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Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami

Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami

Photo taken from Al Jumhuriya

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This week on The Final Straw we’re featuring a chat with Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami. In this conversation, Joey tells us of some of the history of Lebanon, since the civil war that ended in 1990 and up to the current demonstrations against the clientelist warlords in power in that country. Intertwined with this, Leila speaks about the sparking of the resistance to Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the tumult of the civil war, and the state of anti-authoritarian and social justice organizing and media work in that country. Then the two talk about the experience of countering disinformation, conspiracy thinking and poor solidarity in the so-called Left in the West and ways to combat ignorance.

This is another long conversation, covering a lot of the last 30 years in these two neighboring nations.  The guests proposed speaking about the interrelations across that border because of the similarities, differences, and shared experiences between the two places.  Lebanon has Syrian refugees, it was occupied by Syria until 2005. Both spaces share Palestinian refugees, experienced war with Israel, are politically influenced from Hezbollah, mostly speak Arabic and even the flames of the recent wildfires that ignited anti-regime sentiment in Lebanon last fall crossed the border between Lebanon and Syria. We hope to have future chats that play with borders in this way to explore ways we can bridge these borders in our understanding in hopes of increased solidarity.

Joey Ayoub is a Lebanese-Palestinian writer, editor and researcher. He publishes frequently on https://joeyayoub.com/ as well as on the blog https://hummusforthought.com/ and the related podcast by the same title.

Leila Al-Shami is a British-Syrian activist and co-author of ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War‘, a founder of the international solidarity site, TahrirICN and writes on http://leilashami.wordpress.com/ .

Below are links to some resources that Joey and Leila suggest interested listeners check out to for perspectives by folks on the ground in the region:

Lebanon links:

Syria Links:

Timestamps:

  • Sean Swain [00:02:32 – 00:09:34]
  • Intro to Lebanon & Syria [00:09:34 – 00:21:35]
  • Lebanese Protests of 2015 & 2019 [00:21:35 – 00:31:40]
  • Syrian Revolution to Civil War [00:31:40 – 00:41:34]
  • Current Social Justice Struggle in Syria [00:41:46 – 00:45:56]
  • Daesh / ISIS and Syrian Civil War [00:45:56 – 00:49:56]
  • Solidarity with Syrians in Lebanese Protests [00:49:56 – 01:05:38]
  • Leila on Tahrir-ICN [01:05:50 – 01:09:18]
  • Educating Ourselves on Syria and Lebanon [01:09:18 – 01:23:07]
  • White Helmets and other Conspiracy Theories [01:23:07 – 01:32:59]
  • Syrian Diaspora and Western Left [01:32:59 – 01:37:19]
  • Rojava and the Syrian Revolution [01:37:19 – 01:41:56]
  • Better Practice in Solidarity with people in Syria and Lebanon [01:41:56 – 01:53:38]

Announcements

Michael Kimble Benefit

Last week we announced a fundraiser for Michael Kimble.  Because of issues with the platforms, the fundraiser for Michael Kimble’s legal benefit to help raise money for his fight to get him released from prison has been moved.  Now you can find it at ActionNetwork.org/Fundraising/Support-Michael-Kimble . Because the fundraiser had to be moved a couple of times, some of the initial push to get word out and initial donations may be irreplaceable. So, folks are asking for an extra push to help rasie this money to get our comrade out and organizing on the outside after 33 years behind bars.

BADNews February 2020 (#31)

This month, the A-Radio Network released it’s monthly, international English-language podcast featuring voices from anarchist and anti-authoritarian radio shows, pirate stations and podcasts from around the world. The episode is up at A-Radio-Network.org by clicking the B(A)DNews. If you’re interested in joining the network or learning more, info’s up on that site.

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Playlist

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Transcription

The Final Straw: I’m very happy to be joined by Leila al-Shami and Joey Ayoub. Joey is a Lebanese-Palestinian writer, editor, and researcher; he was the Middle East and North Africa editor at both Global Voices and IFEX until recently, and is co-editor of the book Enab Baladi: Citizen Chronicles of the Syrian Uprising. Currently he is doing a PhD at the University of Zurich on postwar Lebanese society. Leila is a British-Syrian activist and the coauthor of Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War.

Thank you both very much for taking the time to chat with me.

Leila al-Shami: Thank you.

Joey Ayoub: Thank you.

FS: I thought we could talk about anti-authoritarian aspects of popular movements against the regimes in both Lebanon and Syria and for new ways of living, and what solidarity can look like, within that region and from outside, with those popular anti-authoritarian movements. This is a really big conversation, and I’m very excited for the information that y’all are going to present.

First can y’all lay out a thumbnail of the post-colonial development in the respective countries—in Syria and Lebanon—including a bit about the interrelation between those neighboring countries, at least up until those anti-corruption and anti-authoritarian protests known as the Arab Spring?

JA: The primary thing to remember when it comes to the relationship between Syria and Lebanon is that historically they are the same region, “Greater Syria.” With regard to contemporary events, what’s important to understand from a Lebanese perspective is that the Syrian regime was one of two military occupiers of Lebanon—the other being Israel—between 1976 and 2005, when it was essentially forced out after a popular uprising.

Since then, the relationship between the two countries is extremely complicated, to say the least. On the one hand there is a major Lebanese political party that is active in supporting the Assad regime in Syria—I’m talking about Hezbollah. On the other hand, when we speak of Syrians in Lebanon we have to differentiate between the Syrian regime and Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees are effectively powerless and living in pretty bad conditions—I’m phrasing this lightly. It is really bad these days. They are often the victims of scapegoating by xenophobic sectarian parties that have played the same card against Palestinian refugees in the past—they are just using it against Syrian refugees today.

Any relationship is very complicated; there are historical links, but there are activist links as well. But other than that, the two countries are fairly separated due to this power dynamic.

LS: From my side, I think it’s important to understand how the Syrian regime, the current regime, came to power. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963 through a military coup, and it was founded upon an ideology which incorporated elements of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, both of which were witnessing popular resurgence in the wave of decolonization. Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970 through an internal coup within the Ba’ath Party. It was under him that the totalitarian police state was built, which repressed all political freedom. Any opposition or dissidents were dealt with very severely under Hafez al-Assad, and what became known as the ‘Kingdom of Silence’ was built. People were not able to express themselves politically.

Bashar inherited the dictatorship from his father in 2000, and when he came to power, Syrians were hoping for an opening—that they would have more rights and freedoms. But really he continued the policies of his father in terms of political repression, and the prisons were full of Muslim Brotherhood members, Kurdish opposition activists, leftist activists, and human rights activists. And there was also a very desperate socioeconomic situation: a wave of liberalization of the economy under Bashar which really consolidated the wealth in the hands of crony capitalists who were loyal to or related to the president, meanwhile subsidies and welfare that the poor relied on were dismantled.

It was these two factors, both the political repression and the very desperate socioeconomic situation, which led to the uprising which broke out in 2011—which of course arrived in the context of this transnational revolutionary wave that was sweeping the region.

FS: I think a lot of people in the West get confused with the term socialist in the expression of Ba’athists, and don’t have a specific understanding of what that term means in that instance. Can you break it down for those of us who are confused about what socialism refers to in terms of Ba’athism?

LS: The Ba’ath Party advocated socialist economics, but rejected the Marxist conception of class struggle. The Ba’ath believed that all classes among the Arabs were united in opposing capitalist domination by imperial powers, proposing that nations themselves, rather than social groups within and across nations, constituted the real subjects of struggle against domination.

So when they came to power, they pursued top-down socialist economic planning based on the Soviet model. They nationalized major industries, and engaged in large infrastructural modernization to contribute to this nation-state building enterprise: redistributing land, erasing the land-owning class, and improving rural conditions. It was these kinds of populist policies which brought the party a measure of cross-sectarian public support.

But at the same time, leftists were purged from the Ba’ath Party right at the beginning. Hafez al-Assad’s coup within the Ba’ath Party was against the leftwing faction. And later, all left opposition was either co-opted or crushed. Independent associations of workers, students, and producers were repressed, and para-statal organizations said to represent their interests emerged—a kind of corporatist model.

And like I said, under Bashar there was an increasing liberalization of the economy; it really moved away from any kind of socialist economic model towards a model which created a great deal of wealth disparity within the population.

FS: Joey, I wonder if you could set up how, after the civil war and occupation in Lebanon, power was distributed through the state structure there.

JA: It’s been thirty years since the end of the civil war. The postwar era, as we call it, started in 1990, when the civil war officially ended with the signing of the Taif agreement—Taif being the city in Saudi Arabia where they signed it. So it’s been almost exactly three decades since then.

The postwar era is defined by a number of things. The primary two components relevant to what is happening today are the format in which this so-called peace happened, and what happened after that. The format can be symbolized through an amnesty law that was passed in early 1991, which pardoned most crimes which were committed during the war—the only exception being the killing of other important people. If you had assassinated a prime minister or something like that, you might be exempted from the amnesty law. Other than that—if you were involved in kidnappings, enforced disappearances, torture, murder, all of these things—all of your crimes were wiped clean overnight.

Warlords who made their names during the war became the warlords who entered government in the nineties. They removed their military uniforms, put on their business suits, and became the government. The people we’re dealing with today for the most part are the exact same people who were the warlords during the civil war. The two very easy examples I can give are the current president, Michel Aoun, who was a warlord in the eighties, and the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who was also a warlord in the eighties.

These people have each created clientelist networks—we call it wasta in Arabic—and the result is we don’t really have one state. We do in theory—but that state is subsumed within these sectarian networks.

The second thing that happened in the postwar era which is also important is what you might describe as actually-existing neoliberalism. There was a rabid form of capitalism, the “shock doctrine” scenario that Naomi Klein famously coined in her book, wherein all the ruins of the war were further demolished. The most symbolic example of that is downtown Beirut, which saw a lot of the violence. Large parts of it were completely demolished instead of being renovated and public spaces being made accessible again, and everything was privatized.

Fast forward three decades: what we’ve been seeing since October 17, 2019, this symbolic date when the current uprisings started, are attempts by a number of protesters to reclaim this public space that has been privatized, and to reclaim a sense of identity that transcends these sectarian limits which were implemented in the postwar era.

They were always there—they have been part of Lebanon’s de facto legal reality. Sectarianism is institutionalized. Political confessionalism is the official term for it. In the postwar era there have been quite a lot of protest movements trying to move beyond sectarianism, calling for some kind of secularism, some kind of trans-sectarian identity, with the knowledge that sectarianism isn’t just a social ill in itself (as in, it’s bad to be sectarian) but also understanding that sectarianism is used in a specific way in Lebanon that benefits those who are already at the top.

That’s a simplistic summary, of course, but that’s essentially what we’ve been seeing since October 17. And this time there is a momentum that is explicitly anti-sectarian, and an awareness that as soon as sectarianism wins, the movement immediately loses. There’s an extreme sensibility towards remaining anti-sectarian.

FS: Would you mind talking a little bit about how the clientelism and expectations of social infrastructure, and the lack of following through on these expectations, led to the October protests, and how clientelism stands in opposition to the idea of a social contract?

JA: It is very difficult in Lebanon to do anything unless you have the connections. Education, healthcare, basic services like electricity and water—people tend to rely on private networks for all these things. I went through a private education. Most people in Lebanon have to pay two electricity bills, one private and one public, because the public one is not 24/7. For water, technically you pay three different bills, because there’s public and private running water, and separately there is bottled water because the tap water is not potable. This is a small example of how the clientelism functions in Lebanon.

It really precedes the civil war, and going all the way into that would require a different kind of analysis which I’m not the most capable of giving. But what we saw in October—and in the months and years preceding October 17—was this lack of social contract becoming even more painful. Before then, there was always a way for a percentage of the population—I can’t even say for sure it’s a majority—to sort of get by. There was always a way to make ends meet, so to speak, one way or another. Living conditions were never extremely good, but they were decent enough for you to have an okay life. Especially, obviously, if you’re middle class. That has declined in the last decade or so.

The 2011 uprisings had an impact on Lebanon. Cutting off Syria economically from Lebanon impacted business locally. It also reduced significantly any kind of Gulf investment, which had been reliable up until 2011-12. That’s what has been breaking down slowly in the last decade, and that’s part of the spark that led to October 17, 2019. But that week, that same week, there were very bad wildfires that ravaged through the country and even reached parts of Syria; it was over forty-eight hours before they were fought off through a combination of luck—it started raining—and airplanes that were donated by foreign governments.

And just a day later, the government decided to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls, which are obviously free and used by virtually all Lebanese because actual phonecalls are so expensive due to the corruption and clientelism. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

On the night of 17 October, the day the WhatsApp tax was proposed, people spontaneously went to Beirut, to Nabatiyeh in the south, to Tripoli in the north—people went out in cities across Lebanon. In the first couple of weeks, the momentum was so overwhelming. It was on all levels across all regions of Lebanon, with almost no exceptions, touching all socioeconomic classes (there were even protests where I live; this has never happened before), and there was a very explicit anti-sectarian component.

This is remarkable because sectarianism in Lebanon has created a reality where it is virtually impossible—in practice it just never happens—that if you are from a certain region and you’re just used to seeing people from a certain sect (with the exception of the big cities like Beirut), you don’t really know much about other parts of the country where a different sect has a majority. If you come from Mount Lebanon you don’t necessarily know much about the south or the north, unless you have family connections.

That’s been our reality for three decades. And nonetheless in the first month or so, it was very common to see people in Tripoli (the Sunni-majority city in the north) sending their solidarity to Nabatiyeh (the Shia-majority area in the south) and vice versa. In Jounieh (which is Christian majority) and Beirut (which is very mixed) and Mount Lebanon (which is Druze majority), there were always explicit statements of solidarity from one region to another, from one sect to another, saying, essentially: we have this thing that unites us beyond our sectarian allegiances.

The other extremely important component is summarized by the chant kelon ya’neh kelon, which means “All of them means all of them.” It’s very simple. Every single politician that has participated in this postwar status quo has to go. It’s a complete rejection of every single political leader of the postwar era, basically, whether they are currently in government or not.

That’s very important, because there have been a number of sectarian parties that were previously in the government and currently are less so—they still have MPs but they are not the ruling parties—that have been trying to ride the wave of the revolution by presenting themselves as opposition parties, trying to play with the binary that is the March 8 and March 14 movements.

What are these two? March 8 and March 14 are the names of two coalitions that were formed on those dates in 2005. Following the assassination of then-prime minister Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005, there were mass mobilizations on these two dates with different orientations towards the Syrian regime. On March 8 was the pro-Syrian regime protest, led by Hezbollah and Amal at the time. On March 14 was the anti-Syrian regime protest, led by the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalangists, and the Progressive Socialist Party and other parties. Since then they have created a power-sharing agreement following the model of the postwar era, where it’s one coalition or the other that’s ruling, always fighting with each other but always finding more things in common than things that distinguish them—especially when there are independents trying to run against both of them, that’s when they close ranks.

Because the current government, for various reasons, is a March 8 government—Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement—there are parties that were traditionally associated with March 14—the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, and the Phalangists—that have been trying to place themselves in the position of opposition against the March 8-led government.

The protesters are rejecting that. No. All of them means all of them; you will not be able to ride the wave of the revolution. In five days it will be the four-month anniversary of these protests, and the momentum has changed, but it is still firmly anti-sectarian.

FS: Let’s turn and rejoin Leila in the chronology of how anti-corruption movements had been developing in Syria and then come back to anti-corruption in Lebanon. Leila, Joey had mentioned Syrian refugees being present and the way the forest fires crossed the border; these two countries have had a lot of interaction between each other. I’m wondering if you could talk about how the anti-corruption and reform movements and revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring effected and impacted Syria, with the Syrian revolution and subsequent civil war.

