But in the spirit of Peter Thiel, he essentially says as much in an interview that he did with the Cato Institute, in which he says, “You have cyberspace, you have outer space, and you have the ocean. And really the more practical mediate possibility for exit is the ocean. The outer space and cyberspace are far-off in some respects.”

So I look at a couple of these projects, more contemporary projects that have really come out of the Silicon Valley digital, what a couple of writers in the 1990’s called the “California ideology”, which weds the commune hippie culture with yuppie entrepreneurial culture. And they call it the “California Ideology”. And this shows up also in the documentary you mentioned by Adam Curtis All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. Even the title is taken from a combination of this tech digital yuppie meets commune culture from Richard Brautigan. And so, I look at two projects in particular that I think are illustrative of projects these days. One is Seasteading, which is an effort that started in 2008 with the creation of the Seasteading Institute, and the idea is to build private floating platforms on the high seas where people can basically select if they want to attach their platforms and make communities or they want to separate it. Patri Friedman, Milton Friedman’s grandson was the first director of the Seasteading Institute. He’s quite closely involved in this. The logo for some of the affiliated groups with the Seasteading Institute is Burning Man on the high seas, so it gives you a sense of the influences here, it’s Burning Man meets the open ocean.

And then the other project I look at is what is called Free Private Cities in Honduras, which build off of charter cities. The idea behind charter cities came out of the thinking of Paul Romer, who was an economist at Stanford, then chief economist at the World Bank for a brief time, and is now at NYU. Romer’s idea was essentially that traditional aid as we know it has just never done what it was intended to do, it’s constantly been a failure. He’s not necessarily wrong about that but I don’t think the result, the conclusion that he comes to is problematic. His idea was with charter cities, that places that were struggling could seed a portion of their sovereign territory, and then an international group of governments or investors would come in and assert control over that territory and build essentially a nostalgic version of Hong Kong as it ever was. Hong Kong has this mythical life in people’s minds about what it was like. And so the idea would be to create a charter city, an open city, it wouldn’t be gated, and you could opt in or opt out as you wished. This is very problematic because the whole idea of easy opt-in and opt-out is just also mythological. There’s a whole array of constraints here, and Romer himself admitted that there would have to be some immigration control. And so again, you’re back to the same question, which is these idealized versions of opt-in and opt-out are not realizable at some level. And so then you start talking about “how those controls are going to be put into place, who’s gonna use them and have them.” But the charter city would have its own judiciary, would have its own arbitration boards, it would have its own constitution, its own police force, and its own labor laws. And these were things that would not be able to be overturned by the voters of the country where the charter city was situated.

It started off in Madagascar, it didn’t get very far because of a coup. And then there was a coup in Honduras. And that’s where Romer set up shop after 2009. He was a big fan at first. But he learned very quickly that it’s difficult to do transparent business with an illegal coup regime. And things got messy quickly, he withdrew around 2014-2015 entirely from the projects. They’ve now morphed into something known as Free Private Cities. It hasn’t gone forward on much of the Honduran mainland at this point. But there is one that seems to be going forward on the island of Roatan, one of the bay islands off the coast of Honduras. It’s a similar idea, but it’s less about opt-in opt-out, it’s really about buy-in, these are more gated communities. Again, they do have their own arbitration boards, and, in theory, their own police, their own judiciary. Very few, if any articles of the Honduran Constitution would apply. It’s not clear if that by voter determination nationally, would voter decisions apply inside these free private cities. So there are a lot of questions that are up in the air, even more so now that there’s been a recent election in Honduras, and the candidate who was elected has promised to roll back these projects. The array of people involved in these projects is quite interesting. You have the usual crowd of tech libertarians, Friedman a little bit, Michael Strong, who calls himself a radical social entrepreneur, he’s got a name for himself. He also issues his own laws and corollaries to his own laws.

TFSR: He is a leftist, right? [joke]

RC: I don’t know what he is, he calls himself a leftist and then says that capitalism is going to save the world. He has a very funny shtick. Some of these threads are quite fascinating to pursue and you wonder how they end up where they end up.

But you also have a host of figures who were involved in Ronald Reagan’s Central America office as well, and it gives you again, a sense of the real Noir, ugly underpinnings here. Not just the libertarian ideology, which I find deeply problematic. But also, folks who were deeply involved in policy-making of a government that fomented civil wars and backed coup d’etats and led to the deaths of tens of thousands, if not more of people, and have also forcibly put people on the move from the societies in which they want to live and where they want to vote, and where they want to raise their children – Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador. And of course, these are folks who are going to make their way to the US border and be forcibly separated from their children and detained in cages and called names, and persecuted and killed… The cast of characters is not pretty. And then you’ve also got people involved in Brexit in the UK and long histories of advocating that the state is nothing more than a protection racket. And so, the best thing to do is buy-in, and let’s go back to feudal monarchy. This is the Neo Reactionary movement, NRX, which also has a following.

TFSR: I found it really refreshing. I only saw the little bit of it that you put into the book, but Romer’s disillusionment with the Free City idea and the honesty right there saying, “Well, if this is being set up in such a way that there’s going to be no transfer of power or democratic approach for the majority of people that are affected by the choices that are made here.” I don’t hear this thing from capitalist idealists very frequently saying, “Well, why would I want myself, my children or my grandchildren to be living in this?” It comes out to be neofeudalism, as you point out. That moment of clarity was priceless right there.

RC: I tried to give them credit, but he withdrew. I found that surprising that he was surprised that that happened. I was a little sharp in my tone because I took umbrage at the New York Times glowing interview in which, the Times reporter said something like “Romer saw something that should be obvious to all academics, but isn’t.” And it went into this great praise of Romer. And I was like, “Well, if you’ve paid more attention to academics, you would know maybe that you’re setting yourself up for a real problem if you’re doing business with a coup regime in Honduras,” which would have been obvious, if you’d read some history of Central America and US involvement there. But you’re right. Romer said, “Look, I don’t want to support a place where I wouldn’t want my grandchildren growing up.” I may not agree with the nostalgic vision he has about Hong Kong and the idea of charter cities. I don’t agree at all. But on the other hand, I think it’s important that understanding that as being distinct from going all in with this illegality and a willingness to make excuses and do business all oftentimes hid behind a smarmy, self-righteous we’re-going-to-make-the-world-a-better-place-and-make-a-lot-of-money-at-the-same-time rhetoric, which I find totally disingenuous, delusional, and quite offensive. So, I think Romer was serious. It didn’t end well. But for the people who are ongoing in these projects, it’s a little like the Anarchapulco stuff on HBO Max…

TFSR: Which I was about to ask about.

Before going into that, by talking about these extranational zones of exchange or shifts in sovereignty to private ownership and charters and the citizen-consumer model that, as you say, you can opt in if you can pay for it. But it desubjectivizes all of the other individuals who maybe lived there or might want to participate and maybe don’t have $50,000 to put upfront or whatever. Or a lot of these schemes try to avoid the discomfort of having to be around class conflict by shipping in their labor and then shipping them back out. Because who wants to live next to dirty people who clean your toilets? Their hands are dirty, how’d they get that way?

Speaking of dirty people, though. Our conversation is happening briefly after the release of a couple – now three, I’m one behind – episodes of a series on HBO Plus called The Anarchists featuring interviews with participants in a so-called “anarcho-capitalist” gathering in a place they like to call Anarchapulco. So what have you thought so far of what you’ve seen, and I wonder if you have observations about the appropriation of the term ‘anarchist’ and ‘libertarian’ and whatever the hell these people are?

And if you wouldn’t mind just referencing for the audience the conscious efforts by Rothbard and others to actively appropriate the terms ‘anarchist’ and ‘libertarian’ towards right, pro-capitalist, minarchists or whatever?

RC: Sure. I mentioned that Ayn Rand totally rejected the term ‘libertarian,’ and she also rejected the term ‘anarchist.’ Milton Friedman, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything in writing where he embraced anything akin to the term ‘anarchist’ either. Rothbard is one, there were a number of other people. There was a brief flurry in the late 60’s and early 70’s, in which the word ‘anarchism’ or ‘anarchist’ and ‘anarchy’– Which I always find interesting, I teach a class on the history of anarchism. And despite my insistence that students say ‘anarchism,’ the desire for them to say ‘anarchy’ all the time, I’ve always found quite fascinating. I started to keep a log book about it, just because I thought it’s fascinating that they just insist that that’s the term they need to use. I just can’t imagine there’s a philosophical basis to anything here. But the late 60’s and early 70’s was a moment in which Rothbard, also Gordon Tullock, James Buchanan whose figures are very prominent in Nancy MacLeans book Democracy in Chains, people who’ve gone on to found the Public Choice School, George Mason University, or someone else that I talked about briefly, Tyler Cowen. Recently in a book review he called me “a defective thinker.”

TFSR: Congratulations!

RC: Thank you. We’re hoping it will be on the cover of the second edition of the book. So, they did use the language of anarchism and theories of anarchy, they use the term ‘anarchy’ more frequently than ‘anarchism.’ But there was this brief moment where they appropriated the term and didn’t use ‘Libertarian,’ and instead use this term ‘anarchy.’ And it’s interesting, I didn’t delve into it in much detail, but I suspect it’s something that came out of a desire to connect with the efflorescence of, the dynamicism of youth culture at the time, amongst other things, and then faded over time. I try very hard in my book to distinguish between the people that I look at who I call Market Libertarians. I really don’t like the term anarcho-capitalists, it just puts two things together that don’t belong together, I strongly feel that the tradition of anarchism is an anti-capitalist and anti-state tradition. And in fact, I tend to accentuate the anti-capitalist side of it more so than the anti-statist side of it. So, I tried very hard to just use the term market libertarian, you could say market authoritarian for some of these folks, if you wanted to, I think there’s a case to be made.

TFSR: That’s where the sovereignty lies [for them]. It seems like that’s the authority.

RC: Yeah, exactly. And one that’s radically unequal. The disequilibrium is substantial. I noted a certain point in the book that the language of freedom is everywhere with the market libertarians, but the language of equality is not. And there’s two ways to think about this. One is that for classical liberals, freedom in the market is, in their theory, at least, going to gradually lead to a certain form of equality for everybody, it’s a sequential argument. So you start with freedom in the market, and you get to social equality, which anybody who’s not a liberal doesn’t agree with. But there were others who, like the late Murray Rothbard who said “equality doesn’t matter.” “Equality is a totalitarian ideology.” And so it wasn’t even about equality. And then, for socialists and communists, and others these are things that happen that have to happen simultaneously, you have to have equality and freedom together. They’re mutually reinforcing.

So, that was the language of anarchism. It is interesting to me, watching the documentary, how committed the subjects of the documentary are to calling themselves anarchists. They’re very adamant that they call themselves anarchists. I think I’ve only heard the word ‘libertarian’ come up once or twice, which is quite fascinating. And I’m not exactly sure why that’s the case. This Anarchapulco conference that’s been covered in the documentary started, I think, in 2016-2017. And it really took off in 2018. But in 2017, I went to an event in San Francisco, a conference created by an organization called the Startup Societies Foundation. And this is very much along the same lines. Their slogan is “Don’t Argue – Build.” It’s that Libertarianism that embraces the market and also says that politics is a pain in the ass because everybody’s arguing about things when you should just be out there building. And my response is “Okay, you got a multimillion-dollar home. Let’s not argue, I’m just going to build a giant billboard in front of your windows. How’s that?” They’ll be the first one to say, “You got to talk about zoning, you got to talk about wastewater treatment,” all these things have to be talked about in the community. That means politics, that means arguments. And so it’s just so unbelievably naive and silly and strange slogan.

But anyways, The Startup Society Foundation had this thing in 2017, it was a little mini version of this an Anarchapulco to some degree. A lot of it was people attempting to sell people on their latest thing related to blockchain or a new cryptocurrency, they wanted to do an initial coin offering or something like this. And then you had about 40% of the time were speakers, “thought leaders” pontificating about this or that. Including this fairly prominent guy from Stanford based in Silicon Valley, Balaji Srinivasen who just released a book called The Network State. His premise for Exit is a little bit different, it’s interesting to follow the logic through, he’s very much on the Market Libertarian side of things. I haven’t read the book, but as he presented it in 2017, part of the idea was that you get like-minded people together and you come up with a whole set of criteria about what your ideal place would look like, yearly average temperature, laws around whatever, taxation rates, closeness to an airport. And that you pump all of this algorithmically into this machine and it’ll turn out places that most closely fulfill their requirements. And then you and your friends who’ve got money get together and go to the space and set yourself up, and then negotiate better terms with the state wherever you are at because you’re bringing in your money. I’m not sure if this is what he gets into in The Network State, his most recent thing, but he talked a little bit about this in 2017.

So, there’s this array of these market libertarian gatherings where there’s a range of people, not all of them with a lot of money, but many of them with a good chunk of money, trying to create something that they see that is different. But it is interesting and strange that they use the language of anarchists. And I think it’s quite revealing, actually, and it does go back a little bit to what we saw in the late 60’s and early 70’s. That the language has a certain secondary meaning that they’re drawing from. It’s not pure political confusion. A lot of it is political confusion and a lack of historical understanding of anarchism, but also some of it is a-

TFSR: Marketing, if you will?

RC: Exactly. This is a marketing scheme.

TFSR: There was a point in the book where you talked about the shift in language around Libertarianism and pointing to the social conservatism that started developing at a certain point in the United States, the adoption of the term in relation to some of those rich – and I am sure in a lot of cases whites-only – enclaves outside of Atlanta that Newt Gingrich came out of similar to behind the Orange Curtain in California. I would imagine there’s probably a lot of people, having watched a couple of his episodes, that are positioning themselves as anarchists because it’s edgy and it’s in contradiction to the social mores that are imposed by the Evangelical-inflected Libertarianism and sovereign sheriff movement, constitutional sheriffs, and all this devolution of government – things that are being pushed by some in the US.

RC: I think that’s exactly right.

TFSR: What are you working on now? Where can people find your stuff?

Before that, I want to ask the question about “leftist” approaches towards sovereignty and exit.

RC: I’ll just say the latter part very quickly. I don’t use the language of “Exit” to talk about some of the left approaches. I end up using the word ‘exile’ that I draw from Andrej Grubacic and Dennis O’Hara’s Living at the Edges of Capitalism. They have a section on the Zapatistas, the Cossacks, and solitary confinement prisoners. It’s a book about mutual aid and exile. They use the term ‘exile.’ I found it very useful to make that distinction. Because there is a tendency– I get this question a lot, which is what about the Zapatistas? What about Rojava? It’s important to not equate form and content. It’s easy to say, “Oh, look, these are similar forms, they’re against the nation-state. They’re trying to create something different, autonomous territories. But my response to that is, first of all, we can’t equate a “green eco-village” capitalism with runaway slave communities or something like this. I just think that’s really problematic to equate those things. Perhaps, the more important point here is that the exit communities increasingly to me don’t appear to be a form of exile or exit, they appear to me to be a new instantiation of the state and an effort to increasingly privatize the state, new forms of primitive accumulation, new ways of resource capture. I just don’t see them as comparable at all to something like the Zapatista communities of southern Mexico, which are built on solidarity rather than individuality. They’re built on cooperation and mutual aid rather than competition, they see themselves as having to have in some form or relationship with the Mexican state. They’re not an utter rejection of the Mexican state. But they see themselves as having to have some relationship with that state, they actually invest in the promise of the Mexican Revolution in Article 27 from the Mexican Constitution on the Ejidos and agrarian reform. But at the same time, they’re trying to create something that is autonomous and unique in its own right, but you don’t have to have money to opt in. It’s just an entirely different structure. These things have to be distinguished pretty substantially. I see the exit projects as actually much more mainstream than they would like to see themselves.

And I disagree, actually, there’s been a couple of people who have reviewed the book and suggested that I focus on these outlier projects that are unusual and wacky and exceptions. I guess I didn’t get my point across because what I was trying to demonstrate by the end of the book is that in fact, these things are actually quite mundane, quite mainstream, and this is why if you want to understand them, you don’t need to read Peter Thiel or Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos and I would hasten to say you probably should read but don’t need to read William Gibson and Neal Stephenson and Ursula Le Guin, you can read J.G. Ballard, read his trilogy Cocaine Nights, Supercon, and High Rise to get a sense of what the future looks like in these communities.

TFSR: Yeah. Or in these instances, too, rather than talking to the people that are paid to fly into this hotel to give a presentation on whatever high-minded ideals they might have about changing the world, talking about the opportunities there with projects like Zapatista communities or what was the ZAD and Notre-Dam-des-Landes in France, or Unist’ot’en or the resistance at Standing Rock, either the creation of these autonomous, the opening up of space moments that are ideally more than just a TAZ ala Hakeem Bay, but oftentimes, what is meant to be not only a reimagining of the existent relationships around property, sovereignty, belonging, ecology, but they’re often an act of decolonization and removal of the imposition of the settler state, depending on where these are taking place.

There’s room for those of us on the left to think in terms of taking space, if we approach things honestly, from this perspective of solidarity and engagement, where it’s not me taking it from this blank slate that’s presented in front of me. Or those people that are like “let’s build some more factories here and call it Cancer Alley” or whatever. As long as we actively start engaging as folks from a colonizer country with populations and with landscapes that exist in a place, we can have a responsible way that, in the creation or recreation of these spaces, undoes some of the trauma that’s already happened and builds a path forward. That’s way more utopian and way more realistic than the crap that Thiel’s spouting.

RC: Yeah. You take something like the projects that I look at, but you can also look at the folks in the Anarchapulco, the HBO show, and I try to reference this in the book… When you come down to it, when you get past the glossy handout and the investment prospectus and all the other stuff, when you get past the glitter, it’s not Thomas Moore that you’re getting, it’s JW Marriott. It’s timeshare-sovereignty, that’s essentially what you’re getting in the end. And that’s why I’m saying it’s ultimately mundane and very mainstream in certain ways and reproduces all of these property and settler colonial relationships.

I have a very harsh critique in the book of the Seasteading book, Joe Cork and Patri Friedman did this book on seasteading. It’s just filled with the most fairy-tale version of history. There is hardly any mention of dispossession, violence, or anything like this. It’s like they read Lynn Cheney’s picture book Patriotic Primer for children and turned it into a history lesson. It’s really quite appalling. That’s the distinction I try to make in the book at various points in time.

The question about where people can learn more about what I’m doing. I’ve worked in Chile for many years, and I’ve been trying to get back there, but the pandemic has made research there difficult. In the meantime, I’ve been doing a couple of things. I’m working on an essay called “Selfish Determination,” which tries to go into a little bit more detail about how libertarians in the 50’s and 60s, especially in the 60’s, use the language of self-determination. There’s a UN resolution 1514 that was passed in the early 1960’s about the independence of colonized peoples and self-determination. I’m interested in the way in which they take up the idea of self-determination but appropriated for selfish determination just to give them their Ayn Rand credit. And then, a good friend of mine, Geoffroy de Laforcad, has written a lot on anarchism and has been involved in anarchist movements for many years in Buenos Aires and elsewhere. He’s from Marseille originally and teaches in Norfolk State. Geoffroy and I have been slowly working on a broader global history of things like exit and exile going back to the early 19th century. And this goes to your question about thinking about exile, Left projects of autonomy and things like this. We want to try to actually make those distinctions analytically and historically more evident and rich. So he and I are starting to write something together.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I look forward to checking it out for sure.

Well, thank you so much for having this conversation and for publishing this book. It’s sadly always timely. But not just because of HBO Plus, but yeah, I really appreciate it. I hope the listeners get a chance to read it and check it out. And thanks again for taking the time to have this conversation also.

RC: Yeah, thank you too. I was really grateful for the invitation and I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much.

Ongoing Sabotage and Resistance to War in Russia and Ukraine

Ongoing Sabotage and Resistance to War in Russia and Ukraine

This week, we’re airing 2 interviews to do with the Russian war in Ukraine. Plus, Kevin Rashid Johnson talks about being denied medical care for his prostate cancer in the Virginia prison system.

Assembly.Org.UA

[00:08:51 – 00:24:17]

Lower left: train rail sabotaged and tagged with BOAK's telegram channel; Upper left: mirrored business building on a sunny day in Kharkiv damaged by bombing viewed from the bottom up with pink flowers growing; "Ongoing Sabotage and Resistance to the Russian War in Ukraine | Assembly.Org.UA & BOAK (Anarchist Communist Combat Organization) | TFSR 17-7-22"
Download This Episode

First up, an interview with Assembly.Org.UA, a news site based out of Kharkiv about their journalism, disaster capitalism in the midst of pandemic and war, resistance to forced military conscription by the Ukrainian military and information about sabotage activity against the war taking place in Russia.

Links for Assembly.Org.UA

BOAK, Anarchist Communist Combat Organization

[00:27:34 – 00:51:41]

Then, you’ll hear words from BOAK, or the Anarchist Communist Combat Organization, a Russia-based group advocating sabotage and guerrilla struggle and the development of a social revolution against authoritarian regimes in eastern Europe. You’ll find a Russian version in audio and text of the BOAK conversation for dissemination very soon in the post for this show at our website. You can find a bunch of links in our show notes as well.

BOAK links

Phone Zap for Rashid

[00:01:19 – 00:08:51]

But first, you’ll hear Minister of Defense of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party, Kevin Rashid Johnson, talk about his diagnosis of prostate cancer and his request for a call in to get the VADOC & his captors at Nottoway Correctional Institution in Virginia to give him the care he needs to survive. You can read his article at RashidMod.Com.

Phone Zap!

RIBPP & PSO are calling on all comrades and supporters to participate in a Phone/E-mail zap for Comrade Rashid. The following script can be used/personalized:

“My name is___. My friend Kevin Johnson, #1007485, housed at Nottoway, just learned from the prison doctor that he has prostate cancer. Tests he took last October and November indicated that diagnosis almost certainly, but no biopsy was performed until April and the results reported to him on July 1. Eleven of 13 biopsies are positive for prostate cancer.

“Cancer kills, and it can kill fast. A friend with prostate cancer says his treatment started immediately upon diagnosis in an effort to stop the cancer from spreading to his lymph nodes and on to his bones, where it would be fatal. The Virginia Department of Corrections has already failed in its responsibility to provide even minimal care. Mr. Johnson’s thousands of supporters are shocked to hear of these inexcusably long delays in diagnosis. The best possible treatment must begin now. No obstacle must be allowed to cause further delay.”

Who to call: Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections Harold W. Clarke VADOC P.O. Box 26963 Richmond, VA 23261 (804) 674-3000 docmail@vadoc.virginia.gov

Director of Health Services, VADOC Steve Herrick healthservicesinquiries@vadoc.virginia.gov (804) 887–8118

Warden Clint Davis Nottoway Correctional Center 2892 Schutt Rd. Burkeville, VA 23922 (434) 767-5543
Email the following officals:

  • harold.clarke@vadoc.virginia.gov
  • david.robinson@vadoc.virginia.gov
  • steve.herrick@vadoc.virginia.gov
  • clint.davis@vadoc.virginia.gov.

Sean’s Segment

[00:51:41 – end]

Sean Swain talks about the overturning of Roe vs. Wade in his usual manner.

. … . ..

Featured Track:

  • Democratize, Decentralize, Demobilize, attributed to Antivoenny Bolnichny, lyrics found on LyricsTranslate

. … . ..

Assembly Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself (or if as psuedonymous individuals with any names, political affiliations, gender pronouns) and say roughly where you’re based out of? How would you identify your political perspective and what projects do you work with?

Cheh: Hello to all, dear Bursts, dear listeners… I’m Cheh and I am a co-founded of the counter-info group in Kharkiv called Assembly.Org.UA. Kharkiv is the largest Ukrainian city after Kiev, about 45 km (or 30 miles) from the Russian border and currently under siege from the north since the first morning of the invasion. Personally, I’ve been an anarcho-communist for about 10 years. The Assembly editorial policy in general is also close to social anarchism and in this sense we are the first such media in Kharkiv since the newspaper Nabat in 1920. Аt the same time we don’t have strict tests for ideology and theory as one would find during admission to a Marxist party. We are ready to cooperate with different persons and initiatives, if they are not controlled by politicians or bureaucratic structures, if they support horizontal direct action from below and want to be useful to the local community… generally so.

TFSR: Would you talk about Assembly.Org.Ua which describes itself as a portal for independent journalism and grassroots initiatives in the Kharkiv area. I see posts going back to 2020, during the early days of the covid pandemic. Can you talk about how the project started, what purpose it served and how that and your readership has shifted with the Russian invasion?

Cheh: Yes, we have really been active since March 30, 2020 – as soon as there was a feeling in the air that this habitual status quo had finally cracked. The start of a global pandemic took us by surprise! It was unusual to stay at home all the time. At some of our comrade’s workplaces, the salary was cut by 20% and there was a fear of staff layoffs. But a couple of weeks after the start of quarantine, we started development of our website and so began to talk about acute social problems and help people unite to directly help each other in the face of a crisis.

Our reasoning went something like this: if at least 10% of the population of our city understands, for example, the public transport system better than the mayor and the city council do, then why do we need their administration? Something like that… Our journal soon became a place where the peaceful segment of social struggle and self-organization could meet with the radical underground, and began to really live up to its name. We covered street events, workplace struggles, and urban development issues in our metropolis. We have also tried to restore historical memory on the revolutionary workers’ traditions. Since the outbreak of hostilities, our magazine has become a platform for presenting and coordinating self-organized humanitarian activities, as well as a platform for highlighting how the local ruling class is benefiting from this massacre. And if in the last year we had 20-30 thousand visits per month, then since the beginning of spring it’s jumped to between 80 to 120 thousand!

TFSR: We’ve spoken to a few people from Kharkiv in the past on the show since the war with Russia began, but it’s been a couple of months. Can you talk a bit about the city and the oblast or region that it is in, before the war?

Cheh: In general, Ukraine, especially with a reduction in any life prospects after the Maidan Uprising, has turned into a country of alconauts (drunken explorers) and pensioners, and Kharkov is known as a “city of boring faces” even by Ukrainian standards. Accordingly, the political climate is generally depressive and conservative, and it is extremely difficult to talk about anything other than everyday survival – even the capitalists in Ukraine have a very attention span for planning. Can this situation be changed by the economic recovery after the war? I don’t know. We’ll see…

TFSR: If you’ve been in the city or nearby during this time, can you share a little of how it’s been with the audience? Even though you are so close to the Russian border and the city has survived the repelling of Russian invasion, the shelling continues, right? (I can’t imagine how traumatic this has been and our project definitely sends solidarity and condolences for your losses)

Cheh: In a few words, our city, due to its location, is one large shooting ranges for the invaders. Ballistic missiles fly over every night as soon as people go to bed (or at dawn, around 3-4 am). And multiple rocket systems strike in the middle of the day when there are a lot of people on the streets – again, to kill as many civilians as possible. No air defense in the world can intercept hypersonic Iskanders at such a short distance – even air alert does not have time to notify us about them and starts blaring after the first explosions (not always but often). The Russian military wants to persuade the Ukrainian authorities to negotiate at any cost and hope that civilian casualties will force the population to demand concessions in favor of Russia from the political leadership of the country. Of course, Ukrainian HIMARS could destroy all firing positions in several minutes, but the American partners expressly forbid strikes on Russian territory, no matter how many they fire at us from there, because it will be considered Ukrainian aggression against the Russian Federation and will worsen Russian-American relations… This is how we live.

TFSR: A number of the recent stories on Assembly.Org.Au have focused on how local elites, speculators and capitalists and banks on the national scale (in Russia & Ukraine) have been either scheming to take advantage of the instability or destruction or increasing their economic violence on an ever more economically unstable population. What have you seen of disaster capitalism in this war zone and what are its visions of the future?

Cheh: Oh, there are a huge number of such examples. The sale of humanitarian goods, the theft of employees’ wages, or the same bill to suspend payments on mortgages and car loans for the duration of the war, passed on July 9 in the first reading, mentioned by you. This bill does not suspend the accrual of the body and interest on the loan. That’s why, at the end of martial law, borrowers will be forced to pay large amounts of outstanding debt – otherwise they will be subject to sanctions established by law or a loan agreement. In the same context, we can recall sky-high rental prices in safer regions. Or the plans of the Kharkiv authorities (and developers associated with them) to demolish historical buildings damaged by bombing for the construction of commercial facilities instead of their restoration. By the way, in the spring, the Kharkiv City Council presented a so-called volunteer initiative to restore the city, headed not by an architect or urban planner but by a clothing designer affiliated with City Council – obviously, to rob the budget under this cover by the officials – but after we published the exposure of who this guy is and what is known about his part, he backed out of this project.

TFSR: Can you talk about the experience of Martial Law and the military draft in Kharkiv?

Cheh: By and large, nothing interesting. From 10 pm to 6 am we have a curfew, cops try to catch everyone on the street without special permission, but in marginal areas patrols are almost invisible. Summons to the army are distributed in many public places – the entrances of subway stations, supermarkets, enterprises, parks – but since they are required by law to be filed in advance, and not in the presence of the officals, filling them out on the street is illegal and people oftenly ignore such papers. Since the court system is practically paralyzed, no one can even fine such a violator now. At the end of spring, there appeared a partner Telegram channel with 65,000 subscribers about where subpoenas are being issued now. Therefore, residents learn about such raids in advance and try to avoid them.

Apparently, the task of the military commissars is not only to replenish the army, but rather to press as many conscripts as possible, hoping that at least some will get scared and offer money so that they are left behind. For the same reason, many who come to the military registration and enlistment offices on their own volition cannot join the army, and leaving the country is closed for all healthy men from 18 to 60 years old [this is verbatim from the guest, to add clarification, “men” here refers to people assigned male at birth as the Ukrainian military doesn’t recognize trans identities – ed]. Even if there are legal grounds for leaving, border guards do not always allow this exit.

In general, mastering the basics of military affairs by the population is not such a bad thing, because even 1905 showed that without this we can forget about the revolution. And the repulse of the invasion is also necessary, but we should not help our State become stronger as a result of the victory, because in this case it will become the same dictatorship as the Russian one. Therefore, we support both anti-war sabotage in Russia, and some anarchist acquaintances in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the demand to open the Ukrainian borders for the free departure of everyone who does not want to serve.

TFSR: Will you talk about grassroots mutual aid initiatives you’ve witnessed or been able to report on going on against and in spite of the invasion in Kharkive oblast?

