Category Archives: harm reduction

Aishah Shahidah Simmons on Love WITH Accountability (Rebroadcast)

Aishah Shahidah Simmons on Love WITH Accountability (Rebroadcast)

Book cover of "love WITH accountability", purple color, a tree with leaves appearing as blue, pink and purple flowers
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This week we re-air an interview done with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who is a writer, community organizer, prison abolitionist, and cultural worker who has done just an immense amount of work over the years to help disrupt and end the patterns of sexual abuse and assault within marginalized communities. In this interview we talk about a lot of things, her background and how she came to be doing the work shes doing right now, how better to think about concepts like accountability, what doing this work has been like for her as an out lesbian woman, and about her book Love WITH Accountability, Digging Up the Roots of Childhood Sexual Abuse which was published in 2019 from AK Press.

This interview feels very important right now, because we are in a time of overturn, tumult, stress, and uncertainty, and I think that in order for us to really be able to knuckle down and go in this for the long haul itll be imperative for our radical communities to take solid care of ourselves and of each other. I hope you get as much out of hearing Aishah’s words as I did conducting and editing this interview.

Before we get started, as a content notice: we will be talking about some difficult topics in this interview. I will do my best to repeat this notice at regular intervals, but please do take care and treat yourself kindly (however that looks).

To keep up with Aishah, for updates on future projects and more:

To support our guest, in a time where much if not all of her income is in peril:

Some more ways you can see our guest’s past work:

And so many more links on her website!

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Featured Tracks:

Philip Glass – Metamorphosis 1 (mixing by William)

Clutchy Hopkins – LAUGHING JOCKEY – Story Teller 2012

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Transcription

TFSR: This week I am very excited to present an interview done with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, who is a writer, community organizer, prison abolitionist, and cultural worker who has done just an immense amount of work over the years to help disrupt and end the patterns of sexual abuse and assault within marginalized communities. In this interview, we talk about a lot of things: her background and how she came to be doing the work she’s doing right now; how to better think about concepts like accountability; doing the kind of work that she is doing as an out lesbian woman; and about her book Love WITH Accountability: Digging up the Roots of Childhood Sexual Abuse, which was published in 2019, from AK Press.

This interview feels really important for me right now, because we are at a time of overturn, of tumult, stress and uncertainty. And I think that in order for us to really be able to knuckle down and go in this for the long haul, it’ll be imperative for our radical communities to take solid care of ourselves and of each other. I hope you get as much out of hearing Aishah’s words as I did conducting and editing this interview.

Before we get started, as a content notice, we will be talking about some difficult topics in this interview. I will do my best to repeat this notice at regular intervals, but please do take care and treat yourself kindly however that looks. I let some words from Aishah’s introduction to Love WITH Accountability lead us into the main interview.

Aishah Shahidah Simmons: The conscious breath can be a grounding anchor. It is in this context that I insert the word breathe in between every five chapters to invite you to pause, take conscious breaths, and ground yourself while reading. Whatever you decide, please take your time and please take compassionate care while reading, imagining and working for a world without violence. Breathe. This is sacred space.

My name is Aishah Shahidah Simmons. My pronouns are she and her. I am a culture worker, in terms of creating work that’s used to, hopefully, make our culture and society better places to live in. And specifically, my work is on sexual violence, disrupting and ending rape, child sexual abuse. And focusing my center is in diasporic Black communities, because this is an international reality, sexual violence knows no boundary. I view it as work that transcends race, but very clear that my focus and my lens as a filmmaker, as a writer, are diasporic Black communities.

Before I could get to the anthology, I first started working not necessarily on child sexual abuse, but on sexual violence, through my film, NO! The Rape Documentary that I spent 11 to 12 years making from 1994 to 2006. And the film looks at sexual violence and accountability and healing in Black communities. And I start with NO! because Love with Accountability…without NO! I’m not sure Love WITH Accountability would exist. I am a child sexual abuse survivor, I’m also an adult rape survivor, I was raped my sophomore year in college. But while making NO! I couldn’t really touch child sexual abuse. And both my parents are prominently featured in NO!, they did not sexually harm me at all, however they were bystanders to the abuse because I told them what happened.

And I really think it’s important because I think that when those of us who are able to break our silence around the harm that we’ve experienced in our lives, there’s an assumption of like, Oh, I could never do that. Oh, you’re so strong” or xyz for anything, even while working on my film NO! I couldn’t even touch my child sexual abuse, so, with all of the work. And so for me, it just leads to like, the subtitle of Love WITH Accountability in terms of digging up the roots of child sexual abuse, because, for me, I’ve fully believe that child sexual abuse is foundational to all forms of sexual violence. And it is mainly because it’s for most of us the first places where we are violated and is the first place that we are taught to protect the institution known as the family. And so then over time as an institution expands to the church or the mosque or the synagogue or the temple, to the school, to the college university, to the activist organization, the community organization, to government. I think that it really begins at home and so that’s why I just want to like in terms of just recognizing while I was doing, I hope, important work around addressing sexual violence committed against adults by adults predominantly, that I, even as a child sexual abuse survivor, couldn’t even touch child sexual abuse until moving into this work called Love WITH Accountability.

And I started the project in terms of recognizing that there isn’t one answer, there isn’t a one size fits all, that it’s going to take multiple hands by multiple generations to address it. And so I really wanted to begin with an anthology, with a chorus of voices bringing a diversity of experiences, expertise, and ideas and visions about how we can not only disrupt it, but ultimately end it and how can we do it in a humane way that centers survivors — the most immediate survivors, recognizing that many who caused the harm are also survivors — without dehumanizing all those involved, but really inviting them in or calling them in to be accountable, and to change their behavior, and hopefully move towards a place where these things don’t exist anymore.

I view myself as a prison abolitionist. But when I say “I view myself there’s viewing and being, and it’s an exercise, I work at it every day. I don’t believe that there’s anyone who should be in prison, right? And then for me, it’s: what does it mean, what does accountability look like outside of prisons? And sometimes what I’ve observed happening is that there’s been a lot of kind of conversation on that, than it is around: how are we going to protect the children? How are we going to protect the survivors? And I think it’s a bothand, and not an eitheror, and I think that our society has set it up is that it’s eitheror.

And this is what excites me about the work that so many are doing around both transformative justice and also restorative justice. That people are really working towards both-and. We have to be mindful about how do we center the survivors needs, right? And that that doesn’t get lost in conversations around ensuring that people are not harmed by the state. Like, and so I want to do both.

What we know is that communities of color, and specifically Black, Indigenous Latinx communities are disproportionately incarcerated, so we know that. And most of those folks are not incarcerated for having harmed the members in their community, right? So while most sexual harm is intraracial, meaning within the community, it tends to be the interracial, outside of the community, sexual harm that gets the high profiles. And then it becomes like, what victims survivors get values, right who do we value more? And so we know that BIPOC — Black Indigenous People of Color women, femmes, trans folks, that we are not valued. Our voices, our experiences are not valued. They’re not valued in the criminal justice system and court of law so it becomes like, who gets prosecuted? What happens? So we just look at it that way, right?

And then in terms of the horrors that’s going on in prison there are all these jokes, oh, well, at least you gonna go to prison, like he’s going to get prison justice. I can’t stand it. It’s so rooted in homophobia. It’s just so barbaric. To me, somebody may have committed a heinous crime, but is that the response to then be heinous towards that person? Studies show that 40 to 45% of the rapes that occur in prison have been at the hands of correctional personnel. We’re not talking about other inmates, that people are being abused and assaulted by correctional personnel. And so if that is the case, who are you going to call? Who are you going to report that your body has been violated by the very people who are charged with quote, unquote, guarding you? There’s no real therapy, therapeutic sources happening in prisons.

So just this notion — unless somebody is doing life, which is horrific, and just completely inhumane that they’re going to serve their time and then when they come out, what were they taught? Was there any training? Was there any understanding of what occurred? I don’t think that we arrived here on the planet as molesters of children, as rapists, I don’t believe that. So what happened in their lives, that they started using violence in response, to either sexual desire, to power, to all these things, we have to understand that. And that requires a lot of work, and a lot of different types of resources. Because we know that the prison industrial complex is a multibillion dollar industry. So it’s not about not having the resources. It’s about what we choose to spend the resources on.

What would it be like if we created environments, they are healing spaces, where people understand the origins of the harm and heal from that, that is what we need. I want to transform society, I don’t want crime and punishment. Yes, people need to be held accountable for the harm that they caused. Yes, we have to make sure that they don’t continue to commit the harm. All of that. But I believe that we can do that, that is not punitive, that encourages all of us to call on our best selves.

We’re in a very mean spirited society. And to be clear, this country was founded on rape, genocide, theft of land, theft of people. So you know, I don’t want to act like oh, this is a mean society because of the person, the occupant, in the White House right now, I’m not going to be a revisionist. We haven’t really dealt with the origins of the fact that rape and genocide and theft is the very fiber, the very foundation, of not only this country, but all of the countries in the Americas and the Caribbean.

And Qui Alexander who is also one of the contributors to the anthology his piece is called Thoughts on Discipline, Justice, Love and Accountability: Redefining Words to Reimagine Our Realities, and Qui has done a lot of really important work working with the harm doers. I use harm doers and not perpetrators” and that’s very conscious. And I credit restorative justice and transformative justice movements with my understanding of that. We’re all learning and we’re learning from each other. And it’s on a continuum, it doesn’t just happen. Because I used to say perpetrators I didn’t think about it like in terms of harm. We need all folks on deck in terms of like, we need those folks who are going to work specifically with the harm doers, like and that is their calling. And that is the work in terms of really helping them to transform and do the work that needs to be done in response to the harm that they’ve caused. And then we need the folks who are focused on the most immediate survivors.

