Category Archives: Gentrification

Fighting Back Against Displacement In Greece

Fighting Back Against Displacement In Greece

Drawing of a turtle with a park on its shell, with text in Greek "Ο λόφος του Στρέφη ελεύθερος θα μείνει!" translating to "Strefi Hill will stay Free!" in English
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This week, we spoke with Alex, an anarchist squatter in the Athenian neighborhood of Exarchia. They talk about repression by the New Democracy party, struggles against green washing wind turbines around rural Greece, the fires raging through the country, resistance to rape culture, fighting against the building of a metro station in Exarchia and the privatization of public spaces like Strefi Hill, police presence at Universities, anarcho-tourism and the hunger strike of anarchist prisoner Giannis Michialidas.

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Featured Track:

  • Αυτό Το Σύστημα [Διάβρωση Cover] by Γεμάτος Αράχνες, ρε Φίλε! from their 2021 split with Βελζεβούλ Τα μη χειρότερα

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Transcription:

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience with whatever name, preferred pronouns, location, political position, or however you feel will help give the audience a sense of of who they’re listening to.

Alex: Hi, my name is Alex. I use they pronouns. I live in Athens, Greece. I’m a squatter, and I’m involved in anarchist and social movements in the neighborhood.

TFSR: So first up, Greece, like many other places in southern Europe has faced terrible fires this year, a growing pattern alongside a terrible heatwave. I hope that you’ve been doing okay with this. I would like, if you could, to talk about climate change and your views on the role of capitalism in this. Have you seen mutual aid projects work to navigate the high temperatures and dangerous air quality where you’re at?

Alex: In the center of Athens, we don’t experience fires right now. It’s mostly in the mountains around Athens and in different parts of Greece and the islands. But this year, the fires, even if they’re very big, the media are trying a bit to not show them so much because they want to hide all these very big catastrophes. Last year, it was very important with the fires in Evia Island, which burned a huge amount of forests, like almost the 1/3 of the island. It’s the second biggest island in Greece. So, it’s big.

The fires here has to do a lot with capitalistic projects and money, they want to use the burned land for different kinds of businesses. They really don’t care about any laws or any natural environment issues. There are a lot of ecological struggles in Greece, against the wind turbines or against the mining in different parts of Greece. And of course, it’s a big plan. I think they’re experimenting with different capitalistic ways of how they will control and how they will use all of this burned land. Because we are speaking about a lot of burned land in Evia Island.

It’s unclear how exactly they want to use all of this land, but for sure we know because of the local people, is that when the fire starts, the states don’t want to put it out. This is a big scandal. The state is letting this fires burn everything and destroy people’s land. It’s really crazy how it’s happening. I don’t know what more specific, maybe you would like to hear about all the situation.

There is a lot of mutual aid for needs of the people, or for rescuing animals, or for taking out the fires, more self organized. We can see that the people in Evia, or in other places and in villages and communities, they put out the fire themselves. The States don’t care. Firefighters have very precise [orders], they tell them not to take out the fire. I don’t know if you want something more specific?

TFSR: Yeah. Is the land all private parcels of property? Or is it State property that once it is held by the State and then once it’s destroyed, the state says, “well, we can’t use this for anything. Let’s sell it.” So kind of a primitive accumulation option? How does the disaster capitalism of this fire sale thing actually work out for the State.

Also, people may be surprised to hear critiques of wind turbines. Could you share some of the concerns around those that people have?

Alex: Yes, they land it can be private property of people that live by agricultural work. In Greece still, in the smaller towns or in the villages, people live by growing stuff or by the forest. They live by the forest with different ways that they use forest material to live out of it. In a kind of old fashioned way, let’s say. So with destroying big forests, the State destroys natural environment, animals, and also the way that people can survive and live off it. So the people are pushed either to go to the cities, because they cannot live anymore in a village in a more natural environment or in more communal environment, or they are pushed to work in the next businesses that are going to these areas to take profit out of it. It’s not very clear what exactly they want to do. For example, they want to make maybe some more touristic areas out of burned land, some alternative tourism, some wind turbines, or some industries. It’s a lot of options what they want to do out of this land. It‘s too new, it’s very fresh, these catastrophes, to know exactly.

A lot of big businesses and construction businesses are involved in all this situation. They call it the ‘new forest,’ they want to make new kinds of forests like less wild, more controlled, more open for tourists that cannot go to a real forest. So it’s a lot of experiment, I would say, between the Greek State and very big, private companies. So we will see how it will turn out.

About wind turbines, I know that I have heard from other comrades around the world that this is not really a thing in other countries to struggle against. But here, it’s really, really strong struggles against the wind turbines. You can see small islands that get full of them, and it’s really bad for the local inhabitants. You can see places in Greece that it’s maybe a small village and on top of the mountain and just next to it, you see a lot of wind turbines that of course, maybe the energy they are producing is not even going back to the local residents. So there’s really not any pro’s for them.

Also, the struggles against wind turbines are usually by local people. They don’t want to see the nature around the villages and get totally destroyed. They don’t want the animals to get kicked out. They don’t want the birds to be hurt by the wind turbines. They don’t want these very big companies to get profit and get full money off of their backs and destroy the natural place. I think they’re a more ecological movement in Greece. I think the opinion is that wind turbines… it’s like greenwashing, let’s say. It’s not a real innovation. It’s not something that is helping our class. It’s doing more damage than good, and it’s used for profit and for saying, “Ah look, we do something good!” But they destroy the lives of the locals.

And also with the wind turbines, the places that they decide to put them is places where people live. And also really natural forests. For example, there was there was a lot of natural places in Greece that with a new law of the government, they are not being protected anymore from the State. So, amazing natural treasures are not protected anymore, and they will be used for profits. For example, you can see the local struggles in the Tinos Island or Andros Island. It’s really amazing how the people there resist and self organize and how heavy are the repressions they also get.

I don’t know. I think it’s very interesting and I think there are also links in English for people to to read more good analysis on this. topic from the people In the fight against it.

TFSR: So you’re involved in the squatting movement in the Athens neighborhood of Exarchia, as I understand. Many listeners will be at least passingly familiar with the context there. But for those who aren’t, can you give a brief rundown of the legacy of counter-cultural and anti authoritarian struggles in that neighborhood through the dictatorship, it’s importance in the rebellion since December 2008, in the wake of the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos, and increasing neoliberal austerity since?

Alex: This neighborhood, Exarchia neighborhood, is in the center of Athens. It has always been kind of center of political struggle, of a wide political spectrum. It has been a political place even before the dictatorship, but it’s too old to analyze this. The thing is that this neighborhood is situated between universities. So it always has been placed with a lot of young people and artists and more cultured people, not really a full working class neighborhood. It’s a lie to say that it’s always been the working class neighborhood.

On the 17th of November 1973, there was a big revolt at the Polytechnic University that is in in this neighborhood, where the students and workers revolted against the dictatorship here. This was a really, really, really big event of the recent Greek history, with a lot of deaths of students from the military, and a big fight for… let’s say, democracy or a lot of things that are more free. A lot of rights of the people were won, back then, after the fall of the dictatorship.

Polytechnic University has always been a center of struggle for the anarchist movement and leftist movements, a center of riots, a center of organizing, a very lively space of every day, very strong political activities. A lot of other events have happened there, repression, also another murder in ’85, another 15 year old comrade from cops.

Anyway, this neighborhood has always been somehow a center of counterculture, of ideas, of the first squatting movement in Greece in the 80’s and 90’s. A lot of things can be said, and in 2008, there was the murder of the 15 year old anarchists and student, Alexis Grigoropoulos in the neighborhood from cops. After this, a very big insurrection broke out that started the same night and continued for almost a month, in Athens and in all of Greece. In every city, there was revolt, riots and squatting of public spaces and protesting for it.

It turned out that people were protesting for everything that was repressing them at this time. We can say that this murder was a spark to to start this flame of the people. And yes, Athens and Greece had very big movements also after 2008, 2012, and 2013 with austerity measures. 2008 played a very big role also for people to organize. You can see that a lot of self organized spaces or groups or political things were started then, and have stayed until now.

But for sure Exarchia neighborhood has been through a lot of phases. It’s also very important not to romanticize it. It’s very important to give a clear image of this neighborhood and not to make it sound like the place of anarchy or the place of utopia. Of course, it’s a place with capitalism. It’s a place with commercial relations. It’s a place with bourgeois people. It’s a lot of things. We should not romanticize it as a neighborhood.

TFSR: That seems really important that you focus on not romanticizing it and on the commercialism. I know that a few travel guides published in English, when they’re talking about Athens have a section specifically on Exarchia about how experimental and how weird and exciting Exarchia is, “You should come and visit and go to these hostels and go to these restaurants and cafes and what have you.” Not unlike Christiania up in Northern Europe. Tourism seems like an issue there. Yeah?

Alex: Yes, right. Now we have a huge issue with tourism. In the past, it was more alternative tourism, or like “anarcho-tourism.” Where people would come with the idea of, “Ah so nice, because graffiti is everywhere and I can smoke weed here or whatever, and see some riots!” Which was bad. But now we talk about a whole different new level of tourism. It’s really, really commercial. The capital has really invested money in Exarchia. You can see a lot of Airbnbs everywhere popping up. A lot of people get kicked out of their houses. I think the local population has been, about half of it has left, people cannot pay rent anymore, or whole apartment buildings where people have been kicked out. So they can use all of it as a hotel or as a hostel. And big investors are coming to the neighborhood.

A lot of new shops are opening, fancy ones, more hipster, they’re more expensive. It’s a really, really big issue, the issue of gentrification of the neighborhood. It’s bad by itself, this process of gentrifying in every neighborhood of the world. But here, one more reason why it’s so bad, because it’s destroying the main place of political organization. It’s not only kicking out some people. Gentrification is used as a tool to stop any political action or any resistance from the locals for all the new projects that they want to build in this neighborhood.

TFSR: You spoke about some of the history of resistance in the neighborhood and now discussing how it continues to act as a sort of core for activity around Athens. I wonder if you could talk about the situation of social spaces, and non legalized housing and squatting around the neighborhood today? What sort of spaces do you see? Who lives there? What social needs are provided for and how are they coordinated? I’m hoping to also hear not just about squats, but also social spaces like Strefi Hill.

Alex: Yes, I don’t want to let you down, but there’s not really a squatting movement in Athens anymore in the center. Of course, there are squats. Not only in Exarchia, in the whole of Athens, and probably there are more than a lot of other places in the world. They’re also fully illegal, I mean that you don’t do any process to have a squatting house or a political house, squatting, whatever. But really the New Democracy government when it came to power, one of the first things they did is to evict a lot of squats. So the this way of organizing through big open squats is not existing anymore. I mean, there are squats. There are squats in a lot of different neighborhoods where people are organized there, but it’s not so big as it used to be.

In the Exarchia there are a few squats left and housing squats, not public ones. But I would say it’s not the main place of organizing. There are also social centers and social places where people can go and organize. And the main tool of organizing was Polytechnic University. The anarchist movement is working here by doing a lot of open assemblies for different topics. So you need a big open public space where everybody can gather, or that can gather from 50 to 200 people, for example. So universities, always were helping in this. But now the historical Polytechnic University is kind of taken out of our hands. We kind of lost it. We had a huge building there that was the center of of these open assemblies and all this organizing. They have completely taken out from us. It’s hard to gather there, you gather there only on the outside, not in a building.

The square of Exarchia is also a public space where people can meet. The local cafes can also be place for organizing, and then the Hill, the parks, the public spaces. For example, now, because the universities are closed for the summer, all the assemblies are taking place in Strefi Hill, because it’s a big place, it has a very big open amphitheater. People can meet there and organize from there.

I don’t know what else more specifically.

TFSR: Yeah, in these assemblies that you’re talking about, it’s not a part of political culture in the United States where we’re based out of, to have large assemblies. My understanding is that there is a history and a continuity of neighborhood assemblies or assemblies that come together in order to discuss or debate specific issues and take action in those areas. How much is that sort of an actual thing in Athens political organizing, is it that people from the whole neighborhood come out, or just interested parties, or just a political group?

Alex: It depends on the issue, and on the time. It depends on a lot of factors. But this open assembly mindset is kind of a tool of the anarchist movement. Historically, people had this need to gather together after some political event, or some oppression. After an eviction of a squat, after some big event that happens, people always have the feeling and the will to meet all together and organize. That gives the chance also to new people and young comrades to join, without having to meet anyone. You can know anyone and join there and get organized.

Yes, this was also a thing of neighborhoods and the more mass movements in Athens. To me, it’s a very important way to organize. It’s basically what we do, even if we have an assembly of 15 or 20 people, we would call it openly so anyone can join. For example, when the attack on Strefi Hill happened, when the plans of gentrifying the hill started, the first assembly we did was with 300 people… locals from the neighborhood, leftists, anarchists, from some left political parties, some from more anarchist people, or people from other neighborhoods. It depends what happens. If there is a big event people would gather. Like last week we did an assembly of about 120 people because of the attack on the Exarchia neighborhood.

TFSR: So within the wider project of gentrification in, for instance, Exarchia, it seems like Strefi is important because it’s a wide open space with an amphitheater, as you say, where people can meet for this purpose or simply to enjoy themselves, be in assembly or just to gather in small groups or picnic or whatever. But can you talk about the projects that are slated for Strefi Hill specifically and what threatens to to damage that spot?

Alex: It’s a very nice hill. It has different parts for different kinds of people. It has a basketball [court] for kids. The whole neighborhood gathers there with their kids with their dogs. It has an open rooftop for people to see the view of Athens and have a beer, it has an amphitheater, it has a playground, it has a taverna, a local restaurant, and different spots for people to hang out. It’s also a place where homeless people can sleep at night. It’s very used, it’s a very lively place, people can do concerts there, theater, do assemblies, do movie projections, they can do whatever they like.

It’s also a natural place. There are turtles, a lot of different kinds of birds, cats, a lot of trees. So it combines a lot of nice things. It has been used for organizing, but it has been used also to attack. I would like to say that also, it’s also a strategical point. It’s at the top of Exarchia, it is the hill of Exarchia, so strategically, it’s a very good position.

The hill, of course, like a lot of other public spaces in Greece, are always left out by the municipality. They don’t pick up the trash, they don’t fix broken lights, they leave it without water, they close the water of the hill. They neglect it with the purpose to go and say, “Ah, look at the hill, the hill is so fucked we have to renew it.” But in reality, they left it like that and we pick up the trash and we fix everything.

The plan of the gentrifying the hill, it’s made by a huge investment company that will ‘adopt’ the hill. That’s what they say. So the plans of gentrifying it is not only made from the municipality of Athens, but is together with private companies that have a lot of business around Exarchia. They sell and buy huge buildings, they take profit out of it. So it’s like a mafia of the mayor, together with these companies and businesses to destroy the place and then take money.

The way that they want to destroy it, they want to make the hill, not a free white space, but a place that can be more familiar with tourists, they will cut trees and plants and will put new ones, but not local ones. They want to put cement or other bad material around to make it more, they say ‘accessible,’ but in reality, it will be accessible for good shoes and high heels of tourists. It’s a big plan with a lot of different things that they want to destroy on the hill. We know, it’s very simple to understand that is a bullshit plan.

In the beginning, they wanted to close it also and put cameras and guards. They say they will not do it, they took it back. But of course they can do it in a few years, we don’t know. And we have seen how they are gentrifying and doing the same work, that they want to do in Strefi, they do it in some other places and we see the result. It’s really not a sustainable result. It’s not the result we want. We don’t want to destroy the whole hill in order for them to just make money out of it. It will change completely the way that the hill looks, the way that the hill behaves. They will put lights that are from the bottom to the top, like a lot of lights that will create light pollution and will annoy the the animals.

TFSR: It will also make it difficult for homeless people to be able to sleep, with all the cameras and the lights and everything, right?

Alex: Of course. They want also to make an expensive bar there and expensive restaurants. It’s a lot of things that we are opposing. Also, we don’t accept anything that is coming from this private company, even if they say it’s for our own good.

TFSR: Can you talk about the metro station that’s slated for Exarchia? I know in the past when I’ve visited, usually I’ve taken a train to the Polytechnic and then walked or taken a bus or something to get over to Exarchia. I’m sure there’s other ways to get there. But if I was ever going to like K*VOX or something like that. It seems like a massive project to have to open up the street, and dig out a huge space, remove whatever happened to be there, and then put in a huge metro station connected to the other stations. It sounds like the project would not only bring a lot of tourists and business to the newly envisioned Exarchia neighborhood. But in the meantime, it would just further dig out the heart of the neighborhood.

Alex: Exactly. Yes. The plan is to make a new metro line in Athens. Magically it’s passing from a lot of vital free public spaces of Athens. A lot of squares in different neighborhoods, working class neighborhoods, where migrants or people that cannot afford to go to a bar, they hang out in in the squares, and the new metro line is taking over all this public space. And it will last, they say 8 years, we know that in Greek time 8 years is at least 10.

All the other metro stations from this new metro line has started to be built. But in Exarchia it hasn’t started yet, because of the resistance of the locals from political groups. It’s a very small square and the metro stations in Greece are very big. I don’t know how it can fit. I think it’s nonsense. You cannot fit the this big metro station in this place. They will have to remove 70 trees to make this. Yes, kill 70 trees, and it will not be possible to bring back trees like that, because of the way that they will have built it with cement and stuff. It will be noise in the heart of the neighborhood for 10 years. We will not have this vital space in the middle of the neighborhood. We know that this is not made for the needs of the people to move, it’s made only to destroy the political characteristics of the neighborhood and to bring commercialization and tourism. We think that if the metro station comes, it will be a disaster really. Because it also means that cops will be more and more in the neighborhood.

I just want to mention what happened the last few days. Because now we’re in a very, very tense situation. Any day the Metro will start to be built. They publicly said that during August, the metro station and the gentrification of Strefi Hill will start. Since Monday, we were guarding the square with 60 people. Tuesday and yesterday, these two days, a huge army of all kinds of cops came at 7 in the morning in Strefi Hill and brought with them, some of the responsible people of the municipality and from the companies to start the seeing what the hill looks and what they will gentrify and stuff like that. And in order to bring these 10 people to see the hill they brought an army of cops and they didn’t allow anyone to enter the hill in the morning. But we managed to bring some people to be inside the hill and to yell at them and to tell them all our political arguments and we went with them and the cops we did the big turn of all the heel while they were trying to work and we would annoy them and complain and resist. I can also send you some videos of these things that happened the last days.

Today they didn’t come, not in the hill or in the square. It’s really bad for them what they do also, it’s not acceptable to bring an army of cops and close and a hill during very high heat. People should be able to go somewhere. And every day, we have a lot of events in the hill or in the square. We do a lot of assemblies and actions and we take care of the hill. We try to resist. Even in August. August is a dead month in Athens, everybody’s away on the islands. So that’s why they came now because they know that people will not be here to resist.

TFSR: Just because it’s so hot, right? Like people take the opportunity to get away to places that are cooler, because in a city like that at this time of the year in the Mediterranean, it’s just boiling, I would imagine. Yeah?