Cheh: Well, I just mentioned one of these initiatives in the previous answer. Also, our team from time to time arranges trips to the gray zone of the region or just to the Kharkiv suburbs to learn how the people stuck there live outside the State and to distribute humanitarian food or medicines among them. In addition, we have prepared a plan of a horizontal campaigns for the collective restoration of devastated blocks (Together with some of friendly groups, such as one called Building Aid). Of course, we can only start implementing this after the rocket strikes are completely over…

Summing up, due to all the specifics of the Ukrainian conditions, anarchist struggle in such a peripheral country requires global international solidarity. The technological primitiveness of the Ukrainian economy and the fact that half of it is underground paradoxically means that it is easier to adapt in times of crisis. However, at the same time, there forms here an atmosphere of indifference to any grandiose projects for the future due to the focus of the entire population on its momentary, everyday issues. And since social thought in the periphery largely depends on the situation in the capitalist core, the successes of the Western comrades will contribute to the spread of revolutionary anarchism in Ukraine, where during these few, bloody months the working classes have already demonstrated an excellent ability to self-organize.

TFSR: We found out about your journalistic project because of English-language posts on Libcom and other sites talking about the extent of resistance to the war in the form of sabotage and decruitment of Russian military. We’ve seen photos and videos since March of attacks on recruitment centers in Russia, heard stories of rail sabotage, and heard about building distrust and distaste in the Russian military for this war on Ukrainians. It’s hard to gauge from the US what is propaganda by the US regime. Can you talk about your reporting on this, what sort of sources you use (obviously keeping people safe in you answer) and your impression of this growing resistance in Russia?

Cheh: Oh, our English coverage of military issues on Libcom is very different from the content of our own magazine. On the Assembly we publish exclusive materials about local news from our own local sources, but we do not have any insiders in Russia and Belarus. We take all the information for this rubric with the help of open data intelligence in social and mass media, ourselves contributing to it only systematization and some conclusions.

Our British readers very accurately expressed what is happening there. They say: “While it is often stated that many Russians must support this war, such levels of resistance were not seen in coalition countries when those states invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, even among those states where the population was generally anti-war”. Very cool words, in my opinion.

TFSR: We’ve been conducting a conversation with the Anarcho Communist Combat Organization, or BOAK, based in Russia on resistance and sabotage inside of Russia. They have a clear hope that not only will sabotage and resistance build against the bloodshed in Ukraine from within Russia but that this is a time to grow resistance against authoritarian capitalism in the region, including Belarus. Do you see promise in resistance to the war and the dictatorships of an anti-authoritarian leftist politics in the area?

Cheh: These attacks will pose a serious threat to the entire system of the totalitarian Russian state when the repressive machine fails, as in February 1917. Roughly speaking, when the masses see that the cops, secret services and courts no longer work as before, the revolutionary struggle will develop in a geometric progressions. As of now there is no such signs yet – for even speaking out against the war, nothing prevents the Russian state from imprisoning a person for 15 years. One can definitely say that direct action to resist the war from below is growing, but no one can say today how far it will go because no one knows how long this slaughter will last.

And we must also take into account that the national unity of Ukrainians around Zelensky’s power rests only on fear of an external threat. As we have already said, social contradictions here have not disappeared during the war, but on the contrary, they are aggravated. And the sooner the invasion forces lose their offensive potential, the better it will be for the social struggles in Ukraine. Therefore, anti-war sabotage in Russia is indirectly a threat to the Ukrainian ruling class as well, and that is why we consider its informational support to be an internationalist act.

TFSR: Are there any things that you can share that bring you hope in these dangerous times filled with loss and violence?

Cheh: First of all, it is the interest in our activities from people around the world. And the study of the bright, revolutionary history of our city and region, the restoration of the memory about which before the war, in fact, only we did. And, of course, the wonderful local nature – to the extent that it is available now…

TFSR: How can listeners in our audience keep up with and support your work at Assembly.Org.Ua and are there other initiatives you’d like to promote here?

Cheh: You are welcome to our resources, both there and on the eponymous tag on Libcom.Org. To make our work more widely available, more systematic and at a higher quality you can financially support us on the GlobalGiving page Mutual Aid Alert for East Ukraine. Please visit! And we would like to mention the Black Flag – a group of our comrades from Western and Central Ukraine, which you can read about in our Libcom column, their Telegram channel is also added there. Also we are incredibly grateful to the Solidarity Initiative Olga Taratuta in France, alasbarricadas.org in Spain, aitrus.info in Russia and all other fellows who spread our materials anywhere! Thanks a lot to all of you if you listen this conversation!

Taking this opportunity, we also would like to say hello to such major American anarchist media as It’sGoingDown or Crimethinc, which continue to ignore us along with other Ukrainian anarchists, except for a handful of some subculturists who had never been seen in any social activism. Yes. Something like that… Thank you very much for your attention!

. … . ..

BOAK Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with whatever names you’d like to use, philosophical or organizational affiliation you want to share, and generally where you’re speaking from?

ACCO/BOAK: We consider ourselves revolutionaries and combatants against Putin’s authoritarian regime, as well as all other oppressors in Eastern Europe. We fight for a horizontal, self-managing society based on solidarity, freedom, equality and radical ecology. We believe that revolutionary organization is a necessary tool to achieve this goal and we are longtime participants in anarchist movements. We are the members of the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization and the collective of «Anarchist Fighter» information channels.

TFSR: What is the Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization? What do you do, who participates and what are your short term and long term goals?

BOAK: BOAK (Anarcho-Communist Combat Organization) is a group of anarchists standing for direct action and guerrilla methods of struggle as the most adequate, although not only, way to achieve social revolutionary objectives, especially against clearly authoritarian states like today’s Russia or Belarus.

Guerrilla struggle as well as any other kind of revolutionary activities (including the most “peaceful” and legal) should be performed in organized, disciplined and militant way. Anarchists need political organization of committed revolutionaries with combative potential. The same is applicable to broader opposition movements in Russia and Belarus. During our activities we try to implement this vision.

We can speak about our short and long term goals.
As short term goals we can name the further development of our organization, development of communication with other organizations and groups, for us to grow powerful enough to make a difference in a mid term term goal – building a social anarchist revolution in Russia.

And our long term goal would be completing this revolution and building a new, free and just society, according to our ideals.

TFSR: How did you come to anarchist politics in a place where its been increasingly criminalized and a left movement seems so erased? And how do you respond to western “anti-Imperialists” who promote the Russian state as a bulwark against imperialism?

BOAK: We came to the anarchist movement several generations ago. Before the current harsh wave of repression which has been peaking since late 2017 through today. Different members of our collective came to anarchist ideas by different paths. But at some point it was our militancy which brought us together and since then we continued analysis and practice collectively.

However, even though our movement is threatened to be criminalized or erased, it still can attract new generations of revolutionaries to join. The clear example is Kansk case in Siberia where secret services prosecuted young guys who got interested in militant anarchism. We believe there are a lot of our potential comrades throughout the country because anarchism has the aura of being the movement of consistent and determined fighters against the ruling regime.

We believe all people with anti-imperialist views need to understand that there is more than one Imperialist in this world. And Putinist Russia is definitely an imperialist force, which constitutes even more immediate threat for the peoples of the region than even U.S. imperialism (look at the Kazakhstan this January or Ukraine now).

TFSR: Can you speak more about what your vision of a social revolution is and how it could engage those other opposition movements that don’t identify as anarchist? Organizing under a repressive regime that criminalizes speech and assembly seems difficult.

BOAK: Very generally speaking, revolution is the process of major political change which is performed with the participation of broad social layers and made outside existing legal procedures. Social revolution means considerable social changes in addition. It can not be mere simple replacement of ruling figures. For now, any overthrowing ruling cliques in Russia and Belarus promises notable changes in our societies.

Of course we would prefer this changes have libertarian trajectory. For this, strong revolutionary organization is necessarily required. At the same time, overthrowing authoritarian regimes in our countries will be definitely the task for the broad popular movement, not a single political party or organization. Inside this movement there is, predictably, hard competition between different political groups and their projects. If anarchists are serious about libertarian revolution, we need to prepare to engage in this struggle.

We believe, that at least in the beginning there will be coordination of very different political initiatives, united by a common goal.
And, in process of achieving this goal, pros and cons of different ideologies and their approaches will be seen. And we believe, that anarchist ideology would be the one which will respond to the problems better than the rest, and will give people the opportunity to build a new society without bad diseases of the old one.

TFSR: Does it seem like there is an upswing in anarchist theory and politics in Russia, or more of an increase in tactics and anti-state organizing without engaging anarchism?

BOAK: It wouldn’t be truly correct to speak about any upswing in anarchist theory in Russia. It is actually in crisis and there is an intense search for the light at the end of the tunnel. However, such a situation, together with dramatic historical events we participate in can bring new ways and understandings of how to promote anarchist ideas and practice. Maybe the libertarian idea of confederation can gain some grounds, since the bloody horror we experience now is a direct result of oppressive and unjust social models of the Empire and the Nation State.

TFSR: Did you come into being with the escalation of the war with Ukraine in February or was the group around before that?

BOAK: The group has existed for years, as has the Anarchist Fighter page and channels. We decided that the moment of truth, which is this war for our region, was the proper time to announce the existence of the organization and its name publicly.

TFSR: Because of the way the corporate news cycle operates here in the USA, news of the Russian war on Ukraine is no longer grabbing so many headlines. Where is the conflict at right now as Ukraine gathers more western weapons and what is your sense of popular viewpoints and understandings of the conflict?

BOAK: It is obvious that the war is in a very hot, maybe crucial point. The big battle is raging in Donbass for weeks now and it looks to be in its culmination stage. Even though corporate Media in the West have started to “forget” about this war, it is not at all less intense than in first months and not less decisive for our region.

TFSR: Is there an anti-war movement in the Russian Federation controlled areas? We heard about media censorship, Newspeak criminalization of calling it a “war”, the brutal arrests of protesters in cities like Moscow and St Petersburg. Is this still going on or has the public protest been beaten back by the violence?

BOAK: Yes, repressions are at a high level. Censorship, arrests, tortures and prison sentences are all here. The more vocal and mass protests of the first days of war in Russia were generally suppressed by the government. However individual actions of a different kind are being performed, often by courageous artists or activists. These are still taking place more or less regularly.

What seems to be more important is that soon after the war started, there appeared a different current of resistance – spontaneous and decentralized actions of sabotage against different governmental institutions, first of all – military conscription centers. It really became a phenomenon already and we hope soon it will take more organized, mass and radical forms.

As you know, we also put an effort to contribute to this part of struggle.

TFSR: Please assume that our listenership has not seen news of the actions against oppressive regimes in Belarus & Russia. Can you speak about some of the actions of individual artists and activists that inspire you? And what about these recruitment center actions? What do they look like, how many, and what sort of reaction do you hear from the population?

BOAK: Direct action against oppressive regime in our countries has a very long history.
Starting from NRA (New Revolutionary Alternative), who blasted main building of the FSB in 1999, along with several military recruitment centers. Later there was “Black Bloc”, who led an anarchist guerrilla group for several years and never was caught. Mikhail Zhlobitsky, who bombed FSB building in Arkhangelsk paid with his life. Or the four anarchist who returned to Belarus in 2020 to fight against Lukachenko’s oppression known as the Anarchists Partisans case. And so on, and so on. We can clearly see that resistance was always here.

But now, when the tyrannical nature of Putin’s regime has become obvious for anybody, direct action became a method of very broad swath of the people.

In the last months there were 18 arsons of military recruitment center’s all over Russia
Not all of them were very successful – sometimes the fire was too small.
But in several cases – for example – in Mordovia – documents of young people who would be forced to go to army were destroyed. In Nizhnevartovsk, Luhovicy, Omsk some rooms of military centers were burned down.

Also, as we mentioned, direct action became a job of non-activists. It lead to some arrests at first, but people learn very fast, so now in the latest actions there are almost no arrests at all.
Reactions of people is different, for instance some are subject to military propaganda. But a lot of them understand, that this war leads to the deaths of many people including their sons and husbands, who would be sent to Ukraine to die in Putin’s war.

There are also other actions, apart from arsons of recruitment centers. For example, there were several cases of the derailing of trains. Also, attacks on electrical equipment of railroads, and cellphone towers in the border regions.

TFSR: How do you support other groups or individuals whose actions you share affinity with?

BOAK: We support all the people of good will who take part in the current, sharp conflict on the side of fighting for freedom. Everyone who confronts the Putin and Lukashenko regimes, especially those who do it inside these countries. We also support all fellow anarchist and other anti-authoritarian revolutionaries, struggling for freedom and justice worldwide.

As to concrete steps – we use our info-channels both for sharing skills, useful for direct actions, and to spread the word of different groups of comrades who send us reports and communiques about their actions. After the start of the war, we also started to collect donations to support different revolutionaries and groups who need financing for their activities. We already sent our first small stipends on request, based on trust.

TFSR: Could you speak more about these info channels? Also in relation to this, individuals have received fines and other penalties for participating in supposedly private Telegram chats in relation to protests, direct actions and solidarity. Since we know that Telegram is not a secure method to avoid surveillance from the Russian & Belarusian state, how have you addressed the need for security culture while promoting resistance culture?

BOAK: We started our propaganda activity with site bo-ak.org
But we also understand that people more likely use social networks now to gain information, so to address bigger audiences we also opened several social accounts – in vk.com (a Russian social network), telegram, twitter, youtube etc.

Some of our channels were banned and other didn’t have much success (and we also were forced to move our website to the darknet), so now we write on these platforms:
boakor7dmr63zguccltp6nki56ou4oppirhyllfck7yd3sifywinhkyd.onion/ – our main site. You can mostly find theoretical articles there, alongside our most important news and communiques about our actions .
http://boakmirror.noblogs.org/ – is a mirror of the site, not on the dark web.

https://t.me/BO_AK_reborn – is our main channel in Telegram
We post here useful advises about how to organize direct action, our ideological articles, news of resistance and communiques about our actions.
https://vk.com/bo_ak and https://vk.com/zloyancom – our channels in VK.com

About security – Vk is the least secure platform of all. It’s a pity because there is are a lot of people still using it, so to not lose them we post our main news there. But we don’t make contacts and we strongly advise all from communicating on VK and to switch at least to Telegram.

Telegram also isn’t absolutely secure, of course. So our method is – use burner phones (and, preferably, use virtual numbers bought by cryptocurrencies anonymously). Also, we suggest usin telegram only through TOR or VPN. Never believe anybody on the Internet, never give anybody info about yourself that you don’t want to fall into the hands of the police.

And we promote this approach to our readers every time we can.

Also, for important dialogues, we use and propose for others to use – email with pgp-encryption. We believe it is more secure than telegram – at least, you need to worry only about person on other end of conversation, and not about messenger which transfers it.

TFSR: A former guest of ours from Russia mentioned that many Russians avoid military conscription and so often soldiers are from neighboring, central Asian countries reliant on Russian trade and goods. Who generally is fighting in Ukraine in the Russian military?

BOAK: We can roughly distinguish two groups in Russian occupier’s forces. First are the true “dogs of war”, fighters of Wagner, different Spetsnaz elite units and contract soldiers for whom war is the lifestyle. They are to a big extent indoctrinated by the chauvinist reactionary ideology of the regime. The second group is soldiers who still signed a contract voluntarily but were recruited in poor, economically depressed regions where military service is one of the very few options for social promotion. These people are also victims of imperialist ambitions of Putin’s clique. It is not the coincidence that often these guys are from Russian “internal colonies” or so-called national republics, undeveloped and robbed by the metropolis, from places such as Buryatiya, Dagestan and elsewhere.

We are hearing about foreign citizens from Central Asia in the Russian army for the first time and it sounds unlikely. It should not be confused with the soldiers from Russian-identified national regions. Also, there was a news some time ago, that Russia is recruiting soldiers in Syria, but we didn’t see any proof to it.

TFSR: How are sanctions continuing to impact regular people and can you speak to the relationship between state rhetoric about Russian capitalist self-sufficiency and the reality of climate change (droughts impacting food production, etc)?

BOAK: The impacts of sanctions don’t hit regular people fast. At first, it could look like everything is OK. But then you go to the shop, and see that some products which you need (and not some luxury stuff) costs triple what it did before, and other things you can’t buy at all.

We can see that people in Russia have begun to suffer from sanctions, but for now it is more like rage in the air, with people asking “why does everything cost so much?!?” Most of them still think that it can somehow return to normal situation (even if they don’t have ideas about how, exactly). So the government isn’t feeling a backlash yet.

But situation changes every day.

As for the question of if Russia could become self-sufficient – our answer is “Under the ruling regime – no way”. It couldn’t become so without sanctions, with such high prices on oil and surplus moneys – so there is zero chances it does it now. Maybe Russian society could become more self-sufficient if it would engage in grassroots participatory economic approaches.

With the current system Russia may cover some of it’s needs in food or clothes. But something more complicated – electronics, cars, machines – we don’t think so. It could try to buy them from China or through other countries (known as “gray” imports). But Russia is very big, and it needs a lot of different stuff.
We don’t think gray imports could cover all of it. And, of course, time is essential here too – warehouses are not full anymore, and Russia doesn’t have years to build trading chains.

So we believe very soon people in Russia will feel scarcity again, even stronger than it was in the Soviet Union.

TFSR: How is greater evidence of state repression shifting people from a pro- or neutral to antiwar stance? Or is it not doing that? And if so, is state propaganda evolving in response to those shifts, or just relying on fear, etc to maintain control. [several news stories recently about army officers, uh, violently harming soldiers and actually being sentenced by courts – but maybe they’re just being used as examples for the state to be like ‘of course we would never be okay with this’ – a la Derek Chauvin’s conviction in USA for killing George Floyd to prove that ~the justice system works~]

BOAK:It seems to us that in Russia there isn’t a big shift in propaganda as you describe (like when theState tries to portray a situation as if there were some bad people in the system, but system overall works well).

Even after clarity on the events in Bucha in Ukraine, Russia has taken the position that “this is all lies, our soldiers are saints”. And sadly a lot of people prefer to believe it. Because if you don’t believe it, then you need to do something, because “your” State is pure evil. And it is very scary to do something in times like this.

So, it’s a pity, but evidence of state repression itself may be couldn’t shift mass people in Russia to anti war stance. At least, when the propaganda machine is working so hard to tell “all that is a lie”

But it works together with other facts – that your quality of life is worse than before, that your son returned from the war dead (or worse – didn’t came home at all, and leaders pretend that they don’t know anything and just want you to go away).

And all this together can actually change people’s stances.

TFSR: I think in the USA and other places there are assumptions that if Putin were to leave office or be removed (as Joe Biden threatened at one point), that Russia could join the happy menagerie of Liberal Capitalist Republics. Can you talk about what a “change of strongman” could mean short of a social revolution in Russia or Belarus?

BOAK: The “change of strongman” in Russia may happen in very different contexts. In the worst case it will be just internal replacement of figures in power within the ruling clique, and the system will hardly change (which in turn could inspire further uprising). Another option is overthrowing of governing elite or at least a change of its course one way or another. In the post-soviet period we saw the case of president Yeltsin that liberal economic policies can be easily combined with pretty autocratic political steps. So, a new “more liberal” leader either from current establishment or from opposition would hardly guarantee real social-political shift.

Real changes require not a “change of strongman” but liberation from all strongmen. Implementation of the practices of self-government. However we also can’t exclude some “provisional period”, when the change of government may cause the weakening of the State in general and give way for further social changes. Libertarian revolutionaries need to be prepared to take as much social grounds as possible in this moment.

In any case, there is no place for Russia in “the Western world” simply because global elites and the conditions of the global market don’t allow any mass welfare outside of the zone of global Metropolis. So, Russian society is unavoidably facing the challenge to find the ways to its prosperity outside of the false recipes suggested by “the happy menagerie of Liberal Capitalist Republics”.

As for Belarus – its current political system seems to be even more dependent on exactly one person than the Russian one. If Lukashenko left the country, Belarus would experience either the attempt to be fully swallowed by Russian imperialists or a path through intense changes with unwritten trajectory.

TFSR: We have seen disinformation in the US polarizing families and communities over the last decade. Are you witnessing similar effects around the difference between “special operation to remove nazis and liberate our little brothers in the Ukraine” versus “imperialist invasion to re-compose the lost Empire”? Are there strategies/resources for dealing with the effect of state propaganda on the interpersonal level (avoiding the dissonance becoming toxic and insurmountable? Also, are leveraging state power against each other in interpersonal conflicts, by engaging state services like in Soviet times? (this question was proposed by a Russian-American anarchist comrade)

BOAK: Yes, it happens the same in Russia and neighboring countries with the families and friend circles. Maybe we can say that older generations sometimes are more eager to carry the regime’s agenda (of course with the myriad of exceptions). We believe it should be confronted on interpersonal levels – all the consumers of state propaganda should see with their own eyes that people rejecting it are their loved ones, not some evil portraits from the television. If you defend your position calmly, with good arguments, friendly approach and finally with love – you have good chances to be heard.

TFSR: How can listeners outside of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine act and speak in solidarity with movements of resistance to Lukashenko, Putin and the war in Ukraine? How can we support those taking direct action and those who’ve been criminalized? And how can we stay informed?

BOAK: Direct actions against authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe can be taken worldwide. We are very inspired by the occupations made by Western comrades in the houses of Russian oligarchs. All of their business interests, estates and Western partners are legitimate targets in this context. All the public, symbolic actions of solidarity are also very welcome. Any expression is important, inspiring and appreciable.

Not least is information flow. We would ask comrades to spread our word in their circles and spaces. Particularly to fight Kremlin bullshit narrative about “antifascist fight against Ukrainian nazis and NATO”. Also donation campaign and material aid collection for libertarian structures in Eastern Europe is really a strong basis for sustainability of our struggle here.

We would recommend some information resources having more or less regular updates in English: avtonom.org for Russia; Resistance Committee for Ukraine and Pramen for Belarus. We, as ”
Anarcho-Communists Combat Organization”, also try to translate key news and texts into English.

. … . ..

Транскрипция:

* Не могли бы вы пожалуйста представиться, используя те имена, которые вам больше нравятся и обозначить ваши философские или организационные ориентиры, чтобы немного прояснить с каких позиций в целом вы говорите?

Боец: Мы рассматриваем себя как революционеров и борцов с авторитарным режимом Путина и других угнетателей в Восточной Европе. Нашей целью является создание общества горизонтального самоуправления, основанного на солидарности, свободе, равенстве и бережном отношении к природе. Революционная организация является необходимым инструментом для достижения этой цели. В анархическом движении мы уже давно. Мы являемся членами Боевой Организации Анархо-Коммунистов, а также представляем собой коллектив информационного ресурса «Боец Анархист».

* Что такое Боевая Организация Анархо-Коммунистов(БОАК)? Чем вы занимаетесь, кто принимает участие и какие у вас краткосрочные и долгосрочные цели?

Боец: (Боевая Организация Анархо-коммунистов) — это группа анархистов, считающих прямое действие и партизанскую борьбу наиболее адекватными (хоть и не единственными) методами достижения социально-революционных целей. Особенно это касается неприкрыто-авторитарных государств, вроде сегодняшней России и Беларуси.

Партизанская борьба, также, как и другие виды революционных действий (включая наиболее «мирные» и легальные) должна осуществляться в организованном, дисциплинированном и активном ключе. Анархистам необходима политическая организация, состоящая из преданных делу революционеров с боевым потенциалом. Это относится и к более широкому оппозиционному движению в России и Беларуси. Мы стараемся применять этот подход в нашей деятельности.

О наших ближайших планах и планах на будущее:
В наших ближайших планах дальнейшее развитие организации, расширение связей с другими организациями и группами, а также приобретение влияния, достаточного для осуществления другой нашей ближайшей цели — социально-анархической революции в России.
В более долгосрочной перспективе мы планируем довести эту революцию до конца и построить новое, свободное и справедливое общество, соответствующее нашим идеалам.

* Как вы пришли к тому, чтобы заниматься анархисткой политикой там, где это было всё больше и больше криминализовано, а левое движение похоже практически уничтожено? Какой ваш ответ западным «антиимпериалистам», которые продвигают российское государство в качестве бастиона против империализма?

Боец: Мы пришли в анархо-движение несколько поколений (в контектсте развития движения) назад. Ещё до нынешней суровой волны репрессий, которая в настоящий момент находится на своем пике с 2017 года и по сегодняшний день. Члены нашего коллектива пришли к анархическим идеям разными путями, но в какой-то момент именно наша нацеленность на милитант-анархизм стал связующим звеном, собравшим нас воедино, и с тех пор мы продолжали свои аналитические и практические изыскания вместе.
Однако, даже несмотря на то, что государтство пытается представить наше движение как криминализированное (путем заведения миллиона уголовных дел за одно только причисление себя к анархистам)(или даже уничтоженное репрессиями), оно всё ещё привлекает новые поколения революционеров. Очевидный пример из города Канск, что в Сибири, где федеральная служба безопасности арестовала и подвергла репрессиям подростков, заинтересовавшихся милитари-анархизмом.
Мы верим в то, что по всей стране есть достаточно наших потенциальных товарищей, так как анархизм слывёт движением преданных борцов с правящим режимом.
Мы считаем, что люди с анти-империалистскими взглядами должны понять, что империалистов в мире гораздо больше одного. И путинская россия однозначно является империалистом, что сулит гораздо большую угрозу людям из регионов, чем даже американский империализм (взгляниите только на Казахстан этой зимой и на Украину сегодня).

* Не могли бы вы подробнее рассказать о вашем видении социальной революции и как в неё могут быть включены те оппозиционные движения, которые не идентифицируют себя как анархические? Деятельность в условиях репрессивного режима, который криминализует свободу слова и собраний выглядит довольно сложной.

Боец: Говоря в целом, революция — это глобальное политическое изменение, проведенное с участием широких социальных слоёв и осуществленное вне существующей гражданской легальной процедуры. Социальная революция означает также и значительные социальные изменения. Это не может быть просто перестановкой фигур у власти. На сегодняшний момент любое свержение правящей клики в России и Беларуси обещает значительные изменения в обществе.

Естественно, мы бы предпочли, чтобы изменения были в либертарном ключе. Для этого необходима сильная революционная организация. В то же время, свержение авторитарного режима в наших странах несомненно является задачей широкого народного движения, а не одиночной политической партии или организации. Легко предсказать, что внутри этого широкого движения будет жесткая конкуренция между различными политическими группами и проектами. Если анархисты действительно хотят осуществить либертарную революцию, мы должны готовиться к противостоянию и победе в этой конкурентной борьбе.
Мы считаем, что, как минимум, в начале разные политические инициативы будут координироваться, объединенные общей целью. В процессе достижения этой цели станут явными плюсы и минусы различных идеологий и подходов. Мы убеждены, что анархическая идеология станет той единственной, что сможет справиться с проблемами лучше остальных, и дать людям возможность построить новое общество, свободное от болезней старого.

* есть ли основания считать, что теория и политика анархизма переживает подъём в России? Или появляется больше тактик и антигосударственной деятельности без связи с анархизмом?

Боец: Нельзя говорить о каком-либо подъеме в анархической теории в России. Анархизм находится в кризисе и в активном поиске света в конце тоннеля. Однако, нынешняя ситуация, вкупе с драматическими историческими событиями, в которых мы участвуем, может принести новые пути и новые понимания в деле пропаганды анархических идей и практик. Возможно, либертарные идеи конфедерации смогут снова завоевать своё место под солнцем, учитывая, что кровавые ужасы сегодняшнего дня являются непосредственным результатом угнетательской и несправедливой социальной модели Имперского и Национального Государства.

* Ваша группа начала деятельность с началом полномасштабной войны в Украине в феврале или она существовала и ранее?

Боец: Группа существует уже долгие годы, выражая свою позицию в публичном пространстве через сайт и прочие информационные каналы Бойца Анархиста. Мы решили, что момент истины, война в нашем регионе, является подходящим временем для придания огласке факта существования нашей организации, а также её названия.

* Из-за того, как устроены новостные циклы корпоративных медиа тут в США, новости о войне России с Украиной уже не привлекают большого внимания. В какой стадии конфликт находится прямо сейчас, когда Украина стала получать больше западных вооружений? Что вы думаете о распространённых трактовках конфликта?

Боец: Очевидно, что война сейчас находится в горячей, вероятно, решающей фазе. Масштабные боевые действия разворачиваются в регионе Донбасс уже в течение нескольких недель и, кажется, достигают своей кульминации. Несмотря на то, что корпоративные западные медиа уже начали «забывать» про войну, она остаётся ничуть не менее интенсивной, чем в первые месяцы, и так же остаётся определяющей хода истории для нашего региона.

* Есть ли на территориях, которые контролирует Российская Федерация, антивоенное движение? Мы слышали о цензуре в медиа, криминализации самого слова «война» и появлении новояза, жестоких арестах протестующих в Москве и Санкт-Петербурге. Что-то ещё происходит или протесты были задавлены насилием?

Боец: Да, репрессии сейчас на высочайшем уровне. Цензура, аресты, пытки и тюремные сроки — всё это есть. Наиболее громкие и массовые протесты первых дней войны были в целом подавлены российским властями. Однако, одиночные акции другого толка, осуществляемые смелыми художниками и активистами, до сих пор проводятся более-менее регулярно.
Наиболее важным представляется тот факт, что вскоре после начала войны возникли различные сопротивленческие течения — спонтанные и децентрализованные акции саботажа против разных государственных институтов, в первую очередь, военкоматов. Это уже стало настоящим феноменом, и мы надеемся, что скоро это получит более организованный, массовый и радикальный характер.

Как вам известно, мы тоже вносим свой вклад в этот аспект сопротивления.

* Представьте, что наша аудитория не знакома с новостями об акциях против деспотичных режимов в России и Беларуси. Не могли бы вы рассказать немного об индивидуальных акциях художниц и активисток, которые вас вдохновляют? Что с акциями против военкоматов? На что они похожи, сколько их и какая на них реакция среди людей?