LS: People in Syria were generally quietly against the regime prior to 2000. The last major uprising had been at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, and started off as a broad-based movement against the regime but ended up becoming very dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood due to the severe repression of those who were participating in it. It culminated in the massacre of Hama, when thousands of people were killed and much of the old city of Hama was destroyed by Assad’s forces. In addition to that, thousands of people disappeared into regime detention; many of them were never seen again. This experience of such brutal repression had kept Syrians quiet since that time.

But when the Arab Spring, as it came to be known in the West, emerged in 2010-11, people in Syria were seeing what was happening in Egypt, what was happening in Tunisia, and the governments being brought down there, and they began to ask, “Why not us?” This gave people—a new generation that hadn’t directly experienced the repression that had occurred before—the strength to go out onto the streets and start demonstrating themselves. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, though, people in Syria didn’t go out into the streets calling for the fall of the regime, initially. What they were calling for was reforms: things like a multi-party system, the release of political prisoners, a free press.

These were demands which had been taken up in 2000 when Bashar first came to power, and people thought there was an opening for change. There was a small movement—it wasn’t a popular broad-based movement like we saw in 2011, but it was a movement among intellectuals and human rights activists that started to call for reforms when Bashar came to power. That movement, again, was severely repressed, and all hope for change under Bashar died at that point—until 2011, when what happened in Tunisia and Egypt really reignited the hopes of a new generation.

So they came out onto the streets calling for reform, but the brutality of the response by the state—which immediately began meeting peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters with gunfire, massive waves of detention, and repression—radicalized the movement. It caused it to spread rapidly across the country, and it encouraged people to start calling for the fall of the regime and even for the execution of the president. It was the regime’s repression which really catalyzed the movement’s spreading and becoming a revolutionary movement.

I think it’s very important to recognize that when this happened in 2011, it was a broad-based, inclusive movement. It included many women from all different backgrounds, a diversity of Syria’s religious groups and ethnic groups, all united around the demands for freedom, for democracy, and for social justice. The social justice element is often not focused on very much in the West. But it was a large component of the revolutionary demands.

Many people went out on the streets and chanted against the crony capitalists who had amassed a great deal of wealth under the current regime. For example, Rami Makhlouf, who is Assad’s maternal cousin, was estimated prior to 2011 to control some sixty percent of the Syrian economy through his business interests—in real estate, mobile telephone companies, etcetera. There were large chants against him on the streets and against other crony capitalists.

There was a strong element of awareness and strong social and economic demands as part of the revolutionary movement, but those were not focused on very much in Western reporting.

FS: In your book Burning Country that you coauthored, y’all made a point of saying when people took up arms to defend themselves against the government, the inclusivity of the popular movement started to dissipate. That’s how I remember reading it, at least. Can you talk about what the integration of armed struggle into the movement against the government did to the dynamic of the revolution, and how it became a civil war?

LS: Taking up arms was a response to the massive repression by the state against peaceful protesters. At the beginning it was still inclusive—this wasn’t an organized military or army. This was people taking up weapons in their communities to defend their communities and their families from assault. People were being taken from their homes and detained; there was also a mass rape campaign carried out in oppositional communities by Assad-affiliated militias. So people took up arms to defend themselves in loosely-coordinated defense brigades.

By the summer of 2012, we started to see the Free Army label being used. Now, the Free Army was never really an organized army; it was never centrally controlled or centrally funded, although there were failed attempts to do so. It was an umbrella which different groups and different militias could come under with two main aims: one was the fall of the regime, to force Assad out of power, and the other was to see some kind of democratic transition take place. The people who signed up to the Free Army label were people who were united behind those aims.

But as time went by, the armed opposition became more and more fragmented, due to external pressures on them. They couldn’t get the weapons that they needed to really defend themselves and their communities from regime assaults. There were light weapons going in, but the anti-aircraft missiles which people desperately needed were not being provided. Aerial assaults were the main cause of destruction and main cause of death, and it was Assad who was controlling the skies—later alongside his Russian ally.

We also saw, around December 2013, an increasing Islamization among armed groups in Syria. The main reason for that was the failure of the democrats of the Free Army to attract funding and support from the Western states that they were reaching out to. Some brigades started Islamizing their rhetoric in order to attract support from Gulf donors specifically.

So there was an increasing Islamization of the opposition groups, and an increasing fragmentation of armed opposition groups. There were so many different armed brigades that were present at that time, and we see now that most of the armed groups operating in Syria do have an Islamist leaning and have eclipsed in strength the democrats of the Free Army.

But while there was this fragmentation of the armed opposition—which was due in large part to this competing struggle for weapons, competing struggles for military dominance and political dominance in areas they were controlling—there was also, in parallel, a continuing civil movement which was committed to the original goals of the revolutionary struggle and remained an inclusive and diverse movement.

FS: Fast-forwarding now into what has been nine years of one of the most deadly civil wars of the twenty-first century so far, I’m sure what a lot of people are experiencing on the ground in opposition areas at this point is simply a struggle for survival against this genocidal regime. But can you say anything about what exists, as far as you’re aware, of democratic movements for social justice in Syria?

LS: There are plenty of Syrians who are still committed to those ideals of the revolution, and there are plenty of Syrians working today within their communities trying to keep things functioning; plenty of civil society organizations that are continuing to do media work, continuing to assist the displaced, trying to keep hospitals functioning. But it has become a matter of survival, a struggle for survival. Today the main area which is outside Assad regime control, or still in the control of rebel groups, is Idlib. Idlib today is facing an absolutely relentless assault, a war of extermination against the civilian population there.

Since the assault on Idlib began in April 2019, over a million people have been displaced, nearly 700,000 since December alone—just gone. There have been massive attacks on civilian infrastructure; dozens of hospitals put out of action. People are fleeing for their lives. It’s very hard in such circumstances to talk about any kind of organized movement, because people are really just struggling to survive. People are fleeing outside of Idlib city or to the north of Idlib, and there’s no place left to go, no remaining safe haven for people. Many of these people had already been displaced multiple times, when their communities came under attack or were forced to surrender and recaptured by regime forces. And the borders are not open. The situation on the ground today in Syria is completely desperate.

In areas that have come back under regime control, whether we’re talking about Dera’a in the south or the Ghouta around Damascas, there have been massive waves of repression against the population who stayed. Anyone who is seen to have been in any way affiliated with the opposition has been arrested and detained. Young men have been rounded up and sent to the front lines to fight, basically on missions from which they are not going to return.

But we have also seen that resistance has continued. There have been waves of protests happening in Dera’a. Extremely courageous people in regime-controlled areas have still been protesting, calling for things like the release of prisoners, protesting against the desperate economic situation. Just in the last couple of weeks in Sweida, which is a Druze-majority area, people have been out on the streets protesting against a very desperate economic situation, protesting against the corruption they’re seeing.

In Dera’a, we’re seeing waves of assassinations against regime forces as well. So while the organized resistance movement and organized civil society has been very much crushed over recent months as the regime has taken control, we see that those desires for freedom, for justice, for this regime to end, have not gone away. And when others have a chance to organize, they’re still trying to organize—they’re very clear that they’re not going to accept this regime. There’s no life for people under this regime.

FS: This is a subject that I’m sure gets brought up a lot in conversations about Syria with Westerners, but it seems like the democratic social movement had a few different fronts on which they were being attacked, including with the uprising of Daesh as a movement across Iraq and Syria. In your experience, is Daesh still a threat against social movements, or has it been crushed, as it’s been presented in the Western media?

LS: Daesh hasn’t been crushed. There’s this idea that you can defeat an ideology militarily when the conditions that fed that ideology are still very preset, when the chaos which allows such extremist groups to thrive is still there. Daesh has certainly lost a lot of its organized power, but it has the ability to regroup and re-form—we’ve seen that in Iraq, and in attacks that have been carried out in Syria in recent months.

It’s not just Daesh which is a threat. If we look at Idlib—I said that Idlib was the main province still under rebel control. The group in control of a large part of Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra, which is a very extremist Islamist militia. They have repeatedly tried to wrest power away from the democratic opposition structures which were established in Idlib following the liberation from the regime, and have tried to impose their own extremely authoritarian religious strictures upon a population which overwhelmingly rejects them.

This is something which is not spoken about much in the West. People often say Idlib is an “al-Qaeda enclave” because this group HTS was formerly affiliated to al-Qaeda. What they’re overlooking is all the people protesting against the group. We’ve seen continuous demonstrations in Idlib, up until now, people calling for HTS to leave their communities and hand over power to democratic opposition structures.

So yes, Syrians have had a battle on two fronts. They’ve had a battle against this fascist tyrannical regime which is committing genocide against a population which demanded freedom, and a struggle against extremist Islamist groups such as Daesh and HTS and others.

The third battle, of course, has been against people in the West, often people who identify as being on the left, who have continuously slandered revolutionary Syrians, have equated revolutionary Syrians with groups like al-Qaeda, and have in fact thrown their support behind the Assad regime. Free Syrians have found that they have very few friends. But they retain their desire for freedom, and they continue to maintain that they are not going to accept one tyranny being followed by another.

FS: Joey, on an episode of the Arab Tyrant Manual from November 2019, you and another guest, Timour Azhari, were talking about calls for solidarity with the Syrian people that were coming up in the chants of Lebanese protesters, and I wonder if you, or both of you, could talk a little bit about solidarity against authoritarian structures across that border, between Lebanon and Syria, and between the popular mobilizations against sectarianism that you’ve seen.

JA: The anti-sectarian component of the protest movements in Lebanon essentially appeals to some kind of national identity. It’s one thing to have my religion as a Christian, as a Shia, as a Sunni, as a Druze, and that’s fine, but there should be something that unites us further than that—we’re all Lebanese. Of course that’s a double-edged sword: nationalism can unite people across sects within one nation-state, and it can also otherize people who are not Lebanese.

That’s a very common thing, and it’s a reality that anti-authoritarians, progressives, radicals, lefties, and others in Lebanon have to contend with: the overwhelming presence of xenophobia. Much of it was created during the civil war; the Syrian regime was an occupier, so many Lebanese, especially those of the older generation, equate Syrians with the Assad regime. This is very ironic and self-defeating, because obviously Syrian refugees in Lebanon are fleeing a conflict that was started by the Assad regime; there could have been opportunities for cooperation and unity. But what is happening is xenophobia and nationalism.

In the same way as in Hong Kong, where there is a segment of the population which is anti-China in the ethnic sense rather than being anti-Chinese-government, there is in Lebanon a segment of the protesters that is anti-Syrian, not just anti-Syrian regime. There are even Lebanese who oppose the Syrian regime, who oppose Hezbollah, who still share the same xenophobic, racist attitudes towards Syrian refugees.

And this power dynamic is worsened by the fact that the economic situation in Lebanon is already shit. It’s really bad. It creates the opportunity for scapegoating Syrian refugees, modeled after the scapegoating of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the Nakba: they faced this type of attitude, especially during the civil war because there was an armed Palestinian faction, but that’s a different story.

To try and counter that, there is a segment of Lebanese protesters, most notably the feminists, who are trying to create a movement that is more inclusive. They are openly intersectional and speak about class struggle, and about gender equality beyond the confines of citizenship—which is already very restrictive in Lebanon. You cannot become Lebanese other than by marrying a Lebanese citizen or inheriting it—and even then it is only passed on by a man. You can inherit citizenship if your father is Lebanese, but you cannot inherit it if only your mother is Lebanese. So there is a percentage of the population in Lebanon that are “not even Lebanese” but who are in fact Lebanese. What the progressives are saying is that if someone can be Lebanese and not Lebanese at the same time, we can also accept that there might be more than one way of being Lebanese. This is why I insist on calling myself Lebanese-Palestinian, to refuse to relinquish my grandfather’s identity. It’s not even considered something that can be a reality. You’re either one or the other, and that’s it.

Something being called a “revolution” or having revolutionary momentum does not automatically mean that everyone participating in that uprising has the best politics in the world. Even in Syria in 2011-12, there were conservatives who would take part in the protests. That’s completely normal. There’s more than one way of expressing opposition to illegitimate authority. If we’re talking about the Assad regime, there are multiple ways of opposing it. There are even Islamists who oppose the Assad regime. As a progressive who would not want to have an Islamist regime either, you still can’t automatically reject everyone who doesn’t share every single one of your politics. It’s complicated.

In Lebanon it’s complicated in different ways. In the beginning, there were sectarian people participating in the protests. There were members of Hezbollah, members of the Lebanese Forces, and members of other sectarian political parties among us. Even to this day, there still are, but to a lesser extent. They were in fact going against their own parties, without renouncing their parties. What happens in that space, within that momentum, is a sort of negotiation. Chanting kelon ya’neh kelon made lots of people uncomfortable. Calling out certain specific politicians by name made certain people uncomfortable. That alienated some people, whereas other stuck around. Some people were “converted.” Other people still participate without chanting these specific chants.

So there’s an ideal: kelon ya’neh kelon, anti-sectarianism, a vision of a fair society. And within that ideal, there are multiple ways of negotiating, because at the end of the day, if I want a society that is better than the current society, I have to face the contradictions of that society. Those contradictions, whether we’re talking about sectarianism, xenophobia, nationalism—all of these things exist everywhere in Lebanon. They exist within your own family, within your community networks. It is very difficult just to say, “Screw all of you, I am going to create something without all of you.”

FS: Leila, the reason I first heard your name besides Burning Country was in reference to Tahrir-ICN coming up in the 2010s. Can you talk a little bit about that project and what became of it, how it developed, and what impacts you saw it have?

LS: Tahrir-ICN was an attempt to address the issue of a lack of knowledge of anti-authoritarian struggles in the region, outside of it. A group of activists came together, myself included, with the idea to build this network among anti-authoritarian activists in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. It had two components to it. The first was an information-sharing platform, establishing a blog and social media accounts. The second was to build a physical network where we could work on practical actions and build solidarity together, sharing experiences.

The first aspect of it was quite successful. It started in 2012, just after the revolutions in the region broke out. Different collectives from across the region and in Europe started sharing information of what was happening in their country. This was a time when there were lots of uprisings across the region and also in Greece and in Spain: the Occupy movement, a lot of exciting things were happening. It didn’t have one vision. It was trying to learn from a wide variety of experiences and struggles loosely labeled anti-authoritarian. We had quite a wide readership for our blog, and I think it was very useful for people outside, in Europe or in America, to find out more about anti-authoritarian struggles in the Middle East and North Africa, and vice-versa..

The second aspect, building a physical network—we had a number of discussions about having an event to bring people together. There was certainly a lot of interest in that. But then the counterrevolutions broke out very strongly. People became very bogged down in what was happening in their countries. People started losing a lot of energy, and the network kind of fizzled out. I myself decided that I had to prioritize what was happening in Syria due to my connections with Syria. People got very caught up in their own stuff, and it kind of died out. But I think that for the time when it was operative, it provided a useful source of information to learn about each other and to see the wide variety of struggles that were occurring.

FS: For the sake of us staying informed and educated about what’s actually going on in this region of the world, can y’all talk about maybe some resources that we have, particularly in English, that we could be relying on to get a better grasp? And also maybe some resources that you think are trash and we should avoid? That would be very helpful.

LS: I would encourage people to look for resources which are produced by people who are living in or connected to the regions themselves. It’s very important to try to go to native sources where possible, to people who have a very real understanding of the issues because they’re directly affected by them. We’ve been very privileged that there is so much information available in English. There are so many activists who are very active on social media across the region who we can connect with on Twitter, on Facebook, who are telling their stories. From Syria, there are so many great independent media initiatives. There is Enab BaladiJoey worked on producing a book of some of their texts—which was established by women in one of the main revolutionary towns known as Daraya. There were some amazing experiences of self-organization in that town. There is al-Jumhuriya, which was established by Syrians, which is great for analysis of the region.