Alex: Yes. And everybody in the summer goes to islands for vacation. That’s how it is and they know that. So, they try to attack now. They don’t do it in a time where the whole neighborhood will be here or the schools will be open. In a few days, everything will be a ghost town. Athens will be it ghost town in one week. That’s why they are doing it now.

So, these days, we are organizing a lot. Last week, it was a very tense week, there was two demos in Exarchia neighborhood. One against a rape incident that happened, and the other one was for the defense of the neighborhood. In both demos, again, an army of cops came and settled everywhere in every street of the neighborhood, and didn’t let us protest. We tried to do a demo and break the cops [line] in the feminist demo. But they attacked us two times. So like it’s crazy, they didn’t let a neighborhood demo against a rape incident to happen. They attacked feminists that were doing that. It’s crazy. The next day also, they didn’t let us demonstrate. That’s their new tactic. So, the repression has been high in the last weeks. And also with the hunger strike of anarchist comrade Giannis Michailidas.

TFSR: I definitely want to ask about Giannis, who as I understand, put a stall or at least paused the hunger strike at a very rough time, his body was unable to digest water at that point from what I was hearing. But just while we’re on the other subject, before we get to Giannis, with the anti rape demonstration, was the focus of it against a specific person that’s alleged to have committed the rape? Or was it more like, “there’s patriarchy in the society, we are demonstrating against it, let’s all be strong and denounce and stop rapes from happening,” what was the framing of it?

Alex: There was an attempt of rape in the neighborhood, an attempt of rape in a small street of the neighborhood during the day, combined with stealing and attacking. And as we heard, there are other incidents in the same street of attempts of rape and attacking, probably from the same person. So, that was what the demonstration was about. Some groups, they were combining this incident with the mafia issue in Exarchia, because the guy that did the attack in the attempted rape, he’s dealing with them or something like that in a shop by the square. So some of the groups have this thought that mafia-style or this business of selling weed or other drugs in the square can create patriarchical dynamics. For some protesters, this was also a reason to protest, and not only the rape attempt.

For me, rapists are a many. It’s beyond that [instance]. I mean, there are anarchists rapists, there are family rapists, it’s beyond that. To me, patriarchy is everywhere, and we should be against it in every kind of situation. But yes, it was more specific about this incident in the neighborhood. Patriarchy is really a big issue in Greece. In the last three days, there were three femicides. It’s a huge issue and the cops stopped feminist people from demonstrating against these three femicides!

It’s a very big issue that rapists that are also part of the New Democracy. They are friends of New Democracy, there are people with high positions in the government. They’re also pedo-rapists that have very high positions in the system of Greece. Recently a lot of them are released and are free. So this makes us very angry. It really kills us and we try to protest against this justice system that is constantly supporting rapists.

TFSR: So when you say that they were released, these were people that were affiliated with the New Democracy regime who were incarcerated, and who were known to be rapists, who New Democracy has released, right?

Alex: Yes. Or, for example, the murderer of Alexis Grigoropoulos got released and the murderers of Zackie Oh, the drag queen activist, their murderers were…

TFSR: Murder in the jewelry shop?

Alex: yes. They also got released. Some rapists that were in very high economical positions were also released, some actors too. This guy, the pedo-rapist, was the responsible of the National Theatre in Greece.

TFSR: Like the head of it? Wow.

Alex: Yes, the head of it.

TFSR: That’s a lot of power.

Alex: Yes.

TFSR: I’d like to also speak about the police in universities under New Democracy, but because you brought up the subject of of Giannis Michailidas, can you speak a bit about his case? He is tied in with a lot of the things that you’ve already spoken about, including the uprisings of 2008 and its aftermath. If you could talk about his hunger strike and how he is now that would be great.

Alex: Yes. So Giannis has been imprisoned around 8 or 9 years. He has also escaped from prison for around one and a half year, but then was arrested again in 2019 or 20. He has been accused of robberies and has been arrested also in the past for a lot of anarchist actions, for ecological struggles, for a lot of issues. I would say that he is, to me, a really strong and important comrade, with his feats and his power, and that he never gave up. Even when he escaped, he continued the struggle and has done really, really important things.

So, legally he should have been allowed to get released from jail because he has done the three fifths of his jail time. It has been also a lot of months that this could have been possible, but they don’t let him go. Legally he has done a lot of steps and for this separate procedure to go on, but they constantly are negative to his demand. So he decided as the last weapon to use his body to try to win this struggle, not only for him, but also for the other political prisoners and the other prisoners that are in bad situations in the Greek prison. He did this hunger strike in order to try to move the movements and act more actively in all the social political and other strategies.

The hunger strike was 67 days. During these days, there were a lot of actions, a lot of demos, a lot of attacks, a lot of interventions in political issues. It’s a big struggle, a lot of things were going on. We were waiting for the final decision of the court, this last stage that could decide on him and on the 66th day, the decision came out and it was negative. So this was really enraging for a big part of the society. Also, if you put together the story of all these rapists, and murderers that get released so quickly and so easily, at the same time that this comrade is dying because of the hunger strike, it’s even more enraging to see that the justice system is really corrupted.

The last days, he was really bad situation, even though the movement was growing stronger and stronger, and the struggle was finally getting more attention because the media was really trying to hide it for a long time. There was big demos and cops were attacking our demos and but there was pay back for them. In more and more social parts of the society and more people were taking a clear position to support the Giannis Michailidas, but I think the whole movements were a bit too late. All this support should have started kind of earlier, because his situation of health was really turning very bad.

TFSR: So he was denied release, or he is being denied release so far, under an argument by the judge that is like ‘preventative custody,’ right? Because they he will go back and do the same things that put them into prison in the first place. But they are fine releasing people who have a history of rape, as if robbing a bank versus raping someone are comparable things somehow.

In terms of the wider movement and activating the political bases and movements. Last year, there was the hunger strike that actually lasted for 66 days, also of Dimitris Koufodinas, which also brought huge amounts of people out into the streets, right? So there’s this kind of political culture in Greece, where people support their prisoners in a very active way, in a way that I find really inspiring and have not seen in a very long time in the United States. That’s that’s too bad that it didn’t it didn’t get the people out there when they needed to be. He’s just putting it on pause for the moment, but maybe will recommence it?

Alex: Yes. I don’t really know what this can mean. Because in his announcement, there was some vague parts where he said that he cannot really explain why he stopped, or puts on pause, the hunger strike. So I guess we will see, we will find out. But yeah, he said it’s on pause. I don’t know what this means, or pause until when? I don’t know. But I think for sure, it means that the struggle for his liberation is not over.

TFSR: So would you speak about the position of police in relation to universities, the role of these spaces for debate? You’ve already sort of talked about how the Polytechnic and closing the building was annoying, to the least, to assemblies that would have been using the space who now have to do it outside. But allowing police onto campuses is a relatively new technique that the government has been taking that has sort of been off of the books for a number of decades because of the memories of the dictatorship and the murders in Exarchia, and elsewhere.

Can you talk a bit about the role of the university as a public space, not just as a private space that people who pay to go to it like a private university in the United States would experience and what are the motivations of New Democracy in this?

Alex: Yes, the universities in Greece are public. There are also some private ones, but they don’t have this same situation, let’s say. So public universities are also kind of accessible for a lot of people to attend. There are a lot of student rights that have been won through the very strong movements, after the fall of dictatorship. One of the rights that we had, is called the ‘university asylum’. It’s a law that is not allowing the presence of police inside the universities. Of course, this law has been changed a lot of times, it’s complicated, I don’t even know how to explain all of the changes that has happened all these years. All this to say that the cops were entering, but only sometimes, like in extreme times, let’s say, something very bad…

TFSR: Like someone’s being attacked, or something like that? “I need to go in and resolve this,” sort of thing?

Alex: Not really. This not enough. It’s a political decision to put cops to stop something in a university. But in general, universities were used the for attacking the cops. They are a place that cops couldn’t enter. So you could use them as a place to attack the cops, or to hide, or to start the riots from there, or to squat. The university movements have been also very huge in the past. There have been great movements, like in 2006 or 2007. So the Greek University, it’s a very political space. The leftist more communist and Leninist people and political parties, they also have big power and influence in the universities. Every university has a lot of leftists, people from the communist party, and I would say at least one squatted place for more self organized and more anarchist ideas.

The main events, the assemblies, the parties, the raves, the concerts, the events, festivals, everything would take space there. In almost all of the universities in Athens and Thessaloniki, of course, and in every city that there is some movement or some students, the universities are active. So, it is a very public space. The university campuses, some of them are very big, and people just go there and play and have fun or people of the neighborhoods are also using these big campuses. It’s a very social and public space.

So, the asylum, I would say it’s a social contract. If the society’s opinion would allow cops to enter, the cops would enter. All these years a lot of times cops have entered the universities. But they would say it’s the shame for them to enter. It’s not good politically for the government.

But the propaganda also from the Syriza government was very tense against the criminality of the universities, against the rioters that destroy everything, and “they squat the university all the time”, and “the university is not normal,” that there is criminality and drug dealing and a lot of things. So, the Syriza government created this image of how bad the Greek University is, so when New Democracy came to power, the first thing they did was to stop the law for university asylum law. Of course, this, as I said before, has a lot to do with social acceptance. It’s not that the cops in Athens enter the university all the time, I would say this year they entered the Athens universities around three times, maybe four times? But in Thessaloniki it is way, way more tense. The second biggest city in Greece.

The government is planning for a ‘university police,’ a special police force that will be only in the universities and to guard them. There hasn’t yet been any big struggles against it, it hasn’t yet been made. Also, the law says stuff about cameras and to check your ID before you enter the university. All this goes together with a kind of privatization of the public education, which has a lot of parts in it, and contains a lot of money for the government to make the universities like a business. So, basically, they want to stop the resistance and the organizing that happens in universities for the students and for the rest of the movements. They want to stop it in any possible way.

TFSR: It’s worth noting that Syriza was a ‘center left party’ that was touted by a lot of progressives and leftists in the West. And also that New Democracy, was just sort of a reformulation of a lot of the leadership that was around during the dictatorship and that ruled for a long time after the fall of the dictatorship, right?

Alex: Yes, Syriza was a left wing government that popped out because of the mass movements that emerged in Greece. But of course, we don’t have any hope in this government, of course. It was very bad in a lot of ways, and they did a lot of repression to squats, to people, and to migrants. It’s very important to note that the leftist government doesn’t mean ‘haven’ or ‘utopia.’

TFSR: So, how can anarchists and anti authoritarian anti-capitalists support the resistance to gentrification in Exarchia from far away? Because definitely for the city that I live in, the struggles look different, but a lot of the components are similar in terms of AirBnB, or VRBO, or further privatization or monetization of of spaces and the pressure that those put on the government here to make the town less about the people that live here, but more for the investors and for the people that are here for a weekend to get drunk and crazy. So there’s a lot of commonalities. Maybe there’s ways that people in solidarity can strike locally and help support the struggle in Exarchia? For those people that are traveling, are there better ways for them to visit Athens or Exarchia? Or what would be a better approach than just trying to get a hotel room or an AirBnB?

Alex: I would say that, maybe I’m a bit harsh, but if somebody wants to come to Exarchia or Athens for a week, not to come, really. If people don’t want to come to join the struggle and be here with us, I don’t see a reason for them to come. We’re really open to international comrades. We have a lot of international comrades that are staying in Athens. It’s not about localism or some sort of hatred towards other people. It’s really that if you come here for a week, for a weekend, people usually, even if they have good will, they don’t have other solutions other than to stay in AirBnBs or hostels and or to pay expensive shit.

I don’t know. It’s kind of weird because sometimes we feel like we’re in a zoo. A lot of people are just coming here to see us, they don’t participate, they are just curious, and they just are watching us do all this stuff. It’s kind of an amusement for a lot of people, what we do, and we really try to explain that it’s not fun. It’s not amusement, you should not be curious to watch what we do here. If you want, you can come and join our struggle here and contact the local assemblies. Somebody can host you, somebody can find a way people want to support the struggle. There are ways for people to come and join. But if people just want to come and have fun, we don’t like this.

So to me, if you’re abroad, a good tactic is to say to your friends, “Don’t go there, if you don’t go there to struggle. Don’t go there to consume. Don’t go there to participate in the Greek industry of tourism.”

TFSR: Yeah! Okay. Alex, was there anything that I didn’t ask about or anything else that you want to mention?

Alex: I just want to mention that now it’s really a high point of resistance. In August, I think we will see a lot of things, bad and good. Repression, but also a lot of fight back. From September, I don’t know how Exarchia will look like, what will be happening. People can follow our media and get informed. Of course, we are open to exchange ideas with other people on gentrification or to connect struggles around the world because, of course, this thing that happens here is it’s happening everywhere, as you said before. And also with the Atlanta forest occupation, I think it was very important to learn about it in the defense of our hill, and we can find a lot of common things and get empowered from this struggle.

Yes, and I really hope we can win and we can spread some solidarity, to your struggles and to other struggles around the globe.

TFSR: Awesome. Thank you very much for taking the time to have this conversation. Yeah, of course.

Alex: Thank you so much. I hope you have a good day!

TFSR: Thanks, you too.

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

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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.

Housing Struggles in Asheville

Housing Struggles in Asheville

Housing activists occupying the lobby of Downtown Asheville's AC Hotel - Photo by Elliot Patterson (permission of Asheville Free Press)
Download This Episode

This week on the show, you’ll hear from Doug, Onion and Papi, three folks involved in the Aston Park Build, a daily event to hold space in Aston Park in downtown Asheville, creating art, sharing food and music and a wider part of organizing here to demand safer space & redistribution of wealth to care for houseless folks and relieve the incredible strains on housing affordability in Asheville. We talk about the park actions, the housing crisis and service industry wage woes, local government coddling of business owners and police repression of folks on the margins.

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Announcements

Sean Swain’s Transfer

This week’s segment is Sean’s statement given to the Interstate Compact Hearing he was to face before the foregone conclusion of his transfer far from his spouse & support base. If you want to write to Sean, for the moment it’s a good idea to send to his Youngstown address until his support site says otherwise, but also to hold on to a copy of your letter in case he’s been moved and ODRC doesn’t send back your original. You can find info on how to support his legal campaign (Donations can be made via CashApp to $Swainiac1969), his books and past writings at SeanSwain.org or find updates on Swainiac1969 on instagram or SwainRocks on twitter.

We got an update that the Interstate Compact Committee, during their hearing this week, recommended that Sean stay in Ohio (but they didn’t quit their jobs).

Feel free to reach out to the following public officials to express your concern at the moving of Sean Swain out of Ohio based on the word of a former ODRC because Sean spoke out about torture he suffered in Ohio prisons. More details in the statement at [01:04:19] in the episode…

Biologica Squat in Thessaloniki

The Biologica Squat at the School of Biology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, has been open for 34 years and is now under threat of attack by the New Democracy government and their new campus police. There are calls for solidarity at Greek Embassies, businesses and other places around the world during the up til and through January 10th & 17th of January 2022. The original post can be found in Greek on Athens Indymedia or in English at EnoughIsEnough14.org

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

Doug: Hey, my name is Doug. I used to be homeless, now I am not. I have an apartment. And yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Onion: I’m Onion. I use they/them pronouns.

Papi: I’m Papi. I also use they/them pronouns.

TFSR: Would y’all maybe talk about what brings you to talk about the housing crisis in Asheville and the way that the city and the police are dealing with homelessness. Some might think that, Doug, if you’re in a place right now… that since you got yours, you could just kind of chill and wouldn’t be worried about the stuff that the city is doing?

Doug: I could, but that’s not me. I worry about people that I know out there. I worry about if I was homeless again. I would want things to be fixed better, you know? I don’t want to be treated bad like we used to be – when you’re homeless getting kicked in the head by cops. I think if I was not to care, or just to give up to be in my apartment, or whatever, I wouldn’t feel right. Because there’s a lot of things wrong in this scene that have to be fixed.

Onion: I’ve been evicted twice myself. I’m a single parent. It’s kind of a miracle that I’m still able to live in Asheville. So I feel that it’s personal for me. But it’s also a collective issue that if we don’t push hard on right now, it’s gonna get extremely worse.

Papi: I’ve lived in western North Carolina all my life. This is my first time being on my own, can’t afford it… can’t do it. I’m actually living with… well, my family’s living with me now. My family can’t really own places on their own because of documentation status and being immigrants here. So that’s like a whole thing on its own. That’s where I’m at right now.

TFSR: Could someone give a definition or a description of what’s happening right now in Aston Park in downtown Asheville? During the summer Asheville police, for instance, evicted of a bunch of camps around town. And that was during milder weather, despite the fact that it was also amidst a pandemic. Also, could someone give a definition of what Code Purple means?

Doug: Yes, Asheville did. They did a lot of people earlier this year. They put some people in hotels, and if you weren’t on the list, you were just basically stuck out in streets. I was on the first list of people to be in the hotels, and I still haven’t gotten a hotel. All the hotel stuff that happened when COVID first hit was because Buncombe county got money to put to put us in housing, hotels, or create tent cities for us that were safe with toilets and washing. That never came. Came and went, we never had any of that. So we’re still stuck in the woods. Some people are in hotels now. The Ramada, I guess. But it’s institutional living, it’s not happy there. So scratch that.

Code Purple is when it’s gonna be 32 degrees or below freezing. They say it’s unsafe for people. So they provide emergency shelters – a men’s one and a women’s one. Usually we go out, pick people up at night or have a ride to get you there. Last year we got dinner in the evening and breakfast in the morning. I don’t know what they are getting this year. But I haven’t heard anybody complaining. So Code Purple is basically just to keep people alive – from freezing.

Papi: This year was different. Last year, and I guess 2020 shelters didn’t want to open for Code Purple because of the pandemic. So the city decided after a minute to open one up in the civic center. It was a more centralized bigger space. And this year, they didn’t do any of that. No one opened. So there was Code Purple happening. The city calls it when the weather hits. They call Code Purple, but there’s still nowhere to go at the beginning of the winter this year. So it lasted for a bit of time. People can die or lose their limbs or all of that. We decided to start pressuring the city to create and find Code Purple shelter so that we wouldn’t see loss of life.

Doug: Code Purple is weird because if it was 33 degrees and raining or drizzling or just wet outside. There’s no Code Purple. There’s no shelter. But 32? You are in there. Last year the VRQ did it – which is the Veterans Administration Quarters. But they kind of hate homeless people. And I get it because some of my comrades out here are just rude, crude, and they have no respect. But if you offered a service, like VRQ did, no matter what people come into the door you still have to keep your composure and put your hat on and say “Come on in. How are you today?” Yeah, I was gonna go off on a tangent there.

I wasn’t done answering your question, but I got to thinking about the way that we don’t hold ourselves accountable for our own actions out here. People just do what they want and screw people over. Rob and steal, some call it survival. Survival would be like stealing a rabbit or some meat from the store, not my backpack. And we act obnoxious, and we do drugs in places where we probably shouldn’t do them. And people don’t like that. So they hate us, and they don’t help us anymore. And that’s not cool.

