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Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

Mèo Mun, Anarchist Views from Vietnam

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Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Over the next hour you’ll hear three collective members, Mai, Will and tùng share their critiques of leftist misrepresentations of the Vietnamese State as Socialist, lasting impacts of imperialism and war on populations of Vietnam, the centering US imaginaries of Vietnam, the struggles of working class people in general (and queer folks and sex workers in particular) in Vietnam, nationalism promoted by the government and other topics.

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Transcription:

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves with any names, preferred gender pronouns, affiliations or political identities as make sense for this conversation? Can you tell us a little about… is it pronounced Mèo Mun?

Mai: Yes, it’s pronounced Mèo Mun. I’m Mai, I use any/all pronouns. I don’t particularly use any political label, but I adhere to many anarchist principles.

Will: My name is Will. I use they/them pronouns. I’m an anarcho-communist.

tùng: Hi, I am tùng. I use any/all pronouns, I am an anarchist against the state and capitalism.

TFSR: Thanks for being here!

So, I am excited to have this conversation with you, thanks for making time and effort to chat! As anarchists from Vietnam, could you give us some highlights of the history of libertarian anti-capitalist and anarchist ideas and movements in Vietnam and what the milieu looks like today? And what sorts of topics and engagement drive those groups?

Will: As a preface, we are quite cut off from our roots. Many of us had lived for decades until we even heard of the word that encompasses our ideas and ways of life. The elaborate and complex history of the struggle for liberation in 20th century Vietnam is painted with a single stroke: you were either a patriotic Stalinist or a reactionary traitor, a colonial, fascist collaborator. The Marxist-Leninists who now rule the country only came into power by systemically eradicating all the other oppositional currents, labeling them traitors, and so yeah, of course they’d like to have a clear black and white narrative, of course they’d like for there to be no nuances; they’d look kind of bad otherwise and that’d weaken their grip on power. So, documents about anarchism or general radicalism in Vietnam, that divert from the State’s narrative are usually inaccessible in Vietnamese, either as hard copies, or scattered around obscure corners of the internet. That’s why we are on our very own bumpy road to learn and reconnect with our roots.

Historically, anarchism in Vietnam never grew into a wide-spread political movement. However, the struggle against the state, particularly states of the most populous ethnic group—the Kinh / Viet—can be traced all the way back to feudal times. Ethnic minorities living in upland Vietnam have been resisting the Kinh / Viet state’s expansionism for a very long time. James C Scott remarks in the book The Art of not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia that many aspects of their cultures and ways of living can be read as anti-state and anti-authoritarian, meaning that they have, in a way, long practiced the tradition of keeping the state at arm’s length, out of their affairs. Their struggles continue until this very day, and we have much to learn from them. We must stress, though, that we should not retroactively apply the label “anarchist” to these groups and their practices, nor should we call what they do “anarchism.” As Simoun Magsalin, our Filipino comrade, observes about the anarchist milieu in the archipelago: we should be critical of the anarchist equivalents of a “noble savage” trope, and the search for a “pure” indigeneity unspoiled by the State that decolonization can return to. In the same vein, we have before criticized the idea popular amongst many Marxist-Leninists, that homophobia in Vietnam is solely a product of Western colonialism, and pre-French colonial Vietnam was a haven for queer people. Oof.

Anarchists, as well as radicals influenced by anarchist principles, also participated in the struggle against colonialism and imperialism of the 20th century. For example, under the yoke of French colonialism, the radical Nguyen An Ninh called for the youth of Vietnam to “reinvent itself and take control of its own destiny.” He critiqued the Confucian family values of parental authority, gender inequality and traditional morality, encouraging people to “break with the past and free themselves from tyranny of all kinds.” He fought side by side with other anarchists and libertarian communists such as Trịnh Hưng Ngẫu and Ngô Văn (a former Trotskyist), in the labor movement. But as we’ve mentioned before, the Stalinists came into power by systematically eradicating all the radicals from oppositional currents like the anarchists, and indeed the Trotskyists who were brutally slaughtered. Ngo Van, the former-Trotskyist-turned-council-communist who we mentioned earlier, went on to produce many materials critical of the authoritarian, counter-revolutionary nature of the Stalinists after fleeing their persecution to France.

Mai: As for the contemporary anarchist milieu in Vietnam, it is extremely vulnerable and atomised. We simply don’t have contact with other groups, even though there might be quite a few out there. Those groups might wisely want to keep more to themselves rather than reaching out, since state repression is quite severe. This is a challenge for us, as one of our goals is to find a way for Viet anarchist groups to safely connect, communicate, and exchange experiences, if they so wish. Another reason is that our milieu has been chronically isolated from the milieus in other countries. There are many reasons for this lack of international interaction, such as language barriers and, again, state repression, but also a relative lack of support, solidarity and understanding from the Western left and anarchist community. We believe that anarchism, as a method of revolution, cannot be applied successfully by an isolated group, in other words, without international solidarity. The exchange of information and ideas, as well as the interlinking of our struggles are absolutely essential for the mutual strengthening of anarchist communities. And so, at the moment, building coalition with other milieus in South East Asia is one of the tasks that we prioritize. It’s also why we really appreciate the opportunity you have given us here on the podcast today!

Having said that, we are aghast that in many leftist circles in the West, Vietnam is painted as this Socialist haven where people think and act like a hive-mind, and the only ones speaking against the state are reactionary traitors, or CIA agents. So-called anarchists are paying to be fed those lies; so-called anarchists are capitalizing on those lies. We’ve lost count of how many times we have been fed-jacketed without any evidence whatsoever, and the people exposing us to harassment and doxxing got away scott-free. This stems from how the struggles in Vietnam and other over-exploited countries have been ignored by the majority of Western leftists for decades, especially when we can’t be used as ammunition in their own political discourse. This makes talking about our experience in Vietnam all the more dangerous, and it actively discourages anyone who might start speaking out.

As we touched on a bit before, organizing outside of the state framework in Vietnam, whether online or on the ground, is dangerous: the threats of police violence and incarceration are always looming over us and our loved ones. Many leftists seem to think of Vietnamese police as heroic defenders of the working class. It really shouldn’t need to be stated, but no, they’re not. Vietnamese police exists to protect the State and capitalist property in Vietnam. Police violence and deaths in custody in Vietnam are a well-documented reality. In Vietnam, the ruling party holds all executive, legislative and judiciary power. Cops don’t even need a court subpoena to enter our houses. Commoners like us grow up being taught to stay away from cops and everyone is used to bribing them. As for the law, there is a clause against the making, storage and spreading of material for the purpose of opposing the state and you could be sentenced to 5 or 12 years, if you’re caught.

Speaking from personal experience, many Viet anarchists seek out anarchism because we are marginalised in other ways on top of being exploited by capitalists as workers. Within Mèo Mun, many of our members are queer, disabled, and/or young. Some were radicalised while trying to organize rather unfruitfully within the liberal framework. Some have cited the horrible abuse they have suffered under the education and medical system. Some used to organize as Marxist-Leninists, simply because Marxism-Leninism is synonymous with Communism in Vietnam, but then can’t reconcile their reality with such an ideology anymore. So queer liberation, youth liberation, as well as disability justice and care are some of the passions that keep us going.

And also, I think I forgot to introduce a bit about Mèo Mun as a collective. Would it be possible for me to do that now?

TFSR: Of course!

Mai: Ok, so Mèo Mun is an anarchist collective working to make anarchist materials and ideas more accessible to a Vietnamese audience, together with providing an analysis of social struggles from a Vietnamese anarchist lens. Specifically, we do the work of archiving, translating, and disseminating anarchist texts, which can be found on the online Southeast Asian Anarchist library. There is also a very gradual translation of English Wikipedia pages related to anarchism into Vietnamese. You know, because Wikipedia tends to be the first place people come to for a basic understanding of new concepts. We try to reach a wider audience on social media as well, and we write and speak to educate people on what our experiences in Vietnam are like. The anarchist milieu in Vietnam is very atomized, so one of our goals is to connect Viet anarchists together, and provide a safer space for them to express themselves and exchange ideas, without fear of state repression, or mass harassment from statists and nationalists. Naturally, we make an active effort to include Viet anarchists in the diaspora in our organizing.