I would encourage people to find out a bit more and to go to these sources, and to try to educate themselves. The first and most important aspect of solidarity is correcting the information. There is so much disinformation circulating about what is happening in the region. It’s so exhausting for activists who have much more important struggles than focusing on correcting the narrative. It would be great if some of that work could be done from the outside. It would certainly free up Syrian activists to focus on other more practical things that they need to address.

JA: On the Lebanon side of things, I can start by recommending a podcast that’s called The Lebanese Politics Podcast. Starting with the episode which was released just after the October 17 revolution started, they’ve put out about an episode a week, in English, in which they go back to the events of that week and interpret them and talk about them. It is as objective as you can get, from an archival perspective. Both of them are on the left and are analyzing from the anti-sectarian angle.

Other than that, most good media in Lebanon is in Arabic. Recently, especially since 2015 when there was another uprising—which was not as successful but laid the groundwork for what was to come—there were things like Megaphone News, which is mostly in Arabic but sometimes has English stuff; they are really good. There is the Public Sourceagain, these are mostly in Arabic but occasionally have some English stuff.

A lot of the voices of anti-authoritarian Syrians are present in mainstream Anglo media. Just recently there was For Sama, the documentary that was nominated for an Oscar and won many film festival awards. There was the White Helmets documentary from 2017. There are a bunch of really good war-related but more personal-narrative documentaries popping up. All of these are available with English subtitles, and are very easy to find these days.

The main thing to challenge, really, is disinformation. The decision is whether people want to believe what they are seeing with their own eyes. For Sama is literally just footage put together to tell a story. You can think whatever you want, but if you’re starting to doubt what you see with your own eyes, the bombing that you’re literally seeing in front of you, then we’re entering a world that has not just implications for Syrians and Palestinians and Lebanese and others, but indeed implications for everyone else.

The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote and the so-called wave of far-right populism (which is a nice euphemism for fascism a lot of the time) didn’t really surprise a lot of us who live on this side of the world and have been involved with anti-authoritarian politics. Some of the signs that we were going into a dangerous international moment were already present in Syria as early as 2013, with the chemical massacre in Eastern Ghouta, among other things. The reactions to that started signaling that we’re slowly moving towards a normalization of blatant violence against civilian bodies.

What progressives in Lebanon are trying to do right now is create a different media landscape outside the norms, a counternarrative to the dominant narratives in Lebanon, because they are very influenced by the sectarian status quo. Many of them are owned by the sectarian parties. With Syria it was very different at first, because there wasn’t really any independent media before 2011. But an explosion of creativity came after 2011 (Enab Baladi, the project I worked on, is one of the examples of that), so now it is very easy to get very decent, advanced, sophisticated information. The question is how much energy people are willing to put into it.

It’s always good to inform yourself as much as possible about what’s happening in the rest of the world, just as a general rule, and there tends to be enough information these days. But the other thing is calling out disinformation when you see it online. To do that convincingly, you do need to arm yourself with quite a lot of knowledge, because the disinformation campaigns, especially since Russia decided to intervene militarily in Syria, have been pretty extraordinary. We’re not just dealing with RT and Sputnik. There are horrific takes being taken for granted which if they were on Palestine would be the abode of the far right, but for some reason when it comes to Syria, lots of lefties repeat basically the same things that rightwing Zionists would repeat on Palestine—the same takes! They just go with that narrative instead of looking at the facts on the ground and reading the books by Syrians who have been writing for decades now, many of whom are translated into English.

Information is power, and it can be used for good. But we have to deal with all of the disinformation around us. It’s been exhausting. Many of us have experienced months of burnout. Most activists I know, including those who were in Aleppo until recently, or in Ghouta or in Idlib or in the south or wherever, have completely given up on trying to challenge anyone online, or are just working locally. Some still spend entire days sometimes arguing with mostly Westerners online about their own country and their own homes that they just had to leave.

Westerners are not going through fascism in the same sense that Syrians are. There is definitely that threat, especially these days, but it’s still not at the level of the Assad regime controlling everything and dropping barrel bombs, and having foreign militaries invited into your country. I don’t know how to say this, but privilege is a responsibility. Having privilege means you should do something with it. Use the access to knowledge that you have and inform yourself on what’s been happening in Syria, especially since 2011, or since 1982 with the Hama massacre as Leila mentioned, or wherever you want to start, instead of just getting stuck in these echo chambers which have been so common, unfortunately, with the Western left.

FS: I’m wondering if either of you have the energy to talk really briefly about that or touch on some of the conspiracy theories we need to challenge? You don’t have to answer if you don’t have the energy.

LS: Very briefly, the White Helmets are volunteer first responders, men and women, people who are often the first on the scene to assist victims of Assad and Russia’s aerial bombardment, taking bodies from the rubble, taking people to makeshift hospitals for treatment. I think it’s because they are first on the scene to record and witness these state crimes that they have come under vicious attack. A lot of the assault on the White Helmets does originate in Russian state media; the Russian state has carried out a massive disinformation campaign against the White Helmets. We’ve seen them being accused of being al-Qaeda operatives; we’ve seen them being accused of being behind chemical weapons massacres. There have even been reports that they are engaged in organ harvesting. All sorts of horrendous and malicious accusations have been thrown at them.

The problem is that a lot of these accusations, which are starting in Russian or Syrian state media, are then being propagated and spread by people who identify as being on the left. We’ve seen a lot of these disinformation campaigns carried out by purportedly leftist activists, and these kinds of conspiracies also find their way into the mainstream. It’s very difficult now to even mention the White Helmets. I spend quite a lot of my time traveling and giving talks about Syria, trying to build solidarity for Syria, and even when I come across people who are generally sympathetic to what I’m saying—they’re not supportive in any way of the Assad regime; they seem to want to stand in solidarity with free Syrians—they’ll come up to me at the end of the talk and say, “Well, what about these White Helmets? We’ve heard this, we’ve heard that.” So this campaign of disinformation has been very successful in polluting the public space in such a way that really makes any kind of practical solidarity with revolutionary Syrians almost impossible.

It’s so dangerous at the moment in a place like Idlib, where international aid agencies have all pulled out. We’re seeing massive targeting of residential infrastructure and survival infrastructure—hospitals, schools, water supplies. It’s the White Helmets who are there, who can provide any kind of lifeline to people who are facing that kind of assault. They are maligned and slandered, when they are really the people who we should be standing behind and supporting—they are in desperate need of funding to continue their work. It’s very difficult to constantly face these kinds of attacks.

JA: Russia’s online disinformation campaigns have been widely studied by now. The discourse that Russia appeals to, or that pro-Assad or pro-Hezbollah folks appeal to, is identical to the War on Terror narrative that was popularized by George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. The whole “You’re either with us or the enemy” mentality was literally almost quoted verbatim by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, just a few weeks ago. This discourse has been reinforced and rendered hegemonic in some circles of the broader left, especially (but not just) the Western left. Russia has an obvious interest in people believing that the White Helmets are terrorists, because under the War on Terror, terrorists are fair game. You can shoot them. It’s really that simple.

The Russian embassies on Twitter (some particular embassies, like the one in South Africa, have a particular notoriety for some reason) post disinformation against the White Helmets, and against the documentary about the White Helmets—they posted a photo of Osama bin Laden receiving the Oscar. All of these things are Islamophobic smears that have been widespread especially since the aftermath of 9/11. Russia has utilized this in the past, in Chechnya. Chechnya is particularly important to mention here because one of the Russian embassies also tweeted at one point some years ago, during the fall of Aleppo, a before-and-after picture of Grozny—eradicated by Putin and rebuilt—and the message was, “This could be Aleppo.”

If those among us who call ourselves anti-authoritarians do not understand the consequences or the connotations of this, then we’re basically saying that we do not really care about groups of people that are vulnerable in our own societies, let alone in other societies or in the wider world, including Syrians in this case. The disinformation campaigns don’t just tell you something—they also tell you what not to think. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. It’s that sort of mentality. It stays in the back of your mind, it just festers there, and that alone is enough to reduce any momentum towards solidarity. What it does is discourage people from looking further.

That is the success of the disinformation. You pollute the media sphere. If you just google the White Helmets, on the first pages you will find a lot of horrible things being said. If you go on Twitter it’s dominated by Russian disinformation campaigns. When I say Russian disinformation I don’t just mean RT and Sputnik, but anyone who hovers around that world. That is extremely dangerous in a situation where these people are literally being murdered as we speak. They have even been targeted by al-Qaeda. Calling them al-Qaeda is not just a horrific, racist, Islamophobic smear—it actually puts their lives in danger.

FS: We haven’t really touched on the Syrian diaspora. I didn’t think about how a lot of this conspiracy theory stuff plays into the rightwing xenophobic rhetoric about people escaping the civil war there or escaping war in Libya or other parts of the world that the West often views through an orientalist and Islamophobic lens: that they are bringing this contagion of terrorism with them or whatever.

JA: Leila’s coauthor Robin Yassin-Kassab observed that before Syrians arrived on the shores of Fortress Europe and were being demonized by the far right as terrorists and demographic threats and all of these slurs, they were already being demonized and treated with hostility by large segments of the left. That scapegoating was already there—it’s not just that suddenly Syrians started appearing in Europe and there was massive reaction against them by the right. Of course there was that as well. But the stories of Syrians arriving in Europe (most are not in Europe, obviously; they are in Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan and so on) were canceled, deleted, smeared, and demonized in advance, accelerating the process of dehumanization.

Understanding what’s happening, the context of a country, especially one in “conflict” like Syria, also means supporting the refugees that come to your shores.

FS: A lot of the coverage that this show has done on war in Syria has been specifically focusing on the struggles in northern Syria, particularly as relates to the Kurdish-majority areas and the PYD and the PKK-affiliated Kurdish movement. This is partly because there’s a better infrastructure for communication and discourse in the West, but also a lot of anarchists and leftists have been for a long time in very active solidarity with PKK-related struggles.

Leila, as someone who’s covered the war in Syria and the revolution before that, could you talk a little bit about how the PYD has related to that?

LS: That struggle has certainly gained much more solidarity in the West, and you touched on the reasons for that: the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and the US has been there for a long time and has been able to build solidarity networks that take a long time to build, and Syrians living in other parts of the country had not had that. They didn’t have so much connection with the West. It’s very difficult, obviously. Even prior to the revolution it was difficult for Syrians to travel, to get visas, to be outside. So there wasn’t that much exchange built up for people to know what was happening in other areas.

Some of it also comes down to a Western orientalism that often likes to focus on minority groups as being the most persecuted, combined with Islamophobic racism towards Sunni majorities in Syria and elsewhere. This does tend to have a disproportionate impact on the way minority groups are able to attract solidarity.

That said, there are lots of very inspiring things happening within the Kurdish movement in northern Syria which are directly attractive to anti-authoritarians and anarchists in the West, and I see why there’s an appeal. But there have also been plenty of very inspiring things happening in other parts of Syria. One of the untold stories of the Syrian revolution is how in the absence of the state, when the state collapsed or was pushed out of the majority of the country, people came together and began to build alternative structures for self-organization within those areas.

For example, when the state withdrew and pulled out services, people realized that they needed to build forums to keep their communities functioning. The model that they looked to was developed by a Syrian anarchist called Omar Aziz, who advocated for the establishment of local councils, grassroots forums in which people could come together to discuss the needs in their community and self-organize to keep services functioning, such as electricity supply, hospitals, water supply systems, education systems. That model spread throughout Syria, leading to the establishment of hundreds of local councils throughout the country.

These experiences of self-organization and autonomous politics that happened as a direct result of the Syrian revolution should have been something that people outside were looking at and learning from, and that was a missed opportunity. Possibly some of that was on us, on our inability to communicate effectively what was happening. But also we had a lot of other priorities. It should have been people on the outside looking at what was happening inside Syria and seeing how they could find access to better information.

FS: To close, where do you think the people’s more democratic movements in these two venues are going? Are there any things to keep an eye on? Any direct ways, other than countering disinformation, that folks in the listening audience can support people who are struggling for autonomy and to uplift their dignity in Syria and Lebanon?

LS: I would love to talk about all the opportunities for political solidarity, to build the free Syria that we all want to see. But Syrians are facing a war of extermination right now. The situation on the ground is so absolutely desperate in places like Idlib that any immediate call has to be a purely humanitarian call, to try to pressure a ceasefire, to stop the assault by Russia and the regime on residential communities, to stop this humanitarian crisis from spiraling absolutely out of control, which it is doing at the moment.

I would encourage people to look at some of the Syrian-led organizations which are providing support to these internally displaced people on the ground. The Molham Volunteering Team is a wonderful organization doing wonderful work. Violet Organization, Kids Paradise—the immediate needs for survival take precedence over any other call I think of right now.

And then I’ll reiterate what we’ve been saying about being more informed—there are still many Syrians working to try to hold this regime accountable, to try to keep going with their desire to live in a free country. I encourage people to find out who they are and to see which ways they can stand in solidarity with them.

JA: As for Lebanon, what’s been happening in the past almost four months is often described as a rebirth. There is a lot of very new momentum. Some of the media outlets that I mentioned before were literally launched in the past few weeks. A few of them are the offspring of the 2015 movement, but others are really much newer than that. There are websites that only have half a dozen articles and they are just building on that.

That’s the exciting part. We’re having an emergence. There is an emergence of a civic-society mentality—though that has a lot of limitations. Sometimes it’s limited by a liberal paradigm. But it creates a space. It’s a moment to push for ideas that are more progressive. That’s what folks like me are trying to do. I am just a writer. Other people are doing much more direct work on the ground. There are soup kitchens that have popped up in places like Beirut and Tripoli. There are independent unions being formed because the current unions are either co-opted or useless. There are independent media workers—while there are good people working within mainstream outlets, they tend to be limited by those outlets’ priorities.

At the same time, in the same way as in Syria, there has been an outburst of creativity. Arts and music genres that hadn’t been explored before are now being explored, like metal and rap and hip-hop. Lebanon is freer than Syria as a society, there are fewer restrictions. There is a lot of self-censorship, but not as much of the overt censorship that there is in Syria. You can pretty much say whatever you want, within some limits sometimes, and that has allowed us a little bit more breathing space compared with what Syrians have had, to create some of this infrastructure that is now booming. Currents like environmentalism, feminism, queer rights, and so on are also finding momentum in the ongoing revolutionary upheavals.

The only limitation so far is refugee rights, and migrant domestic worker rights. The revolution hasn’t really addressed these issues as much as it should. But hopefully the more we continue and the more progressives and others manage to steer the revolution in a certain direction rather than in a nationalist direction, that might be possible in the near future. I personally think it’s going to be extremely difficult, but there is hope in that matter.

LS: One other area that I’d like to draw attention to is the prisoners’ struggle. The prisoner issue is something that everybody should be supporting. There are thousands of Syrians in prison, and we know the horror stories of how widely practiced torture is within regime detention. Those are our people. Those are the peaceful pro-democracy activists who were struggling against this regime. They are the people who are inside prison who we should be supporting.

There are some fantastic organizations that people can get behind. Families for Freedom is a women-led movement set up by Syrian women: the mothers, wives, sisters of political prisoners. It is a movement that was inspired by Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and by a similar women-led movement looking for the disappeared in Lebanon. They’re doing as much work as they can trying to keep the issue of prisoners on the international agenda, calling for the release of not only those detained in regime prisons but also those detained in prisons by Islamist groups.

That’s something that everybody should be getting behind and finding out about and seeing how they can support, because it’s never on the agenda even though for every Syrian, it’s one of the most important issues because we all have family members or friends who have disappeared in regime detention.