Papi: Another thing with the Code Purple is that the city might put some funding into it. But oftentimes they wait. And this year they waited and so the only Code Purple for a minute when it was super cold around Thanksgiving, or before that, was volunteer run, and they had no funding. So there’s a bunch of people running it that are just signing up for shifts overnight and everything. It’s totally inappropriate. It’s not well done or safe, or careful. So, the city is sitting on $26 million of federal funding that they got for relief, specifically this year. They still haven’t, to my knowledge, apportioned it. So they’re just sitting there on piles of money. And people are dying. Right now. They’re dying around us in the streets, like… currently.

Doug: Yeah, not just from the cold. Other things, too. COVID and sicknesses, illnesses. It’s just like, are you gonna wait till there’s five of us left and then help people? Or are we gonna put this thing in action now? I know things cost money but it’s not really hard to say to a bunch of people “come line up and get your shots or get a checkup. Here’s a house.” There’s plenty of abandoned buildings out here. I know a lot of people, even myself, who has taken over abandoned houses. Go inside, black out all the windows, and some have electricity, just live in there. It’s kind of scary, because you’re trapped. But it’s a nice place, but still it’s illegal. The city could take this house and offer the person money.

We need shelter for everybody. So this house is not being used or your family is not using it? Why can’t we? Require us to keep it clean, and to keep it up, just to not be like, disgusting pigs. I myself have been a disgusting pig. And I recommend people to do this stuff. Because as homeless we already got a bad look and then we’ll just do this other stuff. Sorry, I went off again.

Papi: Well, Asheville is full of money, there’s no lack of money. You know, there’s a lot of money moving through this town via tourism. And it’s just that we don’t see any of the money it’s ported. The Tourism Development Authority has a budget of I think it’s $15 million a year for advertising to bring people, tourists, to Asheville. We don’t see any of that.

Doug: Yeah, that’s why a lot of crime doesn’t get reported. Or a lot of cases get dropped. I believe this. If it was all be reported and everybody’s get charged the tourism would stop coming. They would be like “this place really sucks, I don’t want to go there.” We need to get some of our people off the street because they walk around, not in their head, they’re out somewhere. Just go one day to Pritchard Park. Sit down in the corners and just watch the show. You can just see why we need help. If they got the money they gotta take that money and if you want to budget it? Get a bunch of military tents. Make a tent city for us. They were supposed to do that two years ago. That’s not asking for much. I mean I’m asking for a house and walls. I mean, I am. I want that. But we’ll be happy with a canvas tent and a cook. I’ll cook for them!

TFSR: It seems like a lot of those things are intertwined with each other. Like if someone has easy access to privacy, they’re not going to be doing drugs and public. Plenty of people with houses do drugs. You know, if you’ve got a shower and a place to wash dishes, you’re not going to stink as much you’re not going to be walking around. You can do your own laundry. And you’re not going to probably be suffering from as many mental health crises. If you have a place to lay your head and you’re not going to get rousted in the middle of the night or get your backpack stolen or whatever else. It just contributes to this problem.

But the city as Onion said, and as both of you have said – has the money to spend on it, but it’s just choosing to hold that back. It would rather use a bludgeon against people that are on the street than actually help them out of that situation.

Doug: Yeah, they make it worse. I don’t understand why they don’t do anything. They can still keep a lot of money and still help us out. We’re not going to go anywhere. We’re not gonna die off. And quite frankly, a lot of people here do have mental illnesses. That’s why they’re here. They need medications, they need a good safe place. Not necessarily a hospital, or a house. A house, but like a maybe halfway house type situation, where there’s somebody there to give them their meds every day to help them clean their self or their whatever. Some people need to be retrained into life.

TFSR: Or assistance with addiction issues or counseling or access to medication or… right. There’s solutions out there. Folks’ camps have been getting broken up by the city. I wonder if ya’ll could talk about that and what’s been going on in Aston Park and some of the solutions that people are calling for immediately that we could do to resolve the unsafe situations that folks are in right now. If they want to find shelter, what could the city or mutual aid be doing to provide some sort of alternative to what’s going on now.

Papi: So the city of Asheville has gotten some flack this year for sweeps. But the thing is, most of the sweeps that they do aren’t public knowledge. It’s a policy that the city has, to do them constantly. So we’ll hear about one every once in a while if it makes the news for some reason, or if it’s in a prominent place. But it’s kind of ongoing all the time. So it could be in any weather. If enough people call in, in a neighborhood or whatever to complain – they’ll sweep.

There was an encampment underneath the overpass, and one tourist made a complaint through this complaint website to the city. And they decided to sweep right then, right before a cold snap in February. With extremely cold temperatures that day. The larger city found out about that one because people were witnessing people having to walk away from that site and having their tents destroyed by the Department of Transportation and Asheville Police Department. They were bulldozing all their possessions and people were walking away without shoes with nowhere to go. And so that is obviously violent and deadly. The city caught a lot of flack for that. But the thing that most people don’t know is that it’s customary. It’s their policy.

Doug: Yeah. Not to be on the side of the city. What they’re doing is very wrong and very bad. But they are doing it a lot better now than they were two years ago. Like two years ago, they would just come in and slice your tent up and throw all your stuff everywhere and make you go. Now they’re not giving us enough time but they are giving us some time. Tents aren’t being slashed, but they don’t let you take it.

When they closed down the camp by Haywood Street Church. They got people and their bags and put them in cars and took off. I went by there later that night and it was like a free for all with everybody’s left over belongings. It was like a free flea market. I collected lots of it. Everybody was pilfering all the stuff. Why would you kick them out of there and say they can’t take their stuff and leave the stuff there. When they kick us out they don’t have a contingency plan. I don’t know if they’re supposed to but they should because they have to take care of the people. They say they do. But they don’t.

“You have to move. You can’t be here. We’re gonna put you here. You have to go, We don’t know where you are gonna go.” And that’s that. There’s a lot of land out here. This is western North Carolina. I know BeLoved got a big donation a couple years ago. They were going to build a tiny home village and Buncombe County didn’t want to have it in Buncombe County. So they had to go outside of Buncombe County somewhere. I don’t see why that would be the problem. I would live in a tiny home homeless village. But that’s cool. Like, we want more of those. That’s a whole ‘nother story.

Papi: Yeah. So what we’re trying to do now is open up space that’s safer and that’s sanctioned by us. So that’s why we decided to start holding space in Aston Park, which is south of downtown in Asheville. It’s a central location that’s convenient for people and it’s good for camping. We’ve got a lot of flat space and it’s accessible. So we are focusing on that space to create sanctuary camping which a lot of other cities have done in the so called United States. It should be a done deal. It’s very easy to do. It’s been done. It’s not complicated, but the city is holding out because they would rather basically enact social cleansing.

Doug: All they have to do is put in some hand washing stations it’s important out there. And garbage pickup. They will not pick up people’s garbage. Their job is sanitation, to keep the place clean. Every time there’s a homeless encampment, the garbage sits there for weeks. I’m like “well, you guys complain that we look bad but you’re leaving the garbage here after we’re gone.” People know it’s us, but it’s like the tongue to a wall. They’re complaining and complaining but they don’t do anything about it. Like they’re just showing up, shut them down and take off. Couple weeks later, same thing happens again. Who’s door do we gotta go knock on to get this done. All they have to do is put tents in Aston Park… it’s flat. Just throw some Port-a-Johns, a hand wash station, and a dumpster.

Onion: I feel like we kind of skipped where we were saying, why we’re doing this or something about what brought us to this.

Papi: I think a lot about what Doug said about what the city could be bringing, and how the city is not going to do shit. So it’s like, “okay, just let us do it.” Because we’re capable of resourcing and finding things. And if it’s so bothering… just get the fuck out of our way. City don’t bother us. Cops don’t bother us. We’ll put hand washing things there. We’ll put Port-a-Johns there. We’ll put things there and we’ll take care of it. And I mean, people have been showing up every weekend to Aston and been doing that. So we’re capable, we’re very capable, the community is capable of coming in and taking care of each other. and continuing that.

Doug: They are coming in and make us look bad. Like they come in to throw their shovel in there. We’ve done all the work. But they take all the credit and make us look bad. But you know what? Ya’ll know where Hopey’s was? You know it’s empty now. There’s a nice building where people sleep. I don’t know they have plans for it. But that could be a shelter, a temporary shelter.

Papi: We could make plans for it.

Doug: We could just go in there and claim it. But we gotta do it right, though.

TFSR: Well, if you plan on doing that, I can cut that portion out of the radio broadcast. One of the ways that this has been framed recently: the taking space in Ashton Park despite the police evictions has been under the name of Aston Art Build. And I’m wondering if ya’ll could talk about how there’s public invitations for people to gather and create art and to make it a multi generational space.

Papi: Yeah. So when the invites went out… by the way the invites are so cute! I love them! They’re very fun to me. We should make some more. We started Sunday. It’s been pretty fucking cool. I think before we even had donations come in, everyone’s been able to resource around, calls out. Before calls out to social media we were just asking friends and people that we see “bring anything and everything that you can.” It’s pretty cool how quickly people can find furnitures everywhere. I want to bring a bed. There’s been multiple beds brought and built. And a house to put it in. And there’s lots of art. There’s lots of art and very large banners. And so far it’s been very cool. Just yesterday, there was music finally, because we were really lacking in the music area because it’s kind of awkward.

Doug: There wasn’t just music, there was a DJ there.

Papi: It was really nice.

Doug: They were spinning records. I don’t know if this will help Asheville or the conversation but online a while back I saw in other countries. They have homeless issues too, right? So they take a dumpster. And it’s a small living area. It’s clean and they put a little bench or something in there. And it’s like a little home for a person. But they have these little boxes. More than just tents. We should look….

TFSR: Like storage containers?

Doug: Something like that. Yeah, smaller ones. And I mean, some of them were small as a coffin. But I wouldn’t want to sleep in there. But we want to problem to go away. We want housing, we want things in the meantime, we can’t housing like that. So we need shelter till we wait for housing. What are we doing for that? Are we just protesting? Are we actually trying to get some shelters going?

Papi: Yeah, this is a direct action. So we’re creating this solution. I mean, it’s gradual, because of the way the cops are enforcing the issue right now. They’re fudging the law or their own policy that they have been doing which is giving seven days notice to vacate. They decided to stop doing that. And they changed their policy internally in a quasi probably illegal way. Now they’re saying they have the right to just evict people from from camps immediately and arrest if people don’t leave.

Also the issue with it being an art build is pertinent to the culture of the city, because Asheville likes to pride itself on being a creative zone for people to come and listen to music on the street and art festivals and all these sorts of things. Yeah. But that is accessible for some people as a way to be in a city and it’s not accessible for other people. So we decided to make art central in what we’re doing to sort of make that point that it’s important for everyone to have the ability to live creatively. And that’s part of direct action too.

Also the fact that we are prioritizing this being an intergenerational space, because that people suffering right now they don’t have a particular age. It’s from elders to babies. So we need to include everybody in our solutions. That’s how we’ve been organizing, we have childcare for all our meetings, and children are extremely welcome in all our spaces, and parents, and so on and so forth. We try to make the most accommodation for everybody that’s around.

Doug: That’s for sure. You talking about ASP? Or just us in general. Yeah, we definitely help make everybody stay comfortable, more comfortable. I’m very grateful for that. Because when COVID hit it was bone dry. There was nothing. You couldn’t get a cup of coffee. And then one day, in comes —- and I think it was — and —-, —— was there. And here we are today. We are doing big things. So do they have a problem with the art because we can go to beer because it’s also the beer city. We can star making beer! We could make a homeless ale. [laughter]

Papi: If art is controversial…

Doug: Yeah, bring out the little… What do you call that? A still?

Papi: We could just call it a hotel and then they would let us do it.

Doug: Right? Do we have people going to these meetings where they vote? Like zoning meetings? If nobody ever goes to the meeting then zoning gets passed.

Onion: I think the zoning meetings aren’t necessarily up for a vote all the time, like they are a council that kind of like rubber stamps.

Doug: But these policy changes, they should be open to the public. So we have to get a team to go in there and suit up in their best Under Armor hoodie and jump in there.

Papi: I think it’s been interesting to see people going to like the mayor’s lawn and stuff here and just kind of skipping meetings.

Doug: There’s no “No Trespassing” signs on the courthouse. We can camp there. But it’s concrete.

Papi: And I know people have gone to city council meetings. They give you so many restrictions in order to talk. And it’s because they know that they don’t want to hear us. Like I remember people would sign up and they would cut you off after a certain time.

Doug: You have to beat them at their own game, we have to get our words in a certain time. It shouldn’t have to be like that. But we’re stepping up to the plate. So we are doing a lot anyways. I’m not trying to sound bad, because we do a lot.

Papi: I think it’s a question of who calls the shots. And you know, this is our city and we can call the shots and they can listen to us, right? We don’t always have to fit into their framework, they can fit into ours.

Onion: It shouldn’t be the other way around. Right? This is our city. We live here. They’re the ones who should be listening to us. But they don’t they just care about all of our money.

Doug: I mean, if we had guns and cars, we can make them listen, but we’re not doing that. [laughter]

Papi: They will listen.

Doug: Yeah, they will. They will. I see the future of ASP changing a lot of things for homeless people. Not just in Asheville, but like we’re gonna set up in Asheville. It’s gonna be city to city to city. We literally can set the standard to better the homeless all over the United States. And then the world, I guess.

TFSR: Y’all were mentioning calling the shots. And it’s one thing to demand and say “yeah, we’re the people that live here.” Can you talk a little bit about some of the pressures that maybe people from the outside like Onion mentioned the amount of money that the county and the city budget towards advertising towards the tourist industry? But can you talk about some of the motivations on city council and on the county commissioners that are keeping forward motion on actual solutions with public funds to solve the crisis for houseless folks, as well as the cost of housing for regular folks.

Onion: So the city of Asheville is run by a gang and the gang is not publicly accountable. That’s what I mentioned before, the agency called the Tourism Development Authority. They’re not elected or anything like that. It’s a private agency. And so, for example, they have this thing that they call “Heads in Beds.” And it’s their way of saying, of all the hotel rooms, because I don’t know how many 1000s of actual hotel rooms and beds in Asheville, but their push is to get all the beds full.

Their way of measuring that is “Heads in Beds.” And so this is to say, they are completely focused on housing tourists in this town and making accommodations for certain people. If they want to put our heads in beds, there’s no resources for that. But all of a sudden, they have millions and millions of dollars to fill the other beds and build other hotels for all these thousands and thousands. Basically, they have a huge priority of creating space for white wealthy people to come in and visit and social cleansing and hyper gentrification for the poor and the struggling.

So the thing is, is this agency runs the city. City council rubber stamps whatever the TDA wants. They might debate it publicly, or there might be a little bit of dissent. But eventually, they just agree to whatever it is. City council is not calling the shot. They are agreeing with a larger entity, a more powerful entity. So the city manager and the planning and zoning office and other city staff work very, very closely with the tourism development entity. And then you have the Biltmore on top of it, which everyone kind of like forgets about, but it’s like a huge piece of land in the middle of town that’s being privately used for huge amount of profit. That’s basically a feudal type of situation. I mean, I’m saying, let’s take the Biltmore. You know? It’s literally a castle in the middle of Asheville.

Papi: And it’s boring!

Onion: It’s super bad. Yeah.

TFSR: Yeah. So for folks that maybe haven’t heard of the Biltmore Estate, the Vanderbilt family built a huge mansion. It’s the largest private residence in North America. It’s run by a foundation now, so that they can, you know, siphon money through a nonprofit, I think it’s like 60 or 70 bucks to get a visit to the actual house. I’ve never been there. I hear the land is really beautiful. There’s like a dairy farm. There’s a winery. There’s the gardens. It’s also apparently got a really, really intense biometric surveillance system, through the cameras that they have there. I just heard about that.

Papi: It’s a lot of money, and they don’t even pay their employees well.

Onion: Exactly.

TFSR: There was an article that was published a few days ago by Barbara Durr of the Asheville Watchdog. It’s based on a 2021 Bowen national research piece that was commissioned by the Dogwood Health Trust. And I’ll put a link in the show notes to it. But the numbers are not pretty in terms of how much people spend on housing here and the availability of “affordable housing.” Would you all talk about your experience? Papi already mentioned rooming with family now because it’s gotten so expensive And because buying property is so difficult and Onion mentioned being evicted twice. So what does it kind of look like? How does how does housing actually pan out for the people that live in work in the city where the tourists kind of take over the rest of the time?

Papi: Well, just from my experience with housing, and the people that I work around and live around, people kind of have been stuck where they’re at. Working three part time jobs, just to make it as is. Also, it’s now very common to just depend on community which is not bad. Which is what we should be doing. But always it’s like “oh, it’s the first of the month, let’s ask for mutual aid. Let’s ask for some rent assistance. Let’s get some money in our hands that we can afford to survive and live here in this apartment for the next month.”

I know that’s the thing with housing. And then I just see that and hear that a lot. I’ve had friends who try to game with roommates or things like that, but they don’t work. There’s just so many things. Because if you can’t work or live where you’re at, then how are you going to get transportation and then the bus pass.

Doug: Right now my rent is free for a year, because that’s the program I’m in. But after that it goes up to like $895 for a two bedroom, one bathroom in the projects. You know, it is what it is. That ended the median in Asheville is $350,000 per house. That’s the average cost. I couldn’t work two full time jobs and my girlfriend were two full time jobs and sell anything on the side and afford that!

Onion: Yeah, it’s like turbo gentrification up in here we are one of the most gentrified cities in all of the United States. And we’re also in a region that is historically under organized. There’s no housing advocacy organization in Asheville. It’s just us. There’s no resource center for renters. There’s no pushback against the landlord’s. City council and other entities don’t do anything. So the City manages to get away with really intense gaslighting, even when they describe what their idea is of affordable housing. What they call that is not really affordable to people that are working class, it’s kind of more accessible to the middle class.

So you have a situation in Asheville, where the conditions here and their decision making on the city level. In name, it’s progressive people on city council, they’re liberals and Democrats. But it’s not in line with that. It’s more in line with the city in California about the same size that had a bunch of wildfires, and half the houses were destroyed. And after people felt generous for a few months, they started to get irritated that there were so many displaced people around them. And so their city council went from progressive, got voted out, and it was a bunch of Trump supporters that got up in there. But their policy that they’re enacting over there, in their city where there’s really immense amounts of people that are completely precarious and have absolutely no resources. Their policy is the same. The same exact policy that our city council is doing every day. So you know, essentially, we have a right wing city government that calls itself liberal somehow.

Papi: I was just thinking about how, in this past year alone, I moved to Asheville last year around this time, and how right now, for a two bedroom apartment where I’m at, when we first started, it was like about 1,000 – 1,200 for a two bedroom apartment. That’s not including all the utilities and everything. Now I’d looked again after six months, for a one bedroom apartment. It’s at 1,400 right now. 1,400 to almost 2,000 for a one bedroom apartment. And no one’s gotten pay raises at all.