Individually, our members also participate in feminist, queer liberation, youth liberation and prisoners solidarity organizing.

TFSR: Awesome, thank you so much for the really thoughtful answers you’ve been giving, very clear.

So, you’ve already spoken on the pervasiveness of the police state and mentioned capitalist property and some other things in Vietnam. I would love to hear your perspectives on the political and economic direction of the State of Vietnam. An essay of yours that caught my attention is entitled “The Broken Promises of Vietnam” in which you argue that the “Socialist Republic of Vietnam” is not actually socialist. You describe similar instances of neo-liberal national economic infrastructure development taking precedence over preserving ecosystems and leaving intact indigenous communities, let alone general public health. You also describe a government wielding a Nationalistic vision of citizens that excludes ethnic and sexual minorities and that allows for billionaires to rise while the working classes and peasants are displaced. Can you talk about this, about those broken promises and who are some communities most imperiled by the Nationalistic tenor of the CPV?

Will: So, in terms of politics, Vietnam is a crony Capitalist country. The success of a business depends entirely on how well they could navigate the unofficial channels of the state, on their relationships with the government or Party members and how much money they are willing to spend on bribery. Officially, Vietnam is dubbed a Socialist country, but the class stratification can be observed in our everyday life. We have a so-called “People’s” billionaire, Pham Nhat Vuong, who, allegedly, built his empire from shaking hands with government officials to hoard land at a dirt-cheap price. He owns a total of $7.3 billion in assets, equivalent to the total assets of about 800,000 Vietnamese (on average). Very Socialist! Not to mention that Vietnam also has many other billionaires, enough to have a Shark Tank show right on national television. The very first promise, that the commoners who sacrificed everything for Vietnam’s liberation would be directly in charge of it, was shattered the very moment the Vietnamese government came into being.

The current Secretary of the Communist Party also openly praises capitalism, spicing it up with some superficial lukewarm critiques of capital! He said, and I quote: “We acknowledge that Capitalism has never been as global as it is today and has achieved many great achievements, especially in the utilization and development of productive capabilities and scientific-technological progress.” So, we’re just supposed to ignore all the toils the working class has historically and currently endured under capitalist Vietnam, for a Communism that may never even come! The end justifies the inhumane means, apparently.

As for nationalism, we mentioned it in the article “The Broken Promises of Vietnam,” but if you speak up and criticise the State, no matter how valid your points, how copious your evidences, you will be seen as going against the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese nation, because the government has a vested interest in confusing party loyalty with the very natural and precious love that we have for our culture and fellow Vietnamese.

And as you know, nationalism sells the lie of a trans-class solidarity, that we Viet workers have more in common with Viet capitalists like Pham Nhat Vuong, rather than with fellow workers from China, Cambodia, Myanmar, or indeed the US. While in reality, Vietnamese capitalists and government go hand in hand with capitalists the world over to brutally exploit Vietnam’s cheap labor and natural resources. This can be observed in the outsourced manufacturing of electronic components and textile products to Vietnam, in the many Special Economic Zones that are mushrooming all over the country. There can’t ever exist any meaningful solidarity between us, between the capitalists and the working class, and the people in power are understandably frightened that the workers in Vietnam would one day see through this gross lie.

Consequently, they are dead-set on stoking the nationalist flame in Vietnam. That’s why career communists based in Vietnam spew absolute nonsense like “nationalism is crucial to communism in Vietnam.” Actually, Vietnamese nationalism is crucial to Vietnamese capitalism and authoritarianism. And the indoctrination process starts young.

Let’s examine the 5 commandments that Uncle Ho, Ho Chi Minh, taught Vietnamese youth:

1. Love your Fatherland, love your compatriots.

2. Learn well, work well.

3. Good unity, good discipline.

4. Good hygiene.

5. Be modest, honest, and brave.

These are hung in almost every classroom in Vietnam (usually with a photo of Uncle Ho). Many students are forced to learn them by heart. What comes first in these teachings? “Love your Fatherland.” Your fatherland comes before your compatriots. Children, who have not yet understood the concept of a “Fatherland,” let alone fully grasping what loving a Nation-state implies, are taught to put their “Fatherland” before themselves, before their family and friends. The next commandment: “Learn well” and “Work well.” For whom? In our opinion, also for your Fatherland, which is to say, for the state and the capitalists.

If you dare to question any of that, you’d likely be branded a traitor, a reactionary, a fake Vietnamese. If you dare to be “lazy” and not “work well,” you are a burden on society (disabled veterans in Vietnam are literally called “invalids;” we have “The Ministry of labor – War Invalids and Social Affairs”). The purpose of Vietnam’s education system, in our opinion, is to shape students into obedient workers or cogs in its capitalist machine, similar in essence to any other capitalist education system.

Also, many well-known authors whose works are featured in Vietnamese textbooks also incessantly preach nationalism and the idolatry of political figures like Uncle Ho, Lenin, and yes, Stalin. A 1993 poem by Tố Hữu, famed Vietnamese poet, reads:

Oh, Stalin!

Alas, do the earth and sky mourn Your departure

If I’m to love my father, my mother, my husband

and myself one, then I love You ten.”

So, “I love you three thousands, Stalin.” Ouch! That’s not very good…

Consuming products from Viet brands and Viet media is widely considered “patriotic.” Which makes non-consumption unpatriotic. How convenient for the market economy! Oh and, not only Viet media, but also foreign media which uses Vietnamese labor. In 2018, a Hollywood blockbuster was filmed in HaLong Bay, Vietnam. The film set was then utilized by the authority as a tourist attraction. The whole issue of how that movie depicts US soldiers in Vietnam and local people asides, as we read about and cheer for the ongoing IATSE strike, we can’t help but wonder if Vietnamese actors, extras and crew hired in film productions outsourced to Vietnam are compensated fairly and equally compared to their US counterparts. Fun fact: there hasn’t been a legal strike in more than 25 years in Vietnam. The General Confederation of labor, which is supposed to represent the interests of the workers, hasn’t been organizing strikes, and so all the strikes that did take place were illegal. It’s apparently unacceptable for the workers to organize and demand better conditions for themselves; a workers’ struggle is only legitimate in the eye of the state if the state can control its direction.

Mai: A field where nationalist sentiments are particularly intense is sport, mainly soccer. There was this photo of a person holding a portrait of Uncle Ho at a soccer match, which went viral a while back. That photo was said to be the evidence that Viet people love Uncle Ho. What was conveniently not mentioned is how the sport scene in Vietnam is one of the best showcases for how poisonous Vietnamese nationalism is.

Rampant on Vietnamese Social Media is the xenophobic attitude when our national football team have a match, especially with other Southeast Asian teams. If the referee makes a decision that’s unfavorable for the Vietnamese team, their Facebook or other social media accounts will be flooded with tons of vitriol and death threats. The same thing will happen to the opposing team’s players if they were deemed “too aggressive” or simply scored the decisive goal. It’s even worse with women teams, where there’ll be slews of misogynist, transphobic and degrading language. Many Viet sport fans like to joke that all Thai women are transgender women, with the heavy implication that they are not “real” women. To the nationalist sport fans, all the other teams are inferior, mixed-blooded, full of unnatural citizens, and hence has an unfair advantage. To them, the Vietnamese team is simply the best; any losses are only due to these unfair advantages.

As you may also know, nationalism seeks to create an in-group, out-group mentality, and Vietnamese nationalism constantly and violently excludes Viet ethnic minorities. A stark example is how the education-indoctrination system strips them of their culture and language. There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, with more than 100 Vietnamese dialects, yet there is only one official language taught in school and used in exams, the language of the dominant Viet Kinh group. This naturally puts people from other ethnic groups at a huge disadvantage. Many schools force their students to wear áo dài as uniform, regardless of their ethnicity, even though áo dài is a Kinh garment. Attempts to even out the ground for ethnic minorities face vicious backlash from Viet Kinh people, such as when the government tried to give bonus points in the national university entrance exam for ethnic minority students. Instead of getting rightfully angry at an education system which dehumanizes its students, forcing them to brutally compete with their peers for a chance to be exploited by capitalists, many Kinh people blamed and unleashed their wrath on ethnic minorities.

