Category Archives: Police

Fighting Back Against Displacement In Greece

Fighting Back Against Displacement In Greece

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

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Featured Track:

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

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Transcription:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know what else more specifically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Murder in the jewelry shop?

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

TFSR: Like the head of it? Wow.

Alex: Yes, the head of it.

TFSR: That’s a lot of power.

Alex: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Thanks, you too.

Stop Cop City + Intl Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners

Stop Cop City + David Campbell on Antifascist Prisoners

This week’s episode features two interviews.

Stop Cop City / Defend the Atlanta Forest

"Support Antifa Prisoners | #J25Antifa | Defend The Atlanta Forest | TFSR 22-07-03"
Download This Episode

First up, the struggle to Defend the Atlanta Forest and Stop Cop City has been gaining momentum over the last year, in opposition to the building of what would be the largest police urban training center in the so-called USA in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd Uprising, alongside the construction of what would be the country’s largest film sound stage for Blackhall Studios. Coming up, you’ll hear Tony Lane of Defend Atlanta Forest talk about some of the issues involved, the ongoing organizing to stop the destruction of dozens of acres in this forest in the city in the forest, the ongoing info-tours around the country and upcoming week of action from July 23-30th, 2022.

David Campbell on Supporting Antifascist Prisoners

Then, you’ll hear an interview with formerly incarcerated antifascist prisoner, David Campbell, about his experience of incarceration for participation a street melee against fascists in January 2018 in New York City and about the importance of prisoner support and the upcoming annual International Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners on July 25th.

David’s former celly who could use some love:

Bruce Williams #21R0721
Orleans Correctional Facility
3531 Gaines Basin Rd
Albion, NY 14411

David’s links:

Antifascist Political Prisoner Support Sites:

Specific Antifa Prisoners Mentioned:

David also mentions the Resistance Committee in Ukraine and Operation Solidarity which include participation of anarchists and antifascists resisting the Russian invasion.

Announcements

Jason Walker Transferred, Needs Support

Incarcerated journalist, author and activist, Jason Renard Walker has been transferred to Connolly Unit in Texas’s TDCOJ prison system where he has a reasonable expectation of danger after credible threats of violence of which authorities are aware. There is an article explaining Jason’s situation and how to help at MongooseDistro.Com.

Comrade Z Transferred

Comrade Z, anarchist and IWOC organizer in Texas has been transferred and could use a few letters to make him feel at home in the new digs. You can write him at:

Julio A Zuniga 1961551
Wayne Scott Unit
4 Jester Road
Richmond, Texas 77406

Hunger Strike at Granville Correctional in NC

"Support Antifa Prisoners | #J25Antifa | Defend The Atlanta Forest | TFSR 22-07-03"Prisoners at Granville are urgently asking for a mass phone zap to pressure NC DPS and the administration into granting their demands. There is a new phone zap on Tuesday, July 5th as the conditions remain terrible. You can find a great writeup from the end of June on earlier stages of the protest and hunger strike at Granville (formerly Polk CI) here: https://itsgoingdown.org/nc-prisoners-organize-juneteenth-protests/

Contact:

  • Warden Roach, 919-575-3070, or michael.roach@ncdps.gov
  • Loris Sutton, prisons’ central region director, 919-582 6125, or loris.sutton@ncdps.gov
  • Todd Ishee, commissioner of prisons, 919-838-4000, ask to speak to Todd Ishee, or todd.ishee @ncdps.gov

Demands include:

  • remove Sgt. Couper, stop the police brutality and harassment
  • Ask what is the condition of Anthony Harris (#0957565) and the hunger strikers?
  • Why are hunger strikers and people on self injury watch being isolated with no bunks? does the commissioner know?
  • Why is Sgt. Couper assaulting prisoners every week or in altercations every day?
  • Why are you housing people with cancer?

A few tips for calls:

  • you don’t need to give your name or other info
  • record calls if possible
  • leave long messages on voicemail
  • call using *67 to block your number
  • call multiple times and disrupt their operations
  • remember that denial and obstruction are standard procedures for those that work there
  • report any and all info received and forward any questions to: atlantaiwoc@protonmail.com

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

. … . ..

Stop Cop City Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself with whatever name, pronoun, or other identifying info you’d like to share?

Tony Lane: Sure. My name is Tony Lane. I live in Atlanta. I’ve lived here for about 15 years and yeah, I love it.

TFSR: So we’re here to talk about the effort to defend the Atlanta forest. Listeners may know Atlanta to be one of the largest urban centers in the southeast of Turtle Island in the so called US state of Georgia. Thoughts of a cityscape with honking horns and traffic, large buildings of commerce, busy pedestrian streets, may not fit into the idea of verdant and lush scenes of natural beauty. Can you talk a bit about the city, about the forest, and how they interact? And how does this shape the life of those who are living in Atlanta?

Tony: Sure, well, it’s immediately noticeable if you’re flying or driving into Atlanta that there’s trees everywhere. I mean, Atlanta has the largest tree canopy compared to any other major city in America. I think about 48% of the city has tree coverage, which is pretty incredible. So in a certain way, it’s a city like any other, but there’s 1000’s of acres of forest that you can explore here as well.

TFSR: I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the history of the forest? Maybe the size of it, but also its former uses. I understand there was a jail there at one point. And also sort of what having such a canopy in a big city means for things like ambient temperature, water absorption, versus runoff and erosion, the air quality, and the general health of urban populations.

Tony: The parcel of land that is under threat is in the South River Forest, which is about 3500 acres of forest and that is beneficial ecologically to the city in a variety of ways. It mitigates flooding, it contributes to the quality of the air. Atlanta is shielded from the urban heat island effect much more than other cities, at least, because of this large tree canopy.

To speak on the history just a bit. It was Muskogee land, stewarded by the Muskogee until the early 1800’s When they were forcibly displaced. I don’t know how much history you want me to go into here, but it was sold in a lottery auction and run as farmland up until the early 1900s, when it was purchased by the city. It was run briefly as a municipal dairy farm and then turned into a prison. It was run as a prison up until the 1990’s. I think 1990 Actually. The conditions in the prison are totally horrid. There’s a lot of good research on this done by a local amateur research collective called the Atlanta Community Press. I highly recommend looking into that.

TFSR: You can ramble if there’s other pieces of history or other experiences, if you feel like sort of painting a picture of some of your favorite parts of the forest, having lived in Atlanta for a bit and being intimate with it.

Tony: It’s funny because there’s obviously a huge focus on the ecological aspect of the forest. It does help to filter the air and mitigate flooding, and so on and so forth. But it has a lot of use in the city outside of that too. The forest itself is like a huge place of importance for the ‘Bike Life’ community in the city. I would say probably up until the movement began at least, it was very common to see people riding dirt bikes and four wheelers through there, to see people riding mountain bikes are there. It’s also just a place that teenagers get away to to smoke weed and make out or do whatever teenagers do, walk their dogs, so on and so forth.

TFSR: Can you talk about what the proposed plan is and why people are up in arms about it?

Tony: Of course. So, the project is kind of two pronged. The city, and specifically the Atlanta Police Foundation is planning to build a police training facility on a large swath of the forest. Specifically, they want to build a mock city to train in urban conflict. The other side of the project is movie studios called Black Hall. Actually, they just recently renamed themselves to Shadowbox. They make movies like Venom, Jumanji, Godzilla, stuff like that. They want to expand their operation to build one of the biggest soundstages in America.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit more about the Police Foundation. Is that a collaboration between some of the counties around there and the city police? Or is that just the Atlanta Police as this huge entity that that would be holding this facility? Would it just be local police that are training in that facility? Or are there like bigger implications to that?

Tony: The Atlanta Police Foundation is a slush fund. It’s run by private companies. Basically, it’s a way for private companies in the city and state to have kind of influence and say over city operations. So, the project is actually being built by the Atlanta Police Foundation, which is actually companies like Bank of America, Home Depot, Waffle House, even. The project is estimated to be about $90 million, and $60 million of that project is coming from private donors.

TFSR: What makes it a profitable venture? If these companies are pouring in this amount of money, it’s probably not just out of the fact that they love the cops. Where’s the money making for that part of it?

Tony: Of course. Atlanta, is really structured around these kinds of backdoor clientelist deals between private companies and the city. I think it’s a pretty straightforward way that these companies can buy influence and buy protection in the city. Ultimately, I think the city really has no other plans to mitigate some of the problems that it faces other than investing in police activity. I can say more about that, too.

TFSR: Would you? What kind of problems you’re talking about or alluding to?

Tony: Well, a big justification for this project is explicitly tied to the movement and 2020. So there’s plans for this project as early as 2017. But throughout the movement here in 2020, if listeners don’t know, the movement here was particularly strong.

TFSR: This is just to clarify, this is the uprising that came up after repeated police murders at the beginning of COVID. Like the COVID pandemic, right?

Tony: That’s correct. In Atlanta, an unarmed black man named Rayshard Brooks was killed by the police later on into the movement after the kind of initial phase of rioting and looting all over the country. That led to more clashes in the city, and nightly demonstrations at the third precinct here in Atlanta. Throughout the movement, there was internal strife between the police, mass sick outs, roughly 200 Police quit their jobs during this time. So the ‘Cop City’ project is among other things, is meant to explicitly address this kind of loss in morale amongst the police here.

TFSR: That makes sense as a recent need for the city to feel like it needs to do some sort of like urban combat. Can you talk about how the police interact with the city, like the population of the city? Sort of like a brief history of recent events. Do the police do a lot of raiding of homeless encampments? Are they going in and doing ‘no knocks’ in neighborhoods? What does it look like, the policing of Atlanta?

Tony: I’m not exactly sure how to address this, but maybe it makes sense to talk about the recent development in Atlanta. Especially since 2008, the city’s been pretty rapidly gentrifying. So that’s led to an unprecedented amount of evictions. Basically, the police, play the same role here that they do everywhere else, which is to protect the interests of the wealthy, to protect the interests of the business owners here.

Atlanta kind of has a unique relationship to the police and to the business class here. There was an intense amount of activity concentrated in Atlanta during the Civil Rights and Black power movements of the 60’s. Out of this struggle grew a particular model of social management that’s colloquially referred to as ‘The Atlanta Way,’ which entails cooperation between white corporate power structures and the Black Business Class. After the 60’s, the majority of the police department became Black, city council is majority Black, so on and so forth.

Since 2008, Atlanta has seen unprecedented gentrification and development due to investment from the tech sector, from the film industry, specifically, and that’s resulted in unprecedented amounts of evictions and repression of kind of low level criminal activity to make space for luxury condos.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a really good answer. I’m glad that you could go into some of the history. That’s super interesting. Can you talk about where the development of the or destruction of that space is at?

Tony: I might back up a little bit if that’s okay. Before the movement around ‘Cop City’ began in the spring of 2021, there was a few different efforts to combat what was already happening there. There was ‘Stop the Swap,’ and that was in reaction to the Black Hall Studios swap of private land for public land. There’s the work of the South River Watershed Alliance. They specifically work around the river and how the city engages with it. Then there was ‘Save the Old Prison Farm.’

So like I said, there used to be a prison in the South River Forest that was closed in 1990. Since it’s been empty, there hasn’t been a clear trajectory for it in the city. At different times, the city has proposed turning it into a park. But otherwise, it functions the way that it does now, which is as a place where people walk their dogs, ride bikes, so on and so forth, and also dump trash.

So after it came out that APF was planning to build this massive police training facility, two times the size of the police training facility in New York City, for reference, local activists came together and kind of tried to create an umbrella platform so that all these kind of different initiatives that were already in the works, could link up with each other, as well as to produce new energy around this specific project.

TFSR: So you’re placing this in the context of existing struggles to defend and protect these common wild spaces in the city that people are benefiting from in all sorts of different ways, and past efforts at the announcement of the APF that this this destruction in this construction was going to be going on?

Can you talk a bit about when the actual attempted clearing of the forests started? And what the movement in the Atlanta area looked like? What were people doing to blockade it? I’m sure that there were a bunch of different things, whether it be like protests in front of corporate headquarters, or I’ve heard about forest blockades. Can you talk a little bit about what that looked like and how the how the police have reacted?

Tony: Sure. There’s been no mass clear cutting of the forest to this day. Luckily, activists have been able to take initiative every step of the way during this movement. So when the project was announced by us, it was never really publicly announced by the city or by APF, almost no work had been done. So the land that Black Hall wants to swap with the city has been clear cut. They’re in the process of turning it into a park. Michelle Obama Park is what they intend to call it. But so, activists, people who are interested in defending the forest have benefited greatly from taking the initiative here. Before really any big machinery was in the forest, people have been able to circulate through it and to learn the lay of the land.

Starting in the spring of 2021, people started doing barbecues, info shares, and all types of different events in the forest. This was before the city had actually approved the land lease to APF. So a lot of the early moments in the struggle, were oriented around putting pressure on city council to not approve this land lease. But anyways, all throughout this time people are circulating throughout the forest. Actually, a lot of DIY shows and parties had started to happen in the forest. Partially due to the pandemic, partially due to gentrification, a lot of DIY venues in the city have shut down recently. So that milieu has kind of found a new home in the forest where they are able to do shows for free without any type of intervention from landlords or the police.

TFSR: That’s pretty awesome. When you’re referring to DIY, some listeners, depending on their context might think that that’s specifically like punk. But just out of curiosity, what sort of shows or what sort of dance parties happened?

Tony: Yeah, all types of music really. The dance scene in particular has found a home here. There’s an array of different crews in the city who have hosted parties in the forest. The DIY scene here isn’t so structured around a particular style of music. There’s a lot of different stuff that’s happened there. The major way that we’ve been able to find out about the companies working on this project is through being present in the forest. People have been able to identify the companies actually involved in the destruction of the forest and in the construction of ‘Cop City’. That includes Brasfield and Gorrie, who we believe to be the general contractor, Long Engineering, which is one of their subcontractors, Specialty Finishes Incorporated, Quality Glass, and formally Reeves Young.

Reeves Young was one of the big companies involved that was targeted early on in the movement. They were subjected to call-in campaigns, people did demonstrations at the homes of people involved in the company, there was a demonstration at their office in Atlanta. Then a specific campaign arose against them called SRY, or stop Reeves Young. Within two weeks of that project starting it came out there Reeves Young had dropped out of the project.

TFSR: That’s awesome to be able to point to a success like that and be able to say ‘we did that.’ Are these companies that you’re referring to, are they all local to Atlanta or do they have subsidiaries or are they subsidiaries of other corporations that are in other places? Like I remember when we’ve done interviews in the past about the ‘Zone to Defend,’ the ZAD in France. Vinci was the big company that was pushing a lot of the construction and they had subsidiaries in different places. In fact, there were direct actions against I think a street car company or street street car manufacturing company, something like that, and also a highway extension that were being done by Vinci related company around Atlanta in solidarity with ZAD.

But yeah, can you talk a little bit about where these companies are based and how people have been drawing attention to them?

Tony: These companies, for the most part, are not local to Atlanta. They’re regionally based companies. Some of these companies have offices and projects all over the US. Atlas Technical Consultants has projects all over the US.

TFSR: I guess bringing it back to the defense of the forest, there’s a speaking tour right now going on on the West Coast, as well as various one offs around the country around the so called us that I found on the website ‘Scenes from Atlanta Forest,’ which is scenes.no blogs.org. I’ll link that in the show notes if if anyone wants to get in on one of these discussions locally. I think that’s an interesting approach to the idea of diffusing out the struggle against this one specific locality by informing people of what’s going on. This has been a longtime strategy in mass mobilizations or an eco defense struggles, has been to go to places and say, “Hey, here’s what’s going on. Here’s why you need to know about it. Come get engaged if you want to in various ways,” but also because of the diffusion of these companies that are profiting off of this and actually doing the on the ground work, because you’re not focusing just on the city of Atlanta or the APF or what have you. It’s sort of like, lends to an opportunity for people to bring home to different places where those companies are present or other projects that they’re working on to do solidarity in the communities that they’re in. And also, because these companies are engaged in this sort of destructive practice in Atlanta, if it doesn’t happen in Atlanta, if the project does not succeed to build Cop City, they’re just going to try to put it somewhere else. Those corporations that you mentioned, Waffle House, Bank of America, etc. They’re not local, just to the Atlanta area.

So yeah. Can you talk about what sort of solidarity actions have been taken or other locations that you’re aware of?

Tony: Well, I just want to reiterate that there is a speaking tour happening right now up the West Coast and up the East Coast. There’s a few dates in between those places. Definitely get plugged into those if there’s one happening near you. We want people to come to the forest. Like you said, we do not believe this is a local struggle. Police will be trained here from all over the country. It’ll be the biggest police training facility in the US. If you can’t come to the forest, then like you said, these companies have offices all over the place. So it should be easy to participate in whatever context you’re in.

There are so many actions that have happened outside of Atlanta. It’s hard to recount them. There’s been actions at the Brasfield and Gorrie headquarters in Alabama, there’s been solidarity actions in California, in New York, and Columbia. All over the country really, and outside the US as well.

As an aside, I think one of the novel things about this movement is that there’s an equal emphasis on the defense of the forest itself here in Atlanta, as well as an offense against the companies involved, and against the Atlanta Police Foundation. So we would like people to come to the forest and we think defending the forest physically is a big part of the struggle. But equally important, is to put pressure on the contractors and the subcontractors involved. Does that make sense?

TFSR: Yeah!

You mentioned there’s been blockades, occupations, and tree sits in the forest. Are they ongoing? I guess you may not want to give the cops a tip off by answering that question. I don’t know. But are these standoff occupations or are these the sort of thing where contractors are expected to show up to start doing work or cutting and then suddenly those trees have signs that maybe they’re spiked? Or that there’s someone up in the tree very clearly or suspended between two. What has that looked like so far?

Tony: So, the forest is continuously occupied. The activity of the police and the contractors changes almost on a daily basis. Months ago there would be maybe a week of work, or week of attempted work, and then nothing for several weeks. More recently, there’s been a lot of police activity every other day, maybe, the police do sweeps through the forest. Mostly just trying to find and destroy encampments out there. There’s been very minimal work recently. We think that’s due to the presence of people in the forest basically continuously.

TFSR: Are the cops employing a lot of the same infrastructure they’d be using to evict homeless encampments? I mean, around here, forested areas are often, if they’re near enough to the city, places where people camp because there’s shade, and there’s some protection from the elements and a little bit of like, privacy.

Tony: Yeah, exactly. And as a matter of fact, there are houseless people who live in the forest. Generally, there’s people in the city who circulate through the forest. So the police will come in and rip up tents, slash sleeping bags, dump out water, so on and so forth. Sometimes this is houseless people just living in the forest. Also it would it be right to imagine bikers using the paths in the forest while this is happening, I think generally that’s worked to our favor, and kind of lends itself to the novelty of the struggle unlike other land struggles is that there’s kind of an ambiguity of use in the forest. The police will find someone in the forest and there’s a good chance they’ll just tell them to get out of there, because they don’t know if they’re a part of the movement or if they’re just some kids or what.

TFSR: Yes, so that’s an interesting opportunity to make the job of clearing the forest by the cops as an action of urban cleansing, or gentrification. It’s sort of complicating the job of the cops doing that sort of thing in multiple ways, including by actively being in solidarity with folks that are trying to reside in that space.

Tony: Definitely. Another big tool that the movement has utilized that we haven’t talked about is the Week of Actions. So since the start of the movement, there’s been three weeks of action, not including the most recent one. Basically that’s just a kind of invitation to come host events in the forest, come be in the forest, and that draws out a lot of local people into the forest. So not necessarily people who are sleeping there every day, or who are coming out to police raids, but people who want to do fungi walks or people who want to do shows. Things like that.

TFSR: That’s interesting, because it’s also actively creating… I was listening to some podcasts that was like the socialist about city engineering and about reshaping cities in a non capitalist manner. I can drop a link in the show notes if I keep this. It was kind of interesting. I just listened to the first episode of it. But one of the things, one of the points that they made was how American culture didn’t develop around, I guess in some places in the northeast, it did, but like “American Anglo hegemonic culture” didn’t develop around having squares in the middle of cities where people would come and share space and share food and whatever else. A lot of it was based off of people living on the streets together and being neighbors. So you know, you’ve got your Sesame Street model where everyone comes down and shares space and what have you. So by redirecting folks into this space that maybe they didn’t even explore before, like you said, people are learning the terrain, learning the residents of the forest, making relationships, but also integrating it to some degree into their social life and into this cultural resistance that they’ve got going on. I think that’s pretty cool. That’s kind of novel.

Tony: Totally, I jokingly refer to the week of actions to our friends as our Woodstock. I think if you come, if you’re there, it makes sense. You know?

TFSR: There’s a week of action solidarity between July 23 and the 30th announced. What do you think’s gonna happen? Sort of more the same of what you’ve been expressing is going to be happening? How would people join up and participate in this?

Tony: We strive the whole time to create as open a model as possible for participation. The Week of Actions are kind of our attempt to do that in a certain way. If people want to host an event, they’re totally more than welcome to. If people just want to come and experience the forest, that’s fine, too. Generally is is a time where people stay in the forest. I think at the last Week of Action there was maybe 200 people staying in the forest throughout the week.

TFSR: Often when ecological, anti fascist, anti capitalist, and other struggles engage in a location, there’s a narrative that’s drawn that participants are outside agitators getting funding from some shadowy group and are often white middle class folks who have the time and the resources to engage. I wonder like, has this dynamic come up? Can you talk a bit about the wider who’s participating in the local struggle there?

Tony: There’s widespread local participation in the movement. There’s so many facets of it, that it’s impossible to be connected to all of them. There’s this narrative that, like you said, that it’s outside agitators or something of the like. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I mean, if you drive around South Atlanta, there’s ‘Defend the Forest’ signs in people’s yards, there’s ‘Defend the Forest’ signs in businesses windows. I don’t know how else to put it: widespread local participation in the movement. Like I said, from the various kind of DIY cultures, to the kind of broader left. There’s new participation also frequently in the forest. It’s not uncommon to see people you hadn’t seen before or at various events to see groups or people who haven’t participated before. I don’t know what more I can say about that.

Just to speak more about local participation in the movement. The narrative from the police about the movement being made up of outside agitators, comes after the forest was violently raided by the police and a number of the people who are arrested had IDs from outside of the state. That day, I would say within two hours of the raid, a press conference was called by people in the neighborhood, maybe 50 people showed up. As soon as the press showed up, the police left and there was speech after speech from people in Atlanta, from people in the neighborhood, about support for the movement, denouncing the violent activity of the police, and so on and so forth.

It’s also worth mentioning that there’s been a meaningful engagement from the Muskogee in the struggle. There’s been two Muskogee summits in the forest, which is historically referred to as the Weelaunee forest. I believe both summits brought out hundreds of people, Muskogee returning to their ancestral lands.

TFSR: For folks that are considering this or considering seeing if there’s a local event that they can attend to learn more about it, or they want to just do their own research about it. Do you have any resources that you would direct people to on the topic?

Tony: Yeah! You can follow us on social media on Instagram or Twitter @DefendtheAtlantaForest. If you’re interested in the campaign about the contractors, you can visit, StopReevesYoung.com. And if you’re interested in donating, you can visit Opencollective.com/ForestJusticeDefenseFund.

TFSR: Again, that list of upcoming events is at least partially compiled on Scenes From the Atlanta Force, which is scenes.noblogs.org

Tony: Yeah, thanks for saying that.

TFSR: Well cool. Was there anything that I didn’t ask you about that you want to mention during this conversation? I was stoked to get to check out the folks that are putting on a presentation of it upcoming, I think in early July, in at the Lamplighter in Richmond were going to be showing this documentary Riotsville. It looks like it just came out last year or whatever. That’s super fascinating. Considering the tumultuous history of civil rights and Black liberation movements that you’ve mentioned, and the importance of locality of Atlanta in that struggle. It’s cool to look back 50 years and see this this bit of history that definitely leads into today. Especially the US training facilities, that there’s so much footage of there were military. Well, maybe you could talk about the documentary. Have you seen it?

Tony: I have seen it. Yeah, it’s a great documentary. Definitely would recommend checking it out. It shows firsthand, dated 50 years ago, what the type of training will look like that will be occurring here in Atlanta, which is basically just simulated riots. It’s fascinating.

TFSR: Yeah. Like the contextualized decision by the federal government to take the approach, even after these multiple Commission reports that would say, “Here’s why there’s urban unrest, here’s why there’s unrest in Black communities sparked often by the killing of someone by police or by the assassination of a civil rights leader. Here’s what happens. Here’s why it happens. Here’s how they could, if they had the interest, make sure this didn’t happen,” including some of the reports talking about how basically, people need food, shelter, housing, educational opportunities, job opportunities, just all these different social program type stuff, and administration after administration, just saying, “mmmmm or we could just train more National Guard to go out and bayonet them in the streets.”

Tony: I mean, from our perspective Black Hall Studios, action movie production, and police activity is kind of the state’s idea of the future. It’s like, people should sit at home and watch Netflix. And if they don’t, then we have a massive militarized police force to make sure that they do.

TFSR: Batons and circuses. Well, awesome. Thanks a lot, Tony, for having this conversation and for the work y’all are doing and it’s been great to chat with you.

Tony: Yeah, thanks so much.

. … . ..

David Campbell Transcription

David Campbell: So my name is David Campbell, a former Anti Fascist political prisoner and my pronouns are he/him. In January 2018, I was arrested at an Anti Fascist protest and black bloc against an alt-right sort of swanky evening party to celebrate the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration. That was in New York, in Manhattan. I’ll just go ahead and give you the whole thing, right?

TFSR: Yeah, totally.

DC: So I got arrested at this Anti Fascist protests that was was pretty mild, but one little pocket of it turned into a brawl late at night, like 1030 at night. There were maybe six people on each side. I participated. Some fascists started swinging on me and I got involved. At some points during this brawl a cop came around the corner, there were no cops around when it started, but this cop came around the corner and without a word he just kind of did a double take and surged toward the first person in black that he saw. That was me. He grabbed me from behind without a word, and threw me to the ground, and broke my leg in two places. He was a much, much bigger guy than me.

There was right wing media there, they were covering it. This cop has to justify the fact that he chose only me and the fact that he’s so much force, he has to cover the fact that he didn’t say, “Stop! Police!” like you’re supposed to. Also, in the course of the brawl, the cop didn’t know this at the time of the arrest, but I did lose my temper and I saw a fash he got on the ground and I went over and kicked him twice. Which is right, but also like it’s not a huge deal to kick someone. It’s like whatever. That guy went to the ER [emergency room]. He was knocked out and went to the ER, but he walked out. He was drunk and belligerent with the cops and wanted to leave the ER before he’s allowed to.

I went to the ER and spent like four days there cuffed to a bed. I got a titanium rod put in my leg. It’s still there. Then I got arraigned on all these crazy charges. I mean, really insane. The cop concocted this narrative that was completely fabricated. After a couple of months we get security camera footage and his narrative was completely thrown out. I was amazed that this did not matter that the cop had just made up a narrative. They were able to just backpedal and say something else was the case. Apparently that did not matter at all. He was clearly lying.

So I fought my case for about two years. It slowly became clearer and clearer that the Manhattan DA was really gunning for me. I was the only person they arrested, even though it was kind of a brawl. Everyone kind of was standing around rubbernecking after I hit the ground, because now there are two people on the ground and there’s a cop there. Not that I want more people to have been arrested, but that’s you would expect that right?

So for a number of reasons, a lot of factors converged. And the DA really wanted to make an example of me. This was the first time this had happened in New York. This was pretty early in the Trump years and a lot of black bloc on alt-right violence or vice versa was happening around the country. It’s Law and Order democratic politics, right? We’re gonna lock people up and you kids will stop this nonsense on our streets. So ultimately, after almost two years, I took a non cooperating plea on two violent felonies for kicking the guy twice while wearing a shoe. That was an important component of my plea, that I was wearing a shoe. Judge asked me that. He was like, “you were wearing a shoe when you kicked this man?” I was like, “Yeah.”

TFSR: You should have taken your crocs off first before kicking.

DC: Yeah, it was like a lightweight like mesh top like running sneaker. I was like, “Really?” I found that incredible. Why would I be wandering around Hell’s Kitchen at 10:30 at night without shoes on. But anyway, I took a non cooperating plea on two violent felonies to serve 18 months on Rikers Island, I served 12. I got a ton of incredible support, which is really I think the takeaway and what we’re mostly here to talk about today, right?

TFSR: Mmmhmm. Was that the event that happened where **Gavin McInnes had the samurai sword and stuff like that?

DC: No, actually. My event is often overlooked and I don’t really talk about the headliners because it’s like the mass shooter thing. I don’t want to give them a publicity boost. So I don’t normally mention the name of the events or whatever, because fuck those guys.

So the event I was arrested at was nine months before the event where Gavin McGinnis came out with a samurai sword and that was a whole thing. That was at the Metropolitan Republican Club on the Upper East Side, also in Manhattan. After that event, on the Upper East Side, there was a brawl between antifascists and Proud Boys, most in uniform. The Proud Boys vastly outnumber the Anti Fascist, I think it was like a dozen Proud Boys on four antifa folks. and The antifa folks ended up getting knocked to the ground and kicked and stomped on the ground.

Now police showed up while this was going on and just dispersed people. After some outcry on social media, police finally started making arrests of Proud Boys. They never found the Anti Fascist folks, never identified or brought them in. Which is great. So these two cases were kind of going on at the same time. Mine, where ultimately what I went down for was kicking a guy on the ground. It was just impossible to get around that. And the other case is the Proud Boy’s case, where he had problems who kicked and stomped people on the ground. There were like 10 Proud Boy defendants.

Amazingly the same DA’s office, the Manhattan DA ‘s office, gave most of them like five days community service, including one guy who had a prior felony conviction. Which you would expect them to go harder on (that’s all I mean by by saying that). The”most vicious” the ones, that they were really gunning for in that Proud Boy group were offered less time than I was ever offered in about half the time. So in like, eight months, they were offered a deal to do eight months on Rikers Island. It took me two years to get to do 12 months on Rikers Island. Those two, John insman and Maxwell Hare, two Proud Boys, turned down that offer, and went to trial, blew trial, and I think should be wrapping up their four year sentences upstate right now.

So those are not the same cases, but those two cases, my case and that Proud Boys Upper Eastside case, we were studying their case very closely, my Defense Committee and myself. My lawyer was skeptical of that as a comparison at first, but eventually she got on board and she even went to the trial of those two Proud Boys, and was like, “yeah, they’re doing this on both sides to make an example of left and right extremists. That’s what’s happening here and you’re the only person on the left. There’s no way around that.”

TFSR: You said that it was a democratic approach towards justice or whatever democratic…

DC: ‘Law and order Democratic politics.’

TFSR: For anyone who may not be… because we’re talking about this happening during the Trump regime, Trump was the federal government, the Democrat that you’re talking about is the Democrats like De Blasio, at that point?

DC: Cyrus Vance was the was the DA for a long time. He’s no longer the DA of Manhattan. Cyrus Vance was celebrated for subpoenaing Trump’s tax returns and securing the Harvey Weinstein conviction after years of pressure and ignoring that pressure and finally caving once it got to a certain fever pitch. But Cyrus Vance and his office, it’s all old school cop loving Law and Order Democrats. That’s what you do, right? You lock people up and be ‘Pro-choice.’

TFSR: People may have been thinking again, that Trump was in office as a Republican regime, the prosecution’s were being pursued by a Republican regime. That’s not the case in this instance. But it doesn’t really make a difference. When you look at the NYPD, and you look at the actual power structure in New York, the party difference doesn’t seem to make a huge amount. It’s all about keeping the machine running and maybe you’ve got a difference in some of the power players and instances, but everyone who’s got some money is getting a cut one way or the other.

DC: Yeah, yeah. I mean, hey man, a lot of people have kept me locked up and drew a paycheck to keep me in a cage. Black and brown working class people, vote Democrat all the way down the line, some of them have much more radical politics than that. That’s been the case in New York City DOC for a long time. Assata Shakur talked about that. A lot of people were pretty down with what she was doing. But guess what, they’re still getting the paycheck at the end of the month to keep her in a box, you know?

TFSR: This might be a good instance to bring up the prosecution of Proud Boys at a federal level happening in the United States. Again, this is under a Democratic regime. So some people on the Right are gonna say, “Oh, look, they’re just prosecuting people on the far Right, but nobody’s going after BLM, antifa, whatever, whatever, from 2020- 2021, or before that. Which is obviously not true, because if anyone listens to our show, they heard an episode a couple of weeks ago where we talked to folks who are supporting prisoners from the 2020 Rebellion.

There’s a concept that a lot of anti fascists adhere to specifically the anti-authoritarian anarchist wing of that movement, which is the ‘three way fight’ model, where you understand that the State and the Fascists are, sometimes they are directly aligned, sometimes they are in opposition to each other to some various degree, the State often wanting to be the mediator of violence, and wanting to get rid of extremes on one end or another. Whatever might destabilize their authoritarian rule. You can see that with Putin, for instance, in Russia where he has prosecuted and broken up far Right street movements only to accept the ones that are incorporated into the State, and definitely attacked antifascist and anarchists and other leftists, in the meantime. I wonder if you have views about this prosecution of the Proud Boys that’s happening here.

DC: I had a friend that supported me during my whole case while I was in. She’s a great person, her hearts in the right place, her politics are more mainstream liberal progressive than my own. She texted me one day with the news headline about Enrique Tarrio being charged with seditious conspiracy, saying it was a great victory or whatever. I didn’t get into it with her. On the one hand, it’s better than if the State was turning a blind eye to that, I think it would be much more dangerous if they were just acting like it didn’t exist at all. On the other hand, there’s a lot of collateral that comes with that. There’s a lot of things, once you start making it easier to lead repression campaigns against extremist movements on the far Right, come back around Boomerang-style on the far Left. What are you going to do? If it’s in the law and you can’t specify far Right. You craft the legislation or the administrative policy without specifying people’s exact political beliefs, right? That’s going to be on the books. It’s going to apply just as well if they want, and they will want at some point, to use it against the far left.

So we’ve seen this historically, things like the mask laws, mask laws that had been used to charge a lot of like black bloc folks and other folks wearing masks at protests for largely originally written to clamp down on the KKK organizing in public spaces while wearing a mask. You see a lot of that kind of stuff. There was a case in France in Lyon where the government forced an antifa group that was pretty active and doing some really badly needed work, Lyon has a huge fash problem, but forced the group to disband. They use an almost 100 year old law that was originally written to clamp down on far right extremist groups. It’s not just paranoia.

At the end of the day, it’s like… Man, I don’t know. I’m not going to shed any tears if Proud Boys go to prison for a long time. Although, don’t send people to prison, that’s stupid. Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m very divided on it. I think it’s not a clear cut victory at all. There are a lot of risks with it. I think the important thing is that we have grassroots movements capable of pushing back on the far right. At least as well as the government. That involves everything from writing letters, making phone calls, to street fights, making art, infiltrating the groups, doxxing, building a broad cultural base of support. All that stuff. We have to get really good at that and make that really, really common in order to avoid the State needing to do that in the first place.

TFSR: And then that way we’re sapping power potential from both the State and from the far right. If we’re engaging more actively in these various different ways with our racist Uncle as the trope goes or our neighbors or whatever. We’re definitely stronger that way than simply relying on the cops to resolve our issues.

DC: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

TFSR: You got prosecuted, you went to prison… Can you talk a little bit about your prison time and how you were treated? And how other prisoners viewed you?

DC: Yeah. So I went to jail. I didn’t go to prison. This is like the most confusing thing because they’re not technically different than most of the rest of the English speaking world. Most people use them interchangeably in English. I went to Rikers which is a jail. But I was serving sentenced time, which is pretty rare. Right? So 10% of the people on Rikers are serving sentences. The rest of detained pretrial. Most people serving sentences in the US are in prison. So, the sort of time I did and the terminology that comes with it is a little particular.

I did 12 months on Rikers, it sucked. Don’t go to jail. Don’t go to Rikers… if you can avoid it. Also, don’t let the fash take over. There’s a cost benefit thing we have to do. Unfortunately, it’s built into the risk of antifascist work. You might get arrested, you might go to jail. My numbers came up and that’s where I went. But it was okay. I mean, I wouldn’t do it again, if I had the choice. Meaning, go to jail, I would still choose to go back to the protest that night and confront the fash.

It wasn’t a fun time, but I didn’t have any trouble from other prisons there in terms of my politics, or what I was in for. That was one of the things that when we were negotiating with the DEA, my lawyers and I, we brought up was that I can be in real danger, upstate upstate prison system. A lot of the guards are pretty fashy. They’re pretty small and don’t have a lot of power ,but there are branches of Aryan Brotherhood, you know, white nationalist groups and stuff like that among the prisoners. That could put me in danger. My case had a lot of really sensational coverage from right wing media. There was stuff on Twitter about how I should get the death penalty, or whatever. So I didn’t have any trouble like that Rikers, which is great.

I talked to a lot of guys in Rikers, who had done time upstate because people behind bars, they do a little time here, a little time there. It doesn’t work, people keep going back. So people who have been upstate, most of them said, “Yeah, you probably would have had some sort of trouble upstate, because of your case and it was so public. The guards are all very rural working class white folks who tend to tend to be pretty Trumpy.” So, I didn’t have that trouble at all at Rikers. The overwhelming majority of the guards and the overwhelming majority of the prisoners are working class Black and brown folks and immigrants living in the New York area, or from the New York area. Most of them were pretty down with what I was in for, even if they were pretty apolitical. Because, again, fascism sucks. Fascism has white nationalism as an essential component, right? Because not really any way around it.