We spoke a lot about how exhausted and traumatized Syrian activists are right now because of the strength of the counterrevolution and what they’ve gone through over the past few years. But one thing that has given us so much hope and strength and inspiration is seeing the protests happening in Lebanon. Also in Iraq, where people have been out on the streets and going through extremely challenging circumstances—this is also very inspirational in the way they are using anti-sectarian slogans. Also what’s happening in Iran with the protest movement there. All these movement have given us a lot of hope and courage.

Syria has been used to silence people across the region as a kind of bogeyman: if you raise your voice and demand freedom, this is what’s going to happen to you. You’re going to end up like Syria. The revolutions and uprisings that happened in 2010-11 have been crushed, they’re over. But they haven’t been crushed. This is part of a long term process. Although each country has its own specific situation, there are a lot of similarities: the authoritarian regimes, the corruption, the bad socioeconomic situation. And people are not being silenced. Something changed in 2011, and despite the massive repression these protest movements have faced, something has changed within people. That’s going to have a massive impact on the future. There’s going to be a lot of change happening in the region, and we’re only at the start of that process.

FS: Thank you so much for having this conversation, I really appreciate it.

LS: Thank you for inviting us.

JA: Thanks a lot.

Anarchy and Indigenous Resistance to AMLO in Mexico

Anarchy and Indigenous Resistance to AMLO in Mexico

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

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

 

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

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Final Straw Notes from the guest:

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

Indigenous populations and megaprojects:

Airport Lake Texcoco

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

AMLO cancelled project after carrying out a “popular consultation”

Cancel one mega-project to impose three more

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

– Tren Maya (Mayan Train)

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

– “Corredor Transistmico” Interoceanic corridor

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

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

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

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

Zapatismo:

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

CODEDI assasinations:

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

COPIG-EZ assasinations:

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

Other assasinations

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

Political prisoners

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

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

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

. … . ..

Music for this episode by:

U.N.E. – Explosion Humana

El Salvador: Una Perspectiva Anarcha-Feminista/ An Anarcha-Feminist Perspective

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El Salvador: Una Perspectiva Anarcha-Feminista

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Nos complace presentar una conversación con una compañera feminista anarcha, Elisa, en San Salvador, El Salvador. Elisa comparte sus puntos de vista sobre el régimen neoliberal del partido GANA de Nayib Bukele que asumió la presidencia en febrero pasado, la relación de El Salvador con los Estados Unidos, el gobierno anterior del FMLN, la inmigración y la organización anarquista.
Más informacion sobre la organización suya en ConcienciaAnarquista.NoBlogs.Org, Comuna Estudiantil Libertaria y el Kolectivo San Jacinto. Bienvenido a The Final Straw Radio, soy uno de los anfitriones, Bursts. En general, solo producimos nuestro podcast y programa de radio semanal en inglés, pero, gracias al apoyo de la comunidad en la traducción y transcripción, presentamos esta conversación en español. Una versión en inglés, junto con 10 años de nuestra radio está disponible en TheFinalStrawRadio.noblogs.org.

Anarchism In El Salvador: An Anarcha-Feminist Perspective

We are happy to present a conversation with an anarcha-feminist comrade, Elisa, in San Salvador, El Salvador. Elisa shares her perspectives on the neo-liberal regime of Nayib Bukele’s GANA party which took the presidency last February, El Salvador’s relation to the US, the former FMLN government, immigration and anarchist organizing. We generally only produce our weekly podcast and radio show in English but, thanks to community support in translation and transcription, we present this conversation in Spanish here. The full script follows in both English and Spanish as well. More information on the projects Elisa mentions can be found at ConcienciaAnarquista.NoBlogs.Org, the Libertarian Youth Commune and the San Jacinto Kollective (Comuna Estudiantil Libertaria and Kolectivo San Jacinto).

A script in English follows the Spanish and the English audio can be found in our January 18, 2020 episode of TFSR.

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Guión en Español

TFSR – Te puedes presentar a nosotros y decirnos tus pronombres preferidos por favor? Te identificas con algunas posiciones políticas o trabajas en algún proyecto que te parece relevante a esta conversación?

Elisa – Hola, agradecer este espacio y un saludo a todas las personas que nos están escuchando, mi nombre es Elisa, soy de El Salvador, mi pronombre preferido de género es ella y pues me identifico como anarcofeminista, estoy en proyectos como un colectivo Agrupación Conciencia Anarquista y también en la Colectiva Ni Una Menos El Salvador

TFSR – Ya pasó casi un año desde las elecciones en El Salvador pusieron el partido GANA en poder ejecutivo. Para lxs que no saben, puedes describir el sistema política salvadoreña para dar contexto?

Elisa – Comentar un poco acerca del poder en El Salvador está distribuido en el órgano legislativo, ejecutivo y judicial, dentro del órgano legislativo es unicameral, tenemos 84 diputados, las elecciones se realizan para diputados cada tres años y para presidente cada cinco años, este año tuvimos las elecciones para presidente, en las que queda como ganador Nayib Bukele con el partido político GANA, este partido político surge de las personas que salen del partido ARENA que es el partido de derecha que estuvo gobernando anteriormente a los dos períodos del FMLN. Nayib Bukele también formó parte del FMLN, él fue expulsado y debido a que su partido político no pudo inscribirlo a tiempo entonces utiliza a GANA como vehículo para llegar a las elecciones y pues llega a ser presidente, ya que Nuevas Ideas que es su partido político no se pudo inscribir para las elecciones.

TFSR – Estás ubicada en San Salvador, y presidente actual Nayib Bukele fue alcalde ahí. Qué nos puedes decir de su tiempo como alcalde y la condición de la ciudad. Qué son sus prácticas políticas? Reflejan las posiciones de GANA?

Elisa – Nayib Bukele fue alcalde de la capital de San Salvador con el FMLN y anteriormente para Nuevo Cuscatlán que es una municipalidad cerca en las afueras de la capital y pues en cuanto al trabajo que hizo como alcalde habían algunas irregularidades en cuanto a por ejemplo en San Salvador tenía un mercado que se está alquilando, se hizo un contrato para 25 años en el que se va a pagar mucho más del valor que tenía el edificio, se hizo una investigación debido a esto porque no había un valúo, no se realizó un valúo del edificio y pues en cuanto a otras cosas, el mercado pues lo que buscaba como muchos de los vendedores y vendedoras ambulantes que hay en el centro histórico de San Salvador tienen sus ventas en la calle lo que hace pues muy difícil el tráfico y era como reubicar a esas personas en el mercado pero tampoco es tan grande como para que tenga la capacidad para albergar a muchas de esas ventas y habían también reclamos de estas vendedoras vendedores porque realmente no hay una afluencia tan grande de compradores y pues realmente no funcionaba y otras de las cosas que ha hecho es más que todo a nivel estético, la recuperación del centro histórico con cooperación española también cooperación de Estados Unidos que ha invertido en la remodelación de un gran parque que está en la capital cerca del centro histórico que es el Parque Cuscatlán pero es entregar también a Fundaciones la administración de estos parques es decir un poco como ir privatizando estos espacios que son públicos y que son tan necesarios para el esparcimiento.

En cuanto a lo de las ventas ambulantes también, se han dado varios casos que han sido públicos en los que se han encontrado a varios políticos que han tenido reuniones con las pandillas y para anteriores administraciones de la capital siempre ha sido uno de los puntos difíciles lograr como desplazar o recolocar a esas ventas en otros lugares, hay una gran presencia de pandillas, es decir el centro histórico está controlado por las pandillas están unas zonas específicas de cada pandilla entonces al igual que estos casos que han salido a la luz pública de estas negociaciones que se han dado para apoyo en las elecciones entonces también se presume que como es posible que Nayib Bukele haya logrado hacer un poco de este reordenamiento si se supone que debe haber tenido algún tipo de negociación con las pandillas.

También en cuanto a cuando fue alcalde de Nuevo Cuscatlán como mencionaba que es una zona que está ya a las afueras de la capital y se vio cómo permitió porque en esa parte hay muchas empresas y también las personas que viven ahí tienen un nivel económico mayor y se vio cómo beneficio a empresas porque ahí se han dado muchos permisos ambientales para realizar residenciales nuevas, se ha deforestado bastante esa parte que anteriormente conservaba bastante vegetación que era cuando uno sale ahí porque sale, es la carretera que va hacia el Puerto de La Libertad entonces era una zona con bastante vegetación y se vio cómo facilitó a las empresas permisos ambientales para construcción.

Como parte integrante del partido GANA creo que sí tiene posiciones similares, un partido que como decía surge del partido ARENA y que vemos como pues ha estado siempre en beneficio de empresas, empresarios, él Nayib Bukele viene de una familia de empresarios entonces creo que sí es similar su posición a la del partido.

TFSR – Cómo son los servicios sociales y la responsividad democrática del gobierno debajo de GANA?

Elisa – El gobierno de Nayib Bukele empieza, toma posesión en junio y vemos cómo en estos seis meses ha endeudado más al país con préstamos, ahora van dos mil millones y pues vemos que se ha invertido más que todo en el plan de control territorial que es el plan que está implementado en el tema de seguridad contra las pandillas, vemos cómo se han militarizado las calles, han salido más militares a las calles, se hacen patrullajes de la policía y el ejército pero sí han salido más militares a las calles, hasta agosto de este año habían 7300 efectivos militares en las calles y se pretendía llegar a incluir 3000 más a enero del próximo año. También en julio se tuvo una visita de la Guardia Nacional de Masachussets con la que se pretendió tener acercamiento y algún tipo de relación para apoyo en este Plan de Control Territorial y también estaban haciendo como esta visita porque se pretende tener una base de operaciones en el 2021 con respecto siempre a este apoyo que se le daría al ejército en el plan de seguridad. Se ha visto como este Plan de Control Territorial pues no está funcionando a pesar de que el presidente dice que han disminuido los homicidios pero en realidad están aumentando las desapariciones, también se habla de que se están encubriendo algunas cifras, con los gobiernos anteriores en los que se tenía también la presencia del ejército en las calles pues hay investigaciones periodísticas y de instituciones de derechos humanos en las que se ven las violaciones que han ocurrido y asesinatos extrajudiciales por parte de la policía y el ejército. También por ejemplo dentro de los últimos días se ha visto como han aumentado los feminicidios también hay transfeminicidios que no ha habido ningún denuncia por parte del presidente, no ha hecho ningún comunicado referente a esos crímenes de odio y también vemos como en el presupuesto para el próximo año se ha reducido en el presupuesto aquel dirigido para las instituciones que tienen atención para mujeres también se eliminó la Secretaría de Inclusión Social que tenía programas con jóvenes, para la comunidad LGTBI también se ha reducido en cuanto a salud hay un programa que estaba muy enfocado a la prevención para las áreas rurales que eran los ecos comunitarios que se ha reducido, también se ha eliminado el programa de alfabetización que se tenía, se reduce también el subsidio del gas, el programa como decía de jóvenes se reduce en un 23%, también la eliminación de becas y pasantias juveniles y por otro lado se ve como hay un aumento en la publicidad, un aumento de 22 millones en el presupuesto y cómo está la evasión de impuestos de las empresas de 600 millones para el otro año sólo van a pagar 100 millones y del presupuesto los hogares van a estar pagando el próximo año en impuestos 3300 millones mientras que las empresas sólo 1600.

TFSR – Como anti-autoritario, anticapitalista, y feminista puedes reflexionar en las diferencias y similaridades entre el gobierno del presidente anterior, Salvador Sánchez Cerén del partido de la izquierda FMLN, y el gobierno de GANA durante su primer año en poder?

Elisa – Con digamos la similaridad o la diferencia que hay entre el gobierno de el FMLN y el gobierno de Nayib Bukele pues veía un poco lo que mencionaba de la militarización, vemos como así como el FMLN criticaba a ARENA cuando sacó al ejército a las calles pero el FMLN siguió usando el ejército, ahora Nayib Bukele también incluso ha sacado más militares a las calles, vemos que la represión es parte de ambos gobiernos.

Lo que pasó un poco con el gobierno del FMLN fue que cuando gana las elecciones en el primer gobierno del FMLN en el 2009 el movimiento social estaba apoyando y por eso es que gana porque se quería sacar a ARENA del gobierno entonces se da una baja en el movimiento social porque se esperaba que iba a haber más cambios de lo que hubo, se esperaba mucho más de estos dos gobiernos del FMLN, si hubo algunas mejoras en cuanto a programas sociales, por ejemplo en educación se implementa lo del uniforme escolar que sirve para las escuelas públicas para que los estudiantes puedan tener el uniforme que utilizan, que antes era parte del gasto que tenía que tener las familias también la parte de una merienda, que le llaman vaso de leche pero se les da como una merienda, una comida, en la escuela. También en salud se tiene un poco, se eliminan cobros que anteriormente se hacían para acceder a los hospitales públicos también en las escuelas se daba una cuota que tenían que pagar que se eliminó, en la parte de educación el programa de alfabetización que ahora con Nayib Bukele se elimina esto, también con la parte de los paquetes agrícolas lo que se empezó a hacer con el gobierno del FMLN es comprar a cooperativas la semilla porque también acá hay un monopolio de la semilla, es dueño un expresidente de la semilla y todos los insumos agrícolas que entran, él tiene ahí su empresa que hace esto entonces con Nayib se han eliminado algunos de estos paquetes agrícolas pero con el FMLN se ve que no se busca romper con este sistema neoliberal sino que es seguir ese mismo patrón. Debido a esto hubo un disgusto de la población porque se esperaban cambios mayores a nivel social, por ejemplo lo que no hizo el gobierno del frente que habría sido un poco aportar a disminuir esa desigualdad que existe por ejemplo con los datos del presupuesto 2020 que son los hogares los que aportan más impuestos, lo que no cambió el gobierno del FMLN fue esa recaudación fiscal y vemos cómo también no hubo apertura a críticas porque las personas que eran críticas al partido a lo que estaba haciendo no se permitía, esto hizo que hubiera mucho disgusto por parte de la población, las bases fueron olvidadas, esas poblaciones más necesitadas, como la mayoría de partidos políticos sólo se buscaban para las elecciones para que dieran un voto pero realmente no hubo interés de organizar a las personas, de que sean más independientes, no hubo ninguna voluntad hacia eso.

Entonces lo que pasó también con cómo llega Nayib Bukele a ganar es a través de que tiene bastante presencia en redes sociales y vemos como por eso en el presupuesto tiene un aumento porque se ha movido bastante con publicidad, él tampoco ha llegado a visitar tanto a las comunidades si no más bien lo ha manejado a través de redes sociales y cómo también no sólo en el país sino a nivel internacional se está viendo bien. No todas las personas que lo siguen son personas reales porque también se veía como se han hecho perfiles falsos para tener posición en la opinión pública pero no es tan real pero sí hay personas que sí lo siguen apoyando pero vemos como toda esta parte que quizás había un poco de avance en cuanto a lo social se ha venido dando un retroceso.

TFSR – El gobierno de Bukele ha creado una relación con la administración de Trump en EEUU. Con respecto a la inmigración, nos puedes describir la relación entre los dos países y lo supuesto estatus de ‘tercer país seguro?’ 

Elisa – Con las relaciones que hay con EEUU ya hablaba un poco de cómo hay apoyo militar, en las visitas que se han dado pues lo ha llamado su amigo que es un presidente muy cool a pesar de como se ha referido Trump a nuestros países entonces vemos como hay ese acercamiento, también es una total sumisión creo, incluso la canciller antes de que tomara posesión el gobierno, se le preguntaba cuáles iban a ser las relaciones y dijo una frase: como vamos a morder la mano que nos da de comer entonces es preocupante, es como dejar totalmente abierta la intervención de EEUU y ahora con el tema del tercer país seguro es para evitar toda la migración hacia EEUU, se dice que los tres países del triángulo Norte, Guatemala, Honduras y El Salvador, las personas que quieran solicitar asilo a EEUU puedan hacerlo en estos países y es totalmente contradictorio porque vemos que la migración va desde estos países, no son países seguros, las personas están huyendo de sus países, por toda la situación económica, social que hay y no hay esas posibilidades para dar a las personas que viven en esos países mucho menos a personas que están buscando asilo entonces es permitir a EEUU lo que decía Trump que quería poner un muro para evitar las migraciones pues lo está haciendo de otra forma.