Those are our observations about the political and economic situation in Vietnam. Based on those symptoms, and dare we also draw some parallels with certain formerly “Communist” countries, we could tentatively share our guess on the direction of the Vietnamese state and its so-called Socialism-oriented market strategy, should it continue to fester unchallenged. However, we are not prophets speaking gospel, nor scientists playing with solid statistics here; we will not invoke some sacred words like “science” and “materialism” and from that claim absolute truth. What we will say is this: without mass mobilization and resistance of the working class, the Vietnamese state will strengthen its grip on the populace, through law, nationalism or hierarchical social conditioning. And capitalism, hand in hand with the state, will dig its claws further into the exploited classes, drawing out from them all they can offer. The working class of Vietnam will be further fragmented as capitalism consolidates its influence together with its exploitation, delegitimizing worker struggles against it. This would ingrain a sense of resignation and self-absorbed struggle in individual workers and prevent the building of solidarity amongst them.

TFSR: Some proponents of what’s called “Socialism” in Vietnam will argue that, in fact, the work that the Communist Party has brought forth has improved the quality of life of people in Vietnam. Have you heard of this claim, does that ring true in your experience that there has been development in the quality of individuals’ lives economically or educationally that could be attributed specifically either to so-called Socialism in Vietnam or through improvements from market society?

Mai: Why yes, we’ve heard this argument before, and our eyes roll every time. First, it is undeniably true that the qualify of life has been raised. And so what? That doesn’t prove that the same couldn’t have been achieved under another political system; life everywhere has been improving. Where is the evidence to pin this development on the so-called Socialism of Vietnam? It’s a wishy-washy way to justify the authoritarianism of the Vietnamese state and deflect from valid criticisms.

Will: And to add on to that, a suitable analogy would probably be prisoners not having to work as much. Sure, it’s an improvement to before, that still doesn’t change the fact that they’re still prisoners, still robbed of freedom and forced to toil under the same old master. Same thing here. Great, now we have internet; we also have no union to defend us against exploitation by the capitalists. Great, we get fastfood; we also have a state that’s just free of any control mechanism and can do what it wants (that’s how’s hierarchies of power work!). Great, we have iphones, ipads and gucci. The workers manufacturing for those corporates certainly can’t afford iphones, ipads and the newest gucci bag! But, whatever. So, okay, nice, quality of life has gone up. We’re not gonna say that’s bad, that’d be kind of stupid. But at what cost, in what context? The growth of quality of life is a good thing, but you can’t just ignore everything else surrounding it. A pizza party is nice, but you know what is nicer? Being in charge of our own life, our fruit of labor, and not being exploited and robbed of freedom. Partially because it includes a pizza party in it.

Mai: This line of argument also exposes a double standard casually applied for us people in over-exploited countries by many leftists and anarchists. Would you say the same to, say, queer people in more prosperous countries. “Hey you can get married now, you can even adopt children now. Why don’t you praise and be grateful to your capitalist government?” I’m sure there are people saying this to marginalised groups in more prosperous countries, but any anarchists worth their dime would vehemently and rightfully refute it. Yet everyone seems to be fine when this argument is casually thrown at people in so-called Third World countries. As if we’re supposed to be grateful for more crumbles! No, we want a seat at the table. We want everyone to have a seat at the table!

TFSR: Yeah, and when you’re referring to industrialists in Vietnam having an income level equal to, I think you said, 80,000 other people.. At what cost and how is that distributed?

Will: Yeah, also it’s 800,000 people.

TFSR: Excuse me, factor of ten… Thanks for being willing to tackle that question

What might be visions of libertarian communist approaches to some of the questions of raising the quality of life for people in Vietnam? Is that the sort of framing that you would use for a positive anarchistic vision forward? It seems like, just to add on, I’ve heard that in some countries that are ostensibly Communist or Socialist that people who are critical of the government sometimes have an allergy to those terms, to a positive turn of those turns, because it’s been shoved down their throats in such a negative way.

Will: Yeah, well…

Mai: Definitely, yeah [laughs]

Will: To me, it’s about representation. The State, this grand old thing, imposed all of those things on them, so I mean what choice do they have?

First and foremost, it must be said before any libertarian communist or anarchist vision can be realised, the people in Vietnam have to recognise that there exists deep problems with the current political system, and that there are solutions to those problems. The sad reality is this: the majority of Vietnamese people are alienated from politics (as authoritarian states tend to do to the people they oppress). So, politics is something done to them, rather than by them.

The state has built up for itself a shining image of legitimacy. And so even though many will say that there are problems with Vietnam as a whole, they are unlikely to be able to pin that to the political system. Maybe they can say that corruption is a severe problem of Vietnamese society. Maybe they can connect it to individual politicians and their supposed moral failing. But they won’t be able to say that corruption is only a symptom of the system and that, more specifically, hierarchies of power are simply incompatible with the interests of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, of the majority. Maybe they would even say that the one-party system is clearly not working, but mistake the illusion of choice of multi-party system for total liberation, for freedom. The root of the problems just eludes many.

There is also a sense of apathy and learnt helplessness that has been ingrained into the population, and so, as of now, the potential of political action and change is not great. This exacerbates the previous problem, in the sense that, even if a majority of people recognize the root of the problem, they do not think that they themselves and, only themselves, have the power solve it. Or they think that the alternatives would only be even worse: either U.S. capitalism/liberalism or the kind of “Communism” with severe scarcity and corruption before the Đổi Mới reform — which mind you many Vietnamese still remember and are understandably frightened of. This is what we mean when we say Vietnamese people are alienated in politics.

We also recognise that historically in Vietnam, the traditional labor movement has alienated many groups, such as ethnic minorities, sex workers, people of marginalized genders and sexuality, disabled people, unemployed people, criminalized people, and young people. Moving forwards, it is important to make our movements inclusive enough for the many fronts against various forms of oppressions, not just class struggles. Of course, the working class is the only class capable of toppling capitalism, but our definition of “work” and “workers” needs to change radically.

So… a vision—a hope even—is that, through putting their predicament under the capitalist society of Vietnam into perspective and laying bare the fact that no one but themselves have the power to change it all for the better, people will gradually be free of the mental limitations and have the want to take control of their lives instead of putting it at the mercy of “the powers that be.” And when the recognition, the will and the want, happens, we trust that they will go only one short step further and come to adopt libertarian communist approaches for their struggles, even if they don’t declare themselves to be affiliated with any specific ideology. Again though, we are not prophets and to prophesize on a strict revolutionary form is an unwise and pointless endeavor.

But if we can say one thing about our approaches and our visions for a better quality of life in the future, we may call attention to community building. Given what we mentioned earlier regarding the alienation of the worker and the fragmentation of the working class, there is merit in considering a parallel process: of healing the wounds of alienation that capitalism left on all of us; and of educating each other on essential political knowledge, examples being food sovereignty, pre-figurative social organizing, and independent union building. And in an age where technology has become an integral part of our lives, it is short-sighted to overlook or undermine the importance of online organizing. The social relations produced and reproduced through online organizing is every bit as pre-figurative as the social relations of on-the-ground organizing. Certain aspects are different, sure, but the essence of it is the same: the building and maintaining of structures capable of facilitating our interactions as equals. Through our own organizing, we’ve also found online archiving and dissemination of anarchist materials to be critical in the context of our milieu in Vietnam, where severe censorship and state repression have proven to be highly effective in weeding out dissenting voices, and isolating those who would otherwise band together to collectively speak out against the state narrative.