Боец: Прямое действие против режима угнетения в наших странах имеет долгую историю. Начиналось оно с НРА (Новая Революционная Альтернатива), подорвавшей главное здание ФСБ в 1999, а также несколько военкоматов. Позже был «Чёрный Блог», который вёл партизанскую борьбу в течение нескольких лет и так и не был разоблачён. Михаил Жлобицкий, подорвавший здание ФСБ в Архангельске, ценой собственной жизни. Четвёрка анархистов, которые вернулись в Беларусь в 2020, чтобы бороться с лукашенковским угнетением («Дело партизан-анархистов»). И так далее, и тому подобное. Сопротивление было всегда.
Но сейчас, когда тираническая природа путинского режима стала очевидной всем, прямое действие стало методом борьбы для широкого спектра людей.
В последние месяцы было уже 18 поджогов военкоматов по всей России. Не все были успешны — порой возгорание было не слишком сильным. Но в нескольких случаях, например, в Мордовии, документы молодых людей, которых вынуждают пойти в армию, были уничтожены. В Нижневартовске, Луховицах, Омске некоторые комнаты военкоматов полностью сгорели. Также, как мы уже говорили, прямое действие становится методом не только для активистов. Поначалу это привело к нескольким арестам, но люди учатся довольно быстро, поэтому свежие акции обходятся уже без арестов. Люди реагируют по-разному. На некоторых сильно повлияла военная пропаганда. Но многие понимают, что эта война ведёт к гибели множества людей, их собственных сыновей и мужей, которых пошлют в Украину умирать в путинской войне.
Поджоги военкоматов – не единственное, что сейчас происходит. Например, было уже несколько случаев саботажа на железнодорожных путях — разбор полотна и повреждение электрического оборудования, а также атаки на вышки мобильной связи в регионах.

* Как вы поддерживаете те группы и одиночек, с акциями которых вы солидарны?

Боец: Мы поддерживаем всех людей на стороне добра, борющихся за свободу, всех, кто противостоит режимам Путина и Лукашенко, особенно тех, кто делает это, будучи внутри страны. Мы также поддерживаем всех товарищей-анархистов, а также других антиавторитарных революционеров, борющихся за свободу и справедливость по всему миру.
Говоря о конкретике — мы используем наши информационные каналы для распространения знаний, необходимых для осуществления акций прямого действия, а также для распространения информации о различных группах товарищей, которые присылают нам отчёты и коммюнике о своих акциях. После начала войны мы также создали Революционный Анархический Фонд, собирающий пожертвования на поддержку проведения акций прямого действия силами различных революционеров и групп. Мы уже высылали небольшие суммы по запросу, основываясь на доверии.

* Не могли бы вы больше рассказать про эти информационные каналы? С этим также связаны штрафы и другие наказания, которые отдельные люди получили за участие в якобы приватных Телеграмм-чатах, связанных с протестами, акциями прямого действия и солидарности. Поскольку мы знаем, что Телеграмм не является безопасным способом противостоять слежке российского и беларусского государства, как вы решили проблему необходимости развития культуры безопасности одновременно с продвижением культуры сопротивления?

Боец: Мы начали свою активную информационную пропаганду  с сайта bo-ak.org. Но мы также осознаём, что люди сейчас гораздо активнее используют социальные сети для получения информации, поэтому, для охвата большей аудитории, мы также завели несколько аккаунтов  в соцсетях —  vk.com, telegram, twitter, youtube и прочие.
Но некоторые из наших каналов подверглись блокировке, другие же не имели особого успеха  (нам также пришлось перенести свой сайт в даркнет), поэтому сейчас мы активны на этих платформах:
boakor7dmr63zguccltp6nki56ou4oppirhyllfck7yd3sifywinhkyd.onion/ – наш главный сайт. В основном статьи по теории, а также самые важные новости про наши акции. http://boakmirror.noblogs.org/ – зеркало сайта, важные новости и коммюнике.
https://t.me/BO_AK_reborn — наш основной канал в Telegram.
Тут мы публикуем полезные советы по поводу организации акций прямого действия, наши статьи по идеологии, новости сопротивления и коммюнике о наших акциях.
https://vk.com/bo_ak and https://vk.com/zloyancom — наши каналы в VK.com
По поводу безопасности – Vk наименее безопасная платформа из всех. Но, к сожалению, многие люди всё ещё её используют, поэтому, чтобы не терять эту аудиторию, мы публикуем там главные новости, но не входим в контакт в личных сообщениях и активно советуем всем переходить хотя бы на Telegram.
Telegram, конечно, тоже не абсолютно безопасен.
Поэтому наш метод при работе с ним – не использовать “личные телефоны” (и, желательно, использовать виртуальные номера, купленные за криптовалюту анонимно). Использовать Telegram исключительно через TOR или VPN.
Никогда никому не доверять в Интернете, никогда не выдавать ту информацию, которую не стоит знать полиции
И мы пропагандируем такой подход для всех наших читателей при каждой возможности.
Также, для особо важных бесед, мы используем (а также советуем всем остальным)
почту с pgp-шифрованием. Мы считаем, что это безопаснее, чем Telegram — по крайней мере, вам стоит беспокоиться лишь о том, кто находится по другую сторону переписки, а не о самом мессенджере.

* Один из наших гостей упоминал, что многие русские избегают призыва, а на войну часто отправляются солдаты из соседних центральноазиатских стран, которые зависят от торговли с Россией. Кто в основном принимает участие в боевых действиях в Украине на стороне России?

Боец: Мы можем примерно выделить две основные группы в российских оккупационных войсках. Первая — это «псы войны», вагнеровцы, различные спецназовцы и контрактники, для которых война является стилем жизни, мозги которых, по большей части, промыты шовинистской реакционной идеологией режима. Вторую группу составляют солдаты, которые хоть и подписали контракт добровольно, но были набраны из «депрессивных» бедных регионов, где военная служба является одной из немногих возможностей социального лифта. Эти люди являются такими же жертвами имперских амбиций Путина и его клики. Неспроста такие солдаты часто являются выходцами из российских «внутренних колоний» или, так называемых, национальных республик, слабо развитых и разграбливаемых метрополиями, таких, как Бурятия, Дагестан и других.
Честно говоря, мы впервые слышим об иностранцах из Центральной Азии, воюющих в российской армии, и это звучит довольно маловероятно. Не стоит путать их солдатами из российских «собственных» национальных регионов. Не так давно были также новости о том, что Россия рекрутирует солдат в Сирии, но доказательств этому мы пока не видели.

* Как санкции продолжают влиять на простых людей и что вы можете сказать про зависимость между государственной риторикой самообеспечения и реальностью климатических изменений(засухи влияющие на урожаи итп.)?

Боец: Влияние санкций на простой народ сложно оценить сразу. Поначалу может показаться, что всё нормально. Но потом вы приходите в магазин и видите, что необходимые вам товары (и не из сегмента люкс) стоят втрое больше обычного, а некоторые — и вовсе невозможно купить.
Поэтому, как мы можем видеть, в данный момент россияне начинают страдать от санкций, пока только негодуя в пустоту, «почему всё так дорого?!». Но большинство всё ещё думает, что всё нормализуется (хотя никто не представляет, как именно), поэтому не винит в этом государство.
Но ситуация меняется каждый день.

К вопросу о том, может ли Россия стать самодостаточной — наш ответ «при нынешнем режиме — никогда». Она не смогла стать таковой и до санкций, когда цены на нефть были высочайшими (и доходы бюджета от ее продажи) — поэтому сейчас у неё нет никаких шансов. Однако, российское общество смогло бы стать более самодостаточным, если бы применило подход с широким участием населения в экономике, грамотно распределяя ресурсы на общее благо, а не на воровство чиновникам в карман.

В нынешней ситуации Россия может утолить некоторые потребности населения — в продуктах питания и одежде. Но что-то более сложное — электронику, автомобили, станки — мы очень сомневаемся. Возможна попытка закупить всё это через Китай или другие страны («серый» импорт), но Россия очень велика и нуждается во многих вещах. Мы не думаем, что серый импорт может покрыть всё это. И, конечно, очень важен вопрос скорости замещения — магазины уже не ломятся от товаров, как раньше, а России нужны годы и годы на налаживание новых торговых связей.

Поэтому мы считаем, что очень скоро российский народ снова почувствует дефицит, ещё сильнее, чем во времена Советского Союза.

* Как бОльшая видимость государственных репрессий влияет на изменение провоенных или нейтральных взглядов? Или не влияет? И если так, то государственная пропаганда меняется, реагируя на эти изменения или просто опирается на страх, чтобы сохранить контроль?

Боец: Нам кажется, что в России нет особых изменений в пропаганде, похожих на то, что вы описываете
(т.е. что власть пытается показать, что хоть плохие люди и есть, но в целом система работает отлично). Даже после Бучи Россия заняла позицию «всё это ложь, наши солдаты святые». К сожалению, многие люди предпочитают в это верить. Так как, если в это не верить, то придётся что-то предпринимать, ведь «твоя» страна является злом. А в такой ситуации что-либо предпринимать очень страшно.

Поэтому, к сожалению, доказательств государственных репрессий и преступлений может не быть достаточно для того, чтобы подвигнуть массы к антивоенным действиям 🙁
Как минимум, пока машина пропаганды делает всё, чтобы убедить всех, что «всё это ложь».

Но всё это работает вкупе с другими фактами – что ты живёшь хуже, что твой сын вернулся с войны мёртвым (или того хуже — вовсе не вернулся, а власть настаивает, что ничего не знает и хочет лишь от тебя избавиться).

И всё это вместе может поменять позицию народа.

* Я думаю, что в США и других местах многие думают, что если бы Путин ушёл или его бы убрали с поста президента (как однажды пригрозил Джо Байден), Россия бы могла присоединиться к счастливому зоопарку либеральных капиталистических республик. Что вы можете сказать о значении смены лидера для социальной революции в России или Беларуси?

Боец: «Смена лидера» в России может произойти в нескольких различных сценариях. В худшем случае это будет просто внутренней переменой фигур у власти в рамках правящей клики, и это вряд ли изменит систему (что, в свою очередь, не позволит стабилизировать ситуацию и приведет к дальнейшим изменениям). Другой вариант — это свержение правящей элиты или хотя бы смена курса так или иначе. В постсоветский период мы уже видели, в случае президента Ельцина, что либеральная экономическая политика может легко сочетаться с автократическими политическими шагами. Поэтому новый «более либеральный» лидер, будь он из текущего состава или из оппозиции, вряд ли сможет гарантировать реальные социополитические преобразования.
Для реальных перемен нужна не просто «смена лидера», но освобождение от системы вождизма в целом. Внедрение практик самоуправления. Однако, мы не можем исключать некий «переходный период», когда перемены в правительстве могут вызвать ослабление власти в целом и дать дорогу дальнейшим социальным изменениям. Либертарные революционеры должны быть готовы занять столько пространства для действия и внедрения анархических идей, сколько будет возможно.

В любом случае, России нет места в «счастливой западной семье» так как мировые элиты и условия мирового рынка попросту не предполагают массового социального обеспечения вне зоны мирового “Метрополиса” (отсылка к фильму, иначе можно сказать – золотого миллиарда). Поэтому российское общество непременно встретится с трудностями в поисках путей для развития и процветания за пределами рамок фальшивых рецептов, предлагаемых “счастливым зверинцем Либеральных Капиталистических Республик”.
Что касается Беларуси — её сегодняшняя политическая система кажется ещё более зависимой от одного единственного человека, чем российская. В случае устранения Лукашенко, страну ждёт либо попытка полного поглощения российскими империалистами, либо путь существенных перемен с непредсказуемым результатом.

* В США последнее десятилетие мы наблюдали как дезинформация поляризует семьи и другие сообщества. Видите ли вы подобные эффекты вокруг разных трактовок «специальной операции по денацификации и освобождении наших младших братьев на Украине» или «империалистического вторжения для воссоздания потерянной империи»? Есть ли какие-то стратегии и способы разобраться с государственной пропагандой на уровне межличностных связей (чтобы разногласия не становились непреодолимыми и токсичными)? Привлекают ли люди государственные органы в конфликтах друг с другом, как это было во времена СССР? (вопрос от русско-американского товарища)

Боец: Да, то же самое происходит в России и в соседних странах. Мы можем сказать, что более пожилое поколение порой с большей охотой верит в идеи режима и поддерживает их (конечно, есть много счастливых исключений). Нам кажется, что с этим надо бороться на личном уровне — все жертвы государственной пропаганды должны своими глазами увидеть, что противятся режиму их собственные близкие, не просто какие-то злобные карикатуры из телевизора.

Если отстаивать свою позицию спокойно, использую хорошие аргументы, доброжелательный подход и любовь — есть шансы быть услышанным.

* Как аудитория за пределами России, Украины и Беларуси может говорить и действовать солидарно по отношению к движениям сопротивления Лукашенко, Путину и войне в Украине? Как мы можем поддержать тех, кто совершил акции прямого действия и попал под каток репрессий? Откуда лучше получать информацию?

Боец: Прямые действия против авторитарных режимов Восточной Европы могут быть предприняты по всему миру. Нас очень вдохновляют факты занятия нашими западными товарищами домов российских олигархов. Все их бизнес-интересы, имущество и западные партнеры являются являются отличной целью в данном контексте. Все публичные, символические акции солидарности также приветствуются. Любое выражение солидарности важно для нас, вдохновляет нас и очень ценится нами.

Не менее важно распространение информации. Мы попросим товарищей сеять наше слово везде, где только удаётся. Особенно важно бороться с кремлёвской ложью про «антифашистскую борьбу с украинскими нацистами и НАТО». Кампании по сбору пожертвований и сбор материальной помощи для либертарных структур в Восточной Европе также является важным элементом, необходимым для нашей борьбы.

Мы бы также порекомендовали некоторые ресурсы, имеющие более-менее регулярные обновления на английском языке: avtonom.org для России, Resistance Committee для Украины и Pramen для Беларуси.

Мы, «Боевая Организация Анархо-коммунистов», также стараемся переводить ключевые новости и статьи на английский.

 

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

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

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

Opposing Torture

[01:11:19 – 01:17:44]

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

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Featuerd Tracks:

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Transcription

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

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

Amar: That’s beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. Pretty much agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amar: I love it.

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

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

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

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

Dunstan Bruce on The Untold Story of Chumbawamba

The Untold Story of Chumbawamba with Dunstan Bruce

Dunstan sitting by a wall with someone wearing the baby face from the Tubthumper album cover and cartoon hands from "Never Mind The Ballots" album cover
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Dunstan Bruce is perhaps most famous for his lead vocals and listing of libations in the Chumbawamba pop hit, Tubthumping. But there is so much more to him and that band than that one song. For the hour we touch on some of the band’s 30 year history, their relation as a collective, anarchist band to social justice movements around the world and how they used their fame and money to give back, Dunstan’s recently finished documentary “I Get Knocked Down: The Untold Story of Chumbawamba” and his accompanying one man show “Am I Invisible Yet?”, aging and the battle for relevance, staying involved in politics and more. “I Get Knocked Down” is still seeking distribution so not streamable, but keep an eye on the fakebook page for updates on that, and you can find his prior documentary on Chumbawamba published about 20 years ago on youtube, entitled “Well Done, Now Sod Off!

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

Chumbawamaba-related:

Some hijinks from the era:

Other music related projects mentioned:

Dunstan’s Other Docs

Announcements

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

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

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

Social Media Documentary from SubMedia

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

TFSR Fediverse Podcast

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

Bad News, May 2022

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

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Featured Tracks (get ready):

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

. … . ..

Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: I’m not a very good interviewer.

DB: [laughs] But a good critiquer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: I think they were on Sony or something.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Do you mean with Interrobang‽

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Praying for the resurrection, I guess?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Music for this episode is an edited version of:

  • Eyeliner by American Hairlines off of the Free Music

Archive on archive.org, editing by Amar.

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Transcription

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Hell yeah, thank you all so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Sorry, that is within 2021.

TFSR: Oh okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N: [giggles with appreciation]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N: [giggles in agreeance]

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

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

TFSR: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Download Episode Here

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

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

Announcements

Eric King Call-In Continues

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

Transcripts & Zines

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

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Not the TERFy stuff.

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

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

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

TFSR: Hell yeah, I will do my best.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Is it SNY?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Xeno, do you have anything to add?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C: Thank you so much.

X: Yeah, thanks for doing this

Earthbound Farmers Almanac and Food Autonomy in Bulbancha

Earthbound Farmers Almanac and Food Autonomy in Bulbancha

Earthbound Farmers Almanac
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We’re joined this week by some of the folks behind the Earthbound Farmer’s Almanac, a self-published annual collection of art, comics, facts, articles and incitements to challenge us to thicken our relationship to the land and grow autonomy against state, colonialism and capitalism. You are welcome to  read the almanac for free in portions on the Lobelia Commons social media (fedbook or instascam). We also talk about spreading food forests and building neighborly food resilience with Lobelia Commons and a little about Ndn Bayou Food Forest (formerly the L’eau Et La Vie anti-pipeline camp) which can be found on fedbook or instascam.

A few acronyms come up in the chat, and here’s a breakdown: MADR is the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief network; Zeta & Ida were hurricanes that damaged the south east of Turtle Island, landfalling near to so-called New Orleans; NOMAG is the New Orleans Mutual Aid Group.

You can hear a 2018 interview from L’eau Et La Vie against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/2018/01/14/no-bayou-bridge-pipeline-an-interview-from-leu-est-la-vie-camp/

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Featured Track:

  • Instrumental #2 (waltz) by Elliott Smith from Grand Mal: Studio Rarities disc 8

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Transcription

TFSR: Could you all please introduce yourselves with any relevant information that you’d like to share: who you are or where you are, preferred pronouns, etc.?

M: I am M., I use he/him, and I am in southwestern Mississippi at the moment, but I bounced between southwest Mississippi and New Orleans, aka Bulbancha.

B: I am B., they/them are my pronouns. I’m also bouncing back and forth between Mississippi and New Orleans.

Hadley: And I’m Hadley and I use they/them pronouns. I’m also bouncing in and out of New Orleans. But I’m located west of New Orleans, I live in a project called the Ndn Bayou Food Forest. That is a propagation and free plant nursery.

TFSR: Cool. Do you mind if I ask a couple of clarifying questions? Can you talk about that food propagation project a little bit, Hadley, anything you’d want to share, any way that people can learn more about that? Sounds pretty cool.

H: Yeah, totally. It actually grew out of the campaign against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. And folks may be familiar with its earlier incarnation, the L’eau Est La Vie camp. In that same location, basically, after the pipeline was finished, which was rerouted around the camp to avoid the conflict, but currently runs next door to the Food Forest. This is the fourth year of it as a farm project, basically, and the goal was to take this land that had started as a point of conflict against petrochemical infrastructure in the Gulf South and then pivot from that point to looking towards some regenerative future. We found that the strategy that we could do with this place was to just use it as a little base to propagate as many fruit trees to give away as possible. So a lot of the trees that Lobelia Commons, which we’ll also be talking about, plants in New Orleans, are propagated here, or another rural space that we’ll probably talk about also.

TFSR: There’s obviously, depending on how close you are, blowouts from pipelines are a danger that’s one of the things that has brought people into the streets or into the swamps, in this case, to block the construction of these large pipelines. And also, they tend to leak. Are there any fears of that? Or have you been trying to work around that in terms of propagating food plants in that area?

H: Oh, yeah, it’s definitely a concern. Thankfully, we aren’t particularly near to a valve station, or a pump station, which is where the majority of smaller pipeline leaks happen. If there were to be a major blowout all we can do is hope that it’s not in the little section of the 165-mile pipeline that we’re at. But we do also understand that we’re surrounded by a lot of other pipelines too that definitely are a lot older, and probably are leaking a little bit in different places. But that’s the nice thing about having a propagation nursery, too, is we’re sending out trees, and then hopefully, I think we do have good soil, but even if we sent out a tree that had grown up with a little bit of oil on its soil, it’s gonna get hopefully put into a healthier habitat later.

TFSR: Cool. And for listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with the geography of the Gulf Southeast, can you all who are traveling back and forth between Mississippi and New Orleans say a little bit about— Is there much distance between those two places? Are they pretty similar biomes?

M: Part of the reason why we’re there is the geographic proximity, but the difference in terms of drainage and elevation. And especially just generally in the Gulf South, any amount of elevation really matters in terms of the type of storms that you experience, what flooding looks like, just the general potential inclement scenarios you could find yourself in.

Where we are is about an hour and a half north of New Orleans, and New Orleans is between 10 feet above sea level and 10 feet below sea level, and where we are is around 300 to 400 depending on where you are. So it’s a pretty, pretty dramatic shift even though 300 feet about sea level is not really obvious that much, but ecologically, it’s quite different. And that’s largely because of that elevation. So the forest types is, like, pine, oak, hickory/piney woods area. We’re in the very southern and what’s called the Pineville, historically was like long-leaf, pine forests, pitch pine. So harvesting turpentine and growing pine for lumber and that continues on today. So historically, it is quite poor soil, very acidic, as opposed to New Orleans being a lot more flat, not having a ton of agricultural space in the area immediately surrounding it. And largely because of the logistics that go into literally just reclaiming that space for development.

TFSR: Yeah, we’re here, among other things, to talk about the Earthbound Farmers Almanac. Can you talk a bit about the project, and how it got started? And what people can find in it?

M: The Farmers Almanac started a little over two years ago, I think, this is our second printing. And we finally started as a little bit of a haha joke, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we type thing”, but then we liked the idea. A lot of the projects that we’d come up with in Lobelia Commons have been experimental “what if” ideas that then we took seriously and saw what we could do with them. That’s the story of the almanac at least for me. What I’ve been inspired by is just how it’s grown and other people have taken to it and it’s an open-ended thing that people can obviously submit to, but also has been a way of meeting people through— We put out on social media that if people want to distribute it, they can and just basically pay at cost, sometimes we just give them away, and they pay shipping. Then they can use it as a fundraiser if they have some food sovereignty project or local neighborhood initiative like that. Sometimes there’s a rural garden center, book club thing, or just giving out to a bunch of rural friends or what have you. So we’ve made a lot of connections, and I think other people have made connections through distributing it, which is definitely something— I think that we thought there was potential for that but I don’t think that we expected to have the impact that it has.

TFSR: How has it grown from issue to issue? You can only see that scale, I guess, because you said it’s a second issue. How has it changed? And can you talk a bit about the content of it?

M: I would say it’s more robust this time around, I think there are so many things that you can put into an almanac. If you look at the ones you would find at a grocery store, there’s everything from like horoscope to recipes to the moon calendar, maybe growing tips, and some weird Christian stuff, and some weird funny stuff. It’s all over the board. So, as a project, the possibility sometimes can be very overwhelming. I think the first issue, we did a good job of trying a bunch of stuff and trying to be like “Oh, we should do this, we should do this, we should do this.” But we’re all doing this as volunteers and definitely not making any money off this. So we were stretched pretty thin. But what’s nice about this most recent issue, the second issue is that I think other people took to that and started submitting things that are elaborating on that idea of what reference material can you include, what’s like a comic that can be done for it, different ways of writing for it. I think it’s more filled out. It’s maybe even a little bit longer, maybe 15-20 pages longer than the last one, but less in terms of that — It feels denser or richer. And we also printed a lot more of them and are hoping to distribute them more widely, both regionally — regionally, we distribute in garden centers and some friendly nurseries, various local businesses throughout the Gulf South, — and to friends around the country and actually even outside of the country.

H: Just to add on to that a little bit. I think one of the things that are really clearly grown in to the second issue and I’m excited to see how it develops into later issues is that the reference section is just getting more and more filled out. And we’re reprinting things from the previous year, there was a really nice comic strip from last year that explains fruit tree propagation with nice little diagrams of how to cut the branches and everything like that. And we reprinted that and a comic on banana propagation and also have a lot of just new resources like maps that show some of the shifting hardiness zones are growing zones throughout the US of where the coldest minimum temperature is and how climate changes change that and things like that. For me, doing stuff around the garden, I’m actually starting to have the Almanac around to reach for it because it’s like “Oh, the seed germination temperature chart is going to be really useful for this, the soil chart is going to be really useful for that.” Another thing that we filled out a lot more this year was historic dates and things like that, and the calendar section to add more reference points of a global radical history of struggle around food and land and stuff, which is obviously an incredibly huge topic that covers struggles literally all over the world, but we tried to at least have more little entry points or just citations of things for people to get excited about and then do more research.

TFSR: It says in the editorial statement that not all the contributors and editors are a part of Lobelia Commons. But for those who are involved with that project, can you tell us a bit about that collective and its relationship to the so-called New Orleans? And could you repeat the indigenous name for the territory that somebody referenced, I think it was M.?

M: Bulbancha. Lobelia started pretty much right when the pandemic hit. It came out of the swelling of interest and mutual aid. A number of us had started in the New Orleans mutual aid group. And that grew out of this pre-existing food share. Basically, there wasn’t food coming in from the port that was providing the excess with which that food share existed. Then the project basically was buying bulk from Costco as many mutual aid projects around the country were doing. NOMAG, as it became known, really just got a ton of volunteers, so many people lined up for that. A number of us who were involved in starting also, we’re gardening and doing weird stuff with mushrooms and whatever, just nerding out about plants and the logistics of what allows New Orleans to exist in its contemporary state. So we just started like “Oh, let’s just do our own thing about focusing on food autonomy.” Because we’re clearly missing something,

if a pandemic hits or if some severe crisis hits, the experience of New Orleans tells us a lot about FEMA and that the state is really not coming. If the state does come it looks like huge lines, like a food bank like that, or just these poultry things. So how can we start to chip away? What does experimentation look like in terms of really fundamentally relating to food and place differently than we are raised or taught to? We’ve done a number of projects, and a lot of things have just not stayed the test of time’s had failed. But we started with a plant delivery service, basically. So, when people were delivering groceries, we were delivering plant starts, then when we no longer felt as necessary to do the delivery thing — also, that was a ton of labor for no real reason — we basically just started promoting what we call the decentralized nursery, which is a newfangled name for something that people already do throughout the world. Basically, if you’re starting some plants for your garden, just start a few extra and put them out in front of your house and give them out for free to your neighbors. So we tried to encourage people to do that a lot. A lot of people started meeting their neighbors and maybe a punk house, living in a Black neighborhood, some white punks who had never had good relationships with their neighbors for a number of reasons suddenly are talking to their neighbors. And there’s starting to be this breaking down of a colonial line over this meeting point of plants.

And we went on to start a number of other projects, maybe one of which that’s still going on is this mycology club which started as we call it the Mushroom Collaborative, but upcoming this week we’re doing an inoculation. But the idea is basically just to learn with each other about how to produce mushrooms, learn how to identify mushrooms, and just do foraging walks. We meet every now and then and we’re open to people joining. It’s a very caring space, people bring coffee and doughnuts. Usually, someone brings some critical reading about mushrooms, or fungi generally. It’s been a great space and the project I’m most excited about within that group is to form what we’re calling a mushroom commons and to basically inoculate logs with shiitake, or lion’s mane or reishi, and basically hide them around some of the parks in the city, and that people could then start to forage in the urban setting. Hadley, maybe you want to take it on?

H: Yeah. There are definitely a bunch of other little projects or initiatives that I could speak to that are more of the things I’ve been involved in. Because one of the things that are really nice about Lobelia is we always intended it to be a very decentralized thing that doesn’t feel tied to one particular space within the city, it’s not tied to one particular activity or even gardening, specifically. We want to imagine it being a much larger range of whatever people are excited about doing. For example, I haven’t participated in as much as I’d because I’m out of the city. I missed their public days sometimes, the Herb Commons group has been really cool, where it’s a bunch of people with a lot of skills around herbalism, who gather different things, or they’ll put the call to the larger group, and those of us who are growing herbs can contribute some of what we have or some of what we’re harvesting wild and send it to the folks working on the Herb Commons stuff. And then they go and do a pop-up tent in a public park or along a walking path, and have informational materials and lots of different herbs for people to try and take home and learn about, including fun activities. I went one day, and they were teaching people how to dye clothes with mulberry dye, and also just giving away all these herbs and everything. And that one’s really cool, because it’s also a nice way, if people don’t want to go do the public herb commons thing, they can engage with it more on the level of being a gardener who grows many herbs and sends it to the Herb Commons. Or they can have that more active communal interaction with them.

The one that I put a lot of my time into maybe, as I already mentioned, is called the Front Yard Orchard Initiative. That is basically just the goal to propagate and, if we can fundraise, to buy cheaply as many fruit trees as possible and give them away to people, and help people plant them if they want that help. Ideally in the front yard, but we aren’t actually strict about that, if people have a better spot for the tree in their backyard and we know that they’re going to share it with their family and their neighbors. It’s still a contribution to the overall food commons that we’re trying to create. Through that, we’ve been propagating and giving away and planting well over 100 fig and mulberry trees. And then lots and lots of other trees that are a little easier to come by — banana, moringa, things like that. And also trees that we have to fundraise and buy, we’ve also been giving away a bunch of citrus and pecans. What’s been also really nice about that has been just getting connected with other young farmers in the city who were excited to also help give stuff away. Because it’s one thing to grow 200 trees, but then try to go out and find spots for them all— We’ve just been handing them off to people and they’ve planted well over 50 in neutral grounds. For folks who aren’t familiar with New Orleans, the neutral ground is what you refer to as the green, grassy strip between two one-way streets, which are really common, they’re all over the city. People are walking along them and a lot of time it’s where you park your car if the water is going to be high. We’ve just been planting a lot of fruit trees through that project.

The last one I’ll mention right now is just a little informal, harvest crew or a harvest group where we just let each other know and keep track of different things that are just already growing in the city that don’t get utilized. There are just so many fruit trees that are sometimes in wild and cramped spaces, or sometimes they are in front of businesses and they don’t get utilized. So we just go out and pick a lot of figs and loquats, and mulberries and try to have some collective processing of those things, to save them or give them away in some way. That one has also just been really great to get people noticing the place that they’re living in a little bit more and developing a relationship with the place.

There’s this one particular park near the place I stay at in New Orleans that they just recently clear-cut all these beautiful elderberries and mulberries that we used to go harvest from. Now we’re starting to think whether or not we need to start paying a little bit more attention to the local neighborhood association politics over other terrible stuff that is happening in that realm.

B: I wanted to bring up a project that we’ve been involved in, which is working with our friend who is a neighbor and a Black elder community member, she’s a Black mama, her name’s Miss Althea. Her roof and her house got very damaged in [Hurricane] Zeta and then continued to get pretty severely damaged during [Hurricane] Ida. We’ve just been working with her and MADR and NOMAG to get a roof on her house and to try to eventually get solar panels and just see how far we can go with getting her set up so that she continues to be able to support her community in the ways that she has been for many, many years. We’ve just been talking about the cyclical nature of disaster relief, and how short-term it can be and spring up immediately after a disaster, but the longevity of that is just pretty short-lived. We are trying to sustain that because we’re living in a disaster, and we’re going to be constantly coming up against these things. So, creating situations and supporting people who are already doing the thing to be able to continue that so that we’re not constantly one foot in one foot out, we’re firmly facing each thing as it comes along. And we’re prepared for it.