So when I spoke with him about what I was in for, which is something that people asked me very often because I kind of stood out in Rikers. I mean, I’m a nerdy white looking guy. There’s a sort of suspicion about guys like me in jail, because guys like me don’t get jail time. The system is a white supremacist system that doesn’t really lock up college educated white folks from a middle class suburban background. That doesn’t happen very often unless you do something pretty dumb. So guys would be like, “what are you in for?” “Well, I beat up a Trump supporter at a protest.” After a while, word starts to spread. After I’d been in for six months, I started to have people coming up to me and be like, “Yo, I heard about you, that’s pretty rad.” Not all the time, but people I didn’t even know throughout my sentence would come up to me be like, “Yo, good job.” [laughs]

TFSR: Yeah. Better than the alternative.

DC: It’s much better than the alternative. The thing about serving time in jail, is that jail is much less comfortable than prison. I never been in prison, and don’t plan to go, but apparently there are more creature comforts. A lot of that, to my understanding, came out of prisoners rights movements and stuff, Attica ’71… It’s basically a way of buying off prisoners so they don’t organize and riot. Which I’m fine with. I’d rather have guys have more comfortable beds and be able to play guitars and stuff in prison, right? There’s not any of that stuff in jail. Guys who have been upstate and served prison time will tell you, “This time goes incredibly slowly and it’s just psychologically torturous compared to doing time upstate. You do time upstate and it flies.” You have so many activities and programs and things you can do, and little tiny creature comforts that you just do not have in jail. It’s crowded, there’s less this this sort of convict culture of respect, where you’re a professional criminal, like it is in prison. There’s some of that, but a lot of people are just like addicted to something and they stole a box of and Amazon trolley and now they’re doing eight months. It’s just the dumbest stuff that people are in for. It’s just a very rowdy chaotic environment.

It’s hard to focus. It took a lot of getting used to, but overall, I made it out okay. I had no fights, and I had no tickets, no infractions. I was inspired by Daniel McGowan, who had no fights, and no tickets and seven and a half years and CMU and the feds, and by David Gilbert, who had no fights no tickets in 40 years in New York State system.

TFSR: Who’s out!

DC: Who is out, free as a bird. Also Daniel, but that’s like old news. He’s out, which is awesome. But I was like, “Well, if those guys can do it, I can make it through on Rikers without a fight without looking like a pushover. There were times when I thought I was gonna have to fight. You know, there were times when I really thought I was gonna get a ticket. You just don’t know. They call it getting caught up. You get caught up in something, you’re doing six months, you have to fight for some reason to save face, because it’ll make your daily life insufferable if you don’t, something goes wrong and now you’re facing 10 years. That can happen, that sort of thing does happen. It didn’t happen to me. I’m very glad to be out.

I got a lot of support while I was in there. That’s the main takeaway for me, is that it’s just incredible. Obviously, the whole experience sucked, but the amount of mail, the amount of books that people were sending me, people that I wasn’t particularly close to beforehand, that would just take my phone calls at all hours. No matter what they were doing, they would just drop whatever they’re doing and talk to me on the phone. People that would come to visit me, including people I don’t even know, would come and visit me at Rikers. I got letters from all around the country all around the world. I got books sent to me by people from all around the country. There’s a fundraiser that all these strangers, people I’d had a class with in college years ago donating money to keep me going and to give me a little padding for when I got out. My defense committee is awesome, did an incredible job. Mad books, baby!

Books, that’s social capital in jail. You got books, you get letters out the wazoo, like, that’s huge. We will will talk about that in a minute. But even before I went away, my defense committee was able to reach out to a number of former political prisoners, and put me in touch with them, and have me talk to them about what it was like to do time as a political prisoner, because that’s a little different from doing time as a “normal prisoner.” It’s a little different in terms of experience. Yeah, but in general, you do get a respect boost. It might be cold comfort to anyone who’s facing charges for something that came out of a protest or something. But look, if you got to do some time, man, and you don’t cooperate with prosecution, you stick to your guns, you go in and you’re very clear about what you’re in for, you’ll get a little bit of a respect boost from people. Not everyone’s gonna care. You might still have some beef with people, but a lot of people are gonna be like, “Listen, I’m gonna pick somebody else to mess with, this person’s in for something they believe in.” That resonates with people, that resonates with people.

So that’s really the thing that sticks with me more than how much the experience sucks, which it did suck. But the solidarity that I got from the get go. Even when I was in the hospital, people were trying to send me stuff. I found out later that they wouldn’t let it through for security reasons, but it’s just incredible. Even after I got out the solidarity just keeps coming. A couple of months after I got out, some guy who had done time for ELF stuff like 15 years ago just gave me a bike. He was like, “Yeah, I’m just gonna give you a bike.” It was a great bike and I make good use of it. Stuff like that. I mean, you can’t make that up and there’s hardly even words to describe that sense of solidarity. So yeah, that’s kind of the the time that I did in a nutshell.

TFSR: I wonder has the movement done an okay job in terms of follow up with post release counseling or putting you in contact with people that have that experience to be able to co-counsel with each other?

DC: Yes, like the post release care. Yeah. So my support did not stop when I crossed that bridge, when I came home. My support has been incredible. A big part of that was a radical therapist that I met. Well, I didn’t just like, run into her in the subway. I was put in touch with her by my defense committee before I went in, before I even knew what kind of deal I would be taking. I was still fighting my case, and it was still very much up in the air if I’d be doing like 30 days community service or seven years hard time Upstate, or if it was like anything in between.

My therapist was incredible, stayed with me the whole time I was locked up. Took my calls. Came to visit. When they shutdown visits because of the first wave, (I was locked up during the first wave) my therapist came to visit me on video visits once they instituted those. After I got out, I went to travel a little bit as much as possible, because it was still pretty crazy COVID times then. I went in October 2019 and I came home in October 2020. So even though I was traveling and stuff a little bit, just around the country, when I got out my therapist was always down to do a session remotely. When I was actually in New York, she was always down to meet up. That’s that’s been really incredible.

Other friends and comrades checking in seeing how I’m doing, again fundraiser money to keep me going without having to just get a day job real quick as soon as you get out, like so many people do, has been huge. I’m very, very grateful for all the support that I’ve gotten. I’m very aware that this experience that I had is far from the norm. I mean, I was rubbing elbows and walking among people who live the real incarceration life. I was locked up and it sucks, but like, I’ve used the term “jail tourist” before, I’m kind of a “jail tourist.” Other guys, they’re there, there again. They know the ins and outs of it. There’s no safety net. There’s a landing pad for them when they come home. Guys are talking about getting out and going straight to the construction site where they know they still have a job. I mean, that’s insane.

TFSR: There’s no shame in the support that you got, obviously, but it could be looked at that sort of thing as like an ideal that we should expand. If there’s these structures that are causing harm to people who don’t have the safety nets, whether it be class or racial privilege, or recidivism.

DC: Yeah. Everybody deserves that. I’m not saying that I’m aware that my case is unique to have it be some white guilt thing. But I think this is the standard that we should be holding ourselves to for everyone. And listen, that’s not always easy. Some people in jail do fucked up stuff, but they still deserve support, and the care that makes people maybe not want to do those things in the future. Besides a lot of other big factors, societal factors that are harder to change. But yeah, I think the kind of support that I got, if everyone had that there would be much less difficulty for people doing time or coming home from it. That’s for sure.

TFSR: We’re talking about this in the context of the July 25 International Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners. That’s a fucking mouthful right there. But J25. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that and about some of the components, and if you experienced that directly, that’s great. If not, things like letter writing, I’m sure was the thing that impacted you, and breakdown how that impacted you.

DC: Yeah, so July 25, International Day of Solidarity with Anti Fascist Prisoners started in 2014 I don’t know if you’re gonna get into all this, the history of it and elsewhere.

TFSR: Please do.

DC: It’s 2014, I’m pretty sure, started as a day of solidarity with Jock Palfreeman, an Australian man who was serving 20 year sentence in Bulgaria for defending two young Roma men against far right hooligan mob. He’s out now. Jock is out and did 11 years total. That’s the genesis of the International Day Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners and it’s grown to be much larger and to include pretty much anyone in for a conviction that they took in the course of something that expressly antifascist.

I did get a lot of support for J25 when I was in. But I actually forgot about it. I think I confused it with June 11, which is the Day of Solidarity with Long Term Anarchist Prisoners. I wasn’t really long term because I was doing a year. There’s no day solidarity for medium term anarchist prisoners. I was between 30 days and 10 years for sure. So, I got a bunch of mail for June 11. And was like, “Oh, that was cool.” It kind of surprised me. And then, I don’t know, I just like I, I just completely forgot about July 25. I started getting all this mail again, around the week of July 25 I was like, “Oh, yeah, there’s another day of solidarity. This summer really rocks!” I got a huge uptick in the volume of mail, including a lot of stuff that was people writing me for the first time. A lot of it was just stuff that said, “Keep your head up. I heard about you, I put $10 on your books, you’ll be home in a few months, you are doing great.” Stuff like that. And that’s awesome. Some 65 year old grandma and Bedstuy just wrote me a letter with like an inspirational quote. I don’t know where she found this thing, it was just printed. It’s like, that’s great. That melts my little heart. It’s incredible. That sort of stuff, there was definitely an increase in that around July 25.

I think there was a funding drive from the International Antifascist Defense Fund around the time. I think they put some money on my books around the time. It makes a big difference. I mean, besides obviously having a line of contact with the outside world, or having money to buy the things you need to commissary, or to buy the things you need or want once you get out, that sense that someone’s taken care of you because they know what you’re in for, and then not know what you’re going through, but like they get it. That’s huge. That’s huge. And your psychological well being, there’s no substitute for that. There’s no faking that.

That extends more broadly to receiving a letter in jail. When you do get a letter in jail, it’s this line of contact to the outside world. Obviously, it’s cool to get updates from people and find out what they’re doing their lives, have someone to talk to that’s not part of all the jailhouse politics and whatever, about what’s going on in there. But also, it’s like, people have not forgotten about me. Like, I’m worth writing to. The institution really tries to beat you down, and just make you a cog in the machine, just a number. Then it’s like, “No, people remember that I’m a full fledged human being and like there are interests that we share. They want to update me on things that have happened with people we both know and care about, or are total strangers.

My defense committee, again, best defense committee ever. We put up a website that went live the day I went in, and on it there was a list of things you could write to me about, my interests and stuff. It was just great idea. I cannot give a big enough shout out to my defense committee. They rock. One of the things was like, “tell me about the last good meal you ate. So I had strangers from London writing me about the lasagna they made it or something. That’s awesome. That’s really incredible. People took the time to do that, and consistently. Sometimes it’s a one off and that’s fine.

So there’s a sensory aspect to it too. Jail is a very bland, drab environment and when you send in something with a holographic stamp on it.. It’s like, “Ooh!” It’s the smallest thing, but it really makes a difference. It’s just kind of like if you see someone walking down the street in the outside world, in regular life, who just has a really loud, wild, fun style. You are like, “Wow, I’m glad that person just walked by me. That rocks.” It’s kind of like that. Those things do matter. There’s also the texture of the paper. Rikers has a pretty loose policy on mail, thankfully. So I was able to get a lot of different types, weights, colors, textures of paper.

There’s a social aspect to receiving mail. If you are getting piles of letters, and piles of books, and some of its international, people look over your shoulder, they can see it’s written in another language or something, people know. People talk in jail, people observe, and people talk. So people are gonna know one way or the other, they’re gonna find out one way or the other. You’re getting all this mail, all these books, some of it’s coming from faraway places, people notice that. So even if it’s subconscious, on some level, they’re like, “Well, a lot of people care about this guy. He’s not nobody. A lot of people think he’s worth communicating with.” It doesn’t mean you won’t have a problem with anyone again, but it increases your worth in those people’s eyes.

That extends to the guards, too. They know that you have people you can contact. They know that they can’t get away with everything with you and sweep it under the rug. Also it serves as proof of the political nature of your case, especially if you’re in jail like me, short term facility, a lot of people lie. A lot of people lie about their charges. A lot of people inflate their charges, where they change the circumstances every time they tell the story. This one guy… it went from he was arrested in a hotel room with a dime bag of crack to like he was driving across the bridge with three helicopters in pursuit…

TFSR: His Grand Theft Auto fantasy?

DC: Yeah just over a few days!

TFSR: It’s a very big bridge.

DC: Yeah… Yeah, there’s, there’s a lot of that. Look, people are skeptical and sometimes rightfully so about what you say you’re in for. Well, you get all these radical books and letters and zines and stuff, it’s like, “All right, this dude is clearly into antifascism.” People sending you zines on anti racist action, they like get it. It’s like, “Alright, cool.” So there’s a lot that goes into getting mail in jail besides just emotional support, which is also huge. That’s a huge component. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

TFSR: I know it’s different in different facilities, like you’re talking about the stamps getting through, that’s great. North Carolina, PA, a bunch of states, and this is prisons as opposed to jails, it’s different from facility to facility with jails, county by county. But what can get in obviously, again, will differ. But with books, I’ve heard about people getting just a plethora of books, and then they’re able to loan them out to other folks. So while there’s like a social capital element, you’re also building sociality with other people. You’re maybe giving them a break from some of the monotony, the forced puritanical monotony of jail or prison, and also like making friends, or opening people’s eyes a little bit, or whatever. It seems kind of cool.

DC: Absolutely. Yeah. The books thing. I always had people coming up to me, asking me for books. “Yo, can I take a look at your books.” Some guy I didn’t even know, he’d been in the dorm for like two days. I hadn’t even spoken a word to this guy. He comes up to me one day he goes, “Hey, bro, I see you have a lot of books. Do you have any cool books about aliens?” “I can ask for some. if you want I can ask my friends to send me a book about aliens.” A couple of times, I did that too. Some guy, I forget what he was working on, he was non native English speaker, a Haitian guy, he was trying to practice his English and he wanted a dictionary. I was like, “Listen, man. You should have told me.” I asked my Defense Committee. They bought a used dictionary for two bucks and sent it into me, I gave it to the guy. I mean, you gotta be careful with that, because you can’t give everything to everyone all the time. Right? Then people see that as an opportunity to hit you up for anything they need. But yeah, sharing the books you get is incredible. Zines and stuff, too. I shared a lot of the radical literature I got with people.

And beyond stuff that you loan out to people to build social capital, to make life easier for them, to spread the radical ideas that you care about, there’s the social element of what you read and what people see you reading. Because, again, people see everything in jail. Everything’s in common, right? You are forced to live together. So, I’m a nerdy white guy and I’m reading Assata Shakur’s autobiography, people are like, “Okay, well, it’s probably not a total asshole.” It’s not just for show. I have been meaning to read that book forever. It’s a great book. I’m glad I read it. But people see that and people notice that stuff.

Sometimes Books Through Bars would send me a box full of books. Some of the stuff wasn’t really interesting to me. I think I got like a 900 page global history of soccer. I was like, “I’m not gonna read this.” I’m not. Nothing against soccer, I played it when I was a kid, but I’m not gonna. I have a bunch of books I need to read anyway. So, I gave it to the guy in the bed next to me and he was like, “Awesome!”

TFSR: That’s dope. Do you want to talk about the process of letter writing and keep in mind that as an old person myself, I have noted at letter writing events that sometimes people need a little instruction on how to write a letter, because it’s just not a thing that they grew up having to do?

DC: Yeah, totally. That’s one of the things that struck me when I first got mail in jail. It was so moving that I actually started to cry in the hallway. Thankfully, there was no one around because you’re not really supposed to cry in jail. It surprised me, because I’ve gotten letters before. I’m 35. I know what letters. It means a whole lot when you get a letter when you’re locked up.

So, if you don’t know what to write, first of all, I would advise you to just brainstorm like you would if you’re gonna send an important email. You don’t have to draft it out, but just put some bullet points down on a piece of paper. You want a beginning, middle and end. It’s the first time. Here’s who I am. Here’s what I do. Talk about how you heard about the case or not. Obviously, you don’t want to include anything sensitive, right? It’s probably not going to be read by anybody in the institution, but you don’t know. It also depends on who you’re writing to. I know some of the political prisoners that I write with now, the envelope is always cut open and stapled shut again. So, some bureaucrat has been been looking through that. My stuff was pretty lax at Rikers. There’s a whole lot that I got that I wasn’t supposed to have, in terms of letters, nothing serious. You just want to be conscious of what you’re saying, plot out what you’re gonna say beforehand, if it’s your first time introduce yourself.

In terms of the format, it varies a lot between institutions and jurisdictions. So, whether it’s a jail or prison, what security level it is, what state it is, what locality it is, whether it’s federal, whatever, but it’s hard to go wrong with a plain white sheet of paper and black ballpoint ink. That will almost certainly get through anywhere. Then, once you’ve established contact with the person you’re writing to, you can ask them in a letter written on a plain white sheet of paper in plain black ballpoint ink, “Can you get postcards? Can I send you pictures?” Things like that.

I think a lot of people are hesitant to tell the person about their lives because they feel guilty, saying like, “I went to the waterpark with my kids yesterday, it was awesome.” But like you don’t understand, it’s the opposite when you’re locked up. At least for me and most people that I know that have done time, which now I know a fair amount because I did time. People want to hear that. People live vicariously through you. That’s why I asked people to tell me about the last good meal that they ate and I have no regrets. I imagined a lot of delicious meals while I was locked up. That was actually helpful. So don’t be afraid to tell people what’s going on in your life and what you’ve done that’s good lately. I think a lot of people were maybe hesitant to do that. But that’s actually what people want to hear.

You can also ask the person, “What do they want?” If they don’t need books sent in, are there particular things they’d like to hear about? I just asked people to send me dad jokes or whatever, cat memes, printouts of cats. I love that shit. I’ll take it! So you can ask the person and see what they what they want. I write to Daniel Baker, I’ll talk about him in a minute. He likes lefty song lyrics, the more obscure the better. You print out some lefty song lyrics, and send them over to him, he’s really gonna appreciate that.

It can be a little daunting because people don’t want to take on this commitment that could last for a long time. You write to someone who’s doing 10 years or something people are like, “Wow, do I have to write this guy every two weeks for the next 10 years?” No, I had people who wrote to me and were like, “Hey, I need to take some time for myself. But you know, you come home in a couple months, it’s been real, keep your head up.” That’s just fine. I also had people who weren’t even able to give me that heads up. They told me, “I’m gonna try and write to you every week,” and then I never heard from them again. I have no ill will to those people at all. I’m just glad to have heard from them. That’s not a problem. I don’t know anyone else who’s done time either who’s like mad about somebody who didn’t write enough or only wrote for a couple months?

TFSR: It just seems like good practice to not try not to over-promise. You know?

DC: Yeah. I think that’s important. Trying to over-promise. Disappointment can be really crushing, when you’re locked up, especially. You don’t have that much to look forward to. So try not to over promise. That’s important. But I guess the thing that I mean to say here is if the idea of maintaining correspondence with someone for so long seems daunting, that shouldn’t keep you from writing a letter in the first place. You can just say, “I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up. My life is very busy. This is kind of daunting to me.” Honesty is always great, right? Don’t let that keep you from writing that that first letter, if that is a factor.

TFSR: Well, do you want to talk a bit more about July 25th? And some of the prisoners that folks could be doing support for or communicating with or come into contact with?

DC: There’s a great article on It’s Going Down right now about stuff you can do for July 25th. A lot of it is like visibility stuff, you can do a banner drop, posters, stickers, wheat pasting campaigns are all great. You can do a propaganda pic like a rad pic. Get your your hoodies and your ski masks and what are those things called? Flares? That’s before my time. People weren’t standing around with flares when I got locked up. I don’t think so. That’s all publicity stuff. That’s all visibility stuff and that really matters. So if you have an explicit J25 support with antifa prisoners message, that stuff really matters. The It’s Going Down article also suggests dedicating a direct action to incarcerated antifa comrades. It’s a great idea. Don’t tell me about it. I’ll hear about it later. That’s fine.

TFSR: And that whole do a direct action, but don’t tell Dave, in solidarity with people that are behind bars. That’s a commonality of things that I like that’s come out.. I think it came out of the June 11 stuff is… one way that we show solidarity and support to the people that are behind bars for doing a thing is by acting in solidarity and doing the same sort of stuff that they were involved with that got them put away. They don’t have to know specifics, but getting a news clipping… that makes me sound old again too… getting a printout from an online news source saying, like, “Hey! Somebody faced off with this group of knuckleheads in so and so Pennsylvania,” like, whatever.

DC: Yeah, that stuff matters. I was locked up for the Floyd rebellion too. It was just incredible to be getting print outs of that stuff. It was a slightly different struggle. It’s like Black Liberation, but a lot of overlap. It was incredible to be getting that news.

What news you’re allowed to have is pretty heavily restricted in jail. I wanted this article about prisoners in Italy who were sticking it up, who were rioting over COVID conditions, would get rejected by security. So I asked my friend to send it to me in French. So she found a French version article and send it to me. All right, fine. There are no pictures or anything. So like, how are they going to know? I also get so much mail, they’re not going to read through everything.

That’s another thing, if you send a lot of volume, they’re probably going to get sloppy at some point. So another reason to send people lots of letters, is just to keep the haystack big. If you think the regular post office is not great. Imagine the jail post office. Things get lost, things bounce back for no reason, things get censored. That’s something that you do have to temper your expectations to meet. There’s going to be some some bumps in the road when it comes to writing people that are locked up, because the institution is not there to make it easy for you to be in touch with them.

Oh! A benefit punk show! Another thing you can do is throw a benefit punk show.

TFSR: Yeah, and if you don’t have the wherewithal to put together a punk show you can table, like asking the venue or the bands that are playing and putting up a table with some some info about Anti Fascist prisoners or radical prisoners, generally anti racist prisoners, and starting a conversation with folks, or holding a picnic, holding an outdoor food event is the thing that we’ve done in the past for June 11 around here in past years. A nice social gathering that also shares food that checks off a bunch of the boxes.

DC: Exactly. That stuff is pretty easy to put together. You can do it in a fairly short period of time. It’s enjoyable for people who come through whether or not they’re super political. I heard that there were quite a wide variety of people there. It’s just a very good scene. It was a really, really fun time. It’s doesn’t have to be punk either, you can put together a benefit experimental jazz concert, whatever you want. Where’s the intersection of experimental jazz and militant antifascism?

TFSR: There was Fred Ho, for instance. Do you know that name? Co authored a book, I’m forgetting the name of it, but also was a part of the Afro Asian Music Ensemble as well as the monkey orchestra. Both of these were communist. He was a Marxist socialist. There’s an article on Wikipedia about him. Got your answer right there!

DC: Thank you, it’s been bothering me for years. I scratched that itch.

If you don’t have the time or the inclination to write a letter, a lot of political prisoners have book lists. You can find a lot of people’s book lists on sites like Anarchist Black Cross Federation – ABCF.Net. There’s also New York City Anarchist Black Cross. It’s one of the larger and more active Anarchist Black Cross organizations. Anarchist Black Cross, if you don’t know, does a lot of radical prisoner, political prisoners support work, and did a lot of great work for me. Which I really appreciate.

TFSR: New York is a part of the Federation. The Federation has the war chest for supporting prisoners over the long term, which is amazing.

DC: Yeah, so another thing you can do, if you don’t want to write, send books, or do any of the visibility stuff that we talked about, you can just donate. People do need money for this stuff, and these organizations are good for it. They will forward that money to the place that needs to be. You have the international Anti Fascist Defense Fund. That is spelled with a ‘C’ because they’re British, which we won’t hold against them, but should come up if you google it spelled the American way.

TFSR: I’ll link it in the show notes too.

DC: There’s Certain Days, a great collective that produces a radical freedom for political prisoners calendar. Some of the members of the collective were incarcerated. I think they’re all out now. Most of them are out

TFSR: Xinachtli is still in at least.

DC: Xinachtli, Yes. Okay. Certain Days is great though. They have a lot of great info on supporting radical political prisoners.

As for antifa prisoners in the US, we have Daniel Baker. He’s serving four years and he’s got a year and a half left, I think, in the Feds for Facebook posts. He could definitely use books. His wish list is on the ABC website, letters, he loves to get letters. I write to him. Funds, so he has stuff to get by while he’s in and stuff live off when he gets out. Like I said, he loves lefty song lyrics. Any radical song lyrics he wants to end up we would love to have.

There’s Eric King. Eric King has got about a year and a half left as well. He is currently in USP Lee in Virginia, a maximum security federal prison, where there have been explicit threats on his life. So you can call them the North Central Regional Office of the BOP at 913-621-3939. You can spread that word, it’s on Eric Kings website. I think. He’s a great guy who loves to get letters. He’s often on mail ban, like I can never keep track of when he’s allowed to receive letters and what he’s not. So I’ll just write him a letter and see if it bounces back or not. But it’s a really nice guy.

There’s Gage Halupowski, who’s serving six years in Oregon State Prison, participated in one of these large scale street brawls between fash and antifa in Portland. Gage, I used to write to him, but I guess we kind of fell out of contact, but he seems like a really nice guy. He’s got, I think half his sentence under his belt by this point. So like I said, I haven’t talked to him in a while. But I think he’s doing all right, send him letters, send him support, raise awareness, if you can.

Internationally, you have the International antifascist Defense Fund. Amazing organization, does a lot of great work. Did a lot of great work for me. I really can’t speak highly enough of them.

I think a lot of people’s eyes are on Ukraine right now, understandably, so. There are a lot of Anti Fascist and anarchists involved in the struggle against the invasion of Ukraine. And they’re mostly lumped under the umbrella of the Resistance Committee. That’s the anarchist and antifascist coalition for direct resistance to the invasion. They’re funded by something called Operation solidarity. Anarchist Black Cross Dresden in Germany has a lot of good information. I think they’ve really like answered the call to be kind of a relay points for the struggles going on in Eastern Europe. They have a lot of great resources on the website. For support for Belarusian anarchists. There’s branches of ABC in Moscow and Belarus as well. But if you’re looking at to help out comrades who are really in the thick of it right now in Ukraine, I think Anarchist Black Cross Dresden’s website is a good place to get started.

There’s a case in Germany, someone in Lina E, it’s a woman who’s facing some pretty serious charges for allegedly being involved in a number of hammer attacks against Neo Nazis around Germany. I from what I understand stuff in Germany is pretty hot right now. I have very little information about this and what I can find online is all in German. My German is airport level at best. So if you speak German and find out what’s going on there, let me know. I think she was on trial recently, but I really don’t know.

TFSR: I’ll try to put some notes in the show notes about it.

DC: I would love it if you could dig up something on that. I tried to do a little digging, but even in French. I speak French, but there’s not that much. France, I think is okay right now. There was one comrade who just got sprung.

TFSR: Is that the instance of the veteran from Rojava who was facing terrorism charges along with a few other people, the cases got dropped except for against this one individual?

DC: Oh, Libre Flot. That’s the guy who got sprung. He’s out. He went on hunger strike and now he’s out. I think it’s conditional release. I don’t know if the charges have been dropped. But at least he’s not locked up. There were some people facing some serious charges. But thanks in part to funding from the International Antifascist Defense Fund, they all got off, which is great.

Then in Lyon, we had seven anti fascists that were allegedly members of the antifascist group that was ordered to disband by the government. They were facing really, really inflated charges for a street fight that came out at a protest with some far right French folks. They were facing a couple of years for the street fight and they got some funding from international Antifascist Defense Fund that enabled them to hire good lawyers, and they all got off. So you know, there are successes, too.

You know, sometimes, doing time is also in some ways a success. I mean, again, it sucked, but in some ways, I’m proud of my time. I didn’t have to give the State anything. I went in for something I believe in and ultimately, it was way too long for kicking a guy while wearing a shoe, but it’s way less than the State wanted to give me. We talked them way down. They wanted to give me years. So in some ways that’s a victory, you know? I try to see it that way, anyway.

I just want to give a shout out to my man Big Bruce. Big Bruce is a friend of mine from Rikers. He’s not a political prisoner, but he’s a really good guy, and he’s doing a two year bit in the New York State system right now. His name is Bruce Williams, he’s in New York State system. He’d love to hear from you.

Bruce Williams #21R0721

Orleans Correctional Facility

3531 Gaines Basin Rd

Albion, NY 14411

TFSR: I can put his contact info in the with that, or if you send it to me, I’ll definitely put it in the show notes and people can decide to write him a letter or put some money on his books or whatever.

DC: Oh, cool. Yeah, he’s a little hard nosed about getting money. He’s like, “I don’t want your money.” But he will appreciate it. Yeah, letters, books, whatever. I got Books Through Bars to send him a lot of stuff. He’s a really good guy. I was sleeping next to him, in the bed next to him, when when the first wave COVID hit. So he’s really good guy.

TFSR: Dave, was there anything else that you wanted to touch on?

DC: I don’t think so. I think that’s it. It’s been a real pleasure.

TFSR: Mutual.

DC: Sending solidarity to all the Anti Fascist prisoners locked up on the upcoming J25. Yeah, everybody else out there in the struggle, keep your heads up. I guess I’ll give you my my plugs, because that makes sense. One, I am on Twitter, but I don’t really tweet anything, but I’m there. Sometimes I get articles published about jail and stuff and when I do I usually make a little announcement on Twitter. It’s @AB_DAC. And you can find me there. There’s an email there too, that you can hit me up at. If you’re facing political charges, think you might do some time or you know someone who is and you just don’t know where to turn. You can hit me up. I’m happy to talk to you about it. A lot of people did this for me when I was facing time. So I’m more than happy to pay that forward.

I’m also trying to write a memoir about my time as an Anti Fascist political prisoner, because it was pretty wild. So I started a Patreon. It’s just Patreon DavidCampbellDAC. If you can help me get that written. I’m also in grad school right now. So I need some some funding to make this work. I’m making good progress. But that’s what I got to plug.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Thanks a lot for making the time on such short notice to have this conversation and thanks for bringing so much to the table. I really appreciate it. Oh, yeah.

DC: It’s been a real pleasure. It’s been a real pleasure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Music for this episode is an edited version of:

  • Eyeliner by American Hairlines off of the Free Music

Archive on archive.org, editing by Amar.

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Transcription

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Hell yeah, thank you all so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Sorry, that is within 2021.

TFSR: Oh okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N: [giggles with appreciation]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N: [giggles in agreeance]

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

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

TFSR: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case of Daniel Baker: Online Speech and Community Defense

The Case of Daniel Baker: Online Speech and Community Defense

Painting of Daniel Baker with a scarf
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On January 15th, 2021, two men received a knock on the door of their Tallahassee apartment from someone claiming to be delivering a Postmate parcel. The two hadn’t ordered anything and raised suspicion that someone was trying to break in and rob their home so they said they didn’t order anything and refused to open the door. Moments later, their door crashed open and a percussive grenade ignited as FBI swarmed in with guns drawn, yelling.

This was the arrest of US military veteran, YPG volunteer medic and instructor of yoga and jujitsu Daniel Baker on charges of inciting violence at Florida’s state capital. This may sound like a familiar story of government arrests across the country since the January 6th far right riot to stop the counting of votes that Trump supporters and avowed white nationalists engaged. The difference lies in the fact that Dan Baker wasn’t calling for the storming of anything. The FBI alleges that he made posts online calling for people to resist an attempted coup that elements of the far right had been promoting since the failed acts of January 6th in DC, where armed putschists would take State capitals and public officials hostage. So, why did the FBI targetting Mr Baker? Why has he not been allowed private meetings with a lawyer since his detention? Why was he kept in solitary since his pre-trial time at the Federal Correction Institution at Tallahassee begun?

On October 12th, 2021, Dan Baker was sentenced to 44 months in Federal Prison for “interstate communication of threats” for his facebook posts and his militant anti-fascism, including his time fighting Daesh or ISIS in Rojava. His defense is appealing the ruling, otherwise he’s expected to be released at the soonest in March of 2024.

For the hour, we’re sharing our March 7th, 2021 conversation with Jack and Eric. Both are anti-racist activists, students of Daniel’s yoga and jujitsu instruction and Eric was the roommate that was present at the time of the home invasion by the FBI. You can find links to articles about the case in the show notes at our website and in this podcast and more information on Daniel’s case is at the instagram account, @FreeDanBaker, you can contact support at DanBakerDonations@gmail.com, donate to his support on paypal with that email and find his amazon wishlist on the instagram.

You can write to Dan Baker at:
Daniel Alan Baker #25765-509
FCI Memphis
FEDERAL CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION
P.O, BOX 34550
MEMPHIS, TN 38184

Some media coverage of Dan’s case:

Other related reading:

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you all please introduce yourselves with whatever names pronouns or affiliations that make sense for this chat?

Eric: My name is Eric, he/him. I’m a visual artist, and I was Dan’s roommate at the time of his arrest. We had traveled together for a while.

Jack: My name is Jack, I use they/them pronouns. I am studying biomathematics and computational science, and I’m an activist and organizer in the Tallahassee Community.

TFSR: And are y’all on the support crew for Daniel?

Jack: I’d say we’re probably the two main folks on the support group. We were all training jujitsu together at the time of Dan’s arrest, jujitsu and yoga.

Eric: Yeah, we just started a workout group thing that they’re trying to criminalize him for. They came after a yoga teacher.

TFSR: Would you all give listeners a thumbnail sketch of who Daniel is, and your relationships or how him?

Eric: We crossed paths a few times over the years. I think the first time we actually met was around 2013, we had crossed paths in the Krishna Temple in Chicago while I was traveling around, he had just come from a Rainbow Gathering. And he was traveling, visiting some different temples on the way back to the East Coast. We only met for a couple of days. And then we had reconnected on Facebook years later, after he had returned from Syria. I didn’t even recognize him at first. But I reached out to him because I wanted to learn more about his experience, I had already been studying some related Political Science type stuff and I wanted to try to get more insight into what his experience was like. He had also had some training that would be very valuable for all the different protests that were going on. So every once in a while, I’d kick down and send a donation here and there when I could to keep him going. And then eventually, we just decided to take a road trip.

I guess we connected online, maybe a couple of years ago, late 2018, early 2019. We had known each other for about a year just online, we traveled together. He had just been in Tallahassee for maybe five or six months when he was arrested. He had some roots in the community here. We were trying to make friends and network with local activist circles, and participate in the best way we could. Dan had gone through the Combat Lifesaver training with the army and had applied it during his time in Syria, so he was very valuable as a street medic. I’d just been traveling around painting on and off full-time for years, so we both would just fly signs sometimes and do a pop-up exhibition. I would live paint, we saved up to get a room. We were camping for a while. We got off the street and got a small apartment. We’re able to save up and put him through a BMR course. He knew all the material pretty much but he just needed the certification to be able to work in that field. So we were on the way to getting him reestablished here and then dudes kicked our door…

Jack: First they said they were the Postmates Delivery Service. The FBI knocked on the door and then said, “Postmates Delivery”. And then Dan was “We didn’t order Postmates” and shut the door. They kicked down the door, threw in a flashbang, and then said, “FBI”. Obviously, you have Dan and Eric sharing it separately, Dan had a very difficult time being able to communicate with anyone. But I think that the FBI wasn’t expecting the blind landlady who’s 80 years old and was in the room next door to corroborate the story. And so once that came out, she was in the room next door and heard them announce themselves as the Postmates delivery, and was able to independently verify that this happened. And they haven’t responded to that. They didn’t even deny it when it came up in the public hearing. The FBI agent went first and then said, “We announced ourselves and they resisted arrest”. And then Eric was up and he was “They didn’t announce themselves. They said they were the Postmates delivery service”. If you get a knock on the door, and it’s a delivery and you know you didn’t order something I don’t think anybody wants to answer that door. And I think everybody thinks they might think that they might be getting robbed.

Eric: As I said, we were trying to start a workout group, we had been traveling and I was trying to pick up some first aid stuff from him. He had also done some training in jujitsu, he had competed a decent amount, he had some gold medals, I think he’s about purple-belt level, he was upper-intermediate. And he was just helping me pick up some of the basics. We’re going to the Ashtanga Yoga primary series for the yoga teacher training. He had the first certification in that. He was working on building up his second certification. And I was going through getting my first. So we started inviting some other people out, and getting some more folks involved, because I would never be able to afford to learn all that stuff without somebody who’s giving that access. So I just really wanted to help him make that available to the community here. Jack was one of the first people who was coming regularly to the groups we were doing and I guess it was helping them move past some recent difficulties.

Jack: When I started training jujitsu and yoga, I have just gotten out of an abusive relationship. Training with Dan and Eric was actually a really healing practice for me. Dan and Eric created a safe space, which sometimes, as a non-binary person, can be really difficult, especially with cisgender white males, but they were both really, really, really compassionate and understanding. Dan and Eric are both really strong feminists. And I just really appreciated how comfortable they made me and how supportive they were while I was going through this process. So that was just really fundamental for me to move past this relationship and the pain that I had gone through. I feel like I owe Dan so much because he was just somebody who is very understanding,

TFSR: There are a few things that I’m noting, in addition to the descriptions of you both talking about how Dan’s been someone who works to create space, who works to build skills in order to share them, those sound like some pretty fundamental parts of who he is, as a person. People would join the military for a lot of different reasons, in part, maybe because they want to further a career, get out of a bad situation, maybe some more nefarious perspectives that people can have sometimes joined the military, but to train up to be effectively a combat medic, or a medic in what could be deadly situations, is a great skill set, and then going on to continue to apply that by volunteering, to participate in the struggle against ISIS is another show that someone is applying this life-saving tool. And the fact that Dan was bringing it back and bringing it into these dangerous protest situations that the far-right and the police create more and more so as time goes on in the US, seems to say a lot about Dan’s character.