TFSR – No se puede hablar de la inmigración entre Estados Unidos y El Salvador si no se menciona la tragedia terrible la guerra civil que duró 12 años en El Salvador de 1979 hasta 1992. Debajo de presidente de EEUU Jimmy Carter hasta Reagan, EEUU suministraba entre $1-2 millones cada día al gobierno salvadoreño para su programa de contrainsurgencia contra la población. Incluía masacres cometidos por escuadrones de la muerte entrenados por los EEUU. Puedes hablar de esta historia, cómo queda en la historia de inmigración y conflicto social en El Salvador hoy en día? 

Elisa – Con respecto a esto de la migración y cómo se relaciona con la guerra civil de El Salvador, la migración que se da durante la guerra, este período en que muchas personas salen debido a la guerra después con los acuerdos de paz hay un retorno de algunas personas que estuvieron en EEUU que como migrantes tuvieron la necesidad de organizarse de alguna forma contra otras pandillas que se formaban en EEUU y es así como una parte de esas personas que son deportadas de EEUU entonces al venir a El Salvador se forman las pandillas entonces tiene una gran relación con esa migración también porque muchas de las familias están separadas, sea la madre o el padre que han migrado a EEUU y dejan a sus hijos ya sea con sus abuelas u otro familiar entonces esto también pone a la niñez y adolescencia en vulnerabilidad porque no siempre tienen un apoyo, una persona que esté a cargo o pendiente de ellas, entonces la situación también que viven, a veces son comunidades con condiciones precarias, muchas veces no tienen acceso a lo básico como salud, educación y buscan la salida en donde la encuentran que muchas veces es la pandilla entonces todo eso pues sí tiene una relación con la migración.

TFSR – Cómo se organizan lxs anarquistxs de El Salvador? Cómo se relacionan ustedes a la sociedad civil y a las ONGs? Hay alguna victoria o lección que han aprendido que quieren compartir?

Elisa – Como organizaciones anarquistas lo que hemos estado trabajando ha sido en la difusión de las ideas a partir de revistas, hemos hecho diálogos, debates, también se trató de tener un centro social en el que hubieran actividades como conversatorios, cine foros, eso más o menos. Hay organizaciones también no sólo en la capital sino en la zona de oriente y occidente del país, han existido algunos grupos, pienso que la parte del conocimiento de compartir conocimiento se ha estado dando pero muchos han estado relacionados con la Universidad por ser estudiantes o por haber salido de ahí pero se ha quedado por ser un número pequeño de personas las que se organizadas, no ha llegado a un grupo mayor de personas entonces pienso que se necesita un mayor acercamiento a comunidades, a una mayor parte de la población, a través de un conocimiento popular para acercarnos también a personas que no necesariamente hayan tenido una educación universitaria y un poco llevarlo más a la práctica, se ha hecho bastante sobre debate, conocimiento pero sí falta ponerlo más en práctica.

Con respecto a las organizaciones no gubernamentales pues los esfuerzos que hemos hecho se han hecho autogestinados, a veces con donaciones, hemos tenido donaciones de fuera para la parte de lo que habíamos tratado de hacer de un centro social pero no hemos tenido, no hemos querido tener una relación de donación con ONG’s pero por otra parte algunas personas sí trabajamos con ONG’s entonces esa podría ser la relación que hay.

TFSR – En 2015 un artículo que salió en LibCom anunció la creación de la Federación Anarquista de Centroamérica y el Caribe. Este grupo es un factor en la organización contra la reacción en El Salvador? Hay otras relaciones regionales con activistas que quieres compartir con nosotros?

Elisa – Con la conformación de la Federación Anarquista de Centroamérica y el Caribe sí como Agrupación Conciencia Anarquista formamos parte y pues se ha tratado de estar en comunicación pero no se ha logrado tener otro encuentro, sí digamos se trata de seguir teniendo comunicación pero aún no se ha logrado hacer algunas actividades en conjunto aún está pendiente de realizar el encuentro para ver realmente que actividades se pueden hacer conjuntamente.

TFSR – Cómo pueden los oyentes seguir informándose de la situación ahí en El Salvador y del trabajo que hacen tú y lxs otrxs compañerxs? Que tipo de solidaridad les ayudaría de afuera?

Elisa – Pueden buscar información de Conciencia Anarquista hay una página de Facebook también hay un blog concienciaanarquista.noblogs.org, también pueden buscar a la Comuna Estudiantil Libertaria, al Colectivo San Jacinto y pues pienso que parte de la solidaridad es visibilizar esas relaciones de interferencia de EEUU con El Salvador, dar también difusión al material, a la información de lo que está pasando acá, entonces de esa forma creo que podrían ser muestras de solidaridad.

TFSR – Tienes algo a decir a los salvadoreños en EEUU que tal vez reciban noticias de su hogar de fuentes mediocres o malas?

Elisa – Y con las personas que siguen, que están viendo las noticias de acá del país les diría que no se queden con una sola fuente porque como les decía el gobierno se está vendiendo muy bien hacia fuera pero las cosas que están pasando no se ven bien entonces les sugeriría que no se queden con una sola fuente que busquen otras fuentes de información para que tengan más material y se enteren de lo que está pasando, eso sería y muchas gracias por escucharnos.

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English Script

TFSR – Would you please introduce yourself for the audience and state your preferred gender pronouns. Are there any political positions you identify with or any projects you work on that you feel are relevant to this conversation?

Elisa – Hello, thank you to the space and greetings to all of the people that are listening to us.  My name is Elisa, I’m from El Salvador, my preferred pronouns are she/her and, well, I identify as an anarcha-feminist. I participate in projects like the Anarchist Conscience Formation collective and also in the Not One (Woman) Less Collective.

TFSR – It is almost a year since the presidential elections took place in El Salvador, bringing the GANA party to executive power. For those of us who don’t know, can you describe the Salvadoran political system for context?

Elisa – To say a little about government power in El Salvador, it’s distributed between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches. The Legislative branch is unicameral with 84 representatives elected every 3 years and a president every 5 years, 2019 having been the most recent presidential election. In that election, the winner was Nayib Bukele of the political party GANA (an acronym meaning to gain or earn or win), a party arising from former members of the rightist ARENA party that had been in power prior to the last two election cycles of rule by the leftist FMLN party.  Nayib Bukele was formerly of the FMLN and was kicked out and because he didn’t have time to register his own political party, Nueva Idea (or New Idea) in time for elections he used GANA as a vehicle for his candidacy in the elections and therefore arrived at the presidency with GANA.

TFSR – You’re in San Salvador, the city that president Nayib Bukele was formerly mayor of. What can you say about his time as mayor and the condition of the city? What are his political practices? Do they reflect the positions of the GANA party?

Elisa – Nayib Bukele was the mayor of the capital, San Salvador, while a member of the FMLN and formerly mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán, which is a city on the outskirts of the capital.  In time, his record as mayor began to show irregularities.  For instance, during his time as mayor of San Salvador, there was a market that was renting its space which signed a 25 year rent contract but the payment would be of much greater value than the worth of the building.  There was an investigation made to assess the worth of the building among that showed that it didn’t have the value being paid for it. Butit turned out that what he was looking for was a place to house San Salvador’s many street vendors.A thing to know about San Salvador is that the traffic is very bad in the historic city-center because the streets are filled with vendors and Bukele’s plan was to move the vendors into the building.  But when I investigated this, I found that there was not room for many of the vendors to relocate inside and anyway not very many of the vendors had begun renting spaces in the indoor market. Other things he has done are mainly limited to aesthetic changes around the capital’s historic district, the recuperation of the district has taken place with the financial support of Spain and the US in order to remodel the large park in the center of the city, Cuscatlán Park. Seeing how the administration of the park has been handed over to large foundations gives some sense of how the privatization of public space–public space that is very important for day-to-day recreation–is happening here.

In the case of open-air sellers, there are reported various public cases of politicians having closed door meetings with street gangs. Former administrations of San Salvador have always tried very hard to find ways to displace and relocate those street vendors. The gangs are very present, which is to say that the historic district of San Salvador is controlled by street gangs, each gang having it’s own zone. As the public has become aware of these cases of public officials and gangs coordinating in support of elections, it is safe to assume that Nayib Bukele had his hands in these negotiations, and this explains how he has been able to implement some of the reorganizing of the city center.

As to his time as mayor of Neuvo Cuscatlán, it was mentioned that it sits on the outskirts of the capital.  His administration was seen to be permissive, the area having many businesses and the residences of many rich people. We can see that Nayib Bukele’s government benefitted many businesses by giving environmental permits, allowing deforestation of formerly conserved and protected areas followed by the building of new housing. This area along the road to Puerto de la Libertad was lush with plant-life and now has been given over to the businesses holding environmental construction permits.

As an integral part of the GANA Party, I believe that yes, he has similar positions to the party, a party that I have told you arose from the ARENA Party and that we see has stated it functions for the benefit of businesses and business owners, Nayib Bukele came from a family of business owners.  Therefore, I think it should not be surprising that the he holds that same perspective as the party does.

TFSR – How has GANA affected the social safety net and democratic responsiveness of the government since taking office?

Elisa – The government of Nayib Bukele came to national power in June and we see have in these six months how he has driven the state into debt with loans, to the tune of two billion dollars. Most of this has been invested in the Territorial Control Plan, the security plan implemented to handle the problem of the street gangs. We can see that the streets have become militarized, more soldiers have gone into the streets. By August of 2019 there were 7,300 soldiers in the streets and it has been announced that another 3,000 will join them at the turning of 2020. Also, in July there was a visit from the Massachusetts National Guard with the intention of developing a relationship of support for the Territorial Control Plan here. They intend to build a permanent base of operations by 2021 for implementing the security plan that will be handed over to the military. 

The president has claimed that the Territorial Control Plan is working because the reported homicides in the country have decreased, however the reality is that disappearances have increased with the military in the streets under past governments and continuing. Journalists are investigating reports that the government is faking the statistics and NGOs are reporting about human rights violations and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police and the army. In recent days we have seen an increase in femicides as well as the killing of trans women or transfemicides and yet the government has made no public note of these hate crimes.  In fact, we see a decrease in funding in next years proposed budget for institutions supporting womens care.  The Secretary of Social Inclusion has reduced funding for programs for the youth, while health support for LGBTI communities and the system of preventative medicine for rural commmunities (including paying for doctors travels) have also suffered deep cuts. Additionally, there was the elimination of literacy programs, and reductions in gas subsidies… The program for youth I mentioned was reduced by 23%, along with the elimination of scholarships and youth internships.  Simultaneously there was an increase in state advertising budgets by $22 million. There was effectively tax evasion by companies of $600 million the other year, they only paid $100 million. Next year, households will pay $3.3 billion in taxes while businesses will only be paying $1.6 billion.

TFSR – As an anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist and feminist, can you reflect on the differences and similarities between presidential rule by former president Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist FMLN party and the GANA party in their first year in office?

Elisa – While speaking of the similarities and differences between the governance of the FMLN and the government of Nayib Bukele, well we see many of the same things.  We saw how the FMLN criticized ARENA for taking the army into the streets but the FMLN continued using the army in the same ways.  Now Nayib Bukele also has increased the number of soldiers in the streets. We see that repression is a part of both governments.

What happened with FMLN was that when they won the elections their first time in 2009, social movements were supportive of their campaign because there was a desire to kick ARENA out of the government. In the wake of their victory, the power of social movements decreased because people expected large changes to be implemented by the FMLN than materialized. And there were some improvements in social programs, for example in education students were given uniforms to use because before they had to pay for their own. Also there was a snack provided for students during the school day. They eliminated existing charges for access to public hospitals. The literacy program, which I mentioned that Nayib Bukele has eliminated, was also implemented during this time. A similar thing happened with the agricultural packages, which started with the FMLN government purchasing seeds from agricultural cooperatives because there is a seed monopoly here. A former president holds the seed monopoly and now Nayib Bukele has resumed business with the former president and has eliminated some of these agricultural packages. 

What the FMLN could not do was to break with the Neoliberal economic system, which is what continues to this day. Because of this, disgust developed in the population which had hoped for large scale social changes. For instance, one thing the government didn’t do from the beginning was to diminish existing inequality. The budget for 2020 that has households contributing so much more in taxes is possible because the FMLN did not recalibrate the tax collection system. There was no room for criticizing the FMLN, it wasn’t open to it. This built resentment from the population, from it’s forgotten power base, the most needy of the population.  Like most other political parties, it only sought votes for the election. But, really, they weren’t interested in organizing people to become more independent, that was not the will of the party.

So then what happened with Nayib Bukele, was that he was able to win by means of a significant presence on social media. We can even see that in the current budget he has given himself a raise, and this is possible through a large advertising effort. Really, he hasn’t even done many actual visits to the communities in the country, but he has directed support and positive coverage through social media, not just here in El Salvador but on an international level. Many of his followers on social networks aren’t even real people. You can rather easily see that they’re fake profiles, but nevertheless this has a real impact on public opinion. With all of this we can see that what appears to be a small social advance with FMLN can bring someone like Bukele who is a genuine step backwards.

TFSR – Bukele’s government has built a relationship with the Trump administration in the U.S.A. At least as concerns immigration, can you describe the relationship between the two countries and the so-called ‘third safe country’ status?

Elisa – Concerning the relations with the US, I have already spoken a little about military support. In visits that have taken place Bukele has called his friend a very cool president, in spite of what Trump has said about countries like ours. I believe it’s a case of total submission, actually.  Even the Chancellor, before the current government took the office, was asked what the relationship was going to be like and retorted with the question, “How are we going to bite the hand that feeds us?” It is worrying, like leaving the door completely open to US intervention. And now with the theme of “Third Safe Country” so as to avoid all immigration to the US, it is said that the three countries of the Northern Traingle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), that the people seeking asylum from the US can do it from within these countries. And that is totally contradictory the immigrants who are escaping these countries are leaving precisely because they are not safe countries, people are fleeing their countries for all of the political and social situations that there are. So this lets the US prevent immigration, and while Trump is talking about building a wall, this is building a wall by another means.

TFSR – Talk of immigration relationships between the United States of America and El Salvador would be lacking greatly if it did not mention the terrible tragedy of the 12 year civil war in El Salvador from 1979 until 1992. Under U.S. president Jimmy Carter and continuing through Reagan, the U.S. began supplying between $1-2 Million per day to the Salvadoran government for it’s counterinsurgency against the population, including massacres by government allied, US trained death squads. Can you talk about this history, how it fits in to the story of immigration and the state of social conflict in El Salvador today?

Elisa – With respect to immigration and the relation to the Salvadoran Civil War, during this period many people were forced to flee. After the the peace treaty was signed, some people returned to El Salvador that had been in the US, others were eventually deported. Of all these people who returned one way or another, some had had to defend themselves from street gangs in the U.S. by forming their own gangs while they were there. These gangs were later reconstituted here, so yes, there is a big relationship here between migration and street level gang violence.  Migration also resulted in separation of many families. Sometimes it was the mother or the father that had immigrated to the US and left their children with their grandparents or other family members.  This made many kids and adolescents vulnerable since they didn’t have support, any caretaker.  They had to live, sometimes in precarious communities, many times without access to the basics like healthcare, education and are looking for an exit wherever they can find it. Many times that security is in the gang. So, all of this has a relationship to immigraiton.