TFSR: Concerning that work that you’re mentioning and also the example earlier that was given of the white punk house that started relating better to Black neighbors by sharing plants and having a thing in common and literally sharing the means of survival in a lot of ways… New Orleans, like a lot of other places around the country that particularly have large populations of color, have a lot of history of gentrification. And I’ve heard lots of stories of white punks, for instance, moving into— I grew up in the outer Bay Area, a lot of my friends decided to move to Oakland because housing costs were inexpensive. While they were not personally responsible, they definitely contributed to the displacement of Black and brown populations that have been living there generationally. Building those sorts of connections sounds really important. It’s awesome that you all are working with that elder. And I guess another part of that, too. These are thoughts that will lead into a question…

I’ve seen and talked to people who have done mutual aid projects. And I don’t know the ethnic and racial makeup of your group. But in a lot of instances, it’s a lot of white folks who have some extra time and maybe a few resources and can do mutual aid, often distributing stuff into Black and brown communities and poor communities. And while it’s a cool project that sustains people and takes off some of the pressure of racialized capitalism from folks, it isn’t necessarily able to bridge the gap between charity and mutual aid. It doesn’t bring folks in and also allows itself to be shaped by the people who these folks are living beside, and who are taking advantage of the project.

You’ve already given one good example right now with your neighbor who you’re helping with her roof, which is great. But I wonder how Lobelia deal with, for instance… Is it mostly white people that are coming and picking up the plants, are they putting them in their yards and increasing the property value of their neighborhood? And I don’t know if y’all are from New Orleans, even. Have you had any insights or experience of making that branch between moving from charity into a mutual aid project that can not only help sustain people but also contribute to an oppositional force, strengthening the communities against capitalism and gentrification?

M: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of obviously really good stuff there. Lobelia itself was definitely started by people who fit that description, largely white, younger, mostly transplant and have a little bit of extra time because almost all the projects were funded basically with unemployment and stuff. So that definitely fits that bill. And I think that where we’ve put our focus is moving away from that charity thing. A lot of people say this and don’t actually mean it. Probably everyone who’s been in Lobelia, it’s a “funny thing” because people come and go all the time, so there’s not really a membership per se. But the people who do stuff that gets called Lobelia, we’ve all probably done mutual aid that is effectively charity. And we all know that that feels terrible. It’s super draining. Honestly, most people that are involved with doing Lobelia activities are pretty generally over activism, or at least critical of activism in some way.

So most of our energy is localized, it’s where we are pretty much. The decentralized nursery is an example, that’s something that just relates to your neighbors, we’re not meeting up and being like “Okay, where’s the most marginalized group that we can go support?”. If there’s a group that reaches out to us that’s maybe doing that work and wants a bunch of plants for whatever reason, wants a garden — that has happened in the past, and the Louisiana Seafood Worker Alliance, the past two years, we’ve given them between 50 and 200 Roselle hibiscus plants, but we’re not like organizing in that way. We need to eat and our neighbors need to eat. And we want to talk to our neighbors and have strong connections with our neighbors. That comes from not this idealistic or selfless thing. In some ways, it’s “I want to have fun when I’m doing this.” And oftentimes, it’s very joyless to just seek out how we can do the most good. That’s largely why we’ve been rooted in specifically where we are. The relationship with Althea is probably the greatest articulation. Some of us have known Althea for seven or eight years. Some of us were eventually pushed out of that neighborhood. But they still keep up very strong relationships with a lot of people that continue to live there, or were forced out of that neighborhood as well.

TFSR: This isn’t so much meaning to be directed at you all individually. Because I know there’s a decolonial lens that shows up frequently in the book. And I think that it’s important to talk about that and the difficulty of navigating being a part of a settler-colonial society and that settler colonialism is an ongoing project and not one that’s passed, which is the thing that the book points to. So I am wondering when people talk about infrastructure projects, if you have thoughts about how that relates to settler-colonial society?

H: Yeah, I might have a rambly answer to it.

TFSR: It’ll match my rambly questions.

H: I think there are a lot of different aspects to how to approach it. A big part of it just has to do with history and getting acquainted with the history of the places that we’re in and making sure we keep those things present in a way. Here at Ndn Bayou, we grow some sugarcane. And I feel like there’s no way to grow sugarcane and have people here and give them the tour here and talk to them about the sugar cane that we grow, we have it as a visual barrier. But you can’t grow sugarcane without talking about the history of slavery and the way that plant was so integral to the whole colonial project in so many ways in this region, and sometimes people talk about New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city. We’re very close to all of that history. So when I talk about growing sugarcane, I try to teach people, if they don’t know about it already, people who are visiting the farm, talk about the Haitian Revolution and talk about CLR James’ The Black Jacobins, which I try to recommend to people, we have it in the library here. And I tried to get people to read from it or talk about the history of the way James describes the enslaved people in the northern plains of Haiti at that time, who were, in some sense, one of the earliest industrial proletariats in the world, because they lived in these huge camps with hundreds of people working these huge body-destroying mills. As soon as they had the opportunity, they chased all the slave owners into the cane fields and lit the cane fields alight, and burned them alive there. I think we need to come at it from a sense of we are coming from a settler-colonial society, some of us, but we just need to be clear about which side we’re on to some extent, and in this space, in particular, because of our having been rooted in this struggle against this pipeline that was led by indigenous people, we have a bunch of very direct relationships. So we can actually very easily be sending stuff here to our friends on the rez in the southwest, not to be specific about that place.

There are various forms of support that we can give having this place, and just as a refuge for people to come through lots of different things like that. It’s definitely not that easy for people who are just trying to have a relationship to land and a land project or inside a city like that. They don’t already have those connections. It can feel weird to be “Okay, well, I don’t want to be a settler here doing my garden project. So I need to go out and find the most public-facing, Indigenous organization to go meet those people.” It just has a top-down looking at the world, like a map colonial viewpoint almost even to just approaching things from that way sometimes. So I don’t have clear answers for people in other contexts.

M: I think that’s why our focus on the connection between these rural farms in the city is so important, because, aside from obviously just doing an isolated thing, having that connection is what literally makes, say, a farm in the rural south or anywhere, for that matter. That’s what makes it having that connection is what makes it actually become counter-infrastructure, something that can be used more widely and for partisan ends. So, having those places and the connections and having it be social is what allows for establishing these flows. I think it’s important to encourage familiarity with the place as people come and visit these various farm or rural spaces from the city and vice versa, to encourage familiarity while maintaining an openness to potential discomfort that could come there.

And there’s actually a piece in the Almanac called “Beyond the Levee”. It talks a lot about this historical counter infrastructure or maybe infrastructure against the state in the colony. That obviously took place in the form of maroons most famously, but also in other forms of desertion and fugitive city and at times insurrection. The piece ends with this imagining of a not-so-distant future where state infrastructure has collapsed to a further degree than we already currently experience and how those histories can be honored and lived as a means of survival and preserving dignity. I think it’s important to consider the potentials that developing these types of counter-infrastructure and the social world that they create and are a part of can aid and abet some future fugitivity and other types of movement that might become necessary as the state infrastructure continues to literally collapse, especially in the form of levees and floodgates. So, I think with respect to food autonomy and its relationship with those infrastructural projects, it’s just completely necessary. It’s absolutely critical to the functioning of those projects, to the point that it’s no longer an activisty activity. It’s the lifeblood and provides many avenues for imagination and experimentation inside those projects.

B: I feel like, in some ways, it relates to your question about “mutual aid” or what is often charity in certain capacities, but I guess, for someone who’s a white settler to know the answer to that question, I feel like is problematic. For myself, in these projects, there needs to be an acknowledgment of not knowing and not decide that this is like the way it needs to be. Or in this position where we’re isolated and we’re going out into these areas, and we know what’s best, and this is how we’re going to plug in, but being in community, I think, is one of the best ways to dissolve that, or to challenge that and to challenge oneself. Because you’re opening yourself up to asking people “What is it? What is it the community needs? Are the ways that we’re able to plug in?” Based on, for example, asking Miss Althea what she needs or what she wants, rather than deciding for her. That extends itself to like indigenous communities where it’s like “okay, there’s no way that I could know if I’m not in a community with indigenous comrades.” I think the first step is to be connected and also to be receptive to criticism and change. Being open to that, I think, is the biggest part of that.

M: Yeah. I’d add a little bit that being guided by humbleness and willingness to learn is critical, because a lot of the stuff that we’re doing, say, here in southwestern Mississippi, we’re largely producing mushrooms, raising tree crops, and have a prep plant nursery. And these aren’t novel ideas by any means. We’re just doing the means of both subsistence and survival for countless people for basically since humanity has been around, in all sorts of different forms. To pretend like we have some excellent idea that you see in some more permaculture circles, for example, that we need to proselytize or bring to the poor people who can’t figure it out. It’s just a totally backward way of thinking. Just being innocuous in a way, or doing your thing quietly. And then when it’s time to show up and support, if you’re a settler, Indigenous comrades, or Black comrades or worker comrades, or just your neighbors or your friends, show up with the capacities that you’ve built. Because there’s nothing that you can do that will make you not a settler, but your relationship with the land can change based on how you choose to live in relation to it.

H: Also, just while we’re on this topic, I wanted to clarify that our collective at Indian Bayou includes several Indigenous people, it’s a combination of Black and Indigenous and white folks here.

TFSR: Cool. Those are all really good answers. I appreciate you responding.

Living in Asheville, as I do, over the years I’ve seen a lot of like little shops pop up that are homestead-themed, they play with this settler concept of going back to the land— I am wondering if you have any ideas about how projects like yours can contribute to a countering to things like cottage core, or another niche, capitalist re-visioning of what it means to live in relation to the land?

H: We are definitely very anti-cottagecore. There’s a lot there. I’m not sure quite where to start.

M: We were just laughing about it a second ago, because I feel like we go back into the city and we’re constantly labeled cottagecore.

B: Like bringing baskets of mushrooms into the city people are like “Yeah, that’s what you are.”

M: I guess we can address the question with respect to some back-to-the-land thing. I actually also don’t exactly know what #cottagecore is.

B: Yeah.

TFSR: Me neither. I was hoping that someone else could describe it… [laughs]

Do you think that your project or that it’s an interesting thing for your project to engage with the idea of going back to the land in the American imaginary of homesteading and independence and individuality, that gets reproduced in things that I’ve experienced as being part of cottagecore? If I look at the hashtag on twitter.com, mostly, there are a lot of images there, and there’s a lot of focus on aesthetics. And, again, aesthetics are not bad. But when people prioritize aesthetics over actual engagement and the relationship between themselves and the land, or their health, or their autonomy, or their neighbors, that falls into a trap that capitalism provides. How do you think food autonomy projects can sharpen their teeth? Because I think that food autonomy is a really important challenge to capitalism, as well as to the individualized alienation of capitalist existence.

H: Well, I do think that the aesthetic of cottagecore is definitely something that needs to be attacked. I have been thinking about it a lot recently, about the ways that this really polished, “everything must look beautiful,” everything is presented for Instagram? It does tie into this weird obsession with purity and cleanliness, and this traditional whatever the fuck. I feel like there has always been this undercurrent and a lot of hippie counter-culture. But since the pandemic, I feel like its potentially fascist qualities of that obsession with purity are really becoming clear or clarified to me in a way.

I don’t want to veer too much into talking about the pandemic instead of talking about food. But I’m hearing the same sorts of people talk about how they’re not going to get the vaccine, not that I would tell anybody to trust the vaccine or the pharmaceutical companies in particular, but saying they’re not going to get the vaccine because it’s going to make them sterile, and it’s going to make their body impure. You hear that from a lot of the same hippie types, who would also say things like “Oh, we can’t grow a garden in the city, the city is dirty, the city is contaminated. There’s lead and all these toxins everywhere.” It’s true, there are a lot of toxins in the city. There are also a lot of toxins in rural areas, and people end up turning it into this moralizing thing, which is also obviously coming from a completely inaccurate place, whether you’re talking about the vaccine, the soil, or anything, everything is contaminated. We are contaminated. Contamination is a good part of our lives, we’re full of bacteria that are not ourselves, or they are ourselves.

So obviously, the purity thing is a fantasy, but it is just scary, honestly, the way it’s coming up to the surface in some ways now. I don’t have a clear answer of how to address it but I do think that in some ways, the Almanac is intended as something that somebody who’s in that mindset can pick up and not be immediately turned off to, but that can start to complicate and challenge some of those views.

M: I think being on the mushroom farm, I think we probably have lots of thoughts about contamination. And a lot of the gourmet and medicinal mushrooms that you would buy at a grocery store or farmers’ market are produced in these super sterile environments indoors. And definitely not going to knock them that since some people were involved in our project who grow like that, but there’s this constant policing of the space and disciplining of the space that is absolutely related to aesthetic. Any disturbance is really noticed, there’s a conflict anytime anything is entering that space, and our attitude here is quite a bit different because we produce mushrooms outdoors on logs. There are molds everywhere, sometimes there are molds on our mushroom logs that we want in the soil, and the trees are growing. It’s always contradictory. And the way out of that is through it, you need to promote diversity from the perspective of someone who is a fungal partisan is to, in some ways, increase contamination, different kinds of contamination, and create more fungal competition and more fungal communion. Again, not to come at these indoor mushroom facilities, we hope to one day also be able to have those kinds of facilities, because they definitely have their place. But there’s a definite distinction between the laboratory and the home space, and the laboratory and the school and any other public space, and a lot of that policing have been gendered labor. That comes through with a lot of stuff that Hadley was talking about, in respect to that being very appealing towards a politics of purity or white supremacy, fascism, hetero-misogyny, and, on forth.

B: Yeah, I used to go back to some of what you’re saying about the commodification of the image of nature. As it relates to back-to-the-land mentality, or cottagecore, whatever, homesteading aesthetic, and I guess something I’m noticing in this conversation is just the constant thread of connection and trying to break down the severing that happens when a commodity is created or is maintained in the public eye, through social media, as a representation of what it’s supposed to be based on what is the most marketable.

It’s difficult, right? Because if you’re trying to run a mushroom farm as a way to sustain yourself, there isn’t a certain element of having to play into that, where you still have to sell the mushrooms at the end of the day. So I think that we all have to still participate in these systems that exist. I’m new to Lobelia as a project, but I feel like part of what I’m seeing in Lobelia, and part of what I want to continue to see is a continued connection between the city and rural areas. That’s what Lobelia seeks to do in a lot of ways, I guess, maybe that’s one of the main pitfalls of the idea of back to the land is that it feels very isolating, and it also feels in line with prepping or individualistic or the new version of having a nuclear family and moving to the suburbs where it’s severed. So trying to reverse that severing, to continue those connections.

H: Yeah. Just to piggyback on that idea is that a distinction between food autonomy and isolated food production. And I think food autonomy is inherently a very social thing and something that’s directed towards a communing or commenting or sharing that a lot of the back-to-the-land thing or this macho “I’m going to move to this cabin and produce everything that I need to sustain”, which is just totally ahistorical, sounds extremely lonely and not at all what should be considered food autonomy. That’s as a solo project.

TFSR: Yeah. And I think it would probably have less inherent adherents, or followers online if it looked a little less like Tom of Finland a little more like Ted Kaczynski because that’s probably what you’d look like if you were sitting in a cabin by yourself for 20 years.

M: Exactly.

H: When we’re talking about the pitfalls of the homesteader mentality or the back-to-the-land movement, I think what M said about self-sufficiency being this ahistorical myth that never existed on the household or family level, in any agrarian land-based society, I think that’s a good place to start. And obviously, also, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed with settler nostalgia or the nostalgia for American settler culture that seems to be a part of the homesteading that some people are trying to do. Those things are very present and are a huge problem that needs to be addressed in the larger movement or the larger wave of new interest in growing food and getting more connected to the land.

But at the same time, I don’t think that they’re really new or surprising concerns for anarchists or people who listen to this show. We aren’t trying to have just a bunch of self-sufficient nuclear families. We don’t have any reverence for settler culture. In fact, for those of us who are white, if we find any inspiration or affinity with white people in early colonial history, it is only those people who were fully defecting from settler society and were welcomed into Native society or who were otherwise complicit in the struggle of Native people against colonization and were assisting that in really material ways.

And similarly, I don’t think that we really suffer from the same strategic delusions or missteps of the back-to-the-land movement in the 60’s and 70’s, in which case, a lot of people were trying to just drop out, and their projects became isolated and weird in different ways. There is a general understanding now, certainly, among anarchists that our projects need to be conflictual, they need to be part of these larger struggles, we can’t escape climate change, it’s coming for us wherever we are.

So there’s like a lot of really material things I think people should be thinking about to try to avoid that isolation. Because it can happen even with the best of intentions if you get just too involved in projects that keep you facing inward and you’re just biting off more than you can chew with the land itself, or what you’re trying to do with it. Distance and gas prices and the jobs being nearby or not — all of these things are factors that matter when we’re trying to figure out and cultivate the flows in and out of these spaces. The flows of people and resources that are needed to sustain a project and the people involved emotionally, physically, financially, socially, etc.

That’s going to look really different in every context. But just a general framework or an idea that I found useful is this concept of the “captured garden.” The standard example of a captured garden is from the height of the coal era in Appalachia when people are living in company towns, where the coal company controls everything. In a lot of cases, people were actually required to have a garden so that the mine owners didn’t have to pay people as much because they knew they were growing their own food. This stands in sharp contrast to just a generation or two before that, when growing food was something that gave people more freedom and autonomy and bargaining power when it came to dealing with the coal companies. If the wages were too low, you could just go back to the holler and grow food on your little plot of land and also have this large ecological base to draw from around, this forest and hills that everyone was using as a commons to graze their animals and hunt and things like that. And by the time of the company towns and the captured garden, a lot of that had been destroyed and taken from people. And so the captured garden is this example in which growing our own food has become this thing that is no longer contributing to our autonomy, but it’s contributing to our subjugation.

I find that to be a really useful framework, if we try to transpose it a little bit onto the modern era, just ask ourselves: “Is my community garden contributing to autonomy and giving people more ability to live their lives and have successful struggles against their bosses and the state? Or is it a captured garden?” With a rural land project, if an uprising comes along, and you’re too tied down, taking care of the chickens every day to be able to go into the city, maybe in some ways that is functioning as a captured garden for you. Obviously, there are lots of other ways that a well-positioned project could have really useful interactions with those conflicts.

TFSR: Thank you. Those are really insightful answers to a totally convoluted question, but you got what I was trying to communicate.

How can people get a hold of the Earthbound Farmers Almanac? How can they learn more about Lobelia Commons and maybe get involved or contribute to either the projects?

M: The 2022 Almanac is finally out, it was late three months because of a paper shortage. People can get it, if they’re trying to buy an individual copy, or a couple of copies, they can support the project. All the money goes back into the printing of the Almanac, which we’re still very far in the red, it all just gets paid out of pocket and we owe a bunch of people a bunch of money. So they can buy that at emergentgoods.com. They can also find us at @LobeliaCommons, on both Twitter and Instagram. There we have more information about stuff we’re up to. We’re also posting the Almanac, pretty much the entire thing, in like social media posts over the course of the year. And if anyone is interested in distributing it, or starting a book club, or maybe selling it at wholesale, or sticking it in the free little libraries, coming up with some way to use it or use it as a fundraiser, they can contact us on social media or lobeliacommons@protonmail.com. And we’re definitely looking for folks to contribute to next year’s issue, we are going to have the deadline for that is July 31 of this year. Feel free to reach out, and send us pitches, you don’t need to come up with a whole piece, you can send us an idea, and we will answer as soon as we get it. You can just put the “2023 Almanac” in the subject.

TFSR: Thanks again for having this chat. I look forward to putting in an order myself for a physical copy of it. I’m sure that Firestorm will carry it. So I will just grab one from over there.

M: Yeah, we actually had to send some, I don’t know if we did last year,

B: To FireStorm.

M: Oh, wait, you probably dropped it off.

B: No, I just put it in the Tranzmission Prison Project book stack. So it went out to folks at TPP but not Firestorm.

TFSR: I bet people’d really appreciate receiving some of that stuff on the inside. That’s awesome.

B: It was so cute. Because immediately after I dropped them off, someone texted me and was like “I was just reading a letter that had a request for an Almanac.” It was like perfect timing. Super cute.

M: Yeah. I have many pen pals in Angola in Louisiana. And we sent them to a few buddies in there. There’s this crew of guys who meet now and then and they talk about gardening and stuff and apparently, they’re super hype on it. That made my year last year.

B: That’s the best.

Eric King Speaks | 2 Radical Ukrainian Voices

Eric King Speaks | 2 Radical Ukrainian Voices

This week, we’re sharing 3 audio segments on this episode.

Eric King Transferred To High Security Prison in VA

[00:04:08 – 00:23:50]

Info on Eric King + an image of Operation Solidarity in Ukraine
Download This Episode

First up, you’ll hear Eric King, anarchist prisoner whose recent legal victory against the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the US was featured on our episodes from the week of March 27th, 2022. Last week, Eric was suddenly transferred out of Colorado toward United States Penitentiary Lee in the southwest portion of Virginia near Johnson City, TN. This is in spite of the fact that Eric should be held at a medium security facility according to BOP standards, unlike the high security and max prisoners at USP Lee. We caught up with him mid-transfer while at Grady County Jail in Oklahoma where many Federal prisoners stop during cross-country transfers. Eric and his supporters are afraid that he’ll be facing time in the SHU, or Secure Housing Unit at USP Lee for no reason other than punishment for his legal case and his supporters are putting together a call-in campaign to raise Eric’s visibility to keep him safe. There is information about this in our show notes at TheFinalStrawRadio.NoBlogs.Org and hopefully soon at https://SupportEricKing.Org .

This is followed by Sean Swain’s segment [00:23:53 – 00:32:42]

Maria of Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv

[00:33:06 – 01:07:52]

Then, you’ll hear Maria, a member of Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv, just returned from Ukraine and currently in Warsaw, Poland. We talk about ABC Kyiv, mutual aid and refugee support, border crossing, some information about anarchists participating in the territorial defense, NATO, non-violent as well as armed resistance to the Russian invasion, Russian forcibly moving Ukrainians from Mariupol into territories they control and other recent news stories. You can find more on how to support Operation Solidarity at linktr.ee/OperationSolidarity and the Resistance Committee of anarchists participating in armed resistance to the invasion at linktr.ee/TheBlackHeadquarter. You can also find a benefit for ABC resistance to the invasion at ABCMusicalSolidarity.Bandcamp.Com, written up at North Shore Counter-Info.

Mira, leftist punk from Kharkiv

[01:09:06 – 01:41:14]

Finally, you’ll hear a conversation recorded on Sunday, April 3rd with Mira, a member of the street punk band Bezlad and a show booker in the hardcore scene of Kharkiv near the Russian Border. Mira talks about his leaving of Kharkiv to L’viv to aid leftist and punk territorial defense fighters getting protective gear, his experience of the devastation of war on the city he loves and the breakdown of solidarity with antifascist and punk communities across the border between Russia & Ukraine since the war in the Donbass and intensifying today. We’ll play a song by Bezlad after this interview and will link them in the shownotes.

Announcements

Libre Flot’s Hunger Strike Continues

As a continuation of our recent announcement of the former YPG volunteer on hunger strike against unending detention by the French government, there is a call for a day of solidarity for Libre Flot for what is both his 36th day of hunger strike and his birthday. Libre Flot was hospitalized in relation to the hunger strike on March 24th but has continued due to his more than 15 months of pre-trail detention. On April 4th, 2022, the supporters are asked to make some noise at French embassies, consulates and other institutions to raise awareness of his plight. More info at SolidarityToDecember8.wordpress.com

Eric King Call-In

Alongside a recent post showing photos of the scene of Eric’s assault in the broom closet, there will be a post with phone numbers and talking points  up at SupportEricKing.Org by Monday. Below are some contacts you are suggested to reach out to to check in on Eric’s condition and talking points to help ask why he’s being treated this way despite his noted security level leading into the embarrassing trial loss by BOP:

  1. Why is Eric King, who is at a medium level according to the BOP, being moved to a high security facility across the country?;         
  1. Why is this move coming so quickly after Eric successfully won a lawsuit showing that the BOP was closing ranks to set Eric up for 20 years of additional prison as he approaches his out time?;         
  1. What will you, as a public official, do to challenge the impunity of the federal prisons to persecute prisoners and violate their human rights?;
DRAFT MESSAGES / TEMPLATES

 

Hello Senator _____,

I am writing about my friend who is a prisoner in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. His name is Eric King, inmate number 27090-045. He was recently found not guilty on all counts at a trial in the U.S. District of Colorado. Eric was moved from FCI Englewood and is currently being held in a private facility, Grady County Jail in Oklahoma. He has been told he is en route to USP Lee, a maximum security prison in Virginia.

I am writing because I believe Eric should not be sent to USP Lee, and would be in danger if he were sent there. He is scheduled to be released from prison in December 2023, and wants to avoid anything that would infringe on this release date.

There is an active threat against his life. A few years ago, before being sent to Colorado, Eric was held in the Segregation Unit at USP Lee for approximately two weeks. Before that, at USP Atlanta, a white supremacist gang member told him he would be killed at USP Lee if he was released into general population. This was documented at USP Lee.

It is imperative that Eric not be put in harm’s way. I am asking that you not send him into a situation that is so dangerous. The Bureau of Prisons knows this and there is established case law regarding the BOP sending someone into dangerous and life threatening scenarios. See Fitzharris v. Wolf, 702 F.2d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1983); Gullatte v. Potts, 654 F.2d 1007, 1012-13 (5th Cir. 1981); Roba v. U.S., 604 F.2d 215, 218-19 (2d Cir. 1979).

Additionally, Eric is in this situation because of a bogus maximum management variable on his security profile. This has him erroneously being sent to a facility beyond his actual security level. He has no pending charges and no incident reports. He intends to be released to Colorado to live with his wife and his two children in just over a year. I ask that this management variable be removed so that he can be sent to a medium- or low-custody prison close to home and begin preparing for release.

I am afraid for my friend Eric’s life if he is sent to USP Lee and I am asking that you intervene with the Bureau of Prisons and ask them not to send Eric King into harm’s way by sending him to USP Lee.

His lawyer is Lauren Regan and can be reached at 541-687-9180 or lregan@cldc.org. Please help my friend.

Sincerely,

_____

CONTACT INFORMATION
DSCC Office Designation & Sentence Computation Center U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Complex

346 Marine Forces Dr.
Grand Prairie, TX 75051

Mid-Atlantic BOP Regional Office

302 Sentinel Dr,
Annapolis Junction, MD  20701

BOP National Office

320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC  20534

Virginia Senators to Contact

231 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

703 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

. … . ..

Featured tracks:

. … . ..

Transcription (Maria)

TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time and the space to have this conversation with me. First off, would you please introduce yourself to the audience with a name, even if it’s a pseudonym, any gender pronouns, where you’re from, or where you’re at now?

Maria: I’m Maria, from ABC Kyiv, and I’m staying in Warsaw right now, just coming from Lviv where I visited comrades and had some meetings.

TFSR: Can you tell a little bit about ABC Kyiv and the history of the group? What work you’ve done before? What does it look like now? How the invasion has changed it?

Maria: We are a relatively old collective, 10+ years old. We used to mostly help political refugees from neighboring countries who escaped from Russia and Belarus. It’s not that many of them were in jail, but we were helping them with the refugee-seeking procedure and getting into politics in Ukraine. Now we changed because I expected they will go to Warsaw or whatever. But they mostly joined the territorial defense units in Kyiv. So we don’t have clients anymore, you know?

TFSR: Yeah. The history of the Anarchist Red Cross at one point included militant support of combatants too during the Russian revolutions. Right?

Maria: Actually, in the Makhno army, I think it appeared first.

For now, we are trying to do several types of work. First of all, we work with another collective that provides the same kind of help to people who decided to join the resistance, take up arms, and to fight for people and freedom at home. It’s different kinds of support. One is that we need to collect money, we need to buy things, humanitarian aid, medical aid, and different stuff that people who fight need. Another part is taking care of comrades who are relocating or choose not to because not a lot of people lost their jobs in Ukraine. And help with relocating people to other countries, they also may need help with a place to stay, money to live, possibilities to find a job. That’s a lot of work. For sure, we are taking part in it. We are not doing it as a separate collective, but rather with other ABC collectives, and with the group called Operation Solidarity from Ukraine.

TFSR:Awesome. I know that ABC Dresden in Germany has been one group that’s been able to funnel money towards mutual aid and defense funds, which is pretty cool. It’s amazing to see ABC groups – just from the outside, I’m involved with an ABC group here, but we’re still pretty focused on prisoners in the United States – to see the work that groups are doing in Europe is pretty impressive.

What’s the situation getting back and forth with Poland if you can talk about it? Has it been difficult because there is a long wait at the border? How have you been received in Poland at least with the government?

Maria: Surprisingly, with Poland, I crossed already twice, it was no problem at all, both times. In Ukraine, it was much more problematic months ago, but at the moment, it’s quite slow. Transport is late, but it’s not super difficult. I think it is difficult only for male assigned people. In Lviv, it’s also relatively calm, which is the new calm – they have 3-4 air raid alerts per day, which means that they expect air attacks. Sometimes there are air attacks but the air defense systems work well. I’m actually not an expert in weapons because I hate it. But the situation is like it is.

TFSR: Some of the questions that I’m going to be asking are related to either the war or the armed groups because that’s an area I think that a lot of anarchists elsewhere are interested in. But if you can’t answer them and don’t have an answer, I understand totally.

One thing that I’ve been seeing in the news here is that Russia may be pulling back, withdrawing troops, at least in the areas near Kyiv, back across the border to Belarus. Is that a thing that you’ve heard about or do you have an understanding of what’s happening with that?

Maria: I also read today that pulled back some troops, but not all of them. Actually, they say on the news that we expect more intense fights in the next few days. I hope that’s not true. But it can be. Also, they still attack Kyiv and other cities from the sky. With the army, they at least stay somewhere. But with these air attacks, it’s not clear where it will hit next time. Withdrawing troops doesn’t mean that they will stop bombing us.

TFSR: Sure, pulling back the army could actually mean more bombing, hypothetically.