And I think one of the things that I appreciate about Cyreé Jarelle’s chapter is that they talk about what happens when you have disabilities. I mean Cyreé Jarelle talks about being autistic, and how they, how autistic children or children who have any forms of disorders, how they are, it’s like, it’s like “oh those poor parents. It’s just like we don’t see the children, so that even when they are being harmed, we don’t even see it, when they are more susceptible than the child who doesn’t have disabilities, when they are more susceptible to relying on care by providers who can also cause harm, and no one even really checking for them.

So just briefly, I was abused by my grandfather for two years. And I told my parents and they didn’t remove me from the situation. So there’s the two years of the abuse. It ended, and the only reason I know I ended was because of hindsight. So it ended but I still engaged with, loved, cared for, all of that, my grandfather. I’m 51 or will be. And so this started in 79 when I was 10. My grandfather became gravely ill in 2010. So we’re talking about a long time of no accountability. Not only him but by my parents. I didn’t seek any accountability from my grandfather.

And so it was a complicated thing where he became gravely ill and I played a role in saving his life. I was the person who was by his side and really advocating after a serious crisis occurred up until the point where my father and aunt were able to come. And it was there that everything imploded for me, that was 2010. And then my grandpa became an ancestor and I did not go to his funeral. In 2015, I realized that not only was a grave injustice done to me by my grandfather, but that by my parents, who are really incredible human rights activists who’ve been on frontlines of struggle, internationally, nationally for over 50 years. And I share that to emphasize we have to really move beyond these kind of notions and ideas of who the bystanders are, who the harm doers are. Like, I find that so much it’s like rooted and really classist, definitely racist, elitist versions of like, oh, who does it”.

So I started reaching out to them — they’re divorced — and signing my communiques love WITH accountability in the with was always all caps, so it’d be love WITH accountability, because I was essentially saying that while I love you, and I believe that you are love me that that love is not going to shield you from accountability. So that’s where it came from, didn’t, wasn’t thinking about a project, wasn’t thinking about anthology. In 2015, I was 46 years old and at that point, my film NO! had been out for, what, nine years?! And had been screened all over and translated and all of that, and was very much known as an antiviolence advocate. And again, I hone in on all of these things because I think that we have to really — those of us who are survivors be kind and gentle with ourselves about when or if we’re even able to face abuse. Because even with all of the work that I’d done and I was always out about being a rape survivors, especially I never could fully talk about my child sexual abuse. There was so much shame and I always thought it was because I was protecting Pop Pop, and I was protecting my grandfather, but I was really also protecting my parents.

And I also want to say that my grandfather, like all of us, are complex. He took care of my grandmother, for 10 years when she had Alzheimer’s. For 10 years. And he took care of her around the clock, it is because of him that she never set foot in a nursing home. And he did it almost single handedly. And I think that that played a role in my own silencing, right, because he was the hero who took care of my grandmother, and he was definitely my sexual terrorist.

And so, again, these complexities. And I just really think about this in this era of Harvey Weinstein being sentenced to 23 years and Bill Cosby is in jail and R. Kelly’s in jail I don’t know what’s going to ultimately happen — and not by any stretch of the imagination say that they should have not done horrific, unspeakable, outrageous, disgusting, inhumane things, to women and children. I want to be really, really clear. But I’m not really sure how prison is going towhat is prison doing? And each one of those men and all of the other people who have committed harm in our families, they don’t do it alone. There is a whole culture that surrounds them that enable them to do it.

So for me, my parents didn’t stop it. And I told, for all the people, the survivors, that we hear, I’m just thinking about celebrities, people told and nothing was done, because people were making money, whatever, all the reasons. And so this notion of Yay, Harvey is going to go to jail for 23 years. I’m like, who are all the people that allowed it to happen for decades?” Like and there is another Harvey Weinstein right now as we speak, happening, that we don’t even know about. So it’s like if we don’t really tackle the issues of who’s committing the immediate harm, but also all the people that are surrounding it, and then to think that therefore we can lock up everybody? Like, we’d be locking up most people, because all of us have, indirectly, even myself! I have to think about what are the ways in which I have indirectly allowed harm to occur, let alone the harm that I have caused, not sexual harm, but the harm I’ve caused my friends, my loved ones, that we make these people monsters, rather than saying no people commit monstrous acts.

What’s really important is that we understand that healing is a journey, and it’s not a destination. That’s the first and key thing particularly with CSAchild sexual abuse and even rape but definitely in child sexual abuse and even if you haven’t come to grips with it until being an adult like, it’s so layered, right? And the other thing, and this is something I am constantly learning and relearning, is that healing cannot be contingent on someone being accountable to you for the harm that they’ve caused. Because there are so many instances where that will never happen. Either because they died, because they said I didn’t do it”. In Indigenous communities in this country and elsewhere, it’s like, in terms of the laws and Indigenous communities, so much of the harm happens externally, right? And then those people who are white are not even held accountable. Tribal law is outside of the US Justice System. And I bring that up — and I don’t know a lot so I’m not going to stay there, because there’s nothing worse than talking about something you don’t fully understand, and particularly not being a member of particular Indigenous nations I bring that up to say that, I’ve heard many Indigenous women saying that we have to focus on healing, and doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to fight and seek justice and accountability. But we have to focus on healing. And I would offer that that is the case for most of us in marginalized communities, right?

And again, like we know, the criminal justice system is flawed. We’re not even seen as being capable of being raped or molested, as children or as adults. It’s just not, we’re not even seen as the victims, so to speak. So we can’t rely on institutions and structures that don’t even see our humanity. That we have to rely on our own practices and cultures, many of which we’ve not had access to, because of enslavement, because of genocide, because of colonialism, because of forced migration. But then there’s so many of us where we are relearning and tapping into methods and modalities.

I believe, for me, I don’t know where I would be without therapy. I’ve been very, very fortunate to be able to work with a Black feminist psychologist who supported my healing journey by making her fees accessible to what I could afford, and sometimes what I could afford was single digits, literally. And then I practice meditation, that has been very powerful for me in terms of focusing on intentional and conscious breath, particularly in periods of rage and periods of sadness, to let my breath be an anchor. And intentional because we’re always breathing, until we don’t breathe. Being in community with other survivors who are working on healing, as a reminder that I’m not alone, I’m not the only person who’s experienced the harm. I don’t have to do this work alone. That I think that there are ways in which how we kind of come together around all kinds of really important political issues, and really trying to change our society the political system, the criminal justice systemthat we also have to make space to come together as survivors.

And I think bystanders and harm doers have to really do that work as well. I say this as a survivor, but also recognizing that I want all of us well. I want all of us well because I really want us to cocreate a world where there will one day be children who look back and say, they did that?”

This is why I call upon my comrade, my friend, my sister, Walida Imarisha, who talks about the power of speculative fiction. And that is envisioning the world that doesn’t exist. So often we’re like no to this, no to that”, and we have to, right? We gotta resist, we gotta say no cops in the schools, no prisons” “no rape, but we also have to do that work of envisioning. And when we think about all of us, in terms of our ancestors, we are the result of speculative fiction, particularly those of us who come from marginalized communities. That our ancestors before us didn’t know that I wouldn’t be here doing this work, but it is because of the choices that they made, good and bad *laughs*, that I am here. And so for me, I’m definitely wanting it to change right now in this instance. But I want to think about the generations that I don’t know I’m on that long distance, intergenerational run. And I think that if we think of it that way, then we can really come up with some, just incredible visions, and then begin to do that work. As long as we’re trying to do that one size fits all instantaneous we’re going to end it in one generation, how?! When we’ve got so many generations behind us. Like, how are we going to do that? And maybe if you can show me how we’re going to do it, great! I’m not saying we can’t do it, but don’t do it in a way that cuts off someone on the margin, because it doesn’t work with our quick program.

TFSR: And the one size fits all approach has is the thing that got us here in the first place.

AS: Exactly. Exactly. So NO! focuses on sexual violence committed against cisender Black women and girls by cisgender Black men and boys. So for me rape was something that happened to cis women at the hands of cis men. Period. Like, and I think it’s really important to share that, because to talk about the evolutionso often people share where they are in this moment, but they don’t talk about the process to get where they are. So for me, my vision for Love WITH Accountability expanded because of my understanding that sexual violence knows no boundary. It’s not about a gender. It is about human. So that trans children, gender nonbinary, men, boys, all are being harmed, and women commit sexual harm so we have to kind of move beyond that. We can talk about Yes, the majority of the numbers that have been reported, but new studies are coming out, for instance, that you know, gender nonconforming, gendernon binary and transgender children are the most susceptible to sexual violence.

And so Love WITH Accountability is not as expansive as I would like it to be. But I created a wider net, in terms of the perspectives that we hear, that we’re hearing from deaf survivors, from autistic survivors, from cis Black women survivors, cis Black men, trans men, gender nonbinary folks, because it was just to really encourage people to think beyond a binary. To understand that, particularly, as diasporic Black people, we know racism. Like, we know it. But then to say, we also have to know ableism, we have to look at the ways in which we are marginalizing within ourselves. We have to look at transphobia, how we are marginalizing within ourselves, so that it’s not enough to solely focus on racism, because if racism ended right now, we’re not safe. Most of us in our communities are not safe. And I want racism and white supremacy to end yesterday. But I don’t fool myself to think that once that happens, I’m going to be okay. That’s not true.

TFSR: I just really loved, specifically in your introduction that you wrote to this book, you were like, very compassionately diligent with just naming all of the isms: ableism, transphobia, racism, transmisogynoir, misogynoir, all of these things. And I think that that’s very, very key to further understanding the thing that we’re going through.