And as to the framing… Yes! I think this is the framing that we will proceed with. Unlike the previous revolution in our history, ours won’t be one where the people are pushed into a so-called revolution by some self-righteous vanguard party. That kind of revolution has proven itself to be undeniably disastrous. And we would love to not repeat that. The true revolution should be a continuous process, in which everyone can partake right here, right now, on their own volition.

TFSR: Would you speak about the situation in Vietnam for people of marginalized genders, queer folks in Vietnam as well as folks criminalized for sex work?

Mai: Sure. The situation for queer folks is not great, though getting better. Same-sex marriage was criminalized until 2015. Then, the law prohibiting same-sex marriage was abolished, but it is still not legalized. So, since marriage comes with certain privileges in our current society, many queer people in Vietnam are stigmatized and barred from the medical, financial and other material privileges that their non-queer counterparts couples enjoy. Marriage equality is the front in which liberal organizations working within the state framework seem to pour a lot of effort.

For transgender people, as far as we know, there isn’t a single hospital in Vietnam that is allowed to perform gender-affirming surgeries for so-called “normal” people, only for people who were in an accident or have “birth defects.” At the same time, non-consensual, non-medically necessary medical interventions are still performed on intersex children, as they are permitted by law.

Transgender people who wish to undergo gender-affirming surgery often have to go through an intermediate center, and the whole process (examination, papers and surgery) is usually done in Thailand. Hormone therapies are not easily accessible through mainstream methods, but through the black market. They really have to bet their lives if they want to use hormones. Not only that, because of low supply and having to do surgery abroad, the amount of money one needs to spend to undergo gender-affirming surgeries can be approximately $20,000, even more if you account for long-term hormone treatments. To put this into perspective, the average yearly household income of a Vietnamese person is $2,235, before food and rent/mortgage and such. And remember, the $20,000 is only for the surgery. So, the cost is an absurdly high amount for the majority of Vietnamese people, who have to work hard just to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

About sex work in Vietnam, we will speak not from personal experience, but from a place of legality and personal observation. Legally, sex work and even pornography are criminalized; sex workers used to face incarceration in so-called “rehabilitation centers” and still are charged with hefty fines if caught in raids, they are subjects of systemic stigmatization and discrimination as well, especially sex workers living with HIV. It was not until 2013 that detention center number 05 was shut down; it’s the rehabilitation center in which sex workers and drug users were detained and regularly subjected to forced labor disguised as “career training.” Supposedly, the closing of this detention center happened under the pressure from, as far as we know, an organization by and for sex workers in Vietnam called Vietnam Network for Sex Workers, amongst others. We could not find other sources to corroborate this, however, so we can’t say for certain this is what happened. Although, we certainly hope so! We suspect the reason for the scare sources has to do with the media not wanting to acknowledge sex workers’ existence since sex workers in Vietnam exist in this limbo wherein they’re criminalized, stigmatized, but also hyper-visible.

As for major queer, feminist, and sex worker organizations outside of the State framework, we are not aware of any, unfortunately. Yes, organizations that do not directly associate with the government exist; NGOs are by no means illegal. But that doesn’t mean they’re outside of the State framework. To truly be outside of the State framework, an organization must have the aim to work outside of that framework in the first place, hence giving a reason for organizing that doesn’t involve the State and doesn’t subject itself to the bounds the State establishes. There is no such thing as being accidentally outside of the State framework. And indeed, the organization we mentioned above express quite a bit of friendliness towards the state, which they view as well-intentioned but incompetent in execution with regards to programs for sex workers. We by no means wish to undermine or devalue their achievements; we applaud them for their efforts and are glad to know that there exists an organization standing for the interests of sex workers in Vietnam! But we cannot ignore the fact they achieved this only through the State framework, by cooperating and showing understanding to the machine which in the end perpetuates capitalism, and wish to see them exploited as workers. What they have accomplished is undeniably good, but in the long run, the state can never be a liberatory tool. Another thing is that a substantial part of their funding comes from liberal NGOs and NPOs. They themselves acknowledge that it is a challenge for them to organize without that funding, which will eventually go away. So once again, in spite of the good, we are obligated to point out that this form of organization cannot lead to the total liberation of the oppressed: an organization dependent on funding from liberal sources can never work to break free of the chains of the status quo, only the painstaking lengthening of those chains.

So we would say that the blindspots of the organizing by and for folks of marginalized genders, sexualities and sex workers in Vietnam is that there is no interlinking of struggles. The feminists can pinpoint the un0level playground between men and women, but many are oblivious to, say, class struggles, of ethnic minority women, of queer people and of sex workers. Indeed, feminism in Vietnam applauds the icon of a successful career woman, a girl-boss CEO who are not dependent on men. The same with queer people: many strive to assimilate into the cis-het society by broadcasting that they can be as “normal,” as successful in their careers as non-queer people. And so the poor queers, the disabled queers, the queers who are not Kinh, and many more, are further marginalized and don’t have a place within the queer community. On top of that, their organizing are dependent on the State framework, on funding from NGOs and NPOs: they need NGO and NPO money to campaign for the government to give them more rights. And in our opinion, that kind of organizing is not sustainable and will never lead to total liberation. There will always be people who are unlucky enough to be the scapegoat, who are at the bottom of the hierarchy and cast to the fringe of society.

TFSR: Speaking as someone from the so-called USA, which participated in much of the 35 years of war Vietnam experienced in the mid-20th century following centuries of colonial extractivism at the hands of the states of France, China, Japan and others, I wonder if you can talk about the legacy of colonialism and war are on the peoples and environment of Vietnam?

Mai: This is personal to us. In my family, leftovers are seriously frowned upon, even just a single grain of rice. I remember, this was when I was about 5 or 6, leaving the dining table after finishing the meal, and got called back to eat one single grain of rice left in my bowl. This is because there are family members who are still alive, who survived the Vietnamese famine of 1945, caused by Japanese and French colonialism, together with the US bombing the transport system. An estimated 2 million Vietnamese people starved to death. There is also the persisting catastrophe of Agent Orange. Personally, someone in my direct family was exposed, and we have to deal with various medical complications. Ironically, if you Google “Agent Orange,” the top results are almost all about its effects on US veterans; few are about its lasting effects on Vietnamese people and our ecosystem.

If you’d like to learn more about the atrocities that the US army committed in Vietnam, we’d recommend you to first, well, talk to Vietnamese people. You can also read the “Winter Soldier Investigation,” which consists of first-hand testimonies from GIs about the many daily My Lais that they themselves had committed or witnessed in Vietnam. You may notice that this investigation has the same name as a fictional character from a famous franchise widely regarded as pro-US military propaganda. Now, of course this could very well be a total coincidence, but even so, the incidental effect is quite real. It casts a shadow over the investigation mentioned above regardless. The way information about war crimes and its devastating aftermath on people outside of the US is obscured like that is just one in a million ways how US imperialism and cultural hegemony are harming us right this moment. And as far as we know, the documents from that [Winter Soldier] investigation hasn’t even been translated into Vietnamese for the younger generation to access and read about what happened to our predecessors.

Another product of US-centrism, which manifests plentily in anarchist and leftist circles: in political discourse, Vietnam, a country, a people with our own complex and diverse history, is constantly reduced to and talked about solely in our relation to the US. Not the whole span of that relation either, but only 20 years of slaughter and ecocide. For example, on the website of the longest running anarchist magazine in the US called The Fifth Estate, they have a page about Vietnam that is described as: “VIETNAM The failed US war and resistance to it from an anarchist/anti-authoritarian perspective”

Vietnam is not just a “failed US war.” Refusing to view us as humans with our own complex history and ongoing struggles leads to dissidents like us Viet anarchists, who don’t solely paint Vietnam as the US’ helpless victim, being branded “fake Vietnamese, CIA pawns, agent provocateurs.” The irony here is palpable. If you stop for one second and just look at the whole span of Vietnam’s relation with the US, you’ll see how the Vietnamese capitalists have no qualms shaking hands with US capitalists in their quest to exploit Viet workers. The Vietnamese and the US militaries are being all pally now, with weapon trades and personnel training courses! The US framework of every political topic is also routinely forced upon us, to the point that a Viet person who doesn’t understand every nook and cranny of US politics and its lexicon won’t be able to participate in political discourse without risking being torn apart, figuratively. Meanwhile, many US leftists/anarchists will brazenly insert themselves and their narratives in almost every conversation about Vietnam that we try to have, without taking the time and effort to learn the Vietnamese context.