TFSR – What sort of organizing are anarchists in El Salvador doing? How do y’all relate to civil society and NGO’s? Are there any victories or lessons learned that you’d like to share?

Elisa – As to anarchist organizing, we have been working to disseminate ideas via magazines, we have hosted dialogues, debates.  We have also tried to have a social center where there could be activities like conversations, film forums, that sort of thing. There are also organizations outside of the capital, including in the eastern and western parts of the country. I think that the sharing of knowledge has been taking place but much of it has been among students in relation to the University and even upon graduation only speaking with other students, with the result being that their groups remain small. It must reach a greater part of the population.  So, I think that a community approach to organizing from a popular knowledge standpoint is needed to reach a larger population, people who may not have a university education. Additionally, there’s the challenge of putting knowledge into practice.  Much has been done by way of debate, learning, but there is a lack of ideas being put it into practice.

With respect to Non-Governmental Organization, well the power that we have built has been through self-organization (autogestion), sometimes with donations.  We have had donations from abroad at times, for instance when we were trying to build a social center. We haven’t wanted to have a reliance on NGO’s but on the other hand, yes, some of our people have worked with NGO’s.  So, that could be said to be our relationship.

TFSR – In 2015, an article in LibCom announced the creation of Anarchist Federation of Central America and the Caribbean. Does this factor into organizing in El Salvador against the reaction? Are there other regional relationships with activists that you’d like to share about?

Elisa – Yes, the Anarchist Conscience Association that we formed is a part of AFCAC and it has tried to be in communication but there has not been another AFCAC gathering since 2015.  Yes let’s say it is about continuing to have communication but we have not yet been managed to do many activities together. As we wait to see if we can put together another AFCAC gathering, we have yet to see what activities can really be done together.

TFSR – How can listeners continue to inform themselves on the situation in El Salvador and the work that you and other comrades are doing? What sort of solidarity could be helpful from abroad? 

Elisa – Y’all can look up information about the Anarchist Conscience group. There’s a facebook page and there’s also a blog at concienciaanarquista.noblogs.org. You can also find the Libertarian Student Commune and the San Jacinto Collective (Comuna Estudiantil Libertaria and Colectivo San Jacinto). And, well, I think part of solidarity is making visible the interferences of the US in El Salvador, distributing material about this, about what’s going on here… So I think that’s a form that y’all could demonstrate solidarity.

TFSR – And are there any words for Salvadoran people in the United States maybe hearing about news from their home from mediocre or bad sources that you’d like to share?

Elisa – For those of you who are following things, who are seeing the news from here, I’d tell you to not stick with a single news source. Like I said, the government is selling itself really well with the media to those outside the country, but the things that are happening here don’t look good. So I’d suggest to not stay with one single news source. Look for multiple sources of information so you can have more to go through and find out what’s going on. I guess that’d be it, and thank you very much for listening.

Defending The Block with La Villita Solidaridad

Little Village Solidarity Network

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This week on The Final Straw Radio, I’m happy to share a conversation with Rozalinda, Pura and Lynn from La Villita Red de Solidaridad or the Little Village Solidarity Network in so-called Chicago, IL. LVSN, in the English-language acronym, is an autonomous community organizing project based in La Villita or Little Village neighborhood and networks with other residents of the area. If you’re listening to the podcast or online version of this episode, just an fyi that there is cursing, but compared to putting babies in jails which offends more?

In the first hour, LVSN members talk about organizing on the ground against Heartland Alliance, a 501c3 non-profit running baby jails for federal funding (they call them shelters) around Chicago, in coalition with the Chicago Catholic Arch-Dioecese. Soon, at our website, on youtube, spotify and other sites we offer a 2 hour version of this conversation, including our Sean Swain segment and LVSN comrades’ words directed at people resisting detention facilities around the country.

LVSN also speaks about the case of Jose, a young father who was in these facilities and faces deportation currently from Texas where his family is. Information about Jose’s case and how to support him can be found, alongside more info about the work of LVSN, on their fedbook page and twitter account or at their website, lvsolidaridad.com.

In an update to Jose’s situation, he has gotten a stay of deportation. You can donate to his case via the lvsn venmo (@lavillitasolidaridad) or paypal to rborcila@yahoo.com. You can see and hear Jose in his own words in testimony on vimeo talking about what kids on the inside experience noise demos outside and the sense of desperation of the youth inside. And here is another of Jose describing the experience of staff attempting to extract information about his loved ones by Heartland Staff, in particular how it’s experienced by children in the jails.

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Keep an eye out in our podcast stream, website and social media for a link to the latest episode of BADNews, angry voices from around the world. BADNews is a 2 and a half year-running, collaborative, monthly anarchist news show in English with participation by anarchist radio and podcast projects from around Europe and all over the so-called Americas, North, South and Central. Find our back episodes up at a-radio-network.org.

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Playlist

Antifa + Anarchy Down Under: Andy Fleming of SlackBastard

Antifa + Anarchy Down Under: Andy Fleming of SlackBastard

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This week, we’re sharing a recent conversation with Andy Fleming. Andy is an anarchist and anti-racist organizer based out of Melbourne, Australia. For the episode, Andy tells us about his research into far right organizing in Australia and, to a lesser degree, Aotearoa (aka New Zealand), who key players are, what tendencies are present and their influence in popular and political culture. We also speak about the resistance to the far right, Australia’s immigration policies, Settler-Colonial status, cultural context for far right organizing in Australia and a bit about government counterinsurgency-style repression of radical left, ecological and indigenous movements in Australasia.

[Sean Swain starts at 3min 17sec, Andy Fleming at 10min 07sec + Announcements at 1hr 34min 21sec]

We apologize for the audio quality on this chat, we had connection issues consistently and upping the quality of the sound is a thing we’re striving for. If you are listening to the radio edition of this episode, you should REALLY check out the podcast version for extra chat and some musical suggestions from Andy.

Archives of Andy’s writings can be found dating back over 15 years at SlackBastard.AnarchoBase.com, and his commentaries on the far left and the far right in Australia are well worth reading. Andy also contributes to the SUWA radio show on 3CR on the 4th Fridays (good luck finding archives of the emission, you may just have to listen within a week of the broadcast). You ca also find Andy on twitter and fedbook and he just started up a patreon where you can support his research and commentary. Here’s a link to the Oxford University Press book containing his essay “The Far Right in Australia”. A question I’d meant to ask but because of time differences and it being 1am my time by the time we stopped talking I forgot to ask was about his ideas on Antifa as an anarchist and the need to go beyond Antifascist organizing, the internal limitations of a lack of a positive program. Turns out Andy wrote about this topic in an article called “Antifa is liberalism, feminism is cancer, and I’m a monkey’s uncle.”

Announcements

BRABC Letter Writing

If you’re in Asheville, Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross and Companeros Inmigrantes en las Montanas en Accion (or CIMA) invite you to join us for letter writing at 5pm, Sunday May 5, Cinco de Mayo. We’ll be writing letters to support the parole campaign for Jalil Muntaqim and to Joseph “Shine White” Stewart who’se faced repression for speaking out. CIMA will also about HB370, a North Carolina law heading across the desk of Gov. Cooper for a final approval or veto that would re-deputize local law enforcement as ICE or immigration agents. CIMA’s going to help us write letters to express our opposition to cops acting as Migra in the racist internatlization of the border that is ripping apart our families and communities in this state and across the country. This is 5-7pm today!

Misremembering the Shoah

The band psych-rock band Trupa Trupa from Gdansk, Poland, helped the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation produce an hour long audio documentary about the un-remembering of the first Nazi death camp of the Shoah (or Holocaust), called Stutthoff. This work is worth a listen and contemplation as lead singer Grzegorz Kwiatkowski as lead singer of the band points out many places face a mis-remembering of inconvenient history and a rise of right populism that seeks to white wash what came before. There is a link in our show notes to the CBC piece entitled “The Invisible Shoes of Stutthof Concentration Camp”. Never Forget.

external links:

Fight Dem Back
Campaign Against Racism and Fascism

Raids and repression in Urewera in 2007

The Day The Raids Came (2010)
Operation 8: Deep Into The Forest (2011)

Musical selections (usually we’d just stick them in the playlist) :

Lynton Kwesi Johnson – Fite Dem Back
Last Quokka – Nazi Scum
A.B. Original – January 26th (feat. Dan Sultan)
Inner Terrestrials – No Pasaran! From an as-yet-unreleased album

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playlist

Indigenous Space and Decolonizing Prison Abolition

Indigenous Space and Decolonizing Prison Abolition

Download Episode Here

(Sean Swain starts [00:05:12])

This week, we feature two conversations that from two different settler-colonial states on Turtle Island. First up, organizers in so-called Quebec called Ni Frontiers Ni Prison talk about resisting Laval prison and the border regime of the Canadian state. Then, Robert Free, a long-term Tewa resident of Seattle, WA, talks about the struggle to wrest territory from the hands of the US military and found the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.

Ni Frontiers Ni Prison

[00:12:08]

Today we have a two part show! In the first part we are presenting a conversation with someone from Ni Frontiers Ni Prison, which is a group in so called Canada that is resisting the proposed construction of a new migrant prison in Laval, a town just outside of Montreal. This is a transcript of the original audio, read for the show by Grier, shout out to him! In this interview we talk about the prison and what it would mean for people who’d be most affected by it, the general rise of far right sentiment in so called Canada, and many more topics.

The interviewee names the place they are based as occupied Tio’tia:ke (jo-jahg’-eh), which is the original indigenous name for so called Montreal, the colonizer name. The naming of indigenous land will continue throughout the interview with various locations in the name of decolonization, though Tio’tia:ke is the one which will be the most prominent.

As an audio note to all those paying attention, a fridge turns on midway through the interview then turns back off nearing the end, we’ve tried to minimize the background noise but it’s still somewhat noticeable.

Music for the intro and outro by A Tribe Called Red with Stadium Pow Wow.

Contact

To get in touch with this group you can email them at nifrontieresniprisons@riseup.net and for updates and further ways to get involved you can find them at facebook.com/nifrontiersniprison, or follow the link to visit the clearing house of information and pieces about this resistance. If you would like a zine copy of the transcript to this show, you can email us at thefinalstrawradio@riseup.net or thefinalstrawradio@protonmail.com.

Some links to historical events mentioned by our guest relating to Canada’s’ treatment of immigrants and refugees:

Chinese Head Tax“, a policy which “meant to discourage Chinese people from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway”, a government project which I conjecture used a bunch of precarious and immigrant labor in order to complete.

Komagata Maru Incident, the historic entry denial of a group of Indian refugees seeking entry into Canada on the Japanese steamship Komagata Maru in 1914, resulting in the death of 20 Sikh people at the hands of the then occupying British government.

None Is Too Many” policy for Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, an anti Semitic stance that put people who were fleeing Nazi terror in further danger and possible death.

Robert Free on the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center

(starts at 38min, 04sec)

Next we’ll hear an interview with Robert Free, a long-term Seattle, WA resident and Tewa (pronounced tay-oh-wa) Native American. We discuss the history of the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, a cultural and resource center for urban Native Americans in Seattle and the surrounding communities. The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center was established after a series of protests and occupations in 1970 of Fort Lawton, an army base that had previously occupied the park. Robert Free discusses the influencing factors of that time, some of the finer points of the occupations, as well as the implications of protesting and occupation on stolen native land.

More info on the Daybreak center can be found at https://unitedindians.org/daybreak-star-center/

Some of the names and events mentioned in this chat you may recognize from our February 17th, 2019, episode of The Final Straw when we had the pleasure to speak with Paulette D’auteuil, about the case of long-term American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier. More info on Peltier’s case can be found at whoisleonardpeltier.info

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Next week we hope to bring you a conversation with support crew for incarcerated former military whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who is now imprisoned for refusing to testify before a Grand Jury. More on her case can be found at https://xychelsea.is including links for donating towards her fundraising goal for legal costs aiming at 150 thousand smackeroos.

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Free Masonique Saunders!

From her support website:

On December 7, 2018, Columbus police murdered 16 year old Julius Ervin Tate Jr.. On December 13, they arrested his 16 year old girlfriend, Masonique Saunders, charging her with the murder they committed.

Masonique is being charged with aggravated robbery and felony murder, and is currently being held in juvenile detention. The police have alleged that Julius attempted to rob, and pulled a gun on a police officer, and that Masonique was involved in said robbery. Felony murder means that if you commit a felony and someone dies as a result of that crime you can be charged with their murder.

We believe that these charges are unjust, and demand the freedom of this 16 year old Black girl and justice for the family of Julius Tate!

To help Masonique and her family, donate to her GoFundMe.

Donate to the Tate family here.

BRABC events

A quick reminder, if you’re in the Asheville area this coming week, Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross is hosting two events. On Friday, April 4th from 6:30 to 8pm at Firestorm, (as we do every first Friday of the month) BRABC will show the latest episode of Trouble, by sub.Media. Episode 19 focuses on Technology and Social Control. After the ½ hour video we’ll turn chairs around and have a discussion of the film for those who’d like. Then, on Sunday, April 6th from 5-7pm as BRABC does every first Sunday of the month, we’ll be hosting a monthly letter writing event. We’ll provide names, addresses, backstories, postage and stationary.

Prisoners we’ll focus on are longterm political prisoners from Black liberation, to Earth and Animal Liberation, to anti-police violence activists caught up in prison whose birthdays are coming up or who are facing severe repression. Or, just come and write a letter you’ve been meaning to write to someone else. It’s a nice environ for that sort of thing.

Extinction Rebellion week of action

The movement to halt and roll back human driven climate change called Extinction Rebellion is planning some upcoming events in the so-called U.S. in line with a worldwide call for action over the week of April 15-22nd. Check out https://extinctionrebellion.us/rebellion-week for info and ways to plug in. If you’re in the L.A. area, see our shownotes for a fedbook link to some of their upcoming events. And remember, practice good security culture by not giving up as little info as possible. Keeping your info more secure today ensures your ability to fight with less hindrance tomorrow!

Marius Mason moved

Anarchist political prisoner Marius Mason has been moved to a prison in Connecticut, a change viewed as a success by his supporters as he’s closer to family by hundreds of miles. If you’d like to write him a letter to welcome him to his new place, consider writing him at the following site, but make sure to address it as follows:

Marie (Marius) Mason 04672-061
FCI DANBURY
Route 37
Danbury, CT 06811

Fire at the Highlander

Now, here’s a statement by the Highlander Research and Education Center outside of New Market, TN, about the fire early on March 29, 2019:

“Early this morning, officials responded to a serious fire on the grounds of the Highlander Research and Education Center, one of the nation’s oldest social justice institutions that provides training and education for emerging and existing movements throughout the South, Appalachia, and the world.

As of 6am, the main office building was completely engulfed and destroyed. One of ten structures on approximately 200 acres, the building housed the offices of the organization’s leadership and staff. Highlander’s staff released the following statement:

“Highlander has been a movement home for nearly 87 years and has weathered many storms. This is no different. Several people were on the grounds at the time of the fire, but thankfully no one was inside the structure and no one was injured.

“While we are physically unhurt, we are saddened about the loss of our main office. The fire destroyed decades of historic documents, speeches, artifacts and memorabilia from movements of all kinds, including the Civil Rights Movement. A fuller assessment of the damage will be forthcoming once we are cleared to enter the remains of the building.

“We are grateful for the support of the many movements who are now showing up for us in this critical time. This has been a space for training, strategy and respite for decades and it will continue to be for decades to come.

Fire officials are working to determine the cause as quickly as possible and we are monitoring the investigation closely.” –Ash-Lee Woodward Henderson and Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele, Co-Executive Directors, Highlander Research and Education Center.