Eric: Yeah, at least from what I understand, whenever people come back from Rojava, often they’re briefed at the airport. And a lot of times, they’re just discouraged from getting involved in politics or activism or anything like that. But Dan was very committed to his beliefs and to social justice. And he is one of those rare individuals who are willing to go to prison or put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of protecting others. And I think that’s a fundamental part of his character.

TFSR: And so you all were finding some stability at the time when this raid happened. I mean, being housing unstable is not, sadly, a unique situation these days, but especially during the pandemic is a very difficult time, that must have been very emotionally, impactful, and frightening to have somebody bust through the door and throw a flashbang and suddenly hear FBI with guns drawn out of nowhere. That’s a traumatic experience.

Eric: Yeah, it’s was the last way I was expecting this trip to turn out, although we had a feeling something like this could happen because we had also been previously stuffed by the FBI in Seattle during the time we were there. They had just rolled up to us in a parking lot after this one shooting had happened to question us about things that they had seen online. He just told them that he had already made his public commentary on Twitter. And that was basically all he had to say about it. So they let us continue on. As far as I know, they’ve been observing him for as long as I can remember, I think he got back in like 2018. He said they’ve been pretty much observing him and I’ve seen him post about being stopped a few times already. So it seems like he’s been under regular surveillance for a long time.

TFSR: And y’all were up in Seattle, where he was doing medic work around the autonomous zone period, right? There were a few shootings I know of that it seems to make sense that he would be around when there’s some violence showing up, running towards the trouble in order to mitigate the harm that’s been caused, to help save lives.

Eric: Yeah, I had been stranded out of state when COVID happened and quarantine started, I was homeless at the time, I was staying in a shelter, and I just ended up getting some seasonal work, and then got the stimulus. I sold some paintings also. I was able to get this car. And we had both been following the Unicorn Riot and talking about how we wish we could be there and support. And once we got the ability to do so it made sense to just take a trip.

TFSR: What were the reasons that the FBI immediately gave for the arrest, if they gave any? What has the federal prosecution sent to the US attorney or whoever it is that’s conducting prosecution? What arguments are they giving as to why they thought it was necessary to bust into the apartment and arrest him?

Eric: I’m not even really sure about the justification for breaking in. The justification they’re using for the entire case is just them seeing some Facebook posts and some flyer going around. Apparently, he was indicted on two separate charges. But his public defender is saying that they generally only rule as one charge, if even that, so hopefully, it won’t be as bad as a maximum sentence.

TFSR: So the posts that appear to be the main source of the FBI’s argument were related to after January 6, after the right-wing riot that occurred at the National Capitol in DC. The far-right was claiming that it was calling for people to have similar actions taking over space, damaging property, threatening people at state capitols around the country. Is it correct to say that the posts that you’re talking about are one saying “We as community members need to show up and resist the violence of the far-right and what violence they might bring into our communities while they’re doing that”? Was that the nature of the posts on social media?

Eric: Yeah, allegedly it was a reaction to the situation. It’s not like he was taking some initiative to instigate or harass anybody or anything, it was due to these pressing events and these threads coming up, which a lot of us had been expecting for a long time, at least on some level. We were anticipating that we might not see a very peaceful transition of power. And especially after what we had seen in DC, it was reasonable to assume that something similar could happen at the state capitol as well, especially that the FBI themselves were circulating warnings about what could happen.

TFSR: I think there’s a fundamental difference between somebody going to another place, going to DC, for instance, to protest or to counter-protest, as opposed to saying, “Hey, there’s a very strong danger that militia or some other group or proud boys or whatever are going to be coming to our hometown and bringing some of the same violence that you’re seeing in this other place”. Just to go back, if Daniel is the person who will run towards danger, because he has built the skills and because he’s courageous enough to put himself on the line in order to act as a line of defense as well as to help people who are in harm’s way, it seems a little illogical that the FBI is making a point of attempting to prosecute this individual who was trying to mitigate harm.

Eric: The instinct is you want to give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe it is just a mistake or something. But I guess by now, there are so many of these cases.

Jack: I don’t necessarily hold the FBI in the highest faith. But then even just the whole thing where they pretended they were the Postmates delivery. What is the rationale for that, what did they gain by pretending they were the Postmates delivery service? One of the criminal complaints against Dan was that he said he was getting funded by George Soros. That he had an Antifa card from George Soros. Then they use that to try to prove that he’s this international “terrorist”. During the public hearing, the public defender asked the FBI agent, “Do you know who George Soros is”? And the FBI agent said, “No”. I laughed really hard, because what the fuck? I was even told to not laugh. And then the public defender said, “Do you really think Dan was getting funded by George Soros”? And then the FBI agent said, “Well, since I don’t know who that is, I’m not sure”. Either he’s really stupid and doesn’t know who George Soros is, or he is really bad at his job and doesn’t know who George Soros is and isn’t aware of the QAnon conspiracy that right-wing extremists ascribe to, or he was lying and playing dumb. Either of these options is not good, for why he doesn’t know who George Soros is. It’s like saying I don’t know who Bill Gates is.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s been coming out more and more, especially in the last few years, but this year, in particular, with BlueLeaks, the amount of information that’s being pumped into the intelligence infrastructure of the US from these fusion centers, that pulls in a lot of conspiracy theories, whether it be about Antifa lighting fires in the Pacific Northwest, or just similar things to that, that the FBI agents didn’t even necessarily need to know who George Soros is, although it does say a lot about their disconnection from popular culture and conspiracy theories. But it’s not surprising if there was pumping in of far-right conspiracy thinking and disinformation to the local FBI chapter. And then they decided to act out of that.

As you say, there’s a history of the FBI attacking anti-racist movements, particularly focusing on Black and brown activists, but also disrupting and incarcerating tons of activists who act in solidarity against white supremacy and against anti-Blackness. This administration has made a point of – as I said, it was during the last administration anyway – but they had the whole statement about the events in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017. I think that, especially after they had conducted extrajudicial killings of anti-fascist activists, if they were going to be going after and arresting people on the far-right who had participated in January 6, they probably had to pick up some people who would have been “opposition” to show that they’re not some deep-state, leftist Campbell Soup, whatever conspiracy group.

Jack: Yeah, DemocracyNow! had a really good interview with Benjamin Crump. And then they were talking about the new information that’s come up with Malcolm X, and he was saying that they’re now calling Black Lives Matter protesters “Black Identity Extremists”. Have you heard about that new terminology that’s being thrown around for arresting Black Lives Matter protesters?

TFSR: Yeah, they’ve been introducing that more and more since the Ferguson uprising. It makes sense for this not to come up in that conversation that Benjamin Crump was engaging, but they’ve also been using the term “anti-government extremists” to be able to lump in anarchist, anti-fascists & Black Liberation activists alongside white nationalists and Nazis. As opposed to focusing on white supremacists, they say, “Oh, well, the problem is not about the specific ideology. It’s about extremism, that’s extra-parliamentary where they’re going to go and do actions in the streets or attack people or whatever. We’re in a ‘post-racial society’. So we can say that, well, these people are extremists about whiteness. And these people are extremists about Blackness” as opposed to the centrist ideology that the US government is supposed to uphold. So yeah, Black identity extremists are being put on members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club or the Not Fucking Around Crew or the Black Women’s Defense League as armed groups for Black liberation. I disagree with the politics at least one of them does, but they have some sketchy views in terms of antisemitism, but this flattening of any opposition as being a threat to the Democrat and Republican parties basically. Sorry, that was ranty. I didn’t mean.

Jack: No, no, no.

Eric: If they can just pile up a whole bunch of Facebook posts and make the case out of that, that’s bad news for everybody.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely.

Jack: Some of the things in the FBI complaint literally made no sense. In the criminal complaint, they had that Dan had posted YouTube videos showing basic first aid. And we were just “Why is this in the criminal complaint?”. This is not illegal, this is not harmful. This is literally Dan trying to educate people on how to help each other, how to literally heal each other. That was bizarre. There were other things too, in the public hearing, they were trying to “prove” that Dan was a flight risk. And they pulled up Eric’s Facebook and found a status where he said, “Things aren’t looking great in the country, really want to get the fuck out”. And that was back in August. And then they were “They have plans”. And then our public defender was like “When Reagan was president, I said I wanted to get out of this country”. To pull up a post from four months ago, and then have somebody that says, “I want to GTFO [get the fuck out] from this country” and then say, “That’s proof of plans of a flight risk” is just… The number of people who said they wanted to go to Canada, now they’re all flight risks. It’s really grasping at straws at that point.

TFSR: I was gonna try to make some joke about how far of a stretch that was in yoga, but I couldn’t.

Jack: It was so appreciated either way. There’s so much about it. We’re aware that Dan is a white male. So he is somebody who wants to defend Black lives. And he essentially wants to use his privilege to defend Black lives. He’s the type of person to run towards the sound of gunshots, he is the type of person who wants to use his white privilege to protect Black and brown lives from white supremacists. I want to say that just because we’ve been drawing a lot of parallels between the Black Panther movement, Huey P. Newton and a lot of the examples that we’ve been giving describe the FBI involvement has been with Black leaders, Black civil rights leaders. Obviously, Dan is not Black, and it’s still very nuanced and different. But I think that the criminalization of leftist ideology, in general, is still a common thread for all of these movements.

Eric: One of the things that terrify them the most is these types of Rainbow-Coalition- style initiatives that grasp the attention of people from a vast spectrum of backgrounds.

TFSR: Currently, Dan Baker is sitting in a federal prison in Tallahassee. Have you been in contact with him? How are his conditions? How are his spirits?

Eric: I got a couple of phone calls. I got a call the last couple of weeks. And then maybe two-three days ago, I just got another whole bunch of letters that I think had been delayed in transit. It was probably over a dozen letters, some of them are things that he wanted to share about his condition in there and the way he’s holding up.

Jack: Actually, I stepped out to check the mail really fast while you guys were talking, but I realized that I had bought Dan a bunch of greeting cards to give him some color in his cell. And then I see that effective August 15, all incoming general correspondence envelopes, including greeting cards must be white in color only. So now I’m realizing that none of my letters have actually gotten to him. It’s been very difficult to actually communicate with him. He wasn’t able to make a phone call for weeks. And when his lawyers asked the warden about it, the warden said, “Talk to the prosecution”. When they talk to the prosecutors about it, they’re “You got to talk to the warden”. So they were giving the public defenders the runaround. We didn’t hear from Dan for several weeks, it was very stressful. And then the color of the envelope… They scan all of the letters in the first place and then send them copies of scanned letters. So I have no idea why the envelope would matter at all. Because they don’t even send them the envelope in the first place.

Eric: There are a couple of complaints that he sends. They’re inmate requests to staff, he’s just trying to get access to his funds and being able to communicate with everybody. Basically, he’s just trying to request information on how we can access those things and it took him a long time, maybe another few days at least, before he even figured out how to be able to access the funds that he had available. He was trying to get phone calls, he couldn’t even really get phone calls with his lawyers. A lot of times, they had him on a three-man hold. I think it’s the FDOE regulation. They’ll have three people hold them on a chain with a lieutenant there. Every time he has a phone call, or every time he meets with his attorneys…

Jack: He hasn’t been able to have a private conversation with his attorneys. He’s been in the detention center for a month and a half. And he hasn’t had been able to have one private conversation.

TFSR: Because there’s always simultaneously these other prisoners that are being…

Jack: There are these three armed guards with him at all times. And they’re trying to present him as if he’s this evil criminal.

Eric: “Antifa super-soldier”.

Jack: Yeah, antifa super-soldier, evil criminal mastermind. As Eric said, he’s won six gold medals. But that’s training within his level and his division, he’s a purple belt training against other purple belts in his weight class, not somebody who’s a Black belt training against all these other Black belts. He is very skilled, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not a ninja.

TFSR: Are they afraid he’s gonna attack his lawyer? They put him into a room with his lawyer, what’s the possible danger except for extracting him from the room afterwards?

And a quick content warning, the next section has a reference to sexual assault. So if you’re concerned, I would skip ahead about two minutes.

Jack: I think they just really don’t want him to be able to have a private conversation with his lawyer. There have been so many sketchy things about this whole thing. The fact that he wasn’t able to make a phone call mysteriously.

Eric: Yeah, we had been trying to make phone calls for two weeks or so before anyone was able to get through and even got in contact with his counselor. And he just hung up on us, we had to pay subscriptions even just to register a phone number in the system. Even then, I think they initially put him in solitary. They were saying it was for a quarantine measure, 14 days of solitary confinement. But then others were saying it was because they thought he was gonna start an uprising or something. Also, I think after he had spent some time in there, he was saying it would be preferable to go out into the general population because he was just a concern for his own safety.

Jack: One of the things that he wrote in his letter is that somebody was raped with a broomstick handle. When you think about the conditions of jail/prison or anything, it’s a place that breeds hostility environment, and the guards encourage it. That was in one of his recent letters is there is a person who is struggling with some mental issue, and the guards are saying that he’s faking it and encouraging the other prisoners to bully him and antagonize him and hurt him. Dan is not sure what to make of it, except that he realizes that somebody is being bullied and intimidated and harassed. And the guards are encouraging this behavior amongst the inmates.

Eric: I just got a couple of these letters from him over the last couple of days, the most recent ones were marked “urgent”, he was concerned because he was rotating his cell. And apparently, when he got into the new cell, it was covered in feces, and there’s blood in the sink and someone used the toothbrush in there or something. He wasn’t sure if somebody was going after him or trying to intimidate him, or what the situation was, but it was extremely unsanitary. He’s not given access to even antibacterial soap or anything like that. Apparently, it was another inmate who is suffering from some mental illness and he’s done this also in other cells. So it doesn’t seem like anyone is targeting him specifically. I think he has gotten threats from other people that he’s mentioned, but I was just discussing this with his attorney the other day, and some of these things are probably pretty common in a lot of these institutions. It’s hard to even tell exactly what action to take short of abolishing them.

TFSR: Can you tell me about the support crew a little bit like how you mentioned like you two are some of the most active people in it? What infrastructure have you been building or how’s it been trying to talk about the case? There’s been a few pretty good articles that I’ve seen online and Jack, you mentioned writing a bunch of op-eds. How’s that work going?

Jack: I think the way that it started is some of our Black community activists, Black leaders, actually reached out to us about trying to support Dan. And they recognized what Dan was trying to do and appreciated that he was trying to fight against white supremacy. Then we grew it to include some more of the different prison solidarity groups across the state, across the nation, actually. We have some people from Philadelphia, New York, Indiana, and then we also have people who are with the Rojava Solidarity Network, they just all reached out. And we were really grateful to have this solidarity. We just talk about different news articles that come out. I appreciate everyone’s perspective, like I said, it’s been really helpful to have Black activists give feedback because this is something we want to be very mindful of.

Eric: So it’s been important, this whole trip to defer to Black leadership.

Jack: Yeah, Black leadership and local leadership, especially since we’re talking about protecting Black and brown lives, we wanted the perspective of Black and brown leaders in the community.

TFSR: I know that during a past interview with Coffee with Comrades, Eric, you talked about using your existing artwork as a platform to talk about Daniel’s case. Is that still ongoing?

Eric: Yeah. Basically, Dan and I had started that project. We would live paint in public spaces. We started a page called the Guerilla Gallery. It’s a common thing that a lot of artists do, a pop-up exhibition. I revived that page because I hadn’t really had it running before. So I decided to dedicate it as an info hub for his case and to use it for future prison solidarity projects. Anyone is welcome to check that out if you want to keep up with it. It’s on Instagram, Guerilla Gallery TLH, it is in Tallahassee. So I’ve been tried to post the relevant addresses mailing addresses, and some of the guidelines for sending mail, any relevant articles, I’ll probably post this article. And then once it comes up, and it’s just like a place where I can, at least until we get a website going, we’ve just been using that. We do have a website in the works. But we got shut down by GoFundMe pretty early on. So we’ve been working with some other groups set up like an independent fundraiser. So hopefully that’ll be online shortly at that one hearing scheduled for I think it was last Monday, it was supposed to be a state case, a hearing for an arraignment for whether he gets to keep his firearms. But instead, they took him before a grand jury and tried him with I think it was just the prosecutor there. And so they ended up getting him with two charges, instead of just the original one, even though the public defender doesn’t think it’ll stick, but his state case is still coming up as to whether he gets to keep his firearms. So I was just able to hire a lawyer just the other day to assist with that case and represent him because I feel like that’s important if they’re also trying to take firearms away from people that they’re harassing in this way.

TFSR: Yeah, particularly people that haven’t been convicted of a crime. One thing about Florida is that Florida is the cousin to the rest of the US South where they give you guns or shove them into your hand when you’re an infant. That’s not fair and not true. But it’s just difficult to consider the idea that the state of Florida is looking to deny someone the right to bear arms when they have “served the country”, and also when they haven’t been charged with actually conducting any violent criminal act, let alone when conducting of criminal acts in which a gun is a part of that.

Jack: The whole thing is bizarre. Exactly like what you’re saying that he hasn’t actually been convicted of anything and they’re already trying to make this decision.

Eric: If we can do some art exhibition pretty soon to draw attention to this, it’ll also show up some of the systemic issues of how these types of laws can be used to take away people’s voting rights, their ability to protect themselves. And there’s just like so much wrapped up in it.

Jack: Also the absurdity of having social media posts be criminalized that were obviously jokes. Another one of the things of the criminal complaint was that Dan had pictures or posts about eating the rich, and these are fucking memes, this is absurd that they’re including “eat the rich” memes as part of a case against him to say that he’s a threat to society.

TFSR: I’m just looking at the statement, the press release from the Northern District of Florida US Attorney’s office right now. It is saying two counts of transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure. So this is one of those instances again, also not only is that, but they’re out of context social media posts, that it’s not even actionable if it doesn’t post some recipe about how to prepare the rich for consumption. But they tack on the interstate commerce because it’s being done over the internet, even though this is about stopping a far-right incursion or attempt to putsch against the government in the town that you live in. The fact that there are communications about how we need to resist violent actors coming in and causing violence upon ourselves and further reducing whatever “democratic government” there is in the world. They’re saying that it’s now a federal charge because it’s over the internet. It’s so ridiculous. Some pretty decent coverage, there was an article on Jacobin that came out in January…

Jack: I think the Jacobin article by Branko Marcetic is probably my favorite of the articles that have come out so far. I encourage everyone who’s listening to read that one specifically. Because I feel like that really captures the absurdity of the case.

TFSR: And I was surprised too, there’s also a pretty decent article “Coming from Prison”, which is a libertarian…

Eric: Yeah, I saw that too. I was about to post that one up the other day.

Jack: Okay, I actually haven’t seen that one yet.

Eric: I was surprised about that, too, to be honest.

TFSR: It’s making some pretty cogent arguments in a legalistic framework of the government attempting to suppress the right to bear arms based on the political speech of an individual. And it probably doesn’t hurt that again, he’s a white dude.

Jack: I’ll definitely have to read on that one.

Eric: It’s easier for the prosecution to go after Dan Baker than it is for them to prosecute Donald Trump.

TFSR: So another coverage’s come up and hopefully there’ll be more, but this situation reminds me of the case of Loren Reed, he’s Diné man in Arizona facing 10 years in federal prison for joking comments in a private Facebook chat during the uprising. Does there seem to be a trend in this application of speech on social media platforms like Facebook being taken out of context and used to criminalize people on the left? I don’t know if any other cases remind you of this thing or if you have other thoughts on that?

Jack: I mean, I would say, absolutely, there is this pattern of taking jokes, taking private messages, I think in the case of Lauren Reed, they’re really trying to slam this arson charge, which, for what I remember reading in the Al Jazeera article about it, it was born out of the Civil Rights Movement as a way of penalizing civil rights activists and these federal charges are almost exclusively used to punish civil rights activists, but I definitely see that there is this pattern. I can’t think of any other cases right now.

Eric: They have these laws ready await, they will pass them under the pretense of preparing to protect against right-wing violence. And then once the public focus dwindles, they’ll use it against leftists as soon as they get an opportunity. There were some other examples listed in that Al Jazeera article, there was Evan Ellis. I think he was a BLM organizer in Evansville, who got a two years probation and psychiatric evaluation and got three counts of felony intimidation for posting a little clip on Facebook of him making a gun gesture.

Jack: Oh, wow.

Eric: He was talking about allegedly some officials or something like that, I don’t know, some policies that he didn’t like. There was a Samuel Amara also. He was charged allegedly for threatening a racist counter-protester. He could get up to five years. Those are felony arson laws that were invoked against Standing Rock protesters that Jack was referring to. There’s also a recent case here in Tallahassee, do where Baker County is? I think it’s somewhat close by to Tallahassee, but there’s another local activist named Kevin Connor, who was arrested recently. They’re trying to present it as if he was acting inappropriately with minors or something like that. He was just an organizer who was helping students, he was invited to speak to them about how they could organize in their schools and their campuses.

Jack: Even just as far as a local example is in Tallahassee, 19 people were arrested for protesting on the sidewalk. And they tried to slam some of them with felony charges. One still has felony charges, which haven’t been dropped. In Tallahassee, we had a man driving a truck through the crowd, no charges were pressed against him because he said he feared for his life. And we had a guy who actually pulled out a gun and pointed it at protesters. And he also had no charges because he said he feared for his life. So this is a counter-protester, just some white dude. But you just have a rainbow coalition of Black and brown and white activists fighting for Black Lives Matter protesting on a sidewalk and a 19-year old get arrested.

It’s just the laws are not equally distributed at all. In Florida, there’s this anti-protest bill. And they’re saying that it’s going to be DeSantis, the governor introduced it during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations, it got a lot of backlash. And then he reintroduced it after the events that unfolded at the Capitol on January 6. And he’s saying that as to fight extremism. But the way that some of the speakers at the most recent protests explained it is there are already laws against rioting, there’s already laws against looting. And what these anti-protest laws, these felony charges do is make it more expensive, and keep making the sentences longer for anybody who breaks those laws. And then they are unequally distributed and used primarily against left-wing activists, but most recently, they’re coming out of this idea that it’s to stop right-wing extremists.

Eric: Recently, some courts have ruled that portions of the Federal Riot Act are unconstitutional. So even people who encourage or promote riots are legally free speech currently.

TFSR: I didn’t know about that. I’m looking forward to reading up on that after this. These are really good examples that you’re bringing up that I don’t know about. So I’m gonna do a little research and link some articles.

Jack: It’s also called the Anti-Protest Bill, if you look up Florida anti-protest bill, but the thing is 26 states have introduced bills like this since what happened on January 6, and what’s being introduced in Florida isn’t even the worst one, there are some that are actually trying to make it so that it is a 30-year prison time felony charge for organizing a protest. And then the way that DeSantis bill is defining a protest is a group of nine or more people blocking traffic at an intersection, which would include every demonstration that the Black Lives Matter protest had. And it also tries to make it so that there is no option for bail for people who are arrested for these protests, charges that try to make them felonies, which, in addition to stripping people of the right to vote, also makes that they can’t work state or federal jobs. The way that felony charges are used against people in Florida is just really disastrous. Many bills like this have sprung up in over half the country as a result of what happened on January 6, but they’re going to be disproportionately used against leftist activists versus the right-wing extremists that they’re claimed to have started from. Oh, actually, Eric just pulled up a good infographic.

Eric: Also the bill protects anyone who does bodily harm to protesters. So they’re already willing to make allowances to protect property. But if anyone tries to protect another person, that’s terrorism. Really, what he was doing is counter-terrorism. But If they admit that, then they’ll have to admit that Trump is a terrorist. And he appointed that. But also damaging a statue can be punishable for up to 15 years. And it also allows the state to override any municipality that wants to decrease police budgets.

Jack: Yeah. So the way that they have it is if a municipality votes to decrease their own police budget, it has to be approved by DeSantis, in order to defund the police, which when you think about it, there’s this whole argument about states rights and civil rights and local rights, and then suddenly, no, just kidding, we have a dictatorship where we have one person that gets to decide this decision for everybody. If there is a protest, and if damage happens, the state of Florida can sue the municipality for not adequately supplying their police officers. So if anything is damaged, they can say that the city needs to increase its police force. It’s a very problematic bill. And it’s not even the worst one that’s out there.

TFSR: If January 20 popped off the way that it was threatened to, for instance, and if this had passed, then police standing by and letting right-wingers go and do whatever they were going to do could be a reason for the police to just get more funding.

Eric: And in a sense, the real coup is just them seizing control of or trying to ram through all this anti-protest legislation. And ramping up all these surveillance programs.

TFSR: It’s not really a coup if they’re already in control, though, right?

Eric: Yeah.

Jack: Yeah. I wish I could find more specific info about that last bit that I was saying, I’ll have to look it up later.

Eric: Well, there’s also the federal level measures that are also being passed by Biden and Pelosi, as far as I know.

Jack: Patriot Act Two.

TFSR: Yeah. Aren’t we on number three by now? Yeah, definitely. All the security state discussion is in discourses, at least a lot of people are recognizing it for what it is that it’s just using whatever political capital they were able to… I’m sure that some individuals and employees were quite frightened on the 6th when the windows were getting smashed and people were coming in and fighting the cops and everything. And that sucks for cleaners or employees or whoever was working up there. But the fact that January 6 has been framed as another September 11. It is just so ridiculous, par for the course.

Eric: It doesn’t address the fact that the only reason they’re able to get in there is because all the cops and military were complicit and politicians.

TFSR: As far as supporting Daniel, how can people find out more about the case? How can they support the work that the crew is doing? How can they support him personally?

Eric: So far, it seems like his attorneys are doing a good job, they’re really well-known here in the community. I think they’ve also worked with other activists, so we lucked out in that regard. We’re focusing right now on letter-writing as much as possible. All of his information is on the @GuerillaGalleryTLH Instagram.

Jack: I also want to emphasize, as far as letter-writing is that the paper must be white in color, envelopes must be white in color. And they can only use blue or Black ink, it makes no sense because like I said, they scan the letters anyway.

Eric: There are screenshots of the guidelines and on there as well. And some links to the website with more information.

TFSR: Well, Eric and Jack, thank you so much for this conversation. Get at me with some of those links and I’ll definitely include them in the show notes about related cases. That’s a lot to think about and I really appreciate the research that y’all are doing. And the support work that you’re doing for Daniel, it’s super important even beyond him as your friend, as you said, these tools that are being turned on him are ones that are often turned on other people and are in danger of being used against all of us.

Eric: He’s so upset about his situation right now. He said he’s about to start a vow of silence, except for his allies. So I still have to find out if he’s following through with that, but it’s really crucial that he gets letters and that he just feels supported and that people are following his case and watching his case so at least that he’ll be less likely to suffer some abuse or something while he’s in there, at least they can be held to account for already what he’s been experiencing in there.

TFSR: To reiterate, as has been said, a lot of times on this show and in other discussions around supporting prisoners, sending letters to a prisoner is not just a kind act or a way of making a friend, but it literally is a measure in prisons of how much support or how many people are paying attention on the outside. And it literally means that not only Daniel, but the people that are around Daniel, for guards or administration to fuck with them, they have to know at that point, that all these people are, who are on the outside are going to have concerned about this, is it worth me messing with this guy, or the people around him if these many people are going to make a ruckus on the outside?

Eric: That’s what I’m really trying to focus on right now is creating some situation for him to be able to reenter, potentially even maybe in a better situation than he started. And just now that people have a better idea of who he is and what he stands for I hope that more people in the community will come together. And I’m trying to get him set up maybe with some platform to continue his yoga and jujitsu training and groups, and I’m hoping, you can hit the ground running when he gets out. And we can hopefully leverage this network to create some opportunities for him as well.

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

Eric: Coming to that place is serious, it’s a class war against all of us, we’re all potentially at risk here. So, I feel like everyone needs to show solidarity in their different communities to connect where they can and then to unify whatever groups are able to get together because that’s the only way that anyone will be able to protect themselves or each other.

“If You Want To Fight Fascism, You Cannot Rely On The State”: Sonja on NSU-Watch and Autonomous Anti-Fascist Research

Sonja on NSU-Watch and Autonomous Anti-Fascist Research

A banner reading "nsu morden | der staat macht mit | der NSU war nicht zu dritt", or "Nazis murder | the state participates | the NSU was more than 3 people"
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This week on the show, we share an interview with Sonja, an antifascist activist and researcher based in the state of Hessen, Germany, and involved in the network known as NSU-Watch. For the hour, we talk about the case of the National Socialist Underground terror group which killed 9 immigrants of Turkish, Greek and Kurdish immigrants between 2000 and 2006 and were only discovered in 2011. Sonja tells about organizing with those who lost their loved ones in the attacks, the uncovering of government knowledge of the networks that produced the NSU and the milieu and international nazi scene it arose from, autonomous antifascist research.

We then speak about the ongoing case of Franco Albrecht, the former German military officer who is presumed to have been planning a false flag attack to draw ire to immigrant communities in Germany, as well as the network of military and police involved in the coordinated “Day X” plot to overthrow the German state. In some ways this interview was meant as a corrective to the New York Times podcast entitled Day X, one which de-centers state agency, opacity and collusion in the plot.

Many thanks to the comrade at Anarchistisches Radio Berlin for support in researching this interview!

You can find more about NSU-Watch’s work at NSU-Watch.info/en/ or follow them on Twitter (@NSUWatch) and Instagram (@NSUWatch). More links in our show notes

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with whatever name, gender pronouns, location, political or group affiliations that you’d like the audience to know?

Sonja: Well, hello, I’m Sonja and a part of NSU watch. I will tell you about the organization, and what we’re doing later. I’m doing antifascist politics and research since around about 15 years, and I’m located in a very small town in the middle of Germany, in the State of Hessen.

TFSR: Thanks a lot for being here. I really appreciate you taking the time to work with me on this conversation. So, first up for the international audience, would you lay out the known circumstances around the NSU that sparked the creation of NSU watch?

Sonja: Yeah, I will gladly. Thanks for inviting me, I want to say as well. So in November 2011, two men killed themselves after a bank robbery gone wrong in a small town in Eastern Germany. Their RV, they set it on fire after they shot themselves. And in this RV, a weapon was discovered a Ceska that was linked to a series of murders taking place between 2000 – 2006. And at the same time as the RV was set on fire, a flat in another Eastern German town was set on fire as well. It was the cover up flat of the third member of the core group called Beate Zschäpe was set on trial afterwards. And after she set the flat on fire, she got undercover and sent out a CD to different addresses all over Germany, before she turned herself into the police. And on the CD was a video with the famous cartoon figure of Pink Panther, making fun of all the victims and reading through the murder series.

And so this day, the 4th of November of 2011, was at the same time, it was a shock all over Germany, and especially for the victims families. And also it was a relief, because the families, they were told that they were wrong considering the murder of the family members were racist attacks. So at this day, we found out that there was a Neo-Nazi terror cell, killing nine migrants and one police woman for a series of 13 years or something… being active that time. It was a shock to all of us in the antifascist scene and the anti racist scene, seeing that what we feared always was right, and having the clarity about that this is possible in Germany.

TFSR: So NSU, or National Socialism Underground, kind of considered itself in some ways, continuing the trajectory of Nazi heritage, I guess? And the same sort of goals as far as we can tell.

Sonja: Yeah, they did. They were Nazi group that was founded in a big circle of people in East Germany in the 1990s. They were politically socialized in a very racist time. That was shortly after the German reunification. Yeah, it was a very racist time in Germany with a lot of attacks. And also, the State being very worried about the losers of the reunification and was putting in a lot of money at that time in youth clubs and youth work, which created a safe space for Nazis in Germany. Because there wasn’t the thinking about institutional racism, structural racism, or racism at all in Germany at that time. And so they put in a lot of money to create a very nice and comforting space for the Neo-Nazi youth groups. And that was a time the NSU founded itself. It was also based in the Blood and Honor Network, and also very deeply connected to the Hammerskin Network as we found out recently. They were racists who saw themselves in the tradition of other Neo-Nazi terror groups like the Order. They read a lot of the common texts in the Neo-Nazi scene like *The Turner Diaries*, or the novel, *The Hunter*. Yeah, being part of the music scene in Germany, the Nazi music scene in Germany, being very deeply based in a nationwide network of Nazi groups.

TFSR: What I understand is that, so with the reunification, at least East Germany, which was a satellite State of the Soviet Union, had an outward program of de-Nazification of the area that the Soviet allied government operated in, in the eastern part of the country. But I’ve also heard that there’s a lot of xenophobia in that part of the country and a lot of the Nazi movement maybe had a foothold there. Can you talk a little bit about maybe what the soil was like at that point, and why there was such a rise in Neo-Nazism if it was just international, like the Blood and Honor stuff from the UK or the Hammerskins which started in Texas in the USA. It seems like they couldn’t have sparked homegrown Neo-Nazi revival in Germany, right?

Sonja: Well, in the eastern German States, they had like an antifascist understanding of the State itself. So fascism couldn’t happen in that State. It was forbidden to happen. So it did not happen. And so of course, there was a lot of xenophobia, there was a lot of racist attacks. And there were a lot of groups of young people, not very organized, very spread out over the country. And we have a term for that. It’s called the baseball bat years. Because there was so much street violence in that years. And if we look to Western Germany, there were the organized groups of that time, there was a very structured far-right scene. And when the reunification was done, a lot of the Western German groups went over there and organized the very spread out with Neo-Nazi scene in Eastern Germany.

So it got together very well. And also in Western Germany, in the years after, a big wave of racism connected to the new nationalism rising up to the reunification. And the State reacted like it always does in Germany: it gives props to the far-right. The asylum laws get restricted. People who were affected by the Neo-Nazi violence didn’t get help. And they try to get the Lost Souls back in some way. Like they thought the reunification was a very deep economical crisis for most people in Eastern Germany. So they put in their State for taking care of the Jews and stuff. It was kind of a pampering for the Neo-Nazi movement. That is the same reaction we had in 2015. The far-right, rises, it protests, it takes marches… and then the politicians they give props to that and take away rights from the asylum seekers, for example, or the migrants.

TFSR: So can you tell us a bit about NSU watch and what you all do what Apabiz is, and A.I.D.A? And why do you feel that an autonomous research and recording process without strings tying you to the government is necessary.

Sonja: A couple of weeks ago, a very famous German antifascist and communists Esther Bejarano died. She was a Holocaust survivor. She was a member of the music group in Auschwitz. And she put her life to fighting fascism in Germany. And she said “if you want to fight fascism in Germany, if you want to fight Neo-Nazis in Germany, you cannot rely on the State.” And that is really something we take at heart. I said the fourth of November 2011, was a big shock to all of us, because we have these very old antifascist research structures in Germany, like I have colleagues doing that for 30 years, 35 years now, collecting every bits and pieces of the Neo-Nazi movement, trying to get as much information as possible to do background checks and to put attacks that happen in the background.

So when this happens when the when the NSU discovered itself, we have got to say, because nobody, not the police, not the authorities discovered them. So when they discovered themselves, it was a big shock for us, that’s all we feared, was actually true. Like, if you read the antifascist newspapers we put out for decades now… there was always a warning about weapons and about Neo-Nazis, discussing theories, papers, and concepts. So it was a bitter pill to swallow that we were right all this time, and that we didn’t see it happen, actually.

It was also a shock to see how racist we are as antifascists, because we didn’t listen to the families, the families of the NSU murder cases. They always said it must be Neo-Nazis. There can’t be any other explanation because the authorities there always said “Well, there’s something about Turkish mafia or Kurdish Turkish conflicts or something, it must be in their culture.” Actually, there was a quote in a police file that said “No one of Germans cultural heritage could do this kind of murder: shooting in the face, shooting in the head. This isn’t like German at all. So it must be some foreign culture doing that.” So, and the families that were talking about it, they put on rallies to get the public interest. And we didn’t really listen to them. We didn’t check the media. They wrote about it as Döner killer, Kebap killers. And we didn’t realize how racist that was. We didn’t listen to the families.

And so it was a big shock moment for us that changed a lot of our politics. Like really looking into our own racism, our own focus on looking at the Neo-Nazis and not looking at the victims that close. And so it did a big switch for us in our politics, like we have got to work together with the families, we have to listen to them! They have a lot of information, a lot of knowledge that we need to recognize, and that we need to consider. We just can’t as white German antifascists look at other white Germans, the Neo-Nazi scene, without considering the racism we all grew up in that is all part of our society.

And so after the discovering of the NSU core trio. We said we need to change something. And that’s why we founded NSU Watch as a network of old antifascist structures, of people doing the work for lots and lots of time, to put all the pieces together because the murders that took place all over Germany, mostly Western Germany, But there was murders in Munich, in Nürnberg, there was an attack in Köln, there was a murder in Hamburg, there was a murder in Dortmund, in Kassel, and so on.

And so we gathered all the groups, the local groups and founded the network so we can get the information together to kind of get to the bottom of all of this. Because that was pretty clear at the beginning that it couldn’t be just the three: the two dead men and the other who was put on trial, there must be a bigger network. And afterwards, there were five people on trial besides Beate Zschäpe, but there couldn’t be the network as well. Like, the biggest question of the families is “why did the murderers pick my father? My son? My relative?” And so in general, it’s very clear that it was for racist reasons. But in specific, like, who pointed out that internet cafe? That shop? That flower selling stand? And so it was very clear that then there was always a local helping structure for the Nazi terrorists.