And this benefits no one but US imperialism and, ironically, the Vietnamese authoritarians and statists. They capitalize on the very real frustration of Viet people who know that their struggle is completely ignored and dismissed by the US and Western left. They’d constantly and only talk about how horribly awful the US is, reducing Vietnam to its helpless victim — a glorious, brave and united nation against a common foreign enemy. On top of that, because social media favors moralized content, they’d build their platform on moralized, hateful language and rhetoric. They target a clueless Western audience who prefer self-flagellation and tokenism, rather than carefully examining information, educating themselves and developing their own analysis. When faced with criticism, the statists will weaponize their identities to silence and even harass their political opponents, accusing any Vietnamese speaking differently of being fake Vietnamese. Statists and career communists capitalizing on disinformation about Vietnam have threatened us with state violence and we have no doubt they will report us to the authority the first chance they’ve got. Of course, US imperialism permeates many corners of this earth, but to view, for instance, a Kinh Viet person living in Vietnam as merely a “person of color” erases the privilege that their ethnicity affords them domestically, erases the reason for their loyalty to the Vietnamese nation-state. We humbly ask people to de-center the US and its bloody war from conversations about Vietnam — it is long overdue. Thank you.

tùng: To add on to that, after the war, information about Agent Orange was slow in reaching Viet people, and so a lot went on to have children without having been adequately informed and prepared. I personally knew a family whose first child is blind deaf with intellectual disability, due to their parents’ exposure to Agent Orange. Without any compensation from the US nor adequate disability care from the Vietnamese government, the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange have to fend for themselves on their own, generation after generation. They receive about from $5 to $20/person/month, depending on the severity of their conditions and I think this money is not enough to survive on for a whole month.

And there are the millions of people who were displaced by the war, cut out from their cultural roots and families, forced to assimilate into a new society. Many lost their lives fleeing a war torn country with a shiny new state high on victory and hell bent on vengeance. The ones lucky enough to have reached their destinations and settled down know no ways of reconciling and reconnecting with their “đồng bào” — compatriots back in Vietnam. They can’t learn about the struggle in Vietnam without being manipulated and fed lies, thanks to state censorship and hateful nationalist sentiments.

TFSR: How can international listeners in the international community looking to be solidarity with struggles in so-called Vietnam and learn more & help? Are there any projects they can support or other sources of learning that you would suggest?

Will: There is a proverb in Vietnamese: “Nước xa không cứu được lửa gần,” which roughly translates to: “Water afar cannot put out a nearby fire.” So, the absolute best thing you can do for us, specifically, is to organize in your own community, and to educate yourself about the struggles in Vietnam, without unquestioningly absorbing disinformation like a sad sponge. It also helps if you rethink and refrain from projecting your own localized societal standards and frameworks onto situations in Vietnam, which usually have little in common. And this should be obvious, but: don’t use our struggles as mere ammunition in your struggles. When you go to do solidarity, you should not reduce us to media tokens and talking points.

As of now, Viet anarchists are outnumbered, our voices drowned out by pro-state propaganda. And so, every single person who refuses to fall for said propaganda is a win for us! You don’t need to listen to us, to Mèo Mun specifically, of course—we don’t claim to be the best source on every single topic related to the struggle in Vietnam, far from it—but please be very cautious of the disinformation from statists. Talk to as many Viet people as possible, and remember that we are not a hivemind and our experiences and opinions do vary! If you’re a reader, there are many texts on the Southeast Asian Anarchist Library concerning Vietnam and its history. So, do read close if you’re interested.

And if you’re into direct action, please pay attention to the migrant worker scene in your community. The conditions of Vietnamese migrant workers, especially undocumented ones, are often abysmal and they are extremely vulnerable to exploitation. And I’d dare to say that many so-called-Global-South migrant workers are vulnerable to exploitation. We’d be very happy to know that someone is looking out for them.

TFSR: Is there anything I failed to ask about that you’d like to discuss?

Will: Not really, but I’d like to, on behalf of Mèo Mun, express our heart-felt thanks to Burst for reaching out to us, for your very thought-provoking and interesting questions, and for spending time with us today. We appreciate your giving us this platform, and though we try our best to cover what we experience in Vietnam, at the end of the day, our experience is just an experience. It is not universal and by no means can we claim to speak for every Viet person. We only hope that our speaking up gives you some tiny glimpses into our lives and struggles, which similar to any lives and struggles, are human, messy, and imperfect. So thank you for listening and seeing us!

Mai: Thank you!

TFSR: Thank you, all of you, for participating in this and also to the collective for collaboration in the answers. And I appreciate you taking the time doing this in English for the audience, I’m looking forward to this being a contribution towards more international understanding and solidarity. So, thank you!

History Repeats Itself?: Peter Gelderloos On Where We’re At

History Repeats Itself?: Peter Gelderloos On Where We’re At

A shadowy Peter Gelderloos speaking about his book, 'Worshipping Power"
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Its not uncommon to hear pundits and regular folks making comparisons between the crises we are now facing and other historical moments, such as the 1920s in Germany or the global rebellions of the 1960s. But is this an effective approach for gauging the potential of now?

For the hour, anarchist author and activist Peter Gelderloos shares some of his thoughts on those comparisons, on the revolutionary potential of this moment were living in and some lessons from past movements that we might keep in mind now to make the most out of these dire times. You can find many of Peters writings on TheAnarchistLibrary.Org, available through AK Press and independent bookstores. You can hear our past interviews with Peter by visiting our website.

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

Download Episode Here

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!

Channel Zero Fundraiser

The gofundme can be found at https://gofundme.com/Channel-zero-network-2020-fundraiser/ .To check out the video to match the audio you just heard so you can enjoy and spread it around, check out our show notes or at https://sub.media !

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

The State of Resistance and the Struggle for Dignity in Chile: An interview with a Chilean anarchist about the current protests there

Download Episode Here

This week William had the chance to interview someone, a 20 year old anarchist from the territory of so called Chile, about the uprisings which have been occurring there. The protests began on Monday October 14th in Chile’s capital, Santiago, as a coordinated fare evasion campaign by high school students which led to spontaneous takeovers of the city’s main train stations and open confrontations with the Chilean Police. While the reason for these protests was a fare hike for public transportation by the government and the transit companies, this was only the tipping point in a much larger and diffuse situation of economic pracarity. We will post a great info graphic on social media about all that is tied up in this situation, but in short education and healthcare are private and so are very expensive, jobs pay very little (400 US dollars a month on average), and it is the only country in the world where water is privatized. According to Food and Water Watch, having a privatized water system increases the yearly cost of water by 59%, or over twice the amount as public water. Many of the systems that people are forced to live under, such as the current mechanisms of the State of Emergency and the pension system, were created under the Pinochet dictatorship and have not been updated to reflect the so called “democratic” rule.

 

Our guest outlines these situations, and also speaks about the violence that protestors are facing from the police and from the state. They also speak on the relationship of this current violence to the violences that Indigenous Mapuche people have been facing from the Chilean state all along.

According to the Wikipedia article on the 2019 Chilean Protests, as of yesterday October 26th “19 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested. Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters, including torture.” Our guest outlines the peaceful nature at the outset of these protests, which were quickly escalated by hyper repressive tactics on the part of the police, and says that these actions are making it clear that the “democracy” – which was fought for by the generations above them – is a fake system.

To keep updated on this situation, and away from the tvs like our guest suggested, you can follow Radio Kurruf, an anarchist radio station in Chile, and read their analysis on the current wave of repression here. https://radiokurruf.org/2019/10/26/state-of-rebellion-in-chile/

You can also visit our blog at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org for a partial list of links and accounts to follow, including some on the ground reporting by crimethInc.