AS: Yeah, I viewed my introduction as like what I called “word libation. Instead of pouring water on the ground, putting words on the page to really set a context, starting from the beginning since Columbus came over here to this hemisphere in 1492 to really ground that what we’re trying to undo and I don’t want to romanticize and be like, oh, there was no rape in Africa or India, I’m not saying that at all, but in terms of this reality, in this hemisphere, we have to be aware of this continuum of violence, from the moment that the Europeans set foot here. Tragically, they couldn’t cohabitate with lovewith love and accountability! *laughs* And so that because it’s so easy to be like, oh, Trump, is this or that person is that and yes, he is, but he is a product of this continuum. An\d even how we treat each other and ourselves is such a product of white supremacy, of capitalism, misogynoir, misogyny, ableism, audism, you know? Like we have to understand it, that doesn’t let anyone off the hook from saying, Oh, well, because of that, that’s why they committed harm. No, no, no, it’s not excusing it, but it is to have a broader context. And I think that when we do that, then we have to say, what are we doing with prisons? Like what the hell?” You know, when we really understand the whole context it’s like, no, that’s not the solution.

We’re creating the Good Guys, Bad Guys. And as long as we do that, we’ll never see the harm doers amongst us, right? Because when our person, the person that we love, the person that we know, that we trust, when they have been accused or have committed harm, we won’t want to believe that because harm doers are monsters. But if we can see that harm doers are people who commit monstrous acts, who are dealing with their own fragilities and their own pain and trauma that again, doesn’t mean not focusing on what they’ve done — but if we can see that, we understand that this is why it’s so pervasive.

And I feel like we need multiple teams. Like for me, my work is not to necessarily work with the harm doers, or bystanders, that’s not my strength. I want to work with survivors. But there are people who do want to do the work with the harm doors. And I think that that is critical, we have to have that, in a way so that the survivors, immediate survivors, don’t feel like they are being sidelined. And it’s hard work, I’m still- my mother is a contributor to the anthology, and she writes about how she did not protect me. She is the only public bystander in the book being accountable. And I have to say, I’m on the journey with my parents, both of them, in very different ways. And I recently just shared because it’s like stop and go, and it’s very painful, you know cuz I do, I still get very angry, and I’m hurt. And I think particularly for my mom who’s like, really trying and she feels like nothing she can do is enough. And all of that is real. And I just had an epiphany, I said, you know, mom, we’re dealing with 40 years of trauma it’s not even with all the progress that we’ve made and we’ve made a lot of progress — it’s not gunna…40 years versus 3 years of us doing this work *laughs*, you know what I’m saying? And my parents are incredible in terms of they get it, they, they they want, we talk about reparations, we talk about all of these things that we understand we’ve got to undo centuries of this and that, but then it’s like, it gets hard when it becomes like, how do we undo this harm? Right?

I mean, and I know for myself I’ve caused harm. I’ve caused harm to my brother, who is nine years younger than me. So that means he was one when I started being abused as a child. And there’s a saying that Alice Walker said and it’s very heteronormative, I wanna say that, but it’s like, the husband beats the wife, the wife beats the child, the child beats the dog. And it becomes like, we abuse those who are less powerful. And I say that in terms of my brother, like I was being abused, no one was takingno one rescued me, so then I took it out on my brother and there’s kind of a legacy of that. And he and I unpacking that and doing that work. I mean, we’re good and grown now. But just me even thinking about the impact of the harm that I caused as a child who was being harmed. That’s why I said, it’s like, everybody’s been- we’re responding to our harm. And that stuff is hard. It’s hard. I’m not a parent and I have so much remorse about the harm. And I’m not talking about the little Aishah, I’m talking about, like how that legacy continued well into adulthood.

So being accountable in those ways…this is hard work. And I think that that’s why so many people are like “just lock them up, throw away the key, because it’s not easy for the person who is locked up, but it’s easy for us because it’s like, we don’t have to think about it anymore. Well they’re gone, Harvey Weinstein’s in jail. Like, you know? We don’t have to think about, well, wait a minute, what happened here?

TFSR: I’m wondering like, how this, how doing this work has been for you and your daily life? What kinds of responses have you gotten to NO! The Rape Documentary and to Love WITH Accountability and to your other work?

AS: Thank you for that question. I, um…I’m gunna say it’s hard. I’m gonna just put myself out there and say that this is hard work. I don’t know where I would be without therapy and meditation. So and my partner Sheila has been, she’s been a Rock of Gibraltar, and has had my community of kindred spirits and friends. And my brother, and you know, the work I’m trying to do with my parents, my parents are trying to do with me, and it’s taken its toll. What I will say that NO! was different, because I’m not in NO! I would offer that I’m throughout NO! I am a rape survivor. But I’m not in NO! My testimony is not in there, at all. So there was a way that I think I had a barrier, as opposed to Love WITH Accountability. I write I’m in it. I talk about my abuse in the introduction. My mother, then she’s the first chapter, she talks about how she didn’t protect me. So it’s there. And in addition to that, I’m very, I’m digging up the roots, I’m digging up the roots in my own life. So it’s a lot harder than NO! and I struggle.

My PTSD comes up. My complex PTSD comes up, it definitely comes up and I go through periods of rage I’m sad, I’m depressed. All of that, because of therapy, because of meditation, because I have tools. So I’m aware like, Oh, this is coming up. And then I have community who are like, I’m checking on you, I haven’t heard from you. What’s going on? Are you okay? You know and then I think, like really trying to embody what I’m talking about, in terms of love with accountability, rage, meditation, action, healing really remind I tell people take a breath when you get upset and then I try, I have to remind myself like that, just step back, give yourself some breathing room. So it’s hard, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I made NO! to save all those Black women survivors out there and in making NO! I saved my life, because it was making NO! that led me to Love WITH Accountability.

When I started working on NO! I was 25, it was 1994, I was a filmmaker. Like, NO! it was just gonna be this quick project, and then I thought I was going to Hollywood! And this is pre- you know, Netflix, pre-anything. And then NO! took 11 years because no one wanted to fund a film about sexual violence and healing, committed against Black cis women. And so it was just kind of likeyou know, HBO turned me down, PBS turned me down, Sundanceno one was interested. So it’s very fascinating to me, right? Like, this is not the trajectory. But then doing NO! then led to this work. I mean, my grandfather, and then I wrote an essay in this important text called Queer Anthology: Queering Sexual Violence, Radical Voices from Within the Antiviolence Movement, edited by Jennifer Patterson. And so she invited me to write a chapter in 2010, it was right when my grandfather became ill. I didn’t get into all the deep details in that I touched on it in Love WITH Accountability — but that led to this work, to the Love WITH Accountability work. So it’s really it’s one of those things is like: is life imitating art, is art imitating life? And I think that for so many of the people in NO!, the survivors, the activists featured in the film, and then definitely the folks in Love WITH Accountability, this may not be their sole work, but it is definitely a part of the commitment in terms of their work. It’s like, we know this horror, we lived with it and we don’t want it to happen anymore, you know.

And so I just found out that Love WITH Accountability was named a finalist for the 2020 Lambda Literary Awards. So we’ll find out on June 8, if it actually wins. But I’m just honored that it was selected as a finalist. I’m really, really honored about that. The Noname Book Club, they selected Love WITH Accountability as one of the two books for March. And why it’s so important for me is that my teacher, Tony Cade Bambara, it’s the community you want to name you. It’s the community you are accountable for. And that’s the things I always had to fall back on with NO! like, because I didn’t get this big grant or I didn’t get — while making it, ultimately, I did get a big grant that made it accessible in terms of translation, captioning, from Ford but it just took a long time. The blessing about all that was that I could, I made my film. I didn’t have to meet the rules or regulations of the big funders, right? And so, because I’m not accountable to the funders, I was accountable to the community.

And so why I’m excited about Noname Book Club naming Love WITH Accountability is because it was selected by a brother named Dawud Lee, and he is the facilitator of SCI Coal Township prison chapter. And this brother, if he says he’s innocent I believe he’s innocent. Like based on his case, and what I’ve read, it just seems like another form of railroading another person in prison particularly Black body in prison, because it’s not just Black men, it’s Black cis women, Black trans women that are disproportionate in prison. And the fact that A) that there’s been access to books, because for many prisoners, they’re not even getting access to books in prison. And that this book was chosen, as a resource, as a pick, like that just, for me, back to Tony Cade Bambara, is just like, the community you want to name you. That, for me, is really important. That he, and Noname Book Club which is really picking up radical and revolutionary books and committing to send them out to inmates to marginalized communities throughout this country. And that this book is a book that they’re lifting up as a resource and a tool is just like, wow, this is powerful.

I am working on another book project, another book project called From Love to Justice. I’m really going in, in terms of, I have historically curated and collected and shared the wisdom of, I guess now total of about 70 survivors, advocate, scholars, all diasporic Black, around addressing adult sexual violence and child sexual violence, and while I’m a part of the, clearly, a part of the work, I want to hone in on what I’ve learned and shared that as as a resources as an intervention. So that’s my next project.

In terms of reaching me for I have two websites, there’s NoTheRapeDocumentary.org and LoveWithAccountability.com. So those are the two websites that focus on those two bodies of work. I’m on social media, on Twitter and Instagram @afrolez, that’s A-F-R-O-L-E-Z. There is a Love WITH Accountability Facebook page. I have an Aishah Shahidah Simmons cultural worker Facebook page, and then there’s a Love WITH Accountability Instagram page and a Love Accountably Twitter page, but usually like, if you go to notherapedocumentary.org or lovewithaccountability.com, the social media handles are there.