And so, we came together to gather all the information we have, and we have very old research structures in Germany, and one of them is the Apabiz. It is an archive, an antifascist archive collecting all printings of Neo-Nazi scene in Germany. They have a very big collection of all fanzines, of all newspapers, articles, a lot of information gathered from the local groups. The antifascist movement, (of course) in Germany, organized in autonomous groups all over Germany collecting all their local informations. And we don’t have a central station for putting it somewhere. But in the archives, we have a couple of them like Apabiz in Berlin and A.I.D.A. Archive in Munich. And we have a have a couple of others. They are the antifascist structures to collect the knowledge of the generations of local people doing the research.

And so with NSU Watch, we try to gather all the forces and gather all the informations to deal with that kind of work. Because also, not only the murders took place all over Germany, also the investigations took place all over Germany. We had different parliamentary inquiries in all the different States. We had one in the Bundestag, we had the trial in Munich. And so with all this, these different locations of investigation, it was very hard to stay in focus and to get all the puzzle pieces. And for example, we found in the north there was a parliamentary inquiry and they look very deep into the Combat 18 structure there. But the Bundestag trial did not, and also the trial in Munich did not. So we had our people everywhere monitoring the inquiries, monitoring the trial to get all the puzzle pieces together. Because we didn’t know when something would make sense. Like where to put the puzzle pieces, we still have a bunch of them we can’t connect to anything.

And so for me, it’s also… there is no bottom line in the NSU complex. It’s a topic I will deal with… I think… my whole antifascist political life. Because we don’t know when somebody will talk, when somebody will give up information. And so we don’t even get close to the truth in that. And to deal with that kind of perspective in this kind of work, it was necessary to found a network that could get more connected with all the people all over Germany. And so this is what we did, NSU Watch.

TFSR: This is kind of a side note, it’s sad, but also really inspiring that you can lean on these multi generational centers of research that build from a longer movement memory. I mean it’s sad that people are still having to do this work and have these conversations, but it’s pretty amazing that people have put in the work to see this through. It makes me think of things that have heard about the autonomous movements coming out of the 70s. And having a long memory of like things that their parents or local cops or whatever did during the war era, or before the war, or whatever, and recognizing the continuation of a lot of those structures, because the same people in a lot of cases had gone about their lives. And I could sort of think of like a parallel here with the anti imperialist stuff from the 60s and groups like the John Brown anti-Klan committee, and how that sort of fed into the start of Anti Racist Action and other movements here.

Sonja: Yeah, it’s also it’s also a sign of our marginal perspective. Like, in the last couple of years we have academic research about right-wing terrorism. But otherwise in Germany, we don’t have a collective memory of that. We come from a fascist society. We are a post fascist society. Of course, in the 50s, very directly, there were Neo-Nazi terror groups. But in Germany, we just have this memory of left-wing terrorism of the RAF. And so we always have to collect our own information to get our own analysis, because there was never a State or society to back us up.

TFSR: So you mentioned that the folks that went on to form NSU Watch, had realized that they hadn’t listened to the voices of the families of the victims of NSU violence about what they thought was really at the heart of the deaths of their loved ones. How does NSU Watch continue to reflect and engage with survivors and community members and loved ones of those who were killed by NSU violence?

Sonja: Most of the families, they founded their own groups, or there were groups founded to support the families in their fight of memory. Because this is always something the German State wants to get into. They want the remembering of the victims in a polite way. Not not an angry way. Not a political way. And so there are a lot of groups dealing with the struggle around the memory, and how to how to memorialize the victims. And we as NSU Watch… we do support all the groups, all the families that we can.

Something else we did was we work closely with their attorneys for the trial and gave up all our information we could gather. In the first years, we had very intense meetings, looking into every name we found in the complex, looking into every document we could get in our hands. And so we put that all together and gave it to the attorneys of the families to back them up and to give them information besides the State. Because the State was never really interested in researching the network.

Well, the first thing is that we acknowledge our own racism and that we take it in consideration. We learn that for future cases. Now if someone is murdered and the family says “Well, I think this was a racist attack.” We write that and try to support and try to get good journalists to write the true stories. We get in contact with the families and try to support them there.

And also, we did all this monitoring work. We monitored every day of the five year trial in Munich and wrote a report about every day in the trial. We also translated that to Turkish and we did the same with some of the parliamentary inquiries. For example, here in the State of Hessen, where I live and my where my local NSU watch group is, we had this parliamentary inquiry where the family was invited last in the very last session of the inquiry. Which was quite offensive at that point. And to give them an opportunity to follow what’s happening there around the cases of their loved ones, we gather this information and put it out for the public, also translated in Turkish.

And so we see ourselves as one movement now. Which is different. Before, we had this division between antifascists and antiracism activists. There was always kind of an overlapping. But now we’re one movement. We see ourselves as one movement with all struggles, it gets with us. But we were very open to critique around racism to our own structures. I think that’s a very, very good thing coming out of that.

We had these hard, really difficult, racist attacks in 2020. We had the murders in Hanau, which is very close to my hometown, where a racist shot nine people. And yet, there it was shown that this new understanding of what antifascist research is for, and what it’s about, really works great together. Because we could support the families in their struggle, and they get the grip on it. Like they don’t stop asking questions. They don’t stop putting public pressure on the politicians dealing with that case. And I think that was a hard learning process for us. Because before, of course, we thought we were the good ones because we’re fighting Nazis. But it was also a very clear process of seeing how much racism is deeply written into our society and what we have to get rid of and what what we have to unlearn to make a difference. And I think we’re on a good way to that now.

TFSR: That’s really good to hear. That’s definitely a critique that I hear in the US that seems pretty well founded. That a lot of like, people that aren’t directly or as directly affected by fascist violence jump in to be sort of saviors. But don’t listen to the people that are most directly affected or work with them to create victim informed ways of organizing. So that’s cool.

Sonja: Yeah. And also like as white antifascists in Germany, we are also victims of Neo-Nazi attacks. Like if it wasn’t personal.. it was always friends of us. I talked about the baseball bat years. It was against punks and leftists as well as it was against POCs and Black people in Germany. And so we came to the conclusion that as victims of Neo-Nazi violence, we’re not all the same. We don’t live the same lives. We don’t have the same values. But we’re all on force put together in this victim group. And we got to deal with that. And we have to support each other in that.

TFSR: A common experience is that a world without Nazis would be better for all of you. So, there was a trial that ended in 2018, releasing the living member of the assumed core of the NSU, Zschäpe, to Nazi cheers. The case uncovered (among other things) that the group had operated for 13 years all over Germany, as you had said, killing and injuring nearly a dozen people. And that there had been cover ups by different levels of the German government. To name a couple of these cover ups: One the destruction of files by employees of the Federal Office of the Protection of the Constitution. And the witnessing of a 2006 NSU murder by a Hessian police officer for the protection of the Constitution, as a second example. Can you talk about the office for the protection of the Constitution, something about the State links in the NSU case? And, again, to reiterate why it is so important that independent archives are doing this investigation, and the State doesn’t just watch itself.

Sonja: During the discovery, our investigations in the NSU complex, we came to the conclusion that the State is plays a very big role in all of it. The Secret Service… how did you translate it?

TFSR: Federal Office of the Protection of the Constitution? What would you call it?

Sonja: The German word is Verfassungsschutz, which is quite a wordy translation for that. And yeah, it’s a Secret Service. Basically, it’s the Secret Service for inner affairs. So the Department of the Protection of the Constitution, which is called itself. I think it’s a very euphoric name they gave themselves. They had the idea that they could control the Neo-Nazi movement. And they did that with getting informants at the most high levels in these organizations. For example, a very high member of the Blood and Honor movement in Saxonia was an informant for the State. So their main resource for information about the Neo-Nazis scene comes from informants, Neo-Nazis, active Neo-Nazis. They were paid for giving up the information.

And there’s different ways of the Neo-Nazi scene in Germany to deal with that. Some do it in secret. Some do it openly to their comrades and say “Well, we get the money from the State, and we can put it back in the movement.” And there were lots and lots of informants undiscovered in the NSU complex. And there were informants very close to the core trio. There were informants involved in getting papers for them to live underground. And we came to the conclusion that the State knew a lot about the weapons in the Nazi scene. A lot about their goals. A lot about their doings. So it wasn’t a problem of a lack of information. It is the problem that the Secret Service in Germany collects the information to have it and to keep the idea of that they can control it.

The difference is the Neo-Nazi scene in Germany, they rather don’t want to attack the State itself. They’re feeling very close to the State. They want to take over the State. They want to make it more authoritarian. They don’t want to abolish the State. So the working process of the Secret Service doesn’t really get to the victims of the Nazi scene, because the victims are the others, the migrants, the POC’s, the black people in Germany, the leftits, the communists, the disabled people, homeless people, queer people… definitely queer people. And so the Secret Service in Germany is not there to protect the people, but to protect the State.

The Germany Neo-Nazi scene which is very driven forward by this Day X ideology, we will talk about later, I think. So they never get to the point where they want to attack or abolish the State, they get to the point where they kill all of the people that don’t fit in their view of the world. And so, we came to the conclusion that there is a very deep problem in the understanding of right-wing terrorism, because right-wing terrorism doesn’t want to abolish the State, it wants to create a Civil war. It wants to create gaps and widen gaps that are already there in the society. And because there’s no collective memory, no collective understanding of right-wing terrorism in Germany.

We have this theory, what the politics in extremism are based on, we call it the Horseshoe theory. It’s like you imagine a horseshoe, and you have the left end and the right ends, and they’re kind of the same… and they’re kind of the same danger. And in the middle of the horseshoe you have the good middle of the people. And the idea is that the democracy is threatened by the Left and the right-wing extremists, and they have to protect the good middle. This is a theory which comes from the Weimar Republic before, before the National Socialist State. The idea was not that the conservatives or the bourgeoisie put the Nazis into power, but to have this conflict between Right and Left. And that put the democracy into danger. And this is a theory which also continues until today.

So there wasn’t a particular understanding of how right-wing terrorism works. There was always a comparison to Leftwing terrorism. Like they said “Oh, we couldn’t know that was terrorist attack, because there weren’t any letters.” No communiques about it. And so they said, “Oh, well, we couldn’t see that it was terrorism.” And so there was always this necessity for us as antifascists to point out “what are the basic structures of right-wing terrorism? How does it work? What are its goals? What are its methods?” Because we could never rely on that. And so when the NSU discovered itself in 2011, the first thing the Secret Service did was destroy files with information about informants in the direct surrounding of the trio.

And it continued, like the parliamentary inquiries, they had problems getting the files from Secret Service. The trial in Munich, they didn’t want to ask questions about the network. They didn’t want to know about involvements around. And so it was basically us and a few Parliamentitions from the Leftwing parties who had interest in getting into it. And it goes further. Like the informants in the Neo-Nazi scene, they can commit crimes in a certain way, and don’t get punished in a trial. Because they are informants, they get protection from the State. So they can do like propaganda verdicts, or in cases of assault, they can do it to stay in their role as Neo-Nazis. So the the thinking is to be an informant, you still have to be involved in the movement. And so you have to do what the movement does. And you get protection for doing that if you’re an informant.

So there was always the knowledge about it, but we didn’t know how many people there were working in the Neo-Nazi scene for the government and also not that they were so high level Neo-Nazis, like they tried to get all the high level Neo-Nazis working for the State to control the organizations from the top. That was the thinking of the State, or is the thinking of the State. Until now. Only the State of Thuringia, they cut all this information system. But the rest gets more budget for it gets more people doing the jobs. And so, the structure, it wasn’t really broken. Also, now after 10 years, it just works further.

And the top story of that all is the one you mentioned about Andreas Temme. He is and he was an employee of the Secret Service. He was not police, he was an employee of the Secret Service. And he was in the internet cafe of Halit Yozgat in Kassel when he was shot. He claims that he wasn’t there. That he didn’t see the body lying behind the counter, that he didn’t hear the shots. And because it was so unbelievable. There was an English Institute, forensic architecture, who rebuilt the internet cafe and try to get an idea of what he must have been seeing, hearing, and smelling. Because also like if you fire a gun in such a small space, you can also smell the gunpowder. And so they did a recreation of that. But that was considered an art piece, not an academic investigation. I put you the link of the investigation in the link list. They made a video on the 5th.

And yeah, Andreas Temme. He was in the internet cafe he claims to be there for personal reasons for sexting from an anonymous computer. Because his wife shouldn’t know. But it’s very unlikely. And he had two phone calls with this Nazi informant that day. One before, and one shortly after. And one was especially long. And he didn’t tell the truth. Neither in the in the court trial, nor in the parliamentary inquiry in Hessen. And so the truth was never found why he was there. If he was there on duty, if the Secret Service got any information, if he was involved with the murders, if he knew someone from possible local helping structure for the trio or something. He just lied, he just didn’t tell the truth. The politicians, they stood behind him at that point. And when Halit was shot, he just left the internet cafe and he didn’t respond to the call from the police to get people who saw something or might know something about it. And so the police got to him. It was because he got locked in with his phone there on the computer. He left his work phone number there. And so they found him and they arrested him but he was released shortly after because the governor of the State of Hessen said he needs to be protected because he’s part of the State.

And so there’s a lot of silence. There’s a lot of lies in there, and we didn’t get to the truth. After the trial, after the five years of trial and three years of parliamentary inquiry. We still don’t know what drove him there. What was his role in the murder of Halit Yozgat.

TFSR: None of the surviving members of the NSU have gotten any prison time?

Sonja: No, Beate Zschäpe. She’s in prison lifelong. Yeah, the others, they got really light sentences. They were five years on trial. They were released the day the verdict came out, because you get the investigation jail time you put on your normal jail time.

TFSR: I really started hearing about this case, because the New York Times podcast called Day X started telling the story of the case of Franco Albrecht or Franco A, relating to the NSU and government connections, and finally discussing about a wider conspiracy with members of the German military and police to prepare for, or likely to bring about the overthrow of Germany’s parliamentary democracy, which would be replaced with a military right-wing junta. What’s known about the Day X plot and the case of Franco A? And you’re covering it right as in as NSU Watch?

Sonja: Yeah, we do. We sit there in on every day of the trial. And it’s quite interesting, because when I listened to the Day X podcast, it’s such a wide picture of the of the whole case. The trial is right now about what kind of money Franco Albrecht got from the from the government when he was living his secret life as a fake refugee. This is what the trial is about. For weeks now sitting in the trial every day, you don’t get a sense of what’s actually discussed there. Boring, very detailed stuff about Franco Albrecht taking money from the German government. And it’s hard to stay on focus, not to get bored by all these details. It’s very hard.

So Franco Albrecht was a very strange discovery, actually. The State didn’t want to put it on trial. They wanted to do it two years ago, I think, and they just disposed it. They said “No, there’s no case here.” And now we have the pressure from the higher court, the State-wide court, to put it on trial. And so they did it in Frankfurt.

We have these chat groups all over Germany, called the cross groups. Like Nordkreuz, Südkreuz… The Northern Cross, the Southern Cross, the Eastern Cross, Western cross. This division, these chat groups, which are a quite new phenomenon. But like always when there’s new technology available, you take it for organization. It’s not such a surprise actually. The connection between the military and the far-right are very known, especially to the antifascists public in Germany. Like we wrote about it that often, like, years and years, and that in a lot of military bases there are Nazi networks, so it wasn’t quite news for us. The news was how far they got along with their planning. And also the question “what does the Secret Service do if they don’t look into that kind of stuff?” because this is an area of society where we as antifascists, we don’t get any information from there. Like if they want to do it in secret, we are not the people going to the military, especially now if you didn’t don’t have to in Germany.

It was always clear for us that something like this could happen. And it was also clear for us that there’s high skilled trained people in the police and the military forces joining right-wing movements, sharing the ideological backgrounds. No surprise so far at that point. But we were quite shocked about how the State didn’t inform the people who were on the lists, with how the State dealt with that kind of danger, actually. And how and unuseful all the all the different stations of Secret Service are in Germany. We have a special Secret Service for the military. And it was quite clear that they’re not doing their job for years. Because like we know very high level Neo-Nazis in Germany who were part of this Secret Service, of the army Secret Service. They they served there, and afterwards, after they quit their jobs, they held speeches at Neo-Nazi rallies and gatherings. So it was always clear that there’s a deep connection in there.

And so it’s interesting now that the State kind of wants to bar out the public In the case of Franco A. And it works, it works. It’s a very hard struggle to stay on focus there. And also because the same with the NSU case, there’s not the one institution to get to the bottom of it. Like you have the court trial, but the court trial is just there to find the guilt of Franco Albrecht himself, it’s not about the network. If you get a parliamentary inquiry, they don’t have the authority to punish somebody. So we don’t have this one institution which can take care of it all. I don’t think that this will happen. But the information is very spread out widely. And there’s not the one to finally make a call and say “Okay, this is what happened. This is the network. This is what we’re doing.” So right now they have Franco Albrecht on trial but only him for planning assaults on different people on his list, for violating weapon laws, and for getting money from the State living a life as a fake refugee. So this is just his skills at that point. And now there’s different members of the Cross Groups all over Germany, but it’s unclear if they ever get to trial, if they lose their jobs, how their career continues, for example.

TFSR: I don’t think we have said… since you just mentioned what Albrecht had been planning Generally, the story is fucking crazy. Like, some German man? I guess… one of his parents, I think were not German.

Sonja: Yes, French… No Italian. His father is Italian.

TFSR: Yeah. Like he joins the military. He’s been writing about a right-wing push in the German State as being a good thing for a lot of years. I guess like through his high school, he had written a paper that kind of concerned some people. And so at one point during the “refugee crisis.” He ends up darkening his skin and wearing tattered clothing and going into a refugee resettlement office and getting his fingerprints taken, and passing off part of his life (when he’s not on an on the military base living in an apartment under this assumed name) so that his fingerprints are then in the system as the Syrian refugees fingerprints.

A few years later, or a year later, this janitor in an airport – I think in Frankfurt? I might be wrong. Oh, in Vienna – finds a pistol hidden behind a toilet. And it’s got his fingerprints, and they just the police just lay in wait for whoever to come back and grab the pistol and they arrest him. But they noticed that the fingerprints match the Syrian refugee and he’s like “No, no, no, that must be a mistake. I’m a German military person.” The apparent false flag that this person is building is, like, kind of ingenious. And also, it’s it’s crazy to think of what could have happened considering the way that people around the German speaking world where some people were brought out into the streets and just fully angered against what they consider to be the migrant crisis with word going around about assaults on German women. You know, because we are filled with immigrants who have come from other places, I don’t know, and the rise of the AFD around the same time, like it just seems like it’s a big story. Right?

Sonja: Yeah, it’s a big story. And it’s, it’s a perverted perspective on what happened in 2015, 2016. In Germany like this so called “refugee crisis.” People mostly coming from Syria, fleeing the Civil War, they’re fleeing ISIS attacking people. It was a big mobilization moment for the far-right in Germany. like around the 2000-2010 years. The German far-right had an organizational crisis. They didn’t get the success they wanted. And so when 2015 came, they formed a very widespread racist mobilization. We have the AfD in the Parliament at that point or at most Parliaments.

AfD is “Alternative for Germany”. It started out as an anti Euro right-wing Populist Party and got on a really racist way, in a very short time, in two years or something. The AfD was founded in 2013, and in 2015 it was the most racist, openly racist party in the State. They didn’t really see the danger in that. So we had a lot of Nazis who weren’t organized at that point, because we had this organization crisis where a lot of organizations just fell apart. Some of them just got closer together, like we had a Combat 18 reunion in Germany in 2012, 2013. So some of the groups they got closer together, some of them just fall apart. And most of the Neo-Nazis who were organized into organizations falling apart, they were re-mobilized by this racist mobilizations. We had rallies all over Germany, we had attacks of refugees, or POCs, in general, Black people in general. It doesn’t depend on their on their status, it depends on their race.

So we have this big wave of attacks, this big wave of hate, and at the same time, the AfD, and the parliaments and also a lot of the television shows, talking or setting a frame for a new kind of racism, open racism in Germany. And so we, at that point, in 2015, we saw the rallies, we saw the danger of the rallies, and we saw the attacks, but we didn’t know what went on behind the scenes like in this chat groups, in the military. And so the story of Franco Albrecht is a very, very perverted lens of looking at what happened at that time. And if you look at what does the Secret Service say to the rallies at that point, they say “Oh, it’s just concerned people, and some Neo-Nazis trying to undermine them.” But actually, it was racism was new material to get all the different spectrums of Neo-Nazism in Germany, getting together again.

Also, the network of racism and sexism at that point, like you said, one of the main topics of the mobilization was the safety of white women of white German women. And the AfD took a big part of that they put a lot of money in media campaigns. Every time a refugee, or POC, or Black man attacked a white woman, they would push it in the public, and widely over Facebook. They put a lot of money in Facebook campaigning. So there was a misunderstanding. We have a big problem with violence against women in Germany, like a big problem, like all over the world, all over the world. There are femicides. But the idea was to just put the cases in the center of attention where a POC or Black man was the attacker.

And that worked out pretty great. And also like with Franco Albrecht… and also Stephan Ernst, who was the murderer of a politician here in Hessen, in Kassel as well, Walter Lübcke, he was shot in 2019. They both have this telling that the State falls, and the brave German man has to protect the country and its women. And this is also part of the of the Day X – German men have to redefine their manhood and get in the role of the protector again.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s a pretty common narrative. And there’s so much that without taking away to talk about US context, so much of what you’re talking about just reflects things that I’ve seen happen in the US over the last couple of decades too. So I guess, going back to Germany, though, like how does how does the Day X plot fit into the ecosystem of the far-right in Germany today, like with anti vaccine and COVID conspiracy myths, intermingling with members of AfD and anti immigration rallies?

Sonja: Well, the Day X telling is a very old one in Germany, like after we are a nation of defeated. After the Second World War, we had this this period of occupation. And since the bat was founded, so the Germany, the Federal Republic of Germany, there’s always the telling in the far-right, that this kind of State is not the real representative of the Germans. And so there was always the story of how to get Germany back. There’s different colorings of that telling like this, zionist occupied governments, like because parts of Germany were occupied by the Americans, you have a lot of anti American thinking in the Germans far-right. That doesn’t change the fact that they’re very deeply connected and do a lot of work together. But there’s always been this telling about the Germans don’t own their own State anymore since the Second World War.

So, in 2015 when Angela Merkel welcomed the refugees, there was this myth that she’s opening the borders for them. The truth was, there was never breaking a law in that point. There was always the Right asylum laws taking place there. So there was this idea of Angela Merkel letting all these refugees in, and we had this the telling of the Day X movement, I think you would call it more intellectual, new-right movement, that was called the Great Replacement. So there’s a plan for exchanging the people in Germany with refugees. And so there was one moment where a lot of right-wing groups got their mobilization momentum, because they could tell the people “now you see how the government wants to destroy Germans.”

So there’s always the thinking that not the right people are in charge, and that’s the State doesn’t represent the real Germans. And there was a new moment for the for the whole movement. And so the telling of the Day X of getting to the point of civil war, where the possibility is to take over the State. It was very common, always in the far-right storytelling in Germany, but there it got a new momentum. And so a lot of groups, a lot of people, got on the streets got organized in this kind of way. We had like motorcycle Brotherhood’s or motorcycle-like Brotherhood’s coming together, making… they call it neighborhood watches. And so there was always this thinking about “we have to protect our people from the government, which is in that multicultural great replacement thinking.” So that was the big topic bringing it all together.

After 2015, the politicians cut a lot of asylum laws. They stopped the people from coming to Germany itself and reinforcing the border. Now we don’t have the attacks on the refugee homes here, because we don’t have that many big refugee homes any longer here. Because now people are dying in the Mediterranean instead. But the government tried to stop people from coming to Germany itself, as giving the right-wing movement props to stop the worrying about it. And it worked. We don’t have that many attacks here, because we don’t have that many refugees here. But people are still dying in the Mediterranean. And we have this big mass grave now on Europe’s borders. So given the power, right, that kind of props at that point, they lost their momentum for the racist mobilization. And they turned it into the anti vaccination demonstrations.

Now they found a new topic where the government wants to control wants to defeat the German people in their thinking. So we have the same forces, the same people who were pushing forward the racist mobilization, doing now the anti vaccination protests, but also with a different note. There are a lot of people who think of themselves as alternatives, like people who are into alternative medicine, or esoteric, or late hippies, for example, who joined now the right-wing organizations. And that’s a very, very dangerous mixture we got there now. And so the Day X movement move from this great replacement topic, to the pandemic topic now. But it’s the same people, the same groups doing the mobilization there.

TFSR: So I guess looking at this Day X plots from the context of the US, there are many comparisons and parallels that could be made between the development of the different far-right movements here. And the scene from which the NSU and their contemporaries came out in Germany. In fact, historically, there was a cross pollination that NSU Watch notes, such as visits to Germany. I mean, you already mentioned *The Turner Diaries* and *The Hunter* being read or Blood and Honor or Combat 18 from the UK going over, but there’s also a member of the US based White Aryan Resistance and the KKK groups from the US that came to visit and and showed up during the development in the scene with the three core NSU members. Contemporary examples for groups from the US that parallel developments in Germany might be the Oath-keeper movement, could be compared with the Day X plot members of law enforcement and military, or former, stating that the current government that they serve is in decay and must be reformed to a more traditional and radically conservative style. As well as other groups from white nationalist movements like the NSU, with the now defunct Atomwaffen Division, or the Base.

Do you have any thoughts on the international nature of Neo fascist organizing? And what roles those common myths such as the Great Replacement, which you mentioned, which I think it came out of the you said the European new Right, but like, Nouvelle Droite, the the new far-right coming out of France in the 70s? Can you talk about how this cross pollination happens, some of the common myths? And what follows from it for international antifascist organizing? What do we need to be looking at, and where are some good directions to point energy? Or how do we coordinate with each other against some of these common enemies?

Sonja: Well, the internet, of course, is a big factor. In that it’s helping us to get connected like we do right now. But it also helps Neo-Nazi groups to get connected. We have these big heroes, they would say, like Anders Breivik, who published his manifesto on the internet. Which was an inspiration for an attack in Munich three years ago. On the same day, recalling to Anders Breivik, it was the inspiration for the Christchurch attack in New Zealand. It was the inspiration for the attack at the synagogue in Halle two years ago. And so we have this opportunity for groups to organize internationally, and also to find background organizations online for that. You don’t have to have the comrades right at your door. You don’t have to meet the people in person, you can connect with them via the internet and exchange about that stuff.

But of course, there’s also the meeting in person, the the important role of worldwide networks and organizations, you mentioned the KKK. We have KKK groups in in Germany as well. We always had contacts to the US like two weeks ago, an antifascist network called Exif Recherche. They published a very detailed paper on the Hammerskins in Germany and their connections to the US. Like Wade Page, the murderer of the people in the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. He was visiting Germany a couple of times, and also playing with his band. There’s the role of music and concerts, Nazi Nazi rock concerts and organization for that, like there was a lot of exchange of context about that music scene and bands visiting. This is also a great connection for Australia and Germany, for example. Or for Eastern Europe, like Hungary, or the Ukraine, or Russia. People are coming to Germany with their bands, or to see a band, or to visit a concert and in this context of the concert, there are always meetings taking place.

The Hammerskin structure, the Hammerskin Nation is a very big example for that. And also with the example of the Hammerskin nation, when the attack in Wisconsin happened, the German Hammerskins went over there right away to meet with the people of the Hammerskin Nation groups in the US to make a plan how to deal with the situation. And also when the Hammerskins in Portugal were banned, they got help from the other chapters worldwide. So there’s always this supporting structure if you have to live underground. If you need weapons, if you need money, there’s this big worldwide organization providing that for you. And also getting experiences you can’t get in Germany. Like in Germany, it’s legal to shoot a weapon and to own a weapon, but only if you’re in a certain kind of organization, and you have to put in a big amount of paperwork for shooting your gun. And so every time German Neo-Nazis go to the US, shooting in the wild is a big part of the experience there. And also like being violent against other people. It’s always a big part of that.

And I think these two things, like this highly professional, organized, worldwide networks we’re seeing and also the fear of the so called “lone wolf” who can sit in front of his computer in Germany and gets connected with other people and get printings for 3D printed weapons and stuff like that. It’s a It’s a very harsh challenge, I think. But also, what I see is it’s a backlash. It’s a reaction to emancipative movements all over the world. Like, if we look on queer rights, if you look on the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement all over the world, if we see how decolonization fights are supported from all over the world. They are in fear to lose their position, and their right to do. We are on the move, we’re doing what we can.

What I think is very hard to do is to not get lost of the wider perspective. Like “What does capitalism do to these problems we’re facing?” Like “What are the struggles that make us all the same, no matter where we live in the world?” And I think talks like that, like we’re having right now, being interested in the struggles of each other like to learn from each other is very important. And also not to rely on the State, or academia, to find the similarities. Because there’s capitalism all over. Like in Germany, the research is so much driven from where to get funded, and where to get the next project funded, that it’s not about, like finding truth or something like that.

So I think it’s a very important thing to stay connected, to read Twitter news from all over the world, to stay on the pulse of what’s going on around the world, and where it’s a little bit like the struggle we have as fascists in Germany. Where’s our role in all that suffering? And what can we do to create solidarity with each other?

TFSR: Does news about this interrelation between Nazis and the security apparatus surprise members of the community impacted by this violence that you all have spoken with? And I kind of wonder, also, just to tack on there, what the wider response in Germany has been from the general population. Like you said, at one point that our perspective is a marginal perspective, and also that the German government, at least with the NSU case, did a lot to try to stop it from coming to a wide audience. And it was probably the targeting, like with the Day X stuff, at least the targeting of politicians that actually got the national attention brought on it and forced it to trial, right.

Sonja: Yet, the German State declared that right-wing terrorism is the biggest threat now. But they’re not doing anything differently in the structure. They want to get the police forces more diverse, but they don’t want to talk about structural racism. There’s so much going on. Like every day, we get news about a new police chat group sharing Hitler pictures, or jokes about migrants or queer people, about Black people, or Jews. We have a deep problem with institutional racism in Germany, and there’s not one step I can see that makes that any different. Like we have those parlimental inquiries and the State is doing its thing, but nothing actually changes. And also, you have this shocking news about the Secret Service being involved like that. But what’s happening is there’s more surveillance, there’s more budget for the Secret Service, the Hessen secret service here, it doubled its budget from 2011. With Andreas Temme, sitting at the murder scene. It’s absurd. It’s absurd. And so… No, actually, it’s no surprise.

For a lot of the families that were the victims of the NSU, they were all men from the racist murder series. They were all men from mostly from Turkish, or Kurdish heritage. One was Greek. And they were the ones coming to Germany in the 60s and 70s to rebuild the State and they always faced racism in a dimension you couldn’t imagine, and a dimension that wasn’t speakable for them as well. And so, when the police came to them and didn’t believe them, that it was a racist attack and said “Well, there’s something about drugs.” Or in one case, the police made up a woman, the man who was killed had an affair with. The family of Enver Şimşek and the widow of Enver Şimşek. She was confronted with a picture of the blonde woman with two children and they said “Yeah, that’s the second wife of your husband, didn’t you know?” He was trading flowers, and so he went to the Netherlands a couple have time some months to get the flowers. And they say “Well, he must be into drug smuggling and stuff like that.” So the families, they didn’t really have anything in their hands to protect themselves from this kind of institutional racism.

And also, they didn’t have any help, because the migrant community being threatened with so much racism all their life, they turned against the families, because they say “Well, if the police says it must be some kind of mafia stuff, maybe we keep away from the family.” So they were separated from their communities, and they have this second victimization, like, after the family member got shot, they get victimized by the structural racism of the police, of the media, and its effects on the on the society. And I think, from their perspective, they were kind of surprised. And a lot of them, they don’t live in Germany any longer. A lot of them went back to Turkey, because they couldn’t stand living here. Some of them, they picked up the fight, they are part of the movement, they’re part of the organization. But a lot of them they couldn’t bear the pain and left the country.

And so, what what we learned in the last 10 years, and it’s quite unbelievable that it has been 10 years now, since the NSU discovered itself. We learned not to trust the State, in no case. The question, of course, is how to deal with that kind of threatening without the State because like, the antifascist movement, the anti-racist movement, we’re not that many people. And most of the German populations, they don’t give a shit. They don’t give a shit about the victims of right-wing violence because we are the others, we’re the communists, we’re the queer people, we’re the disabled people, we’re the homeless people, we’re the Black people, we’re the POCs. And so most of the of the German society… they just don’t give a shit. And this is really hard to realize.

But at the same time, we have this very big movement that’s a very forceful and strong movement. And also, we have a youth that has a language for what is happening to them, like the victims of the NSU. When they came to Germany, they said that to the children that they should assimilate. And now we have the third generation of, for example, Turkish or Kurdish people coming to Germany, who have a language for institutional racism, for pointing that out for having this kind of conversations.

And also, the far-right, they are taking up like more and more space, like, for example, the murder of Walter Lübcke, he was a politician of the city, which is the Christian Democratic Party in Germany, who Angela Merkel is a member of as well. And he was shot on his terrace and his murderer, Stephan Ernst, he said he wanted to bring the terror to the people he thought were responsible for the politics that brought around migrants in the migrant crisis in 2015. So they shot one of them, and they don’t react to that. This is like really unbelievable. How much silence there is. I’m so wondered why there’s not more anger. But at the same time, we have a great movement, and an understanding, and a language now for doing that. And that keeps us going, I think.

TFSR: One thing I didn’t think to ask about, but it’s sort of occurring to me now is for all the talk of like Neo-Nazis in Germany, we haven’t talked about antisemitic violence very much. And I know that, yeah, it seems like NSU Watch came into existence with the realization that like, these specific groups of like, Kurdish, Turkish, and the one Greek gentleman, were being targeted, and so we focus on those specific populations, but to talk about Neo-Nazism in Germany without talking about anti semitism feels a little strange. One of the people on the kill list I think, for Franco Albrecht is Jewish and was being targeted I think for being Jewish. But I might be wrong about that. But can you talk about it?

Sonja: Yeah, you’re right. It’s Anetta Kahane.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about antisemitism in the in the modern far-right in Germany, as pertains to the conversation we’ve been having?

Sonja: In 2018 we had the attack of the synagogue in Halle. It was a on a high Jewish holiday. And the perpetrator he couldn’t get into the synagogue because they have a very good security system. Also, the Jewish communities in Germany, they don’t depend on the State as well. After the attack in Halle, they had police protection for some time. And now on higher holidays, but also they took care of themselves. Like they had a big wooden door and very skilled security person at the entrance. And so the perpetrator couldn’t make his way into the synagogue. So he shot a queer woman on the street. And then he went on people hunting in the city of Halle, and he went into a Kebab shop, and killed the owner, and attacked another person.

So antisemitism in Germany is always connected to the far-right thinking. It’s always one of the motives. And we have like these different kinds of racism, these different kinds of racist pictures, like the Jews being the “superior, always in control kind of people” and the people coming from other parts of the world are the “wild and aggressive and hyper masculine” threat to the Germans. And so in Germany, the far-right is still driven by the idea of the Volksgemeinschaft, which is the community in the Third Reich. And this is really based on Blood and the country they’re living in, still. And we still have this thinking of the Third Reich in Germany, in so many different levels, like there was never true antifascist movement.

So the struggles were always connected. Also, the antifascist movement in Germany is deeply inspired and connected to the survivors of the Holocaust. And there was always this tie together. One of the problems we faced in Germany is that all the leftists were killed in the concentration camps, as well. And we only got the Social Democrats who survived the concentration camps. And so after the Second World War, we had a very weak left-wing movement there. And so they’re different perspective of marginalized life coming out of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. And so we always had this thinking of having this this one struggle and having to support each other.

But it’s also a very complicated history, because Germany itself, it made itself the world champion of remembering… like, getting rid of such a heritage and dealing with such a heritage was a very big political topic in Germany. And so there was always the telling of how Jewish life in Germany is, and the reality of Jewish life in Germany. And so this was also and always a very marginal perspective. And antisemitism is one of the basic foundations of right-wing thinking in Germany. It comes in such different shades. And also we have a huge problem with daily antisemitism, as well as daily racism in Germany. And we’re still debating here publicly, if we’re an immigrant country. No matter where the people are coming from we still have this very folkish thinking, like, there’s this group of people living here for 1000s of years and we’re the “real Germans.” And that’s really hard to get rid of.

Also in the laws, also to get a word like “Rasse”, which is the translation for race, but we don’t use it in the daily talking out of our Constitution, for example. It’s very hard to really get an emancipative perspective on German politics, because there’s so much shit going on, and very different variations. And the attack and Halle, it reminded us again, reminded all the society about the threat that Jewish people are facing in Germany. And of course, they are antisemitic attacks on a daily basis, like restaurants getting attacked, people getting attacked wearing openly Jewish clothing, for example. And it was always a topic for antifascists as well to deal with that. And yeah, like the attack from the perpetrator in Halle, who wanted to get into the synagogue to kill people, Jewish people doing their prayers there, you can switch to a different form of racism if that doesn’t work. And so right-wing ideological thinking is always inspired by racism and antisemitism in the same kind of way.

TFSR: Thanks for answering the question that I didn’t ask you about before. And also, you had made references, for instance, right at the beginning to the survivor of the Holocaust, who had been doing music in Auschwitz and spoke about not not relying on the State.

Sonja: And she she’s actually a very great example for how the struggle can get together. Because she and her daughter, they found music group with some rappers of Turkish heritage. And one of these rappers was also living in Köln, which was attacked by the NSU with a nail bomb. I don’t remember the year actually. But yet, and they were founding this music group together doing rap songs and Yiddish songs together, talking in schools performing at rallies and stuff.