All the jobs I’ve worked at are like… what was it called? What did they call people who worked at grocery? Essential? I’ve been working in essential working jobs for all the entire pandemic. And no, I have never gotten a hazard pay or anything like that. Working at one of the hottest tourist restaurants downtown who caters to tourists, and they came around maskless and everything. I have no more money, not gotten more money. Rent has skyrocketed, and they’re like stealing from us practically. That’s all my money right there.

It just fucking sucks. And then eating here also kind of sucks. I always remember going to Walmart and it kind of sucks seeing a lot of the shelves really empty. And then you go to Earth Fare or something like that, and shits three times as much. And it’s like “oh my gosh, I can’t even eat healthy” or whatever that is. I don’t know, everything is already so much and it’s getting worse.

Doug: A loaf of bread is almost five dollars.

Onion: It’s totally getting worse. Especially I feel like since like the summer, it was like August, maybe July. I don’t know, it was like every week. How many friends are getting pushed out their housing? Their landlords are selling the house from under them. They’re living in their cars. They don’t have a new place to go. There’s literally like 20 slots on Craigslist for 300 people looking.

So there’s just absolutely no housing and nowhere to go. And more and more people getting displaced because the market is just benefiting selling right now, so much. And selling to people that are coming from other places in the country are also converting to Airbnb market. So they can make like $300 a night and city council has just kind of let that go wild. So, you know, it’s basically mass hysteria around money.

TFSR: So the last decade or so that I’ve lived here, it’s been consistently getting harder and harder to find housing. There was a 2014 study that showed that the vacancy rate was less than 1% for Asheville. And that’s not even talking about the cost of that housing and my ability to afford it or anyone else’s. But yeah, it’s kind of interesting because the hotels have been such a power player in terms of Tourism and in terms of pushing the city manager to make decisions that are going to be taxable income for the city.

With more and more of these “short term rentals” like Airbnb…There’s a couple of other companies just gobbling up all of the, in a neoliberal style, just further privatizing all these little spaces that some of us could have long term rental in. So much that it makes sense economically for the owners to hold them off the market and leave the house the room empty for a couple nights so they can charge that $300 A night. It’s weird to see how the city council has bent, instead of how they would have before protected the interests of the big moneymakers in the hotels, and now they’re feeling the pressure of all the little individual bourgeoisie that own the little mini feudal spots. Ah, it’s so frustrating.

Papi: Yeah, it really is a petty bourgeois situation with that. By the same token, I feel our struggle is becoming something more like the landless struggle in other countries where it’s about land, the bottom line is. With so many people without access to a place and without access to resources, we just have to do what we’re doing, which is go where there is land and take it and sit there and do our thing.

Onion: It makes me really angry to have the cops and DOT come around and evict people while saying things like “Y’all can’t be on city property. Y’all can’t be on this.” When it’s like “okay, well, first off, fuck city property. This isn’t city property.” This is land that’s first off stolen. We’re all living on fucking stolen land. And it’s not the city’s. This is new, no one can own land. I’m still learning a lot about land stewardship and what it would look like to… not not buy land necessary, but to literally give land back to indigenous people. To have indigenous stewardship.

Hearing about how there are people coming in to Asheville. I don’t know if ya’ll have ever been on *beeped out*. Which is just a housing thing that people post that they need housing or looking for something on Facebook, and it’s so irritating to be on there. Because a lot of people are like “Oh, my gosh, I’m moving from Atlanta to Asheville. I’m moving from California or something.” And they are a bunch of white couples who aren’t even from here who are making like three times more than what we all are making.

And then it’s funny when they post because then people are like “yeah, so this thread… this thing right here is for people who who can’t pay more than like 1300 for rent.” And all these people are like “Oh, I can do like $2,000 a month for a two bedroom apartment” and all this shit. And I love watching them get torn up in the comments. I do

Doug: There are people who pay $2,000 a week to come stay in Asheville for business or for a doctor’s appointment. They pay, I don’t know, maybe anywhere from like 500 to $1,000 for the week, they’re here for two or three days, probably sits empty.

Papi: Exactly. Exactly. And how many second homes are here? I have a job where I work for homeowners doing land care and I have a lot of clients that don’t live in their houses. They’re sitting there. There’s a huge number of properties that are under or un-utilized in this area.

Doug: And we need each other. We need the tourists because they provide jobs for us. And the tourists need us too because we got to wipe their butts and cater to them.

TFSR: It’s interesting, that report talks about how y’all are saying about 48 and a half percent of the population of Buncombe County pays 30% or more on their rent every month, something like a third of the population pays 50 or more percent of their income on rent. What’s recognized as being an affordable amount is a quarter of your income, tops on housing. So that you can pay for food. So you can save money. So you can pay for medical bills. So that you can pay for education for yourself or for your kids or whatever. All these things. It’s not budgeted in.

And what they’re doing is they’re creating a circumstance where in a couple of years and they’re already seeing it, there’s so many employment signs up all around town. Places can’t hire people and won’t pay them a wage that will actually allow them to live here. And I think like Papa said… they’re not going to have anyone that’s going to be able to actually work the jobs are willing to work the jobs. They’re digging their own grave in terms of an economy.

Doug: So you can only get a fast food job or a restaurant job. You’re gonna max out maybe $300 a week take home. So that’s 1200 dollars a month when your rent is 1100. I mean, how do you pay your electricity? How do you pay?

Papi: The actual condition of housing that people are in, too, is really, really messed up around here. Because of the climate so many people are dealing with intense mold issues and suffering from black mold. Their kids are living in that and they can’t get repairs because landlords just won’t do anything and there’s no one making them do anything.

Because City Council’s is, this is not on their radar. It’s not something they care to talk about. But at least half of us are living in that situation. And you know, we’re all like doubled up and tripled up and 10 people to a house, and we’re still paying $400 a month. So it’s getting to a point where the living conditions aren’t livable, even when we’re housed.

Doug: And when it breaks, it’s gonna be not good.

Onion: Something’s got to give.

TFSR: It has to stop being us.

Doug: I’m 45 years old. I got an apartment with my girlfriend who… she got some issues going on there and I love her to death, but she can’t really work. But even even with her, if I got an $1,100 security check, and she got a little $1100 security check. It’s 2200 bucks, that’s really not much. We get over $500 a month in food stamps. And usually about five days, six days at the end of the month, we’re not shopping. That’s plenty of money to be a lot of food. I have no day of the month that we don’t have any food.

If I get a job, it’s gonna be part time. All these places are hiring. They say they’re hiring, but you fill out an application online. somebody like me who didn’t graduate high school doesn’t have no really real education on paper it just gets tossed out. It’s just deleted right away. So if I went and sold myself to the company, got the job, still would only be &350 a week.

Papi: Yeah, it’s like they want it both ways. They want to own their restaurants and pay you a pittance and still make their big profits. The result from their decision making, which is that we don’t have housing, and we are on the streets. They won’t accept us on the streets. And so they sweep us. So they want to have their cake and eat it too. And they don’t understand that this is something that they’ve manufactured.

Papi: Oh, and also with COVID with a lot of places hiring, as well as not being paid enough. People are getting long haul COVID. People are getting sick and employees are not letting us have time off. They don’t care about us. And what are we supposed to do? I remember seeing these things and hearing things of like “oh, like nobody wants to come to work or anything like that”. It’s like, “No, it’s because you don’t pay enough. You don’t give us sick time. You don’t give us time off.” And it’s like we have to be there constantly like 45-50 plus hours of our lives working and giving your time and energy. And then once we have the money, it goes right away to rent or living necessities. We don’t have the energy to do anything else. We don’t have the energy to come out and into the park and make art. We don’t have that energy.

Doug: You can’t even go to the Chic-Fil-A and get yourself a chicken sandwich because you earned it.

TFSR: There’s been a push, it’s a North Carolina wide push. And I think it’s backed by the SEIU. But the NC Essential Worker Movement and the Fight For 15 has really been pushing around North Carolina. I think the Burnsville Bojangles has been striking because of the conditions around people getting infected with COVID and not being given time off. And the managers not paying attention to safety standards inside of the place in terms of customers coming in without masks and co workers without masks.

Plus people tell their stories on the social media of like people working 80 hours a week between two jobs and having a kid and not being able to afford to make ends meet. But these little franchise fast food shops make hella money. And it’s not even like the fancy restaurant that Papi works in downtown. That’s that’s one end of the scale, but even places you don’t have to go in a white shirt or whatever. It’s yeah.

Doug: The Chocolate Shops downtown. I don’t have clothes nice enough to go in that damn shop. Like they must make a million dollars off of chocolate. That’s crazy.

Onion: Yeah, that’s another thing because that place got off to its start by having the community kind of sponsor them. They were like we pay a living wage. We’re community supported business. And what? Two years later? They changed that to where they were not paying a living wage. And they put all the money that they made into capital resources to build a factory so that they can manufacture their own chocolate and they’re paying worse than they used to.

And that’s really familiar in Asheville to have businesses start out as like, “Oh, we’re socially responsible, small businesses” and then they become these engines of pure exploitation. And so everyone that I know that has worked at that place is like “it’s the worst place to work in town. It’s so exploitive, it’s transphobic it’s disrespectful, the clientele is horrible. It’s it’s a terrible work environment.”

Papi: Or stuff like a decade ago was claiming to paying a living wage or whatever. They were claiming that a part of their, they were paying medical to people by giving them kombucha for free. Yeah, their own product.

Onion: Pay a living wage with parking space. They consider that part of the wage.

TFSR: Or like when you consider the tips getting figured into it.

Papi: Exactly. Yeah. And then there’s no enforcement. So it’s not really a thing. It’s not a real thing.

Onion: I love riots. I’m tired of being like, palatable. I don’t care to be looking nice, being pretty and telling people like “Oh, can you give us this pretty please?” No, I’m gonna scream. I’m gonna yell until you give me what I want. Like, give me more money, stop having rent like this. Stop killing our friends in the streets. I’m ready. I’m already screaming.

Doug: We’ve ain’t even gotta get more money. We just got to stop your price of things going up.

Onion: I mean, all of it. You know? It’s time for us to call the shots. I remember during the uprising here, when downtown was full of anger and we took downtown and the cops couldn’t handle. You were there? Well, there’s a lot of video. And so it was pretty amazing. Because downtown, which is always full of tourists, like completely dominated. Like 95% of people from South Carolina or Atlanta or Knoxville or some shit. Well they were gone. It was just us. And you would never see the surface of the… what’s that hotel called the IRIS? It’s a big fancy new hotel in the center of downtown that spared no expense. That shit was covered. It was covered in tags and people were having a time of their lives. Windows did get broken.

TFSR: So much anti ICE graffiti.

Onion: It was a happy group of people until we got tear gassed.

Doug: I would have been helping y’all smash things and loot and carry stuff out. (laughing)

TFSR: in Minecraft.

Doug: Our buddy got caught in that riot and he ended up dying in Buncombe County Jail. Yeah, shout out to Jacob Biggs. He was a good guy. He just gets lost like most of us. We fall. Some of us stumble and we get back up. Some of us fall and we’re like, “I’m still falling. I can’t get up.” And we don’t need much. Just like hope, like a job, paycheck or something to look forward to. Like the promising of a house. I finally maced somebody at AHOPE because he was threatening me, he attacked me. And that same day is when they told me I had an apartment.

Because if you go through floating like regular “Hey everything is cool” you’re not in danger, your life is not at risk. But if you go in there stressed out every day, and you’re suicidal, and you want to kill the dog you want to kill and you start being irate they will move you up faster. And I don’t see how one person’s life is more or less than another one’s. Some people just lose their minds in the streets because they’re waiting for housing.

Papi: For housing. Yeah. For years.

Doug: I just want a roof over my head.

Onion: That’s the thing at this point. The city doesn’t understand where we’re coming from, which is that we’re not leaving the park. We’re not stopping. You’re not going to push us out. We’re not budging. So, you know, they’re going to have to find some way to compensate and open up their wallets and deal with us because we are here to stay. We have nowhere else to go.

TFSR: Yeah. And the “not in my backyard” approach doesn’t work anymore when people won’t stop being pushed away. Yeah. So y’all are holding space, you’re doing direct action by holding space publicly. You’re inviting families. You’re making art, taking the opportunity to make public art and make statements about it. We’ve already talked about how city council and county commissioners will do their best. People are trying to engage it, but they’ll do their best at silencing people actually making any changes and the city manager calls the shots anyways who is an unelected official. Do you want more people to show up at the park? What do you want people to bring? How long do we expect y’all are going to be out there? What’s the next stepping stone that y’all are reaching for?

Onion: We’re out here, you know. So by the time this airs, Friday will probably be over but it’ll be after Christmas. We’re going to have a big Christmas party and with lots of music and stuff like that. So this is ongoing. And yeah, I think that by the time people hear this on the air, they can just come on out at any time. We’re oftentimes picking up the festivities around four o’clock.

Doug: Yeah, if they don’t have anything… They can come with nothing. They can come with themselves or something, but just as support. They don’t have to bring sodas. A lot of people bring donations. Great. Because we can use them, but if you don’t have anything still show up. A big crowd is better than a little one.

Papi: It’s a nice big park. So there’s space for really a lot of people.

Doug: You play pickle-ball and tennis. They took the tables out. So we need a picnic table.

Papi: We got to bring tables in. But yeah, like anybody’s Welcome. Come over. You don’t have to bring anything. Everyone brings a little bit something. If you have the means and the money, yes, bring something, bring furniture. We people like to sit. We like to be cozy. Bring that. Drinks are always appreciated. Hot warm food. Very appreciated. Of different varieties, please, not all of us can eat everything.

Doug: Bring your Christmas tree.

Onion: Yeah, we like to like build things too, we get really crafty. And so we usually build structures every day. Engineering and stuff like that. And so we go high up in the trees, and we make our art and it’s really a cool scene.

Doug: Yeah, we want to make a birdhouse.

Papi/Onion: Ladders, you want to donate a ladder? Give us a ladder.

Papi: Bring a ladder, bring your client climbing gear!

Doug: We can go get a ladder tonight. I got a big one. Well, I think it stretches. Tools! Bring ingenuity. Bring a good attitude. Just be genuine and sincere to be there helping some people that need housing. Don’t just come for the show. Cuz you’re gonna love that.

TFSR: Musicians bring their instruments DJs bring their setups. It seems like a lot of the more inspiring things that I’ve seen in town around housing… I feel excited having conversations like this with people, because it’s just real that living in the city is much more difficult than it needs to be. And there’s people on the top that are skimming off. And then there’s tons of bureaucrats and cops and whatever and middle management in the middle that make their money off of keeping us out of empty buildings and keeping us from getting the food that we deserve.

And not only that, but also because this city sometimes feels like it doesn’t have actual community. It’s got the drum circle on Fridays, maybe. Especially during pandemic, the uprising felt to me, like the first time for a bit in that year that I felt a real sense of community and inviting people out to a space to share music to share food to be inspired by each other. That’s amazing. Personally, I feed off of that.

Doug: Yeah, and it’s not just in Asheville, it’s a lot of cities. A lot of big cities, small cities, it’s happening everywhere. People need to pull together and get it right. And because if we don’t, then not just us, we’re all gonna be a load of crap. I don’t know how people don’t see it. It’s totally gotta be flipped. Put us in power and power underneath us. I love people that want to challenge people to come out here with us for an undisclosed amount of time. Depending on their attitude they can leave tomorrow go home, are they can leave in 30 days.

You have an undisclosed amount of time of how long you are going to be in the streets like we are. You’re stripped of your whole life and put on the streets and you’re homeless. And then what? Anybody can survive if they know they are going home within a week. Like I can last all week. But if there’s no hope for tomorrow, no, stale sandwiches or nothing. You really get down and hate life. And I would challenge them to come see how we do it. We don’t want to live like this. To see how hard it is to survive some situations.

It’s cold. I don’t know if any of y’all have been outside all day in the winter, but I hated it. I was warming my tent. Because I don’t like the cold. I moved from New England, because I thought it was cheaper here. And when I came from Connecticut here, the only thing that was cheaper was cigarettes. Meat was the same price. It was terrible. I had $1,000 month rent up there, it was a two bedroom. Everything was $1000 month, pay utilities, all your bills to come here and be homeless.

Onion: We also want to make the explicit invitation of people that have nowhere to go to come and visit if they can and see if there’s anything there for them that they want to build with us. So it’s hopefully a space that welcomes people that really don’t have anywhere else to go right now.

Doug: You see our community. See how we shoot, we love each other. How we try to look out for each other. I’ve given people the shirt off my back out here. The food off my plate.

TFSR: Well, I guess if you’re new to town and having difficulty keeping up on stuff. It’s a good place to come and meet people and also to find out about resources that are available. And Doug mentioned ASP before, that seems like a cool place to interface with that with the street side of ASP or the Free-store.

Doug: They talk to us with sincerity, not condescending. I love this group. Like, I’ve never met anybody like that, the people from ASP. I guess that would be me too, I volunteer to help. They’ve taught me a lot. I learned a lot. They keep me in check. I’m grateful for them. Grateful for everything that we do,

TFSR: Where can people keep up on this if they’re not in the area and they want to apply pressure. Or if they want to get involved, but maybe don’t want to show up immediately? I know there’s some Instagram accounts that have been broadcasting news about when police have been coming in or the really cute flyers that have been being made. Yeah, how can people find out more?

Papi: It’s kind of an autonomous group that is forming this project, but it’s being supported by a coalition of collectives and groups. And so you could go to any of those pages to find out about what’s going on. Those could be Asheville Solidarity Network that has a Facebook and an Instagram. There’s Asheville Survival Program. Same thing Asheville For Justice. DefundAVLPD – the movement to defend the police here. So yeah, check those out. And that’s a really good way to get in touch and plug in and find out what we’re doing.

TFSR: Cool. Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that y’all want to bring up and mention?

Papi: I do have something. I remember asking some folk because I’m pretty new to just a lot of stuff. So I was like, anybody want anything to be said, and someone brought up about just what happens when when sweeps happen, and friends and family are displaced Is that you no longer know where your friends are. You no longer know where your family’s at. And it just makes it a shit ton harder to get yourself okay. And shit around you okay. If you’re constantly being removed from your area, and you can no longer make appointments, and you can no longer take care of your dog or go to doctor’s appointments, or go to school or anything like that. And the main thing that someone had told me that they were really thinking about was how you can no longer find your friends and family. And that’s very scary. Fuck sweeps. Fuck DOT.

Onion: I think I wanted to say Fuck them all. Yeah, definitely echoing that. I wanted to say that, to city council, we see you. We see what you say and how what you do doesn’t match up with it. And so we’re coming for you. There is not anybody that’s safe sitting on the city council, because the furthest left member of city council on the first day of Code Purple, when there was no shelter, put up a Facebook post saying “it’s my birthday. Oh, it happens to be Code Purple. What you can do is donate to this tiny nonprofit who doesn’t even do emergency housing support. Give them money, because the city can’t handle our shit.”