And AfroLez is like, my name *laughs delightedly*. It’s something that I came up, developed, in 1992 when I was a very young baby dyke, 23, and it was my downpayment on the future. Because I was like, this radical, raging dyke and I was happy and very proud of it. And people were, particularly elders, like elders like my age and I’m like, Oh, my God, I’m an elder” — but yeah, I would say, Oh, yeah, when I was young, I used to be like that, but you know, you’ll mellow out. And so little Aishah or young adult Aishah — *laughing* I’m being pejorative to me, not to anybody else who’s 23 — was just like “NO!!!” And so I created Afro Lez. And I have to tell you there was some part of me that knew because there are times when I’m just like, Oh, my God!” because it’s very, it’s part of my whole thing. It’s AfroLez Productions, it’s AfroLez-it’s everywhere!. In terms of me my identity. And I’ve had people say, is that AfroLez?” (pronounced “lay”) You know, it’s like, there are those times when, because I don’t feel safe, it‘s like, Okay, I’m dealing with rape now I got to also come out about being gay? it’s like all of that. And I was like, Oh, yeah, 23 Aishah knew”.

So it‘s my constant accountability about like, no, you’re not hiding in terms of that. And because it has been hard at times, because it gets into the, oh, is that why you’ve been raped? Or because everybody’s always trying to pathologize us about our sexual identitysexuality, or gender identity. And at the end of the day, all they’re doing is they’re saying your sexuality is wrong, or your gender identity is wrong, and I need to get to the root of it. Because they’re not really concerned about if I’ve been raped or not. It’s like, Oh, is that why? And this is like, really? So now, I mean, I love AfroLez. I definitely, I love AfroLez.

But it’s just, it’s funny, in terms of that. Even now, like in contemporary people, because I always say I’m a Black feminist lesbian. And for me, it’s really, all those identities are very important. People will want to drop lesbian before they’ll drop feminist. It’s very fascinating. Very, I mean, it’s not fascinating, it’s homophobia. But I mean it’s, it’s interesting. And it’sand I learned that from — I didn’t know her — but I learned that from Audrey Lorde. And where would I be if I didn’t know the people who identified as lesbian. So I mean, I’m out from my own survival, but I’m also out for people to know I’m here, you know? I’m here. I’m here. Like, my dad used to always say that, you have to let people know you’re in the room so that they know they’re not alone. And so because I have the privilege unfortunately it is a privilege in this society to be able to say, I’ve been raped. I’ve been molested. I’m a dyke. I believe I have a responsibility.

TFSR: Absolutely. And I resonated with that so much, in in your introduction and what you just said, because as somebody who is also like a survivor of childhood sexual assault and adulthood sexual assault, and as a queer, trans man, I hear this just all the time. And you’re like, No, no. I believe I would have been a queer trans man had none of this happened. This is not, don’t pathologize people’s sexuality, their gender identity, all of these things and don’t weaponize something that is so rooted in trauma for the individual, and trauma for communities to be homophobic or transphobic. Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for that.

AS: And you know what I’m so glad about? And not that I need this, but I have journals. I used to keep journals when I was a kid. And when I was like, before my molestation, I created a list of people I was like, I don’t know if I’m gonna marry a woman or man, or “girl or boy” is what I wrote as a kid. So, you know what I’m saying? Like, I was just like, Yeah, I was always queer, and it doesn’t matter! Let’s just say, let’s say I wasn’t always clear, it doesn’t matter. Like, just, I’m gay now. It doesn’t matter. We don’t have to understand how- how did you get that way? Why are you straight?

TFSR: Do you see the look, see the look on people’s faces if you ever posed that question? Like it is, isit just blows people’s minds.

AS: It really does.

TFSR: Straight is not the default. You know?

AS: Exactly.

TFSR: Most, most people think of themselves as straight, but straight is not the default, it is a colonial, colonial construct.

AS: It really is, and what would happen if people had the space to be who they were, you know what I’m saying? Like ifwould people really consensually and safely, let’s be very clear — live it all out? Would they, would they really? Would they be? You know, those are the questions and we just don’t know. And that’s what excites me about the young people — like, young young, I mean you know, not even, nowhere near 18 — because there’s studies are showing there are many more young people who don’t identify as straight, you know? That there’s just a space and a freedom for them, which I think is the fear of the Right. I mean, that’s a whole nother conversation *laughs*.

TFSR: And a fear of the young on the part of establishment, folks we see, every single generation has some kind of problem with young people. It was tongue clicking, it was vocal fry, it’s the skinny jeans, it’s all of these things, and it’s just like, no, you’re just afraid of growth, and you’re just afraid of this world not feeling like your own and you know what, that’s legitimate that’s fine. But like, please don’t demonize people about it. People are learning and growing, and like, not being so straight and *smiling* I’m here for it personally, you know?

AS: Mhm, me too. It’s a fear of change, is really a fear, you know? And ultimately you know, me getting all esoteric it’s a fear of death. You know, I don’t, I’ve yet to and probably will never — learn Snapchat, right? Because I was like, I just can’t do it

TFSR: *laughs* Same.

AS:
*cracking up* I’m like, I’m doing Instagram, I’m on Twitter, I just can’t. And I’m sure I could, but it’s just like, it becomes a comfort zone, right? So then you, we all just want to keep it this, this way. And I think then I think it’s extra intense in this country, where we’re really monolingual, or not as a country we’re not monolingual, but the way it’s enforced being monolingual. And it’s happening elsewhere, though, I mean, you see what’s happening in India with the new prime minister. I mean, it’s just, it’s everywhere. It’s just the rise of fascism, it’s really scary, cause we keep talking about change, but I’m just like, we’re like, it’s almost like the turn of the century is repeating itself. It’s like we’re in 1920!” Like the rise of fascism, it’s just, it’s, it’s frightening.

TFSR: And also, we’re dealing with a global pandemic too these days

AS:
Exactly.

TFSR: –which is a whooole nother, sort of, how its interfacing with capitalism with the prison system.

AS: Exactly. And then this whole kind of Yellow Peril thing, you know? Just the racism towards it’s just as disgusting. You know, last year was the second hottest year ever. And then there are all these viruses that are frozen, or were frozen that’s what was keeping us all safe. So as things melt, other viruses are going to be coming up. It’s scary. And then people talk about revolutionI’m not talking about this kind of the craziness that the pundits do like, *mocking voice* “oh, we’re gonna have a revolution. I was like, You all don’t, that’s not, that’s not how, you don’t have a revolution at the *starts cracking up* ballot box necessarily”– but even with a talk about revolution, as a feminine femme identified survivor, queer, Black, anti-gun, prison abolitionist…I don’t feel like I’m safe. You know I’m not safe you know revolution doesn’t necessarily make me feel safe — not that I want this craziness that we’re in — but it’s just kind of like, it’s just, it doesn’t feel safe. Everybody has guns, like it’s just I, I have a lot of concerns about where we’re all headed as a nation. And which is all the more reason why this work matters so much, because I want to feel safe in my community. And I don’t necessarily, right? And we all know about the outsider coming in for us” — and we can define how the outsider is — I want to feel safe with the insiders on the inside.

TFSR: That is such a good reframing of that, though, of the issue of safety in a time of increasing, escalating instability.

AS: And that’s the work I think that you know, I feel like Love WITH Accountability tries to do in tandem of what so many people are doing on the ground. As a cultural worker, I want my contribution, I hope, is the work that I produce as resources and tools. And I learn also from what’s being done on the ground. So those are things for me, that’s really important. And I think that it’s hard for us to talk about child sexual abuse. And not that it’s easy to talk about police brutality, it’s not. But it’s easy only in the sense that we can identify the quote unquote, enemy, right? It’s the outsider, it’s that cop. It’s that white vigilante. What do we do when it’s the leader of our movement, or it’s our father or our sister, you know what I’m saying? That so much more complicated. And that’s the stuff that, for better or for worse, I’m drawn to I don’t know. *cracks up*

TFSR: It’s hard and it childhood sexual assault and rape still exists within this sort of lattice or network of silence. And I think that there are some really badass people, yourself included, who are trying to fly against that tendency that people have to just brush it under the rug or not talk about it or anything, because that’s not, that’s just not how we’re going to move forward. And we can’t move forward until things are right at home. You know?

AS: Yeah, I agree. And that’s how in the opening of the book, I use two quotes from the Tonys”, I call them, Tony Cade Bambara and Toni Morrison. Bambara saysif your house ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. It’s so much easier to be out there than right here. And then Tony Morrison wrote, what you do to children matters, and they might never forget. And I think that we have to understand that because a lot of us are wounded healers, are wounded leaders, and unbeknownst to us, if we’re not doing some form of therapy, or healing or something, we’re replicating. We’re replicating that which was done to us.

And it’s not necessarily sexual it’s not like, Oh, I was abused, sexually abused, I’m sexually abusing someone. No, no, no, there are other ways in which we can replicate the behavior. So we have to be mindful though because we want to create healthy movements, we want to create healthy societies.

TFSR: And I think that the only thing that’s gunna push us through these times of escalating instability are the health of our communities. Like, I think that we are gonna be really tested.

AS: You’re right, we are so tested. I mean, I’ve just like, as an independent contractor, my livelihood is based on speaking engagements, all, everything, it’s just a twinkling of an eye. It’s all gone, right? For now, at least. We don’t know, right? And so I’m just like, how am I gonna live?” Like literally, I don’t know, right this second. There’s no socialized medicine, there’s no social program, there’s nothing in the way in which other countries have, specifically Europeans.

And then we arethe way in which our societies are such, right, this society, US society so many of us are disconnected, maybe by choice, and also by situation, like from family of origin, or community, you know? It’s like we have to create these networks of care. Which is what alicia sanchez gill actually, that’s the name of her chapters — Networks of Care. We have to, we have to do that. And in order to do that, we’ve got to be safe and loving and caring and accountable with each other in those communities.

TFSR: Are there ways that listeners can help support you? Is that something that you’d like to throw out here?