Highlander has played a critical role in the Civil Rights Movement, training and supporting the work of a number of movement activists: Rosa Parks prior to her historic role in the Montgomery Bus Boycot, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Septima Clark, Anne Braden, Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, Hollis Watkins, Bernard Lafayette, Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis.”

Highlander will provide ongoing updates via their fedbook page and questions can be directed to Chelsea Fuller, chelsea@teamblackbird.org.

Police Killing of Danquirs Franklin

On March 25, 2019, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Wende Kerl shot and killed Danquirs Franklin in the parking lot of the Burger King on Beatties Ford Rd in Charlotte. Police narratives posit that Mr Franklin was armed and posing a threat, while eye witnesses say that Danquirs Franklin interceded against an armed man bothering an employee and that the armed man ran away before the police arrived, who then shot the first black man they encountered. Friends at Charlotte Uprising have been holding vigil and fundraising for Danquirs Franklin’s family as the police’s actions leave his child fatherless. More can be found at the Charlotte Uprising twitter and fedbook pages. Rise In Power, Danquirs.

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Show playlist.

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Transcription

William Goodenuff: First of all, thank you so much for your time in coming onto this radio show! Could you first talk about what is attempting to be planned on the part of the Canadian state in terms of this migrant prison in Laval?

Ni Frontieres Ni Prisons: Yeah! So the proposed new migrant prison is actually one part of a plan that the Canadian government announced just over two years ago now. It’s called the National Immigration Detention Framework. And the plan came in response to a period of sustained resistance against the government’s practice of incarcerating migrants, many in provincial jails. Um, and for years, going back to 2011, migrants held by the CBSA (which is the Canada Border Services Agency), had been going on periodic hunger strikes in facilities across Ontario. And in the months before the governments announcement of this plan a new hunger strike was initiated, and there were mobilizations across the country in solidarity. There was a lot of pressure on the government to do something, especially because several migrants had died in CBSA custody over that same period.

And so the government responds to all this by announcing a new $138 million plan, but instead of ceding to the demands of the hunger strikers, most of the money ends up being dedicated to building two new migrant prisons, one in [Sur ABC] replacing the CBSA’s Vancouver Airport Facility, and one in Laval replacing the current one just across the street. So strengthening the detention system that the hunger strikers were fighting against. Many detained migrants in Ontario actually went back on hunger strike following the announcement but the government just ignored them.

W: Is there anything more to say about the sustained period of resistance on the part of people who were in custody and people who weren’t in custody?

NFNP: Because it’s been so long now I feel like I hesitate to talk more in depth about it because I’m worried I’ll get something wrong.

W: That’s totally fine. So you talked a little bit about how it got started, in what ways have people already been resisting the prison?

NFNP: Right, so in 2017 the government hired two architecture firms, one called Lamais one called Group A, to design the new prison. And Solidarity Across Borders, which is a migrant justice network that’s been based here in occupied Tio’tia:ke for over 15 years now, was one of the first groups to talk publicly about this, which brought the project to a lot of people’s attention including myself. And the resistance since then has been focused on the companies working on the project. Last year, an anonymous group released crickets into Lamais’ headquarters, that was great! A nice biblical flourish!

And last month the group I’m a part of, Ni frontiers ni prisons, organized a demonstration against Lamais that ended at their headquarters. Since then, a company that remediated the soil at the proposed construction site had their offices spray painted, and just a few weeks ago a group of about 30 people barricaded the road leading to what was called the “site visit” for companies who want to bid on the contract to build the prison. So that’s a bit of an overview of what’s been happening. Ni Frontiers Ni Prison which I’m a part of is focused more on organizing public actions and events which are just one part of the struggle against the construction of the prison which includes a diversity of tactics in multiple groups.

W: Does the group work in coalition with other groups that are fighting the prison or people that are detained in the prison?

NFNP: So there’s no formal coalition but there is dialogue and discussion between other groups who are also doing work against this specific prison but also against migrant detention more generally, working for status for all against the border. And so Solidarity Across Borders is a group that includes many people without status, many people who have been through the current migrant detention center and have been doing that work for a very long time.

W: So, I would really love to get a sense, and maybe listeners already know these things based on their own experiences, but what would this prison mean for those people who would be most directly affected by it?

NFNP: Right, so the first thing I should say is that migrant detention is central to Canada’s ability to deport people. And the CBSA has made a commitment recently to start increasing deportations by about 30%. So this prison represents an investment in both the continued violence of deportation as well as detention. But in practical terms, strengthening that threat of violence means that it’ll continue to be almost impossible to seek services here, or to resist exploitation. It maintains them as a source of precarious and exploitable labor.

But I mean, the violence of the migrant prison itself can’t be understated, people are often imprisoned in these facilities for years without charge. People die in these facilities, and I believe very strongly that prisons aren’t the answer to the challenges we face in our communities; locking people up, limiting people’s movement, deporting people to dangerous situations, or possible death, all of these things only cause more violence and harm.

Speaking for myself, I want to live in a world without prisons and without borders where people actually have the things they need to live their lives with dignity and respect.

W: Definitely, and it’s been my understanding too. In the US as well prisons are a huge source of capitaistic gain and a source of precarious and exploitable labor like you mentioned so that makes a lot of sense just for me coming from a US context.

So at the radio show we’ve been hearing about this prison couched in terms of humanity, like it would be a so called “more humane detention center”. And you mentioned that it was being built like right across the street or right next to a detention center that already exists. Would you talk about why the Canadian state is attempting this branding right now?

NFNP: Yeah, so the government has been marketing this entire project as creating a more humane approach to incarcerating migrants, but it’s just an attempt to change the subject from the question of why the government is putting migrants in prison to begin with, something a lot of people started asking following the hunger strikes. And if you look at the designs that the architects put together it makes it really clear whats actually going on, like the plans talk about how all the fencing around the prison needs to be covered by foliage to limit what it calls “the harshness of the look”, or that the iron bars over the windows have to be as inconspicuous as possible to the outside public, and that the children’s area needs to be bordered by what they call a 6 foot high visual barrier to make sure that no one outside can see the imprisoned children.

So essentially it’s just a new prison with a nicer looking face. And if you’re being separated from your family , your community, awaiting deportation to possible torture or death, I highly doubt you’re gonna be too concerned with how sustainable the concrete is or what color the ceilings are in the prison you’re being held in. But another element of this plan is something that the government is marketing as “alternatives to detention”. I mean, these programs only make up something like 3% of the total budget of the plan, but it’s been a central part of its marketing as a more humane approach than the previous government. These alternatives, they include forcing migrants to wear electronic ankle bracelets so their movements can be tracked. There’s this collaboration with the John Howard Society to force migrants into their halfway houses, they’ve also created this gps phone reporting system that forces migrants to make regular check in calls that test their voice prints. And so these are all ways that the government is actually expanding its capacity for surveillance and control of migrants outside of its prisons. Ya know, before the only option was detaining or releasing people but now they’re expanding their reach. And there was actually a renewed hunger strike by incarcerated migrants when these alternatives were launched last year, but again the government just ignored them.

W: And I’m assuming that the halfway house that you mentioned as well as the ankle bracelets, are those a for profit endeavor?

NFNP: So yeah, the halfway houses, the John Howard Society, got a multi million dollar contract to oversee that project. I’m not sure offhand what the company is that’s overseeing the ankle bracelets, but the technology was actually engineered as part of the post 9/11 national security certificate program here, which involved imprisoning non-citizens indefinitely without charge on secret evidence, mostly it was Arab and Muslim men. And some of those men who were caught up in the system in the early 2000’s, they actually requested to be transferred back to prison rather than continuing to live with those ankle monitors, because of how intense and repressive that system really was. But it’s really clear with these alternatives that all these carceral technologies that have been used in these post 9/11 sort of state of exception moments, but also through the federal prison system are leaking in and bleeding in to the system of how Canada relates to migrant populations.

W: It’s like bringing the prison into the home is kinda my experience of how ankle monitors generally work.

And I’m really bothered by this entire situation, but also this sort of softer, gentler prison where you can’t really see the kids and the harshness of the prison is dulled by some kind of fake foliage. The quality of the Canadian state is something that as a US resident I’m not really all that informed about but what I have been informed of, it’s just like extraordinarily toxic neoliberal cooptation of like “diversity” and “understanding” when it in fact is a genocidal machine.

NFNP: Yeah I think that was very well put!

W: I’ve been listening to a lot of From Embers (anarchist radio show at http://fromembers.libsyn.com/) so I’ve been like “this fucking Canadian state is a fucking hellscape!”

But yeah thank you for going into that, the ankle bracelets and the for profit nature of the John Howard Society.

So, speaking of the state, I think that people all over the world have been noting the increasingly frenetic attention that governments are paying to borders, with similarly increasingly racist rhetoric applied to many people seeking safety in places like so called Canada, so called US, and UK. Are there things to keep in mind about this proposed detention center in this current polarizing climate?

NFNP: Right. So over the past few years in Quebec we’ve seen the rise of far right anti-immigrant groups that have actually achieved a level of mass support here that I think is unique compared to the rest of the country. And this is for a lot of reasons, an important one is the turn of Quebec nationalism toward a very xenophobic form of state secularism. And that’s resulted in a huge increase of attacks on Muslim people, a formal ban on anyone wearing non Christian religious symbols from either working or receiving services from the Quebec government–

W: Wait, really??

NFNP: Yeah… And also of course there’s the mass murder at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City. But it’s also resulted in a new far right government that ran on substantially reducing immigration to Quebec and also introducing values and language tests for new migrants, which they’ve begun to put in place. And so, this more I guess local far right upsurge in anti-immigrant sentiment is increasingly bolstering support here for the federal government’s deportation regime.

And I think this makes it an important moment to intervene, to help disrupt that. Because I think that fighting back against the rise of the sentiment needs to be more than a one pronged fight against the far right groups on the ground. I really think that the struggle also needs to be connected to sustained resistance toward the racist structures that pre-date these groups. These structures often share a vision with these newer far right groups, but I think there may be more fundamental parts of our colonial context here.

W: Yeah, definitely! I’m wondering if you would say more about fighting against the structures that pre-date the current governmental climate, or political climate that’s happening right now? What would you think would be involved in that?

NFNP: Oh! Well I think that migration policy is a great example of this, where so much of the focus of that conversation around the country and in Quebec right now is so focused around people crossing the border from the United States on foot into Canada. And talking about the influx of refugees who are crossing into Canada or applying for refugee status here, many of which are being denied.

But the entire apparatus of detention and deportation completely pre-dates this.

It’s in fact not linked to this upsurge in migration, it’s linked to the temporization of status for people here, which has been going back for decades. And if we’re only looking at what’s directly in front of us, we’re not gonna understand or be able to effectively confront these structures that are MUCH more deeply rooted in the fabric of the Canadian state and in Canadian history.

W: Thank you very much for bringing up that point! And I think that goes really well into the next questions which is, would you talk about how the concept of citizenship is being weaponized by the state in this case but also has always been weaponized by the state?

NFNP: Yeah, I mean the concept of citizenship has always been based on exclusion, and the Canadian context is no different! Things like the Chinese Head Tax, the Komagata Maru incident, the None is Too Many Policy toward Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, the Canadian state’s approach to immigration has always been shaped by its white supremacist foundations. And actually with the exception of the British Commonwealth countries, Canada had an official ‘whites only’ immigration policy until the ’60s. But since the 1960’s the government, like I was saying, it’s been increasingly temporizing the status of people coming here. It’s gotten to the point where now over 2/3rds of people who are granted status to live and work here each year are getting some form of temporary status.

And so the CBSA’s migrant detention and deportation apparatus was built to enforce this, it was a necessary by-product of these changes. And that system is part of maintaining the flow of wealth from the global South to the global North. Workers from the global South come here, have their labor exploited at extreme levels, put huge sums of money into the Canadian economy, and then they’re kicked out. And Canada doesn’t just benefit from this but it actively participates in impoverishing and displacing people in the global South who then end up their doorstep.

W: Definitely, I think there’s a lot to talk about there but I think you gave a really good summary. And I think that I would love to move on to some other questions which have to do with the more positive aspects of the resistance to this thing. So, we in the states are familiar with the concept of a sanctuary city, which indicates that a place limits their cooperation with the national government to follow through on deportations in many ways. But I came across the term “solidarity city” in articles on your website, would you talk about the distinction between the two, and what is meant by “solidarity city”?

NFNP: Oh sure! So this is actually a framing that comes out of the work of Solidarity Across Borders. Sanctuary city campaigns, they tend to be focused on asking the municipal government to protect people without status. But for years now, Solidarity Across Borders has put forward the analysis that we should be creating our own networks of mutual aid and solidarity. And a good example for this is the police, y’know at least here the police are one of the biggest problems that undocumented migrants face. And that problem doesn’t go away with city officials signing a sanctuary city declaration. The last mayor here actually announced that Montreal was a sanctuary city, but nothing changed. The police continued to collaborate with the CBSA to detain and deport people.

But a solidarity city is different because it’s something that’s built from the ground up, through building networks of resistance and non-cooperation with those agencies that enforce deportations and detentions, not by appealing to power.

W: Yeah, I think that building from the ground up while at the same time refusing cooperation is sparking something in my head. Thanks for talking about that!

NFNP: Yeah no problem! You can check out more at Solidarity Across Border’s website which is http://www.solidarityacrossborders.org/en/ for English.

W: So would you speak about this struggle in terms of decolonization? What are some parallels that you can locate between decolonization and a project that has a more anti-border ethic?

NFNP: Right! So the most influential border around us here in occupied Tio’tia:ke is the American border, which is very close by. And about two hours east of us here is Akwesasne (a-kwa-sas’-nay), which is Kanienkiahaka (kan-eh-ga-hag’-ay) territory, this territory additionally is recognized as a federal reserve. Tio’tia:ke is also Kanienkiahaka territory but isn’t federally recognized as such. Akwasasne itself is actually cut in two by that border, and there’s been conflict for decades there between the CBSA who attempt to enforce that border and indigenous people who refuse to acknowledge their authority on their territory.

So anyway, all this is to say that it’s very clear here the ways that the borders around us are fairly recent colonial constructions. But since we’re talking about prisons, in Canada incarceration as a practice was largely spread as part of the ongoing genocide against indigenous peoples, as a tool of assimilation. And today when you look at who’s inside Canadian prisons, indigenous people are dis-proportionally represented.

And so, the same colonial and capitalist forces that are creating war, poverty, destruction, throughout the global South are continuing to oversee the genocide and dispossession of Indigenous peoples here in the global North. Many people being displaced and arriving to this territory are indigenous to different areas on this continent and many of them are ending up in these migrant prisons.

But over the last decade or so here, different migrant justice formations have gone through processes of dialogue and discussion with indigenous groups. Which has led to some changes in messaging and outlook over time and I mean, we’ve been influenced by this too, but as settlers we have a lot more work to do on this front I think.

W: Definitely, did I understand you correctly that indigenous folks are being incarcerated in these migrant jails?

NFNP: Well, not people who are indigenous to the territories governed by the Canadian state, but people who are indigenous to like other areas on the continent who are then displaced and would not be understood or classified by the Canadian state as their indigenous identity based on the country of origin.

W: Yeah for sure! The border is a colonial construct, and the indigenous territories obviously vastly predate that colonial construct.

So, how can people support the group that you are speaking from, Ni Frontiers Ni Prison, and could you also brainstorm modes of support that folks can enact who, for whatever reason, are not in a position to do confrontational or legally risky direct action?

NFNP: Oh yeah for sure! So this month we actually have a call in campaign, where we’re encouraging folks to either call, email, or fax the companies who are currently bidding for the contract to build this new prison. So we highly encourage anyone who would like to to do this, you can go on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/nifrontieresniprisons/, and you’ll see the information about the call in campaign there.