And basically, that’s the furthest left that it gets in Asheville is like passing the buck. And so we see you passing the buck. Kim Roney. We’re here watching what you do every day. And you haven’t shown up at Aston Park yet. And we see you. So there’s an invitation for city council to open up your wallet of the city coffers, and give us what we need. Or we will come for you.

Papi: For city council to come down and to shut up and not say anything and hear houses folks and hear them at every single thing they have to fucking say. Everything.

Doug: We want your routing numbers! To your bank accounts,

TFSR: And do a damn thing about it, not just show up and listen and go back to their heated offices, right?

Doug: No, I want them to just come and listen. They’ll hear something but they just come and they’re not listening.

Onion: They hate having to listen to us. They hate it.

Doug: When you’re able to put up a tent and be homeless. That means you’re comfortable there, it’s feel like a safe spot. And then when the police come and sweep it or tell you to move, it’s like you’re being evicted from your home back to first time being homeless. Every single time. I went through 18 tents in two years. That’s ridiculous. You know, police take them down or weather. it just sucked. Fuck the police.

Onion: Yeah, and how many campsites have been burned down in the past couple of years. People need a safe place to go where we have folks watching out. There’s just been a lot of danger for people living outside in every every kind of way.

Doug: Unfortunately when there happens to be like an OD or something. And they shut it down. Like take the OD and deal with it, and not police it but support. Not just beat us down and make us want to go get high. Iv’e been clean for a couple weeks now. It’s a struggle. When they get on me and bad days, I’m gonna want to go out there and you know, do that bad thing. Stay warm.

When I was homeless, I ain’t gonna lie I got high everyday. Because I needed that to get through to get up and get my food for the day, my clothes, my shelter for the night. Take care of my girlfriend’s dog. God they don’t understand. Sometimes you wait 4 hours for a shower at AHOPE. And for lunch, more time. We’re not just sitting around doing nothing with our time, twiddling our thumbs. So this is the south and we are in the Bible Belt, right? This is the holiday season. We need some love like Jesus from these people. I hate to bring religion into it, but show us where your hearts are.

TFSR: Congratulations on keeping sober.

Doug: It’s a little easier with an apartment I can just stay in there and eat and not have to go outside. But I hate it for people who don’t have housing. I was just there not too long ago. And I could be there again. If things were bad, but I’m gonna do my best not too.

TFSR: I guess any of us could. It’s kind of the point, right?

Doug: Most of us are one paycheck away from it. me. Me and my ex-wife we we’re doing fine, two jobs, kids in schools, both the cars, and then both cars died. We were off the bus ramp. But then, here we are. Yeah. Well, she’s not here anymore. She’s here but not here.

Papi: Yeah, I was living outside to after leaving an unsafe relationship. And I had an infant. And so I was in a really precarious situation. And so I was living in a vehicle for a while and you know, it can happen to any of us.

Doug: People lived in a tent with their children. It was okay.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you all for the work that you’re doing and for being willing to come on this and talk about it. And I really hope that it it gets more folks out there. And yeah, thanks for sharing your perspectives.

Papi: Thanks for having us.

Doug: Yeah. Thanks, man.

Onion: Thank you.

Queer Activist Perspectives from Southern Appalachia

Queer Activist Perspectives from Southern Appalachia

QTBIPOC flag with text from panel, "Fittin In, Sticking Out: Queer (In)Visibilities and the Perils of Inclusino
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This week on the show, we bring you the audio of an activist panel from the recent Queer Conference held online by University of North Carolina, Asheville, in March of 2021.

The conference was titled Fitting In and Sticking Out – Queer [In]Visibilities and the Perils of Inclusion. From the panel’s description for the conference:

This panel brings together 4 local (Asheville, NC) and regional groups working at different intersections of queer community support. We will learn about the work these groups do, the particular issues that affect southern queers, the changes in visibility and inclusion for queer community, and the building of larger coalitions of liberation. Representatives from four organizations will be part of the panel:

  • Youth OUTright (YO) is the only nonprofit whose mission is to support LGBTQIA+ youth from ages 11-20 in western North Carolina. Learn more about their work on their website, and support them financially here.
  • Southerners on New Ground (SONG) is a nonprofit aimed at working towards LGBTQ liberation in the south. Find out more about their work on their website, and support them financially here.
  • Tranzmission Prison Project (TPP) is a prison abolition grassroots organization that provides literature and resources to incarcerated members of the LGBTQ community. Learn more about their work on their website and donate here.
  • Pansy Collective is a decentralized, DIY, queer, music and arts collective that created Pansy Fest, an annual queer music festival showcasing LGBTQ musicians from the south and rural areas, prioritizing reparations for QTBIPOC artists and community members, and community education and organizing around the principles of autonomy, mutual aid, antifascism, love, and liberation for all. Learn more about their work on their website, or donate here

Announcements:

Phone Zap for Florida Prisoners in Mandatory Toxic Evacuation Site

From Florida Prisoner Solidarity on Twitter and Instagram:

Over 2,000 prisoners in Florida are trapped inside an evacuation zone less than a mile from a retention pond that is in imminent danger of failing, sending 800 million gallons of acidic radioactive waste water flooding over the local area. According to Deputies, the local jail has no plans or intentions to evacuate prisoners.

Please CALL AND SHARE NOW demanding the safe evacuation of all prisoners at the Manatee County Jail.

Sheriff Rick Wells
941-747-3011 ext. 2222
rick.wells@manateesheriff.com
Twitter- @ManateeSheriff

Central jail information
941-723-3011 Ext. 2915

County Commission
941-745-3700
EMAIL FOR ENTIRE COMMISSION: tinyurl.com/EmailAllCommissioners

Emergency Management
941-749-3500
emergency.management@mymanatee.org
Twitter- @MCGPublicSafety

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Transcription

Scott: Okay, so welcome everyone. This is our the final event of the first day of the 2021 Queer Studies conference. So happy to see you all here, we made it through the day. This is a really special panel because we’ve invited representatives of local organizations and groups that do work in the community in the region to help queer community – and we’ll hear more about the work that they do specifically – but this is in the spirit of the conference, which is going back to its founding, conceived as a way of like having academics and organizers and activists meet to talk about queer issues. So this is special to highlight the work that queer folks are doing on the ground. So I’m gonna be moderating, my name is Scott. And I’m going to now turn it over to each of our panelists to introduce themselves, the group that they represent, and give a brief overview of the work that the group does in the community and beyond, and then we’ll get into more involved discussion from there. I can name y’all, or if someone just wants to go, go ahead. If the spirit is calling you…

Leroy: Alright, I will jump in here so that then I can sit back and listen to all the rest of you. Hello, I’m glad y’all are all here. My name is Leroy Kite, I use they/them pronouns. I’m here with Tranzmission Prison Project, we are a queer and trans powered abolitionist books -to-prisoners group that serves the entire country…with a few exceptions of states that have banned us. And we are a sister organization, a sibling organization with Asheville Prison Books, which just serves general population prisoners in North Carolina and South Carolina. For those of you that are Asheville specific, we are located out of the back of Downtown Books and News, you can drop by and see us.

And, yeah, we’ve been around for like a little over 20 years somehow? So a very long time. It’s kind of a mystery to me, how that has really sustained this long. I’ve been involved for about seven years, and there is some historical memory losses, there’s just been a lot of turnover over those two decades. Basically, we are still in the process of reconnecting with the origins of how this group began and trying to call up those long lost elders of this project so that we can kind of seam some of the pieces together of what has changed from then and now.

But that pretty much gets up to date. The arc of our work is we receive requests from prisoners around the country, across the LGBTQIA and two spirit spectrum, and mail them back books that they are asking for whether that is romance, thriller, sci-fi, erotica. You know, we try to highlight getting people materials that a lot of other organizations are either unwilling or under-equipped to send to those populations, particularly when it comes to things that regard people’s sexual and gender autonomy. That’s a area that it can be very, very hard to find free resources from organizations that are willing to send that to people. So that’s kind of one gap that we see ourselves filling that’s kind of unique. And with that, I’ll pass it off to whoever wants it. Thanks.

Adrian: I can pop in. So my name is Adrian, I use they/she and he pronouns. I’m the executive director of Youth OUTright WNC. We are a support and advocacy organization for LGBTQIA young folks between the ages of 11 and 20, which kind of led up to 24 during COVID. Thanks for dropping our link, Shawn. So our programs focus in on racial justice, gender justice, and sex and relationship education. So right now we’re running programs Tuesday through Thursday, we have chat rooms on Tuesday and Thursdays that are held on Discord. And we have a video call on Wednesdays that run 6 to 8pm. And that’s those programs are run by Brian Thompson, our youth programs manager, and they’ve been doing a great job there.

We also do some work supporting the GSA clubs across the state of North Carolina. If you’re not familiar with GSA’s, those are “Gender and Sexuality Alliances”, formerly known as “Gay Straight Alliances”, and those clubs really vary between social support and activist groups. But we support them wherever they’re at and with whatever they have self determined to be their goals, right? So if they’re focused on building community with each other, that’s awesome, we’ll talk to them about that if they’re looking at changing policy at their school, also awesome. And we’ll talk about that we try to meet them with wherever they’re at and with what their goals are.

Self determination is really important to our work. Over the past few years, we’ve been really incorporating youth leadership, all the way up through the board level. And so that’s been really important to us as we progress. We like to create professional opportunities for young people as well. We had some part time staff positions last year as educators and facilitators, there’ll be more opportunities for that later this year. And we’ve provided stipends for peer education around sex ed, or mental health, different things like that. In 2019, we held a GSA summit, we hope to do that again. We were a little shaken by the by the pandemic, as most folks were, so we’ve had to postpone that but we’re looking at a virtual version soon. Keep an eye out for that.

And beyond the direct Youth Services, the GSA work, we also do advocacy around policy. So we’ve been working with Campaign for Southern Equality around the Department of Public Instruction’s name policy within the virtual learning system. We were seeing last year that a lot of trans young people were being outed just by the virtual learning system, and so we now do have a preferred name field that will be integrated into Buncombe County and implementation is happening now.

We work with Equality North Carolina on things like non-discrimination ordinances here in Asheville and surrounding counties. And we’re also working right now to put together a storytelling campaign around the anti-trans sports bill that just hit earlier this week. So we’re working with some trans athletes at a couple different high schools to uplift their stories, and really raise awareness to that.

One last little plug I’ll make is for our racial justice and gender justice panels, which happened once a month on our Instagram Live, and that Space A Digital Place to Talk About Race, and TYME (Trans Youth Movement and Education). Those panels are led by young college and high school trans folks digging in deeper to racial and gender justice. And I’ll stop taking up space.

Monse: I’m happy to go next. Hi, everyone, my name is Monse, I use they or she pronouns, and I’m here at repping SONG, or Southerners On New Ground. We are a 28 year old LGBTQ base-building membership organization. We are definitely unapologetically abolitionists, Black and Brown, and all things queer and magic. So we have chapters all across the Southeast. We have chapters in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, in Louisiana. We currently don’t have an Asheville chapter but we have lots of Asheville members who, in the past couple of years, have been engaged in our bailout action that we have done for Mother’s Day where we have raised money to pay the bails of Black mothers and caregivers who are in jail due to bail. And this was definitely to bring awareness to the issue of money bail used as a racist, classist practice in not only Buncombe County, but all across the south, where folks are held pretrial. So before their conviction, and if they don’t have the money to pay to get out, they have to stay in jail and await their court date when people who do have access to wealth or money can wait for their court date from the comfort of their own home. So further criminalizing folks who are already targets of the state.

So SONG was founded in 1993 by three Black lesbians and three white lesbians, and was definitely founded as a way to kind of infiltrate into the queer and gay movement in the moment, and really saying that money bail, that criminalization, that all these things are people facing oppression, like, is the gay issue. So we definitely wanted to make space for folks who are Black and Brown, who are facing oppression and criminalization every day, to be able to be in these spaces and organize and bring their full selves and not having to be closeted.

So SONG is an LGBTQ feminist organization, with core Black leadership. And we believe that until all of us are free, none of us are free. So that’s why we’re really wanting to move this work. Currently, we have campaigns to end money bail, so really connecting to our direct action to bail Black mamas and caregivers out of jail, and bring more awareness to the issue to end money bail and pretrial detention.

We also have been doing research around campaigns to end the collaboration with local law enforcement and ICE – so Immigration and Customs Enforcement – because we know that police and ICE are the same beast under the prison industrial complex. But we do a lot of training, a lot of just skilling-up and building community across the South because we know that the South is where all the shit goes down, and where all our people are. Where we have roots, where we have community, and we want to be able to grow and build and organize in the South. So that’s a little bit about SONG. And hopefully, you’ll get to hear more about the work that we do. But thank you all so much for having us.

Beck: Thanks Monse. I’m Beck, I used they/them pronouns and I’m here as the representative of Pansy Collective. And so Pansy Collective is a DIY decentralized queer LGBTQIA arts and music collective. Our biggest thing that we do is Pansy Fest, and it kind of started out as like, a queer visibility type of thing. Like the punk scene in the South and in neighboring regions around Asheville has been pretty bro heavy, pretty homophobic, racist, and we’re trying to make space that was an anti-racist, anti-homophobic space in the punk community. And then from that, it kind of started to build into more like Southern and rural coalition building and then specifically around moving from like, visibility to BIPOC reparations. So the first fest we actually worked with SONG’s Black Mama Bailout, and that was like the first beneficiary we had, and TPP was another one! But it’s like, it’s so cool that we’re all here right now.

But yeah, it was kind of a way to engage like queer folks into to put a public space that wasn’t some liberal kind of, I don’t know, upitty Asheville…you know? [laughs] People who are living here, you know. But yeah, so it was it was cool to like, create a space where we felt okay around each other, where we can have hard conversations. And also like, where we could bring some of the anarchist principles and things like that, in kind of a more tangible way into the punk scene. It’s like, “Okay, we’ve got all these lyrics that are like, ‘fuck this, like, hate cops’”, follow that. But also, do you know about prison books? Do you want to sign up? You know about Black Mama Bailout? So you know, having people tabeling there at all of our shows and events was really big. Making sure we have Narcan, you know, bringing in harm reduction into the scene…just kind of trying to, like, the spaces that we have idealistically in our head as like “a queer scene”, just trying to make it happen to the best of our ability.

And so we’ve been around since 2016? 2017! And it was such a bummer last year: we were like getting ready for a really cool event with HOT BITS. It was going to be like a really cool coalition building, with sex workers rights, and having a really cool, I don’t know, sex positive space, which was like something new for Pansy. And it kind of went all down because of COVID, of course. But we’re still meeting together! We’re still organizing, we, you know, try to coalition build where we can. It’s not looking like events around music and art right now. It’s more like, “Okay, let’s do a noise demo at the jail with Charlotte Uprising.” How can we be outside and distance and really do the work that we believe in, which is like mutual aid, it’s love, it’s like anti-prison, you know, it’s not queer assimilationist, right? So it hasn’t been so much “festy”, like punk stuff going on, but we’re still here doing it. And yeah, super stoked to be here. Thanks for having us.

Scott: Thanks, everyone, for introducing yourselves and the groups and giving an overview. It’s really interesting too, to see where these local regional groups have intersected and work together. My first question beyond the introduction is specifically linking to Asheville, Western North Carolina, a larger region, the South, what do you think Southern queers need? And how does your work try to meet those needs? And you can, you know, get as specific to our town as you want, or think more regionally.

Beck: I’ll go ahead. I think one of the things pre-pandemic, when events were happening, was just having a queer focused event that you didn’t have to pay for. That it was like, sliding scale and all of the money, it wasn’t, you know, going to this model of building up, it was just going to go into the hands of folks who need it. The fact that you didn’t have to show up and pay. I feel like everything else in this area in those spaces, too, it’s like “pay to play” situation. And it’s not really inviting, you know, from a class perspective, but also just like…those spaces aren’t necessarily where, like, I want to be anyways, right? Like I want to be in a space where it doesn’t matter how I’m dressed, how I look, if I can afford it. So just creating those spaces, I think.

And something that I just think of, like, resources and education and coalition building is something…there’s like, there’s a lot going on in the South, trying to make it happen, but it’s much more of an uphill battle, I think, compared to West Coast, East Coast, right? And so, you know, tabling events and stuff like that, but also like teachings, where we learn how to do jail support, or, you know, like fun stuff too! Like, do you wanna learn how to screenprint? Just having this open space, you don’t have to pay to get in. And you don’t have to know everybody, you can just come in, and people are gonna be like, “Hey, what’s up? Welcome to the teach-in.” And you’re like, already welcome at the door. And a place where people can share ideas, and it’s not coming from this hierarchical like, “I’m going to educate everybody in this space.” It’s “everybody has something they can bring to it.” So I think that’s one part that Pansy Collective comes from, for sure.

Scott: Adrian, that made me think, like, what Beck was saying about kind of the educational aspect and like, maybe that fits in the mission of Youth OUTright, connecting to young people?

Adrian: Yeah, a couple of things were coming up for me when Beck was sharing. The first thing that came up for me around education and teach-ins’s is: I feel like young people really need us adults to step up and educate ourselves. Frankly. You know, I think that our young people are often in the position either at school or with their families, where they have to educate adults around them about sex and gender, or racial justice, or any number of social movements that are happening in our intersectional community, right? And so something that breaks my heart, but also makes me really proud is watching these young people really articulately say what they need to say, to these adults, right? It’s impressive, it’s great. And also, come on adults, what are we doing? And so you know, where that brings in Youth OUTright is we’re in the process of developing relationships with Buncombe County schools to provide training to all of their counselors and social workers, right? From the adults, providing them training about how to support young people, and we may compensate young people to record their experiences or, you know, provide some amount of input in there. But we don’t want them to have to expend that emotional labor and potentially re-traumatize themselves in entering a space where they have to teach their teacher, right?

And so I think that there’s a big need for adult allies to step up into this place of peer educator for, you know, the people in their community and having these conversations. Of the folks who do want to engage in those conversations, we’re hosting every third Monday, a space called Continuum, which is an intergenerational conversation for supporting specifically gender and sexual minority young people. And so that’s a space where people can engage in conversation with the community there. But you know, we obviously have a little bit more of a focus on young people, right?

So part of our work last summer, we did a direct action training at Carrier Park. And so we brought together a small cohort of young people. And we were socially distanced and talked about what power mapping looks like, talked about some of the changes they want to see in the community, and they identified the Trans Panic Defense, right? They said “the Trans Panic Defense is something that we think is abhorrent and needs to go away”. And that’s super valid. They also picked a hard one. But you know, I think that having spaces like that, centering the young people’s vision, is really what they’re asking for. And again, I’ll go back to self determination, right? And I think that when we allow young people to set the waypoint, we realize that a lot more as possible, right? As adults, I think we get a little bit salty, we get a little bit jaded and cynical, “we’ll never get there”, right? So I think young people need us to tap into that imagination, and tap into that vision and support that, right? As well as stepping up to educate ourselves and understand that like, I’m still learning new pronouns, y’all! Like I’m still…there’s a lot going on, and culture is always changing. So I think they need humility from us, right? They need us to recognize that, to disrupt that adultism in ourselves, right? There’s always this dominant cultural belief that adults know what’s best for young people. They might know what’s best for us! Let’s look at our planet and what the young environmental activists are saying, right? There’s so many ways to look at this and where young people really have the answers. So I think we need to take a seat and listen, and then start making some moves from there.