AS: Oh! I hadn’t, I mean, I haven’t thought about that *bursts into laughter* I welcome it! I would like that. If you look up @AfroLezProductions on PayPal, it’s there, Aishah Simmons but it’s AfroLezProductions. And then Venmo, @AfroLez and Cashapp it’s $AfroLez. So I hadn’t thought about that because I’m not a 501(c)(3), a nonprofit or any of that, I hadn’t even thought about asking or trying to seek donations. So thank you for that offer.

Fortunately, it’s just me me, I mean I have a partner, but meaning I don’t have kids. I don’t know what I would do if I was responsible for children. And I’m thinking about all of the frontline workers and you know, the restaurant industry. I mean what’s happening? I don’t want this situation to bring out the worst in us and it’s just the racism, the xenophobia, the transphobia, homophobia, the guns that are just everywhere I’m scared. I feel like, Oh, my God, are we in an Octavia Butler novel? Are we in Parable of the Sower? like I’m really a little nervous about where this is all going. That’s my fear. So all the more reason why we have to be compassionate and loving with each other and ourselves.

I think, I think the big thing is to take care. To take care of ourselves and take care of each other and, and the planet. The planet. We can’t, this is our home. We can’t live without the planet. I don’t know what people are thinking, and the powers that be, but we have to take care of the planet. And breathe. Intentional breath. Take timebecause people can’t go on retreats and nobody wants to go on a retreat at this point anywaybut just to connect to your source.

TFSR: It’s amazing to me how many people are going through life holding their breath. And I think that many of us who are marginalized by capitalism, by racism, by white supremacy, by hetero patriarchy I think so many people go through their life just braced for the next thing, which is really real, but sometimes it’s great to allow your body to just breathe.

AS: And that’s something that you, we can all do. And I really, I credit Ericka Huggins, who was a Black Panther, and an educator and teacher and just incredible human who was incarcerated with a newborn. On trial for murder. I share this because she talked about how she taught herself to meditate and that’s what got her through solitary confinement. They can take our breath away, as Eric Garner, we know that, but until they do that, they can’t take that innate power. That is our own. Easier said than done, but I’m just talking about our wage jobs, our salary jobs that you know, all of these thingsthey cannot take that power away.

TFSR: If you are interested in seeing more work from Aishah, visit our blog post at TheFinalStrawRadio.noblogs.org or scroll down to the show notes if you’re listening on your phone. We will post all the links in those places. If you’re interested in reading her book Love WITH Accountability, visit AKPress.org for more information

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.

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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.

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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.

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Music for this episode by:

Ratatat – Loud Pipes

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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.

Harm Reduction in Pandemic and Jason Renard Walker

Harm Reduction in Pandemic and Jason Renard Walker

Steady Collective ambulance in West Asheville
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This week we feature two segments, first up we got to chat with Hill Brown about Asheville’s response to the pandemic in terms of public health, drug use and the houseless communities. Then, Jason Renard Walker talks about his journalism, activism and troubles in the Texas prison system.

Harm Reduction in Asheville during Pandemic

First we got to sit down with Hill Brown who works with Asheville’s Steady Collective doing harm reduction outreach to people experiencing homelessness and addiction. We talk about a lot of topics, including how the current health crisis has affected Steady’s operation, how the city of Asheville is mishandling its resources right now, and how folks can plug in and have solidarity with this work.

If you are concerned about hotel access for oppressed populations, you can call:

  • The Tourism Development Authority (TDA) at 828-258-6111,
  • The County Commissioners at 828-250-4066 and leave a message,
  • and the City of Asheville, who funds the TDA, at 828-251-1122

You can also find ways to support the Steady Collective by visiting their website TheSteadyCollective.org. Visit our blog or show notes to see an interview Bursts did with Hill back in 2018 which was done at a time when the city was threatening to close Steady’s operations.

Incarcerated Journalist and Organizer, Jason Renard Walker

Then we’ll be hearing from Jason Renard Walker, an incarcerated journalist and activist at the Clemens Unit near Amarillo, Texas. Jason is the Minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) and his writing is frequently featured in the SF Bay View National Black Newspaper. Mr. Walker’s answers will be read by his girlfriend, Noelle. You can find more of Jasons writings at his blog, JasonsPrisonJournal.com, including a link to his recently published e-book “Reports from Within The Belly Of The Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice” available from Amazon.com and hopefully soon in paperback. He also just published this piece on his blog about the coverup around covid-19.

Jason Renard Walker #1532092
Clements Unit
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107

You can hear our chat from 2018 with Kevin Rashid Johnson (co-founder of the NABPP and Minister of Defense for the Prison Chapter) which is also transcribed in that post, or printable as a zine here.

Jason Renard Walker also mentions Julio Alex Zunigo, aka Comrade Z, who is rustling up resistance in Darington Unit. Comrade Z was interviewed by ItsGoingDown and we will be airing a recording of an interview with him coming up this week.

Comrade Malik’s Covid-19 Update Update

The elder, politicized prisoner that Comrade Malik references in Texas as Alvaro Luna Hernandez also goes by the name Xinachtli, which you can use in personal communication. You can hear a recording of Xinachtli telling his story in his own words here. For the envelope or dealing with administration you can write to him at:

Alvaro Luna Hernández #255735
James V Allred Unit
2101 FM 369
NorthIowa Park, TX 76367 USA

. … . ..

Tracks heard in this episode:

AwareNess (from calm.) – No Regrets

Wu-Tang Clan – It’s Yourz (instrumental)

. … . ..

Jason Renard Walker interview

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself for the audience? Feel free to include any details about your background, political affiliation or current circumstances you think will give a good context for the conversation.

Jason Renard Walker: My name is Jason Renard Walker, Minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Prison Chapter. I consider my political stance as a reflection of our party’s rules of discipline, principals, adherence to our ten point program and platform and our goals for the future.

For clarity, please feel free to learn about what I mean by reviewing the United Panther Movement section of my website at www.JasonsPrisonJournal.com . Just for the record, I don’t see myself as Democrat, Republican, Anarchist, Communist, or Socialist. I know this seems contradictory to the circumstances, but I’m all about positive change for society and the future of those to come. The New Afrikan Black Panther Party’s effort to carry on the legacy and goals fo the original Black Panther Party is my higher calling. And regardless of not holding an official political stance, my ability to execute my duties and help build the party would be the same if I did have a political stance. Though I’m certainly anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.

TFSR: Would you mind telling us about your past, the case you caught and an overview of the conditions of your incarceration in Texas?

JRW: Just like a majority of our comrades and party members, I am a product of my environment. The streets of Est Oakland, wehre I grew up, is riddled with drugs, street gangs, violence, prostitution and so on.

If members in my family weren’t drug dealers, addicts, pimps, cons, prostitutes and so on. They held impractical religious views, empty of practical solution, coupled with the preachings of prayer and blief under the banner that this alone would make me a successful member of society.

The latter did little to persuade me from following the footsteps of people I admired; which were drug dealers and crooks that had more than their fair share of wealth and stability. While the so-called true believers toted the transit bus to spend their welfare checks and food stamps. Not only did I witness these contradictions within my neighborhood. I witnessed them within my own family.

By the age of 14 in 1994 I had dropped out of school, became a full time criminal and began experiencing the consequences of my actions. After spending two years in detention centers and a group home in Gilroy, CA called Advent group ministries. I moved to Garland, Texas with my grandma to stay with my aunt and cousin in 1998.

This was supposed to be my transformation from a criminal to a productive member of society… All this did was transfer a career criminal from committing crimes against the poor to committing crimes against the unwitting rich… There was no plan to rid me of my thoughts and behavior so I brought them with me to places no one knew such incivility existed, making these people easier and more fruitful targets of burglary, scams, drug sales and armed robbery.

I received an 18 year sentence in 2008 for robbery and have done 12 years on it so far, since then my outlook on life has changed. From my own experience and from what I read, conditions in Texas prisons are far worse here than most prison systems in the U.S. What gives Texas the edge is that it’s an overtly for-profit-only system. Prisoners undergo unpaid forced labor, grow, harvest and tend to the food we eat, and work and operate everything short of running the cell blocks.

I give a vivid account of the conditions on my kindle ebook on amazon.com called “Reports From Within The Beast: Torture and Justice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice”. I recommend that all your listeners get a copy. The writings span the years 2010-2019, including some of my work during my seven year stay in solitary confinement.

TFSR: We’ve seen your journalism featured in the SFBay View National Black Newspaper. Can you talk about your publishing, feedback you’ve gotten and repression you’ve faced for your expression?

JRW: The San Franscisco Bay View National Black Newspaper has been a big supporter of my writings. If they weren’t publishing journalism by me they published journalism about things concerning me and the bad conditions prisoners are facing in Texas. This includes our organizing and supporting the 2016 and 2018 National Prisoner Work Stoppage. And the reprisals we faced for doing so.

Not only have my journalism in the Bay View drawn the hatred of some guards, it has drawn negative feed back from white supremacist groups that conspire with these same guards to smuggle illicit drugs into the prison namely the deadly drug, k-2.

In the October 2018 issue of the Bay View I wrote an article called “Prison Assisted Drug Overdoses”. This forced Texas officials into giving guards more scrutinized searches before entering the prison, including the use of drug sniffing dogs. Guards have used my article as a manipulation tactic to raise smuggling fees by suggesting that my article in particular has made smuggling riskier. In turn I’ve been confronted by random individuals and groups about the article. These same individuals admit not having read the article so they are ignorant to the message I deliver. I’ve even tried suggesting they read the article to no avail. It only exposes ignored prisoner overdosing.

They are completely reactionary and tend to gravitate towards what guards tell them. Like I’ve been confronted about being a child molester, racist, terrorist, CIA operative and instigator with evidence supposedly the information. Combating this has been quite easy.