@RadioVillaFrancia

Here is the transcript of a brief exchange between TFS and other comrades in Rojava (podcast only):

Solidarity with Rojava

Here is an announcement on behalf of the IDOC Watch:

IDOC (Indiana Dept of Correction) Watch is an organization in Indiana, composed of people directly affected by the prison system and prison abolitionists, that is organizing to expose and stop the widespread abuses in the Indiana prison system, with the long-term objective of dismantling the prison system. (check out IDOC Watch at idocwatch.org)

This event will be a panel discussion on the base-building IDOC Watch is doing in prisons and communities affected by incarceration, prisoner struggles and counter-insurgency in Indiana, and the effects of the prison-industrial complex on individuals, families, and communities.

Featuring:

Zolo Agona Azania, former Black Liberation Army activist and long-term New Afrikan political prisoner from Gary, IN, who beat two death sentences after being falsely accused and convicted of murdering a Gary police officer during a bank robbery. Zolo was released from prison in 2017, after serving over 35 years. He is currently working to establish re-entry housing for people being released from prison in Gary, through the Gary Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated.

S.T. : A mother and grandmother from Gary who organizes with IDOC Watch and currently has a son incarcerated at Indiana State Prison, a maximum-security facility in Michigan City, IN.

An organizer with FOCUS Initiatives LTD, an abolitionist re-entry project in Indianapolis, IN: focusreentry.com.

Location
1845 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL 60208
217 Fisk Hall

Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM CDT

. … . ..

Music for this episode in order:

Llueve – La Trova Pank

Somos Peligrosos – Los Crudos

An Indigenous Activist on Post Hurricane Relief in Eastern NC

Mutual Aid in Post-Hurricane-Florence Lumberton, NC

Download Episode Here

This week we had the opportunity to connect with Vanessa Bolin, who is an indigenous artist, community organizer, and activist who has been helping with flood rescue and rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Florence in Lumberton, NC, which is in Robeson County. In this interview we talk about what still needs to be done in this area, how to help out, some important parallels between post hurricane relief and anti pipeline organizing, and the importance of foregrounding marginalized voices in mutual aid efforts.

Our guest mentioned the Interfaith Alliance for Climate Justice (IACJ), which has a fundraiser right now that is benefiting the indigenous communities of Robeson County. Here is the donation link via Facebook, or you can go to their website to donate that way.

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief is also coordinating a bunch of efforts, you can learn more about this group at mutualaiddisasterrelief.org or look them up on any social media platform. If you have 4-14 days spare and want to get down to Robeson County to help out, especially if you have proficiency in Spanish and skills in logistical coordination, you can send them an email to get networked in at WeKeepUsSafeVC@protonmail.com.

There is also a GoFundMe for mutual aid efforts in Asheville, benefitting affected areas in Robeson County.

Links to some things our guest mentioned:

To learn more about the Indigenous Wisdom Permaculture Model and convergence, just follow the link for information and future convergence dates.

To see the Water Protector Arts Facebook page, you can just go to Facebook and search the name of the page.

You can follow this link to reach directly out to the Lumbee Tribe if you are intending to do direct support work.

To connect with EcoRobeson, the group which is doing anti pipeline work in Robeson County that is mainly affecting already disenfranchised people, you can follow this link.

Somethings we’d like to mention:

When Vanessa talks about the struggles of the Dine people (who are sometimes known as Navajo) where she mentions uranium mining, this is a huge issue that spans many generations. You can visit Black Mesa Rezistance, which is an organized effort in Black Mountain and Big Mesa (also known as Arizona) on the part of the Dine and Hopi people to defend themselves and their existences. You can learn more about this effort at https://blackmesa.rezist.org/ and follow the links for further material to learn about the history and present day projects and struggles.

And finally, for a look into some of the truly amazing legacy of the Lumbee Tribe in so called NC, we at The Final Straw recommend the book To Die Game by William McKee Evans. This book details a resistance movement at a time when Lumbee youth were being targeted for conscription into the Confederate army, and how they along with a diverse coalition of other resistors, eluded capture in the swamps of eastern NC for over 5 years. You can also read about this in the book Dixie Be Damned, along with many other lesser reported moments of resistance in the American Southeast.

Announcements for Prisoner Support

Jalil Muntaqim

Jalil Muntaqim, former member of the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army is facing the parole board in November as his August visit was postponed due to clerical issues. He’s going to be getting a lot of pushback from the Policeman’s Benevolent Association, Fraternal Order of Police, Corrections Guards associations and the rest of the gallery of reactionary so-called unions for cops. Those groups are on alert, as we’ve seen with the tug of war around the release of Herman Bell, any time an aging political prisoner, especially one accused of involvement in the killing of a cop, comes up for parole. The parole boards are often made up of former judges, D.A.’s, Prosecutors and law enforcement, forming an added blue wall for prisoners facing parole boards. So, Jalil needs us to write letters of support for his release. Although some of the links are dead from the earlier parole push, you can check this IGD link (see our shownotes at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org for the link) for a list of achievements Jalil has since his incarceration.

Also, Jalil’s birthday is October 18th, so feel free to send him a separate birthday greeting!

Also, also, check out our website to hear past episodes featuring interviews with Jalil conducted by buddies at Prison Radio on CKUT in Montreal.

To support Jalil, follow these instructions passed on from National Jericho NY:

Write a letter in you own words in support of parole for Jalil, address to:

Senior Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator
Sullivan Correctional Facility
325 Riverside Drive
Fallsburg, New York 12733

BUT SEND TO:

Nora Carroll
The Parole Preparation Project
168 Canal Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10013

The subject line should be “Anthony Bottom 77-A-4283”

We are making an effort to include letters of support for Jalil that are personalized and from people who are familiar with him and his work. If you want further instructions for how to write a strong, personalized letter of support, please email carroll.nora@gmail.com.

Also, please send a copy of your letter to Jalil for his files:

Anthony Bottom #77A4283,

Sullivan Correctional Facility,

P.O. Box 116, Fallsburg,

NY 12733-0116

More on Jalil can be found at http://freejalil.com

. … . ..

Casey Brezik

Casey is an anarchist political prisoner who also has a parole hearing coming up, his one and only for his 12 year stint for the stabbing of the president of a university in Missouri. Casey recently got married to a woman being held in another Missouri prison. He’s studying calculus so he can go to school to be an aerospace engineer once he’s released. He goes before the parole board November 2018. He’s unsure of exactly when he gets out, but knows he isn’t eligible until November 2020. He’s currently saving his money (and asking for help) to afford a cheap vehicle when he gets out in order to transport himself to work and school. His intentions are to parole out to the St. Louis area and attending a community college until he gets his basic credits and can transfer to a university. His eyes are set on the Missouri University of Science and Technology.

Casey suffers from depression and has a history of schizophrenia. he describes himself as socially awkward and says he often feels misunderstood. He has a kind heart and he looks forward to getting out relatively soon and getting to see all of those who have shown him support over the years. He thanks you all.

Casey was recently transferred to the Farmington Correctional Center in Farmington, Missouri. In November, he will go before the parole board for the first and ONLY TIME and he needs your help!

Thoughtful and professional letters to the parole board by people who care about Casey and are willing to offer support to him during his transition back to life outside of prison can make it more likely that Casey will be released.

*Even though the letter should be addressed to the parole board, all letters should be sent directly to Casey and he will deliver them to the parole board:

Casey Brezik #1154765
Farmington Correctional Center
1012 West Columbia Street
Farmington, MO 63640

More on Casey at https://supportcasey.org/

. … . ..