TFSR: That’s awesome.

Sonja: Yeah, that’s really awesome.

TFSR: In the US, one frequently sees the liberal State use real or perceived threats to public safety as an opportunity to increase surveillance and repression of autonomous movements and communities, such as repression of the radical ecological and animal rights movement after the September… actually prior to the September 11 attacks in the US, but the widespread surveillance and attacks on immigrant and particularly Muslim or Muslim perceived populations after 9-11. Or we develop, I think pretty, like insightful fears about further clamp down on Black Lives Matter or antifascist movements following the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, which was conducted by far-right extremists. Are there any such fears that you all in Germany see or have concerning the State’s response, as all of these insights are rolling out about things like the NSU, or DAY X, or Franco Albrecht’s case in particular, where the State uses the rising violence that’s brought to the public eye coming from the far-right, as a means of repressing everything in the middle of that horseshoe that you referenced?

Sonja: Yeah, definitely, like we had two big laws passing in the last couple of months. One gives the Secret Service the possibility to put on a trail on everybody’s phone without having a court acknowledge that. So the same Secret Service who is funding the Neo-Nazi movement still in Germany, and being involved so much, and also being involved in the destroying of the evidence can now put a spy app on everybody’s phone. We have this big budget increase for the secret service as well. And there’s always the telling “well, we could have stopped it if we would have more persons doing the job, or more budget for doing so.”

And the opposite is the case like we had this in a different direction with the attack in link to the IS in Berlin. The case of Anis Amri. Where it’s clear that there was an informant directly in the surrounding of the attacker, and didn’t do shit about it. And as always, I think they play with the fear to increase public surveillance, and it’s quite ridiculous. We have so much Neo-Nazi terrorism going on. And it’s all like separate people, no networks, no groups, no deeper insight there. And on the other hand, we have very big cases of criminalization of leftist or ecological movements.

They’re like, right now, we have a terrorist case here in Germany, where a young antifascist called Lena. She is in jail for, I don’t know, more than half a year now. And they attacked a Neo-Nazi. He wasn’t hurt that bad. I think he they may have hurt his leg or something. So there was just physical violence on a very low level compared to what Neo-Nazis do all over Germany all the time. And she has a terrorist trial now and is in jail for half a year for attacking this well known Neo-Nazi who was also a member of the Atomwaffen Division, by the way, in Germany.

And what is also very concerning is all the stuff going on in the police forces like, also with Nordkreuz, for example, where police officers took a sketch of a house of a person who was threatened. And these sketches were found with the Nordkreuz people. So you have police giving away private information about people and giving it to Neo-Nazis. We had the same thing here in the State of Hessen, where an attorney of one of the members of the NSU case the attorneys name Seda Başay Yıldız and she got death threats by email. A lot of people did actually. The sender calls himself NSU 2.0 So directly relating to the NSU case. She found out that the police in Frankfurt looked up her address. She protected it from public institutions giving it out to people. You can do that if you’re part of a threatened group. You can say “my address is secret” and only the police can look at that. And so she found out that the information in the email, which included her daughter’s kindergarten address, her personal address, and her daughter’s name and age, they were giving out by the police in Frankfurt. And so we have a lot of this connection that directly from the police to Neo-Nazi groups, or other cases of death threats there.

This is a huge problem where there is no actually dealing with that right now. Everyday we get a case where some police officers get together in telegram groups or WhatsApp groups sharing racist pictures or thinking there. And some of them are put on trial, but there’s always the saying that “first of all, it’s just a joke. Second of all, there’s not enough public to get a verdict for that.” Because in Germany, if you want to do hate speech, you need public for that. And if you just have five people in a WhatsApp group, that’s not public enough. You can hang a swastika flag in your living room, you can’t put it outside your window, because there’s public and if you do it in private, it’s fine. And so there’s not so much punishment for this kind of behavior. And also in Germany, we don’t have any outstanding force to investigate police stuff. The police investigates itself, I think it’s the same in the US maybe. And so they cover up each other’s asses for for doing so. We don’t have anything to handle with that, actually.

TFSR: Well, thank you so much for having this conversation for all of the details that you’ve brought, and I really appreciate the work that you all are doing. How can listeners find out more about NSU Watch and support you in this work? and get involved even!

Sonja: So we were on social media. We do have an Instagram and Twitter account. I sent you the addresses so you can pull it up. We also have a very good English website where you can get information about the work we’re doing. Actually, one big help if somebody of you out there can speak German, is to help translate the texts antifascists put out. Especially… I mentioned the big research paper from Exif Recherche. It’s talking a lot about the US, because they all do it on in their free time and not paid, they didn’t have the power to translate it. So if you’re open to that: offering help for translation, that could be awesome. Yeah. And otherwise, just help us push. That’s a big help, actually,

TFSR: A lot of solidarity to you. And thanks for having this conversation. I really, really appreciate it. Yeah, thank you so much for being interested. You can find more about NSU-Watch’s work at NSU-Watch.info/en/ or follow them on Twitter (@NSUWatch) and Instagram (@NSUWatch)

Asheville’s Policing Crisis with Ursula Wren of Asheville Free Press

Asheville’s Policing Crisis with Ursula Wren of Asheville Free Press

"Defund APD" sticker on a water bottle, depicting an asheville police officer stabbing and crushing water bottles after raiding a medic table during George Floyd protests in 2020. Based on a photo by Angie Wilhelm
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The city of Asheville likes to make headlines. The Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority, or TDA, has been working alongside other tourism industry groups, to make an impression in the minds of people worldwide and entice you to visit this little mountain city with it’s big fuck-off estate, the Biltmore, the beautiful mountains for hiking, waterfalls for swimming, artsy and craftsy culture for consuming and rivers of beers for tourists to tube down. But in the last year, Asheville has, once again, let its “crisis in policing” also reach national and international audiences with two New York Times stories (1, 2, which are pay-walled fyi), one reaching the front page, which spoke about a 34% attrition rate of the Asheville Police Department since the George Floyd Uprising and renewed, local efforts to defund or decrease the police in Asheville in favor of social and restorative infrastructure. The article spoke mostly from official viewpoints. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, to deal with the bad press, the APD hired a public relations firm called ColePro Media for $5,000 a month to shift narratives and bring the veneer of progressive policing back to our fair, “land of the sky.”

This week, we spoke with local journalist, activist, abolitionist and anarchist, Ursula Wren of the AvlFree.Press about Asheville’s “crisis in policing”, a brief blooper roll of Asheville police foibles over the last decade, homeless camp evictions, prior and current efforts to restructure public safety, the reactionary business effort to bolster the police with blue ribbons of support, housing issues and other fare.

Here are a few links to sites and events mentioned:

To hear our conversations on struggle against the opioid crisis and overdoses in Western NC, check out our interviews with members of the Steady Collective (2018 & 2020)

You can find a transcription of this interview as well as an imposed pamphlet for easy printing in about a week on the blog post for this chat or alongside many of our past episodes at the link TFSR.WTF/zines . You can find ways to stream the lengthier podcast of this and all of our episodes or follow us on social media by visiting TFSR.WTF/links.

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Featured Tracks:

  • The Big Rock Candy Mountain by Burl Ives from The Big Rock Candy Mountain
  • USA by Reagan Youth from A Collection Of Pop Classics

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Transcription

TFSR: So could you introduce yourself for the audience with any name, pronouns, location or other info that could be useful to the listeners?

Ursula Wren: Yeah, so my name is Ursula Wren. I live in Asheville, North Carolina. I use she and her or they and them pronouns, I kind of alternate between the two. I’m a police and prison abolitionist. I consider myself an anarchist. I’m a writer. I do web programming work, I design. I try to be creative in service of liberation, like a lot of people that you have on this podcast, and I’m really excited to be here.

TFSR: Yeah, thanks so much for being here. We don’t talk about Asheville very much here, but I think that a lot of the discussions and a lot of the work that people are doing around here is interestingmaybe not more interesting and stuff that’s happening elsewhere — but I’m glad this is gonna air on national FM at some point. So random listeners get to hear it.

UW: Very cool.

TFSR: So Asheville has been in the media spotlight for a bit in the past year or so because of the crisis in policing. The uprising from last year seemed to be a major shifting and breaking point for policing here in Asheville, despite obviously, years of the police being a problem, including the reemergence of widespread discussion of the APD murder of Jai Jerry Williams, and the beating of Johnnie Rush a few years back. I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about if you see that being a major focal pointlike definitely there was a lot more discussion about police abolition coming about and defunding the police — but if you could sort of like set the stage with what you’re aware of, of what’s been happening in the last year to year and a half around policing here.

UW: Yeah, so it definitely seems like Asheville has been in the spotlight quite a bit. You know, we had that front page New York Times article about us, about a month or two months back, something like that. I see that as mostly a reactionary effort, that has been sort of a concerted effort to try to undermine some of the gains that have been made last year, I’m not the only person to make this observation. There’s been a media blitz of pro-police propaganda, and almost exactly one year after the largest civil rights uprising in recorded history, as far as I’m aware. And you know, it’s hard to ignore the implications of that happening almost on a year to date.

I would want to say one thing that comes to mind is sort of why this has been happening, not just Asheville, but everywhere, is that the FBI puts out a quarterly crime reportI think it’s called like the Uniform Crime reporting, UCR, something like that — and in the wake of that report, there’s just been a ton of crime wave propaganda, based on misinterpretation of the data. I mean, even on the FBI website, if you go look at that data, they recommend not trying to look at trends and stuff it, because the way the reporting works changes and all that other stuff.

So I would love to just sort of give a little bit of a brief history timeline of some of the things that have happened with Asheville police in particular, and why we might be more of a hot spot than other places. We’re a bit of a microcosm because we’ve lost something like 30% of our police through resignation and retirement. And just to put that in context, for people who are not around here, Asheville is about a sixth of the size of Portland, about a fifth of the size of Atlanta in terms of population in the city proper. That’s not even including their metro areas, which are way, way larger. So it’s only been about 80 cops who’ve left our force, but that is about 30% of our force. And as you sort of mentioned, the crisis in policing isn’t new here. We’ve actually had five new police chiefs since 2005 and several of them have resigned amid controversy of various kinds. One of the earlier ones was named Bill Hogan, and he actually resigned amid some controversy about missing evidence, including drugs and money that they couldn’t account for. And then you mentioned Johnnie Rush, and Tammy Hooper was the police chief during that incident, it actually came out that the police department was conducting surveillance on several racial justice organizing groups here in Asheville, and she lied about it publicly and then had to backtrack.

TFSR: That was during the Jerry Williams incidents right. Or, or was that Johnnie Rush?

UW: You know, both of them were pretty close together. I actually have a breakdown timeline here we can go through.

TFSR: Cool.

UW:
So yeah, I’ll just start with that. So there were three Black men killed in one week in 2016, and that’s where I’ll start. Jerry Williams was killed on July 2, 2016. He was shot seven times by a cop who’s still in the forest named Tyler Radford. Alton Sterling was killed on July 5, so three days later, by the Baton Rouge police, Louisiana. And Philando Castile was killed July 6, so the very next day, near Minneapolis, where George Floyd was killed in 2020.

So I’d say that the 2020 organizing efforts were an outgrowth of the organizing to happen here in Asheville, back then. In 2016, there were marches, there was even a group that like occupied the police station for something like 36 hours. I don’t know if you remember that. They had some demands, one of the bigger demands that they put forth was something called “Million Dollars for the People, which sort of like, is echoed in defunding the police. But basically, the actual police were expected to get a million dollar increase to their budget. And there was a community effort basically in response to these killings, that demanded that that money be put towards community stuff, community programs for safety. Like I said, very echoed in the defund the police movement several years later. Ultimately, unfortunately, that failed. Then the million dollars went to the police sort of as a nod to racial justice organizers. The city implemented this thing called the equity department, and they put body cams on the cops.

So February 2017, was sort of the crescendo of the Million Dollars for the People thing. In August 2017 Johnnie Rush was beaten and tasered for jaywalking. And for folks who aren’t familiar with that story, I’d recommend looking into it, there’s a lot of details. But basically, it was at night, there was no traffic or anything. This Black man named Johnnie Rush was trying to cross the street and a cop, I mean, just kind of wailed on him and beat him within inches of his life. And this is all caught on body cam. But that didn’t come out until way late. So that happened in August of 2017. It didn’t come out until March of 2018. Tammy Hooper had a meeting with the public. And during that meeting, because of the Johnnie Rush situation, she was accused of surveillance and she denied it publicly. So that was in March and then in May, it actually came out that she was lying, and that she had been surveilling a couple of groups, one group called Showing Up for Racial Justice, and the local BLM group.

So then she has announced to resign in 2018, but she doesn’t actually, it’s not effective until 2019. Then we had another chief for 45 dayswhich is wild to mewho quit for personal reasons. And then in March 2020, we got our current chief. So May 31 of 2020, our brand new chief was giving orders to tear gas children and babies and people in Asheville for demonstrating in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. So that sort of brings us up to the Defund movement.

TFSR: The funny thing about chief Hogan, to break down the evidence from scandal: so at the time, the Asheville 11 conspiracy case was going on people who were arrested, accused to be an anarchist riot, on May Day of 2010the lawyer for a couple of the defendants asked to see evidence in their case. And the evidence room was unable to come up with this bag of broken glass, this broken phone and a hammer that were allegedly in there, tied to the case. And so the lawyers called for a survey of the evidence room and came back with of the 10% of the evidence room that they had surveyed to see what was there something like 20% of it was missing, including 1000s of dollars in money, a whole bunch of weapons, a whole bunch of guns, apparently tools like hammers and stuff. And the civilian who is in charge of the evidence room resigned to just sort of like skip town. We lost the chief and I think there was another cop that quit over that. And I think with that 45daycop, I may be wrong, but it seems like if he came from Greensboro that he was the one whose son had gotten a DUI hitting a pole on Merriman Avenue. And when the cops showed up, they found an unregistered gun in the car. But the charges just sort of seemed to go away for the son of the chief. And so there was sort of a question about them covering up investigations internally.

So we’ve got a great history of good-old-person policing in North Carolina. But yeah, thanks for that breakdown. That’s really… that’s memory lane for me *laughs*. So can you talk a little more about the more recent iteration of the movement to call and pressure the city to defund the Asheville police department? As you said, there were echoes between what happened in 2016 with the Millions for the People and what happened in 2020, and what’s continuing I guess. What sort of tensions exist between like the city’s politicians, the bureaucrats and the police department, and what’s the deal with the monuments and the manure coffin that I keep hearing about?

UW: The manure coffin. Okay, yeah. So had or has depending some aspects of it have died downbut there were a few aspects to it. It was people calling into City Council, like every single meeting and demanding the defunding of the police. There’s some problems with this strategy, namely that the City Council they own that process and they moved very quickly to sort of shut downI mean they were being barraged with calls, every single meeting — so they put in a bunch of restrictive stuff to just tamp that down. And it has largely worked.

TFSR: Which is basically shutting down public comment on a public meeting, right?

UW: Yeah.

TFSR: So the public good and make comments on a lot of different stuff.

UW: Right. And just to be clear, legally speaking, they didn’t shut anything down. They just added a whole bunch of new hoops, you had to jump through, like you had to register in this like, you know, certain window of time, you had to provide personal details about where you live, and your name and your phone number. And basically, they were asking you to give all of the information necessary for them to make a list of dissenters, which is maybe not what they would have done, but it certainly doesn’t feel good to activists to give them that information and so readily. And yeah, they had like names and phone numbers attached to the calls that they were playing publicly. So yeah, unfortunately, that was pretty effective.

There were some other aspects of the defund movement. There were some really good, like militant street actions and shutting down streets and highways that went on for a couple of months, you know. Like, every couple of weeks, there would be a big street action, and I mean, they would do a pretty good job of totally shutting down streets, which was great. There were some theatrical aspects. Like at one point, there was a giant check floating around. Like people had made a giant check for 50% of the police budget. And they taped it to the library door or something like that, to sort of demonstrate where that money could go, I guess.

There was this one demonstration where people made pink slips for the cops, like firing slips, and were handing them out to cops on the street. And like repossession tickets, and putting them on cop cars. Asheville has a bit of a reputation for being like an artsy city or whatever. And I thought that was an interesting waythat stuff got on the news, more, you know, made its way through the public conscious through social media and stuff more than the more militant actions did. So I thought that it was a good way to lift up the rhetoric.

So yeah, there was a decentralized day of action, which was where this like anonymous activist group put out a call for people to go do things like that. And folks, you know, did some, some tagging of buildings and did, like a, there was a bigI’m not sure what the word is, but it was made of cloth — not really a banner because it was attached to the wall of art that you see all over the internet, of a cop under a Klansmen robe, like with the Marilyn Monroe picture with the skirt blowing up. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all *laughs*.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah.

UW:
So things like that, you know. But I would say that overall, the defund movement was largely rhetorical. It was effective in terms of shifting narratives. And if the cops are to be believed, then the shifting narrative has a lot to do with why we lost 30% of our cops. So I chalked that up as a win even if we didn’t get abolition, we managed to get 30% of the cops to quit just by being mean to them. Which I think is a win.

So yeah, that’s sort of the defund movement. I would say the only material gain that we got was council agreeing to remove some monuments. Like you mentioned, they have not really followed through super well. So they removed one monument that was to a Confederate general or somethingI’m not even actually sure what it was for — but it was definitely Confederacy related near the courthouse. They removed that sort of quietly one night without much fanfare. But there is a giant, I mean, I don’t know…do you know how tall the Vance monument is?

TFSR: No idea.

UW:
It’s huge.

TFSR: It’s not very tall right now, which is great.

UW: Yeah, it’s it’s significantly shorter, but it was, you know, like super tall obelisk in downtown, dedicated to this man whose last name is Vance. And he was a slave owner.

TFSR: And a governor. And in the Confederate military, too.

UW: Yeah. All around racist guy. For sure. Yeah, giant obelisk downtown, the community had been trying to get that removed for years and Asheville, after a lot of kicking and screaming, did decide to take it down. It has not come all the way down yet, because it keeps getting ensnared in legal battles with these, like Confederate, you know, historical society groups.

TFSR: Yeah, I think the upkeep was the Sons of Confederate Veterans, like they were the ones who would remove paint and who were, quote unquote, responsible for the upkeep, which sounds like an ability to funnel money to this group of good old boys. But as I understand, like the latestthere was a question along the way in the past when it had been discussed of who had the authority to remove the monuments and this is not dissimilar to the silent Sam question at UNC Chapel Hill, where the University would say we have authority, the county would say we have authority or we don’t have, everyone would say we don’t have authority. The state would be a part of it. And in this case, as I understand the state has put an injunction on removing the base of the monument saying that the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to remove it under some historical monuments laws on the books. I don’t know if that’s is that sound about right?

UW: That’s not what I have heard. But, you know, I, to be honest I gloss over when I start trying to read about legal proceedings

TFSR: Yeah.

UW:
so I’m not sure exactly who it is I thought that it was a confederate preservationist group that was suing them, but definitely somebody is suing them right now.

TFSR: That could just be the state of North Carolina.

UW: *laughs* I mean, they are kind of a confederate preservationist group. So yeah, somebody’s suing the city right now to get them to stop removing it. Unfortunately, for those folks, they have already removed almost all of the obelisk, all that’s left is the base that says ”Vance. So that’s sort of dragging out. I, you know, I read an article about it every, like couple of weeks where they’re like “oh, and here’s some more nothing that happened in court, and nothing has moved forward with this.

So yeah, in addition to those things, folks asked for them to change the names of a bunch of streets, because we have a ton of streets that are named after slave owners as well. It seems like, at present, they’re not going to proceed with that, because business owners don’t want to change their marketing materials. Just such a perfect demonstration of capitalism and white supremacy coming together against community demands, because it’s just a street name, but people don’t want to change what’s they’d rather have the name of a slave owner on their window than pay somebody to come change the vinyl.

So last thing from what you just said, was the manure coffin, which I’m excited to talk about. It wasn’t really theatrical. It wasn’t meant to be fun. The coffin was part of a protest that happened on the day that some Kentucky grand jury released indictment information in the case of Briana Taylor. And from what I can tell, from what I saw, it was mostly younger Black folks trying to demonstrate their grief and their, you know, they wanted to symbolically bury some of the folks who have been killed by police. So what they did is they took a coffin that appeared to be constructed out of something like plywood, and they dropped it at the front door of APD’s headquarters, and they poured dirt over it.

The cops took that gesture, despite the fact that these folks were standing outside chanting “Say her name, Breonna Taylor!. I mean, the flyer that went out in preparation of this event had Breonna Taylor’s name really big on it, despite all of that the cops turned it into a victim narrative for themselves. And they said that it was a threat against their lives. And they also made the false claim that it was full of manure, which is just such a wild thing to lie about. Because it was, yeah, it was a closed coffin that they poured mostly what looks like regular dirt, and maybe a little bit of potting soil, over the top off. I would say this type of we’re actually the victim here, twist is a big part of their overall media strategy and narratives that they’ve been putting out over the past year. But yeah, it definitely wasn’t not a threat to them at all.

TFSR: Yeah, and there’s like, it’s a pretty terrible PR move also to try to symbolically shift the significance of the soil inside of the box to being animal feces, when it’s about laying to rest people that were victims of state violence or like anyone, but yeah. It’s a grasping at straws type thing.

But to just sort of step back — and thank you, thank you for that breakdown — to sort of step back to the question of because I packed that, that with a lot of different elementsthere is a tension that that has sort of come to the fore visibly between city politicians. Like the pressure, according to City Council, activists had left signs requesting that City Council members vote to decrease police funding at the residences of some of the City Council members, and that was considered to be a threat by the city council members, or was presented as such during one of the one of the meetings that happens every other week.

But during the pressure campaign that folks were trying to call in and apply pressure, it wasn’t just that people were calling into City Council — obviously, this is during COVID and so people couldn’t show up and stand at a podium and talk because these events were close to the public, which creates a huge amount of obscurity to the process and difficulty to like participating in this quote unquote, representative democracy system we have. But also, I think it came to light at some point to a lot of people that actually City Council isn’t directly responsible for the hiring, directly responsible for the budgeting choices for the police, that it comes down to the bureaucratically appointed city manager. Which kind of while people were attempting toI don’t fault people at all for taking the approach of attempting to use the rules in place to shift agency and apply pressure and make the changes happen that they want to see happen — but it seems like the power, the existing power structure for the city already had the barricade set up and ready for people to come up against. Can you talk a little bit about those tensions between the elected city officials who maybe did want to make changes, maybe didn’t, and the police department and the city bureaucracy?

UW: Yeah. So you know, you said something earlier about how they were basically trying to pass the buck on the monuments, right? There’s always mechanisms in place with these systems where everybody can just shrug and say, oh, not my department, you know, it’s sort of they like, they diffuse responsibility in such a way that there are these failure points that are designed to I mean, City Council’s job is basically to be yelled at, and not do anything about it, right? They can pass things…but for the most part, when it comes to actual change, the mayor loves talking about the weak mayor system we have here in North Carolina. I’m not clear on all the details but basically what it boils down to is what you just said, which is: the mayor is an elected person who doesn’t actually have the power to do all the things that she claimed she wants to do, and has to instead defer to the city manager, which is an unelected position, appointed position, and the city manager is actually the person who, in this case, is responsible for the police department for all of city staff.

So a big rhetorical strategy that you see out of city council is basically being like, oh, we’d love to help you with this stuff, but you see, city staff has told us we can’t, and we don’t have the power to override them. So I mean, I’m a cynic. So of course, I see this as a ploy. If they really wanted to, they could find some way…they find ways to make things happen that they want to make happen. In my experience. This sort of diffusion of responsibility is just, is very clever. And there have been a couple of folks, never at the same time, on City Council who we had a council member who did actually support, vocally supported cutting the police budget in half. Which was the demand by a group called Black AVL Demands, which was like a multi generational Black organizing group. And their number one demand was cut the police force budget in half. And we had one council member named Brian Haynes, who actually was in support of that. He’s no longer on Council, we actually had an election in the middle of all of this. So, you know, we lost a potential ally in Brian Haynes during all that. He was planning to retire anyway.

And now we have a new, more progressive council member named Kim Roney, who has not been vocally in support of defunding the police, but has sort of always voted no on anything that gives them more resources or money, things like that. But again, the power is diffused in such a way that she doesn’t really have any power as far as I can tell. It’s more of a symbolic thing, that there’s always one “noon the record.

I’d say there was some other sort of tensions, especially among the leadership because of Chief Zack being brand new, having just started in March of 2020, which is basically right before COVID kicked off here. And I mean, obviously, COVID was already happening across in other places in the world, but typical American fashion, we weren’t really concerned about it until it started affecting us. And that’s started happening in April, late March, early April, so Chief Zack had not been in place very long. And then, of course, the George Floyd Uprising started happening in early summer.

TFSR: So you had mentioned a little while ago about the attrition rate of the police department and the city losing about a third of its police force due to retirements or cops quitting. Can you talk about why this is a crisis? It’s not like the police actually get trained for a long period of time before coming on to the job, right? It’s not like they have to go through a four year degree program or something like that. Why are they so concerned? How abnormal is this? Like, how long does it take for a city to replace a cop? Where are they going and what what are they doing as far as we know,

UW: According to the police department, it’ll take a long time, several years at least, to get the police numbers back to where they were from this attrition. They say it takes as much as a year to get someone from the point of I want to be a cop to actually being able to do that job on a daily basis without being at a training capacity. And this could have something to do with the fact that Asheville is a nominally progressive city and we put our police through more training than the average police does. I’m not actually sure. But I know we do like Verbal Judo training and things like that.

So I know in 2020, for example, they graduated six cadets, and five of them have already quit. So the point in that that I’m making is that they put quite a bit of money, time and resources into training these cops and it does not guarantee the cops will actually stay cops. According to the chief, a lot of the people who are quitting are younger, newer recruits, who basically just feel hated immediately upon becoming cops and decide to change career paths. According to the chief it’s about a 50/50 split between people who are like, Wow, I didn’t realize that I would be this hated, I’m gonna go do something else. Like, I’m gonna go be a refrigerator repairman or something like that.

TFSR: Awesome.

UW:
Yeah, which is great. And people who just moved to Asheville is considered, you know, a blue dot in a red sea because we’re in North Carolina — so a lot of the cops just move to the county or move to a surrounding city where it’s more friendly to police and they continue being. But I think a 50/50 split is pretty good. If we can get 50% of people who quit to stop being cops altogether. That seems like a good number to me.

TFSR: There’s a billboard in the city on Patton Avenue that’s, you know, pretty prominent as you’re driving from West Asheville down towards downtown that’s just like four, I think, four very diverse ethnically and gender police officers in uniform and then an empty spot in the middle with like a frame and it says “This could be you! or whatever. It’s like an advertising campaign from the Greensboro [correction, Winston-Salem -Editor] police department, which like for folks who don’t know, is a much larger city. It’s what? Like two and a half hours to the east of here. And they’re, I guess they’re, they’re being like, “Nobody likes you in Asheville? Come on down to Greensboro. We love cops, we’ll hire you. But I was surprised to hear that that wasn’t where, that wasn’t necessarily what was happening with the police that were leaving, they were probably just like, well, if they’ve already got the training, and that’s paid for, we can just scoop them up.

UW: Right. Yeah, I mean, and again, like I said, we have to trust what the chief is saying. And he has political reasons why he would fudge these numbers. But according to the chief, it’s been about half and half in terms of people who have just totally quit the job, and who have moved to other departments. They also tend to cite low pay, which, without getting too much into the weeds on this, Asheville in general is an extremely expensive place to live, pretty much everybody here is underpaid. It’s the tourists with money who come and drive up costs.

So yeah, the police force despite claiming that they’re underpaid, they start higher than the median salary here in Asheville. Maybe some of them are going to get better pay elsewhere, maybe some of them are going to find a more friendly area to police. And apparently half of them are quitting altogether.

TFSR: Because of paywall *laughs* I didn’t actually read the New York Times article that came out, but I do know, I’m familiar enough with one of the cops that featured prominently in there, is a white officer, is queerLindsay Rose is the name that I saw in the New York Times — it sounded like they had said that they had quit because they had felt people were being mean to them. But I had also heard that they had been rehired. So maybe some of that saved budget from the cop attrition has gone towards upping their pay. I don’t know if you have anything to say about that.

UW: I actually do know for a fact that just a couple of weeks ago, City Council voted for a budget that does increase police pay, they’re all getting raises. And they are actively using the attrition. So they fully funded the police force again, despite this attrition. So they gave them the same amount of funding as they had before with the larger number of cops. And they’re using that extra money to try to refill those positions, but they realize they know that they can’t do all of that in one year. So the extra money is going towards giving all of the cops a raise and more training and technology, of course. So I have more to say about Lindsay Rose, about the media angle, but we can come back to that when you get to that question.

TFSR: Can you talk about what sort of material changes have happened with police in town in terms of patrol areas and frequency of patrols and response times? And has that affected crime rates? Like one thing I’ve seen [that] is good [is] the cops saying that they are not wanting to show up to certain kinds of calls or I guess be doing the foot patrols that they were doing before? Is that, do you have any insights on that?

UW: Yeah, I’ve said it a few times, but just to reiterate: it’s been about 35% attrition, they have refilled some of those roles, but not nearly all of them. So there are substantially less cops. That’s definitely the biggest material impact of the last year. As a result of that they have, as you said, they released a statement saying that they would not always respond to certain kinds of infractions crimes. To me it read as a piece of political theater, because the things that they list are things like a simple assault that is reported after it occurred, or a theft under $1,000 when there’s no suspect, which like, I don’t know, I’ve never been one to call the cops much, but from what I understand, they don’t really help or do anything about in those situations anyway. Like, what? What is the cop going to do if they show up after an assault has occurred, a simple assault has occurred. Which, simple assault, just to be clear to anybody who might not know is something like being punched. It’s not, you know, it’s nothing super violent. It’ssimple.

So yeah, to me, it read as political theater. Of course, the chief has come out and publicly sort of lambasted anybody who says that it’s political theater, but I remained steadfast in my conviction that it is political theater. There have been a few more, in terms of crime rates, as I mentioned, at the top, there was this FBI Uniform Crime reporting standard, they released these reports every quarter. Notably, the reports don’t include a lot of, like, major cities and things like thatI think it’s something like 3040% of police forces around the country are actually involved in this most recent report. And that’s been used to sort of foster this narrative of a crime wave. In terms of our local crime statistics that I’ve looked at, there has been a few more gun related crimes, and things of that nature. It’s also worth mentioning that gun sales skyrocketed in 2020. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it was huge. Like a huge increase in the amount of guns that were sold. And I’m not anti-gun or anything, I just, I think it’s important to point out that if there are more guns, it follows that there would be more crimes committed with guns, because there are more guns.

So in terms of our local crime statistics, it looks, to me, mostly like everything is remaining flat overall. The overall crime rates are people will say this all the time — are way down from like, the 90s. And there are a multitude of reasons that I don’t want to super speculate on as to why that is. But this fear mongering about there being this big spike in crime just doesn’t bear out in the data that we have. And the data is notoriously manipulative, and things of that nature. But you know, if you accept their framing of looking at the numbers, even that doesn’t bear out. The increase in gun crime is offset by decreases in other types of violent crime. So even violent crime rates are not trending upwards right now. They’re pretty much flat.

TFSR: Yeah and I guess a pointa point of mostly white supremacists fear mongering around violent crime and the othering of folks and just, whether it be racially or poor folks or whatever, will tend to focus on gun crime, rhetorically as a thing that is coming from those populations — but so this is-this is like a third hand thing. I was at the grocery store, I was listening to two people talk about a shooting recently that happened at a bar in West Asheville, where somebody drove up and like shot into the place. Which is scary. It’s definitely scary. Yeah, the cops are not going to stop that. Well, super gun advocates say the cops are not going to stop that and that’s why people need more guns. Which is not, I‘m not making the argument that people need to bring guns into bars. But that’s the argument finally that law enforcement makes is we will track down and trace the person that was in traffic that got out and shot into the bar”. Which, possibly from security cameras they might be able to do that sort of thing. But like honestly, it’s pretty, it’s pretty unlikely. And more cops in this situation does not mean less of this sort of incidents. Like there’s a lot of things that can sort of like lead into that situation, including the fact that we’re in the middle of a year and a half long pandemic. There’s relatively high unemployment. People are on the verge to eviction. People are continuing to try not to get sick or care for people that might get sick from this increasingly dangerous pandemic but

UW: — largest wealth transfer in, I mean, I don’t want to, I don’t want to make a false statement, but from what I understand, one of the largest wealth transfers ever occurred during this pandemic. The poor got significantly poorer. And the rich got significantly richer throughout this global crisis. And that has to do with the crime data, stuff too. Like what you just said, speaks to something about the crime data. Which is, there’s so many levels on which we have to sort of combat their narratives, while also combating their framing, right? You have to either accept some of their framing stuff, like that the gun crime thing that you brought up. It’s like, why are we even discussing that in relation to their being police attrition? Because they don’t really have anything to do with one another? More cops does not make there be less gun crime. There’s conflicting evidence on whether or not that is even the case.

TFSR: Yeah. So thanks for running down that engine with me. So can we talk a little bit about what you’ve learned about the media angles on this? Like, whatwhat is mainstream media saying about this? And what is the APDPublic Relations connection? When did that start, and do you have any details on that?

UW: Yeah. So and this goes back to officer Rose, you mentioned earlier. She’s an interesting character in this aspect, in particular. During the protests last summer, to sort of take it back, there was, after the first few days of tear gassing and stuff like that, the community support kind of swelled. One of the ways in which this manifested was people started showing up to protests prepared to take care of folks who were tear gassed. And they actually set up a medical it had medical stuff and snacks and water and things of that nature in an alleyway near where the protests sort of coalesce downtown. Right after, I think it was actually like five minutes before curfewbecause you know, last summer, all these cities were putting out these curfews which drew ACLU ire — but right near the curfew, the cops, according to the folks who work there, without warning, sort of stormed this medical tent. And not only did they like, you know, throw the folks who were working the table to the wall and stuff like that. They started actually destroying the medical supplies. So there’s this photo, that goes around that’s been going around by a local reporter named Angie Wilhelm, of a APD officer stabbing a water bottle. So they were stomping and stabbing water bottles

TFSR: — in full riot gear.

UW: In full riot gear, yeah. And that photo went national, right? It got a lot of attention and went viral on Twitter. Folks who are listening to this might have even seen it, maybe not realized it was Asheville. So that was obviously a horrible PR moment for Asheville, which is a tourist town that tries to market itself as progressive and liberal and stuff like that. Directly after that incident the Asheville Police Department hired this company called Cole Pro Media, which is a PR firm. Interestingly, the PR firm, if you go to their website right now, it’ll have a bunch of talk about how they never spin anything or anything like that. They’re just trying to help police be more transparent and accountable, is their line. But the local paper, Citizen-Times, did a little bit more investigating and found an earlier iteration of Cole Pro Media’s web presence in which they advertised that they would help cops outsmart journalists. Like openly stated that that was one of their goals.

So this transparency and accountability language reappears in that New York Times article. The New York Times sent this guy here to interview the chief of police, the mayor, of a handful of locals and they ran it on the front page. And one of the cops that they interviewed was officer Rose, who you mentioned earlier. Officer Rose quit the force pretty spectacularly. Because as a queer person, they didn’t feel like the queer community was being accepting of them being a cop. And according to the New York Times article they went back to retrieve their badge to give it to their mother or something like that, and

TFSR: *mockingly* Awww.

UW: Right, so sweet. And Chief Zack talked them into rejoining the force as a, I can’t remember the exact term, like community liaison or something like that, right? And in the New York Times article, it’s notable that they use the same language, accountability and transparency”, like it’s almost word for word for their justifications that they gave for hiring this PR firm. Was we want to be more accountable and transparent. So then, you see that she came back to do that job and then is on the front page of the New York Times, like posed up in this very dramatic photograph of her, like, looking sad out a window. And it’s hard not to tie all that together in my mind: the water bottle incident, the PR company, the victim narrative of the coffin and all of the stuff that’s been happening very recently with the, you know, we’re losing cops and we can’t keep up”, the accountability and transparency language, officer Rose going into the New York Times, they started a community engagement division of the police force, which officer Rose is also on whose job is again, using that accountability and transparency language.

TFSR: What do cops in Asheville actually do? It seems like the evictions of houseless folks that happened over the summer this year from public parks put a lot of stress on the APD’s morale. Can you talk about that, and what you see is the relationship between homelessness, nonprofits or what some might call poverty pimpsand harm reduction efforts with the police in Asheville?

UW: You can’t really understand the function of Asheville Police Department without understanding that we are primarily a resort town. We make the majority… I say “we, the people who actually have money and capital in the city… make the majority of their money from tourism. We’re known as beer city, we have a ton of breweries and bars. In fact, it’s been suggested to me very recently that we might have one of the highest numbers of breweries and bars per capita from just about any city nearby or anything like that. We have a ton of breweries, and the craft beer scene is really big, the music scene. We’re also nestled in southern Appalachia, it’s a very lovely environment. All of that to say that those are used as justifications for why we need to focus the lion’s share of our resources, as both a city and a county, on appeasing tourists.

So one function of that, one aspect of that, is that we have the most bloated police force per capita of any North Carolina city. To my knowledge. And the reason for that is because police in the city function to use their fascistic language, in my opinion, keep the streets clean, right? And what they mean by that, of course, is not, you know, like public service of picking up trash. They mean by keeping the streets clean that they want to keep folks who tourists might not like to see, such as unhoused folks, out of line of sight.