Scott: Thinking of like, you know, identify problems that they want to attack made me think also about the kind of particular terrain that we have in the South. Given the kind of like, Republican legislative power and the way that they can kind of steamroll anti-trans, anti-gay policies, and I don’t know if maybe that’s something that Monse, you could talk about, in terms of the work that SONG is doing? Because it’s like SONG is as a Southern thing and there’s like, simultaneously kind of invisiblization of queerness in the South, but also this huge social war being waged by the state against queer people in the South. So yeah, that was a way to start to throw it to you. If you have some ideas.

Monse: For sure, I can definitely speak on that a little bit. Yeah, and I would say, like, the South is a region of both great despair and historical trauma, but also great organized resistance and resilience and magic. Like, we really organized in this region because we want to build up. And because we are a part of a long legacy of organizers and cultural workers, freedom fighters who have been committed to the South, and this is a place where folks live, where folks build their lives, where they love, where they organize, and continue to build their families, regardless of all the things and history that has. And I really would want to highlight that resistance piece, because there has been so much resistance that has happened in the South. And I think that’s the beauty of it. I think that folks, we’re naming, like, we organize in the South, and we have that kind of like a southern hospitality where we can find our people, where we can create the potlucks and invite folks in and like, making sure that our neighbors have what they need, that our community is good. And we are doing mutual aid, and we are doing those things. And there’s also like all those things against us, too.

But I think that organizing in the South, to me, is about kind of like that resilience that you’re like, “I’m not leaving this place, because this is where my legacy is, my history is.” And a lot of the times that negative and racist rhetoric is highlighted in the South, but I think, like, right alongside with it is where we grow, like where we are making everything out of nothing. And we are doing that pushback, and we are seeing some wins. And I think we have been able to see some wins, like even specifically throughout this year. Like folks organizing and doing the uprisings. Like we saw so many wins from that, like, where folks, like we are literally, everyone was talking about “what does it mean to defund the police? Like, what does it mean to believe in a world where we don’t have policing, where we don’t have jails and prisons?” And I think that that is because of years and years worth of organizing. It didn’t happen just out of nothing, and like folks rioted and stood up for what they believed in, just like, overnight. I think it has been years of oppression and resilience that ignited folks to continue that conversation. I think that the work is not by any means done yet. But definitely we’re making, we’re seeing the fruits of those commitments and those sacrifices happen. I think it’s up to us here in the South to continue to say like, “Fuck that” – [smiles] I’m gunna cuss on here – but like, “Fuck that, like, we’re gonna keep fighting and we’re gonna keep doing what our ancestors wanted us to do and what rightfully we have to do”.

So yeah, and I think in Asheville there are so many nonprofits, and like so many folks already organizing, and there is a great need for folks to organize. And we definitely saw that even locally in Asheville, when, like, we need to hold local and county government accountable. Like we saw that in the summer, we saw demands of Black and Brown organizers being ignored. We saw that there is a big need, like, we can’t, in Asheville at least, we can’t hide behind liberal organizing and expect things to to move. I think that we have to continue to push and continue to make space for Black and Brown organizers and for demands to to move, so that we can organize and build the world we want to live in, even here, on a local level. And I think that what SONG has to offer, at least here in Asheville, is like training, skill-up opportunities. Like, this 28 year old legacy of folks who have been fighting and organizing in the South because the South is their home, and definitely connection to those folks all across the south, and years of like trans and queer abolitionist organizing. So that’s what I have to say,

Scott: Thanks. And then, you know, building on that idea of like, how the queer communities in the South can get invisiblized in the racist and bigoted ideas of the South, I was gonna use that to sort of transition to the work that you’re doing Leroy with Tranzmission Prison Project, because also a community that gets invisiblized, is the people who are incarcerated, and specifically people like trans and queer people who are incarcerated. And I don’t know if you have something to say about that in terms of like, the way that you’re working with them to get their voices out or get their needs met. Because that’s also a site of like, tremendous resistance, building off what Monse was saying.

Leroy: Yeah, I think that there’s both so much potential here, and in full transparency, so much room for TPP to continue growing in ways that move beyond where the reality of, you know, most of our work to date has, even as an abolitionist group, typically shown up as service provision. Where we’re not as involved on the policy end of things, or able to keep up with all of the specifics of what is happening in this state in the South that specifically targeting these queer and trans prisoners. We, you know, have occasionally popped in to, like, offer a statement here or there about things that have happened on the federal level. Like in 2018 there was this change to the Transgender Offender Manual from the Bureau of Prisons, that really fucked over, altered, the safety of trans folks in prison across the country.

But as far as specific to the South, I personally don’t feel like I am informed enough to be able to say where, you know, we have as a project not yet had the capacity to orient towards how can we show up more and do more coalition building and outreach beyond our little silo of what this project has been maintaining over the years. But I think that that’s the real growth edge for us right now. And where the conversation has really been building over the last several years as we’ve gone from, basically like myself, and like one other person, when I first joined this organization, we sort of went through a period of so much burnout, and turnover seven years ago that the last seven years have been really just building back up our own base and trying to just keep up with the mail. We have, like, 100 to 150 pieces of mail on average that we get a month.

And so we’ve sort of been stretching to make space to have conversations within our group that are more than just “how do we sustain our own morale in this work?” And how do we actually network with some of these bigger, juicy or more challenging questions of “what does it mean to be abolitionists doing books to prisoners work”, and I think that networking with other folks in the south like SONG, like Pansy Collective, like Youth OUTright, is really where the work is headed for us. So that we can kind of use the best of what everyone else is already tapped into, on sometimes more of the policy end of things, sometimes more the grassroots end of things, but just where people have their ear to the ground in places that we don’t always.

I will say, as I kind of alluded to, I think in my first answer – and maybe this is foreshadowing for like another question that I don’t know, it still coming up – about like challenges of working in the South. But I think that the irony is that for longer than I have been involved with this project, North Carolina specifically has been one of the states that has banned us, Tranzmission Prison Project specifically, from sending mail in. And we have – for the cop who may be sitting in this room right now, this is the time where I’m gonna say “Fuck you, and you can leave this call” – but, you know, we we have done what we’ve needed to do to get folks books that they’ve requested. Like, we still get requests all the time from prisoners in North Carolina, and we’ve basically just found some ways to fly a little lower on the radar when mailing those books back to people. But things like we can’t use our letterhead, we don’t use our mailing address when we return those. And so there’s room for us to potentially challenge that.

I mean, in the last seven years, again, as a group we have not had the capacity to necessarily even investigate, like, is this really still a thing? Like, could we run a campaign to get this overturned? And so that’s where having a real upsurge of interest in prison abolition in the last year has been starting to put some more wheels under what feels possible for us, in terms of maybe doing some bigger work, then has really just been on the table for us. Just trying to like keep up with the need that has been there, you know, not not to fall into like, capitalist supply demand lingo, but I mean the reality is like, the prison system is a part of capitalism and we are often in our own constraints that are placed upon us by it by the nature of the prison industrial complex.

So there’s this real tension between like, “how do we ensure that our baseline commitment to just getting people the books that they are asking for is being met”, while also being like “is that in and of itself, abolitionist”. We really situate what we’re doing as centering people’s humanity, and really just restoring that sense of dignity and autonomy to people, that having information is something that we believe everyone should have. Having access to pleasure is something that everyone should have a way to expand their own minds beyond, you know, what’s often a cell smaller than a lot of people’s bathrooms. How do we, again, just connect the dots of the bigger constellation of “how do we keep these prisons from becoming kinder and friendlier to trans people” – whether that’s in the South or around the whole rest of the country – towards “how do we really shrink the system into nonexistence”?

Scott: Yeah, so jumping off of the obstacle point, that was a question that I had prepared. And I’m thinking also of just specifying a little bit because it’s come up – and this is the place we’re in, like, you know, post or not post pandemic, but in the middle of the pandemic – the pandemic hit, right, and like changed the terrain for organizing for everyone. So that, obviously, is an obstacle. I’d be interested to hear how a little more about how have you dealt with that. And also, potentially, on the plus side, the way the uprisings, rebellions last year affected the kind of energy and work that you’re doing, because that’s also something you’ve all been mentioning, in terms of the hearing more about abolition. So obstacles and but also like the recent sort of things that have occurred that have changed the nature of organizing.

Monse: I’m happy to kick it off. I think that yeah, definitely, what has been shared is definitely what we’ve been experiencing too, within SONG. I think even the election was a huge obstacle. I think that that brought up so, so many conversations, but also like, we were able to run a Free the Vote program within SONG in particular parts of the South, where we were doing voter registration and in the jails, for folks who are incarcerated, trying to get absentee ballots. And then we also face that same like, trying to mail stuff in trying to get to talk to people, it was those same things. So I definitely resonate with that, like trying to navigate and even just reach our people who are inside, making sure that they know that we’re out here and just trying to communicate with them has been a barrier put up by the state. And I think it’s very intentional, you know, they don’t want us to talk to them, they don’t want them to talk to us. So I would say I definitely resonated with that.

And I think even, yeah COVID in itself changed so many of the conditions which our folks were living in, and organizing in too. And we as SONG were definitely trying to figure out like, “is this the moment like to free them all? Like, are we trying to push for that, like, get everyone out of jail?” Like, of course they’re not following the CDC guidelines. Of course, they don’t care about the people who are in there. And really trying to see like, what ways that we could turn up on the state, and also keep our people safe from from COVID. We definitely started to do car caravan actions, like honk-ins at the jails all across the South, making sure like, hey, like we haven’t forgotten about y’all out here. And trying to do that. Folks in Atlanta and the Atlanta chapter were definitely turning up and putting pressure so folks could be released. Like, if they didn’t have to be there – of course, nobody has to be there – but like, if they were their pretrial, that they should be free.

So definitely trying to push on the campaign’s that we were already moving, in relationships to like, we need everyone out of that jail because it’s just COVID in there. So yeah, I think that even our tactics of organizing changed so much, and finding our people, and being able to do direct actions…we were thinking, a lot of like, “what does it mean to continue to turn up on the state and keep our people safe from getting sick?” Because we know that historically, our people don’t have access to health care, like our people don’t trust the health care systems, at all, and in fact, have been victims of violence by the healthcare system. So all the things, all the things. And I think, even just locally, some obstacles that have been coming up is also the fast-paced gentrification here in Asheville. Black and Brown folks, especially queer trans folks, are being pushed out of Asheville, so, so quickly, so so rapidly. And I think that that’s also something that my brain goes to is like, how are we like turning up against all these developers who are trying to take our towns, trying to take our people’s homes? And how are we creating space for folks to continue to live here, and work here and organize here in Asheville? It’s something that I would love to get into with any of y’all. But yeah, some of the obstacles.

Adrian: Thanks for sharing all of that Monse, a lot of that really resonates. And I think that, you know, with what’s coming up for me and the young folks that I work with, is I think that we’ve really shifted into more of a survival mode, right? You know, sex ed, and sexual violence prevention work was really integral to our programs before the pandemic, like every single meeting we’d talk about consent. Once we hit quarantine the kids were like, “We just need to hang out with each other, like, we need a little bit less educational stuff.” And we stepped back a little bit because they didn’t have the capacity to keep learning and keep learning. And they were also doing virtual school, right? I think the capacity for everybody, not just young people, just really got lowered.

And, you know, I have been fielding a lot more crisis calls over the past year. We have young people who are stuck at home in transphobic families, right, abusive families. And so, you know, we move from potentially thinking about targeting a trans inclusive policy at school to, oh, I might get kicked out of my home, right? And so I think that’s one of the challenges for us, is that while we try to build power within the youth community, so many of our young folks are just dealing with a different level of marginalization, by the pandemic, right?

One thing I’d point to is our GSA clubs, right? Like we before the pandemic, there were upwards of 35 clubs across North Carolina. Now we’re under 25. And a lot of those 25 are folks who have registered, but like, their club isn’t really meeting right now, or maybe they don’t have the tools to meet digitally, or, you know, they’re running their meeting but they’re only getting 5 of the 20 and 30 people that used to be coming to their meeting, right? So there’s this really big challenge in reconnecting with all of our young folks that have been a part of this network, and making sure they’re alright.

We launched a mutual aid fund over the past year, to support young folks 24 and under who were economically impacted by the pandemic, and we’ve distributed about $14,000 now, mostly to young folks who are housing insecure, and a good number of them are already homeless. And so, you know, in my conversations with the McKinney Vento liaisons who work within the Buncombe County school district and support the homeless youth there, they told me that they expected to see the homeless youth population balloon, maybe even double, over the course of the pandemic due to just the economic impacts, right. And the family impacts again, putting, you know, trans people back at home in spaces that aren’t safe for them.

So, all of those things are hard, but I do want to add a silver lining that has come out of some of these pivots. You know, we moved to digital programming pretty much within a week, right? It was pretty quick. But what was really awesome about it was a lot of our young people took a lot of initiative, right? They’re like, “Oh, discord, yeah, I can make a server, I can make you a robot. I can make you all these things.” And It was incredible and inspiring to see these young people step up to the plate…wow, a sports metaphor, how butch? Okay, that was weird. That doesn’t happen a lot. So, you know, these young people really stepped up to support each other and advocate for themselves, right? That’s been really incredible. And the other thing that comes from that, in the beginning of the pandemic our groups were smaller, but they were rural people, they were POC folks, and so we were actually getting to these young people who really need our services a little bit more. Not to say that young folks don’t need our services – we’re here for them as well – but there tend to be more GSAs within Buncombe County, there tend to be more supportive adults within Buncombe County. And so to see young people from Candler, Lake Lure, Cherokee, these other places, checking into our call, that’s a huge impact for me and for I think the folks in the community.

I think that moving out of the pandemic, as we slowly start to, we’re going to be keeping a lot of these digital organizing strategies that we’ve developed, and need to find this balance between, “okay, we’ve created access to our world programs, and there’s this thing that’s lacking from our in person programs that we need to bring back”. But I tell you, I’m not going to remove all the digital programs, because I’m like having those rural kids around.

Leroy: I can jump back in. Yeah, I’m really feeling the themes of COVID challenges plus, like weird COVID boons that no one necessarily saw coming. Yeah, at the very start of the pandemic, we definitely went into rapid response mode in a way that like, isn’t very typical for us. And again, wasn’t necessarily sustainable for us, but I think, as Monse already touched on – everyone’s familiar with this, I think, on the global level, but for those of us, especially with our finger on the pulse of what life inside of prisons is like, it was just like watching the storm rolling in times 1000 – it was just like the contagion of this is going to kill so many people so rapidly. And there was also this potential, like no one had really ever seen before, for these mass releases.

And so again, even though that’s not something that we, as a group, necessarily had a lot of power to help push for – I mean, I think individuals within our group are kind of like tapped into other campaigns outside of the work of TPP – but what we did do was reformatted a pamphlet that was a collaboration between Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross and Asheville Prison Books, which was basically just an informational two to four pager about what is COVID, and how can you keep yourself safe? And obviously, there were ways we were like ”We don’t know if people are going to be able to apply this.” I mean, obviously, there’s no PPE, there certainly was no PPE inside of prisons at the beginning of the pandemic, we were worried if people were even going to have soap. Hand sanitizer was like, not allowed for a lot of folks because of alcohol. But we were like, “We don’t even know what people are being told at this point, so it seems like the least we could do to just share what we were hearing, as we were hearing it on the outside, with those that we love on the inside,” to just say like, “this is what we know so far about this virus. And this is what we are hearing about what you can do to keep yourself safe as much as possible. And we realized that a lot of this may not be possible for y’all.”

The flip side of what those pamphlets offered was a sliver of hope, for those that were able to receive them, about some of what was happening in terms of folks being released in the South, actually, as well as around the country. And while that did not happen, I think as much as a lot of us in the abolition movement hoped that it could have gone further, there were also some prison breaks. And they were also just stories of people freeing themselves from the cages that they were in. And so there were some little blurbs about that. We also had some of those pamphlets bounce back, and we assumed that that was for that reason. There was like one or two that came back to us that something on the return to sender said something along the lines of like “this is a threat to our security and that’s why this wasn’t let in.” And so you know, it’s not really surprising because we know that knowledge is a threat and prisons don’t want prisoners to even think about the fact that they might one day have the power to liberate themselves, let alone be granted clemency. So, you know, the vast majority of them we think reached the folks that we intended them to get.

But we also weren’t sure for a while when we were going to have access to our office because as the original shutdowns were going on – like I said, we’re out of the back of Downtown Books and News – we lost access to our space for the first like, three, four months that things were going on. So part of those pamphlets, too, was this very kind of frightening disclosure that we were like, “Hey, we don’t know when we are going to be able to send you books, because there’s just a freeze on our ability to maintain this right now, but we want you to know that you are in our hearts and we are thinking of you.” And even just being able to send that little bit of personal love to folks, that in and of itself, I think, was where we were able to put our hearts forward at the start of this pandemic and let people know, like Monse, you were saying, again, like, “you are not forgotten even in this, and we’ll be back with you as soon as we can be”. And so yeah, it took some time for everybody to kind of get their feet back under them again, but by the summer last year we were starting to socially distance gather ourselves in the park to just like, reorganize our core group.

And then as we started to launch our packaging parties back up, which is how we kind of make room for more community engagement than just our regular core folks who come and pick out the books – in the pre-pandemic times used to do this out of Firestorm Books and Coffee, where we would take the books that were ready to be wrapped up and we would just do like a big almost holiday style wrapping where we just brown paper bag everything and address stuff and tape it up, and then it’s ready to go to the post office – we started to do that outside, also in Carrier Park, so that we could continue to do the work. And really, I think this is where this work gets really intersectional. I think that with everything that happened, with the uprisings of the summer and abolition starting to be talked about more and more, we started to see more people show up at those outdoor packaging parties than we had ever seen before. And we have been continuing to get new interests through our Instagram, through our email inbox. And yeah, I think that that’s where the last year has presented some really unusual, but exciting opportunities for where we’re now positioned, just with more folks plugging in all the time than we previously had. So that’s the upside of things. Beck, you want to get in on this?

Beck: Sure. Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty quick and easy. COVID really threw a wrench in like everything we do. [starts laughing] We created physical spaces for queer community to come together and learn in sheer joy and you know, art, music. So, yeah, we really were at a loss for how to adapt, and none of us were in a place where we were like, willing to switch to digital. So we’re like, “Okay, what can we do right now”, we had applied for a mini grant from the Trans Justice Project. And we got it! And we’re like,” oh, dope, but there’s not a fest going on. So what are we going to do?” And so we decided to do a kind of like reparations drive project, community reach, outreach type thing, where we used all those funds from that grant, to BIPOC artists who are now like, without work. So focusing on Black and Indigenous queer and trans artists, and making sure they’re getting their needs, uplifting the work that they’re doing, you know, from a distance, and also just like, literally just fundraising for them and having our own reparations pool every month. So that kind of shifted that way.