Sean Swain

Anarchist prisoner Sean Swain is still being silenced by the state of Ohio and could use your letters. He’s potentially in the process of being transferred in an inter-state deal which will make his life way harder. Sean has communicated that he was at one point on hunger strike and is extremely isolated. You can write to Sean at :

Sean Swain #243-205
Warren CI
P.O. Box 120
Lebanon, Ohio 45036

It’s suggested that concerned listeners call

ODRC Director Stuart Hudson (614) 387-0588
Governor’s Counsel Kevin O’Donell Stanek (614) 466-3555
Callers should voice concern over Sean’s health, access to communication and the blocking of counsel from his recent RIB hearing that threatens to transfer him out of Ohio.

More info on his case can be found at seanswain.noblogs.org

. … . ..

NC Prisoners repressed from #PrisonStrike

On IGD you can read the list of demands specific to NC prisoners that Joseph Stewart wrote back in July. He was transferred after the outside published his statement in support of the strike and has intermittently been left off of prisoner support call-ups so he can surely use some supporting letters at Polk CI where he is currently housed. You can write Joseph at :

Joseph D. Stewart

#0802041

Polk CI

Box 2500
Butner, NC 27509

Three other prisoners in NC, are held within the Hyde Correctional Institution, a facility in Fairfield, NC, are being threatened with retaliation for their active support and organizing in solidarity with the national #PrisonStrike. They’re facing threats of administrative repression, as are any other fellow prisoners connected to the national strike. More info in our show notes

Please write letters of support to:

Randy Watterson #427985
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

Todd Martin #1071227
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

Jace Buras #1522417
Hyde Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 278
Swan Quarter, NC 27885

. … . ..

The Vaughn17

From a statement by the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) and Vaughn17 Support in Philly:

On Feb. 1, 2017, after a series of peaceful protests yielded no results, incarcerated comrades took over a building at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware to demand slight improvements in their treatment. After a 20-hour stand-off, the prison’s response was to literally bulldoze their barricades and figuratively bulldoze their demands, retaliating with constant beatings, destruction of prisoner property, and denial of food and medical care.

Furthermore, the state has accused 17 of the incarcerated with egregious offenses even though these charges have no basis in reality. The state’s response shows once again that any prisoners standing up for themselves, to regain dignity and achieve decent treatment, is a threat. And the state will collectively punish everyone and anyone to hide its barbarism. The only role of prison guards, wardens and the Department of Corrections (DOC) is the perpetuation of slavery and subjugation.

There is a call for court support for the 17, who will be attending trail in small groups, at New Castle County Courthouse, 500 N. King St., Wilmington, DE 19801. The first trial starts on Monday, October 8th and the last is slated for February 11th, 2019. People in the area interested in helping volunteer for court support can learn more by reading this IGD article.

A pdf of a poster with addresses, pictures and info on the 17 prisoners pulled into this case can be found here

. … . ..

Show playlist here.

No More Deaths: Border Abolition And More

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This week William spoke with Maria and Jeff, who are two long term members of the humanitarian aid group based in Arizona called No More Deaths. This group does solidarity work with those who are crossing the border in that region, as well as advocacy, legal work, and work which runs along many other vectors of solidarity. We will speak about the group and how each member got involved, the exact nature of the work and some media myths that the group gets leveled at them, along with the rise in repression that No More Deaths has faced in recent weeks, culminating in highly militarized raid on Bird Camp, a remote outpost that serves as a clinic, on Thursday, June 15. We will go on to discuss the strategy behind Border Patrol’s surveillance and repression of those who are crossing and aid workers, and will talk about asks for assistance that the group is thinking of.

You can visit NMD online at nomoredeaths.org, plus follow them on Facebook and Twitter if you want to keep up with calls for solidarity and with updates on their situation.

Those titles that Maria mentioned for further reading if folks want to learn more about the border and how it got that way are:

No Wall They Can Build, out recently by CrimethInc.
– The Insurgent Southwest here
– Designed to Kill via CrimethInc as well
The Disappeared Report
– Dispaches from the Borderland thru the anarchist media collective It’s Going Down here

The first musical track in this episode is by Calle 13 with “Pa’l Norte”. They are a Puerto Rican hip hop group that often tackles themes that are oppositional to the border, border patrol, and FBI. The episode closes with a track from an Argentinian atmospheric metal band called Ruinas​/​Raíces with Dos Colores Fundiéndose which is the first track off their title album that just came out in April. You can find them on the blog Red and
Anarchist Black Metal
.

Playlist

2 views on migrant struggle in Germany + the E.U.

Migrant Movements in E.U.

http://oplatz.net/
Download This Episode

In this hour we’ll be hearing two perspectives on migrant struggles in the EU, Germany in particular, dating back to roughly 2012. The first we’ll hear is Adam Bahar. Adam is an immigrant from Sudan who currently works on emergency phone networks connecting Coast Guards with migrants cross the sea in distress. In the second, we hear from Adams interviewer, a Berlin-based German-born no-border activist about their experiences. We tried to cut overlapping information to decrease redundancy but there will be a little overlap in order to make space for both differing experiences expressed.

In this first interview Adam Bahar talks about his participation in migrant struggles, including taking part in the public migrant march in 2012 from Wurzburg to Berlin, the tent occupation of Oranienplatz in Berlin by 150 migrants for a year and a half followed by the squatting of an empty school building. In German, the word Lager is used as a storage place, also used for the camps or shelters where asylum seeking refugees are kept isolated from the rest of the German population. Another word that may be difficult for listeners to understand is Adams phrasing of Guardsea, comparable to Coast Guard. Adam also talks about the cooperation between corrupt African governments and the German government either in their business of dictatorship or the deportation of Africans back to their continent of origin.

For the rest of the hour we’ll be hearing part of an interview conducted by myself and William with the activist who held the conversation with Adam in the first half hour. Here, our German friend talks a little more about the occupation of Oranienplatz from 2012-2014 in Kreutzberg, Berlin and more generally we discuss the Shengen Zone for the understanding of non-regional audience members. Later, they speak about their understanding of border situations in the Balkans as they’ve been closing down and thoughts about relationships between richer countries and the intolerable situations in the poorer nations from whence come many of the refugees.

Thanks to our buddies affiliated with Anarchistisches Radio Berlin for helping us out with setting up these recordings. More content from them at http://aradio.blogsport.de

Announcements

Prison Resistance Updates

First, a couple of announcements. Here’s a wrap up of prisoner resistance activities this week around the U.S., followed by a few specific prisoner updates.

Momentum is growing behind the bars. After two intense rebellions in four days at Holman prison in Atmore, Alabama last month things have really heated up. Prisoners in Texas called for and initiated a state wide series of work strikes on April 4th, the Free Alabama Movement announced a shutdown of ADOC for the month of May and prisoners across the country announced and called for a nationally coordinated strike and protest this September.

Reports from Texas prisoners are still coming in, but at least 7 facilities participated enough to get locked down by prison authorities. There have been a lot of threats and harassment by staff reported, but no specific reprisals or people targeted as leaders, yet.

On Saturday, April 9th outside supporters gathered for solidarity events across the country, including, Austin, Houston, Phoenix, the Bronx, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Providence, Denver, Tucson, Minneapolis and Fayetteville Arkansas, as well as a protest at Holman prison in Alabama by the Mothers and Families of the Free Alabama Movement.

These events were either protests at corporations that profit from prison slavery, or workshops and planning sessions about prison slavery and supporting the growing wave of prisoner resistance. Supporters hope to see this tide continue to rise leading up to the September 9th work-stoppage, since attention from the outside is essential to protect striking or otherwise rebellious prisoners from violent reprisals.

The Incarcerated Worker’s Organizing Committee of the IWW is heavily involved in support efforts. You can keep up to date by following their website at http://IWOC.noblogs.org or by monitoring and signing up for the email list at http://SupportPrisonerResistance.net.

on twitter:
#SupportPrisonerResistance
#EyesOnTexas

Alvaro Luna Hernandez (Xinachtli)

Supporters of Alvaro Luna Hernandez sent this message:

“Alvaro is in dire need of immediate, practical solidarity from all who support his emancipation from unjust incarceration and cruel punishment.