So to me, that’s just so remarkably fascistic, the idea that human beings are trash to be cleaned up. But that is one of the major functions of the police. And there are several, you know, reactionary, right wing business groups who are super focused on that tourist money who make this argument themselves all the time. I don’t have to put words in their mouth at all, they will straight up say, why can’t we use more tourist money to keep the streets clean of unhoused individuals? I mean, they’ll call them homeless folks.

So it’s really important to understand that’s one of the major functions of Asheville police, is keeping the town free of things that might remind folks who are coming here to have a cozy vacation. They don’t want anything reminding them of capitalism, the failures of capitalism. You know, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the folks who work in Asheville can’t actually afford to live here. I think it’s the most expensive city in North Carolina, from what I understand, to live in. So keeping unhoused individuals out of sight is one of the biggest functions of the police. We’ve long had an affordable housing crisis in the city. And it’s just getting worse recently with all of the recent buyouts and stuff that these investment firms are making.

TFSR: And Airbnb’s.

UW:
Oh, yeah, Airbnb, that’s a big one, huge one. A lot of them are not even, like, legally allowed to exist. But of course they do because folks can just list their house on a website. That’s about to get a whole lot worse, because, I mean, we’re recording this today on Saturday [August] the 31st and as of today, the eviction moratorium, federal eviction moratorium has expired. There might be something in place at the state level, but in any case, that’s signaling the end of protections for renters, who are behind due to the pandemic. So that’s sort of a high level. What the police do in Asheville has a lot to do with basically keeping it a comfortable place for rich tourists.

In terms of the like, day to day what they actually do— somebody put out a really cool zine last summer, that’s sort of where they like, actually sat and listened to police calls, or on the scanner or something like that — I’m not actually sure how they did their researchbut documented a lot of calls. There’s also this group called AVL Watchdog that got ahold of call center data and like actually broke it all down. So basically mostly what Asheville actually does, according to this, is traffic stuff. Assist motorists, deal with improper parking and things like that. That’s 23% of their time. According to this. To be more clear, it’s 23% of the calls that they get. How they actually spend their time can look a lot different from the percentage of calls that they get for sure.

What’s notable on this is that when you’re talking about things that a lot of people consider harmful, such as theft or violent crime or anything like that, you’re down in the like, I mean 5% were reports of theft, including shoplifting. 3% of their calls had something to do with mental health, people having issues publicly. So the point being that it’s such a small amount of what they actually do on a day to day basis, they mostly just exist to keep unhoused individuals out of sight. And one part of that is, they have been evicting folks from these public parks. There was a big one, there were two that really drew a lot of attention very recently. One was on literally the coldest day of the year of 2021, so far. And the police decided to evict a camp of folks who were camping under a bridge. And the reason that they did this is notable, it’s because they got a report from this thing called the Asheville App, which is tourists using it as a direct line of communication with police and city council and stuff. And you know, the officials of various capacities. So there was a report made, and then within a few hours, they went out there and evicted this camp that was under a bridge.

And then there were folks camping at a couple of different parks, public parks. Which as I understand it was where they were told to move, to the public parks from more public spaces where they had been under bridges and things like that. I’m not sure of the details of that, but from what I understand they were directed to go there [by the city]. And somewhat recently, they decided that they weren’t allowed to be there either, and sent out notices that everybody had to get out. And they gave them like a week or something like that to get out. Most of the folks not really wanting more trouble for themselves and more legal trouble, did decide to just move on, find somewhere else to be. One camp in particular had some folks who were like, no, we’re not going to move. And they ended up sending out something like 30 cops, which of our police force again, just a reminder, we lost 35%. That’s a big proportion of our police, 30 cops is a lot of our police.

So yeah, they sent out a huge proportion of our police to evict this camp, they made several arrests of folks that they claim are activists. But again, there’sit’s not like those are two distinct categories of unhoused folks and activists. So yeah, that’s what police do in Asheville. They function as an apparatus to basically hide the effects of the policies that they want to uphold, the policies of never ending growth and tourism.

TFSR: So I did kind of bring up harm reduction efforts in that question, and maybe that wasn’t the best place to bring it up. But this next one, I think is. So there was recently a push by a small section of right leaning business owners in the city to put up a very ugly-ass, boot-licky billboard in support of the police, and to get local businesses that specifically support the police to put little blue ribbons in their windows. You know, because the FOP [Fraternal Order of Police] stickers that a bunch of diners have in their windows aren’t enough, or whatever. But I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the billboard effort and any of the characters or group names that are affiliated with the push against public visibility of homelessness, or of safer alternative harm reduction opportunities for intravenous needle users or other folks that are using illegal or concentrated substances in our community. Like I know Steady Collective and Firestorm and we talked about this a couple of years agowe’re getting a lot of pressure from the West Asheville Neighborhood Alliance. Which sounds like a very legit group but in fact is is spearheaded by some some people that are pretty far to the right and involved in some of the counter-protests to BLM stuff last year. Yeah, wondering if there’s anything you can say about WANA or the billboard or the blue ribbons or that sort of thing?

UW: Yes. So I have not gone down the West Asheville Neighborhood rabbit hole just yet. I only know what I’ve heard from other folks. And like you said, you guys probably have some great information in your archive about the situation with Firestorm collective, which is a local bookstore and coffee shop run by anarchists and in a collective fashion, and the Steady Collective, which is a harm reduction program here in Asheville. Not necessarily run by anarchists from what I understand, but just yeah, harm reduction, syringe exchange program and outreach program that works with drug users to mitigate some of the effects that they face, not only as a result of using drugs, but uhhh being in a society that criminalizes people for things that other folks can do in their homes without facing persecution to the same extent, at least.

I can say that the billboard is part of a very concerted effort for this group that’s calling themselves AVL Business Owners. They actually had a private meeting with the mayor about a month ago. I say private, it was at a place called the ISIS Music Hall, which is a concert venue in West Asheville. And they only invited business owners, that’s why I say it was private. They sent it out via email to local business owners and invited them to come. And we’re very upfront about the fact that they were not going to talk about defunding the police or anything like that. They asked for people to submit questions in advance. And then they were going to have a moderator who basically spoke on behalf of all these folks.

So over the course of this meeting, they brought up a lot of issues, mostly anecdotal issues around folks using drugs and sleeping and sort of just existing in their line of sight. And their solution to that is to crack down on them, to have more police and more punishment for these folks who are already being displaced by the systems by these very business owners and their insistence on profits, through the means of tourism. So, that business owners group is called Asheville Business Owners and they are responsible for both of things that you mentioned. The big ugly billboardthat’s, I think, at the intersection of patented Haywood, in West Ashevilleit just says, Thank you, Asheville police department. We support you or something like that, and has their email address avlbusinessowners@gmail.com, I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if folks drop them a quick line to let them know how much they appreciate that billboard.

That same group is also responsible for the Blue Ribbon campaignwhich is kicking off on August 1, which is tomorrow as of the recordingwhere folks are going to be putting blue ribbons up on their business fronts to signal their support for police. So these folks are all very concerned about unhoused individuals in particular. In the invitation email, to their meeting, they were very much like we are not going to be discussing homelessness, the majority of the meeting was about homelessness. Without even meaning to they make these connections for us. At one point, one of the folks who were in the meeting asked why can’t we use the money that’s generated from tourism to do something like build a facility to send homeless folks to? So yeah, the connections between drug users and unhoused folks, and these right wing businesses is super thick, there’s a lot of stuff there. To bring the harm reduction efforts into it, they are all of course, very against harm reduction, because they see it as you know, through that sort of outdated lens of enabling, as opposed to you know, helping people stay alive. And they want instead there to be further criminalization, further punishment of these folks.

TFSR: I know, it’s it’s impossible to speak on everyone’s behalf, but if you could talk a little bit about some of the alternatives that people are proposing to police here in Asheville or have been or were last summer. If your impression is that people from overpoliced communities are participating in creating those demands, or if it’s like… I know sometimes it gets proposed that it’s a bunch of white middle class activists that are presenting these things when really they don’t have a sense of the problem. Outside agitators, I think they call them.

UW: So yeah, I’ll start off by saying that I think that the idea of alternatives is sometimes the wrong framing for what a lot of folks actually say in this space. From what I understand from reading abolitionists like Mariame Kaba and folks like that, in many cases, they say the best alternative to the things that police do is simply nothing at all. And that sometimes trips up well meaning progressive liberals who do think we need to one to one alternatives. But in reality, the alternatives I hear from a lot of abolitionists are focused on background needs, and giving resources to people in ways that don’t have a one to one relationship with crime” but instead, they’re more focused on building healthy communities.

And again, I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I can tell you that, from what I’ve observed, there was a group that formed very early on last summer during the protest movement called Black AVL Demands. It was, according to them, a multi-generational Black organizing group. They put forward the demand that sort of overtook the public discourse locally of defunding the police by 50%. To my knowledge, they didn’t really put forward any direct alternatives.

There is another group, totally anonymous group, that has identified themselves as multiracial, including Black folks, just to be clear, and they’re called the Defund AVL PD Instagram account. They actually put forward some more concrete ideas. I actually have a little list of those here. They suggested that the police funding could go towards jobs programs, restorative justice programs, affordable housingwhich as we’ve talked about is a huge issue in Ashevillepublic education, mental health service, evidence based substance use treatment and harm reduction services, rent subsidies and eviction diversion, and free public transportation, which we do not have here.

In addition to the Defund AVL PD group, there’s another group called the Racial Justice Coalition. They have a community liaison named Rob Thomas, who is a Black man who is from Asheville, has a deep ties to the community here, the Black community and has some personal experience with the justice system in particular. I just want to quote him, because I think it’s really important that we hear from somebody who’s not me, who’s not a white person on this issue. So this is Rob Thomas talking about defunding the police:

I want to be totally transparent about my stance on defunding the police departments. I don’t think that the call to defund the police is going to solve all of the issues within law enforcement. What it does do is free up funding so that we can start up alternatives while keeping law enforcement active. We can create structures that can replace some of their duties as has been has been shown in other cities. The culture of policing is directly reflective of the culture of America. Structural and institutional racism is embedded in the DNA of America. And the only way to change disparities in policing, disparities in school systems, disparities in government, and disparities in the criminal justice system, is to completely dismantle the systems as they currently stand and restructure them completely. This may sound drastic, but if you look at where we are now in racial equity, and where we were 100 years ago, you will see that many systems have been completely overhauled. I’m looking at where we need to be measuring against where we are right now.

So that’s to offer some outside perspectives. You know, folks have offered everything from we need these specific things that will help folks have the resources that they need to prevent crimes in general. And then we have, yeah, spoke to people saying we need to completely tear down the system and then restructure it from the ground up. There’s also been talk of Reparations in Asheville. The City Council passed a resolution for reparations. And for folks who aren’t familiar with some of the sort of city government jargon, a resolution is really just them all agreeing to read something out loud that they agree with. It’s not really an actionable plan. So they basically apologized for racism and said that they would do better. Part of that was they’ve been attempting to institute a reparations program, which does not provide any cash payments, it sort of uses market mechanisms and city contracts to attempt to transfer some wealth towards Black folks. But even that program has not been going well.

TFSR: Yeah, for folks in town, there’s actually a really nice mural about reparations and the demand for the city to actually cut a check on it on the side of the El Dorado building on Haywood Road in West Asheville by the artist Destro. Shout out to Destro.

UW: I mentioned way earlier that they created the Office of Equity in response to some of the protests a few years back. That office is currently sitting with zero, not a single person who is a full time employee of that office. They had an interim director that they just appointed, like the day before yesterday, after two directors have quit. The first director who quit very publicly said that they were not getting support from the city, from the city manager in particular and that’s why they were quitting. And there is no other staff in that department at all. So they had made a promise to have this Reparation, I’m not sure the exact word, but this “Reparations Coalition or something like that, up and running one year from the day that they declared it. And that deadline passed kind of without fanfare, I think like a week or so ago.

So yeah, the only material thing that I’ve seen and heard in terms of alternatives to policing is: there is talks the city is looking into a CAHOOTS model crisis intervention team. Which, again, for folks who aren’t super familiar with that, CAHOOTS is a program that I believe was started in Oregon… Eugene! Yeah, there we go. And the point of that group is basically if someone’s having a mental health crisis or something like that, you can call these folks and they’ll come and they’re not police. And they will help defuse the situation and de-escalate and that sort of thing without getting cops involved. So that’s the only like, straight up alternative that I’ve heard really being floated.

TFSR: I understand that you did not just do all this preparation for this conversation. I’m wondering if you could talk about projects that you’re involved in, any sort of support that they need, or how people could learn more?

UW: Yeah, so I try to do as much as I can in service to liberation. I do design work and things like that, for anybody who needs it. One of the things that I like to do, or spend a lot of time doing at least, is researching the police and the media narratives, as I mentioned earlier. One of the group projects that I’m working on as an outgrowth of that is we’re trying to launch a new locally focused news blog. We’re calling it the Asheville Free Press. By the time this airs, it will have launched if everything goes according to plan. So if folks want to find me on Twitter, it’s just my name, Ursula Wren and the Asheville Free Press is just going to be a website http://avlfree.press. And yeah, we’re gonna do, we actually have a couple of pieces lined up about things that we’ve talked about in this this interview. I have a more in depth reporting of what all was said at that Asheville Business Owners meeting with the mayor, and a more thorough debunking of the manure coffin victimization narrative that cops have talked about. Both of those should be out by the time that this airs. So yeah, that’s, that’s what I’ve been working on. Asheville is home to lots of great media projects and my goal is to just sort of do what I can to help contribute to that in any way I can. I’m so glad that I got to be on here and talk to you about this. That’s definitely part of that for me.

TFSR: Aww, that’s, it’s my pleasure. I’m glad to have you on.

UW: In addition to the media project that I just mentioned, I am 1/4 of a screen printing collective called Syndicate Press. We do, like, live events where we print propaganda t-shirts, for lack of a better term. There’s a shirt that you’ll see all around Asheville that says “Fund communities, not cops, and that was something that we put together. So, those are the projects that I’m involved in.

TFSR: Well, Ursula, thank you so much for taking the time to have this chat and all the work that you do. *trying to keep a straight face* We’ll see you at the barricades, comrade.

UW:
*laughs* Alright. Thank you so much Bursts.

Colectivo Subversión on Protest in Colombia and Global Battles for Dignity

Colectivo Subversión on Protest in Colombia and Global Battles for Dignity

Photo of a street mural with nature themes reading, in Spanish, "This is the Time of the voice of the Communities"
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This week on the show we are pleased to present an interview with María Kamila, who is a teacher and a popular journalist who works with the anarchist Colombian journalism and counter-information collective in Bogotá called Subversión. We originally reached out to talk about the current wave of protests and riots in Colombia, and this interview covers many topics, ranging from a historical contextualization of the current moment, who are on the front lines of the protests, Indigenous solidarity with anarchist accomplices via the Minga – which is a pre-colonial term for collaboration, meeting or communal action – , and many more topics.

Much thanks to our comrades at Radio Kurruf, doing anarchist media in the Biobío bio-region of so-called Chile in occupied Wallmapu, for putting us into touch with Subversión.

Paypal donations for supporting frontline protestors: surterraneomusic@gmail.com

Social media:

Further reading and research topics:

  • [00:20:00] min Mention of Carlos Pizarro Leongómez of 19th April Movement, assassinated Guerrillero
  • [00:24:00] minutes Minister of Finance Alberto Carrasquilla Barrera who was forced to resign
  • [00:28:00] minutes Guarda de Cauca , an ongoing struggle of Indigenous people fighting for land sovereignty
  • [00:40:00] minutes: Minga (or Minka), Indigenous, pre-colonial term for collaboration, meeting or communal action

Good articles in English:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription

Maria: Thank you, pretty much for this space, I have to really say that it’s pretty important to be here. So well, my name is Maria Camila. I’m a teacher. And I am also a popular journalist that is part of a collective called subversión. Let’s say our main job is trying to communicate from some other points of view.

TFSR: Do you have… Or could you speak a little bit more about your collective Subversión? How did this group begin and what is what is more about the work that you do?

Maria: Yes, of course. Well, first, the group started in 2015 as an organization close to the anarchist student group, or here in Colombia. Let’s say that these books started with the need to confront the state propaganda… Right? Government, media, and all those kind of information they gave us as people. So let’s say that we saw the need to dispute some truths that were broadcast on television and social networks. And we try to speak a little bit about the work of people, right? How were they dynamics, for example, in the neighborhoods? How the student movement was doing in that time? So let’s say now we’re trying to connect and link every single kind of struggles we have been doing. So for example: we link with the communities of Cuaca and CRIC (the Regional Indigenous Council of the Cauca) & Liberacion De La Madre Tierra (Liberation of Mother Earth). We also have anti-prison platforms, we have some art collectives, in terms of graffitis, in terms of music. So let’s say that’s our main purpose.

We also realize maybe that there are very, very few experiences of anarchy or libertarian media and in that minority, we could notice that a large part of them speak or pay more attention on the international work. International work such as Greece, Chile, Mexico, so they beat in focus pretty well in the local reality itself. So we tried to do it. That’s a little summary about it.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I think it’s really cool that it started coming out of the anarchist student movement. That’s really powerful, I think. So just to kind of give a little bit of context about what y’all have been going through this last little while. Could you talk about how the Covid 19 pandemic and maybe more importantly, the government’s response to it affected your ability to organize?

Maria: Okay, well, of course, Covid 19 pandemic lock-downs was pretty shocking for people in general, I’d say. And let’s say that in terms of organization, it’s been quite hard. Because… For example, here in Colombia, we still are facing arbitrary quarantines. And let’s say that the government tries to tell us “Okay, this is for you. This is necessary.” But we already think that it’s not like that, in we could say that these kinds of quarantines are being more pro-exploitation than pro-healthcare maybe. So it’s been really, really hard, obviously, because we have no basic income. There are no relevant money the government has to give us in order to stay home. So basically, you can go out during weekdays. But on weekends, you can’t do it… Because of your health, supposedly. So it’s just having a permission to go out to work. So it’s quite hard and quite difficult, of course.

Let’s say that many spaces that we had, in a presentational way, had to be more into the rituality, we had to transfer those kinds of spaces, some of them got lost, of course. For example: the anti-prison movement, and the anti-prison platforms are not finished, but it stopped. Right, because of the pandemic. I could also say in, I think it should be an advantage. And it’s the resistance from other spaces, for example, social networks, forums, popular schools, because let’s say that education can have these alternative that is mutual. So let’s say that we try to take advantage of it. However, it’s really, really difficult because of time, mostly, most of the companies. I don’t know, they feel like if you’re at home, you have to work every single day. So the schedule you used to have, it’s not the same one, because your boss can call you, I don’t know what 8pm and tell you “Hey, I’m really sorry. But I already know you’re at home. So could you please help me with this?” So let’s say that I don’t know the line we had before going to our job and coming back home… It’s not anymore, because we are working from home. So yeah, I’d say that. That’s a little matter of where we are facing in here.

Also, for example, the control of the spaces, of course, the public and the common places to be, are not anymore places to be. In they are not public anymore. So they are being managed by the government. So they basically decide, and they basically say “Okay, this place, since it is more from the government and for people… Can have tables on the street” But the restaurants… I don’t know, the popular restaurants in the neighborhood… A lot of business that basically are in order to help and are made by popular people, they can’t be opened. So of course, we have these kind of a class issue, right? So it’s been really hard. So yes, that’s a little bit about it.

TFSR: Thank you for talking about that. I think that the COVID 19 pandemic has sort of created a lot of circumstances that the government and the state and the prisons are using to sort of expand their power, like you said, with the bosses calling you at 8pm when you’re supposed to be off at 5 or whatever time to be like, “hey, you’re still at work, because you’re at home.” So you’re always at work. And I think that’s a very dangerous expansion of the state and the prison and the works power, like into our lives, so we never have a break from it.

Maria: Yes. And I think that due to this expansion you were talking about. It’s really, really tough because in some cases… Well, personally I feel in some cases, my bosses are just putting a lot of work… Telling me “Okay, you need to do this and you need to do this” just in order to make you work in that’s it. Like, I don’t know how I could say, but it is like they need to show themselves that you are working. So it’s really difficult mostly, for example, in my case, as a teacher It’s been really hard because you need to create a lot of reports and you need to send them to many people. It’s really, really stressful. So yes, the expansion of power, of course, it’s really tough.

TFSR: Yeah, yeah, I totally agree. I feel like we could talk about that probably for a long time. But we’re here to speak about the ongoing protests in Colombia. But this current situation has been unfolding for some time now. Will you speak about the protests which occurred in 2019 to 2020, in response to police corruption and austerity, among other things?

Maria: Well, I would like to start this answer by saying that during the last 20 years, Colombia has experienced a series of strikes, protests, riots, that have grown through the time, right? So these stages or these riots and these consecutive strikes, has been in response to the criminal policies of the far right government of Uribe, of course, which I don’t know he has had hegemony in the executive branch since 2002. So imagine, and let’s say that the police violence that we have experience in current years or in recent years is a clear example of the doctrine they form the state security forces. In these doctrines about the internal enemy, right, so the people you’re trying to protect, you don’t really have to protect them because they are your enemy. Right? So to this, of course, we need to add the increase in poverty that they have of the population closely to they have rising poverty in leaps in poverty. So they eat once or twice per day if they eat. So of course, there are more than 20 million people who don’t live with dignity under the power of the state.

In regarding 2009, that I consider is the initial stage of the strike that is taking place currently, I would say that the reason for the protest was a dissatisfaction of a large part of the Colombian population with the economic, social, and environmental policies of the government of the President. And as well as the handling that was given to the peace accords, with the FARC with the guerrilla, and of course, these had many consequences, such as murder of social leaders, where you can find peace and indigenous people reinserted ex-guerrillas in of course, the corruption within the Colombian government. I mean, Colombia is one of the most corrupt countries you can find around the world, not only Latin America, but the world. So I think it would also be important, you mentioned in historical key maybe, that the mobilizations or the riots and strikes of 2019 and 2020 have previous situations in the student strike of 2018. In the agrarian strikes of 2015, and 2010, which leads us to talk about the student movement of 2011, called MANE, or Mesa Anti-Nacional Estudiantil.

So, I could say that these information is really important, because we can notice that the government has done nothing for trying to fix what they need to fix. So, strikes that happened previously or that is happening right now. It’s just like a chain. I imagine, since the poverty is a chain since discrimination is a chain and poverty. Well, we also need to react that way. So we also need to say “Hey, this is not good. This is enough!” So we need to do something. So… Yes.

TFSR: It seems like Colombia is experiencing what a lot of places are experiencing, which is a rise in far right, fascist governments and also paralleled with just like increasing austerity. I understand like, the Colombian people are living underneath a really oppressive tax law that maybe we’ll talk about a little bit later. But yeah, thank you for going through the progression of you know, riots and strikes and student movements to sort of set the stage for the things that happened later. So like you mentioned, there have been other protests and riots in response to murders by police since 2019. Would you speak about these kinds of and how they sort of lead into what is currently happening?

Maria: Let’s say, related to this topic, we could talk a little about the historic overview of the deeds done by Policia Nacional and ESMAD (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios/Mobile Anti-Riot Squad) that start with the murder of Nicolas Nadir around 15 or 16 years ago. Nico was a teenager who was killed in the working riots the May 1 manifestations. So we could start from there. We could also mention Oscar Salas, Dilan Cruz, among others. And something to highlight here is that the collective memory has been a result of these events. For example, in related to 2019 2020, the police massacre that occurred on September 4th, 9th, and 10th has in the neighborhoods where these events took place. So the friends and relatives of the victims have organized themselves in several organizations to be able to demand for justice denounce the criminality of the state and the police. And it’s quite sad, because so far, we haven’t known the response even in the command lines of those days. I mean, we have no idea who ordered these kinds of crimes. And related to these, a group of graffiti artists and street artists has also been organized to commemorate every single month by making some murals in the city, denouncing the massacre and making memory of the people who are not with us anymore.

I think it is also important to talk about street action itself. Bringing the confrontation to the neighborhoods, it’s a new paradigm in recent history of the urban level that has no correlation since the 77 Strike hitting Colombia. Of course we need to speak a lot about in a historical way and the history about Colombia, because now the discontent of the jungle people who suffer harassment by the police. And of course, in that sense, although the actions have denoted in specific circumstances, such as the murder of Javier Ordoñez or the rapes and violence based on gender, at the end, we are involved in confrontations of historical roots. Right? That establish in of course, as I told you before, we are aware that the authority is our enemy. Right? No matter how they try to sell us the speech of “peace and dialogue, we’re just here to help you and protect you.” It’s not like that. And we can try to talk about this from the facts that happened and that you mentioned.

Of course, I mean, police abuse in Colombia is something really, really sad and frustrating, because, of course, they are quite like an arm for the government. So it’s, I mean, they are pretty bloody. They don’t care about tasering pregnant women, old people, they don’t care about it. So you already know that when ESMAD arrives in a protest, it’s going to be a riot. Right? So you need to either run or face what you need to face in that time.

TFSR: Yeah, that sounds really terrifying. And, you know, of course police violence is a sort of truth wherever there are police. But you mentioned… And this wasn’t one of the questions that I sent to you. But you did mention the disarmament of the FARC. And I understand that the FARC isn’t…. It has its problems, to be sure, very many of them. But I’m wondering what you think about how the disarmament and persecution of former FARC members has contributed to the current oppression of far left and anarchist organizing currently? If that makes any sense?

Maria: Yeah, yeah. I think the Actually, we have a book, whose name is “Reflexiones Libertarias Sobre El Acuerdo De Paz en Colombia.” And it is something in English like “Libertarian Reflections about Accord Peace or Agreement Peace” let’s say that since we stood into an anarchist position, we could say that democracy has always had a better place to be, right? And of course is related to the power. So we didn’t predict what was going to happen related to the persecution and all those deals. But let’s say that the government has not been clear, has not done anything about these kinds of agreements in terms of… For example, trying to give the peasants back his/her lands, his farms. I could say that this is not new, at least in Colombia. It has happened for twice maybe.

So for example,when we talk about 19th of April Movement, it happened the same. They did a peace agreement, a and they said okay, we’re not going to be armed anymore. We’re going to try to solve this conflict in the dialogue and all those deals. In some of them were murdered. Right? Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, for example, was murdered a few days later. So I’d say it’s something that we expected. Of course, we didn’t want to happen. But it was something that yes, we expected.

TFSR: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, sadly. Would you speak about the current protests and what led to them? We would also love to hear about who is on the front lines or Primera Linea. And what does this say about them and say about the general nature of the protests?

Maria: Yeah, of course. Well, first, as I told you before, the strikes this year are the continuation of the strikes that we experienced at the end of 2009 and in the beginning of 2020, we stopped those strikes because of pandemic and because of covid 19. In first the National Strike Committee, that includes retired organizations, some transport, there’s basins in the public… Colombian teachers have insisted in creating a plan to fight against the reforms that the government of Iván Duque has proposed since the beginning of his government, such as health reform, education reform, and now the tax reform. And obviously this committee doesn’t represent people. This committee is led by maybe the bureaucracy and some political parties that are looking for consolidating their electoral power for next year elections. And fortunately the demands of the committee have been overcome by the people who are confronting the police, and is much in the street. And the population that has been in the streets wants Duque to quit basically, in I would say, we could make it out since two ministers and a police captain have already resigned. This is specifically started with La Reforma Tributaria without him.

However, of course, it was not our main purpose. We could achieve that these reform couldn’t achieve in the congress and the number of votes they needed to do it. But we are also trying to establish the power from the strike, right? Not like the revolution we already know. But it’s really important for example, in related to the committee, the strike committee. There are no young people. All of them are old men and old women who don’t know what we need, what university people need, what a teenagers need, what children need, because they don’t really care. Right? They are looking for a power in the future.

So yes, that’s basically what happened. There was also something that produced the anger of the people. It was something that Alberto Carrasquilla Barrera said. Carrasquilla was the Minister of Finance. The Canasta Familia, I don’t really know how to say that in English. And these months, a journalist asked him how much a basket of eggs was? And he said, “10 dollars and 8 cents.” No, my God! That is like a half dollar maybe. So imagine, of course, the people say “What!? That’s not possible!” So if the person that it’s supposed to be in charge of telling the people how much we should and we can pay for food or services? Well, we need to do something in that. That was the last situation we accept.

So people started to say, “No way, this is not gonna be possible. You can’t do that.” Because you don’t really know how the real situation needs. For example, I couldn’t go out on April 28. But my mom said, okay, we need to support the people who are on the street. So you could walk through the neighborhood, and you could see some ads, maybe or some poster saying, “No to the Reforma Tributaria!” I don’t know, for example in my house, we wrote “We love beans. This family loves eating beans. But without Ivan.” So let’s say that the creativity and the union that this strike has been developing, it’s been amazing because not only are they the same people who are on the streets, there are not only university people. There are also school people, there are also private teachers. There are also people who are in charge of trading, people who have also suffered the pandemic, in that are aware of these crazies we are going to face if we don’t change what they want to do.

And I almost forgot it. Related to the first line… The first line has been made up mostly of young people from the popular neighborhoods in the periphery. And it’s quite shocked, because recently, we have seen the formation of the front lines of mothers who have been suffered political abuse or that they have just lost his or her children in this strike. So it’s like a fresh line being made by mothers. And I would say that, we also believe that the first line has been constituted by indigenous people who is made up of the indigenous guard or Minga. Let’s say that these kind of people, they are an autonomous group of indigenous, they have a lot of processes. And they have been in the cities and they have faced police, and ESMAD in the riots.

And I guess we could talk a little bit about the boom of the first line that has been built here in Colombia. It’s thanks to the Chilean experience, where the creation of these fronts was fundamental to face the state violence in the streets. And regarding the first line, it is worth mentioning the work of Black Flags, which is a first line that is anarchist. They mostly help in Medellín and thanks to the social media, they have helped other cities to share the abuse. And the violence made by my the police and that ESMAD also has committed. So let’s say that this first line has being really really important.

It has a disadvantage that maybe we already knew that was going to happen and it was related to the stereotype. Right? So these kinds of guys are there because they are vandals, they steal the city, they don’t do anything here in Colombia. There is sort of a like a sort of, like a saying really, really common into the right wing people. And it’s thats the people who protest its because we want every single thing for free. So yeah, it’s funny, quieren todo regala. So, yes. Let’s say that the front line has suffered, of course, this stigmatization. But they had faced in a pretty good way in they had, I don’t know, they had showed us that they are really brave in that they are not just fighting for fighting, right? They are fighting because they already know what they are fighting for. So education, basically, for eating three times at least a day, for having a job, for having a life that allows to say to you that they have dignity, right? So yes, it’s been really interesting.

Here in Bogota, the main first line is in Portal de las Americas, that is on the south. And of course, this area of the city is forgotten by the government. So the government that just because of having their TransMilenio, or public transportation, they were going to have a better life. But of course, we know it’s not like that. So yes, it’s been amazing. It’s been really, really nice… That job, and mostly because they also have education spaces, maybe. So they discuss about the situation, they say, “Okay, here in this neighborhood, we need this and this, so we need to make people know why we are here and what we need.” So let’s say it’s a really, really complete and connected struggle that they have done.

TFSR: Thank you for going through that it’s sounds like so dynamic and vibrant. And the international media has been seeing a lot of sort of the violence of the police, in places where the strikes and the riots are most intense and horrifying stuff, terrifying police activity and violence. But I think it’s also really good to keep in mind that, you know, there’s really beautiful things that can happen as well, in situations like this. And that sounds like a really amazing people coming together and, you know, struggling towards something together. I’m also really interested in your suggestion to talk about the Assembleas Barriales, which are neighborhood assemblies, which have been forming during these moments of riot. Will you speak about this, and how’s it been doing anarchist organizing throughout these efforts?

Maria: Let’s say that understanding that this strike has been as organic as it has been necessary, because most of the people didn’t expect to last the days it is lasting in it is really important trying to understand that it’s really organic, because these allow us to assume the need for political and historical formation of the protesters. So with these purpose the neighborhood’s assemblies have arisen in to try to create spaces for discussion, information and it’s a crucial execution of the strike from the neighborhoods. As I told you, it’s not the student movement who is in charge of it, or who is leading this process. It’s people who are mostly young people of the neighborhoods.

So of course, the historical political education, it’s quite important. So that’s what Assembleas Barriales are for. In with this purpose the neighborhood has started to create little groups and they have created some instructions, let’s say so for example: I don’t know there are people who are in charge of collecting food. The other people are going to be in charge of keeping everything safe in all those deals, in artistic days, maybe have been seen I don’t know, there are so many pictures about town cities with anti-Álvaro-Uribe slogans. So that’s a result of the discussions and the debates that are in the neighborhoods. Okay, here we have a political position and we don’t want Uribe here. So they have painted the walls with this, they have painted the highways with this. And, of course, the tributes to the big themes in the in the strike. And there had also had a lot of artistic shows and artistic masterpiece around the city.

And let’s say that due to the police abuse, training about human rights has been mandatory. What to do in case of an arbitrary detention. And of course, we as a collective or as a contra-information collective, the support has been attained in these spaces in trying to commit communicate before, during and after, these assembleas happen. And I also think is really important to mention that the participation of the anarchism as a movement, we already know that is marginal because of its nature. And maybe we could relate the anarchist movement into the efforts of collectives and individuals in terms of education, right? We could also mention the community organization. So they are also based in horizontal structures and they are rotating responsibilities. Of course, they need to have a self management of the spaces. Let’s say that we could relate these kind of practices and these kind of routines from and since the libertarian movement, taking into account the autonomy and the self action we need to have, of course. Because trying to make people realize we don’t need a leader in order to make good things and in order to make things work.

TFSR: Yeah, that all sounds, you know, also really amazing. And I could imagine it being like perhaps a bit chaotic, to be organizing as anarchists and doing any kind of sort of collective process in the middle of like, popular street movement going on, I think we can all sort of relate to that, from personal experience, to varying degrees. So it sounds like people are holding it down, which is really amazing.

Maria: Yeah, totally and these kinds of meetings and these kinds of assembleas has also allowed and acknowledge about the people who were before protest. So of course, we said, “Okay! Right, you’re now facing this. But do you remember in 2019 when you saw or watched on the news, that students have been debating and have been on the streets? Remember?” So it’s been really interesting, because, of course, it’s, I don’t know if respect is a real word, but every single person that attends to this kind of dynamics, has been aware of the social, of the matter and the importance of the social movement.

TFSR: I think we can all sort of understand that the world at least the documented world, in so far as you know, we film and you know, we take pictures and stuff, that kind of documentation is becoming perhaps like a bit more riotous or, you know…. There’s been a lot of global like, struggles around the world against fascism. And many have commented on the connected nature of these fights. Fights against fascism, like I said, the police state and settler colonialism all around the world from these extra judicial acts of violence, and also people coming together to fight those acts in Colombia to the State of Israel bombing refugee camps in occupied Palestine to the government mismanagement of COVID in India to the fights against pipelines and unceded indigenous land and so called Canada, and to the battles for Black lives here and the ongoing battles against gendered violence all over the world. Would you speak about this from your own perspective? And has your collective been sort of speaking about this as it’s been unfolding?

Maria: Well, let’s say that we could talk here about the indigenous struggle, the Minga of 2008 their plan for life and struggle, such as the recovery of lives and the historical memory of these people, right? During these days, some of the monuments that are in the cities have suffered an indigenous trial made by the indigenous themselves, causing the demolition, for example of the statues of Sebastián de Belalcázar, of Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada. I could say that it hasn’t happened before and I could say it’s an achievement that indigenous people have had. Mostly because people who live in the city don’t care or don’t know or don’t want to know about this kind of struggle. Because they feel and they think indigenous people are really, really far. Right? So bringing the Minga to the cities, having these kind of spaces with them has allowed us to recognize the real roots we have, right? So of course, a lot of people say, “you know? How are we gonna do that? It was Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada, he did this… He bla bla bla.”

I love of these kind of movements and indigenous people because they are also in the mood of teaching. So for example, if you go to them and you tell them “okay! I don’t agree with you.” He or she is going to tell you “okay! Let me explain you.” So they are also in the mood in the teacher mood and this is really necessary nowadays. So I could say that this struggle…. It’s been so hard in so far in terms of time, thanks to them, because they have been with us on the streets, on the committees, in every single way we could discuss and talk about and face this strike. And I definitely have to say that the struggles are connected, because at the end, they express nuance and differences of context, the deep contradictions of capital, the colonies, patriarchy and ecological destruction, for example. And it is not a coincidence, not only in the temporality, but also in the similarities on the demands, repositories of a struggle, the dispute for the lands of the peasants the working rights, maybe citizens are trying to look forward. And this allows us to observe or realize or notice that the peoples are also twins in this common conditions of oppression.

It is a system that operates on a planetary scales, and we need to say that it is sustained by the people that are lead to exploitation of the mass of people for the benefits of opulent and rich minorities. And I also feel really necessary regarding the tranversalities of the struggles that we are talking. We need, of course, to speak of the gender struggles that have been growing, and they have been stronger in the same way. It’s also pretty important to understand that police repression and police oppression is marked by the perception of women’s bodies as the spoils of war.