I think a lot of it though, like Pansy Collective as individuals, was just like showing up in the summer, showing up in the street, showing up for aftercare type stuff, showing up where we could, as individuals, for our friends in our community. And so yeah, I think, you know, as things start kind of shifting and maybe outdoor meetups and stuff is possible, it’ll kind of start to go back to what Pansy is used to doing. But really, it’s just been, I mean, as a collective, just kind of being there for each other, and for the folks in town, showing up just as people has been the work, just giving love in a really isolated time.

Scott: Thanks everyone for going into that. I want to ask maybe a final question that would have two parts and then leave room for anyone here who wants to directly ask you individually or collectively questions, but so I’m going to put a couple of things together and hopefully this will work. So on the one hand we see queerness kind of getting more visibility and inclusion and representation, and I’m wondering – because all the work that y’all are doing is still on the terrain that is disruptive for, you know, systems of power, state control – so I’m sort of just interested in what you think queerness still holds that’s disruptive or liberatory, and then kind of putting that into like, what sort of coalitional projects you envision your groups doing in the future?

Adrian: Right now the one sentence that’s coming to my head is like “pink capitalism sucks” right? And I don’t have a whole lot more beyond that right now, in this moment. No, I think that, you know, the sort of acceptability politics that’s happening in like the big LGB sometimes T circles is rather sex negative. So I think there’s growth we could do there together in coalition building. You know, I think that this is probably because of the particular lens that I approach this work, but I see a lot of ageism and adultism generationally, right? I see a lot of skepticism from my elders on the vision that my young folks have, and sometimes I look to my elders to say, like, “Look, I don’t quite see how all the dots connect, but can you help me connect the dots for these young people?” And I need that support from our trancestors. And so I think that’s part of the coalition building that can happen. You know, I think that also we see a lot of white LGBTQ representation, right? So I think there’s a lot of work that we can do around, you know, centering BIPOC experience and what they need, right? So I would really love to see more inter-generational coalition’s between the different LGBT and racial justice serving organizations, I think that could be really, really fruitful. And I’m just kind of curious what other folks are thinking to?

Monse: Yeah, I think you hit it spot on for me Adrian. And yeah, I think that there are a lot of visible spaces and like, spaces made for queer and trans folks here in Asheville at least, but they’re mostly white spaces. And I think that just making spaces for Black and Brown folks to lead the work, for Black and Brown folks to just even come together and organize is necessary. And I would love to collaborate with folks, and just like creating those spaces, like finding the folks that are looking for the spaces and being able to support and find joy to bring our beautiful queer selves and organize together. So I think that that’s where we have a lot of room to grow, where I could see SONG collaborating with folks.

And I think even just like, also language, I’m very passionate about language justice, and that we need to be organizing not only in English because queer and trans folks aren’t only white, don’t only speak English. And I think that these identities can be very intersectional and like, folks are trying to do all the things. And yeah, so I think creating more spaces that are language accessible, that are culturally accessible, and that folks want to come to, because I think that there are so many white, queer, trans spaces in Asheville that a lot of times my folks don’t want to be in, that I don’t want to be in. And I think that there’s a lot of room to grow and a lot of space for collaboration, where we can make these spaces together.

Beck: I’ll go ahead. Yeah, thank you Monse, Adrian. I think all of y’alls responses…what I’m thinking of, how Asheville in particular, and a lot of liberal Southern cities, loves to show it’s pride in like, “we just hired a lesbian cop! Look at this girl boss who just joined the local government!”. When we look at our roots, when we look at queer oppression as a timeline, we have all of the same evils, all of the same oppressive entities are still the same, and no matter how pink or queer, whatever we make them appear, they’re still creating the same evils and the same oppressions.

There was a TikTok of a local lesbian police officer that got really big, and I was just like, “I know her. I’ve seen you arrest some queer folks before. And your TikTok famous, cute.” So yeah, just when we really look at all of these intersections, we can’t be pro gay cops, while gay cops are arresting Black queer people, Brown queer people, are incarcerating and deporting Brown queer people, Black people, Indigenous queer people, all of these evils are still there. If we put queer in front of it, it does not change that. And that’s the same for pink capitalism, like you talked about Adrian. Like, sure, I can go to Target in July and expect to find some rainbow t-shirts, right? But they’re still made in fucking sweatshops. Just because we put a coat of pink on it doesn’t change the system of oppression and the same status quo that we’re really trying to fight against.

And when we think of like, STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolution, and like that awesome organizing that was happening, it was focusing on people who were incarcerated, was focusing on trans Black and Brown people, it was led by trans Black and Brown people, like that is what, to me, that is where revolution is heading and has always been from. It’s not going to be from the lesbian white cop on TikTok who Asheville loves and had a meet and greet with a rainbow flag behind her, you know? Like, no, that’s not going to be it.

And thinking of, yeah, like Monse, you talked about earlier, there’s a gentrification that’s rapidly pushing Black and Brown folks out of Asheville. Like, that’s another thread that I don’t see a lot of queer organizing, like, really looking at, is that class piece, that racism and class piece, right? Yeah, like there’s a Save Charlotte Street going on in town – which is like important, right? This is a whole community – but it’s white folks that are affluent. And there’s a lot of build up and organizing around that, and like, what about all the Brown folks that were pushed out? What about all the Black folks that were pushed out during the 90’s?

So starting to bring all of that in together and look at that same root that is there, instead of just trying to, like, paint it pink and call it cute. Yeah, that’s the direction I would love for us to be heading in.

Leroy: [sighs exasperatedly] Yeah, “paint it pink and call it cute”, there is slogan to be dissected. Yeah, I feel like that was kind of where my brain was going as far as “where’s the liberatory potential of queerness still?” Is that actually still a thing, or is social capital and social hierarchy kind of just subverting this work into something really superficial? And where I see popularity as the potential thing that’s like drawing people into this, and social cred, more than what this work is actually about? I think that’s something that has been a really disturbing trend to try and assess.

Where it’s like, we have a very trendy logo, some might say, that was designed for us in the last few years, and to see our social media suddenly popping off has been really exciting. And it’s like, at the same time that we want people to come towards us and enter into this work, in the time that I have been involved with TPP, this has been primarily white led organization, and it has primarily been white folks involved. We have not had a lot of people of color come to us and say that they want to be involved in our work. And that isn’t to say, none, but I think that there are uncomfortable questions that I’m okay with being uncomfortable about that, for me, when I think about these things, I’m like, I just continue to sit with more questions than I have answers for. What does it mean for us to just continue to listen to other folks in the community, to continue to show up for other POC and Black led organizations in Asheville, so that we’re not just perpetuating part of the problem?

I’ve sat with this question of “if at some point this work needed to completely dissolve in order for something new to take form that was not the folks who have been leading this project for the time that I’ve been here to occur”…I think that’s part of what change is. It’s like death and rebirth and not being so attached to what we have carved out, what we have created, that we can’t still be humble and know that we, again, don’t have all the answers. So I’m excited for where we continue to get to connect, as you know, these four groups that are in this panel.

I’ll say as far as networking goes, TPP actually just got an email from Georgia chapter of SONG like last night about them wanting to start some books to prisoners work for LGBTQ folks in Georgia. And so we basically just send them like everything that we know about how to do this work, cause that was what they were asking us. And we are really like, “Yes, please. There need to be more groups that are specifically serving LGBTQIA folks that are incarcerated”. Because, again, whether it’s in the South or anywhere in the country that remains one of the most marginalized groups in prison, and we know that so many of those folks are Black and Brown and Indigenous.

And yeah, I think that more and more youth are starting to come to us. We have our first ever high school intern right now and she’s getting ready to plug us to the Racial Justice Coalition at her high school. So I feel like a lot of what’s being names as far as intersectionality in this conversation is really like coming to the surface. And it’s an exciting time for, you know what’s possible right now.

But there is a lot of cooptation at the same time. And so yeah, I really hesitate to say with great confidence like…yeah, there is some, I don’t know…the language might have to change. And I think that that’s actually the place where I want to insert this quote that I pulled from – for the old heads who still know who Critical Resistance is – this anthology Abolition Now from 2008, which at the time was the 10 year anniversary of Critical Resistance, a national abolitionist organizing group. I mean, at this point, it’s been more than 10 years since this book came out, but this is a quote from Alexander Lee, the founder and director of the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project, or TGI Justice Project, of California. Alexander Lee says:

“As we go forward, we should expect to be forced to discard language that limits this movements to prison and the prison industrial complex, in favor of descriptors that foster prickly coalitions with others who don’t see themselves as anti-prison, but who do believe in the sacred nature of human dignity, however imperfectly expressed in practice. The prison abolition movement must expand its arms to envelop the same people who fight for housing but demonized prisoners, who protest war but love to watch CSI, people who marched for civil rights but yell trans slur at trans women, and queers who demand the death penalty when yet another one of us is murdered. We should move into these other sectors and act as the lodestar, pulling everyone towards the ultimate goal of building a world where liberation is the status quo. When we achieve these goals, the abolition of prisons will just be the icing on the cake.”

Scott: Thanks for sharing that. Powerful words. And yeah, I guess maybe if we can just transition. I mean, I’m really grateful for all of you kind of speaking out of your experience and knowledge of doing this movement work. That’s so important. All right well thank you everyone.

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

Eviction Defense, Community Resiliency, and Getting Free

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

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

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

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

Announcements

Wabanaki Community Herbal Apothecary Support

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

Loren Reed

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

Santos Torres

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

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

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

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

Jay Chase

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

Jorge Cornell and Covid-19 at FCI Fort Dix

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Caswell McCarvill

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

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

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

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Public domain music for this show:

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

 

 

RVA In The Uprising with L and Buzz

RVA In The Uprising with L and Buzz

Robert E Lee statue graffitti'd in "Marcus David Peters Circle" in Richmond, VA
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image by JosephA

This week, we’re going to hear two specials in two separate episodes, basically exploding radio edition into it’s components.

In this one you’ve clicked on, you’ll hear L, who works with the Richmond Community Bail Fund, and Buzz talk about their experiences in the streets and doing anti-repression work in Richmond, Virginia, throughout the uprising against police killings sparked by the murder of George Floyd in so-called Minneapolis. They also talk about the decades-long struggle to take down public monuments to the Confederacy, including the reclaiming of the former home of the statue of General R.E. Lee, now known as Marcus David Peters Circle. It was named for a black man murdered by the Richmond police in 2018 while having a mental health crisis.

Amazing projects the guests suggest you check out:

If you want to hear the other half of this dis-enjoined pair, you can look for the episode called ‘Omaha in the Uprising with Mel B’, where anarchist journalist Mel B talks about the city, the marches, the killing of James Scurlock on May 30th and the mass arrest of 120 people on July 25th.

Hotel Sanctuary in MPLS

Hotel Sanctuary in MPLS

modified image of the Sheraton hotel that was taken over and used as shelter in Minneapolis
Download Episode Here

This week we got to connect with Rosemary, who is an organizer in Minneapolis, about the liberation of a former Sheraton Hotel in that city and its slow but steady transformation into something that is becoming so much more than a housing cooperative. They speak about how this resocialization came to happen, some of the circumstances involved, about how this is a very deep collaboration between un-housed folks in Minneapolis and people involved in doing care work, the power of George Floyd who was profoundly involved in doing that same kind of care work with un-housed people, and many many more topics. Check out their new website up at SanctuaryHotel.org and their fundraiser at GoFundMe.com/f/SanctuaryHotel

In this episode, you’ll also hear a statement by anarchist prisoners, Comrade Malik and Sean Swain.  We invite you to stay tuned for mid-week as we release a podcast special for the June 11th day of solidarity with Marius Mason and longterm anarchist prisoners. We hope to feature the voice of a longtime supporter of Marius with updates on his case, and that of anarchist prisoner, anon hacker and Federal Grand Jury resistor, Jeremy Hammond. More about June 11th on June11.org.

. … . ..

Further resources from Rosemary:

Sharing from the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel FedBook page, hoping a website and crowdfunding link will be up soon so stay tuned!
Greetings community. We hope this long post finds you as safe and well as is possible during a righteous uprising. We wanted to provide you some updates and opportunities to plug in.
The Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel is a community-led sanctuary space for over 200 displaced and homeless people who needed safety from the military occupation that occurred following the murder of George Floyd. We center values of autonomy, harm reduction, community care, mutual aid, and abolition.
1. First! This page, started as a space to boost all kinds of different work related to COVID, homelessness, and community care, is transitioning to become the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel Facebook page. Look for changing name and photos shortly!
2. We are overwhelmed with support. This is a good problem to have but we’ve had to rapidly scale up our infrastructure to meet the needs. Here are some ways to plug in:
> If you are media with interview or press release requests, please email: sanctuaryhotelmedia@gmail.com
> If you are a restaurant, catering company, or are interested in providing hot meals, please contact Kimberly at 612-203-2779
> If you are a new volunteer looking to get connected or are a previous volunteer with a special skill set we don’t know about, please fill out this form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScy9VNQ1Xnamf6pUC-kphgXrnI3OwakUucW4YAfYNVz7o5cBg/viewform
3. A few boundaries to set for resident safety, capacity, and COVID reasons:
> Please DO NOT show up at the sanctuary hotel if you are not signed up to work a shift.
> Please NO MORE *non-perishable food* donations.
> Please DO wear a mask when on-site
Please continue to watch this space for more updates as we continue to learn and grow in the work of building a sanctuary.

. … . ..

Vigil For Fallen Comrades 6/7/2020 everywhere

From anarchist BIPOC & accomplices: Since the George Floyd rebellions began on May 26 2020, following his horrific murder by police, at least a dozen more lives have been taken by state and vigilante violence in the struggle for Black freedom. We wish to honor them by making space to say their names, commemorate their lives, and celebrate our own resistance. By acknowledging the risk we all take when we move into the streets, we remember the martyred and continue to fight for the living.

Calling for vigils everywhere, Sunday 6/7 at sundown.

. … . ..

Music for this episode by:

Ratatat – Loud Pipes

. … . ..

Transcription:

This week we got to connect with Rosemary, who is an organizer in Minneapolis, about the liberation of a former Sheraton hotel in that city, and it’s slow but steady transformation into something that is becoming so much more than a housing cooperative. They speak about how this re-socialization came to happen, some of the circumstances involved, about how this is a very deep collaboration between some of the un-housed folks in Minneapolis and people involved in doing care work, the power of George Floyd who was profoundly involved in doing that same kind of care work with un-housed people and many more topics.

And now some words from Comrade Malik, held by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Comrade Malik: Peace and blessings, sisters and brothers, peace and blessings. This is Comrade Malik, reporting in from behind enemy lines at the federal penitentiary in USP Pollock, Louisiana. I’m sure y’all have been observing the news. There is a war on black men in america. From Central Park Karen in New York to the mom who drowned her autistic son in Florida, who do they label the perpetrator of those crimes? Who is the usual suspect? The black man did it.

Like I said last year, it is not just bald headed white males with swastikas tattooed on their bodies who embrace these ideologies of hate. The millions of white women in america who embrace and practice these divisive and hateful white supremacist ideologies. [mocking voice] “Oh my god, this (?) man filming and stalking me! Someone call the police now.”

In 2020, we still ain’t free. I ain’t one of those house negroes y’all done bought. It’s me, Comrade Malik, a servant of the people.

Police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, we all see it on national TV. Yet we have to plea and beg for justice. You call that free? Oh say can you see, I don’t feel like I’m free, locked down in a cell shackled from ankles to feet. Another day in the pen, you now hang from a string. The oppressors would love it if I hung it up, but I ain’t gonna do that.

Ahmad Arbery murdered by vigilantes in Brunswick, Georgia and now our brother George Floyd murdered by the police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A close friend recently said that I shouldn’t mix anger with my messages. They said that you give the oppressors power when you talk about them. I don’t agree with that line of thinking. There is something horribly wrong happening right now in America. We don’t see images of young white men being pinned to the ground by police with kneeled pressed to their necks, the young white man screaming “I can’t breathe! Help me!” We don’t see that on TV.

Why do police in America feel as if it is okay to abuse, mistreat and torture back citizens in America? This is a pervasive and systemic problem. Black men and black women have feelings of anger and hopelessness when we see these images. However, violence against the police is not going to solve our problems. It may feel good for a moment, but it will only make our situation worse. We need justice and we must demand it. And we can’t allow the victimizers to tell us what justice should look like. The Minneapolis police department fired the police who were involved in the murder of George Floyd. That ain’t enough. These police should be tried for murder, they must be tried for their crime against humanity. We should never be allowed to allow law enforcement to do this to us again. However, even if they are tried and sent to prison, that will not solve our problem which is white supremacy, racism and police brutality against black men in america.

As each day passes I am drawn closer to anarchism, and it is our belief as anarchists that we the people must abolish police departments. To some, this abolition of the police may sound like a radical ideal. But please, for one minute, look at things from my perspective. Ingrained in my memory is over twelve years of abuse and torture at the hands of the Texas Department of Criminal Injustice. Ingrained in my memory are the systematic and systemic murder and executions of literally hundreds of unarmed black men and people of color by law enforcement in America. Ingrained in my memory are the children in the state of Texas, thrown into cages by ICE and Border Patrol agents, and ingrained in my memory is the bloody stain and legacy of slavery in America.

I keep saying that we want free, and like Meek Mill, I ask, ‘what’s free?’ I can tell you now, free is not what we have right now.

This is Comrade Malik, reporting in from the federal USP penitentiary at Pollack. Dare to struggle, dare to win. All power to the people.

Announcer: At the time of this recording, Comrade Malik had not heard of Breonna Taylor, and we know that there are plenty of sisters who are being cold-bloodedly murdered all across this country. We say her name, Breonna Taylor.

More of Comrade Malik’s thoughts can be found at ComradeMalik.com

Rosemary: My name is Rosemary, I use they/she pronouns, I live in Minneapolis on occupied Dakota land and I have been part of the efforts here to make a new place to live for about 250 people now, at the former Sheraton Hotel near Lake and Chicago. This was something that was made possible because of George Floyd. He gave us the power to be able to have this building. It’s hard for me to know exactly how to characterize it because it’s so new and it feels weird because we are winning and I wasn’t expecting that to happen quite so rapidly, but all thanks to George Floyd for giving us the power to carry on his legacy of supporting people experiencing homelessness by housing so many people.

TFSR:Absolutely, thanks for that. The whole really not understanding how to interface with winning is really resonating for me right now. Would you speak about your general experiences on the ground in Minneapolis since the murder of George Floyd?