Alvaro’s Recent Hardship
In these past few weeks it has come to our attention that Alvaro is enduring multiple forms of inadequate and cruel treatment by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

He is in need of dire medical attention; the TDCJ has placed him in more inhospitable holding conditions; the TDCJ has confiscated and stolen from him; the TDCJ has limited his mail correspondence; and when in transport to Lubbock, TX, the TDCJ transported him with—what you will certainly agree is—little to no regard for his health or comfort.”

Therefore, Alvaro’s supporters are urging you to email or call relevant TDCJ authorities by Thursday, April 14th, 2016 (at midnight) to protest these conditions and demand immediate improvements. More information at http://FreeAlvaro.net

Playlist

UNControllables: UNC Chapel Hill anarchist student group on organizing, austerity & community

UNControllables

https://www.facebook.com/carolinaUNControllables
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This week, Bursts spoke with members of the University of Chapel Hill-based student group called The UNControllables. Created in 2012, the UNControllables regularly present anarchist, feminist, anti-racist and anti-authoritarian presenters from around the world to speak to the student body and members of the community, organize around student issues, incarceration, reproductive health, and much more. For the hour, members of the group talk about what they’ve done and upcoming events they’ll be hosting, in particular an upcoming event with CeCe McDonald, a Black Trans Woman & LGBTQ activist who went to prison for defending herself against a hate attack by a white man with a swastika tattoo on his chest and served about 19 months. She’ll be at UNC Chapel Hill at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture & History for free on Monday, March 21st at 7pm. Check the UNControllables’s fedbook page for details and updates.

A major focus of the discussion is the student and faculty opposition to the incoming president of the UNC systems, Margaret Spellings (#SpellCheck) this Tuesday at 11AM. The UNControllables knew of students at 7 of the 17 universities in the UNC system where student walkouts would lead to teach-ins and or protests around privatization of education and university services, threats to the continued cultures of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) and Native Universities in the UNC system. Spellings past as former Secretary of Education under President George W. Bush and was a prime mover in the No Student Left Behind project, a former Senior Advisor at the Boston Consulting Group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a former Board member of the University of Phoenix (facing lawsuits by former students), advisor to Ceannate (a for-profit student loan collection agency)… wow. There’s also a discussion of current relations between UNC system and faculty, adjuncts and employees in these times of growing precarity. Aramark Industries, which provides “services” within the many prisons, detention centers and jails around the U.S. produces the food at UNC Chapel Hill, interestingly.

Some faculty and adjuncts in the UNC system have been organizing under the name of Faculty Forward – NC.

We also present a couple of announcements:

Anarchist prisoner Eric King has accepted a non-cooperating plea deal, which he;ll sign on March 3rd. If you’re in Kansas City, MO & want to attend his hearing on Thursday at 1:30pm (or for other updates on his case) check out http://supportericking.wordpress.com

A request for letters supporting parole for accused former Black Liberation Army militant and New Afrikan activist and accupuncturist, Dr. Mutulu Shakur (written by the doctor) is up on http://mutulushakur.com along with information of his recent denial of release after serving 30 years since his arrest on February 12th, 1986.

Thursday, March 3rd at 6pm at Firestorm , 610 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806, the Political Prisoners Letter Writing Night will be holding a do-over for the January 22nd Trans Prisoner Day of Solidarity letter-writing night that was cancelled due to snow storms. Envelopes, paper, pens & postage will be provided. Check out the facebook event put on by Tranzmission Prison Project for more details.

Finally, there is a request for folks to seign a petition to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on behalf of Eddie Africa of the Move 9 following his 2 year hit during his recent parole hearing. The petition demands a federal investigation into the injustice and endangerment faced by the Move 9 To check it out, go to http://causes.com/campaigns/92454-free-the-move-9

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#LibertaDiDimora: Hobo, Repression and Autonomia around the University of Bologna, Italy

hobo-bologna.info
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This week’s episode features a conversation with Francesca. Francesca is a student at the University of Bologna in Italy and is one of the people at the center of a wave of repression in response to ongoing autonomous organizing inside and outside of the University. The University of Bologna is the oldest, continuously operating public University in the world. Francesca is also a member of the Hobo collective, which runs an autonomous social space inside of the Poli-Sci department of the University.

In December of last year, after numerous marches and interventions around the city and university on a range of issues such as immigrant rights, precarity of employment, underpaying of university workers, increased cost and decreased quality of services at the university, affordable housing, the censure of political dialogue and more, the District Attorney of Bologna had Francesca and 5 comrades arrested as a preventative measure in order to stop their organizing and to terrorize the students and militants of the area. 4 students have been placed on house arrest in Bologna, making it quite difficult to make ends meet economically, and 2 were exiled from the city, thus cutting short their educational career. In response, a campaign called “#LibertaDiDimora”, which translates to freedom of home, was launched to respond to the repression of the 6 comrades and to continue struggles around freedom of movement and housing issues inside and outside of the university. More on student organizing around the world at http://commonware.org/

For the hour, we’ll be speaking with Francesca about her case, the campagn, the Autonomia movement which Hobo is alligned with, the monetization of education, precarity, internships, immigration in Italy, squatting and more. More at http://hobo-bologna.info

But, first a few announcements.

In the wake of the tragic murder of nine African American bible study members on June 17th, 2015 at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a white supremacist their was an outpouring of grief and solidarity expressed around the world. This was followed by a series of protests and direct-action removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the capital grounds in Colombia, South Carolina. The pressure built in other Southern States to remove the CSA Battle flag from their state flags resulting in blowback from some white folks to the removal of this “heritage” symbol that means oppression to so many others. Subsequent to the killings and flag debates, at least 6 black churches were torched between June 22nd and June 29th around the South East. Churches in: Knoxville, TN; Macon, GA; Charleston, SC; Elyria, OH; Tallahassee, FL. To top this, and never to lose an opportunity to display their pointy heads, the Klu Klux Klan has decided to call for a rally on the steps of the South Carolina State House on July 18th at 3pm and just as the racists will be coordinating to show up at the rally, so are anti-racists and regular-ass folks around the region. There are all sorts of calls for participation in all sorts of ways to counter a public display of hatred by the KKK. I hope to see y’all there. http://columbiascdemocallout.tumblr.com/

In a perfect segway, the next evening, July 19th 2015, folks are invited to come to the new location for Firestorm Books & Cafe at 610 Haywood Rd for a presentation by Saralee Stafford & Neal Shirley on their book, Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South. For our conversation with the Shirley & Stafford, check out this link.

A reminder to listeners with graphic talents, we’re soliciting designs for stickers, posters and more. The artists who’s designs are selected will receive a few prizes from our freeboxes (actually, some tee shirts and literature). We’re looking for the name of the show, our website and images that may reflect the project. We’re hoping it can be a tool for better advertising the project and getting more folks involved. You can email designs in pdf format to thefinalstrawradio(aat)riseup( dott)net or send them in physical form to, again:
The Final Straw
C/o Ashevillefm
864 Haywood Rd
Asheville, NC 28806

Finally, I’d like to give a brief shout out to some other audio & video projects that have been kicking out the jams of late. If you’re familiar with The Final Straw, you may have heard some of their names on our 4th Anniversary show last year.

Check out the Free Radical Radio at http://freeradicalradicalradio.net for a mostly weekly mix of commentary, comedy, critique and always witty reparte.

For great action updates, audio documentaries, reviews and more, Crimethinc’s podcast called “The Ex-Worker” is not to be missed. You can find episodes at http://crimethinc.com/podcast, along with links and transcripts of the episodes.

WhichSide Podcast, which features hosts Jeremy Parkin & Jordan Halliday, did a great interview with Kevin Van Meter, contributor to the book “Life During Wartime”. Regular episodes feature chats on anarchism, activism, animal liberation, veganism and more. More can be found at http://whichsidepodcast.com.

Finally, I want to give a shoutout to The Stimulator & his f-ing show, It’s The End Of The World and We Know It (And I Feel Fine) for riot porn, interviews, commentaries, updates and stunning images and movie references. More from that project at http://submedia.tv

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