But in terms of non risky ways to participate in struggle like this, the group I’m a part of we do public actions, and the demonstrations we’ve organized so far have been very low risk, very family friendly to quote maybe an outdated activist parlance. We have been helping organize

information sessions in neighborhoods across the city in partnership with different groups, artists have contributed a series of posters which people have been helping put up across the city, people have made videos about the struggle against the prison, or written articles, there’s a lot of ways that people have contributed and continue to and to participate in this that isn’t particularly high risk. Particularly right now we could actually use some help spreading word about the struggle and why we’re in opposition to the prison.

W: I wonder if you have any words about the importance of the call in campaign, cause I think that many anarchists, at least many anarchists that I know are a little bit hesitant to do call in campaigns, would you talk about the importance of that tactic?

NFNP: Oh sure! I mean, I can talk about it in context to our strategy here, we decided to focus on the call in campaign after an action that happened disrupting a site visit that the CBSA organized to talk with the people interested in bidding on the contract to build the prison. And so people went there and disrupted it, and there were a lot of conversations with workers from the companies who had been sent there to talk with the CBSA about the contract. And some of those conversations went really well! What we’re trying to do in this phase before the general contractor is chosen to build the prison, is to let all the companies know who are considering doing this work that there will be resistance if they decide to take that contract. To let them know that it may be in their financial best interest to walk away from this project. And that strategy will continue depending on what company is chosen, but obviously the tactics will shift.

W: I’m also really interested in hearing any words that you have about like the nature of the tactic of a call in campaign. Maybe this is a bit of a circular or esoteric question but I’m wanting to like provide people with some sort of way to mentally grasp on to what is being achieved here and what is being proposed, and what the goals are generally of something like that?

Is it just annoyance or–

NFNP: Well there are multiple reasons for it, like on one side of it there is the effect of heightening the contradictions that actually already exist within some of these companies in relationship to projects like this. Of creating a sense of wariness on the part of these companies about embarking, but it also gives a way for organizations and for individuals to engage with the struggle at the faze that it’s at right now. So you don’t have to go if you can’t go to a public demonstration.

W: It makes sense cause it is a “safer” way to participate in showing dissent.

NFNP: Yeah! And also we can’t rely on mainstream corporate media to relay a message to these companies that there is widespread opposition to the practice of incarcerating migrants, like we need to do that ourselves! And what that looks like is actually going and disrupting their events and their meetings, and showing up at their workplaces. But it also means calling them incessantly and sending them endless faxes with lots of black ink. To let them know that this is the wrong move for them, and if they make it things like this will probably increase, and that’s generally the thinking behind it.

W: Excellent, thank you so much! So those are all the questions that I had! Is there anything you’d like to add or words you’d leave listeners with?

NFNP: The only thing I haven’t mentioned is that at the end of this month, the government is scheduled to make a decision about which company they’re gonna give the contract to to build the new prison. And depending on who that is I’m sure there will be actions coming up! So if you wanna keep up on what’s happening with the struggle you can go to stopponslaprison.info, it’s a clearing house for information about the construction of the prison as well as resistance against it. Or you can follow us on Facebook and you can send us an email at nifrontiersniprison@riseup.net if you wanna get involved.

W: Is there anything that we missed that you wanted to give more voice to or present here?

NFNP: No I think we covered it! Thanks so much for the time and for taking an interest in this struggle!

W: Yeah! I think that the world has always been moving toward something like this and shit like this has happened before, and thank you for the work that you do and your time in coming onto the radio.

Surviving and Re-thinking Our World Without the Government; Comunidad Colectiva on ICE in NC

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This week we had the chance to interview Lelia, who is a community activist and a part of the group Comunidad Colectiva, an immigrant rights group based in Charlotte NC. We got to talk about a lot of things in this interview, the work that they and other groups do with immigrant and undocumented communities, about the February ICE raids that got national attention, what effective rapid response can look like, and the challenging tension associated with both being anti state and being in the position of having to negotiate with police and sheriffs for safety reasons, plus many more topics.

We wanted to mention something called 287(g) and give a bit of information for listeners who may not have heard of this before. 287(g) was a contract between local officials and ICE which essentially made police forces extensions of ICE, and also instituted deportation proceedings as part of run of the mill arrests. More is explained about this contract later on in the interview, but it gets mentioned fairly heavily before that time.

You can keep updated on this group’s work by hitting them up on Facebook and if you have a few dollars you’d like to throw them to recoup the costs associated with their rapid response network, their Venmo is @comunidad-colectiva.

Next week on The Final Straw, stay tuned for an interview with a member of the Montreal based group Ni Frontiers Ni Prison (which is No Borders, No Prison) about fighting a proposed new migrant prison, decolonization, the rise of far right sentiment in so called Canada, and many associated topics, plus a possible other interview.

Update on Kinetic Justice

In a brief update to last week’s interview on the hunger strike by Kinetic Justice of the Free Alabama Movement, we’d like to share the following news. On March 20th, Kinetic Justice Amun (aka Robert Earl Council) resumed his hunger strike as he was transferred briefly to segregation housing at Limestone prison, but ended his hunger strike within a few days and was transferred to general population at that prison. He can be written at the following address:

Robert Earl Council #181418

28779 Nick Davis Rd
Harvest, AL 35749

Consequently, 8 of the prisoners transferred with Kinetic in the middle of the night, began engaging in a hunger strike in response to their own incarceration in solitary. In response to the hunger strike, administration cut off water to the cells they were held in, giving them bottled water.

The 8 prisoners ended their hunger strike on March 22nd, and administration claims they’ll be transferred to general population in the Alabama prison system as they’re not under investigation currently.

Their names are as follows:

Kotoni Tellis (#223155)

Marcus Lee (#175056)

Mario Avila (#259514)

Corey Burroughs (#207639)

Earl Taylor 3rd (#168616)

Tyree Cochroan (#172306)

Earl Manassa (#175099)

Antonio Jackson (#246560)

and they can be written at:

Holman “Correctional” Facitily

1240 Ross Rd.
Atmore, AL 36502

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Playlist here.

Solidarity with the Migrant Caravan; 2 on the ground perspectives

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This week William had the opportunity to speak with two people who are doing active support work for the folks involved in what’s being called the “migrant caravan”, a group of 7,000 or so people primarily from Honduras fleeting violence of many kinds. Firstly we’ll hear from Chris, who is an organizer with Enclave Caracol, a social center which stands in solidarity with migrants in Tijuana. This center sprang from Tijuana Food Not Bombs, and you can learn more about them via their Facebook page or via their wordpress site.

To donate to them, you can visit the Al Otro Lado donate page and mark a donation for Enclave Caracol!

In this interview, we get into how it’s been for Enclave Caracol (The Snail Enclave in English) to do support in Tijuana, some of the history regarding this particular situation, how the various cop organizations in the area have been treating folks, responses by the public and the government alike, and basic ways of how to support. Let us know what you think or if you have a perspective on this issue by writing to us! You can also write us here.

The second interview is with Elana, who is an anarchist lawyer doing support for the people in the caravan. In this interview we talk about their experiences and some about the complex legal situation that a lot of asylum seekers are faced with, plus ways to re-contextualize this caravan in anti-imperialist terms.

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The audio quality cuts out in some portions of these interviews, so apologies in advance for that.

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To learn more about the history of what is going on right now, and
specifically the recent history of Honduras which gave rise to this
present day situation, we recommend the Alliance for Global Justice’s webinair on Honduras, which was passed to us by a comrade. It is a longer listen, and brings voices together who have been paying attention to this situation for many years, some of whom are directly impacted by it.

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Show playlist here.

End Prison Slavery: National Prison Strike 2018, Aug 21st- Sept 9

August 21st – September 9th, 2018 National Prison Strike

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This week Bursts had two conversations, both focusing on the upcoming Prisoner Strike from August 21st to September 9th, 2018, one with a member of IWOC and one with a Amani Sawari, a media liaison for some of the prisoners who called for the strike.

The viewpoints expressed by the two guests are at time contradictory and at others redundant but it felt better to keep their voices mostly intact rather than weave them to create a streamlined narrative.

Amani Sawari

In part one, Amani Sawari will speak about the prison strike, the need to increase opportunities for release and civic engagement by prisoners and former prisoners in the face of historical disenfranchisement and she’ll also read some statements and demands from the prisoner-organizers. Her info on the upcoming strike and resources can be found at sawarimi.org.

Brooke, Oakland IWOC

Then we’ll hear from Brooke, an organizer with the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee of the IWW. Brooke is based in Oakland, CA. He’ll talk about IWOC and their role and views of prison organizing, labor organizing, and the upcoming strike. More from IWOC can be found at inarceratedworkers.org.

announcements

J20 Update

As many listeners have no doubt heard, the remaining 38 j20 defendants got their charges dropped the other day without prejudice! This means that the cases could theoretically be opened again at any time, thought this is thought to be pretty unlikely. This is a historical moment, not only for the courts who were staggeringly unable to rise to this occasion – humiliating themselves at pretty much every possible turn – but also for anarchists everywhere. This whole long, difficult year and a half forged bonds that are all the more strong for having gone through the fire together, which can and no doubt will experience similar oppressions, difficulties, and tough breaks with the same finesse and resilience which was demonstrated here. To anyone listening who was personally affected by this, you are an inspiration. Now we get to celebrate, and now we get to feel the extent of our power.

Sean Swain?

If you’re missing the voice of Sean Swain like we are, Here’s a little plug with his voice to get those juices flowing.

Now, please consider giving a call to Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction Director Gary Mohr at 614-387-0588 or calling Warren Correctional Warden Chae Harris at 513-932-3388 (Fax: 513-933-0150) and asking about Sean’s whereabouts and restrictions to his communication. If you find out anything interesting, maybe that we haven’t learned yet about his silence, drop us an email at thefinalstrawradio@riseup.net or at his support email, seanswain@riseup.net.Thanks a lot!

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Playlist

OccupyICEPDX and J20 Updates

#OccupyICEPDX & J20 Updates

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This week, we’re featuring two interviews.  The first was an an interview from the IGDcast with someone affiliated with #OccupyIcePDX blocking the immigration detention center in Portland, OR.  The second  was a chat we had with a supporter of the J20 arrestees, from among the 230 people rounded up during the Inauguration protests of January 20th, 2017, in Washington, DC and still facing over 60 years in prison each.

Updates from #OccupyICEPDX blockade in Portland, OR

The first is an interview that our friends over at the IGD podcast, #ThisIsAmerica from the June 28th episode, number 14. It features a person involved in the occupation of the entry way of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Portland, Oregon against the deportations of migrants by ICE agents that have grabbed headlines for ripping families apart across the country and throwing children into cages. The interviewee shares experiences of ICE and Homeland Security invasions of the space and the importance of opposing this imposition of borders on free humans. More about resistance to the ICE raids can be found at https://itsgoingdown.org and subscribing to their podcast is as easy as clicking here!

It’s worth noting that on Saturday the 30th of July, fascist street forces attacked the anti-ICE encampment with weapons, passing through a police line as a phalanx to do it, and the police stood by and let it happen. The police acted to protect the fascist Proud Boys, Patriot Prayers, ultra-right Nationalists and Nazi’s and only pushed back against antifascists when it was clear that our side was winning. Check out IDGcast #15 for Rose City Antifa talking about prep to resist the fash in Portland and keep an ear out for reportbacks on that medium and their website. Also, this good writeup available at crimethinc.com. Keep safe out there, wherever you are, and remember that the cops and Klan go hand in hand. Here’s a fundraiser for costs and charges related to resisting Patriot Prayer on June 30th.

Updates on the J20 Inauguration Arrest cases

Next up, I spoke with a supporter of the J20 Inauguration arrestees about how the case has been progressing (basically the prosecutors are getting their patookus’ handed to themselves), the pressures of facing felony charges and types of support folks can offer and other hijinks, including discussion of jury nullification. Don’t know what that is? Enter it as a search term in your favorite search engine. More info on the case can be found through the regular and on point twitter feed of Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) and as well as the handles @defendj20 and @dropj20 on twitter or at the website https://defendj20resistance.org.

Please stay tuned to the end of the episode for a couple of anarchist podcast suggestions from William Goodenuff plus some news about streaming services, the dangerous incarceration of political prisoner “Comrade Malik Washington”, & the Halifax Anarchist Bookfair.

Announcements:

The Final Straw Radio is now streaming on the internet station, Anon Global Radio.

Halifax (A) Bookfair

And here’s an announcement about the upcoming Halifax Anarchist Bookfair in Nova Scotia, so-called Canada

Brother Haroun in ATL needs support!

Black community activist named Brother Haroun Walik, the founder and CEO of the Streets Groomers group in Atlanta, Georgia, had his house ransacked by police and FBI while he was in hospital for a recurring condition. The police are following a claim of assault which Haroun claims is untrue and is being acted on in retaliation for doing street-level organizing against gentrification and attempting to divert youth away from gang membership and patrol the streets against police intimidation with his org. You can find out more about Street Groomers at their website, http://streetgroomers.org, you can donate to his bond and legal costs at https://gofundme.com/6f87oc/ and you can keep up to date on the harassment of Haroun Walik in the updates section of that site as well as the @the_streetgroomers instagram.

All Hands on Deck:  Get Malik Washington out of Ad-Seg!

Several weeks ago, friends and supporters of incarcerated freedom fighter Comrade Malik Washington were overjoyed to hear that he was getting released, finally, from Administrative Segregation (solitary confinement) at Eastham Unit in Texas–until TDCJ (Texas Department of Criminal Justice) pulled a fast one, falsely claiming that Malik refused the Ad-Seg Transition Program to get him released from solitary back to general population.

This is a complete lie, as well as patently absurd:  Malik has been fighting to get out of Ad-Seg from the moment he was thrown in there two years ago on a bogus riot charge (which was, itself, retaliation for prison strike organizing and agitating against inhumane and discriminatory prison conditions).

Here’s what actually happened:  Malik arrived his new unit, Ramsey I, on June 21, only to discover that he was being assigned to a top bunk, which is prohibited by his medical restrictions as a seizure patient.  Then it got worse:  TDCJ had failed to transfer his medical restrictions records, or had erased them, and were now claiming no record of these restrictions, which have been on file and in place for the past ten years.  Malik wrote a detailed statement requesting to be placed on a lower bunk in order to avoid injury; later that night, he was abruptly transferred out of Ramsey, and was told that staff there said he refused the transition program!

This is blatant targeting of a prison rebel whose resistance has inconvenienced and embarrassed TDCJ time and time again; it is a continuation of the pattern of targeted harassment and retaliation Malik has experienced from TDCJ every step of the way.

Malik’s supporters are extremely concerned for his safety, and we urgently need the help of everyone hearing or reading this!

1. Please write to Malik at his new address — every letter he receives tells prison staff that Malik has people looking out for him, which is important protection.

Keith H. Washington
#1487958
McConnell Unit
3100 South Emily Drive
Beeville, TX 78103

2. Call Senior Warden Phillip Sifuentes at Malik’s current facility (McConnell) and tell them Keith Washington (#1487958) should not be in Ad-Seg!

Phone #: (361) 362-2300 (**048) 00 —  ask to be connected to the senior warden’s office/receptionist–try to talk to someone, but also can leave a message.

Script:

Hello, I’m calling because I’m concerned about Keith H. Washington (#1487958) who was recently transferred to your facility.  I understand he was transferred there from Ramsey Unit, because he supposedly refused to participate in the transition program there, but this is not the case.  He never refused to be part of the program, and he needs to be transferred back to Ramsey and admitted to the transition program immediately!

Please let us know how your call goes atblueridgeABC@riseup.net

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Playlist