Rosemary: So, I can really only speak to things in my neighborhood. I know that there have been things happening Northside, Midway and around the Twin Cities. In south Minneapolis there’s some pretty tight knit community and there’s just been so much happening. So there’s uprising that seems to have spread really far at this point and part of that is complicated so, there’s been a lot of property destructions for miles. Miles of buildings that have been burned and business that have been looted – or whatever – and it went on for days, it’s just very widespread. The landscape right now feels really different and still evolving, it’s hard for me to process what’s going to be happening during the day. There’s just a lot of energy going into a lot of different directions right now. And so during the day people would be out with brooms and trash bags, bringing out a grocery store’s equivalent of food donations by the side of the street, and people biking and driving up and down to see what was going on, and then go out at night and do it all over again.

There’s a lot of excitement that has come with things like burning the police station –

TFSR: I can only imagine.

[laughter]

Rosemary: Yeah, and like, multiple banks and large corporate retail outlet stores. And it’s complicated, there’s a lot of consequences from that in terms of food security, and family-owned, immigrant-owned, black-owned businesses and clinics and pharmacies and lot of disruption to basic needs things for people. The fires were affecting things in a major way for residents as well, and so a lot of people had to evacuate their houses in the night. There’s a number of people who lost their homes, especially if they were living above businesses. Everything has changed. I’m just trying to think about what it’s going to look like next, to think a few steps ahead. This in an area that has already faced a lot of speculation and gentrification, it’s very possible that this could accelerate that if there isn’t some organizing to address some of the land issues that we’re facing right now.

I think that the effort with commandeering this hotel will really help with propelling that in the right direction, it’s building on other tenant’s organizing that’s been happening with being able to get tenant ownership and cooperative control of the buildings that they’ve been living in so there’re been some good victories with that. In general some very strong organizing has been happening around housing issues that’s been uniting tenant’s organizing with people that have been organizing around homelessness, and un-sheltered homelessness, harm reduction work and public housing. I’m very, very excited about the ways these different communities and movements are coming together in a way that I’ve never seen. Historically it’s been hard to have housing organizers and homelessness organizers together, and particularly in the realm of homelessness, a lot of that happens through nonprofit-type, professionalized setting, and a lot of us work in that industry and that can be a limiting factor when it comes to being able to imagine more radical changes.

Right now we’re in this moment when our imaginations are all being challenged in some really new ways. We have to build back up from the ground and there are things happening that just did not seem possible. There are things happening because of the Covid pandemic that seemed impossible. The kinds of acts that I would have thought of two weeks ago seem super mellow now so being able to push ourselves to think of a horizon that seemed farther out than I realized…it’s good to be challenged in that way.

TFSR: That’s really amazing and I think that this is something that this country has not seen probably in more than a hundred years, so feeling your way forward, building up from the ground – I feel very resonant with that as well, thank you for going into that. Could you talk about how this liberation of the hotel happened, what is some context for this event; what do you see as some catalyzing moment or moments?

Rosemary: George Floyd was the catalyst. I don’t know how widely this is known but George Floyd worked at the largest homeless shelter in town for years, so there’s a lot of people that are living in the former hotel that knew him. This wouldn’t have been possible without him. He didn’t sign up to advocate like this and I don’t know how to characterize this in the right way at this point, there’s no way this would have been possible without the power that he’s given to all of us. There’s a lot of things that have happened spontaneously and I want to embrace that. This is something that we had been thinking about, and looking at, and dreaming about and thinking it would be kind of too hard to pull off for a while now. So it became possible this week and so we’re doing it, we’re just doing it and it keeps working out, I keep being surprised by all the things that are falling into place. All that’s a bit vague, I’m happy to get more into specifics if you like.

TFSR: Yeah, what I’m hearing you say is the groundwork for this thing that is unfolding before our eyes with the former Sheraton is that organizing had been laid brick by brick slowly over the years and then the catalyzing moment was George Floyd and his work and his like, people wanting to honor his memory and honor his life in this way. I’m wondering about the initial moments of the hotel takeover, are you willing to speak about that at all? I’d be really interested to hear how it happened blow by blow.

Rosemary: Yeah, and it’s weird, ‘cause there were no blows, too. I do want to make sure that it’s understood that it’s something that we’ve been organizing toward for a while and that organizing work was based on really deep relationships that people have with people that are experiencing un-sheltered homelessness in particular. And the relationships between particularly care workers and people who are experiencing un-sheltered homelessness, so people who work in the industry and have a radical analysis, people who are part of (?) Harm Reduction or other rad harm reduction outreach efforts, responses in the past to encampments in the area, native organizers since in un-sheltered homelessness here there’s just massive racial disparities – that just has to be very named and clear. So these were deep relationships that were made and expanded upon through the mutual aid organizing efforts that people have been doing all over the place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There’s this really, really smart groundwork laid where we use mutual aid efforts as a deliberate response to be outside of state control, to provide sort of a wedge to force public sector, nonprofit sector to pay attention to un-sheltered experiences. So with a stay at home order closing transit, libraries and public spaces, the shelters are full, there’s nowhere to go, people’s hustles dried up, money’s tight and by sort of really strategically mobilizing the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic and expanding the base of who is involved to be more than industry workers made this possible. It created conditions for people to have true, real relationships with our neighbors. I’m saying our…I don’t know exactly how to talk about these different kind of relationships right now, it’s complicated and I’m going to mess it up as I’m talking about because the reality is there are class and race and other divides between people who are doing care work and showing up in support of housed neighbors and people who are un-sheltered.

So those relationships were worked on really deliberately and around the country there’s been efforts. There’s empty hotels because the industry is failing due to the pandemic but there are people who don’t have a place to live. In Minnesota there are 82,000 hotel rooms and 20,000 people who are homeless – it’s obvious there’s no resource scarcity problem when you do the math, it’s an issue of distribution and choice and will and what we’re willing to do. And so around the country that’s an obvious thing and there’s been a lot of effort to reduce the concentration of crowded shelters, to reduce the spread of COVID. There have been a lot of institutional responses and it was never enough, it was systematically discriminating against people who were un-sheltered and weren’t part of a coordinated, formalized entry system. Like a poverty management model, this technocracy of how we deal with this problem of homelessness. So that’s the model that we’ve all been trying to challenge and that we’re also socialized into working and thinking in. The mutual aid work not only allowed for more people to have real relationships with unhoused neighbors, it also allowed those of us who have been working in the industry for a long time to shift the way we think about things and expand the imagination.

I want to make that clear, it’s not like these things just happened. You gotta do the groundwork, you gotta have relationships with people. You need to have actual relationships with people. That being said, the play-by-play of how we pulled this off was we tried to be really deliberate about exhausting all of our options and then moving someone in here and refusing to leave. It was exactly the right moment because the need was really obvious. The first night we had someone come in here the community paid for the room, above board. It was really necessary, the curfew had just been instituted, the national guard was invading the city as we were moving them the guard was approaching with a massive platoon of hundreds of guardsmen and armored vehicles, it was super surreal, we were very close to the third precinct and then just moving a mile down the way near Chicago and Lake to the former Sheraton hotel.

That night that intersection got real burnt, like hellscape burnt. There really were no other guests in the hotel other than journalists at that point, but there had been some families here because there’s a hospital nearby, who were here staying in the hotel because they had sick loved ones nearby. We had been looking at this site as a target for a while and were reluctant to do anything because we didn’t want to displace anyone who was staying here because they had sick family members. You know, do no harm. Then the hotel manager realized it was unsafe to be in the building with everything that was going on around, and planned to evacuate all the hotel guests out. So once we realized we wouldn’t be displacing anybody, we just went for it and crossed our fingers to see if it would work.

So we divided up roles in a way that would suit people’s talents. I got to be the talent of stubborn and just stay in the room, while other people who were more talented at negotiating with the owner did a very good job of that. The approach was just that we were trying to get another block of rooms for people who were still left behind and un-sheltered and displaced, and really just inform him that we were going to be here now. And then the owner said “Yeah”.

I mean, it took a lot of convincing and some of that convincing was having like ten of fifteen people, not even that many, who were waiting outside ready to come sit in the lobby when needed. He was inspired to say yes, and he’s still saying yes, and we now have an entire hotel, we have master keys to all the rooms, he trained volunteers in the system to make the keys so he can go home and sleep. It’s been a really interesting sort of relationship to have with the property owner. He is a motivated seller, the industry is tanked and in now the neighborhood around us the property values have tanked. We’ve essentially shamed the system into having to do something about un-sheltered homelessness in a better way and showing them what a better way is, and it’s worked.

We have a lot of support offered though county, state and city and different foundations. It’s complicated because those things can come with strings attached so we’re in a really powerful position right now and we know it. We’re taking our time and are really adamant the residents will be the ones who decide how this land will be held, and are letting things take the time that it needs to do that. It’s been a lesson in stepping into power and it’s still sinking in. People are here and are still worried about getting kicked out or this and that, and it’s sinking in now. At resident meetings (it’s majority native and black residents) people are saying things like “I used to be homeless.” There’s a woman who was saying the other day “We got our land back.” It’s not about having rooms, at really deep and fundamental level housing people is how we can redistribute land, housing is land, and we’re in need of some massive land and resource redistribution and this is one way of putting into pragmatic practice land repatriation. I’m hoping we’re able to shore up support in a way that lets that be the analysis that comes to fruition and doesn’t get sidetracked. We’re all conditioned to have constrained imaginations around this, it’s just a very unique thing.

TFSR: Thank you so much for going into that. Is there anything more you wanted to say on that topic?

Rosemary: I think we’ve been inspired by other work and I hope to learn more about what other people have been working on that we don’t know about but we’ve been inspired by Moms for Housing and the Homefulness community in Oakland who sent us a message of solidarity and support, that was really rad. There have been some actions with COVID organizing around commandeering hotels that have been limited to taking a room for a day and having some tight symbolic action with that, like some of the stuff Street (?) in LA has done, that has been cool. But like, we got an entire hotel and I think we might get another one, we got a long waiting list, and I just want that to spread.

TFSR:Absolutely. Just hearing you talk about it, I feel so activated and inspired in a good way, about what you all are doing and definitely sparking ideas on this end. We also live in an extremely hotel and tourist driven economy is that is pretty much going down the toilet right now and I’m just wondering about parallels we can draw.

Rosemary: Housing people keeps us healthy and safe. COVID has forced people to think about the impact of and connection between them because they’re afraid of getting sick from like the masses, and this is a different way of thinking about it. It has taken the awareness that I am affected by you and you are affected by me and our neighbors, and that housing people is a way of boosting people’s health and community health. This is a way of providing for health and safety in our community, not just for now but for the long term, we need to be thinking really carefully how we are responding, not just to COVID and not just to the aftermath of riots or the uprising but to this global economic depression we’re entering. How are we going to mobilize a community? If the economy in your area is failing, what are the resources and assets in the community and how can you make those community assets versus a privately held entity.

The other thing I’m exited about now is the union workers who used to work in the hotel here when it was a Sheraton, they’d been laid off I think about a month ago. And today the union workers came. The relationship between how we use our labor, how we’re grounded on the land that we’re on, all these things – it just feels really deep right now. We have the power right now, things just keep coming together.

TFSR: That’s really amazing. So the union workers came back to work at the hotel?

Rosemary: The union workers came back to see what we’re doing here, and see how they can offer support for what’s happening. I’m hopeful there can be an ongoing relationship about how organized labor and the workers who work here can be working together with the ongoing efforts here. Just as a connection point, too, shelter workers like George Floyd – it’s not like a high income job. One of the shelters in town, the starting wage is like $12/hr. Meanwhile just spitting distance from here, is a building that was not burned, a new condo building with these tiny rooms with murphy beds for like $1400 a month. So shelter workers can’t afford housing, so the connection between unionized work in a place that is now housing and what is happening in the homeless service industry is an important one to be making and is inspired by the disparate movements and communities that are coming together to learn from each other. I am learning so much right now, I feel silly being the person talking about this because there are so many people who are really solid strong organizers who have laid the groundwork work this or have been integral in making this happening. People are working their butts off to keep this going, it’s not easy, there’s a crisis around every corner but it’s happening.

TFSR: Since we only have a few minutes left I would love to ask how people, our listeners can best support y’all and are there ways folks can help get your back and send support and resources if that’s desired?

Rosemary: Yeah, the number one way would be to organize in your own community. Getting those messages of solidarity and support from other places is really really hopeful and hopefully we’ll get to the point where we can do the same for other communities as well. We’re pretty overwhelmed right now with trying to build everything up from the ground, so we’re still trying to get the infrastructure in place to handle an influx of volunteers and donations, and how to have a good system for responsibly taking in donations. I’m happy to pass on more information because I think it’ll be coming together soon here.

TFSR: Yeah, I would love to include that in the show notes. Just finally thank you so much for your time and your willingness to speak to us.

Rosemary: Yeah, thanks so much for sharing this story and I look forward to seeing what other people are doing.

The Ovas Speak on Living and Fighting in L.A.; La Concha, the Psyco Brigade, Feminism, and Anti-Racisms

The Ovas Speak on Living and Fighting in L.A.; La Concha, the Psyco Brigade, Feminism, and Anti-Racisms

Download Episode Here

This week I had the chance to interview three people who organize with La Concha, which is an anarchist space in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles that does many projects such as prisoner solidarity, legal and popular education, reading groups, bike brigades, and lots else. We talk about their work, and how the three came to be doing what they are doing right now, and also about the incursions that they’ve been experiencing from authoritarian Communists in the area. I felt great getting to have this conversation with them and really energized to build where I’m at, but also to help build more bridges between places all over so we as anarchists can enrich and nuance each other’s thinking and praxis.

Big thanks to the folks at Firestorm for putting TFSR in touch with La Concha! Here’s to many more colabs and for a furtherance of anarchist, Indigenous, and decolonial spaces.

To learn more about La Concha and the Psycos, you can follow them on all their social medias:

-On Instagram for @la_conxa, @ovarian_psycos, and @psycobrigade

-FedBook is at https://www.facebook.com/ovarian.psycos/

To see all their merch, which is how they raise funds for rent on their space, you can go to ovarian-psycos.zibbet.com

For a website to visit to see some of their initial writings and blog posts, you can go to ovarianpsycos.com

You can learn more about the Institute for Advanced Troublemaking you can go to their website at https://advancedtroublemaking.wordpress.com/

To read the zine they were mentioning called AlwaysAgainstTheTanks, follow the link!

Also if you come across a documentary about the Ovas and are curious to watch it, get in touch with them for a copy! For this inquiry and all others, say if you have something to contribute to the zine they were talking about, you can email them at ovarian.psycos@gmail.com

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Music for this show is by:

Xela de la X – Red Star (musical break)

Clapback – La Marea Vuelve (outro)

“We either organize or we die, our lives depend on this!” – Reflections on Anarchism in Borikén (Puerto Rico) after Hurricane Maria and #RickyRenuncia

Anarchist Perspectives in Puerto Rico

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This week we have the opportunity to share a talk by Coco (they/them pronouns), who is a queer, Black, Puerto Rican anarchist about the recent 17 days of direct action against no-longer-governor Ricardo Rosselló and organizing as an anarchist after Hurricane Maria.

They talk about some of the lead up to these revolts – about the fascist campaign and term of office of Ricardo Rosselló -, the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, decolonization and fighting US imperialism as it relates to PR, queer people and femmes on the front lines of the protests about Ricardo Rosselló, the active warping of this situation by media outlets, and many many more topics!

Coco originally presented this talk at the Another Carolina Anarchist Bookfair 2019 on Saturday August 24th.

I wanna give voice to something that came up in the Q&A after the talk, which was not recorded, in which Coco made space for an open conversation about revolt in Puerto Rico. They asked of the audience what we thought when #RickyRenuncia was trending on Twitter, and people were saying stuff like “we need to look to PR and learn from people there in order to figure out what to do where we’re at”. And a really good conversation wound out about disaster/riot tourism that has always been a problematic current on the far left, especially where the struggles of non-white folks are concerned. It was located in that conversation that the support of people interfacing with struggle that isn’t theirs is very conditional and fragile, and it was stated by participants of the conversation that there needs to be another way of looking at struggle that doesn’t involve an attitude of entertainment style consumption but rather comes from a place of real solidarity and real support.

As Coco stated, the media has really been messing with the narrative of what has been going on in PR, painting it either as super pacifist or like people are “out of control hooligans” or other such nonesense. For better sources of information, you can visit our blog at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org where we will post links to people and accounts you can follow who are on the ground or have a perspective that isn’t beholden to the larger capitalist media outlets.

Those links are:

https://twitter.com/_DESinformate

https://twitter.com/TodasPR

https://twitter.com/ClaridadPR

https://twitter.com/80grados

Here is an announcement on behalf of the upcoming Queer Conference at UNC Asheville:

Communities? Will a rainbow flag on a police car protect queer folks from a culture built around (trans)misogyny / misogynoir and sexual assault?

We are constantly reminded that our culture is still built on anti-black, anti-queer violence by the all too frequent murders of black transwomen, the further criminalization of queer sex workers, and the erasure of rural LGBTQ+ identities experiencing the pains of addiction, joblessness, and lack of resources. Today, we are at another fork in the road, where there is nominal acceptance of certain gay and lesbian identities (namely white, educated, middle-class families), while a wide range of experiences of people under the LGBTQ+ umbrella get forgotten. As queerness becomes hip and queer subcultural styles are being bought and sold, we must ask how the culture, lives, and sexuality behind the looks can survive and thrive. With the rise of global fascism, the impending doom of large-scale environmental collapse, and the inevitable next crash of capitalism, can we still envision a queerness that seeks liberation rather than admission to the status quo and benefits of a vastly unequal US society? How can we balance these visions with protecting the precarious lives most threatened by the current sociopolitical landscape?

To submit a proposal, follow the link at https://queercon.wp.unca.edu/

For any questions you can email qsconf@unca.edu

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Music by:

Princess Nokia – Brujas (instrumental loop by William)

Ruby Ibarra – Us off of Circa 91

Calle 13 – Afilando los Cuchillos, or Sharpening the Knives, which is all about the revolts against Ricardo Rosselló.

BAD News: March 2019 (#20)

March 2019

Welcome to BAD News, Angry Voices From Around The World for March, 2019. This podcast is a produce of the A-Radio Network, a network of anarchist and anti-authoritarian podcasts, radio shows and radio stations from around Europe, North and South America.

Download the file or play the archive.

If you are a part of a project that would like to participate in this unique and growing network, please email us at a-radio-network@riseup.net, or via any of the participating projects.

This month, we’re excited to share with you the following Angry Voices:

  • Dissident Island Radio from London, UK, will be sharing a roundup of this last months news of interest to anarchists from around the UK;
  • Comrades from the self-organized, independent radio station 105FM of Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos Island will be updating on struggles and actions in the Aegean Sea region of Greece;
  • A-Radio Berlin shares an interview Michael Prutz of the initiative Deutsche Wohnen un Co. enteignen, which translates roughtly as “Expropriate housing corporations”and semi-socializing the difficult Berlin housing market;
  • Crna Luknja who interviewed self-organized anarchist women in Turkey affiliated with DAF.

(total length: 30min 56sec)