And in consequence, there is an instrumentalisation of these bodies that we have had. For example, in here during these days, we have had 87 reports of gender violence, including rape, including a girl who committed suicide because she was abused by ESMAD. Abuse and sexual aggression as well as threats and harassment. So of course, these struggles have to be connected. It’s really important. I would say that it’s an advance. If we look a little bit to the past, it is not something that people in the past could achieve. And I think that this strike has a lot to connect and link all struggles we have had through time. So students, workers, indigenous people peasants, teachers, of course public teachers, private teacher, every single person in a same place. And that place, of course, is a struggle place.

TFSR: I think that’s such a good point that you made just now, how police repression is marked by the perception of women’s bodies, and how there are the similarities and demands of striking and rioting people all over the world. Like we can see this in India, we can see this in Palestine. We can see this here in the so called United States. So I think that’s such a good point that you just made. And I’m going to be thinking about that for a while.

Maria: And it’s been pretty cool, because…. Well, cool in terms of political way, in really interesting…. For example, in some protest people riot. I don’t know, fight like Colombia, resist like Palestine, and vote like Chile. So it’s quite interesting how this journey of strikes, has made aware to the people that this is not just in Colombia, this is around the world. And this is around the world in terms of land, in terms of gender abuses, gender violence. It’s also about, of course, exploitation problems and issues. It’s also something related to the Black movement, right? Because every single person, I say, has suffered in some way, maybe a lot of people are not aware of it. But one of the achievements and goals that we have already did, was making people aware of the difficult situation, and the matter that if we don’t change this, it is going to be worse. With taxes, with violence, with insecurity, with a lot of deals here.

TFSR: Yes, I think that is very true. So what can listeners do to help support you?

Maria: First of all, be aware of alternative media, such as Subversión, of course… And try to spread all information among people who are fighting to change the world. Try not to believe too much… For example: our national information media channels, because they don’t say the truth, maybe they try to change a lot. I also think joined the act of denunciation and protests in front of the of the embassies and consulates of Colombia. That has helped a lot in terms of international points of view, because they world know what is going on in here. So of course, let’s say that currently, several campaigns are being organized from different organizations to make these actions. So for example, we know that the I.W.W, which is affiliated to the International Confederation of Workers, established a statement in solidarity with the struggle of the people here in Colombia, and they are planning actions of denunciation.

So if you can do it, wonderful. If no, you can share, for example, you can post, you can use the hashtag in all those deals. In terms of money we’re having a collect. Mostly for these first nine made by moms that I already told you. And we’re trying to support the art. So the art collectives are being supported by us. And yet, I would say the most important view should be and could be to spread the information and spread all information that you think it’s useful to other people now.

TFSR: Absolutely. Where can people donate to the collection for Primera Linea and the art collectives?

Maria: We have a PayPal account, which is…. I don’t know how I could send it to you.

TFSR: If you if you want to send it to me, I will publish it in the show notes.

Maria: Okay, perfect. So I’m gonna leave it to you in today’s chat. So that sounds great. Yes, through PayPal, you can donate through there. I guess it’s the easiest way.

TFSR: Maria Camila, thank you so much for taking the time to sit down with me and talk to me about what’s been going on and for doing… It should be mentioned too, that you did a lot of work to consolidate voices from the collective that you’re a part of to so that they could have a voice in this interview as well. And that takes a lot of work. It’s been really wonderful getting to talk to you and sit down a little bit. Is there anything that we missed in this interview that you want to sort of give voice to in closing, or sort of any last words that you would leave listeners with?

Maria: I really appreciate this space and meeting with you because I think it’s the better way to spread the information and try to make people realize our current situation. So thank you very much. And I think, I don’t know, it was really enough, maybe the interview. I would like to highlight that it’s quite important to the education, maybe? Through this topic. And let’s say that one of the flags maybe they strike has now is make you realize the art has to be political, in that sense. And in that way. It’s like an invitation to listen to, for example: are these support the strike? Listen to some group music that talk about the situation in Colombia? Follow for example, the collectives of the people who are in charge of the murals, of course, follow us! In terms of having you informed about the situation in Colombia, because we are a communicative collective. So yes, I could say that in order to conclude and of course, thank you pretty much.

TFSR: It was amazing. Please see our show notes for further topics that our guests discussed for any reading or research he would like to do based on this interview, including more about the MINA and the Guarda de Cauca and ongoing struggle for indigenous autonomy from the Colombian government and corporations. We will also link to subversión PayPal, through which they are fundraising for much needed medical supplies for people on the front lines of the protests. You can also look forward to a complete written transcript of this episode for reading along, translation purposes, or for sending to a friend at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org follow subversión on Instagram @subversión_CC and on Twitter @ccsubversión_

An Indian Anarchist on Anti Caste Organizing and More!

An Indian Anarchist on Anti Caste Organizing and More!

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This week we are very happy to present an interview with Pranav Jeevan P, who is a student, a writer, an anti-caste activist, and an Indian anarchist living in the state of Kerala. You are listening to the full extended audio from this conversation, where you’ll hear Pranav explaining how he got into anarchism, how anarchistic praxis unfolds in India, some about the origins of and worldwide implications of the caste system, anti-caste organizing and how anarchism feeds it, and about how the BJP and Hindutva have real influence on people’s lives and destinies.

He further touches on the struggle of Dalit and Other Backwards Caste folks and how this tendency has always had solidarity with Black liberation here on Turtle Island, much more information about the anti CAA protest and the Farmer’s Protest, a little bit about the ongoing military occupation of the state of Kashmir, and many more topics. There is already a lot of really good anti-caste hip hop out there, mostly performed by those in oppressed castes, and I’ll be including a bunch of those tracks which have been recommended by our guest, plus providing links in the show notes.

There are a lot of terms in this episode which may be unfamiliar to all listeners, and we warmly invite folks to take a look at our show notes for this episode to see links for further reading and research. Please also look forward in the coming week to this show being transcribed in full, if you would like a copy to send to a friend or to read along while listening.

Send Solidarity while India fights the pandemic!

Also you may have heard that covid is spreading out of control in India right now, in no small part due to government mismanagement. Please also take a look at this ongoing list of donations compiled by the group Students Against Hidutva Ideology. You can follow this group on Twitter @Students_A_H to see their updates and events. You can also follow India Solidarity Network on Instagram for updates on COVID in India.

We will link to a form for mental healthcare workers to donate their time and services to Indian frontline healthcare workers, who are really struggling right now.

Pranav’s social media links:

Links to articles by Pranav Jeevan P:

Incomplete list of people and topics mentioned by our guest, for further reading:

You Are the Resistance

Please be aware that in this segment, sean speaks about the Derek Chauvin trial and the murder of people at the hands of police. If you would prefer to skip this subject matter, you can skip forward about 8 and a half minutes. This segment occurs at the end of the episode, [02:02:27-02:10:58]

May Day

Happy May Day, y’all. We hope that you have a rebellious and joyous celebration in whatever way you see fit this week. If you’re looking for a place to hook in or have a public event, consider checking out ItsGoingDown’s post “May Day Is Our Day” and joining in or adding to their list.

NYC ABC has called for people to get together and to write anarchist prisoners Casey Brezik, Bill Dunne and Gage Halupowski, more info at NYCABC.Wordpress.Com or linked in our show notes.

Finally, another idea is to act in solidarity with the “Eyes on Starbucks: Don’t Fund Tigray Genocide!” call from the Indigenous Action Federation and Horn Anarchists from Eastern Africa for boycott and protest actions against the genocidal actions in Ethiopia from May 1st – 7th. More info on that linked in our show notes and at https://iaf-fai.org where you can find background, stencil designs and ideas of places to apply pressure.

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcript

BOG: Would you please introduce yourself with your name preferred gender pronouns location or any other information that makes sense for the purpose of this chat?

PJP: okay. So, I am Pranav Jeevan P and I identify with the pronouns he and him. I am basically from the district of Palakkad, which is in the state of Kerala in India. So, as far as where I come from I am actually right now doing my PhD in artificial intelligence in the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, Maharashtra. I am part of the Anti- Caste Ambedkarite movement in India. And most of the issues that I struggle around the lack of representation of marginalized communities in the higher education sector in India, especially the engineering colleges and STEM fields. So, where I come from personally… my background is that I come from what is called a backward caste. And both my parents, they’re first generation high schoolers, like they got their diploma. So, they were the first in their family to actually complete formal education and get jobs That actually enabled me to access a really good education and go for higher studies. And even though that was the case, the society that I am currently living in is filled with the elements of patriarchy and caste. Even though the state of Kerala is comparatively better than the services in India, as far as the Human Development Index and literacy is concerned. It is almost similar in living conditions to the Western countries like Britain or US. But the evils of caste and of the particular hierarchical structures & social structures are very obvious here. And my parents really had to face that in the workplace, and especially the places that we live, which are sorted by the dominant caste.

WG: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think now, like, especially in the US, the issue of caste and caste-ism is becoming a little bit more visible just through the work of people visualizing it, and and also the election of Kamala Harris, who is half South Asian herself, and she’s from an extremely privileged caste. And some people are talking about that, and we would love to talk about that some more later in the interview. But in terms of anarchism in India, although anarchism, you know, was a philosophy that motivated people involved in the movement against British colonialism, like, like Bhagat Singh, for example. And through the independence struggle, anarchism, as a cohesive philosophy doesn’t seem to have much of a life in modern India, does that seem like a fair estimation? How did you come to identify with the philosophy and how has it melded with your work and thought?

PJP: Okay, so that’s the first issue with anarchism in India. Anarchism is unheard concept in India, as an ideology. It has never been studied or even in the activist circles, like people who actually study ideologies, who goes to this fight, even they are not completely aware that such a philosophy actually exists. I think, even in the freedom struggle, like there were self proclaimed anarchists who actually did anarchist organizing, like Har Dayal and MPT Acharya they were actually never active within India, because most of the organizing happened for Har Dayal that happened in the US. he started an anarchist movement in US, and even MPT Acharya, he was active in Europe. And so it’s like very few individuals who actually studied and none of them actually did much organizing in the subcontinent. So, that was one thing and the case of Bhagat Singh, identified himself as a Marxist and he was an admirer of Lenin. He wanted to study Lenin’s life and things like that, but he had an attraction towards anarchism, and he wrote about it. So he had published a series of articles on anarchism and that might be the only articles on anarchism that is existing in India.

And then what happened is, the Marxist dominance happened in India like the what people call us community, some people identify immediately with the Communist Party of India, the ML party and The problem is, everyone identifies communism or like the left radical thinking with this particular party. They don’t know anything beyond that. So, whenever we talk about the left ideas, people immediately associate that “okay – you are talking about communism, and the CPI/ML party”. So, or like the what is happening in USSR or China and things like that, there is no awareness or any rigorous academic, or even activist awareness about this particular ideology. Like when I talk to people who actually read a lot about different ideologies, they haven’t heard, or they haven’t read much about Kropotkin or Bakunin, or what actually happened between them, him and Marx. Yeah, people are really unaware of this particular ideology. The funny thing is that there are many people in India, actually very huge number of people in India who actually are following anarchist ideals of like, who understand anti authoritarianism. Who understands the importance of liberty and equality. Who understands the importance of mutual aid. and who actually work on this kind of decentralized organizing and everything! But they don’t know that there is a philosophy like this, that is existing already, on which activists have been propagating. They just don’t know that they’re anarchists yet. So, that is the whole issue with anarchism in India right now. So, part of what I am trying to do is that. So since there is this moment of this Anti-Caste movement against this hierarchical social structure, which combines attacking all kinds of hierarchies like patriarchy, class violence, caste violence, there is this language superiority, colorism… All of this type hierarchies, which exists in society, and anarchism, as an ideology is best suited for it and I am trying to build that bridge between these the more political movements and social movements that are happening in India, in this ideology. Just showing that these are not separate. There is it an ideology is already existing, which you are actually following. You just don’t know it, but you’re already doing it. So, that there will be a much more academic and organizational backing to the moment that are already happening.

That makes so much sense, you know, we or I at least I don’t want to speak for my co-host. But I understand anarchism, like the construct of anarchism to be you know, as coming from like, these sort of very imperialistic backgrounds or powers. And I think that it’s articulating something that people who have to survive in the face of a lot of different kinds of oppressions do naturally, in a way. So, like, that makes so much sense. How did you come to anarchism? Like, you said, you’re writing a lot you are trying to build bridges, like how did you first like stumble across it? Or or how did it first start to make sense to you?

Okay, so initially, for me I started as an Anti-Caste. I was reading more and more and more about anti-militarist and anti-caste activism and I was part of the anti-caste struggle. Then I realized one particular thing that people are always… so, every person gets oppressed by certain hierarchies and they are getting privileged from certain other hierarchies. For example: there are upper caste women who suffer due to patriarchy, which suppresses them, but they get privileged from the caste system, that gives them privilege. And they get to oppress the lower caste men and women. There are lower caste men who are oppressed by the caste system, but they have privileged over a woman when we will look at that. So there are these multiple dimensions of hierarchies, which exist simultaneously. And I was thinking of like, what kind of ideology can actually attack power, because people when when they then there’s fighting against hierarchies, they kind of forget that every hierarchy creates a power imbalance and it is the power imbalance that has to be fought.

Of course, the fights are different. You cannot attack background either way you attack castes or the way you attack religious fundamentalism but the way power works is never studied deeply and I wanted to understand more about what is the fundamental nature of power that is creating these hierarchies and ensuring these hierarchies. So, in many of the movements you see these leaders emerging, and taking control of the movement. And suddenly after some time, the position of leadership becomes a lucrative post, which attracts people who, who don’t have the will to fight for the cause, but who just want to capture the power or to show themselves as the savior of all the oppressed people… to be the voice. They just want attention and privilege that the power gives and the voice that it gives them. So, that nature of how power is getting concentrated on few people: that I observe across these different hierarchies, like in every hierarchy there is this position of power and it always comes to certain few indigenous communities. And then I started looking for other ways of organizing or other alternatives which actually tries to create a system in which the power itself is decentralized. So, I was introduced to socialism and it gave the opportunity to create a society that is built on justice and liberty and equality. But how to organize a society, and because the nature of power is such that whenever there is a small accumulation of power, it will attract all the people to concentrate power.

I was trying to find systems which are designed so that there will be complete democracy, there will be decentralization of power where people can actually exercise all that, because without dilution of power, if there is a concentration of power, it’ll automatically create hierarchies, if this hierarchy is broken, and the hierarchy will replace it. So I wanted to attack the fundamental thing. I identify the fundamental nature of power and how to fight it. That is how I came to read about like, the critique of Bakunin and Kropotkin on the communist moment, so how they told that like, the idea of a Vanguard party or the dictatorship of proletariat, how it wouldn’t happen because of this accumulation of power. That no matter how much you try it will not match up with that, because it’s the property of power, no matter how well-intentioned it is, an accumulation of power will always result in hierarchies. Once hierarchy is established, it always try to protect itself. So, once I started reading Kropotkin and then then I understood that Okay, so, these are the people who actually understand how power works, and they are trying to develop or design systems that will keep power in check or make sure that the concentration of power doesn’t happen. Then I realized “Okay, so, this is what I have been looking for so long! This is something that is really needed right now. In all the moments that are for social justice happening in India right now.” Because what has been observed until now is that whenever there is a social struggle, it kind of fizzles out or it kind of breaks down because of this particular concentration of power. It is not helping it. All the approaches or from top down. So there will be few leaders who will be commanding. So once the leader falls the entire struggle fades. So and there has never been much work towards building the movement from the grassroot level, that will be much more sustained. And anarchism actually gets a better analysis of how to do that.

BOG: So in some of your writing, you bring up parallels between different movements that have existed in the last decade or so in various countries. For instance, the Anti-CAA movement and some occupations related to it. As well as the distributed mutual aid that’s existed in… for instance: the farmers movement. Are there other examples of anarchistic approaches that are already existing in Indian culture and in political movement that you think are worthwhile of pointing out that that maybe could be used to help bridge an understanding of how this philosophy is already in action and how to run with it from there?

PJP: So, the issue with anarchism in India is that Indian society is designed to be hierarchical. It is designed for not just one hierarchy, it is designed for multiple hierarchies everywhere. Indians are indoctrinated to respect authority, just like like complete subservience without questioning. That is considered as a sign of obedience. Obedience is glorified here. You don’t disrespect the people who are older to you no matter what they say. The woman can never disrespect the man even if he’s wrong. So that glorification of subservience is core to the Indian social order. Anyone who tries to break that social order will be severely punished. So you might have heard of honor killings in India. If a boy and a girl from different castes get married, they’ll be killed by their family themselves because they broke the social order. And that is happening even in India right now. It’s very rampant. So its a society where hierarchy is celebrated. And it is considered the norm. On organizing leaderless? that happened with the Anti-CAA protests and the farmers protest. It was unprecedented.

I think one of the reasons why the scale of these protests… if you see, these have been the most massive protests India has seen after independence. So once the Anti-CAA, the Citizenship Amendment Act, which was passed 19 of December. The moment it was passed there was no call by a political party or citizen activist group to create this huge protest. It was just people just came themselves out to the streets and started sloganeering and they started meetings, and they started to occupy places. So it was a spontaneous thing. And I don’t think it was just because of this current one law. It was because of the decades of neo-liberalism, assault on rights of certain democratic institutions that has been happening, and the rising inequality that India has been witnessing for the last 20 years. When such a draconian law was passed people said “that enough is enough.” They just wanted to raise their voice because they felt one after the other that their right as citizens was being taken away from them. Whenever there is organizing like of this sort that was happening before, there is always a tendency of infantilizing. Saying “Okay, these people don’t know what they are doing. They are not educated or they are not aware of what they are protesting against.” So there is this tendency by the media and the government to delegitimize protesters claiming that they are unaware of what they’re talking about, like “we are the ones the experts, we know everything.” These people are illiterate, they are they don’t know exactly what is what is good for them, basically. And this particular law, once it was passed, like people came out, telling exactly what was wrong with them. They were articulating and ,regarding the Shaheen Bagh Protests, In India, there are these communities who we naturally stereotype as uneducated or who have no agency. And the Shaheen Bagh Protests was a symbol of a category of people who were considered to have no agency, no education, no rights. They came out and they occupied a particular spot and demanded their rights. It was an unprecedented moment in Indian history. There were Muslim women, who were likely not to be not to have education more than like a high school education, who were housewives. There are like, women of all ages from children to more than 90 years old. And they came. They knew that there was an injustice that is being imposed on them. And they came out to fight for their rights. So it broke multiple preconceived notions of what a citizen is, and how aware they are of their rights. And I think that is the first symbol of democracy. Where the citizens starts to assert their right.

I think subsequently, the citizenship protest started in December, it went till March and then the COVID pandemic broke out. Due to which the protest had to be called off. But the model that was shown in the citizenship protests in which literally every major city, there was massive demonstrations of millions of Indians coming to the streets and fighting for their rights. Okay, now, here’s the second thing. India is heavily divided on sectarian lines of caste, of color, of language, of religion, of cuisine, of culture, of religion. So, what the government expected was, and since this particular government is far right hyper Nationalist government. So every fascist government has this tendency to create an other, so that they can demonize that community in hopes of getting electoral or political gains from the rest of the group. So in India, what the BJP government is doing is they are demonizing the Muslim community which comes to about 14 to 15% of the population. And so that they can get electoral gains from the rest. And they bring up all these issues, the Hindu Muslim binary issues, because everywhere the government is failing, the government is completely failing the corporations, they are taking away the worker and labor rights. The labor laws have been diluted. The economy is falling. Inequality is rising. The public health care and public education system is completely being dismantled. There are no jobs, there’s a higher level of unemployment. To mask all these failures of the government, the government will keep on bringing up this Hindu Muslim binary.

All these laws, the Kashmir issue, the anti-CAA. The CA law itself was a way to distract people from what is actually happening, like what is the actual issues the country is facing. But here the government is calculated. People came, actually more than Muslims, it was the other people from the other religions like Hindu, from other communities like Dalits, OBC’s (Other Backwards Castes), everyone came together, because they understood what exactly the media and the government is trying to do, and the narrative that they’re trying to build. They just broke through the narrative. They just came out in support in solidarity with each other. And that was a turning point, I think in the Indian democracy, I think this is one of the first signs that that there is some democracy that is actually left in India. Not the institutions, or the government, or the machinery, but actually in people themselves. There is a democratic feeling. There is a sense of democracy and that is being expressed right now. Actually, we were really disappointed when such a public outrage was not happening when the Kashmir issue came out. When the government implemented Article 35, which actually granted special privileges to the state of Kashmir. They completely threw away the elected democratic government of the state and imposed their complete control without consulting a democratically elected government. So by that time it was disappointing to see that the government, the people of the country, were not actually coming forward to protest it. But after this happened, within two months, when the CA bill was passed, the Citizenship Amendment Act was passed, then the nation reacted. So that actually gave hope. And since occupation protest has never been more successful. India has always seen rallies in which people just walk to the National Capital of the state capitol and stay there for some days and then they just come back. If prolonged occupation protest actually needs the idea of mutual aid and solidarity, because you need these protests are participated by millions of people. Like the farmer protests that is right now happening in Delhi has more than 300,000 farmers that are stationed on all the borders. And it is not easy to sustain such huge protests, without the kind of mutual aid and solidarity networks that is right now existing. And in that mutual aid network of this scale, I think is unprecedented in human history for protests.

BOG: It’s amazing to see that many people in one place for a common reason, and also being able to sustain such high numbers of people is really prefigurative. So I was wondering if we could get back to the issue… because a lot of us in the west in the US in particular, myself, who doesn’t come from any sort of Indian background has a very, very weak understanding of the caste system and I know that you’ve done a lot of writing and activism around the evolution of it. Can you talk a bit about some of its history and ground it for the listening audience. Talk about some of the modern struggles against it, including B. R. Ambedkar, who you’ve mentioned in some of your writings, and how you came to organize and write against it, how does an opposition to caste-ism intersect with your work against patriarchy and and how can anarchists specifically add to your anti-caste analysis?

PJP: Okay, so the caste system is something that started I think, around like 5000 years back. So it is this is the oldest form of strict social hierarchy. It existed in India since I think when the Aryans came to settle in India, and this has been mentioned in the the Rig Veda and everywhere. So what this basically does is creates a gradient inequality. It is not a strict inequality that you see in places with slavery,serfdom, and things like that. This is gradient inequality. So, a gradient inequality, it’s like a ladder, in which there are multiple castes, with one on top of the other. So, the person who is on the very top, they get all the privileges. The person who is the right below them, they are also fine, as long as they get to oppress those who are below them. So, they will forget, and or they will actually increase their own oppression, because there are people below them who they can oppress. So for every class that you look at, there is always someone below them. This this particular gradient inequality survived for all this time, because there is very little incentive for people to actually fight against it, because there are people below them that they can actually completely exploit. So how is caste system practiced? So one way of it is practiced is by enforced endogamy. So a woman doesn’t have any rights. As far as the Indian social organization. The woman, their main purpose is for child rearing and being the homemaker. They have to worship their husband, and that is the ideal wife, or the ideal mother. And here is where the patriarchy comes in within this structure, they can’t remarry. They have to keep women in control because everything about our system is about purity.

The way it works, the people at the top top… they don’t eat or drink with, or even touch the people who are below them. There’s this practice of untouchability. Actually, in my part, the Kerala State where I am from we had a practice of unapproach-ability. The higher caste people won’t allow people of the lower caste to come less than 10 feet to them. So forget touching, even coming close enough to pollute them. In certain castes who are considered at the very bottom of the caste hierarchy, they won’t even allow them to come out in the sun. So that the upper class people won’t have to see them, because the mere sight of these people will make them polluted. So there were communities in this country who weren’t allowed to walk in during day, they could only get out of their home at night. That was the way this thing has been working for centuries. People of one caste cannot marry another caste. So that is precisely why they had to practice this strict patriarchy. Women cannot be allowed to have independent wishes. Their their bloodline has to be pure. Even the food that we eat.

Basically the people of the higher caste pride themselves of being vegans, that they don’t eat meat. They consider meat as something which is polluting. It’s only the people who are from the deepest caste which eat meat. Basically, because all the economic and cultural capital always start with the upper caste and the people from the lower caste had to basically live with whatever was available to them. So that social realities that are existing in society was enshrined into the way these people live and interact and behave. This remained exactly the same till the Britishers. So, India has been ruled by multiple communities like between 80,000 to 83 Britishers. India was also ruled by Muslims. But even when India is ruled by people from other religions, the evil of caste system never dies. So a person who is born in the lower caste, even if they convert to another religion, they won’t lose their caste.

So, basically, if Islam and Christianity… these are religions which actually doesn’t have the caste system right? But in India, when you come and look, you can find that there is a caste system within these religions. The people who actually convert to Islam who are from the higher caste, they have a richer status, they have their own separate mosques in which they will never allow people from the lower caste who converted to Islam to attend. Similarly with Christianity, for example, in Kerala, the people that top-most caste is called the Brahmins. That is why we call it a Brahminical hierarchy, or Brahminical patriarchy, the caste system. So the Brahmins who converted to Christianity, they are the dominant Christians who have all the wealth and all the land and all the power, political and social. The people who actually converted to Christianity who are from like.. let’s say, fishermen trade or from various other lower castes, they will never get the respect. These people actually practice untouchability on them, even though they’re not actually belong to the Hindu religion anymore. Now here comes the other issue, if you’re born in a lower caste, no matter if you can actually make money, if you actually gain wealth through any means, still, you won’t be allowed to enter many places, because of your caste. So this is something that might promote economic mobility, but you will never have social mobility. The lower caste were not allowed to enter temples a place of worship of Hindu religion, for like years, it’s just only in the 20 century that they were allowed to enter. So, even Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, he had to have a huge mobilization to get the higher caste to open templates for the lower caste. And there are places in villages where the people of lower caste cannot access water. There are ways from the public bath from which the lower caste people can not access even today in India. So, there are public baths, where people from the lower caste can’t access. In some places when you go you are served different utensils in restaurants, separately for upper caste and lower caste even today.

And now, the problem with this is that once the British came and there was this influx of Western education in India, the people who were at the top of the hierarchy, especially the Brahmins, were the first to get a chance to access education and all the knowledge that was provided to it. So, these people from this particular caste who actually form less than 4% of the Indian population, they dominate literally all the fields. When you go to any elite University in India, they are all belong to this particular caste, all the students belong to this particular caste. You go to media, all the news channels are run and operated by them, all the businesses in India run by these families, you go to the media, like the movie industry, all the actors that you see are from the upper caste.

And even the Indians who actually move abroad – the Indians who actually migrate to USA, so the way you talk about Kamala Harris, the fact that these people were able to move to the next country, because they had the economic and social capital to actually have the money to go elsewhere and start working there. That is why most of the Indians who are actually immigrants, who actually live in the other countries are upper caste Indians, they don’t represent the entire the actual Indian population. So, all the people who actually immigrate from India to the other countries are upper caste, they take their caste with them. So then people from the lower caste when they are actually moving abroad, because they have access to it, they are discriminated by these people who are in dominant places. So most of the people who are in the in the western universities, Indians who claim that they have been racially discriminated actually practice caste discrimination in their own households and to their fellows. So, what I personally work on is the issue of Indian Government, once the constitution was framed and since Dr. BR Ambedkar, he was the architect of the Constitution. So, there was certain safeguards that was introduced in the Indian constitution for the people of backward castes, so that they get adequate representation in all spheres of life. In economic, social, and political.

So here comes the reservation system in India, which is like heavily debated topic. So it is a little bit different from the way affirmative action works in the US. Here, a fixed number of seats or a percentage of seats, it’s correlates to a proportion of the population which is actually kept aside for people from this backward community, so that they will have representation in all the spheres, but this is actually only implemented in the government sector, which is less than 10% of all the jobs in India and all educational institutions in India. So even in this small available seats among the Indian opportunities that are accessible to Indians, what we find is that since all the topmost positions are being dominated by the dominant caste. They deny this constitutionally granted safeguards to these people from the marginalized communities. The norms are never implemented. So even after 70 years of independence, even the higher education institutions, especially the IIT’s” (Indian Institute of Technology, a network of tech universities in India) is one of the elite institutions in the world, more than 95% of all the faculty are from upper caste, even though the law states that 50% of the seats has to be from people from the backward class. Like it is completely thrown out even after 70 years. And when you take the students, again, more than 70, since the professor’s can choose the students directly, especially with regard to the PG admissions, the postgraduate admissions. They deny access to the students who actually come from the backward castes, and they only allow students from their own community to get these opportunities. And this network of nepotism in a way actually creates a huge barrier for the people who actually comprises more than 75% of the Indian population from accessing any of these facilities: education, health care… you name it, the representation is almost zero.

WG: Thank you for going through that in such detail. I think that interfacing with this system, which is over 5000 years old, is a continuous, imposed social hierarchy that is extremely adaptive, like it has adapted through countless social movements, and it’s still remains somewhat intact is a little bit difficult for folks to wrap their heads around having something so old to struggle against, and that really, really shapes people’s lives and people’s destinies for them. And you talked a little bit about this, about how the caste system gets exported to regions where immigrants go or like a Desi community forms. But I was wondering if you could expand a little bit on this? Or say some more words about this meaning specifically, why should In your opinion, internationals, be aware of the caste system? And its worldwide implications?

PJP: Yeah. So regarding why should the international community be aware of this particular system is that most of the international community are aware of racism, colonialism, and I think like the fascism… they have experienced with all these different hierarchies. They have a history of struggle against it, they can easily identify it, they can fight it. They have succeeded against it, like many struggles have been succeeded. But caste is a kind of hierarchy, which even after so much time, there hasn’t been a clear path to victory, because of its great inequality component, which is not actually present in most other hierarchies. Like in other hierarchies, you can easily distinguish between the people who are oppressed, of course, there can be other dimensions, which actually split people and won’t allow them to unite. For example in India, even in within castes, who actually share the same social rank, there, there won’t be unity between them, because there might be internal disputes of like, who has more land, who has access to water for farming and things like that. I think a similar case occurs between maybe like the blacks and Latinos in the US. So they have the same social standing, because they are both oppressed by the structure or the community above them. But there is this lack of cohesion between them. But this lack of cohesion is not because these people get to oppress someone else. It is because there is a narrative that is being created of a lack of cohesion between the two. That’s it, it is the dominant narrative by the government or the dominant communities of the people who actually have a command over the knowledge production, like the academicians, who mostly come from the dominant caste. The news anchors will be from the dominant caste. The people who will create literature will be from the dominant caste. The people who make movies, the actors, everyone comes from a dominant caste. The narrative and the knowledge that is produced is from the dominant caste and there is no knowledge that is being produced to meet the demand of this particular community.

So, that is actually what causes the rift between them, and they are constantly being fed by false narrative and fake news telling that the other person is the the reason you aren’t getting opportunities. So, they fight internally, but caste is a little bit different. In caste, even though there are internal conflicts, they are fine with caste system, because they always have someone below them they can exploit. So, they can actually take pride in the fact that “okay, I am superior to someone else, I’m happy with that” They are okay with someone on top exploiting them, because of that particular nature of this system. And that is one of the reasons why the people of each different caste in the different levels of the social hierarchy have complete mistrust towards each other. So, the Brahmins they’re on top. they’re completely fine. because no one oppresses them. The problem is that when you go down even when you go down to the cast, who are literally at the bottom they are also fine with the system because they get to oppress someone below them. So, a complete unity a vertical spectrum is not happening. And of course, there has been moments in India, like there have been moments of anti-caste in Kerala has happened in Maharashtra led by Jyotiba Phule, in Tamil Nadu led by Periyar there has been moments it was happening, but the problem always was that the condition that was established breaks away, because when you give what can I say, when you give power or political representation or economic representation, in a token form, there is a fight among all these communities to get that because we have a reservation! So out of 100 seats, let us say 50 seats are reserved for the community for the backward castes, but there are like 1000s of backward castes. So who gets to be in this 50 becomes another issue altogether. So the one who actually have access to some social capital might actually gain that advantage and certain communities in this particular caste, they will feel that “okay, it is because of them that I didn’t get to get this particular representation” and they would have resentment for their fellow caste men rather than the people who created the hierarchy in the first place, who who are the Brahmins.

So, that internal rift is actually exploited by the current government. So, what happened was in the past 22 decades there has been an increase in representation in the political sphere by the backward caste. If you are from a caste in the backward communities and got that representation, it created and animosity in the minds of the other backward castes and the BJP like in the the there is ideology, they they were able to exploit that sentiment. So, that is why even though BJP, or their ideologues. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) is completely like a caste-ist, patriarchal, hierarchical, structure. They want to create that hierarchy completely and throw away this notion of secularism or democracy. They have support of the people from the backward communities because of this rift within the community. And there they are very good at creating narratives that tells that. So what they do is they create alternative histories. They create the idea that India had a glorious past, like before and like caste never existed in India, it was something that was brought to India by invaders. Kind of like the marriage of Nazism and Hitler – What Hitler did to alienate the Jews from the Germans. That is exactly what they are using to create their foothold in the Indian society. So they are telling that India had a glorious past, like they create these ridiculous stories of in ancient Indian technology, where India had this interplanetary travel system, we had information of genetics. So you wouldn’t believe it! India has this annual Indian science conference where all the latest research findings of the Indian scientific communities discussed. In that forum one of the guys actually brought a presentation, which told that India had nuclear missile warheads, like in like 3000 BC, and we had interplanetary travel, we had stem cell research. We had teleportation. This was actually told in the Indian Science Conference. And not for just one year, it happened multiple times. So, there is currently research happening in India telling that the, let us say… that cow has magical properties. There here is golden cow urine that like if you drink cow urine cancer will be cured, AIDS will be cured. This is actually being done by the government. It is government funded program and in universities, public universities. So, there is a complete attack on logic. It’s a attack on the entire scientific method. So they have, they are rewriting history textbooks to tell that we had this glorious past and it was the invaders who came, the Muslim invaders who came, the Britishers who came, who actually ruined and created differences in the Hindu society by installing caste.

WG: That’s so incredible.

PJP: Yeah. So now people who actually suffer from caste system think that the enemies (the Muslims) are the enemies of Westerners who came to India, who actually… so that is why their life is crap. And they hope that this government, who actually promises them that ancient Golden Age, will actually bring prosperity back to people. When in actuality what they are doing is they are giving complete, they’re giving the entire country in the hands of the corporations who completely exploit the people. They are destroying all the social security systems that have been existing in India. Like India had minimum support price for the farmers, this was taken away by this farm laws, which is where the farmers are protesting. Like Indians had the option of going to court in case a corporate actually breaks a contract of trust. Like if the contract says that “I will purchase this many quantities of potatoes from this farmer at this rate after the harvest” and the often during the harvest time the corporate denies, like they don’t agree to pay that pre agreed price. Now the farmer cannot go to the court. The right to constitutional or legal remedy have been take has been taken away by the this new laws. So the farmers are protesting, not just for the farmer laws at this point. They’re actually protesting for every citizen of India for their democratic right, to, like constitutional remedies.

WG: When you’re talking about sort of this government propaganda this really outlandish sort of, you know, ridiculous claims. I mean, it is true, or I believe it to be true that I mean, the India has like a vast history. And, you know, they’re one of the first instances of indoor plumbing that they found archaeologically was in a city in India. I don’t exactly remember where because it’s a gigantic country as well. Yeah.

BOG: But they weren’t teleporting the feces to another area.

WG: They weren’t. It really reminds me of like the conspiracy theory machine that exists here too, on the far right, where, you know, we’re being ruled by reptilian overlords and the 5g chip is going to be implanted in us in the COVID vaccine and stuff. It really reminds me of that a lot. And it’s like, incredible to me that these systems seem to me to be a bit parallel in our two locations.

PJP: Yeah, it is. So right now, what the government is portraying is that what India needs is a strong leadership, which they have epitomized in the image of the Prime Minister himself, the Prime Minister Narendra Modhi. He’s like the Iron Man who can like unite India and bring all the glory back to India. So they have created all these stories surrounding this particular narrative, such that in Indian society like I said, you cannot question anything that hierarchy dictates to you like, if someone is dictating something to you, you have to obey it. There is no space for what you say… democratic discussion or debate, anything that is democratic is immediately. So the first fundamental thing of democracy or democratic policy making is that when you make a law, you have to consult with the people who actually will be impacted by the law. That is the first principle of any policy-making.

And here for such a huge farm…. so let me give you an estimate like of the scale of the issue. India is a country which has more than 1.4 billion people, of which almost 60 to 70% engage directly or indirectly with agriculture. So that is like almost around 600 million people. Just doing agriculture, of which around 520 million people are living in poverty. So, a recent statistics have showed that 63% of the rural agricultural workers in India, they don’t have enough income to actually get a nutritious food three times a day, they don’t have it. 63%. Almost 100 million people. This is the case, if they spent their entire income in food, even if they spend their entire income in food, they still won’t have enough food, nutritious food to feed them three times a day. And normally, most people don’t spend their entire income in full, they have other needs, too, right. So the actual data is saying that almost 73% of the Indian Indian population on the rural population in India. If they use two thirds of their income in purchasing food, they won’t still have nutritious food three times a day. So this is the status of India. And in a country like this, then the government and that to this many people are actually employed in agriculture, but the government is passing a law without consulting anyone. like and back to a time when the pandemic has hit and has completely obliterated, like, the scope of… it has completely pushed the country to its knees. It is like what the government expected was….