I’ve also gotten a lot of positive feedback from other journalists and Bay View readers in the U.S. and Europe who have become supporters of my work and who have chosen to investigate the conditions I describe in my articles.

TFSR: You recently published a book entitled ‘Reports from Within the Belly of the Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice’ that, among other things, compiles some of your writings you previously published. Can you talk about your method of organizing your writing, who your audience is and what you hope the book achieves?

JRW: I really don’t have a method of organizing my writings. I tend to first document times and dates on things I see or learn of. I seek witnesses and victims, who are always willing to let me write about them. Sometimes I’ll ask a guard about something. Most of the instigators and abusers will openly brag about what they did. At the time they aren’t aware that an article will be written and who I am. After the hammer comes crashing down, they face me with looks of betrayal as if I’m not supposd to expose them because they may have given me extra food or recreation time in the past. Guard Darius Reed stole a Bay View, it mentioned him.

I have a large audience that includes Bay View readers, the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Tribune, SolitaryWatch.Org, the Anarchist Black Cross group, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and hundreds of people who have never written me but have sent me books and magazines like Sheri Black and Sam Rosen in Great Britain. Or those who send words of courage but fail to provide a reply address.

The message in the book speaks for itself. I hope and wish that it sets in the hands of as many readers as possible. I haven’t found a book by a Texas prisoner of this magnitude like it. It also includes unpublished articles, a forward by Maggie Ray Anderson, a 2011 Central Washington University graduate who got a B.A. in law and justice and a B.S. in social services and Kevin Rashid Johnson.

TFSR: Do you have any plans to publish your book in physical form so it can be available to people in prison?

JRW: Actually we are in the process of publishing 500 copies of the paperback version, specifically so that prisoner supporters can have a copy sent to an incarcerated loved one or friend. These copies will be available on amazon.com as well only costing $5 per copy. Before the paperback version is released we will have it available for pre-release ordering so we’ll know if more copies and how many more will need to be printed. The ebook and the paperback version have come to fruition by the funds and work of me and my girlfriend. But we could use the help of an underwriter or independent publisher.

TFSR: A year and a half ago we had the pleasure to speak with Kevin Rashid Johnson of the NABPP about the organizing he was doing, about the prison strikes, organizing on the outside and his organization. Would you talk about how you came to join the NABPP, what your position in it is, and how organizing in Texas has been as a member of that group?

JRW: Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for me to answer this question without this entire questionaire being banned by the mailroom. Not because of the content but to delay the radio interview entirely under the false pretext that it containes security threat group information. Some insight can be caught by viewing www.RashidMod.com.

TFSR: Are there any other groups you have organized with that you’d care to mention? For instance, you received punishment in the aftermath of the Nationwide Prisoner Strikes in 2016 and 2018.

JRW: Yes, during the 2016 and 2018 National Prison Work stoppage I had the joy to work with the IWOC, different branches of the ABC, the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and a group in Colorado that published The Fire Inside Zine, which I wrote a piece for. The Fire Inside related to the 2016 work stoppage.

TFSR: A common concern raised around incarceration in the US is a lack of medical treatment, the high cost and low quality when it is available, overcrowding and under-staffing leading to medical and health emergencies. I’ve noted on the outside that the conversation is raised more frequently recently during ecological disasters like hurricanes or when people protest the use of solitary confinement in lieu of mental health resources. Now, with the panic and obvious lack of preparedness around Covid-19 (novel caronavirus), can you talk about health and preparedness in terms of incarceration in the US and what the public on the outside can be doing to support the folks in cages?

JRW: I’m glad you brought up the coronavirus. I just recently wrote a short piece on the lack of care we are provided in the midst of this and the prisoners failure to receive care to avoid paying $13.55 medical co-pay fees.

Since I wrote that piece five prisoners were moved to this prison with Corona Virus. They received it form a sick guard during transportation. Now guards at this prison have been confirmed to have it. It is spreading. My request to be tested, because I’m showing signs of illness, have been ignored. I submitted my request four days ago. Today is April 5th. Nurse Ms. Spencer came to see me. I was told I didn’t have a fever so no further care was necessary.

There is no obvious plan in place to prevent further spreading. Guards are wearing masks and there are notes posted about staying six feet away from others. Thus we are confined to our cells with another prisoner and have no way to read any postings that are located places beyond sight-and-walking authority.

I’ve learned that taking vitamin c supplements and driving citns flavored electrolite drinks slow down the manifestation of the germ, along with limited physical activity, lots of sleep and staying warm.

The key thing people on the outside can do for us is to constantly contact the prisons warden about the number of confirmed cases, requesting our medical records, as to monitor their response time to our sick call requests, our diagnosis and the tpe of treatment we are receiving. Sending us updates on how it’s spreading in our particular area and any info they have that can help prevent spreading and exposure. Hair scanning is the only prevention plan being implemented here (whatever that is).

We are being given false info on self diagnosis and testing. One thing that has to be a public conern is how nurses use our blood pressure results to determine if we are sick, hurting, having a stroke and whether we have a common cold or the common flu. I actually describe one instance in my book concerning a stroke victim who was denied hospitalization for over twelve hours based on his blood pressure results. He is now paralyzed and had to undergo brain surgery because of the long delay. No staff were held liable, they actually brought him back from the infirmary on a gurney and laid him on his cell floor, where he remained until we convinced the next shift that he was dying. This incident occurred here at the Clemens Unit. My advice to prisoners is to take matters into your own hands. If you feel you are sick and in need of medical care, keep trying to get it. Don’t let nursing staff suggest your blood pressure is the factor whether you are sick or not. Don’t let medical copay fees factor in either…

TFSR: Are there organizing efforts in Texas around prisoner issues that you would like to highlight or needs that need to be addressed that are particular to the TDCJ or any of the units you’ve been kept in?Where do you see the efforts in the US around prisoner issues? Similar to the prior questions, do you have any inspirations or challenges you’d like to pose to either those on the outside or the inside?

JRW: The only organizing efforts I’m aware of are the ones involving the NABPP, the IWOC and scattered anarchist prisoners in Texas. Since I’ve been in close custody (two man solitary) I haven’t had the chance to use the phone, limiting my access to information.

In fact, incarcerated anarchist Julio A Zuniga (aka Alex) is at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas organizing. His focus seems to be on conditions, medical care, filth, the treatment of the mentally ill and gladiator fights.

Final Straw listener, Matt Brodnax, did an interview with Alex that is published online. But there are many organizing efforts by unknown Texas prisoners who too face unwarranted acts of repression, including the destruction of ongoing / incoming mail and personal property. I’ve met several during my stay at the Ellis Unit, Michael Unit and Allred Unit. Their lack of firmness in the face of reprisals have kept their efforts to organizing limited to filing grievances and complaining amongst each other. In these circles I’m viewed as radical and going too far. Though they wonder why they can’t win false disciplinary cases.

We need more isolated and groups of prisoners to take their organizing to the next level. If using un-radical forms of organizing was effective, not one prisoner would need to take things to the next level. These groups must form bonds of unity as well. For example, a lot of prisoners chose filing civil suits challenging the 13th Amendments clause on legal slave labor. This was in response and following the 2016 work stoppage. Their focus was on losing commissary privileges, dayroom time and whatnot. So to circumvent foreseeable retaliation and applying some serious action, they used the governments recommended channel, getting each of their claims claims dismissed as frivolous, wasting both time and their own resources.

In a few instances some prisoners did file civil suits and participate in the work stoppage. But even the civil suit filers learned a valuable lesson, I hope they are building on.

TFSR: Where do you see the efforts in the US around prisoner issues? Similar to the prior questions, do you have any inspirations or challenges you’d like to pose to either those on the outside or the inside?

JRW: Efforts to organize in the U.S. around prisoner issues are scattered, contradicting and often misunderstood. You have some prisoner writers out there labeled activists, though their writings and disinterest in foot work reveals their Black Capitalist / White Capitalist / Brown Capitalist interest and agenda. You have others still engaged in the sale of drugs that hold a street mentality called revolutionary but gangsta. Allowing them to engage in some activism while holding the same criminal mentality and world view their activism supposedly opposes. It’s the do as I say not as I do thing.

The challenge to prison activists inside and on the outside is to stay firm at what you do. Continue learning how to strengthen your organization and or support circle, educate those around you about your program and be a positive representative in your community upon release.

For instance the NABPP has transitioned to the outside. Comrade, Chairman Shaka Zulu and others have created our outside headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Giving us the opportunity to create and expand our community service programs. This includes our Black August BB9, No Prison Fridays protest, and Free Food breakfast and lunch program that occurs Saturdays between 10am and 4pm. These programs are sponsored by Panthers and service community volunteers. Shaka Zulu helped bring this to life upon his release from prison.

As it shows, the NABPP is among the most firm in regards to In-Prison activism, organizing and carry this on in the oppressed and impoverished communities. The role of the NABPP is not to pose as a rescuer of the people but to uplift, inspire and teach them. Through their own cooperation and collective power, they can solve their own problems, meet their own needs and free themselves from this racist, exploitative and oppressed society.

TFSR: Are there any subjects that I failed to ask about that you’d like to speak to?

JRW: No, there isn’t. But I’d like to take time to thank everyone that has helped me with my progress, education, development and needed support. Too many to name here. And a $1 donation will be given to the San Francisco Bay View for every paperback issue of my book sold!

Jason Renard Walker #1532092
Clements Unit
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107

On Nurturance Culture w Nora Samaran

On Nurturance Culture w Nora Samaran

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This week, Bursts spoke with Nora Samaran, author of the essay “The Opposite Of Rape Culture Is Nurturance Culture”, which became the seed of her book “Turn This World Inside Out: The Emergence of Nurturance Culture.” This book is recently out from AK Press.