What’s your impression, having been back to Lviv, of what it’s like to try to organize there or to be an anti-authoritarian, anti-nationalist group that’s trying to do organizing in the midst of an invasion and a time that almost necessarily leads to heightened levels of nationalism?

Maria: I didn’t see that much nationalism. I was there just for a couple of days meeting with comrades. I was not really in the streets. I know that the Operation Solidarity group there is very well-organized.

There was one stupid small attack by young Nazis on our comrades near a shop, where they were waiting in line to buy stuff for guys from the territorial defense. It was shocking, but they were some small idiots. It’s not that they really hunt there or whatever. I think Nazis are busy, the same as leftist people. We are not very much interested in each other, at this point, at least.

TFSR: What I’m seeing from the Telegram channel from Operation solidarity is that the attacker was from Misanthropic Division, and the comrade had a broken finger out of it.

Maria: He had a broken finger on his hand was wish he was packing medical supplies and other things for the army. It seems very unpatriotic to do it. It’s sabotage, in my opinion. I’m very surprised. I already started thinking about some conspiracy. Maybe they’re paid by Putin because it seems stupid to do it.

TFSR: Well, Nazis are stupid.

In your experience, how is the support from abroad into Operation Solidarity been going? There’s still a need, but they’ve been listing on their social media that they’ve been receiving– They went out and bought helmets, they went out and bought various forms of armor. Is the fundraising still going on? Has that been successful so far?

Maria: I would say it’s quite successful. But it always can be that if we have more money, we will buy better stuff for people, if we have more people, will still need to buy new things for them. Also, most people cannot work, renting rooms in Western Ukraine is very difficult, it is crazy expensive. Because so many people came there. Prices went high. There are still people there, their families and in the worst situation, you can expect that most of the people will lose their jobs. We also help with this part.

With medical things, you need to buy new ones from time to time, and we hope to have much more people. We have more people now compared to two months ago. I hope it will be much more, that is why for sure they still do fundraising and we still do fundraising for them. Other groups also do fundraising. I’m very satisfied with working together with them.

TFSR: I want to talk again about the armed organizing that people are doing, but there have been stories of lots of examples in this conflict of people taking unarmed actions against the war effort, for instance, the mutual aid and the medical support that you’re talking about, or blockades to slow the advance of tanks outside of major cities, massive street protests, including those that have been fired upon by Russian troops, the Belarusian anti-war sabotage on train infrastructure that’s been supplying Russian troops. Are there other examples or any that stand out to you of the unarmed mutual aid that you’ve been impressed with, that people should know about?

Maria: I’m not sure I understood all the points you mentioned. Because if your English is too perfect for me.

With the sabotage in Belarus, it is not militant, but for Belarus, it’s already a lot. For us, I think that we are not concentrated on these points. For me, it’s literally like fascists in the 30’s and 40’s are coming. People want to have arms and to fight back. I would not say that we are working on any anti-militant or whatever actions. We have a consensus that we need to fight with arms.

I know that there are protests in occupied cities. I don’t think that they decided to be very anti-militant, they just don’t have a choice. But the Russian army may actually shoot this protest. It’s only peaceful from one side.

TFSR: One of the groups, to my understanding, that’s been organizing in Ukraine for the armed self-defense is Black Flag (Chernyi Prapor)? Can you talk a little bit about the organizing and training that they’ve been doing that you know of, and as an anarchist grouping, how they’ve been relating to the territorial defense of the Ukrainian military?

Maria: I’m not that much in contact with them, it is a group from Lviv, as far as I know, a relatively small one. I’m not in personal contact with these people. That’s why I don’t really know how they do it.

I think one of the biggest collectives is the Resistance Committee. They’re also groups of people here and there in different territorial defense units trying to organize together, like three-five people. I know this better.

I also know about people from Kharkiv, I knew them before, but I’m not in contact at the moment. I know that there is a group in Kharkiv that is fighting in the territorial defense unit in Kharkiv, which is a hot spot. I also know anarchists who individually went to the army, for example, my friend, who is actually also one of these refugees, a non-Ukrainian citizen, went to fight the first morning, and he is stationed separately from us, but we still support him.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of how it is for them to relate to the fact that the territorial defense has a relationship with the Ukrainian military? How much autonomy they’re able to keep in that or any lessons that you’ve heard about how they’ve been able to try to keep that autonomy?

Maria: From talking to people, it seems it works quite well. They are not pressuring much and it feels like for other people there is a possibility for some autonomy. They are much less hierarchically structured. The army might pay less attention to this. But officially, they are part of the army. But there is actually no other way to organize because if you just take a gun and go to the street, they will think you are a subversive and kill you. Even historically, with the partisan movement, they’re actually always connected to the army to some extent. I don’t think it’s possible to really do it in parallel without any agreements.

TFSR: A few weeks ago, I was seeing stories online about foreigners coming to Ukraine to try to fight and defend it, getting shuffled into the military, or being pressured to sign contracts of service similar to conscription. Have you heard about this being the case for folks that have tried to join anarchist formations? Are they able to get in? Or do they just get funneled into the general military or territorial defense of Ukraine?

Maria: I think the problem you’re talking about is more about people who are going to the International Legion. I heard that people went to join a Belarusian unit, but I was not following the topic. Because I’m trying to concentrate on people I know, comrades, and things I can influence. I came across something like this in the media, but I haven’t heard any people I know who complained about it. But for people from the International Legion, which I think is separate, maybe it’s a problem for them.

TFSR: Another thing that I wanted to ask about, and it’s okay if you don’t have a comment on it or an understanding, but there was a video released recently that appeared to show the Ukrainian military shooting Russian prisoners in the legs extra-judicially. Have you heard about this or heard sentiments from other Ukrainians or people in the region about captured soldiers getting shot in that way?

Maria: I even didn’t hear about it, to be honest. I can imagine it can happen. For example, a friend of mine was telling me that when he was taking part in the evacuation of the occupied and besieged cities around Kyiv. It was the third week of war already and before he was rather in a better mood. But at that moment, he was really like “They are murdering kids. They’re raping women.” He saw the bodies of women on the streets. They [Russian troops] don’t want to fight with the army, they want to fight civilians. My friend was angry and didn’t feel mercy for them anymore. But then you just go out from there thinking and feel that you are a human and you should follow the humane way of thinking and acting. But I can imagine that after everything people saw. But I didn’t hear about what you mentioned.

I’m sad, I don’t want that to happen. But it’s very complicated. When you talk about these things theoretically from somewhere abroad, it’s one thing, but when the war is coming to your place, it’s totally another thing.

TFSR: That makes sense.

You mentioned children being killed. Some stories were circulating, I think they were sourced from the Ukrainian government about Russia importing thousands of civilians and children from occupied territories within Ukraine into Russia. Have you heard of this?

Maria: Yes. Many people from Kherson, which is the biggest occupied city, and Mariupol which is besieged. My friend’s parents were sent from Mariupol to Donetsk or Russia, she lost contact with them. It’s been five days now. They just put them on the bus. The besieged Mariupol and people couldn’t have access to drinking water and food. I think they demoralize them, but the people still didn’t want to go. They just take them to the bus, some of them could call and say, “Your parents were forcefully put on this bus, they will get in touch when they can.” But no one is reaching out these days. Then they’re sending a message that they’re in Russia. Today at the train station, I talked to people from Kherson, they’re telling the same, the few people who managed to escape.

TFSR: You can’t really guess about the strategy or the reasoning behind that, whether it’s to just depopulate areas, to make them easier to occupy, or if it’s about trying to forcibly settle people to new areas.

Maria: They’re not deporting all the people. For me, making the city empty is not the reason. As for Bucha and Hostomel, I heard the opposite – they don’t let people out. They make them too afraid to try to go out by bombing the humanitarian corridor, for example, because they actually want them to stay. Then it is difficult for the Ukrainian army to shoot because they’re inside together with civilians. Maybe there are other reasons, but they also try to use them for propaganda. They are filming people, they’re giving them a text to read. A woman was complaining about Azov and Medusa published several videos, and you see that she’s actually telling the story they forced her to tell because they didn’t do it in one shot.

TFSR: Forcing some of the people that they’re holding to act in front of the camera to say, “Oh, yes, I’m so happy that the Russians are here”, something that the Russian government can show back in the media.

Maria: Mostly they want their people to see that look, here are refugees from bad Ukraine coming to good Russia. Today I heard several stories from people who were going to stay with families in Belarus. If they did it the same day, I think it was something on the media in Belarus, that you should care about your Ukrainian relatives. Relatives from Belarus are calling to say that they should come over. “Here you at least will speak your language, blah, blah, blah.” And people are coming because it’s their families, not because they want to move to Belarus.

Today I met a woman, she said, “My daughter and grandchildren are there. It’s my chance to see my two-year-old grandson.” On the one hand, she is going to this place from which we are bombed, on the other hand, we all mixed, for the older people, it looks fine. And then in the media, they create 100 people from 10 people saying that thousands of refugees from Ukraine are coming from Ukraine to Russia and Belarus.

TFSR: A lot of people in the last six weeks have left Ukraine, and have withdrawn to find other safer places to go to. But I’ve also heard reports that people are coming back to Ukraine for defending it from the invasion or fighting back or trying to collect what they left behind. Is this a thing that you’ve heard about too?

Maria: I know several people who went back because, when they came here, they put them to live in a stadium, and then you leave with 500 people after being shocked and bombed. I think your psychological condition is not very stable. There is already a lack of places. I know that Germany and Poland and today I asked a person who stayed in the Netherlands, she said the same that they actually stayed in barracks or whatever. Volunteers do care about them and give them food, but they cannot live there forever. And they read the same news as me and you.

I know a person who wants to go back to Kyiv to my district and I know that it’s been very loud there the last few weeks. But she has animals, she cannot let them out and she lives in a barrack. She has them in transporter cages. I think it’s very different for different people. But some people just cannot live like this. For some people, it’s better to go with the risk to die rather than stay in a camp.

TFSR: Switching topics a bit, they’re far-right elements, since the Maidan, have been coalescing and doing arm training and participating on both sides in the war in the Donbas. As we’ve talked about, there are armed formations that are anti-fascist and anarchist, and that have been trying to hold that space separate from the far right, and I guess push back against that being normalized and also make safer spaces. But one thing that was happening at the start of the war that I read about was that supporters of the Arsenal Kyiv football club, the Hoods Hoods Clan were starting to support armed resistance. They were known by some as being a more anti-fascist football club. But as I understand, they’ve begun working more with right-wing nationalist formations. I’ve seen pictures of members throwing up the Svoboda three-finger salute. Are you aware of this? Can you talk about what your understanding is among the folks that are staying back and doing armed defense? How difficult it is to hold your ethics in this situation when you’re being shot at?

Maria: I’m not in direct contact with those people, because my comrades are mostly anarchists. There are some anarchists among them, but it’s not an anarchist group. I hope that it is some individuals who are doing it, I don’t think it can be the whole group, but I should check. The group is quite big, and from time to time, new people join. I don’t think they can control people that much. I would ask today, that’s interesting. As I was on the way, and I was in the Lviv without Internet, I don’t know all the news. But it sounds problematic for me is if it’s true, I would not be happy.

TFSR: It’s pretty clear to me that the aggressive invasion of territory and bombing of cities by the Russian military is a terrible thing that should be fought against. I totally respect people defending their territory and defending the spaces they live in, their families, the people around them, and their communities. In the West, it’s difficult for people in countries that are NATO countries to figure out how to relate to this in a way that puts us aside from supporting NATO intervention. I know the weapons that are getting sent in are helping territorial defense fight back the invasion. But do you have any thoughts about how people in countries that are NATO nation-states, besides sending funding, should be helping to resist the invasion without simultaneously working in a way that justifies imperialist Western militaries?

Maria: Sending money is nice. People can go to fight against fascists themselves. It’s an individual decision, but it’s always possible. With this NATO question, I’m very surprised how often I hear it because do you really think that all these leftists have an influence on these decisions?

TFSR: As far as influencing the way that NATO operates? No, but also, in the United States, the position that the US takes is that the Ukrainian government should be supported. It’s not about creating space for an anarchistic society there but those two things overlap in terms of stopping people from dying. The US for instance, where I’m living, and where I’m from uses humanitarian intervention regularly to justify the continued growth of the US military. It’s not just about necessarily helping people defend themselves from an invasion or from a terrorist group or from whatever. But it becomes a part of a larger plan that fuels the big industries of war in this country. That’s what I’m getting at in wondering if you have any views about it.

Maria: Russia openly says on the propagandist TV that they should bomb Washington. I’m not sure that the US TV says something like this, that they should throw somewhere a nuclear bomb. I think was these two, one went much more aggressive, at least with the rhetoric. I think that thinking about geopolitical is just practically totally not useful. Because that’s actually the context they’re given to people to distract their attention. For example, I hear the question about NATO much more often than the question if all the comrades are alive. Maybe it’s because I’m not that good with the theories. But for me, it’s a very strange situation, when people want to talk about this NATO thing that much in a situation where they can actually not really influence it. I think that as anti-authoritarian leftists and anarchists, we should be much more focused on the things we can influence in our lives, and less on the topics given to us from the top, on TV. It is just my opinion, but I feel like this.

TFSR: Super helpful. Do you think it’s useful for people who can take off and maybe a train or whatever to come to join territorial defense and try to support anarchist groups?

Maria: Yes. You can contact all the groups we discussed online, they have websites, Telegram channels, etc. You should ask them, not me. But I think there is a possibility, people who are looking for it can find it without my help.

TFSR: Maria, also would it be helpful to share any information further about how to contact ABC Kyiv, or you’ve mentioned operation solidarity, I can put more information in the show notes and announce that.

Maria: The Operation Solidarity has a chatbot if you need to contact them.

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

Maria: I think we all start to think about how this happened. With Russia, with what is going on? How we have new fascism, because all my life I was asking questions about what happened to Germans in the previous century? I’m asking myself what happened, and how we didn’t see it before they attacked so many countries. Now they also attacked my city, because the country was attacked already eight years ago. I think we should really work somehow that it will never happen a third time, or whatever time is next time?

I hope we will win. I hope my comrades in Russia and Belarus will be released from jails. I do hope we will find a way to stop these things from happening. Because for me, one of the most problematic parts is that actually, the Russian society supports what is going on.

TFSR: I hope for those things, too. Again, thank you very much for taking the time to have this conversation.

Maria: Thank you for asking.

. … . ..

Transcription (Mira)

Mira: Some people know me by the name Mira. I’m from Kharkiv city, which is in the east of Ukraine. Right now, I’m in Lviv.

TFSR: You’ve been in Lviv for a little bit now, like a month or so, right?

Mira: Yes. For the first 11 days of the war, we stayed in Kharkiv. Then we moved to Dnipro using suburban trains with transfers and spent some time in Dnipro and then went to Lviv using an evacuation train. It took like 21 hours to get here. Some of our friends were just staying in the vestibule of the train without a seat because was all crowded. It was a long, long way. We made it to Lviv. Lviv is a much better place to stay because we could do something here. It feels more like a regular peaceful place. We have some air raid alerts from time to time, and sometimes missiles get here too. But for the most part, it feels like a regular peaceful time. From here, it’s easier to coordinate the different types of work, volunteer work, and mutual aid work. It’s more productive and successful to be here, to get stuff, to meet people, and to send all the stuff further to other parts of Ukraine.

TFSR: Kharkiv, where you’re from and where you left is just right across the border from Russia. I know it’s been the center of a lot of really intense battles between the Ukrainian military and lots of shelling and cluster munitions from the Russian military. Is that right?

Mira: Absolutely. Honestly, when a few years ago, in Kharkiv, I and my friends did lots of punk and hardcore shows, including one of the biggest events in our country, Kharkiv Hardcore Fest, which is a few days event, and some bands from abroad that would come to play in Kharkiv were asking, “Aren’t you afraid that you are really close to Russia?” While we already had the military invasion in the eastern part of Ukraine, part of Donbas, it was already occupied, but we still were sure that it won’t go deeper into the country. When people from Finland, and Poland asked us that, we said, “Yes, we are okay.” We didn’t believe that Putin and the Russian military government would really be so crazy to start a full-scale war. Actually, we were surprised to witness what started on February 24.

TFSR: I’m glad that you and your friends were able to make it out. That sounds really, really scary.

Mira: Actually, I just want to add a few words, that since the beginning of the war, the police and army were trying to keep some order at the railway station, because so many people come in, they panic, and the place is too crowded and too many people stayed at the railway station. There were a lot of police and army to make things go smooth and try to keep some order.

That’s why we tried to use suburban train stations because we didn’t want to spend and unbelievable amount of time in the line. Because children, women, and elderly people, go first. If you are military age between 18 and 60, you are the last one to get on the train. We decided not to even try to go to the main station. We preferred to walk with our backpacks and stuff to the nearest suburban train station and get on the suburban trains. One day, we just went to see how it goes, if the trains actually pass by. Just to check it without backpacks, how it goes. When you’re staying on the platform and it’s a pretty open space and you can hear the air raid alerts and the sounds of explosions. It’s not comfortable to stay there, because you never know where the next missiles going to drop.

We made it there, we took one train, we made it to Krasnohrad and spent four or five hours there waiting for another train, and then go to Dnipro right before the curfew time. My friend from Dnipro met us with the car and brought us to the apartments just five minutes before the curfew time. That’s how we made it to Dnipro. Then we took the evacuation train from there for Lviv, 10 days later.

TFSR: You were there after the war started in Kharkiv. And you’ve been to some of these cities before, I would imagine, as a traveling musician, among other things. Can you talk about what it’s been like to see places that you’re familiar with suddenly devastated in these ways?

Mira: That’s really hard to express the feelings, which you get when you see the city you love, the city that you have lots of stuff in common, which you associate with yourself, and you see that everything around is being ruined by the air raids, by multiple launcher systems. To see the historical city center being ruined, and to see regular residential neighborhoods being ruined. You can’t look at it without tears. That’s really tough. Every day, we hoped this will be the last day when they do the bombing and shelling and dropping air bombs. But the following day, it was just getting worse and worse. When we were thinking about how long it could take to rebuild everything which was destroyed, hoping that will end soon, the next day is coming and we see even more destruction. That’s really painful and tearful to see.

Honestly, the first two days we were scared, then the fear changed for hate and anger toward the people who are doing this. We tried to find the ingredients to do Molotov cocktails and stuff like that because we thought they would be in the city soon and we might need that stuff. But actually, the armed forces you’re doing a pretty good job defending the city on the ground. Even those groups of Russian troops who managed to get into the city were eliminated. The main threat was coming not from the troops on the ground, but from the launchers that launched rockets and from the air bombing. The Molotov cocktails wouldn’t really help. We were sitting without any possibility of resistance, because in my group, we have five people, and none of us has military experience. The territorial defense was accepting volunteers only with military experience, so you’d be more useful for the defense. Since none of us had that, we were not accepted. Actually, the territorial defense was pretty full of people, and they didn’t even need more, because a lot of people were willing to defend their city, their land, and their country against the aggressor. That’s why the territorial defense pretty much all over Ukraine is packed with volunteers. They’re not really accepting new applicants for that.

So we were just sitting without really any use. Since every day it was getting tougher and tougher, we decided to go somewhere else, to leave the city until it gets a bit better because the missiles started getting all around the city, not just the suburbs, not just the neighborhoods closer to Russia, to the ring road, but also in the center, all the neighborhoods, including mine, which is close to the city center. There was already some destruction in my neighborhood as well. That’s why we decided to move to be useful in something else, not just sitting in the basement and listening to the sounds of the explosions.

TFSR: What activities have you been up to since you’ve been in Lviv? Is that at all connected to the work that you were doing before the war started in your community? I know some people start off doing, before the pandemic, for instance, were doing mutual aid work of one sort, like feeding people. Then after, in the US at least, have changed. They’ve just modified what they’re doing. Was there any connection between what you’re doing now and what was going on before?

Mira: We are doing totally different things now, because being a booker for shows is not something we would do here, and I had some small business rental for live events, I had my equipment in several clubs, and that is what I was doing besides booking my shows. Definitely, that’s absolutely not timely, nobody needs that. We just do what people actually need. While organizing the shows and the festival in Kharkiv, we have pretty much a big following on our facebook page and Instagram. I know that some people we met in shows, now are in territorial defense or in the armed forces, and I know that some people are lacking protective gear and lots of other items, not just knee/elbow protectors and bulletproof vests, but a lot of other stuff needed to be alive and to be productive in their defensive activity. Right now, the only thing that we are doing is trying to find the stuff our friends need and buy it and send it to them. It is just volunteer work, and it’s definitely not anything close to what we did before the war started.

TFSR: Especially in a war zone, I’m sure it’s really difficult. Here, it’s difficult to find some of that stuff at reasonable and affordable prices. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to source night vision gear or thermal imaging stuff in the middle of a war. From what you can talk about with it, is it just the prices that are really difficult? Or is it getting it off of captured or fallen Russian troops? What does it look like?

Mira: Most all the Russian troops that I’ve seen online don’t have that stuff, either. Since I toured with my bands a lot, I met people in Europe, with whom we stayed in touch till now. After the war started, some people started sending me messages, asking what was going on, and offering some help. That really saves lives now. With these contacts, we managed to work on the logistics of buying stuff, collecting money, and sending that to people who can buy that. Some of the volunteers are coming from Germany, and Poland to Lviv where we meet and get the stuff and send it further. The personal contacts, which I got in peaceful life before the war now really help to get what we need.

TFSR: So you’re mentioning booking gigs and shows and playing shows in the punk and hardcore scene in Kharkiv. Touring. Just looking back to what that scene in that community has been like for you – it’d be interesting to hear what the music scene was like?

Mira: Well, it’s pretty much a copy of a Western scene just on a smaller scale. Since the scene was born here much later than in the US or Europe, it’s younger but it shares the same ideals. I know that in the United States, some micro scenes just don’t care about anything. Some are really political, pay attention to political issues, and some are there just for music. When in Ukraine, they started to develop, it was very political starting in 2005 to 2015. Now, it was getting less, but we always were paying attention to who is in our shows, because we were always against any discrimination practices. We were not happy to see anyone with any Nazi symbols, in 90% of our shows, we specifically mentioned that Nazis are not welcome. Such people even don’t come because in most cases, they understand what views we have, so to avoid conflict, they just don’t come to our shows. There was a lot of physical confrontation in Kharkiv as well, years before, after the Maidan in 2014, actually, the number of confrontations got smaller and since 2014, it’s just calmed down. We didn’t really have big problems. There were some people wearing Nazi streetwear brands and stuff like that, trying to come to shows. They were just turned off at the entrance and didn’t get in. Years before, we had big fights in 2009-12. Sometimes we had fights with 40 people on one side and 50 people on the other side. But it’s calmed down with time.

Actually, at this moment, Nazis have their own hardcore scene developing. The fun fact is that they listen to a lot of good bands, but they do shows and they play and they support ideas, which those bands actually absolutely don’t support. I know some Nazis from Dnipro were traveling to Poland to see the band Backtrack and Agnostic Front, Madball, and stuff like that. When they go to Europe to see these bands, they shut the fuck up and don’t even show that they are right-wing sympathizers. But when they are back in Ukraine, in Dnipro, they have such symbols and T-shirts at their shows. But that’s an absolutely different scene and we don’t cross our paths. They don’t come to our shows. We don’t come to their shows.

TFSR: I saw Stiff Little Fingers once perform. They stopped the performance partway through and just started railing against Nazis and saying that “If any racists are here, you need to understand that you don’t understand the lyrics that we’re singing. Because we hate you. You need to go. You’re not welcome here.” I’ve seen like recordings a few times of Dropkick Murphys in the US also making that statement or going down and beating up Nazis that are in the crowd. I think it’s really important and really impressive when people use that platform to be very clear that that is not what they’re about.

Mira: At our shows frontmen of some bands clearly talk about that. Even if there is some person in the audience who also goes to some Nazi shows. That happens, we don’t know everyone. They just stay in there listening and don’t show who they are. But maybe that will help them realize someday what real punk and hardcore are about and what it is against. Maybe when some people accidentally get to the show with some friends, big shows where you can’t recognize everyone. Maybe these people see how hardcore punk bands play and what they are saying, and what are their views on racism, homophobia, and stuff like that. Maybe they change their minds. The time will show, you never know.

TFSR: Do people at your shows or at the shows in the Kharkiv hardcore scene table literature and stickers and stuff like that?

Mira: We don’t have sticker culture, we don’t have our clubs or something. It could be five shows in five different locations. It’s not really popular to put a lot of stickers around, because people in the clubs don’t like any political stickers, just to avoid losing clients. There is one club that we boycott, and we don’t do shows there. We don’t come there, because they allow right-wing bands to play there. It’s conveniently located. It’s a pretty good sound. But the owner is weird and we had conversations before. He was saying that he’s against any politics and that fascists will never have an event at his club. Then later, we have videos of people doing Nazi salutes there. It is just one instance, he says it is just business, he is doing business and doesn’t care about anything else.

TFSR: That sounds like stuff here.

Mira: I believe that happens, often, everywhere.

TFSR: If people here want to support– In the other segment that we’re airing from Maria, who’s currently in Warsaw, we mentioned Operation Solidarity, and also the Resistance Committee. A lot of their work is based out of Kyiv. Are there any other groups that you would suggest people send money to distribute, to get defensive implements, like helmets and vests out to the Lviv? Or do those groups work with you all in Lviv?

Mira: Yes, Operation Solidarity works in Kyiv and Lviv. We cooperate on some issues. We know each other, but they have a bigger following and more people. They are concentrated mainly on helping left-wing people in the scene whom they know. At Kharkiv Hardcore, we don’t check how left you are, if you call yourself an anarchist, or just if we know the person and if you know this person was at our shows, and you know the person is fighting or is going to fight soon, we help this person. That’s the difference. But we share the same values, we share the same views. We cooperate also on some issues. I think we’ll just develop this cooperation further.

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

Mira: Maybe just the thing that I need to mention is that 10 years ago, I would say before the Maidan 2014, before the Russian invasion, the first Russian invasion started in 2014 when they occupied the Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk Region. Before that, we considered our scene – of Ukraine and Russia – as one scene. I mean the scene in music and ideological terms, the antifascist scene, and the music punk hardcore scene. But after that, our paths started to go in different directions. We have fewer connections and less and less understanding of what’s going on in Ukraine. I had lots of contacts in Russia. After this full-scale war started, I got messages just from a few people from Russia. I understand that they now have a dictatorship, and they’re not allowed to say anything publicly and to voice their opinion if it’s against the official line of the government. But anyway, still, some people have a really weird position. Some people don’t say anything, some people say something that demonstrates they don’t understand at all what is going on in Ukraine, but they still keep trying to hold some position.

I don’t want to name the bands we have some questions to. But the main thing is that, unfortunately, after this conflict, the relations, and the attitudes to the Russian people would not be the same, because officially, 70% of the population of Russia supports their president. I understand they eat a lot of propaganda and are pretty fooled by it. But anyway, the result of it is the real war which we have right now. Unfortunately, all big bands, even in the punk and hardcore scene of Russia, didn’t show any position. They don’t call the aggressor aggressor. That’s really disappointing. I don’t know if we are able to communicate after this war is over.

TFSR: That makes a lot of sense. I guess it’ll take a lot of work on the Russian side, the Russian hardcore and anti-fascist scene to try to– It seems really complicated over there. But that’s not to make any apologies. As you said, they live under a dictator. That’s hard, but I hope that they do the work to recognize and listen to your voices.

Mira: I just want to add that there are bands in Russia, that tour in Europe, and they try to sit on two stools at the same time. They don’t want to call the aggressor the aggressor. They also try to show that they are for peace, but they’re not saying who is ruining the peace. That’s a problem.

When these bands announced European tours, I am afraid that the agenda wouldn’t be correct. Because some people in Europe hate the United States so much that they refuse the right of Ukraine to subjectivity. They call it the concept of the United States and Russia, two empires, and they don’t care about Ukraine. They hate the United States so much that they don’t give a fuck about Ukraine at all. That’s why some people in Europe are supporting and eating it and spreading Kremlin’s propaganda. They’re so anti-imperialist, that they are okay with Ukraine being destroyed.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s a funny way to identify an empire, not as someone going in and invading another place because they say that they have a historical relationship and that that other place actually belongs to them, which Putin has done by saying, “Lenin was wrong. The Tsar was right. Stalin was right. Ukraine is a place for us to make decisions about.”

Mira: Yes.

TFSR: Mira, thank you so much for this conversation and I am excited to share it. Are there any other links, do you want to mention your band name? It’s okay if you don’t. Or anything that listeners might follow.

Mira: Well, if you’re into punk rock, if you like street punk and oi, you should check out the band I am in right now. It’s called the Bezlad. While in Lviv, three of us are here out of five people, and we’ll try to make some new songs about current events. With the help of local folks who will fill in, we will try to record something. Also, we have a plan to play at a bomb shelter. That’s something new that we never experienced. Hope that will work. If you’re interested in punk, check it out, and stay in touch if you feel like it.

TFSR: We’ll be featuring a song at the end of this interview so folks can listen in to one track by that band. All right. Well, thanks a lot. I hope you keep safe and good luck to you and yours. I hope the war ends soon.

Mira: Thank you so much. Thank you for your attention. Thank you for speaking out about this. For spending your time to let people know what’s going on and let them hear Ukrainian voices on what’s going on here.

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

This week’s episode has two audio segments…

Download Episode Here!

Merced County Prisoner Hunger Strikes

This week, you’ll hear a chat with California-based activist Victoria from Merced Under Construction, who talks to us about the prisoner hunger strikes at Merced County Jail and John Latorraca Center. Over 40 prisoners engaged in hunger strike for 17 days, fighting for issues like protesting black mold, little food, lack of visitation and other issues. The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. You can learn more about how to support and keep up on https://linktr.ee/mercedunderconstruction or MIRA’s facebook page

You can find coverage of the 2016 Merced Jail protests, check out ItsGoingDown.Org

Eric King Trial Ends

Then, you’ll hear from Josh from the Certain Days Calendar and Mookie from the Civil Liberties Defense Center do an update on a roundup of the recent trial of Eric King. Eric was found innocent on charges of assaulting a Federal Bureau of Prisons Lieutenant, a charge that would have added another 20 years to his time in prison, thankfully. More on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, more on Certain Days at CertainDays.Org and the CLDC at CLDC.org

Eric King links:

CLDC links:

Certain Days interviews:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription (Merced County Hunger Strike)

Victoria Espinoza: Alright, great. My name is Victoria Espinoza, and identify as a Child of God. I’m born and raised in Merced, California, and I’m the founder of Merced Under Construction.