We talk about harm, entitlement as relates to positions of power like masculinity or whiteness in our cultures, the need for connection engrained into our biology and sociality, accountability and healing among other topics.

You can find further reading up at norasamaran.com. You can find a list of suggested further reading by searching “How To Not Re-Injure Survivors.”

Announcements

ACAB/PansyFest Reminder

Next weekend is the Another Carolina Anarchist Bookfair (or ACAB) happening in Asheville, NC. Events start on Friday with a welcome table at Firestorm from 1-7pm. Simultaneously, there’ll be presentations on Veganism and non-violent direct action, trans-national and indigenous poetry, anti-racism in Appalacha, Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement and anarchism in Puerto Rico. That night, Pansy Fest begins with a show at Sly Grog Lounge at 7pm. This sparks a weekend of activities from 11am til 2am around the city. If you want to learn more about either event, check out acab2019.noblogs.org and pansycollective.org or give a re-listen to our August 4th episode of The Final Straw. And please come visit our table if you’re in town on Saturday or Sunday and say hi.

Sean Swain’s 50th Bday

We’re lucky enough to include Sean Swain in this week’s broadcast. If you’ve been missing him on your radio emissions, you can find a link to his audio essays up at our website, he produces one every week, find updates on him at Sean Swain.org or now follow him on twitter at @SwainRocks. Please be aware that his 50th birthday is coming up on September 12th, so send him some loving kindness. Also, if you’re in town for ACAB, swing by The Final Straw table on Saturday, August 24th before noon to participate in a birthday surprise for Sean. Shhh, don’t tell him.

Other Notes

There are some updates on the case of anarchist prisoner, Eric King up at his support site, supportericking.org. And stay tuned to our website and podcast stream for some special audios about him. Also, keep an ear out for the August 2019 episode of BADNews in the same places.

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playlist

Walidah Imarisha on Angels With Dirty Faces (rebroadcast)

Walidah Imarisha on Angels With Dirty Faces (rebroadcast)

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This week we are rebroadcasting an interview that William and Disembodied Voice conducted with Walidah Imarisha, who is an Oregon based writer, educator, public scholar and spoken word artist about her book Angels With Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption, her 2016 book out from AK Press and IAS, which highlights three distinct experiences that are all in different degrees tangential to the realities inherent to the prison industrial complex. This book won the Creative Non-Fiction Award in the state of Oregon earlier on in 2017.

In this interview we got to touch on a wide array of topics, mostly centered on Angels With Dirty Faces but also on accountability processes and what might have to change in order for them to feel more effective, her relationship to anarchism, and some upcoming projects and appearances.

We also get to touch on the book Octavia’s Brood, a compilation of speculative fiction that Imarisha co-edited with Adrienne Maree Brown, who also wrote the book Emergent Strategy.

More about Imarisha, her work, and upcoming events can be found at http://www.walidah.com/

New York Anarchist Mental Health Conference 2019

First tho, for all of you who enjoyed our interview with Mango and Marin about anarchist approaches to psychiatry and mental health, there is going to be an Anarchist Mental Health Conference in New York City on Saturday February 23rd 2019 at Judson Memorial Church at 55 Washington Square South, New York NY 10012

The call for proposals reads as follows:

“1. Are you an anarchist (or other leftist anti-capitalist anti-authoritarian)?

2. Are you a mental health provider (psychotherapist, counselor, peer specialist, or psychopharm prescriber)?

3. Do you have something to share with anarchist mental health workers? (a critique of the field, a skill you have, or a resource we need to know about)?

If the answer to these questions is yes, please email an accessible language abstract of 100 or so words to nycamhc@protonmail.com describing what you want to share, why it’s important, and what conference participants will take away from the presentation. Separate from the abstract, please also specify how much time you need (45 minutes max) and what format you’ll be using (lecture, workshop, roundtable, longtable, etc)

Please submit proposals to nycamhc@protonmail.com by December 31st 2018.”

Thanks to everyone who reached out to us about the interview about anarchist mental health, your comments and feedback were truly wonderful to hear! Keep an eye out for further interviews with Mango and Marin, on this and other anarchist and anti authoritarian media platforms.

Support the Vaughn Prisoners!

We also would like to report on a very concerning and terrible event which took place recently. For the second time this month, someone connected with the James T. Vaughn prison uprising trials has died.

For a bit of context, from a support flyer at It’s Going Down, “On February 1st, 2017, inmates at the Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware took control of their unit and held staff hostage in an uprising that lasted 18 hours. They called the media, released a list of demands, and explained their actions as motivated by their conditions of confinement as well as the election of Donald Trump as President. One prison guard, Steven Floyd, was killed by inmates during the uprising.”

The remaining prisoners are still facing charges associated with the riot.

Kelly Gibbs, the man who passed, was not a defendant in the first trial, but his name was mentioned during that time in connection with the uprising. The implications of these two deaths are all too apparent; prison workers and wardens often take matters into their own hands in retaliation for acts of prison rebellion. Now it’s important to support the Vaughn uprising! We will link to an updated flyer that includes all the names and addresses of the remaining people, as well as to articles for further reading.

From the Philly ABC, calling for court support of the Vaughn 17 back in October:

In many ways the demands of the Vaughn 17 anticipated the 2018 National Prison Strike, calling for increased wages for their mandatory labor, and the introduction of rehabilitation and education programs. These comrades positioned their struggle inside against the threat posed by Trump’s election, which has now been realized in the increasing detention of immigrants and the rise of fascism on the outside. Since the occupation’s end, they have been subjected to extreme repression and violence, including beatings and the denial of basic necessities, including having their water shut off. Yet in the face of these hardships and the betrayal, 17 of the defendants are standing together, unwavering in their solidarity.

Here is an updated resource on the Vaughn prisoners and how to support.

Here is an article on the recent passing of Kelly Gibbs.

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Playlist here.

Asheville threatening Harm Reduction; SFBay View with Mary Ratcliff

Steady Collective + SF Bay View Newspaper

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This week on the show we feature two interviews. The first is with a volunteer at the Steady Collective, a group that self-describes as “ dedicated to promoting the wellness of people who use drugs through empowerment and respectful collaboration. Our goal is to improve overall community health by reducing the rate of drug overdose and the spread of infectious disease with education, advocacy, and direct services. “ Their ability to operate a harm reduction program around needle exchange and narcan distribution to stop overdoses in the midst of the #opiodCrisis in Appalachia is being threatened by the city of Asheville. Here’s the website for 12 Baskets, the food distribution program out of Kairos West.

Then I spoke with Mary Ratcliff, the editor of 27 years of the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper, with a print distribution of 20,000 copies around the U.S., including thousands behind bars. For the hour, Mary talks about the history of the paper, it’s relationship with prisoners and prison struggles and the difficulties faced by the poor and populations of color in white supremacist capitalism in the so-called U.S.

Announcements

A12 in D.C., Cville & Boston

Last weekend witnessed far right, nazi-affiliated, sexist, homophobe rallies in Portland and Berkeley, which I’m sure folks are aware of. Patriot Prayer and Proud Boy goons schlepped their way out from under rocks in their goofy-ass larping costumes to spit their deranged and hateful screeds and threaten and attack counter-demonstrators where they could. And the police helped by holding back and assaulting the anti-racists at both events with pepper spray, batons, tear gas and rubber bullets, as well as legal charges. Big ups to the brave folks who came out to stem the tide of hate on the West coast, and also a big a thanks to the comrades who came out in Providence, R.I. where they were able to shut that crap down real fast.

This weekend the year anniversary of the August 11th Torch Rally and August 12th Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville approaches. On Sunday, August 12th in Cville there’s a day of events of remembrance and mourning starting at 9am in Washington Park. The police presence has been shown to be huge in the runup to this weekend with Martial Law and States of Emergency declared by local and state officials, leave for police being suspended, and swaths of the city shut down and blockaded. Follow #AllOutCville for updates. In Washington, D.C., haters are trying to put on a second UTR to draw their morons in swastika and Pinochet shirts and confederate bafoons into the streets. Information about what’s happening and how to congregate against it can be found at https://shutitdowndc.org/ . And check out the ItsGoingDown’s “This Is America #24” for voices from the ground in DC & Cville.

On August 15th in Boston there is planned a Town Hall Meeting at the Arlington St Church in preparation for the counter-demonstration on August 18th at the MA State House to shut down the far-right hate front group, “Resist Marxism”. More info at http://bit.ly/fight-right-boston

Be safe out there, cops and klan go hand in hand. Bring water, watch out for your friends, don’t leave alone.

Worker’s Assembly Asheville

On Monday, August 20th at 6pm and every 3rd Monday of the month, the Asheville IWW is hosting a service industry workers assembly at Kairos West. If you work in food serice, retail, hospitality, breweries, or other service industries and don’t have the right to hire or fire, come by and join the discussion on issues facing your ilk including wages and hours, but also issues such as racism and gendered violence that workers face in and outside of their workplaces. The discussions are aimed at creating direct action solutions and creating class solidarity. To hear about their first Assembly, check out our interview on the topic.

Reminder on upcoming #August21

A few CZN member projects have been producing content specific to supporting and understanding the Nationwide Prison Strike. You can find great, related content to enjoy and share by ItsGoingDown podcast, Kiteline Radio & Rustbelt Abolition Radio. Links are in our notes to those recent episodes. Also, visit incarceratedworkers.org for the new and very shareable video breaking down IWOC’s role in the strike and reasons to support #August21.

If you appreciate this podcast and the voices that we bring to you each and every week (at least once), please consider a one-time or recurring donation via paypal or liberapay. You can also subscribe to recurring donations to us at patreon.com/tfsr and get some pretty sweet swag. If you want one of the shirts or mixtapes or sticker and button packs we offer to patreon supporters but can’t afford a monthly donation, drop us an email and we’ll work something out.