TFSR: And could you tell us a bit about where Merced County is? What listeners should know about the county? The economy, who lives there, what it looks like, that sort of stuff?

VS: Well, Merced, man, not a lot of people know where Merced is. When they hear Central Valley. They’re like, “what is that?” They think of like Bay Area, LA, when you think of California. But we are literally the central of the state of California, like the Central Valley area in between Fresno and Modesto, or Stanislaus and Fresno County. Our city slogan is “we are the gateway to Yosemite.” And, you know, we boast about it, or the city does at least. But nearly 25% of our population is living in poverty. So it’s predominantly white, Latino, like Hispanic, Mexican, indigenous folks living here with some other races mixed in. We have like, less than 4% Black folks, we do have a very strong Hmong community here and a lot of other different nationalities, race that are here.

TFSR: And for like, as far as, you mentioned, 25% of the population living in poverty, what are the sort of industries that people are involved in? Is it agriculture? Since we’re gonna be talking about prisons, I’m sure that prisons, and police and military are like big employers for parts of the population.

VS: Yeah, so we are a very large agriculture community. So we do have a lot of farm workers. We have a lot in many of our cities and our outskirts as well and unincorporated areas. So that is one thing that we do have strong here in Merced is the ag. We have some industry, industrial stuff, but mainly we’re known for agriculture, honestly. We do have UC Merced, last university that’s been built in. They’re building on that. UC Merced is growing, obviously. So we are seeing some of that, some things that are happening in our community, with rent controls not happening, people are getting pushed out and it’s not the Merced that it used to be 10 years ago, definitely.

TFSR: I guess I do want to ask some questions about Merced Under Construction later and imagine that that’s, like, gentrification and issues like that are being engaged with that group. Is that right?

VS: Yes.

TFSR: Jumping off into the main topic, though. So we’re speaking because there’s been hunger strikes among incarcerated folks at the jails in the county. Can you talk a bit about the conditions at Merced County Jail, and also at the John Latorraca excuse me…

VS: John Latorraca, you said it right. It has a nickname called Sandy Mush? I don’t even know that nickname comes from, but it’s its nickname.

TFSR: Yeah, what’s been up with the hunger strike? Can you talk a little bit about what sparked it? And how many folks are participating and sort of like the basic stuff on that?

VS: Yeah, so the last count that we had, it was about 44, initially, but since then, we’ve had people probably come out and people probably go in. So I haven’t got an accurate count as to how many that could be from the initial start of the strike. Yesterday marked day 17. I haven’t heard from anybody since noontime yesterday, so I’m hoping privileges were not taken. But they were dealing with a ton. A ton of stuff going on, black mold in the housing units and that’s impacting health, not being given hot meals, even hot water, just simple basic human asks, just necessities to live on.

The grievances for these things that there were issues in administration, they were being ignored, or they’re getting vague responses, that whole system had failed. Losing mail, incoming and outgoing was already a problem before the pandemic. And since the pandemic had started it became even worse. Since they had their visitations taken for over two years with the excuse of the pandemic, and weren’t offered any other means, the mail and the phones became a vital lifeline. Those were basically stolen from them.

That has impacted them in negative ways. I mean, their mental health, inability to make appropriate decisions. So many people that were in the facility the past two plus years were taking deals just to get out of the jails here so they could go to a prison that offers visitation, and that is crazy. That’s like people at there last, at their wit’s end, like “I’m gonna take a deal just so I could get out of here because this is like living hell.” That was a serious thing.

Being discriminated against based on their housing status, the jail uniforms that impacts them when they’re before a judge or the district attorney. A lot of these same asks were things that we saw from the 2016 prison strikes that Merced county jails were also a part of, and it’s nearly six years later, and not much has changed. It’s just kind of kind of crazy. They were on day 17 as of yesterday, and they were in negotiation. So the agreement was actually yesterday for them to end their strike. They were supposed to end it with the hot breakfast, have their hot water.

But then the morning came, and we ran into issues with the staff. They began to be hostile towards them. And when meals came around, they didn’t bring them anything, they didn’t even bring them cold food, they didn’t bring them anything that did not bring them hot water. They were just being cold. When I think about it, it was just evil towards them. So they basically went through all these negotiations for what purpose? They were with the Sheriff’s corrections, they had agreed to this on day 17, that it would break in the morning on these conditions. Those two basic conditions weren’t even met.

So they weren’t accepting any meals from the admin. They weren’t doing any movements at all. So that means their yard time and they’re getting maybe two or three hours a week, if that. Anyway, they weren’t accepting court movements. They weren’t even seeing their attorneys for meetings. They basically weren’t doing anything, any medical, anything like that, they were basically saying, “I’m not moving, I’m not eating until you guys change some stuff.” And the negotiations after noon time yesterday, they said that they had pulled some folks out. We were doing some phones zaps for them on their behalf yesterday to all the jail facilities and the Board of Supervisors. They did pull some of them out to have more talks. But after that, it’s been radio silence. So I’m hoping everything’s going okay.

TFSR: That sounds like a terrible flex, kind of authoritarian flex, that places like jails and the kind of people that staff them would make. When you’re mentioning people taking deals just so they can go to prison, are a lot of the people that are there and who are participating in this in pretrial conditions right now just sort of awaiting their day in court? And also people who’ve gotten county charges who are being held there, too?

VS: Yeah, we do have some people that serve sentences here locally. I think if it’s under two years, one year. It’s at the discretion of our county facility if they want to house somebody for their time, or if they’re going to send them to state prison. They have that ability. But most of the folks that are here are pretrial detainees, so they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. Some of these are not sight-and-release offenses with the whole bail reform law. Some of these people are sitting in there on bale-able offenses, but yet they don’t have the funds to make that happen.

TFSR: It’s so so inhumane that you expect someone to be able to put their life on hold and also not be able to necessarily access the means to build a defense for themselves because they’re worrying about how their family is doing on the outside. They’re just kind of waiting until the courts have enough time to see them.

You’d mentioned the uniforms too. And I know that in the demands, there was a statement about how the uniforms that were being assigned to people weren’t necessarily respective to like security threat group status that people were in. I know that even the STG [Security Threat Group] type thing, saying that someone’s in a gang or whatever isn’t always applied according to someone’s actual participation in a criminal organization. But can you say a little bit about people’s experience of the of the issue of the uniforms and what that means for access to programs or to things like ability to research in the library? Not that there probably is a library, but you know what I mean?

VS: Yeah, I think a lot of it… the people that are more impacted by this whole uniform thing, are predominantly brown, Latino, hispanic, Mexican, indigenous individuals, because they separate them by the two gang classifications, Norteños and Sureños. Pretty much everybody else gets housed as general population when it comes to the maximum security facility of the Merced County Jail. But mainly these folks are the southern, northern, or the red and the blue, however the classification deems it. They separate them, and since Merced County unfortunately operates on LA County’s informal gang injunction model, a lot of people come into our jails are impacted and being labeled gang members based on familial association, based on where they live. They might live next to somebody that’s a documented or validated gang member. So they get housed, and they say it’s for their safety to house them this way, but then we have people that are not from any of these origins, being classified like this.

So when they go to court, and you see the northern, Norteño, classifications, they’re in green and white stripes, the southern are in a blue and white stripe. And so that takes a big toll on them, when they’re going through the whole process, how the district attorney is looking at them, how the judges are looking at them, and the bias that comes with that. This has been going on for a long time with this facility. We know that other jails, like in Stanislaus County, have a different system. Basically, people are housed as general population, just like they do in prisons, everybody’s pretty much housed together, and they know how to separate folks.

So that’s what the sheriff’s corrections here in Merced, were talking about introducing a bracelet system. But they’ve talked about this before back in 2016 and no changes have been made. So that’s a problem for a lot of people, especially when they’re going through this whole unfortunate situation, with being incarcerated, being labeled as a “gang member” even if they’ve never even been a part of that lifestyle. It’s pretty disgusting that that’s been going on for so many decades. This has been happening for a long time in this community.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of if they are just gonna keep going as long as they can go with it?

VS: So right now, so what they were doing, they were refusing all admin meals, and basically attempting to survive minimally off what they could get on commissary. Commissary is trash. It’s a lot of things that are not even acceptable for the human body. And these are things that people are forced to buy because they’re not getting proper nutrition from the food that they’re getting from the facility itself. The food, they were protesting, part of the strike was protesting the inadequate conditions of the food and improper nutrition. I mean, people’s health being impacted. They’ve been in there for a few months and we got folks losing teeth. I mean, that that’s how bad it is.

So that was pretty much what they were doing, refusing all admin meals. Because they weren’t even getting hot meals like they should have been. At least two hot meals a day. It’s the minimum. They weren’t getting that for so long. And that’s pretty much what they were refusing. It was affecting a lot of them. I mean, yesterday was day 17. They were in the negotiations ready to say, “All right, we will accept if we get a hot meal. Like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a hot meal.” I can’t imagine going 17 days without a hot meal or even hot water. That’s just like the basic things that you need. Right? That was the other thing, is the hot water, being able to have hot water.

TFSR: So there’s the cruelty of not offering these things. You mentioned that administration had made the agreement that after 17 days, they would offer them a warm meal and hot water and they refused that. How have they been expressing themselves and their reasoning for continuing to treat people in this manner in the media? Because I’m sure that they’ve been making statements, the media has been reproducing right?

VS: Yeah, well, initially, the Merced Sun Star had wrote an article, again, without interviewing any detainees or inmates, and without reaching out and speaking to any of the loved ones, or anybody that was involved in the organizing around the strike out here. They interviewed the Sheriff’s Department. Basically, they were just talking about how they’re supposedly meeting and in negotiations with these asks of the detainees and the inmates. Which was not true at that point. So we had sent out a media advisory, challenging, to show us to tell us exactly what’s being done, because the public has a right to know. Public state funds or whatever is being used to fund that facility and all the things that are happening in there.

So I mean, they’re going to paint their own narrative. That’s basically what they’re going to do and they’re going to do that time and time again, I don’t think that’s going to change. But when they were in negotiations and they had clearly stated, “Okay, we will break our strike on day 17 when we get our hot breakfast and our hot water.” At about five, six o’clock, when they’re usually taking out the trays, they came around, nothing came. Not even cold food. Then when they were trying to communicate with the correctional staff, they were being treated hostilely. They were basically taunting, saying, “Yeah, your hot water is out here. But we’re not going to bring it to you.” Well how are they going to go and get it? How are they going to go and get that water? It’s out there. But we’re not bringing it to you. I mean, that type of behavior, it’s just unnecessary.

So yeah, you’re right, it was just kind of like that flex, “we can pretty much continue to do what we want,” kind of thing. They were reaching out to us. So we started, we had put out posts and numbers for phone zaps to try to get something. Then after a couple of hours, they pulled some folks out, to have more communications with them. But that was around noon time yesterday. And again, like I said, we haven’t heard anything from inside as of now.

TFSR: So yeah, as far as the public needing to know about this and you mentioned the taxpayer money and such. But also all the people that are in there, almost everyone is going to have people on the outside who care about them. I’m sure a lot of the people, not just people who have an idea that this is a wrong circumstance, but they have a personal care for loved ones that are stuck behind these bars. How is the outside engagement, then, as far as you could tell, in terms of organizing, communicating, offering support to loved ones, participating in the phone zaps, or showing up in person?

VS: Oh, yeah, I mean, for instance the rally that we had on the 21st, the turnout was low. We had less than 12, like 12 people total. A lot of that right now has to do with the inmates and the loved ones, they’re concerned with the possibility of retaliation, and also the risk of even advocating for somebody, out here, that’s in there, people that are labeled as “gang members,” you run the risk of being labeled a gang member yourself. I mean, and that’s a consequence, that many folks that are impacted face. I might even be labeled as a gang member, because according to a loved one that I had, that was inside the facility, just recently, the end of last year, they were taken out by classifications and asked questions about myself about “we know she’s a gang member, who does she run with?” and these type of things.

I know that this facility has blocked my phone number so that folks in there can no longer reach out to me. That’s unfortunate, because I didn’t know about the hunger strike, actually, until day 10. Somebody from the family members in there had to find me, and search for me, in order to make the connection because I didn’t know my number had been blocked from the facility itself. So I mean, that’s another thing. Folks trying to organize in there trying to reach out for help and they’re literally blocking their means of a lifeline from within the Merced County Jails, for whatever reason. I don’t know why.

That’s pretty much what we’re seeing. There are people in there that don’t have anyone. So we have people in there reaching out, because they need funds, they don’t have any funds for personal care, or to get anything from the commissary line. And it becomes a community within the facility when you have people like that that are indigent, and they should be able to utilize the welfare funds. And when they utilize the welfare funds, when they do get commissary on their book, then all of a sudden, the staff comes and takes that for anytime they went to the doctor, anytime they got a mail package for the one month, what are those four or five dollars if they’ve been in there for a year. Then somebody puts $50, $100 on their books, and all of a sudden administration comes and says, “Oh, you owe us this money,” and then they snatch it. So that’s kind of a problem as well, for those people that are impacted in that way. They don’t have loved ones out here at all.

TFSR: So, if the administration takes the tack of separating people, according to ostensible gang certifications, or whatever, putting them in these different uniforms, have people been able to, despite that, organize across these lines with each other for the hunger strike and the common understanding that we’re all suffering under this?

VS: Yeah, I have seen that this time around as well, that people were joining in solidarity within the facility itself. But yet, it’s just very hard to try to make those connections inside the facility. The Merced County Jail is the maximum security facility. So it’s heavily segregated. But people were still in solidarity with that, trying to say, “hey, we’re having the same issues, let’s join together, let’s band together.” So that was one thing that they were doing in there to try to show them “hey, we don’t have to be segregated, we don’t have to be labeled like this, and we don’t have to work different uniforms. We could be housed together, we can even organize together inside of the facility for change.”

TFSR: Is anyone on the outside raising the alarm, obviously, black mold is a health issue that that is on the books that black mold can cause mental issues, it can cause lung issues, quite obviously. And, not getting your caloric value or your intake of calories every day can also cause mental anguish, as well as starvation basically. Have there been anyone successfully being able to raise concerns about the demands of the folks inside of these two jail from a legal standpoint saying, “this doesn’t follow the California requirements for how a county jail operates?” Has that been a direction that’s been helpful at all?

VS: We haven’t had any support in that area. And I’ve reached out and it just seems like they’re not. I’ve reached out to ACLU, I’ve reached out to other firms for prisoners rights, and a lot of these places, they’re not based near our area and so they just say, “we don’t have anybody that can cover” or, “we’re at our capacity.” So we haven’t seen any relief in that way. But I’m gonna hopefully be getting together with some folks in the next week to draft something up, because we want to have an external review and investigation because I don’t think our Merced County Grand Jury is doing a good enough job, because they’ve seen these conditions for a number of years and they haven’t enforced any type of action to make them correct it on a permanent status. So we’re gonna have to look to like OGI or OIG, whatever the that external government entity that’s over our prisons and our jails is going to have to come and put eyes on this.

TFSR: I See. So could you talk a little bit about MIRA and about Merced Under Construction, who’s getting involved, and what the groups are about, and talk about the difficulties or any difficulties or wins that you’ve seen with those groups?

VS: Oh, awesome. So MIRA, was actually Merced Inmates Rights Association and it is the page that’s ran by the loved ones of the current detainees and inmates of the Merced county jails and the John Latorraca Jail. It’s pretty awesome, and they’re new to all of this stuff. But they’re so passionate and driven to bring awareness. And that’s kind of where I fit in. I’ve been a directly impacted person, right? It’s kind of how Mercer Under Construction all came together.

Right now, we’re just looking for support. Merced Under Construction isn’t officially an org or anything like that. I’m actually, we’re opposed to the whole nonprofit industrial complex. So we’re really looking to folks, to keep it really grassroots and centered around real people, and being able to find funding for the work and whatnot. Hopefully, we can start doing that here pretty soon. But that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re just centered around incarceration, and the impacts of that on people in their families, a lot of work around police accountability, and creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated folks and their families. One of the pillars is to definitely to reach out to the children that are impacted by it as well.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the name Merced Under Construction? Does it concern that the community is not completed? It’s not done? We’re still building it as we go? Or is it more of a like, “there’s money coming in for development projects, we need to make sure that those developments are actually supporting the people that already live here as opposed to larger entities?”

VS: It’s a little bit of both and the fact that we’re just never done. There’s so much work to be done. When we have developers, and we have businesses looking at Merced to build, and we have more and more funding going into suppression and first-responding in our community. Yet, we still have youth that are being impacted, joblessness, homelessness, houslessness, and people that are struggling trying to stretch a food stamp, people that are just falling through the cracks. I just feel like it’s always gonna be undone until we can finally bring that awareness and bring folks together, have this accountability, and figure out where the money is going. Because some of these funds that they’re they’re getting, like the COVID-19 funding, and all the extra grants and stuff that they get for every arrest that they can deem a gang related arrest, or an incarceration they can deem gang related, they’re getting federal and state fund grants on top of that. So is that a reason? Merced is just always under construction.

TFSR: Kind of like a side note, I did Cop Watch when I was living in Sonoma County. This is like the mid 2000s, and we were seeing that the local Gang Task Force, which was made up to some degree, it did have California Highway Patrol participation, but also it’s mostly the county that was coordinating with local police departments. They would all kind of joined together under the auspices of gang issues, would set up checkpoints. They would also get Driving Under the Influence, like federal anti DUI funding, to set up checkpoints in immigrant neighborhoods where people maybe didn’t have the papers for the car that they were driving because they were sharing it among multiple families, or maybe they didn’t have a license because they weren’t legally allowed to because they were undocumented. Just getting the money to go and set up there under the auspices of gangs, or DUIs nowhere near a bar, and taking people’s vehicles who were absolutely being marginalized by capitalism and white supremacy, and selling those and funding their own department out of that. That sounds kind of like it’s par for the course for California’s policing systems.

VS: Yeah. There’s so many. There’s the minor decoy program grants that they get. There’s just so many little things and it’s all fruit of the poisonous tree, in my opinion. It doesn’t really impact anything like what you’re talking about, the DUIs, and the minor decoy. These little grants get a ton of money. but yet, in my community, violent crime is up, murder is up, rapes are up, child murder… We just had a little girl that was killed in our community, her body was found. Nine years old, Sophia Mason, a beautiful black child. These types of crimes are happening. But they’re putting money into checkpoints. They’re putting money into seeing if anybody’s gonna buy a minor alcohol or cigarettes. But we have some dark, unnecessary crime rising here. My mind is blown. Home invasions are up, it’s just crazy. We’re a very small community compared on the scale of the state of California, Merced County is tiny. We’re very small. So again, it just doesn’t make any sense to me at all whatsoever.

TFSR: Well, how can listeners find out more about the strike and support it from where they’re at? Maybe not locally? Or if or locally? If you have some suggestions?

VS: Oh, definitely awesome. So we will continue posting on the MIRA page, the Merced Inmate Rights Association page, and the Merced Under Construction Instagram and Facebook page. But like I said, we’re unofficial org, so we’re asking folks to support. Right now we have a link tree link up. If folks have it in their heart or their conscience to support us, we’ll be accepting donations through ‘buy me a coffee,’ through that outlet. But we’re putting funds together for detainees and inmates directly. So we want to be able to put, fund several people’s, at least a month commissary account, whether that’s $25, whether that’s $50, we want to be able to put money for them to use themselves, for the phone, for food, for personal care, etc. We’re also going to be having some letter writing days, where we’ll be sending them out handwritten letters, cards, and communication with folks that are inside of the facilities themselves. So we have a direct line. There’s a lot of people like I had said before, they don’t have anybody out on the outside, they don’t come from much. We want to be able to support them, and let them know that they are loved. That they’re cared about and that there are people out here that say that they matter.

A lot of other work we’re doing that we need support with, it’s police accountability part of our work. And man, sometimes we have bits of a drive, we have to drive got to take reports, do our own investigations. We also have to request records from whatever government agency that the officer involved works with. So we have to pay for flex or dash cam or other records. And again, we don’t want to be a part of the nonprofit industrial complex, so we’re trying to just keep it grassroots and just real people funding real work that’s really happening in Merced. We’ve never done this before. It’s only always been on our own time on our own dime. And now we’re like really needing assistance because it’s growing. So that’s basically it. Just check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and hopefully we can get our website up here in like the next month or so.

TFSR: Victoria, thank you so much for having this conversation for the work that you’re doing. Yeah, I guess keep in touch. And we’ll keep trying to cover this when we can.

VS: I appreciate you Bursts. Thank you so much.

[ Editors note: The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. ]

Transcription (Eric King Trial)

Josh: My name is Josh, I’m based out of Baltimore. And I do a lot of political prisoner support work and abolition work. I’m a member of the Certain Days Calendar Collective, and the children’s art project with political prisoner Oso Blanco. I’m currently also editing a book with Eric King, where we interview political prisoners about their lives inside. I work in communications with the Zinn education project. And I guess I first started writing Eric in 2017 or so and we’ve been corresponding ever since.

Mookie:My name is Mookie Moss, and my pronouns are he and him. I’ve been on the CLDC board of directors for gosh, maybe six or seven years, my day job has been a farmer for the last 25 or 26 years. But I’ve worked in and around a lot of radical organizations, both in the United States and in South America. A lot of the work that I’ve done has been around indigenous farmers down south, and anti-capitalist movements in South America, and here in the United States, environmental activist, that kind of stuff. So that’s who I am.

TFSR: So for listeners who don’t know, Eric, can you say some words about who he is and what he was convicted of?

Mookie: To be totally frank and honest, I have come to Eric Kings’ case pretty late in the game. But I did jump in with both feet based on this opportunity to work with the organization that I work with, which is the Civil Liberties Defense Center. My learning of Eric’s life and his story was kind of a crash course. But just based on my past experience being there for his trial, he came across to me as an incredibly emotionally sensitive guy, and also a really intelligent guy. He spoke really, really well. Obviously, because he’s a political prisoner, my view is that he really looks at his experience, both in jail and the world around him through a very, very strong political lens. So I would just add that.

TFSR: Oh, yeah. And with, with the usage of the term political prisoner in there, that says a lot, not only for what he was convicted for. Right? For that politically motivated property destruction, but also for the way that he’s conducted himself, and also how he’s been treated by administration’s since he’s been inside.

Can you all talk a bit about as sort of background for this case, what has Eric’s treatment been like in prison? How is he related to other prisoners as an antifascist, and as an anti-authoritarian, and also how the staff has related to him for these reasons?

Josh: Sure. So Eric, currently has been in solitary confinement for over 1,000 days, for over three years. He’s been in federal prisons all over the country, in private prisons as well. And he’s been brutalized and attacked wherever he’s been sent, either by guards or by Nazi-type prisoners. He’s defended himself every step of the way. He’s tried to help other prisoners, whenever he’s been given the chance, to to help voice their concerns.

I think it’s also important to point out that it’s not just Eric being targeted, that this happens to political prisoners and prisoners in general, throughout history. It’s currently happening not only with Eric King, but as you know with Sean Swain having his finger chopped recently by guards, there’s several indigenous prisoners being abused now, for the religious reasons, having their sweat lodge destroyed in a federal prison in California. I mean, it goes back all the way, the Attica brothers, Herman Bell being abused years ago before he got out. You know, it goes back throughout American history of guard abuse. It’s it’s pretty endless.

Mookie: I would also add, just to what Josh eloquently put, is that witnessing what Eric actually just went through as an extenuation of that type of torture, and bullshit, and experience that he has dealt with all along the way. Watching how the Bureau of Prisons handled him even just during this court case, where there was obviously a spotlight put upon him and put upon his conditions and experience was mind boggling to watch and to bear witness to. I have been interested in political prisoners and the struggle for a very, very long time. It’s not like I came into this with a blind eye like people are being treated well in prison, but the amount of punitive and destructive behavior from the Bureau of Prisons towards Eric, just during this case, there was something coming up. I can talk about that. Josh and I can talk about that. But it was just it was a microcosm of a much larger experience of let’s turn the screws against the people that are standing up for themselves and for their their belief system. It was really something else.

TFSR: He was speaking of “screws”, would y’all mind talking a little bit about what this trial was about? And what what sort of outcomes Eric was facing during it, and how long it’s lasted? Because it seems like it’s lasted a very long time to get to the phase of actually going before a judge and jury.

Mookie: Yeah, that’s right. So if I’m getting my dates right, the original incident which caused this recent trial, took place August 17, 2018. It was a situation where an assault had happened in the institution that Eric was spending time in and Eric wrote a[n] email to his wife to sort of blow off some steam and describe the situation that had happened in the institution he was spending time in. Basically, he said… I don’t have the email in front of me. So I’m not going to read it word for word, but basically, he was describing and feeling some excitement over the fact that a prisoner had struck a correctional officer. And beyond that, he went on to describe the feeling of wishing that he could be there to witness it, wishing he could have seen it, he said something along the lines of even watching it in virtual reality.

He was pulled out of his pulled out of his cell, because that email, obviously was read by the correctional authorities and the guards. So he got pulled out of his cell under the guise that they were going to do an investigation. He walked himself from his cell down to a place called the lieutenant’s office. And the lieutenant’s office, which really was a long hallway that had four rooms that came off of that hallway. A couple of them were lieutenants offices, one was a property room, I believe it was described as, and then the last room in that hallway was a broom closet. A broom closet full of mop buckets, rakes, tools, all these different things.

What happened next changes a lot depending on which correctional authority you heard the story from but Eric’s story never really changed a bit. What Eric’s story was as he was led into this broom closet. There were two correctional guards, two lieutenants, Lieutenant Wilcox and a Lieutenant Kammrad. Lieutenant Wilcox got in his face, Eric said, “I don’t want to fight.There’s two of you,” essentially, Wilcox kicked out his subordinate, Kammrad. Wilcox started a fight with Eric and he called him a ‘bitch’ he called him a ‘punk’ in this broom closet and he attacked Eric. Eric, decided that he didn’t think that being attacked a broom closet was going to be good for his life or good for his situation and so he fought back and he struck Lieutenant Wilcox in the face three times very in very quick succession. Lieutenant Wilcox was a really big guy, and Eric is not a big guy.

So it was pretty clear that Eric was more skilled in that expression, and he broke Wilcox’s nose. And after he broke Wilcox’s nose the other guards the other lieutenants ran in and you know, Eric had assumed a neutral position after he put wilt Wilcox down on the ground, and then from there, a whole series of things unfolded. Essentially the case was a “he said, he said” case, you know, where Wilcox said one thing and Eric said the truth. Fortunately for this court case, the guards that all had a story to share, the story was so convoluted and and frankly bullshit that that really came out in the trial.

So this turned out to be a self defense case. And it’s pretty remarkable, the legal team for the CLDC Lauren Regan, Sarah Alvarez, and Sandra Freeman, they did an incredible job of not only showing the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Bureau of Prisons story, but also did a really good job giving Eric an opportunity to speak his truth up on the stand. And we’re lucky enough to be in one of those very rare situations where justice prevailed.

TFSR: Okay, there’s a few things that are heard throughout the course of the last, I guess, three and a half years, including that Wilcox had said, “Oh, you’re in Antifa, huh?” Something about his daughter running into anti-fascists and having a problem with that. He just sort of threw out a bunch of weird, disconnected shit, it sounded like. But it seemed like it must have been some sort of prefigured situation for them to take him into a room that the only room that didn’t have any cameras, which was a bit suspect, and then afterwards to hold him down in restraint for a number of hours, like 14 hours or something like that. Can you talk a little bit about some of that?

Josh: Sure. Yeah. He was held in four point restraint for hours after the incident occurred, after he was beaten. Yeah, there’s parts of it on video. There’s parts of it that were missing on video. I think it’s also worth mentioning, I listen to the trial from afar, but at one point I think they tried to make the case that a black eye that Eric suffered, was actually his Antifa tattoo on his face, which is just another way of showing that it’s his politics that they’re attacking, which I think does go to show what you were saying that it’s intentional and it is planned out. Anything to add, Mookie?

Mookie: You know, Josh is correct. They did at one point try to pin that black eye on the fact that he had a tattoo there. At another point, they were sort of edging towards this reasoning and this was very skillfully shut down by Eric’s defense team, but potentially that Eric either got the black eye when he was brought down on his face by the rest of the guards who rushed into save their buddy Wilcox. It was sort of hinted at one time that maybe potentially he could have given himself that black eye, which is of course ridiculous. Because after this incident, there wasn’t a moment that Eric was off camera.

Luckily, there was a nurse at the facility that Eric was sent to after this attack took place. This was the only Bureau of Prisons nurse that actually checked Eric out in any sort of realistic way and made notes that he had showed up with a pretty significant shiner. If you look at the video of the medical assessment that they did after this whole incident took place. This should shock absolutely no one who has any sort of understanding about how the Bureau of Prisons works, but the nurse who did the initial medical assessment spent about three minutes. Eric complained of a high level of pain in this temple, he had pain in some other places, but really was like, “hey, yeah, I’m hurt, and I’m hurting right now.” And there was never a second look given to him.

It was really something else. She inquired about a potential new tattoo, which he was like, “No, this tattoos not new.” But you could tell that there was a very purposeful, obfuscation of the truth that started immediately following the incident, because my perception was, is that they knew that they were going to have a difficult storyline to defend. And so at every turn where modicum, a little chunk of truth could come out, instead of asking questions and risking documented truth on Eric’s behalf coming out, they just slid right past it.

So the medical assessment, even though Eric, the State, or the government in this case, showed a picture repeatedly of Eric immediately following the incident, but we’re talking minutes after the incident. They’re like, “look, he’s got no black eye. This isn’t true. This didn’t happen.” Because their whole case hinged on the fact that Wilcox never took a swing at Eric, never assaulted him. That Eric sucker punched Wilcox, which is just blatantly not true. But so yeah, so they showed this picture of Eric right after the incident. And he didn’t have a shiner, because as anybody knows, it takes a good chunk of time after you get hit the eyeball to to get a big black eye. So it was really, really, really something.