Anarchy in Davao, Maharlika (so-called Philippines): A Chat with members of the MIE collective

Maharlika Integral Emergence, Davao
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This week we spoke with members of Maharlika Integral Emergence, a collective in Davao. Davao is a large city in the south east of the archipelago of Maharlika, also known as The Philippines. We talk for the hour on the emergence of anarchism in this country, anti-colonial indigenous struggle, anarcho-punk, eco-resistance, green and post-anarchism, permaculture, anti-extraction and land struggles and more. Maharlika Integral Emergence is a collective in Davao working with communities to promote self-care, explore autonomy, build alternatives to the deadly duo of State and Capital and it’s ecocidal path. We apologize for the quality of the audio, at times it becomes difficult to hear the collective members due to tech issues. Check out ashevillefm.org/the-final-staw to find the blog entry for this episode which includes hyperlinks to some of the projects and publications coming out of Maharlika. For instance, here’s a pdf about projects that that MIE are involved in.

Documentation of anarchistic events around Davao from 2013-2014:
https://unitedmedianetwork.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/ku-umnet-2013-2014.pdf

And from this year: https://unitedmedianetwork.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/mie-updates-2014-2015.pdf

Also, a link to UMNET Eco-Defense Project: https://unitedmedianetwork.wordpress.com/

A link to the publication of the UNDANGON ANG MINA NETWORK: https://unitedmedianetwork.wordpress.com/eco-defense-journal/

Their translation of CrimethInc’s “To Change Everything”: https://vimeo.com/116975802

But first, a couple of announcements. If you’re in the Asheville area, we’d like to remind you that tonight, Sunday the 12th at 5pm is the grande-opening of Firestorm Cafe & Books at it’s new location at 610 Haywood Road at the intersection of Haywood Rd & State St in West Asheville. From their facebook event:
“It’s been sixteen months since we closed our doors at 48Commerce Street… We’re ready to start the next chapter! Join our seven year old workers co-operative for a day long celebration, featuring free coffee and other give-aways plus a 5pm local author showcase!

Located directly across State Street from Sunny Point Cafe, our new store features a unique selection of books for young folks and adults alike. Curious readers will find not only the rich assortment of titles on gardening, green living and political radicalism, for which our co-op is already known, but also an expanded inventory of children’s books, classics and speculative fiction.”
More at http://firestorm.coop

Relatedly, there’s a squatted anarchist social and community space working around some of the same causes as MIE. The space is called Feral Crust and in Manila operate a squatted infoshop, school and garden in a small squatted neighborhood. To contact them for more questions, drop them a line at feralcrust(aaat)riseup(dot) net

We’d also like to mention that AshevilleFM is currently at the Big Crafty Festival in Asheville from noon-6pm today, come check out the booth and sign up to be a volunteer!

Also an update on the occupation at the Che Cafe on the campus of the University of California at San Diego:
“On JULY 15 at 2 PM there will be a meeting with UCSD Chancellor Khosla.
For the FIRST TIME, representatives of the Che Cafe Collective and CCSN will meet with Khosla to see if he will call off the eviction. Che supporters are calling for a big crowd to rally outside the meeting. It’s requested that you come if you can and spread the word! Directions to Office of the Chancellor at www-act.ucsd.edu/maps/ enter search for “Office of the Chancellor”. Address is University Center 107, and it’s located facing the UCSD Town Square just south and west of Price Center.”

We here at The Final Straw are soliciting sticker/poster/logo design to provide fascinating swag for our listeners! The design must include our web address, show name & imagery reflecting the nature of the radio show. Chosen artists will receive gifts of t-shirts and other anarchy goodies. You can email your designs in pdf form to bursts(attt)ashevillefm(ddot)org or a physical copy can be sent to:
The Final Straw
c/o AshevilleFM
864 Haywood Rd,
Asheville, NC 28806

A reminder: The Klu Klux Klan has called for a rally at the steps of the state capitol of South Carolina in Colombia on Saturday the 18th at 3pm. Folks are planning a counter-demonstration on the day to make it known that these jokers are not welcome in the streets. Check out http://columbiascdemocallout.tumblr.com/ for more info, or follow them on their twitter handle, @antiracistSC. From their site:

“On Saturday, July 18th, the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan will assemble on the statehouse grounds in Columbia, SC. And we will confront them.

This rally is part of a recent wave of anti-Black terror, from the Charleston massacre to the arson of Black churches, that has strategically sought to build upon a white racist backlash against the #BlackLivesMatter, anti-police uprisings of the past year.

We call upon all those who can #BlackLivesMatter activists, community organizers, anti-racists, anarchists and other radicals, and anyone else furious with racism and the police—to converge on Columbia, confront the Klan, and defy their message of white supremacy. History has shown—from the armed standoff against a lynch mob in Columbia, TN, in 1946 to the 1958 Battle of Hayes Pond, from the Deacons for Defense to the armed defiance of Monroe, NC’s NAACP chapter, from the 1979 Greensboro Massacre to the 1997 confrontation with the Klan in downtown Asheville, NC—that we must oppose white supremacist organizing actively and physically, in our streets and neighborhoods.

The KKK is only a small group, whose ability to inflict racist violence actually pales in comparison to that of structures of oppression like the police, the economy, and the state. But the sentiment that groups like the KKK hold runs deep through the currents of whiteness in this country, and is a major obstacle to our struggles against these larger structures. Explicit manifestations of white supremacy like the Klan are one way that the state will seek to contain the #BlackLivesMatter organizing and anti-police riots of the last year; at this historic juncture, a large Klan rally in the South cannot go unchallenged.

Bring banners, bring a friend, and bring your anger and rage against the white supremacy that courses through the veins of this society. See you in Columbia.”

Along the lines of last week’s announcement of great audio projects to check out outside of asheville, I’d suggest folks interested in a fantastic North American prison related show give a listen to The Prison Radio Show on CKUT, out of McGill University in Montreal. The show airs on the second Thursday of every month between 5-6 pm CST as part of CKUT News’s Off The Hour & the fourth Friday of every month between 11am and 12pm CST. More at http://prisonradioshow.wordpress.com

Also for a great look at audio anarchy in the Philippines – and to see what this week’s guests typically work on – you can check out the pirate radio station RADYO ITIM at https://radyoitim.wordpress.com/, or at 107.9FM if you are listening in Davao.

Out of Middleton, Connecticut & Wesleyan University, WESU hosts a show called Anarchy On Air, a student anarchist collective radio show featuring interviews, panels, action updates and more. This show was formerly incarnated as The Horizontal Power Hour. This show More can be found at http://anarchyonairwesu.tumblr.com/ and it can be heard 2nd/4th Tuesdays 4:00-4:55 pm EST

Anarcho-primitivist & philosopher John Zerzan cohosts the weekly, years running, hour-long radio show Anarchy Radio on 88.1 KWVA at the University of Oregon, Eugene. Check out archives of the show at http://johnzerzan.net/radio to hear him and cohosts discuss recent news around technology, school shootings, alienation, ecological destruction and ideas. The show airs Tuesday’s at 7pm PST and express your views by calling 541-346-0645 during the live broadcast.

Playlist

Tranzmission presents on Queer realities in prison

 http://tranzmissionprisonproject.tumblr.com/
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This week’s episode features a presentation by members of Tranzmission Prison Project, an Asheville-based group. TPP is described on their tumblr as “Prison abolitionists against Queer & Trans* incarceration “. This is a recording of group members presenting their LGBTQQIA Prisoner Realities workshop recently at Warren Wilson College.

Trigger warning: This episode discusses sexual assault, solitary confinement and other torturous punishments.

For more info on this project, check out:
http://www.tranzmissionprisonproject.org/

Dan Berger on “The Struggle Within: Prisons, Political Prisoners, and Mass Movements in the United States”

98217821-young-woman-wearing-groucho-marx-mask-gettyimages
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This week, William speaks with Dan Berger – who is an author, prison activist and movement historian – about his new book “The Struggle Within: Prisons, Political Prisoners, and Mass Movements in the United States” just out from PM Press. They speak about histories pertaining to radical mileus as well as the much debated term “political prisoner” and how it relates to prison abolition and support work, among other topics. More about him and his work can be found at http://danberger.org.

Also included is a piece by comrades at ARadio Berlin entitled “Practical Self Help; An Abortion Hotline in Chile”. More of their works can be found at http://aradio.blogsport.de.

Sean Swain’s segment this week is read by The Stimulator of http://Submedia.tv, check out their radical films at that site. Sean is still refusing meals, so far as we are aware. Updates can be found at http://seanswain.org

Anarchism in Post-Revolutionary Spain, pt2

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This week’s episode of the final straw picks up where last week’s left off. The features speakers are Ana and Pablo, two anarchists living in Barcelona, and they’ll be discussing the rise and struggle of Anarcha-Feminism in Spain since the social revolution of the 1930’s through to current times. We’ll also be discussing intersections of anarchist struggle and healthcare in the age of austerity and visions of autonomous and anarchist forms of health care. This show also features a scene report of Anarchists in Spain today by Pablo and Ana presents some closing thoughts on struggles to engage in.

Following the discussion, you’ll be hearing some new metal tracks from Brighton’s own Light Bearer. Light Bearer is a 4 album project themed around the fall of Lucifer. Light Bearer shares members with the band, Fall of Efrafa, an epic crust band themed around the novel Watership Down. The 2nd album in the series, Silver Tongue, has just been released by the band to a mediafire file.

We’ll also hear a metal track posthumously released from the Austin Texas anti-civ anarchist sludge project, Ecocide. For archives of this and other episodes of the Final Straw, check out radio4all.net and search the show title.

The playlist can be found here