TFSR: Eric has had a history of negative interactions with authorities and with guards in the past. And if I recall, a lot of those instances were in relation to private communication with his partner, or poetry that he’s written, or drawings that he’s made, and them being eschewed as threats by administration. So for that he’s gotten time in solitary, he’s had his rights to mail taken away, he’s had his ability to receive books taken away, or magazines. Just sort of exacerbating, and just amplifying the academic isolation as well as personal isolation of prison that he’s had to go through over these years.

Usually, he would just face ,as most prisoners… This this kind of crap is not abnormal in the US Prison System, whether it be in a State system, in a county, where someone’s in jail, or in the BOP, retaliation for petty things by petty guards, and all being adjudicated before some sort of internal rules board or some sort of internal court. Luckily, Eric did not have to defend himself before a kangaroo court inside without press and without legal defense from other parties. How is it that this case, why is it that this case, that could have tacked another 20 years onto his sentence, why did this become a public case? And how did the CLDC get involved, as far as you all know?

Mookie: My understanding, Bursts, is this case was brought to Lauren Regan initially by Daniel McGowan. Correct?

Josh: Yeah, believe so.

Mookie: So Daniel, you know, has a long standing relationship with the CLDC, because they did defense for him back in the day when when he was going through his trial, that he had been in contact with Eric for some time and reached out to Lauren Regan, who’s Eric’s lead defense attorney, and was the founder of the CDC, and said, “Hey, there’s this guy who’s serving time, he’s got a really compelling story. He was assaulted. He’s a really good guy and I really believe in him and believe in trying to seek some sort of justice in this case.” Lauren has a very close friendship with Daniel, and they’ve got really good history together.

So I think that really, Bursts, the reason why this happened is because there was a lot of trust. There’s a lot of historic trusts. And I think that’s a really important piece of this case is that. Lauren, and I were talking about this after the trial wrapped up just that. It’s really incredible when you see real true solidarity pay dividends like it does. Daniel felt solidarity with Eric, and because he had solidarity with Lauren, they came together and Lauren was like, “Daniel, if you believe in this person, I believe in you so much that, let’s go.” And that’s how it went forward. The CLDC, this is one of the things that they specialize in is shining lights in the dark corners of the key parts of our judicial system. So, I think that that’s that’s originally how Lauren got the case.

TFSR: What are the next steps in legal process for Eric? Is the outcome of the not guilty finding by that jury, does that does that mean he’s going to get any sort of reduction in his sentence? Or are there grounds for, because they were able to prove in a public court that the claims from the administration were false and that he had been subjected to harm, are there grounds for other lawsuits to sort of go back and point to the other portions of time when he’s been stuck in solitary? Been put in courtyards with giant Nazis? Gotten diesel therapy? Not had the ability anymore to get visits from his spouse in his family, is there anything brewing in terms of that? Or is he just scheduled for release in December 2023 and we’re just hoping to get him out.

Josh: Yeah, I think a lot of that is still to be determined. Like you said, he’s scheduled to be released in a year and a half, in December 2023. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that he’s still locked up in there. As of right now, the end of March, he’s still on a mail ban, he can still only receive mail from his family. Last I heard he’s still in solitary confinement, even though he won the case. I think that there’s a likelihood that he’ll probably be transferred, who knows where that might be. Probably a lot of diesel therapy, a lot more diesel therapy.

But I think it’s also again, important to keep in mind that in the face of all this violence, in the face of all this state repression that he’s met it face on with a sense of humor, and he’s been able to build strong relationships, not only with people, those of us on the outside, but with those imprisoned right alongside of him, even when he’s in the worst possible conditions. He’s organizing them. He’s educating and is sharing as much as he can with those around him.

Mookie: I would also just add, Bursts, to echo what Josh said. I mean, Josh is right on there. And also I do know that the CLDC has a civil case filed on Eric’s behalf. I think that ideally, when somebody is wronged to such a grievous level, as Eric was wronged in prison, that there would be some sort of… I don’t even know if I should say like financial or time served retribution, but my understanding is that based on the law, it would be almost impossible for Eric to benefit in any monetary way from this civil case. I believe that there’s a Prison Act that says that you can’t benefit, even if you’re wronged from something that occurs if you [are in] prison if you’re there. I wish I knew and could speak a little bit more articulately.

But I think what’s really important about this, the civil case is that what I really think that the CLDC, and what Eric’s defense team, and what I would imagine Eric is hoping for is that by bringing the civil case, it’s going to effectively shine a spotlight on his treatment and will be a cautionary tale to any of the psychopaths in the bureau of prisons that decide to make his remaining time the hardest time in the world. That’s not to say that it’s not going to happen. I am just always shocked at the level of depravity that the Bureau of Prisons will go to make people are uncomfortable on the inside.

But having said that, every single night of this case, as it went on through the week, Eric was subjected to some new bizarre turn by the Bureau of Prisons, whether all of a sudden he was getting yanked out of his the cell that he’d been in and got transferred to a whole new facility next door. That happened one night. Another day, his cell flooded and coffee was spilled on his documents, another day, his documents and all of his personal property were removed. That made it almost impossible for him to prep for trial. I mean, it was so bizarre that that even the Bureau of Prisons… I’m sorry, there is nothing funny about this. It’s just unreal.

The Bureau of Prisons story when a cup of coffee was spilled on his documents and made them impossible to read, the BOP story was that a bird flew into his cell and knocked this cup of coffee over on his documents. The courtroom, when this was said, was just like… jaws dropped. And the judge who presided over this case, Judge Martinez, he even at that point leaned back in his chair and shook his head and said, I’m not going to be able to quote him verbatim, but basically the gist of what he said was, “I cannot believe that what’s happening to Mr. King is happening to Mr. King and the Bureau of Prisons better watch itself, because they’re setting themselves up for a civil suit.” I don’t know if he knew that was already in action, but all of those actions are going to be added to the suit. So hopefully, that gives them just the tiniest bit of cover from more torture and abuse. But it’s hard to say.

TFSR: Yeah, I remember seeing tweets about the stupidity of that moment. Unicorn Riot had a nice image for their posting of their coverage.

Were there any other highlights that stood out from the case? Either testimony from Eric or… because he was actually able to speak on his own behalf and had to answer like cross examination, I would imagine, but can you talk about any other elements of how the the case itself went?

Mookie: Sure. Let’s see highlights or lowlights. I guess in a case like this, they are kind of one and the same. It was very interesting to see Lieutenant Wilcox walk into the courtroom for his testimony. I think that was on day one. You know, all the photographs that I’d seen of Lieutenant Wilcox. He’s a fairly large, imposing, hulking figure and that was not the guy who walked into the courtroom. The guy who walked into the courtroom had a cane was bent over. Evidently in his off time, he has now since retired from the Bureau of Prisons, probably related to this incident… But he’s got a ranch and I’m not sure exactly if he was supposedly or actually injured on his ranch. I’m really not sure. But he walked into the courtroom and sort of shuffled down the center like an old man. I was like, “wow, the theatrics just don’t stop” and I’m not I’m not saying that he wasn’t actually injured, but whatever was happening, they did their very best to make sure that he didn’t come in as an imposing hulking prison guard type.

He got up on the stand and I would say what was most interesting to me, and I guess this was written and you could have seen it coming from a mile away, but the government’s case was so incredibly weak that anytime he was asked a question by the CLDC, or by Eric’s defense team, in any way that could impeach a previous story, or a previous statement he had made, it was just one, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I can’t remember” after another. Then when the government would come and ask him a similar questions, it was remarkable how quickly his memory sharpened up. So that was really, really interesting.

The other Lieutenant that that got on the stand, Lieutenant Kammrad, his his testimony was really weak. And I think the take home, the important take home of that piece was that the government was really trying to flip it 180 degrees, they are trying to say, “Look how authentic our guys are. It’s been three years since this incident and you can tell that our guys are telling the truth, because there’s variation in the story.” Well, the fact of the matter is, is that the variation of the story was was wildly varied. And it was backed up with video evidence that the defense team had brought that just punched so many different holes in the way that this moment in the broom closet unfolded that it just was absolutely unbelievable. Then the inverse of that is when Eric went up on the stand, he told such an incredibly lucid and cohesive story that matched up to every single one of his previous statements. So that was, I thought that was pretty interesting. How about you, Josh, what am I forgetting? Give me a second to think about those highlights.

Josh: No, no, I think you captured them all. My partner and I were kind of glued to the phone all week, working and listening to this in the background. I think you’ve captured all the major highlights. Eric did a great job while he was on the stand, of course.

Mookie: Yeah. Eric did a great job. I guess I would also just say, Bursts, that I had heard lots of things about Judge Martinez going into this case and I definitely had some concern. I’ve got concern anytime in the same realm as a federal judge, of course, but I have to say that… And of course, my experience as somebody in the gallery watching or Josh’s experience listening and I know a lot of people have listened, we don’t have the same experience that the attorneys do, because we’re not privy to all the sidebars. And I will say that there were more sidebars in this case than I’ve definitely ever heard of. I think even judge Martinez said, “there are more sidebars and objections in this case than he’s ever seen in his career.”

So, it was very clear to everybody in the courtroom that this was not only a very contentious case, like any political case can be, but it was really important to find a passage through this story in a way that didn’t bias the jury either way, and because this case was political in nature, and because Eric chose to do a politically motivated act of property destruction, it was very tenuous in in how they would go after Eric. You could tell that the government, the US Attorney’s, were doing everything that they could open up lines of questioning that we’re going to shock and dismay jurors who might not have the same or even a political analysis as Eric’s. I think that Eric’s defense team did a really skillful job guiding the jury through the story in a way where it didn’t open those doors necessarily.

There’s just lots of different feelings on what the term “violence” means and whether a politically motivated act of property destruction is violent. I have very strong feelings that it’s not, but I think that there was some concern that the jury could grab on to certain terminology that would then bias them and they would lose their ability to see this case for what it really was: One side is speaking the truth and one side is making up stories as they go along.

So I have to say that not having access to what has happened in those sidebars, I feel like there was 100 sidebars, I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but there was so many that I felt like judge Martinez did a pretty darn good job running a clean courtroom. I didn’t see bias in him, what I saw was a judge that actually just really wanted to follow the letter of the law. Luckily, you know, in this case, the letter of the law is on Eric side, he was defending himself and that’s a right that every single person has to do in this country, even if you’re locked up. So I thought the judge did a pretty good job walking that middle path. I have to say that I think that he was impressed with Eric’s defense team. I think that because of the nature of this trial would have been very possible to have lawyers that weren’t necessarily prepared to handle something at this high level. I think they hit it out of the park.

TFSR: I can see how like bringing up the fact that there are political views that are held by Eric, and the nature of his conviction, and pointing to that as being potentially counter to the political views of the guards, and thus, motivating them to act in juvenile and petty manners… Differentiating that from like, “he burned down a politician’s office, and someone could have been hurt!” That seems like a very thin line to walk and it sounds like folks did that very, very well. Do you all have any updates on how Eric’s health is these days? And how are his spirits?

Josh: Due to the mail ban, not many people have heard from him. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is extremely happy about the outcome of the trial, happy to be getting the few visits that he does, that he is able to get. He’s looking forward to getting everyone’s letters and everyone’s love. Everyone keeps sending solidarity from around the world. He’s looking forward to reading everyone’s letters, responding to everyone’s letters. You can follow him on social media. His support site is SupportEricKing.org. You can send a books now, which is great. If you follow him on social media, or check out his website, you’ll find out when the mail ban is lifted, and you can write to him. But in the meantime, just know that he does appreciate all the support. I think he’s vocalized that as much as possible to those he has been able to speak to.

TFSR: So it’s been mentioned that Eric’s a pretty prolific poet, you can find a bunch of his poems up on his support website. I don’t know if y’all want to share any poetry by Eric that you feel especially moved by? If not, that’s totally okay. But I just wanted to put that out there.

Josh: Well, yeah, I’ll share one, actually, if you haven’t picked up the 2022 Certain Days Calendar, Eric wrote a poem for the month of May. So you’re still in time to get one you can go to BurningBooks.com. They are only five bucks at this point and all the proceeds benefit political prisoners. But in May, Eric wrote a poem, he actually wrote it to me one time before this calendar came out when we were just thinking of the theme. It’s called “Mutual Aid is Friendship.” Yeah, it’s a great piece. It’s very short. And it’s one of the last ones he was able to send out before one of the many mail bans he’s faced.

TFSR: Well, that’s about it for the questions that I had. Are there any other topics that you want to talk about? Otherwise if you could remind folks about how they can support the CLDC, the defense work that they do, and the research and we’ve had guests from CLDC on the show a few times to talk about digital security. We’ve had Lauren Reagan on before to talk about political repression more generally. I’d love to hear more about where to find more about that. Also, Josh has prior been on the show to talk about Certain Days, it’d be good to hear about that, too. But were there any other topics other than shouting out projects that I didn’t ask about that y’all want to touch on?

Mookie: I guess I would just like to throw this in the ring a little bit that I know that supporting political prisoners in this country and around the world is something that I think a very narrow band of people who are politically active do. I just would like to say publicly to anybody who’s listening to this podcast, that it’s very easy to find resources to support political prisoners in this country. You can go online and literally Google that. There’s going to be a ton of different places that sends you to, and I just want to encourage people to take 15 or 20 minutes out of their week and find a different prisoner to write to. I think it can’t be overstated how potent this act is. Not only does it have the potential to change somebody’s time on the inside, but I also think that it creates bonds that can last a lifetime, but it’s also an incredible way to build our movement. So I just want to give a “Rah! Rah!” for that. I think that’s something that’s really worth people’s time.

And just since I have the I have the air right now, if people are interested in supporting the CLDC, which I think is a really great to do. The CLDC, one of the things that I love about working with this organization is the breadth of their work in movement building, and resistance, and support for activists. It’s staggering, really the CLDC goes to where the work is, whether it be in pipeline work, or prisoner support, or environmental, or animal rights work. It’s just a really remarkable organization and anybody can find how to support that at CLDC.org.

Josh: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll just mirror pretty much everything Mookie said. CLDC is great. Actually, in two days now I guess it’ll be in the past when people are listening to this, but the CLDC is hosting a political prisoner talk with Daniel McGowan, with Linda Evans, Ray Luc Levasseur, Rattler, a few other people. I’m sure it’ll be amazing like most of the other projects are. But also yes, just write political prisoners every chance you get. Just try to learn about them. Eric has really been amazing with that. Every time he’s sent to a new prison, he finds friends that he advocates other people writing to and building relationships. I think it really can be life changing not only for those inside, but for those of us on the outside, too.

I guess besides getting a Certain Days Calendar if you can, we’re coming up with a theme now for 2023. But if you’re heading over to burning books to get a calendar, you could get some Oso Blanco greeting cards. It’s a project called ‘Children’s Art Project’ that he and I and a few other people helped start where greeting cards are made with artwork from indigenous political prisoners and the funds benefit the Zapatistas in Chiapas. It’s a really cool project. Oso Blanco is a fascinating person to get to know. And a shout out to Sean Swain. I hope he’s doing all right, even though he’s one digit down.

TFSR: One digit down, but he’s still two fists in the air.

Josh: Absolutely.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. We didn’t end up interviewing folks about Certain Days this year, but there was one that some of y’all participated in on, “Millennials are Killing Capitalism,” I saw.

Josh: Yeah, yeah. That was Daniel and I a few weeks ago. That was a good one.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I’ll link that in the show notes, too. Mookie and Josh, thank you so much for being a part of this conversation and for the work that you do. I really appreciate it

Josh: Thank you Bursts, it was a pleasure.

Mookie: Hey, Bursts, yeah, it was. Thank you so much. And, Josh, thank you so much for your support for me in this case, you were really instrumental in bringing me along and I’m so grateful for the whole team that came to came together to stand with Eric. It was really a group of outstanding people and thanks again Bursts.

Josh: Yes, thank you.

Transcription (Eric King Transfer)

TFSR: Eric, where are you at right now?

Eric King: Right now I’m at a federal transfer facility called Grady County. It’s one of the marshal’s contracts out in Oklahoma City.

TFSR: It seems like a pretty frequently used facility. This is the one that I talked to Jeremy Hammond at a couple of years ago in 2020. What’s the facility like?

EK: It’s usually fucking sweet but right now we’re having a goddamn Ad-Seg thing where we only get out one-two hours a day tops. It went from being super sweet where you get commissary and video visits to goddamn annoying.

TFSR: Did they give you some reason as to why directly after the trial where BOP was found to have abused you that they transferred you across the country from Colorado.

EK: This makes me sick, for real, because everyone at Inglewood [Prison] during the pre-trial shit was telling me, “If you get found innocent, you’re good, you’re gonna go to a medium or the communication unit, things are gonna be better for you. You could just feel the venom in their kindness. So they’re telling me all these lies, and then I go to pack up for transfer and they are “Oh, we’re sending you back to this miserable, horrible dup of a penitentiary out in Virginia.” “Well, that’s not what you motherfuckers just told me.” “Well, it is what it is.” There’s no way for this not to be retaliation, I’m the one that has low security points. I should be coasting with my feet up wearing shower shoes all day, not having to work, wearing boots for the shower.

TFSR: You’re going to USP Lee, as far as I was aware. Is that a max facility? Or what level is that? Have you been there before?

EK: It’s a penitentiary, so it holds high-security people, max-security people. There are big gang leaders there, but then there are also just violent assholes that can’t function in lower securities. Then there’s me and one of the World Trade Center bombers.

TFSR: What are you thinking in terms of what recourse you and your support folks have right now? I know that getting your voice out right now is an important part of it, that people know what’s going on.

EK: The issue is that most likely, they’re going to dump me in the SHU. In the SHU, you have no radio, books, magazines, newspapers, no pictures, no commissary, no food, you don’t even have pens and pencils, they give you rubber pencils. I’m going to be isolated, I’m going to be cut off. People need to know: get a hold of these Virginia centers, get a hold of the Northeastern Atlantic region. I want people contacting those in charge to get a hold of the designation center in Grand Prairie, Texas, the SEC. Call these people, do mass calling. Call 1,000 times and ask them why is a medium or low-security guy being held at this prison again? Why is he back here? Why are you going to take someone’s mail, take someone’s phone calls, say all this communication shit about them, and then put them somewhere where you can’t be in touch with his family and his life in danger. Now, I can’t let anyone know something’s happening to me. We got to have a spotlight on this. We got this big-ass trial victory, people are watching, people are happy. This is the next stage in that fight. I still need support. I still need people. The trial didn’t end the problems. It ended with one big problem. But now we have this other big problem. I still need people to fight for me and let them know that we’re keeping EK safe.

TFSR: This trial ending is pretty enormous. But you do have a year and just under nine months left inside, and since your whole time inside has been a history of provocations, harassment, diesel therapy, violence by the administration…

EK: I said this to my wife. “Not every win is a win.” If we had two months last maybe, but 19 months is more than enough time to get somebody really fucked up. I don’t want any more goddamn problems in the in here. It’s been such a long arduous hassle with these people.

TFSR: You’ve been two years without mail, with mail bans and books bans and stuff like that, right? You just started getting books recently.

EK: Yeah, and they gave me another mail ban. They just put another one on in February. I’m going to land in this new play. I am just getting things back again for one month in January. Then they immediately say “well, we’re taking it again, because you’re circumventing the mail ban.” So I’m going to land at [USP] Lee with five months left on this new mail ban. God damn it.

TFSR: All the way across the country from your family as you said.

EK: Yeah, they took away my phone. I don’t get any phone calls ever. Because of this phoney-public-safety-factor bullshit they made up. I’m just stuck.

TFSR: What do you want to talk about, we have eight more minutes or something. You got to the point already of how fucked up it is and where you’re heading.

EK: Yeah, things aren’t going to be good. That’s really where my mind is, I want people to know my family needs support too. Send them kindness, be kind to my family, my wife is the one that I give all my information to. If I’m scared, if I’m sad, if I’m depressed, I ask her, “Let people know this.” People hear that shit from her. Please, take it seriously. She’s often literally the only one talking to me. Because if I can pay some dude to use his phone, that’s who I’m going to call. If she puts out the word that I’m in trouble, or I’m sad, or I need something, please show me love and listen to that. We did really well at the trial. It wasn’t a flawless victory, we butted heads and there were things I wasn’t happy about, things that they weren’t happy about. But my legal team did fight for me tough. They spent a lot of money and time and they showed up and had me prepared. But it’s not over. I want them to be able to celebrate because they spent a lot of resources to get this win. It is a win, but for me,…

TFSR: …it’s not a win till you’re out. Right?

EK: Right. I don’t get to celebrate yet because they can still put me in there with someone who is getting drugs from SIS to stab me or some shit like that. That stuff is still in the back of my mind because it’s happened so many times that it doesn’t feel– I can’t celebrate, I got to celebrate for a few days after it happened. But right now it’s back to “Alright, we need to focus on the Bureau and focus on keeping me safe.” It’s just such a horrible way to exist. You can’t be super happy and celebrate with your family because you don’t know what the Bureau’s up to.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s real.

EK: It’s on my mouth on this fucking this $8 coffee that we have here. They sell this little bullshit bag. It’s called Maxima. It’s got maybe 20 scoops in it and it is $8.44. That’s other shit my wife’s having to deal with. God!

TFSR: Spaces like Grady really rely on people being in a panic mode and putting too much money in the commissary and too much money on phones, if people have money available because they don’t know how long they’re going to be there. Do you have any sense of how long you’ll be at this middle facility? Or could it just be they’ll swape you out today?

EK: It’s important to acknowledge that this place is a hella exploitative. They know we’re all panicking, all trying to talk to our family as much as we can. The best way to tell this is these phone calls are expensive. That computer that we use over there is expensive as shit. Commissary, I just told you $8 for a bag of coffee and all of us are having coffee withdrawals, needing some coffee. They’re vicious. I have no idea how long I’ll be here. In my mind, I’ll probably leave on Friday, on Friday morning, they’ll probably come and grab us. But if we make it to the weekend, that’s just two more days of spending shit-tons of money. They give you the lowest quality stuff, just bad.

TFSR: Two fewer days of being at Lee at least…

EK: My dream is that enough people contact them for the right, let’s just get this fucking dope bag out of here. Get him moving. That’s what I’m hoping, that they do it in a way that was different than at McCreary. Let’s get this fucking dirtbag out of here. The way to do it is we’re going to set them up to get jumped. Hopefully, at least they do it a different way. They’re just like, “He’s a problem, let’s move him.”

They don’t have goddamn toilet paper, the toilet paper rolls. They don’t give you those, they give you a little folded bundle, and it’s eight squares in a bundle. You get two bundles a week. Think about that. Think about what that means. You learn to make do your 16 squares a week.

TFSR: That’s so fucking cruel and inhumane. Well, if you did have like 20 sheets, maybe you could make a weapon out of it somehow, an explosive or-

EK: [laughs] Those extra sheets could come in handy for violence, for sure. I don’t know if people understand how horrible the SHU’s get. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have pens or pencils there. They give you a rubber pencil. You have to sharpen it by scraping it on the concrete. Then you can’t file grievances with that. You can’t write legal mail with that. When I try to write to one person I can write, my wife or my cousin Deb, who was at trial, God bless her. They can’t read what I’m writing. It’s just a complete way to cut you off from the– They can do whatever they want. No visibility has no accountability or whatever. That’s what they do. They bury motherfuckers there and once you leave, you can cry about it, but you’re going to say nothing while you’re there. They might take away your 16 sheets.

Automated voice: This call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: Do they have to word it that way?

TFSR: Terminated. “I’m the Terminator, enjoy this call.”

EK: Please, stress my gratitude, but also my urgency. This isn’t a sit like, “Let’s plan, and let’s see what feels best.” This is I need action. If we make a mistake, we make a mistake. I need people mobilized quickly. I’m okay with a mistake. I need them to know the eyes are on me.

TFSR: Yeah, for real. How is it you said that you haven’t shared space with other people in years and you just got moved to an open dorm, general population? Could you describe how that feels?

EK: I’ve been in it, literally a 6×8 box for two and a half years, and before that different SHUs for another year. Going from such a confined space by myself and now I am literally surrounded by people. It feels like a fucking wave of people. There’s also a microwave next to me. When’s the last time I use a microwave? There’s a TV above me. I haven’t seen anything from the Ukraine-Russia war. I just now saw the Will Smith hitting Chris Rock thing. It’s super, super positive. But also, the SHU really damages you. I didn’t realize it until I got out, like right now for this brief period. It feels like someone’s stepping on my chest this entire time. It’s exhausting.

TFSR: Are you able to like find the corner and breathe by yourself? You don’t have to say anything about this. But you know someone who’s in there, right?

EK: I got a bro in here. There are a few other people from the system that we know the same people. Because it’s a small-ass system. There are people here that have been in the same prisons I have, or we know the same people. It’s all respect, there’s no conflict or tension or anything. It’s all just internal.

TFSR: You’ve been someone who’s done a lot of practice and meditation and yoga and instructed other people on these practices. Are you finding that those are helping you right now? Or are you just having to move through it?

EK: Not right now. The meditation, yes, because I can just focus on breathing and focus on my being. There’s obviously no room to sit in the middle of this goddamn open dorm and start doing yoga. I would look like a complete jackass. Justifiably so. But just being in my own space, being centered definitely helps because in the past, when I did long SHU days– Because I always do these goddamn long SHU bids, I don’t know what’s the deal it, it is just a vindication on resistance, I guess. But in the past, when I got the SHU, it would be so suffocating that I thought I could die. Things have improved drastically.

TFSR: Do you have any more updates, any news about when you think you’re getting transferred out? Have you been able to hear from any lawyers or anything like that while you’re at Grady?

EK: I had my legal call, Lauren did get ahold of me. I told her what I needed. She asked, and I told her, and so I trust that it will help. I’ve heard that they are organizing the calling campaign and doing that which I asked for and have been desperate for. I hope people stick with that and continue to put pressure because these people aren’t going to tell me anything. The people at Grady County are not going to tell me shit because they don’t know anything, they are just the county workers. It is just what I’m hoping on and I’ve read some things and heard some things from different comrades. Everything seems like it’s going in the direction that I need. So often we will need something and maybe the people don’t understand how serious it is, or some people don’t. You just need a few to listen to you and believe you and hear you and they can get this ball rolling. It feels like that’s what’s happening right now. I’m really grateful, that makes me feel safe and seen. What this whole thing is about is just making sure that the Bureau knows that people are watching. They’re not going to get away with any sly shit. People are watching, senators will be checking in or whatever we’re able to do with a little bit of pressure. That makes me feel good. Really good.

TFSR: This is a little bit off-topic. But when Josh was on the show the other day, Josh from Certain Days. He was talking about the book that you all are working on. Can you say a few words about that if it’s interesting?

EK: Josh is the perfect person to talk to, he is just such a clever, beautiful person. I started having this idea after reading some IRA books that talked about not just the bombing and killing, but the trauma of suffering and doing suffering to others and what’s left afterwards? What’s left when the ashes and the smoke clears? It’s not glory. It’s internal. Then I had that time with Jaan in his cell and just hearing him talk, and all these stories that I knew, these aren’t documented, no one will ever hear these stories. These stories could change someone’s life, they changed my life. I, Josh, and all of us really honor our mothers and fathers that were in this struggle before us. What they’ve gone through in prison shouldn’t be negated down to a couple of typed-up quotes for some magazine, or their ideas on the struggle. Their lives inside are equally as valuable in the mundane as they are in the extreme. So I didn’t want just to have their stories about how bad they suffered, I wouldn’t want my story to just be about all the SHU time I did. I’d wanted it to be about my life because I still exist. I want that for those that have been through this.

I had that idea and brought it up to Josh, and Josh is just an astoundingly productive person who just wants to help and work, brought it to life. We typed up a questionnaire and he just got to work. I think he’s interviewed some 7000 people so far. It’s actually just 30 or 40 , but it is still a lot. That’s a lot of work. You got a full-time job. This is just comrade work, which – I don’t want to disrespect movement, but I don’t see that all the time. I haven’t seen that in my entire life. I see it a lot, you do it, a few other people do it, but it’s not the most common thing. No questions asked no, “oh, I don’t know, this might be a bad idea.” It was “Let’s bring this shit to life.” And we have, and some of the things I’ve read have been so touching. Something I didn’t know about people. I didn’t know what Kojo [Bomani Sababu] had been through. I didn’t know that Oso [Blanco] was so aggressive. I didn’t know so much about Ray [Luc Levasseur]. So, to me, it’s a project of honoring our existences, not just our suffering, if that makes sense.

TFSR: Absolutely. Recognizing that people aren’t just these two-dimensional struggle machines that are there for putting on a flyer or sticker whatever. That could be a band name.

EK: Yes. It could be title the cover of the book.

TFSR: We have a minute and a half left, these are 15-minute calls. Is that right?

EK: They’ll tell us the two-minute mark.

TFSR: Are there any other things that are coming to mind right now that you want to express?

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: For me, the most important thing is just asking people to please be there for my family. Mutual aid and community support, she is in prison too. I got two little girls, they’re in prison too. Lend us your voices, keep these eyes on me. I’m not trying to be an attention grabber here, like I’m Mr. Big Deal. But this can get very serious very quickly, it could get very dark. That’s all I can think about right now. Help me fight, help me keep an eye on these people so they can’t bury one of us. Don’t let them put the dirt over me right now after we just got this big-ass plan. Don’t let this win turn into a loss. That’s where my heart and that’s where my head’s at right now. And be nice to my wife.

TFSR: For sure. That’s true.

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in one minute.

EK: Bursts, thank you so much. Please give my regards to both Swains, to Lauren and Sean.

TFSR: I will.

EK: Please give yourself a big hug for me.

TFSR: Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it. Take care of yourself, okay? Make some friends.

EK: How are you doing? It’s been a very selfish call. We only got 20 seconds.

TFSR: I’m good. Just got off of work, and got some pizza and a beer waiting for me. Some local IPAs Chicago area.

EK: Oh, IPA is gross.

TFSR: Right. I’m from the West Coast. It’s what I do.

EK: Oh my gosh, don’t…

A Russian Anarchist Against The Ukraine War

A Russian Anarchist on the Ukraine War

Antiwar protestor in Russia being arrested
Download This Episode

This week, we spoke with Petr, a Russian anarchist member of the group Autonomous Action, who is living in Europe right now. For the hour we speak about the invasion of Ukraine, a bit about the resistance inside of Russia to the war drums and the Putin regime, the dangers of a nuclear conflict, the impacts of increased sanctions and anarchists organizing across the borders of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus against the war and against tyranny. You can learn more about what’s going on by visiting Avtonom.org and finding the English tab, or using tools like google translate to read articles from the Russian there.

If you’d like to support anarchist organizing against Putin and the war in Russia, below you’ll find links to some crypto-currency wallets:

  • Ethereum 0x5DF79A64A9CE5B630B50E490F586716522B746d9
  • Bitcoin bc1qpr0dcvhar5fmysqkg4wuk8p6h0hl7ln20dmjwc
  • Zcache t1SqHUbGW8KDRp1hddNAYoVvYHBZoAfG3oc
  • Monero 49eZzSF4uhni3DYnVPCeBPGFZ7cXrbPnWBJuQVYKUNNg7aDxRz6L87fbh9ZQtVNUn87kpSgNgHadAjKthZWmor7yHq9SkTP

Also, a reminder that you can find links to anarchist solidarity and defense organizing and fundraising as well.

To hear our past interviews, including histories of Antifascist organizing in Russia, queer organizing, state repression, ecological resistance and other topics, we’re linking them here as well: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/category/russia/

Announcement

Ex-YPG French Anarchist Prisoner Hunger Strike

On Tuesday, December 8, 2020, 9 comrades were arrested by the DGSI, the French anti-terrorist police unit, across France. In Toulouse, in Dordogne, in the Paris region, in Brittany, and in Rennes. Anarchists are accused of being “the criminal association planning a terrorist attack”. All but one comrade were released, some after months in pre-trial detention. They are awaiting trial and are placed under the judicial control. The defendants, not all of whom know each other, have been under surveillance for a long period of time, including digital surveillance such as planting recording devices in vehicles as well as physical surveillance.

On March 4th, 2022 it was announced that it was six days since our comrades started the hunger strike. He did so at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine knowing very well that this information would drown in the news about the war. That all efforts would be focused on supporting the resistance in Ukraine and the people fleeing from there. It’s amazing what support for Ukraine has gathered, even thought it also came with shortcomings and contradiction; racist sentiment and nationalist visions for the future to name but two of them. Our comrade would in the same way support people fight for freedom. He is in isolation, the method the state use to deprive us of connection and communication with others. He needs us in the same way we need each other, we can never win alone. A person with their body can resist the repression of the state, but without the access we have on the outside his voice will not be heard.

There are suggestions of steps to support the comrade and more information at the blog, https://solidaritytodecember8.wordpress.com/category/english/

Statement from Sanctuary Camp Defendants

retrieved from BRABC.BlackBlogs.Org:

The following is an update from the now 15 defendants facing charges in Asheville, NC as a part of the city government’s attempt to repress food sharing and mutual aid organizing.

“Since our last statement at the beginning of February, the state has targeted 8 more community members in connection with the December demonstration in Aston Park criticizing the City government’s inhumane treatment of homeless folks. We are now a group of 15 locals facing multiple felony charges for participating in mutual aid efforts in our community.

The city government claims we are each responsible for leaving behind more than 500 lbs of trash following a peaceful protest. APD claims this resulted in a 100 hours of “clean-up efforts”, the use of heavy machinery, and a cost of $2,680.

Over the past three months, the taxpayer dollars and time expended surveilling, harassing, arresting, and now prosecuting the defendants vastly exceeds the damages claimed by APD. How many of the same resources and heavy machinery have been employed by the city and county government to remove and destroy homeless camps in the last year alone?

These actions are not an effort to make our city safer, they are an attack on mutual aid. We remain committed to ensuring all members of our community have a safe place to live, a community around them, and agency over their own lives.

We still need your help as we face state repression and attempts to shut down our networks of care.

“Keep sharing food and care and solidarity with one another. Keep delivering groceries, cooking meals, sharing funds, and showing up in the parks. Keep standing with your community. Keep building this beautiful, transformative mutual aid movement. Keep sharing our story. In solidarity and community, the Sanctuary Camp Defendants”

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with whatever name, location, preferred gender pronouns, or affiliations that you can give us?

Petr: My name is Petr. I’m located in Europe, I would prefer not to disclose the particular location. I associate myself with he/him.

TFSR: Cool. Are there any projects that you’re involved with for the sake of this conversation?

Petr: I guess, the most important for this conversation is that I participate quite heavily in what the Autonomous Action is doing. This is one of the largest or maybe even the largest organizations of anarchist, libertarian communists in the ex-USSR countries. I’ve been involved in Autonomous Action quite a lot before I moved to Europe. I am still involved while being here. There are lots of projects going on. But mostly, spreading information, organizing more or less a stream of anarchist views, anarchist analysis of the current events for as wide an audience in Russia and neighboring countries as possible.

TFSR: I’m familiar with avtonom.org as a website where I can occasionally find English translations, updates of stuff, and ideas going on in the Russian language sphere. Would you share a little bit about the history of that group Autonomous Action more widely, the shared values and beliefs, like you said, that most people identify as anarchist or libertarian communists? Where the members are? What stuff do the projects do?

Petr: The Autonomous Action was established quite a long time ago, 20 years ago, in fact, in 2002-2003. It used to be an organization with quite solid, libertarian communist and anarcho-communist platform, based essentially on Kropotkin, Bakunin, and Bookchin. But it was not very picky, meaning that we cooperated with all sorts of the progressive left, but still, our opposition towards the state and towards the statist left was quite pronounced always, all the time. During the first 15 years of its existence, Autonomous Action was quite active on the streets. We really organized hundreds of various street actions. We also were quite integrated with the Antifa movement in Russia, I think the Autonomous Action was a major player in the anti-fascist movement on the streets. But then in recent years, since the state repression is constantly increasing, it becomes more and more difficult to actually organize something on the streets openly by anarchists, which means that we are increasingly trying to become a stream of information. That’s why we nowadays don’t call ourselves an organization anymore, but a media project. We’re on our website. We’re on all sorts of social media networks. Those members of Autonomous Action who are still in Russia — and most of them are — participate in street protests and grassroots initiatives, from environmental to political stuff, like the current anti-war protests.

TFSR: You’ve mentioned that you’re in Europe right now. But I wonder if you have a sense, at least among Russian anarchists and Russian-speaking anarchists that you’re in contact with, what are the reactions to the escalation that the Russian government’s been building, but in particular, the invasion of Ukraine, and the justifications behind it? We’ve heard of several marches around Russia with many arrests and beatings, as well.

Petr: It probably will come as no surprise that all the anarchist organizations or movements or projects that I know about in Russia pronounced quite explicitly their position against this war and against Putin’s regime which started this war, and I guess for us as anarchists, it didn’t come as much as a surprise as, for example, for liberals. We were not surprised that Putin will start another war. Wars accompany capitalism, always. Even more, they accompany capitalism in this flavor, which we observe in Russia, this strange mix of neoliberalism, authoritarian regime, and patriarchal propaganda for the crowds. We were not much surprised. But we were a bit surprised by the scale of it. Nobody seriously believed that Putin would really decide to occupy or at least try to occupy the whole of Ukraine. Our guess was that only the Eastern and maybe some southern parts will be under attack. The scale was surprising, but not the war itself.

There were lots of protests around the country. The protests are still ongoing. People still go out in the streets every day. Anarchists, participated quite a lot in these protests. But the protest is quite disorganized. Because, as I’ve said, it’s really difficult to really organize a real demo in Russia, because, it’s just those who will call people to come to some particular place and time will be probably arrested long before it started. It’s really just the spontaneous organization of people via social media, etc. But still, indeed, in the first days of the war, some groups of anarchists in Moscow, for example, and then in St. Petersburg as well, did manage to gather in crowds with banners and with anarchist slogans, etc. But most of the times anarchists were just part of the crowd without any banners or flags because if you have a banner, or if you have a flag, you will be just the first one to be arrested, of course. But the attitude of all anarchists in Russia is anti-war and anti-Putin.

TFSR: From what I hear in the Western media, the Russian government has criminalized media outlets and organizations that call this an invasion or a war. Do you have the impression of if the population in Russia knows what’s going on with the battles, with the shelling of cities, and the refugee crisis that’s building? Do you get the impression that this will be the new Chechnya to bring the country together into Putin’s arms?

Petr: That’s true. Indeed, in the best spirit of George Orwell, the Russian government criminalized calling this war a war. Officially, it is a special military operation. Indeed, even for carrying, for example, a sheet of paper with the words ‘NO WAR’ in it, you can get a fine, you will be penalized. If you do it for the second time, at least in theory, you can get a prison sentence, which is a significant step towards— Putin’s regime was being harder on anyone who has been protesting all the recent years. But this is a really strong step, even for Putin’s regime. Because it’s especially ironic, given that the state propaganda all these years was based essentially on this memory of World War II, and on declarations that “we are peaceful people, and we don’t want war”, etc. This is the reason why Putin and the authorities decided to ban the word “war” because otherwise, it would sound too crazy for the majority of the Russian population.

The question about whether the population knows what’s going on. It is a difficult question. It’s a difficult issue. The urbanized population, which was critical towards Putin even before the war, more or less have the means of accessing Western media, accessing some remaining independent Russian media, they know how to use TOR, VPNs to access blocked websites, so they definitely know what’s going on. About the rest of the population, I’d say that the majority understands what’s going on because nobody really believes the authorities that bombings are aimed only at military facilities, etc because nobody believes Russian authorities in anything. The trust in the government is really low. But it’s just the case that it’s difficult to leave with a feeling that you are a citizen of an aggressor country because the historical memory of people in Russia is that the Soviet Union was under an attack by Nazi Germany. There is this whole myth about a brave country defending itself from the aggressors, and now Russia is this aggressor. I guess many people just try to close their eyes and forget about this. They happily catch on any piece of propaganda on the TV or the Internet, which says “It’s the Ukrainians who are bombing themselves, or we are freeing Ukraine from the Nazis” or that Ukraine was developing biological weapons to destroy all Russians. This is a real claim by the Russian military. It becomes crazier. I think still, people often try to believe that, just because it’s difficult to see the reality often, unfortunately. I think that the role of anarchists and other progressive political movements is to try to open people’s eyes.

The next question of yours, whether this will be the new Chechnya, the idea of Putin definitely was that it will be a quick victory, which would improve the political situation inside the country because people when the wars are won by an authoritarian leader. But now that there is no quick victory — two weeks have passed, and no significant military success up to now — unfortunately, it seems that it could be the new Chechnya in the meaning that it will be just senseless bloodshed for many months or years, which will be horrible. This is definitely a very grim perspective and future. We should do everything that we can to avoid this. We probably can talk later about what we are doing for this and what anarchists and other progressive left can do for this.

TFSR: Thank you.

The claim about the chemical weapons development is kind of a newer one that I’ve just seen popping up over the last few days. Can you describe what that claim is that’s being made by the Russian military?

Petr: Essentially, they invent a new reason to invade Ukraine every day. And at some point, they claimed that they found some documents with the names of some chemical substances, somewhere in Ukraine, in the conquered cities, and based on this, they stated that Ukraine, with the help of the US and NATO, was developing biological weapons to target Russian people. They even claimed something that this weapon will be specifically aimed at the Russian DNA, which is absolute nonsense from the scientific point of view. But it’s just the case that we’ve observed this for many years that Putin and Kremlin propaganda, just their strategy was always just “say as many crazy things as possible so that the truth is just drowning in the sea of shit essentially”. They don’t care about whether what they claim is consistent because one day they say that we invaded Ukraine because we want to defend the people of the East of Ukraine. The next day they say that we invaded Ukraine because it wanted to become a member of NATO, the next day, they say that it was because of nuclear weapon which was being developed there. It’s just a constant stream of nonsense, which nobody actually believes in Russia, except maybe some hardcore patriots, which are definitely the minority of the population.

TFSR: I also wonder, since we’re going back into reasons for the invasion that have been given… The de-nazification makes sense with what you said about the Russian government playing off— The massive amount of people that died during World War II fighting the Nazis, but talking about this as an extension of the Patriotic War for the Fatherland. The de-nazification — and we know that there are militias that are connected to or integrated into the Ukrainian military that have white supremacist connections or have indeed Nazis within their ranks — I’ve been hearing some other anarchist sources talk about okay, “ there’s Nazis involved in the military of Ukraine. There are Nazis involved in the military of the US. There are Nazis involved in the military alongside Russian troops.” One group, for instance, that’s been mentioned, is the Wagner group? Can you talk a little bit about it, just to even the playing field and to point out that states are bad and Nazis using state militaries? Can you talk a little bit about some of the Nazi groups that are involved in the Russian military?

Petr: Well, the whole business of this de-nazification is of course total bullshit. It doesn’t have anything to do with reality. Of course, there are Nazis in Ukraine, and of course, they are some militias that are somehow associated with the Ukrainian army. But it’s definitely not the real aim of invading Ukraine. Putin doesn’t care at all about Nazis, what he cares about is whether he can order these people or not. Definitely, Nazi mercenaries are fighting on the side of the Russian Army. They were involved in armed conflicts in the east of Ukraine, they were involved in Syria, in many other regions of the world. But actually, it doesn’t matter much that they’re Nazis. They’re much more just soldiers of Putin than Nazis. Because the Nazi groups in Russia have been mostly eliminated or totally subjected to the state about 8-10 years ago. Nowadays, there are no independent Nazi parties or groups that are active on the streets. They are either dead or in prison, or they are part of more or less pro-Putin, pro-regime movements. Nazis are not political players anymore in Russia at all. It doesn’t make sense to even to talk about them. Maybe if you have some, specific questions, I probably can give some answers, but they do not play any significant part in what’s happening in Russia now.

TFSR: Okay, that makes sense. I’ve heard Russian people describe that Nazis aren’t fighting you on the streets. But when you get pulled into a police station, there’s going to be a Nazi with a boot to beat you. It seems like one thing about the way that Putin’s regime operates is to destroy autonomous power that could exist, anything that could destabilize and integrate it into their own power base, which is why it’s hard for Western people sometimes to take a read on Putin’s politics, because they presume it’s left or it’s right or something like that when actually it’s just neoliberal authoritarian.

Petr: I agree. Putin doesn’t care about whether this particular group is left or right, Nazi or Antifa. He cares about whether they pose a threat to him or not, that’s what matters. That was the reason behind crushing the Nazi movement about 10 years ago, and actually, about the same time they started crushing the Antifa movement. Then it was more or less finished by 2014 when it was split along this conflict in the Crimea and the eastern parts of Ukraine because some part, some members of the Russian Antifa movement went to fight on the Ukrainian side, and others went to fight on the side of this newly-established so-called republics. Both sides considered themselves to be anti-fascists. That was sad to observe. But I guess that’s what you expect more or less in such political conditions.

TFSR: Yeah.

Putin has made the argument that Ukraine is a part of Russia, we’ve talked about the claims of genocide and Russian speakers and Donbas. Just as a note, war times are a time of increased nationalism. Have you seen the idea of who is Russian changed shape recently within Russia or to your experience? Where does this leave people of Chechen or Uzbek or other backgrounds or African backgrounds who may or may not be considered as Russian as others right now? How does the race work inside of Russia, basically? Do you get the impression that this has changed around the time of the war drums beating?

Petr: This, I should admit, is a very complicated issue. It probably would require a separate interview or a separate podcast to talk about this in-depth. But in general, on the one hand, Putin and his elite would probably want to establish some ethnic Russian domination or something similar to that. But on the other hand, they understand that they rule a country, which is really multinational and multiracial and multi-ethnic, and pronouncing one ethnic group as a dominant one has its dangers. On the other hand, another thing that stops them from going full Nazi or fully nationalistic is that, I already mentioned, this myths of The Great World War and the fighting against German Nazis, and these myths, these sorts of archetype supports Putin because he and the regime as a whole always claim themselves to be the descendants of these brave Soviet warriors who fought Nazis. That’s why they avoid directly discriminating against ethnic groups, or at least stating this explicitly, although, probably personally, they would these to happen. But politically, they are trying to avoid this. We have no evidence that the situation of ethnic minorities in Russia changed a lot since the war started.

There are problems, but it’s not that there is any apartheid or something like that. We know that the Ukrainian citizens in Russia are now often subjected to questioning. They have visits from the police, because citizens of the country with which Russia is at war right now, even when Russia itself doesn’t mean that it is in a war, up to now at least, it was just questioning. Essentially, the police come to a Ukrainian family and ask them: “Are you going to commit any terrorist acts? Do you have relatives in Ukraine?” It’s relatively soft, up to now, but we closely monitor the situation. We don’t know what might happen next.

TFSR: Because we’ve talked about the censorship that’s occurring around the information getting to parts of the Russian population, do you have a sense of what the morale might be inside of the military? Can you talk a little bit about the universal military obligation or draft in Russia and who gets out of it and how they can do that?

Petr: There is a draft in Russia. Every male after turning 18 has to serve for one year in the army, except when he starts studying at the university and it’s a long and venerable Russian tradition to avoid the draft. It’s been like that in the Russian Empire, in the Soviet Union, and it’s still like this in the Russian Federation. No one or almost no one wants to serve in the army. That’s almost universal. That’s why people try to avoid the army, by all means possible, even before the war, by paying money to the officials, by entering the University, even if they didn’t want actually to study, etc. Of course, now, when there is a real danger of being sent to a real war, even fewer people actually want to serve. Since currently, Russia seems to be losing this war, and there are rumors of actually announcing this total mobilization and sending all the conscripts to the war to Ukraine, we expect that there certainly will be protests or at least conflicts concerning this. We are trying to observe this and once we noticed that anything is happening try to help the protesters, help those who are trying to organize against this conscription, etc.

About the morale inside the military. It’s difficult to say because we don’t have any spies in the Russian army. Judging by the news, I guess, you more or less read the same news as us, it seems that the morale is not that high. Also, because as I’ve said, it’s some a mind-blowing fact to any Russian soldier that he is now serving the role of an invader. Because all his life he was taught that his role is to defend his country against invaders. Now he’s the invader. Also because no one actually wanted to really play a part in the war. All these soldiers didn’t want to really risk their lives in real battle. I’d say that the morale is low. There were some rumors about soldiers rioting somewhere near the border against sending them to Ukraine. But there were no independent confirmations about this. It’s still just some rumors. We definitely expect that there will be some riots, some soldiers rejecting the orders, etc.

TFSR: I guess on Telegram loops and on social media I have seen a video of captured Russian soldiers explaining why they’re there. That sounds also like a terrible situation to be in. But I can’t blame someone for capturing an invading soldier. Or a video of older women confronting soldiers and saying, “You should really put some sunflower seeds in your pockets so that when we kill you, at least something good will grow”. I’m sure the vitriol that they’re facing has done quite a deal on them when they’re being told that if anything they’re going to liberate people or to defend people. It makes me wonder if they’re not doing so well in this facet of the war — this is speculation, but if the Russian government might decide to focus more on the aerial bombardment because it’s easier to push a button and kill a bunch of people than it is to go in and face snipers who know the territory.

Petr: I guess that’s more or less what everyone now agrees on. That it seems that indeed, this is the tactics that the Russian army or the Russian government has chosen now. If we can’t win by conventional weapons, then let’s just bomb them. Because I guess they use more or less the same tactics in Syria and Chechnya. It seems to them that it brings them victory. Why shouldn’t it be used here in Ukraine? Of course, Ukraine is a bit different, because it still has its military, more or less, well, not intact, but still in an operational state. Also, unfortunately, the world didn’t pay so much attention to cities being bombed in Syria, the world does pay a lot of attention to cities being bombed in Ukraine. From this point of view, I’m not sure that these tactics will be actually profitable for the Russian army. But they certainly starting to do something that, they’re bombing more and more civilian buildings, residential buildings, etc. Unfortunately, that’s definitely the case.

TFSR: The last few decades, since the end of the Cold War, and since the end of the Soviet Union have brought a few shifts and changes in international arms treaties. I know, in the last six years, the US has stepped aside from anti-nuclear proliferation treaties that included Russia, as a signatory, and now there’s a lot of concerns that if NATO or US (as a more active element within NATO) decided to escalate participation, or actually start participating on the ground that it could spark a nuclear war. Do you have a sense of people seeing that in Russia as a possibility? How do you feel about that?

Petr: People in Russia definitely do see this as a possibility, especially because Putin himself mentioned that in his speech, when he actually announced the start of the war, he mentioned that we have nuclear power, etc. Also, many people, especially those who are older still remember the Soviet times when the expectation of nuclear war was more or less permanent. It’s not something entirely new.

I’d say that many people that I know at least, definitely are afraid of this. Also, there is a lot of evidence that Putin is not entirely in his mind. He definitely has some mental problems, which means that probably there is not much to prevent him from starting a nuclear war if a demon in his head tells him to do so. Or angels? I don’t know what he has in his head. People are definitely afraid of this, they hope that these are still just hollow threats. But you might never know. I personally think that we should be afraid of this, that, indeed, the Russian nuclear power is now in the hands of, first of all, a person who is definitely a bit mentally unhealthy, second of all, his state apparatus, which is fine-tuned to obey its head and to essentially just tell its head, which is Putin, whatever Putin wants. In this configuration, there is not much resistance to possibly pressing this nuclear button. I think that the danger is real, unfortunately.

TFSR: There’s been a lot of talks of NATO states avoiding sending troops so as not to escalate in that way, but sending weapons instead and imposing further sanctions on the Russian economy, including the ending of purchases of oil, or the capping or slowing of those purchases, which is a major part of the Russian economy, the exporting of petroleum products. How does this affect regular people inside of Russia? How much do you think that it actually affects the rich and the bureaucrats directly?

Petr: It definitely affects regular people. Exchange rates just increased twice or three times over a couple of days, which means that essentially people lost half of their salaries. There are already lots of problems with the goods in the shops, with logistic chains, etc. It’s really a large, profound systemic effect on the Russian economy, even if some people do not yet see it immediately, but it’s definitely there. It definitely will affect regular people a lot. They will become much poorer than they were before that.

How does it affect the rich and the elite class? That’s a good question. It definitely affects them to some extent. We see all these boats being captured all around the world, and we see assets, frozen, etc. The businesses that they own also suffer because of all these sanctions. It’s difficult to estimate whom it affects more, the regular people or the rich. I don’t even know how it can be measured. All I can say is that it definitely influences people.

Some of the sanctions, I guess, make sense in terms of stopping this Putinist military machine and essentially, just slowing down the military part of the economy. But other sanctions, for example, this Visa and MasterCard payment systems blocking transactions of Russians abroad, essentially prohibiting them to use payment cards issued by Russian banks abroad. This makes sense maybe from the pure ethical point of view, but from the point of view of at least allowing people to flee the country and then use their money abroad, this is not that good. I know many people who fled the country because they were some anti-Putin activists, but then their payment cards were blocked, and they essentially were left abroad without any money at all. There are very contradictory opinions about sanctions. I don’t have any clear answer, whether they’re beneficial or not, but definitely, people will suffer. They’re suffering already.

TFSR: Do you think that anti-state, anti-capitalist, libertarian leftists, and anarchists are poised to make good use of the momentum against the war and the increased pressure within Russia to bring about some change? Even if it starts from a small place, including the anti-militarist, anti-draft sentiments?

Petr: The short answer is that I would like to believe it. The long answer is that, as I’ve said, there were literally two decades of destroying the protest landscape, including anarchists. There are very few anarchist or libertarian left organizations that are still capable of actually organizing something massive or mobilizing significant numbers of people.

Having said that I still think that the current situation is somewhat promising as well. It’s bad, but it’s there is some silver lining in this cloud. Because lots of people, including those from the anarchist movement, actually think that based on what we see now, the Russian Federation, as we know it, probably will not survive in the next several months or several years. Because, indeed, the economic situation is quite tough now and it’s really catastrophic, because of the sanctions. And because of the war, war is an expensive business as well. also because of purely political things, because, as I’ve said, Putin probably planned to finish this war very quickly, in a couple of days. But he failed in this. And within the circles of his friends and henchmen and military generals, top hats, etc… they do not do it very much when someone fails. It’s not something tolerated. We expect definitely that the power struggles at the top of the Kremlin chair will intensify. Probably, the regime will somehow collapse in this or that way, comparatively soon, we cannot announce any particular date, but there is this feeling.

In this situation, we probably have good chances to establish or at least help to establish something more decentralized and more libertarian on the ruins of this collapsed regime. It’s still a good question to what extent we’ll be able to do anything meaningful. But at least nowadays, we’re trying to spread the word, spread the libertarian and anarchist ideas, and trying to push gently these anti-war vibes, anti-war protests into a more anti-authoritarian channel. To explain to people that to stop the war, it’s not enough to simply get the troops back, you also have to remove Putin from the Kremlin. We also need to make sure that no second Putin arrives there. I’d say that we can make good use of this moment, we have to try.

TFSR: How have Russians and anarchists in particular reacted to the recent military interventions in Kazakhstan and the backing of the Belarus dictatorship?

Petr: Here the answer is simple, we definitely stood in solidarity with the Belarusian protests. Lots of our comrades, anarchists from Belarus participated in these protests, lots of them are jailed for this, some of them for really long sentences. We supported them and lots of Russian anarchists actually went to Belarus to participate in these protests. The events in Kazakhstan are more complicated, meaning that there is still some fog of war there, it’s still not entirely clear what happened in Kazakhstan. Was it a military coup d’etat or was it a folk revolution? Was it something else? I guess we’re still trying to find out. But we definitely supported the protests in the western parts of the country against gas prices increasing. We definitely tried to resist, to protest against sending Russian troops to Kazakhstan. Because this is all parts of the same chain, sending troops to Ukraine, sending troops to Kazakhstan is part of this empire politics by Putin, by the Russian state. It looks at Kazakhstan and Ukraine and Belarus as its sphere of influence, which they should rule. We as anarchists may surely oppose this way of thinking, in general. We do not think that any empire has the right to tell the people what to do.

TFSR: Do you get much of a sense of Russian sentiments from the wider population about those two interventions or are they kind of hard to gauge?

Petr: In Belarus, there was no military intervention. Russian troops did not enter Belarus, or at least officially didn’t enter. Russia helped the Belarusian dictatorship only with money, lots of money. They also sent some TV propagandists, media managers to help the Belarusian propaganda. There was no clear military intervention, although, Russian troops, are now in Belarus, and they actually attacked Ukraine from the territory of Belarus. But that’s just because they signed lots of agreements. Putin and Lukashenko are best friends now. That’s happening all the time, but there was no intervention.

The general opinion of the Russian public about Kazakhstan, people just didn’t have enough time to actually understand what’s happening. It happened in 10 days, or even less. I don’t think that there is any sentiment, which is shared by a large part of the Russian population about this. Most Russians just don’t care a lot about Kazakhstan in general. It’s difficult for me to give any clear estimate about this.

About Belarus, the Russian society was polarized by the riots and protests in Belarus. Those who were more conservative have this nostalgic feeling about Belarus reminding them about Soviet times. They believed that these were protests inspired by the West, which is poised to destroy this island of the Soviet Union. They definitely were against the protests and they supported Lukashenko. Other parts of the society, more liberal, were unilaterally against Lukashenko and they supported the protests by whatever means possible. It’s very polarized.

TFSR: Do you have any words for comrades internationally or who are in Ukraine, who might hear this? How can anarchists abroad support the efforts of dissidents within Russia, and everyone living under the Putin regime who are resisting?

Petr: We are in contact with our comrades in Ukraine. It’s not like we are disconnected, there is a constant flow of information from here to there, and from there to here.

But anyway, the main words that we can send them is that they are fighting not just for themselves, or for Ukraine, they are fighting for Russia as well, because we really believe that, as it happened a lot in historical times, a lost war often meant the fall of the regime in Russia. We definitely believe this will be another case of that. Stay strong. Defeat Putin. We in Russia, or internationally, will help you to do this as much as possible.

About the question how can anarchists abroad support the efforts of dissidents in Russia? The best way to do this is to spread the information, spread the word that it’s not the case that the entire Russian population supports this war, there are dozens of thousands of people on the streets, thousands of those who are arrested. There are political organizations or groups, even if not that large, but still dozens of people who are actively working against war and organizing protests, meaning designing leaflets, printing leaflets, starting websites or groups in social media, etc. All of this is extremely important. If you want to support people with something else, not just with the word, we have several cryptocurrency wallets, I can send you privately the numbers. If someone wants to give money to printing leaflets, paying for websites, paying for the fees which our comrades have after being arrested in the street protests, please do. We will be grateful for that.

TFSR: Yeah. Is there anything that I failed to ask about that you want to talk about?

Petr: I guess we covered all the important topics. The only thing is probably that in the current situation, it’s quite important not to fall victim to propaganda from both sides. Both from the Russian side, and from the Ukrainian and broadly, the general Western side. Unfortunately, we sometimes see in the Western media some anti-Russian vibe, which is probably understandable in times of war. But at the same time, it’s quite dangerous, I think. As I’ve said, it’s really important to always separate the actions of the Russian government, which Russian people didn’t elect, to begin with, and the actions or the opinions of those who actually live in Russia, and who suffer from the actions of the Russian government. The Kremlin does not occupy just Ukraine, it actually occupies Russia as well. I think that is an important thing to remind people about.

TFSR: Absolutely. Petr, how can people follow your work and the work of Autonomous Action?

Petr: We have a website avtonom.org and it has an English section. We don’t have enough resources to translate all the materials into English but we try to translate at least the most important ones. You can also find the links to our social media there. We have all sorts of channels that you can expect, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, even Instagram. You can follow us on whatever channel you prefer.

TFSR: VK?

Petr: VK, you mean this Russian social network VKontakte? Yes, we have a page there. But we do not recommend using it. It’s owned by the Russian state. Don’t use VK.

TFSR: If listeners do speak Russian, or besides the written content on the website and on social media, you’ve also got a podcast on Sound Cloud, right? But it’s in Russian.

Petr: Yes, it’s in Russian, it’s weekly. People definitely can subscribe to it on YouTube, Sound Cloud, or whatever, or just listen to it from our website. We are trying to give a weekly anarchist analysis of what is happening. We see that many people actually subscribe. It seems that the format is convenient for the audience. We’re quite proud of it actually.

TFSR: I see that some of the notes from those are getting translated. I imagine if someone does have those language skills also and wants to contribute offering to do translations of some of the stuff published on the site might be helpful?

Petr: That would be great. CrimethInc. actually, did some translation on their own initiative. But we definitely need translators, so if someone feels they have these skills, they’re definitely welcome to contact us by any means possible.

TFSR: It’s been a pleasure speaking with you and thank you again for taking the time and for all the work that you’re doing.

Petr: Thanks for having me and hope that the war will be stopped.

TFSR: And then the states.