So the government always expected an opposition when this particular law will be passed. So the government has been sitting on this law for a long time. When the government was in power for the last six years, they never passed it till now, thinking that the farmers will protests. They immediately pass the law in the backdrop of this pandemic. Thinking back… because of the pandemic the farmers wouldn’t be able to organize. And they completely misread because the farmers were like “okay, we have had enough! if the pandemic won’t kill us, this law would.” So in India, like more than 30 farmers are committing suicide every day, because of the agrarian distress. It’s a huge issue in India. And right now, since the government is like attacking all the institutions, this was there for the Indian citizens.

So in India, the government… there is this huge array of government schools, which are like public funded schools, which literally everyone, anyone can attend without paying fees. The quality is less, because it has been systematically degraded by the governments to aid the private institutes. The same thing is with the healthcare, but still, these Institute’s where institutions are there, so that the people from the lower castes or the Muslim communities can actually send their kids to get education. And even though the quality was poor, it was a way for these communities to actually have some social mobility. But now the government is destroying even the remnants of the system that are existing the public education and the health care and they are completely opening up the country for… I don’t know what the word I should use for it… I think a complete takeover by the corporate industries. The corporations can come in, they can dictate the laws of labor, the corporations can actually decide like how much time the worker should work in the factory. They can change, it was eight hours maximum, now they can increase after 12 hours arbitrarily. They don’t have to pay the minimum wage anymore. So, this is like complete violation of the basic human rights and the government is completely fine with that. So, when people are protesting the government needs this diversionary tactics of like this Hindutva, like this, “we had this glorious past. You are suffering right now, because of the Muslims or the other castes, or other communities that came to India. We are the ones who will be giving you…”

The government is just a corporate propaganda machine instead of a government right now like you can see in every single place that you turn like the media or in the billboards, for every institution that you go and see you can see like pictures of the Prime Minister standing and telling that everything is going fine. We have like… India is like now becoming a symbol of hope for the world and the reality is completely opposite. So, this is not just in India, what is happening right now, right? The rise of populism and Trump in US of Boris Johnson in UK of Bolsonaro in Brazil, like this is happening everywhere at the same time because of this… I don’t know… the because of this neoliberal assault on all the public institutions and I think one of the hope that I see is that simultaneously everywhere in the world. So there was this occupy protests in Mexico, in which the feminists in Mexico they went and occupied I think the National Human Rights Commission office, and they just stayed there as a protest against femicides. So I thought like, “okay, that that is similar to Shaheen Bagh, what the women in Shaheen Bagh did they just came and they occupied a particular space and they just stand there telling that they demand that they demand justice! And that is what the farmers are doing right now. They are just coming and collecting together. And right now, okay, the nature of the protests has actually changed right now, even though there are like many farmers protesting around around Delhi, the farmers are now traveling to each and every village in India right now. And they are communicating the issues of the protests, and what are the issues that are plaguing the country right now. And all these meetings are attended by 1000s and 1000s of people! This is happening right now in India, you will never find this in any of the news. But right now, that’s Yeah… this is unprecedented.

Two days back, there was a meeting in one of the villages in which more than 20,000 people attended. And so the people who attended, they go back to their villages. They create a council and start creating the awareness expand the awareness of what is actually happening and why this is happening. Because you cannot trust the media in India anymore. like India has one of the worst propaganda machines in history. And they just regurgitate what the government actually tells them to do. They delegitimize the protests and they distracts people with really futile stuff. So the farmers thought that “okay, we don’t need a media coverage to a pass what we have to tell the people we will directly go to the people!” Grassroot level, like bottom up, like bottom up communication. I think that’s, that’s amazing to see.

The attack against the agrarian sector has been there for like the past three, four decades. And systematically, the people who had land to farm they lost the land because of they’re in crisis. And they had to become farm laborers, and go and work in other places where they can get money. Because of this, a lot of people who actually were farmers became a farm laborers, and they go to the Vela farms, like in Punjab and Haryana to work from other states. So that is why most of the other states in India, they never had this thing called minimum support price or this multi system, which was there in Punjab. So the reason why the protests act in Punjab was because these farmers had a lot more to lose than the other farmers. And since the way this law has been devised. So there are clauses in the law, which actually is very interesting how the legal terms are right now. How the laws are being formed by the government right now. So let me just read you one sentence from that law. “No suit prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall lie against the central government or state government, or any officer of the central government or the state government.” Or here’s the interesting part, any other person in respect of anything, which is in good faith that or intended to be done under this act. Or have any rules or orders made thereafter.”

So basically this is like, arbitrary. Like, you can’t, you can complain against not just the government, you can complaint against any person. And not just, if they do something bad. It is intended to be done in good faith. So they can just say that this happened like this, it ended badly, but I did in good faith. So I should not be criminalized for it. This is like, ridiculous. And this is the nature of all the laws that the government has been recently passed it.

WG: It’s so dangerous when there’s a piece of legislation that could literally mean anything. You know, we can see this everywhere, you know, it’s very bad sign, when you know, there’s something that can be just arbitrary, like you said, arbitrarily applied, no matter what. I did have one last question about anti-caste organizing. I became aware of this movement, which is Dalit Lives Matter. After sort of this, we had this summer of 2020, this summer of rebellion against the murder of George Floyd. I wonder if you have any thoughts on Dalit Lives Matter or DLM? would you would you mind expanding on that?

PJP: Okay, so unlike some Black Lives Matter was actually moment in us, right like there was an organization called Black Lives Matter. And like there was huge organizing based on that particular that particular tag. But in India, of course, the the issue of Dalits has been like, and the anti-caste organizing has been happening for a long time. And since there has been a lot of similarities between the issues of black people that they’ve recently faced in the US and what Dalits face from caste system, there has always been a bridge, and a takeaway of learning from that moment. So when the Black Panther Party was formed in the US, for the emancipation of the black movement and the black people so that there was an awareness that was being created in the community to organize and like emancipate themselves against the oppression that they are facing, the police brutality and everything. Simultaneously, there was a Dalit Panther Party that was founded in India, all in the same ideals.

If you actually look a little deeper into the history, like you can see that the various things that the rap music or the hip hop, which was used by the black activists as a way of expressing their anger, and their protest was similarly being… is being actually similarly right now used by activists, the caste activist in India, they are using hip hop to communicate and express their ideas and anger. So there is a learning that is being happening across these two different, but in a way, similar kind of oppression that is being faced by this people. So then, then there was this issue that happened, the murder of George Floyd. And there was this huge uproar, and then in the international community, and it didn’t limit to the US it it spread all around the world. Like, wherever there has been racism and colonialism, the statues were being thrown into oceans and dismantled everywhere in the world. Exactly. So it was an attack on a system of oppression. That was happening.

So in US it was black lives, right? But in other countries, there was something… like in Australia, it was indigenous tribes, right? Aboriginals Lives Matter. So, in every country, it will become a call for the people who are being oppressed. And in India, that happened, like it was the village. So when there was this Delhi Pogrom, in which there was an attack on the Muslim neighborhood, as a reaction to the anti-CAA protests, there was a new movement that came called the Muslim Lives Matter. So when a movement shows that there is something that can be used to create a mass mobilization that gets accepted or reproduced in other moments. And I think this was just a reaction to what was happening there. So since it was attacking, a voice raised against the hierarchical oppression, the similar thing just happened in India. And also another thing, why this happened to us because you can see a lot of Indian Americans there, who will be championing for Black Lives Matter, and they tell that they are also facing racism, because they are from a different community.

What we the people who are from the lower class in India find amusing is that it is these people who actually come to India and practice the same kind of oppression on the people who are below them in the cast. So this was actually a lot of this Dalit Lives Matter came as an opposition to these people, championing the cause of black lives matter because we were like, okay, you don’t get to talk about black lives matter, because you are the same, you are causing the same oppression. A lot of celebrities in in India who were like, suddenly championing for… they were raising their voice on “Okay, like, there is racism in us like I have faced racism in us.” And we were like, “okay, fine, you have faced racism or you got dismissed because you are Indian, but just remember the caste system that you are imposing on the fellow Indians? And why are you not raising the voices?” So all the people who from the dominant caste raise the voice against the BLM, but in India every day, like, only the women are being raped. Yeah. And they’re brutalized, and like they’re beaten, they’re paraded naked for being Dalit. It is a show of power by Dalit communities, to put their lives in their proper place. And none of these people who are actually championing BLM, they never raised their voice against us. So we were like, “Okay, so we are creating your another, like, let’s say hashtag. Just like black lives matter. That is what you missed, at least then then promote this too.” It was it was a mixture of all these emotions, basically that came to the emergence of Dalit Lives Matter.

WG: Thank you for going into that too. Like, it’s something that I’ve been seeing and yeah, it was, it was good to hear your thoughts on the matter and it makes a lot of sense that you know, yeah, people who were in the US and her from extremely privileged castes were like it completely ignoring the oppressions that they perpetrate. So thank thank you for going into that.

PJP: So actually, with regard to the Kamla Harris issue, recently, there was this case in California, in I think, John Doe versus the state of California, in which the internet employee in the Cisco company faced caste discrimination from his superiors. So they both actually went to the same Institute, like the one that I’m actually studying right now, IIT Bombay. So they are alumni of that Institute. And so this guy knew that John Doe was actually a Dalit. And he outed that to his other Indian colleagues and that led to him being discriminated in matters of job assignments, his appraisal, and stuff like that. He’s didn’t get promotions and he complained. And then it became obvious that the state of California doesn’t have a legal prohibition against caste discrimination. So there is currently a case that is being going on in California Court, which actually wants to include caste discrimination in the list of all the oppressions that people face along with racism and colorism and other things.

WG: Yeah, I remember hearing about that.

PJP: Yeah. And since Kamala Harris is from an Indian origin, and she actually… her grandfather is a Brahmin, her mother is Brahmin. So she’s, yeah, she’s from the dominant community. And they’re also called by the activists in US that Kamala Harris would actually make a statement in this matte. Because she claims to suffer racism and everything. And like, why are you not telling anything about this particular issue? That is actually much more closer to you than any other American actually.

WG: Kamala Harris is a huge, you know, you know, sticky wicket, I think because like she was the, you know, the District Attorney of Oakland, California. Her job basically was to incarcerate black people, you know, like the incarceration rates in Oakland are exactly the result of stuff that she has perpetrated. So she’s a police officer, she incarcerates a huge amount of black people. I’m sure she suffers, you know, suffers racism, you know, I’m sure that she does. But like, she also perpetrates a whole hell of a lot of racism, not even to mention the fact that she’s a Brahmin, you know.

PJP: So that is one thing that I actually keep saying again, and again. People very easily identify the hierarchies that oppresses them, but they are not ready to acknowledge the hierarchies that gives them privilege. Absolutely. And I think anarchism is an ideology, this is where I was attracted to it the most because it doesn’t attack one hierarchy. It attacks every hierarchy, the legitimacy of all hierarchies. And I think even when I’m when in the struggle against caste, a caste as a hierarchy is not a single hierarchy. It has patriarchy. It has classism. It has language. It has cuisine. Like there are multiple aspects of it. And you don’t just attack caste as a single entity, you need to attack caste from all these angles and that philosophy actually gives you the tools to at least create a narrative of how to attack these oppressive hierarchies. In a way that people can understand… Okay, even if I am not oppressed by your hierarchy, and if there’s a hierarchy that I am being oppressed by, I should be able to relate or translate my oppression to the other hierarchies too.

So that I can in a way empathize with what is happening to other. I think that can create a huge change if more people are actually aware of it. And without any teaching of anarchist ideas it is automatically happening like this spontaneously happening in the farmers protest. Because in farmer protest, many of the landed farmers are from a… I wouldn’t say dominant caste… They are like basically still a backward caste, but a better off backward castes, called Jats. And most of the agricultural laborers are from the Dalit communities. So historically, there has been a rift between these two. But since these new farm law came there has been a new emergence of solidarity, in which the landed caste now understand the struggles that the laborers are facing. And the laborer castes, they acknowledge that if these laws are implemented, now, it won’t just affect the landed caste, it will penetrate and it will affect the people who are actually employed as laborers too. And now there has been voice voices being raised on redistribution of land to the Dalit laborers, a raise of minimum wage, and other other things. So and, and here is the most beautiful part, the participation of women in the protests in India has been like… it has increased significantly, because recently almost 20% of the people who are currently stationed around Delhi the protesters are women. Which is huge when you consider the fact that India still is a hugely patriarchal society in which which doesn’t allow a woman to step out of the room, you can see a woman driving tractors. And the funny thing is almost 80% of all agricultural laborers are women. But most of them they are unpaid, like they are, they are expected to work. This particular protest actually shows the agency of women and their awareness. And it bring forth the strength and unity that the woman can actually show and the solidarity that they can contribute in this protest. And the issues that women face: like the patriarchy, the lack of wages, lack of equal wages, then there is this maternity benefits, this is a huge other array of issues, which are now being recognized because of this particular protest. Earlier, it would only be just limited to this one struggled against like a particular law or a particular event. Right now, everything is being discussed. And I think that’s a huge part. Or it gives me hope, that like, okay, now, at least the people are slowly awakening and they realize that they have more to lose together.

WG: I’m also very happy that the participation of women in the farmers protest has been so foregrounded by people who have been writing about it, or at least the people that who have been writing about it that I’ve read, like I’ve read your work on it. I’ve read some other folks’ work on talking about the farmers protests and it’s really cool that people are foregrounding the participation of women. And like, contextualizing it as a very important, you know, aspect to the protests,

PJP: So I have explained a lot of how the mutual aid was happening, right? Like, of all the networks of solidarity that was shown how community kitchens were being organized, and how from the village and the food, grains and milk and all the essentials were being brought, how volunteers are collecting blankets for these farmers. During winter there was medical aid that was being set up. There were laundry rooms set up to wash their clothes. And so the other thing that there has to be understood is that these are poor farmers who are living, who are actually sleeping on the roads and tents and makeshift platforms, or even their tractors. And when they came last December, it’s just like brutal cold in Delhi, like it was one of the coldest winters in 70 years. And right now, it is March and it is the opposite. The temperature is like nearing 45. And it is like extreme heat.

Now, the government what they did is they cut off water supply, they cut off electricity, they cut off internet, so that the farmers will go back. So what the farmers were like, okay, they dug bore wells for water, they install solar panels for electricity. So like, little by little the self organization. because the number of people who are participating is so huge, so is their resourcefulness. And I think, for any protests of this magnitude for it to become self organized, in which the people can solve all the problems and the institutions of service or support is automatically emerging out of them. Because there are so… like the threshold has reached like, okay, we have enough people so that we can do everything on our own. We don’t need an external support from the government. No matter what the government does, we can actually make this work on our own that has been achieved. And another aspect that is interesting is the lack of like a set of leaders. Of course, there are like eloquent leaders who actually speak of the protest.

But the decision making is decentralized. There are more than 500 farm unions who are actually participating in the protest along with other support groups. And even though like only 30 to 40 leaders are going and talking and negotiating with the government, every proposal that the government surpluses has to be brought back to the farmers, where they will collectively sit together and discuss and debate where every member will be present. And like every member of the union will be present there are more than 500 unions at the present time. They will debate, discuss, and the people who actually represent these farmers, they cannot decide on what they should, what distance to make, or what points to agree with the government, they have mainly a voice of the farmers to the government or spokesperson, they’re not elected representatives, per se. And I think that that that difference from in a hierarchical society like India, to a representative form of a decision making process, to participate in decision making process, even though it’s not perfect, of course, but the seeds of it is being assembled in this protest, even the anti-CAA protest, you can see that there is no single party that actually organize all these protests across the country. So I was in Mumbai, and in Mumbai there are multiple protests happening every day in different parts of the city. And the protests that I went to there wasn’t a single organization, it was collectively decided and everyone was taking part in the decision. There are huge debates happening. And I think people need to experience democracy to actually understand what they are losing in the current social situation. Only when people realize that their voices are heard. And they get an experience of expressing their voices, no matter how eloquent how bad it is, it doesn’t matter, then they understand that their voices deserve to be heard. I think people will not go back.

WG: Absolutely. Yeah, I think that’s a beautiful sentiment.

BOG: I was wondering, this wasn’t I keep stealing the headphone out of my co host ear. This wasn’t one of the scripted questions. But how has COVID impacted India? As far as you know, like has has Modi and the BJP followed the pattern that so many authoritarian governments around the world have done with the pandemic and denied public access to services or denied maybe the dangers related to it? Or has there been much in the way of mutual aid response from communities to get people access to protective gear or medical access?

PJP: Okay so what the federal government did was they cleverly denied responsibility for the pandemic, in a way that they just tasked the state governments to handle the pandemic on their own. So that they will be free of the responsibility. That is what basically they did.

BOG: Oh, that’s what Trump did…

PJP: And that’s very clever, because most of the same governments are not run by the BJP. So what they can do is they can…. if a state government fails to provide access, they can just point to that government telling that “Okay, these people are not doing it well, like they are not letting the central government do the job.” And they can get away with it. And in the states that actually are run by BJP, the numbers, the data that we see, the official data is never true. So there are states which do tracking and in good response. So personally my the state of Kerala, the state of Kerala has been lauded by international community for its past action and response because the state of Kerala has a strong public health care system. The government really funds the public health care and the state of Kerala was prepared to handle a pandemic because last year, there was a similar virus called nipah is hit the state and the state had to engage in protocols of how to handle a pandemic and like what other medical gear is that the blockers should wear that health professionals should wear and the government of Kerala was better prepared. The other state governments were not prepared for it.

And many of the states ruled by the BJP, they don’t do the testing enough so that they can show that Okay, we have very low cases in our state because we are doing very well. This is not the case they’re not testing to know whether like there are enough people who is actually contacting COVID and the government using their propaganda machine, the media, they are diverting every issue, like even when the COVID pandemic was at its peak, the media was discussing something completely different. Like they were going after like small things…. like celebrity news and stuff like that, they wer completely ignoring it. Now let me explain what was the actual humanitarian crisis that India faced during the pandemic. So when there was an initial lock down for 31 days that happened. So in India, there are like really poor states, like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Orissa. So, the marginalized communities from these states, they don’t get wages, literally they don’t have any rights when they are living there. So what they do is they migrate to other states where they can find a job as manual laborers, or they set up small shops. Basically, most of them are manual laborers who work in construction sites. And the women, they might work as maids in the urban households and stuff like that. So there is a huge migration of people from the rural to the urban cities. And when the pandemic hit, immediately, the economy went to a standstill, there was no work. Everyone was asked to stay where they were right?

So these people, the people who are unorganized, was who are not actually the formal employees, they just their daily wage laborers, they just go everyday to any place they can find work, and they just work there. They collect their earnings and they get food from daily earnings. So when the entire lockdown happen, these people, they were completely cut off from their income. So what they did, they didn’t have any other thing to do, they just started going back to their homes. And since it was a lockdown there was no railway, there was no bus service, there was basically no transportation available. So now you know how big India is right? People from across the country started walking back to their native villages! like walking 1000’s of kilometers! So during the time of pandemic, you could see millions of Indians walking. And it was March which is like extreme summer. 1000’s of people died due to sunstroke walking back home. There were images and videos of people lying dead in roads in railway stations and bus stops. People were run over by trains, when because they were sleeping in the railway lines. So it was terrible. And the government didn’t do anything. And when asked about the number of deaths, in pandemic by these migrant laborers who are walking back home, the government told that we don’t have any data about it. And the government is busy doing like other stuff like cricket or something like Bollywood is doing as well.

And it is busy passing laws that will further take away the rights of the… so it is during the pandemic that the Farm Bill first passed the labor laws which diluted the labor norms was passed.

So the government has their own priorities for corporatization, they don’t care about what the actual people and citizens of India, the struggles they face or anything. But one thing that was noticeable was the Indian community, they reacted to this particular migrant labor crisis. So across the roads, when people are walking, people are offering water, food. So there was this mutual aid that was automatically. There was this huge, so in every city in which these migrant laborers are walking, people are offering them water, if you’re offering them modes of transport, like they would take people who are really… who are elderly, who can’t walk, or children, they will have them transport in small distances. Like a relay kind of transport mode was set up. Many restaurants, they opened up so that they can feed these people for free. And there are many families which were like stranded in remote places without access to… let’s say I if I have a family and my elderly parents are living alone, and they need medicines, it’s lockdown, the medical shops are not open. So there were volunteers who were ready to deliver essential medicines to this families. So there was a parallel, when the government failed the people, the citizens rose to the occasion to try at least try to mitigate a huge disaster. It wasn’t perfect, of course, like it didn’t work everywhere, but it it prevented a much worse disaster from happening.

WG: I love that people stepped up to help each other. Of course, nothing’s perfect, but especially if you’re reacting to a widespread disaster that could very well like, you know, affect you… or is affecting you as well. You know, it’s a crisis. Crisis planning can often like look imperfect.

PJP: Yeah. And another thing that also came forward during this an issue that came to the forefront was police brutality. So this happened literally before the George Floyd issue happened. So what happened was during the lockdown, so you know, like many people who live in India are illiterate and they are and they are working the unorganized sector. They sell vegetables they sell…. So, in order for them to eat something today, they need to earn something today. It’s not they have savings they can go back to get food. So many of these people who are like daily, like who food vendors like to sell vegetables and stuff like that, they came out to sell their stuff because they will die literally of hunger if they don’t come out. And the government even though they promised to deliver food and stuff, in most of the places they didn’t. So when these people actually came out to sell their produce, you could see police going and like destroying their vehicles, beating them black and blue. These are people without any social or cultural capital. They can go to court, they don’t have money to hire a lawyer to fight for their case. And you could see police trashing them black and blue. And then there were cases of custodial deaths that have happened, because they arrested like two people in Tamil Nadu. They’ve arrested a father and son for not closing the shop on time. So the law mandated that the shops should close by 7pm or something and they didn’t close… they kept the shop open for five more minutes or something. And the police came, they arrested both of them. They took them to the police station, and they trashed them till they were dead. This happened last year. And this happened at a time when the George Floyd issue, the George Floyd murder, that protest was happening in US. And at that time there was a voice against police brutality. Right now, because of all these issues, there is a sentiment that… Okay, so till now, police was seen by the people because in India, people, like people worship authority. So they’re always saw police as the saviors and things like that. And now, they are understanding that police are just instruments of the ruling power to just further their institutions of hierarchy. It is not actually for the citizens…. police are not there for the citizens to actually like fight for their rights. And that particular sentiment is also seeping in because now we could see the farmers being stopped by the police and they were firing tear gas and water cannons are these farmers who are like, really old farmers like they are 70 or 80 years old people who are actually coming in the winter, and they’re firing water cannons at them. Which is like equivalent to like throwing knives at these people because it at six degrees, seven degrees, like water literally, it literally kills you if you get hit by it. And yeah, so the notion of police brutality as an issue has also been brought up due to this protest.

WG: Thank you for speaking on that. So we have just two more questions. You’ve touched on a lot of the topics that we were interested in hearing about and also like, way more and thank you so much for doing that. You’ve talked a lot about how like how the government operates the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But would you talk a little bit about this philosophy known as HINDUTVA? And can you give a sketch of like what this is? And it’s also been said that the HINDUTVA movement is like the largest fascist street movement in the world. And I’m curious if this resonates with you.

PJP: Yeah, you can call it the largest, fascist street movement in the world, because it is happening in India. Because this is such a huge country with huge population. Anything that happens here will be like, the biggest thing.

BOG: That’s a good point.

PJP: Yeah, because the the when the farmer protests happened on November 26, there was a call for an All India strike, which was participated by almost 250 million people, which automatically made it the largest in world history, because anything in India will become the largest in the world. So, I don’t doubt that point at all.

So, why, what it is is actually? You have to understand what India what the word India is. India, the word comes from the word… so you have might have heard of the Indus Valley Civilization of is the Mohenjo-daro was a city. So there is this river called the Indus. And the land beyond Indus was called by Europeans as India. That’s it. There is nothing more to the word India than that. So the name of the country came from the river, the land beyond the river. And the people who were living in that land. Which was beyond the river was called as Hindu. Hinduism is not a religion, per se, it is just what you call a group of people who lived in a particular locality. So in India, when you actually look at it, Hinduism is not a religion or monocultural religion anyway. It is like a mixture of multiple cultures, multiple faiths, there are different kinds of traditions, which are completely in opposition to each other. And India’s political or geographically united place never existed in the greater scheme. It was like a lot of different smaller countries. And when the Mughals came, they try to unify it. Even before that there has been moments in Indian history when there has been large empires ruled over India. But even though there were these empires, the local cultures of the country… so in China, you might it is a little bit different, like Chinese culture is… even though there there are diversity and variations in it, it is mostly similar. India is more like Europe, the states of India are like the countries of Europe. The languages are completely different. So, if I go from Kerala to the next neighboring state, I wouldn’t understand anything that they say, because the language is completely different, the culture is completely different.

So, when the nationalistic struggle against the Britishers came, you needed like…. these people don’t have a common culture, they don’t have a common religion, they don’t have a common, let’s say, language. They don’t even have a common sense of identity, so that they can rally against a common enemy. So the Britishers adopted this policy of dividing the Hindus, pitting the Hindus against Muslims and stuff like that. So to create unity, or create a sense of unity, or sense of identity, a nationalistic identity. The founder of RSS, who is Savarkar. He created this notion that, okay, let us create this new sense of identity and name Hindu, which is like the people who actually inhibit this locality, it has nothing to do with the religion, per se, it is just the people in the locality. And then he thought that okay, to make the Unity more foundational, because the big since there was a huge sectarian divide, because of religion, caste, language and everything. He used the spirituality of Hinduism the Hindu philosophy, to give it a much more stronger backbone, so that people will fit in together. And people only rally against it, against a common enemy if you identify an enemy, and instead of identifying the British as the enemy, he identify the Muslims as the enemy.

You might know that the person who assassinated Gandhi, Mohondas Karamcha Gandhi (‘Mahatma’ Gandhi), he was actually an RSS ideologues, he was a part of RSS, who believed that because Gandhi actually spread the idea of unity and harmony between the religions, and the RSS society of hindutva is completely against it. They want the the entire community who calls themselves as Hindus, even though it includes Jains, Buddhists, Parsis, and all the other, like even Sihks. They have to separate them from the Muslims because as far as they’re concerned the Muslims are invaders who came and ruined our culture. So it’s like, exactly like Hitler’s notion of Aryan supremacy. And actually, there is much more similarity between the two because the Aryan race of Hitler and the dominant caste group of India, they actually hail from the same part, the Central Asia. That’s why there’s a similarity between the languages: Sanskrit and German.

They were like, okay, so they exactly copied the ideology that Hitler used in Germany, and they changed it to suit the Indian needs. That’s what they did. And for that, they had to brutalize or demonize the community, the Muslim community. Then what they needed was they had to create this narrative of a history of a golden age of India, in which India was like the golden bird of the world and we had solutions for everything, we were technologically superior we were like an egalitarian society, heaven on earth. And then this Muslim invaders came, and they brought their religion, they ruined our culture, they broke our temples, they broke our gods, disrespect our gods. And we are suffering because of that. And it was the Muslims who brought the Britishers in, and like everything that is faulty with the country is because of the Muslims and you have to, you should never accept the Muslims as European, they can live here, but they have to accept their status as secondary citizens exactly what was subjected to the Jews. Even though there has not been concentration camps that has been set in there are retention camps.

The CAA law was actually something similar with and there is this entire procedure of NRC the National Register for Citizens, which is trying to create a new document and in which the citizens have to prove that they are Indian. So the entire anti-CAA protest was not just against the citizenship Amendment Act, it was against this implementation of this national interest for citizenship, the entire process. And since there was a huge backlash against it, it has still been kept on hold. Even though the government is telling that they will implement it, they will implement it. I think if the government starts to implement it, there will be huge, much bigger protests, which will happen along with the farmers protest right now. So the government is like… and since the government is facing elections, state government elections in the next month, they won’t do anything to damage the reputation, right. So everything in India, everything this party that in this is basically that. So they want power, so that they can just sell India to the corporations, and they need this hindutva philosophy, to make sure that the people will always worship the established hierarchy and won’t question anything. So this is how the dynamics of Indian nation as a whole right now works.

BOG: I guess a final question that we had would be you had touched on the conflict in Kashmir, and like obviously, it’s a very complicated place on the border of two competing states. But we would love to hear about what had happened in Kashmir and a little more detail from your perspective and if you could sort of explain the situation and what to your knowledge the state of the people of Kashmir is at the moment in terms of military occupation.

PJP: So okay, before telling that I should mention that okay. Kashmir is not an issue that I am directly involved with. So, everything that I know is actually what I have heard from my friends who are actually from Kashmir. The articles that I read and from the activist who actually traveled. With respect to Kashmir, what is happening is that, so, there has a lot of history to Kashmir like it started with the independence and why Kashmir became part of India and not of Pakistan. So, Kashmir is not just one place. So it is Jammu and Kashmir. So there’s like the entire state has three major parts one is Leh, one is Kashmir and one is Jammu. Of which Lehs is Buddhists dominated, Jammu is Hindu dominated, and Kashmir is Muslim dominated. So what happened is… so even though the people of Kashmir were mostly Muslim, the king of Kashmir at that time was a Hindu, and then Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, he was a Kashmiri pundit. So Kashmir was his home state. So he actually really wanted Kashmir to be part of India. So now the history becomes a little bit like untrustworthy, even I don’t exactly know what happened. So there were this… I think Pakistan instigated some militancy in the region, which forced the king of Kashmir to agree to a suit to India.

And there was something called an instrument of accession, which actually granted Kashmir special privileges. So the one thing which most people don’t know is that these special privileges is not just unique to Kashmir in the Indian context, this is the same kind of privileges are provided to other states in India, like Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and there has been calls for independence and autonomy by these states too. And the Indian Government has been trying to like what do you say to suppress the revolts the government has been declaring martial law, there has been cases of the Indian Army brutalizing the people and killing them, overreaching of authority. The issue is that with the current government, Kashmir is like a issue of pride and national pride. Because citizens government is not able to deliver on any of the promises on economy, on employment, Social Welfare or any of these things.

The government needs some particular narratives or particular incidents or events that we can highlight as their strength. Because this government has come because of the charisma of this one Iron Man: Narendra Modi, who can destroy every obstacles in his path. And who can decide to take actions completely independently without worrying about this corrupt politicians and stuff. So big neutral narrative, they have to always show strength. And the easiest way to show spine is Kashmir, because they just toppled the state government with just one act and they just arrested everyone and they arrested the chief minister of that state and put them on house arrest for a year. They arrested all the prominent leaders in that state and put them on house arrest. Every single activists who tried to raise voice against Kashmir was arrested and new laws were passed just before the Kashmir state autonomy was snatched out. There was this loss called UAP. Which is like Prevention of atrocity and NSA – National Security Act. So what these acts enable the government is they can arrest anyone, just on suspicion, and they don’t have to produce them on court for two years. So they passed these laws just before this Kashmir Act was passed, so that any opposition against this would be come met with complete incarceration. Then what they did was they completely cut off internet for a year, so that anything that is happening in Kashmir will never be like communicated to the mainland. So only the government and journalists and the government employees will be able to devise narratives and create stories. In the news when the Kashmir the article 35 was abolished the Indian propaganda news media, there were new celebrations in Kashmir, of people eating biryani and ham like playing with firecrackers and celebrating because their years of oppression are over.

And what is actually happening in Kashmir on the ground, the truth was actually revealed when certain activists travel to Kashmir and interacted with the people. So the military have complete autonomy, they can do anything they want, like the martial law is declared. It’s called AFSPA – the Armed Forces special power act, they can even kill people on suspicion. They have complete immunity against any atrocities that they commit. So, the problem with such an a process of water in the Indian sea from a personal perspective, I think that the people anywhere in the world should have the autonomy to decide what what kind of government they want. And it was fine till the Indian government had the Constitution because these are also citizens of India under the Indian law, and the constitution grant them the political rights they can they have the right to choose the government and what the central government did was toppling the democratically elected government who had legitimate power or the people gave them the legitimate power to rule them. So that was completely illegal and talk about illegality in India right now, everything whether something is legal or illegal is decided by the Supreme Court of India. And the RSS/ BJP government has destroyed the institutions in India in such a way that like the judiciary is also playing the same even as the government and in most of the cases where the judiciary knows that if they pass a judgment in fair play in favor of the government, the people who protest the judiciary conveniently decides to not take the case. They will just hold the case for years. So the then the Jammu Kashmir state was actually bifurcated into two different territories, that act was disputed in the Supreme Court.

There is a case in Supreme Court, when the government imposed internet a ban in Jammu and Kashmir, there was a case like the lawyers brought it up telling that it is a violation of human rights. That the people are not being given access to internet facilities. Because the entire businesses of Kashmir, they were completely cut off to the mainland, online, this everything just went down. What happened then was the government will tell that okay, we will need like two months to analyze the situation. And the court, we just grant them the two months. And again, the government after that, filed extension, and this court will just grant. So the court is just playing the same tune as the government. So in the farmers protests, something really interesting happened. The Supreme Court seeing that the farmers are coming to Delhi and the protest is not stopping, decided to intervene and tell that, “okay, we are ordering the government to stay the law for one and a half years.” So the law cannot be implemented for one and a half years. The farmers are like, “okay, we don’t care what the Supreme Court tells, we want the law to be abolished. We won’t take anything else.” So the it’s like the people is literally losing faith in the institutions of judiciary, and the executive and legislature. The people are taking matters into our own hands. That is action. And I think that that’s a huge change when people are realizing that they are the true sovereign, that the power actually resides in them to decide their own fate and their own lives. I think that is democracy.

WG: Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for going into that… and I think that that people are really, you know, starting to feel their own power and starting to see the states, whatever state that they live in is as sort of the complete Sham that it is. And I think that you know, yeah, we can look to the farmers protest, you know, as the largest mass mobilization, like it is in India. So it’s going to be the largest one, maybe. But as like one of the most robust mass movements in sort of recorded history in a way too. That was all the questions that we had. Thank you so, so, so much for your words and your energy, it was just a delight to get to talk with you a little bit and get to hear the things that you’re working on and the things that you’re thinking about. Would you give, if listeners are interested in reading some of your writing? Do you have a website? Is there a place that people can go to, to read your articles and to read your work?

PJP: I can actually provide you links of my articles, I usually publish my writings in like different journals. So I can give you a list of all the articles that I have. So you can share them with the listeners. I will also like to thank you for giving me this opportunity. And I hope that I did justice to these movements in communicating what is actually happening on the ground, because I know that I couldn’t cover everything, maybe I might have left out the really important parts. And I might have, like, oversimplified many stuff, or might have gotten things completely wrong. But to what I know, I think, yeah, I really think that it is important for the international community to at least get a sense of what is happening in India right now. And like, and these are models that should be learned from and replicated elsewhere.

WG: Absolutely, yeah. Family, like, you did I think amazing justice to a very complex situation and topic and complex place. So, I hope that listeners will hear your words and go out and do their own research too, because so many people and I will link to some books and some articles too. If people are interested in learning about like anti-caste stuff a little bit more, if people are interested in learning about the languages, the bioregion, the the politics of the place, we will provide some links as well. And like as many voices as possible speaking about India, and the Indian diaspora and stuff that people face, you know, I think is best. So thank you so much. Do you have any recommendations? I remember you were talking about sort of anti-caste hip hop. Do you have any recommendations for like, songs that we could play on the show?

PJP: Yeah, I can give you links to that, like most of them are new too. Excellent. Yeah. I will mail you the links along with the audio clip. So that is actually a very new development that happened, like the hip hop was used by the anti-caste activists as a way of expressing themselves. That is completely, like mimicking what was happening in US. So I think so like, it’s it’s amazing that like, the people from who are oppressed, they are looking outside for signs to learn from for lessons to learn from. And I think till now, like we have been looking elsewhere to learn from it. I think it’s about time that others look at us.

WG: Yes. Yes, yes. Absolutely. Thank you so much family.

BOG: This is great speaking with you. Let’s do it again soon.

WG: Let’s do it again. Yeah, same here. Okay. Yeah, take care. Stay healthy.

BOG: Ciao. Yeah,

PJP: I think it would be morning there, right. Yeah. Have a nice day.

WG: Have a nice evening.

PJP: Okay, bye bye.

Organizing in “No Chance Alamance” County

Organizing in “No Chance Alamance” County

a man holding a sign with people of color killed by cops in the US at a BLM protest
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This week on the show I’m speaking with three folks engaged in organizing in the rural Alamance County, North Carolina, and it’s capital of Graham. All three work with the 501c4 political non-profit, DownhomeNC which in Alamance has been working on a range of engagements including running local candidates for office, doing get-out-the-vote work, sparking conversations with rural residents of the county, running a bail fund and working on bail reform, rent relief and operating food distribution. Dreama Caldwell, one of our guests, ran on a platform of bail reform to be the first Black woman elected to the County Commission, though she was not elected, is a mother, and as an Abolitionist has been working to abolish cash bail and change the condition for people of Color and poor folks as relates to the Alamance courts and jail. Sugalema is an organizer, a mom, and the daughter of undocumented parents from Mexico who’s been living in Alamance for the last decade. Gwen is a mother from a white, working class background who has also worked to support Alamance organizers through Downhome on a number of campaigns. You can learn more about the organization at DownhomeNC.org and their various social media pages.

As a side note, the folks who produce The Final Straw do not endorse electoralism as a strategy for lasting change or community power. We are anarchists. There are plenty of places you can go to find anarchist critiques of engaging in electoral politics, sometimes with anarchists or anti-authoritarians advocating limited engagement in elections but usually calling for abstention. Even though DownhomeNC is not an anarchist organization, we do feel like the experiences of Sugalema, Dreama and Gwen are important to share because they talk about the work of changing minds and building relationships in the rural south where an autonomous left or anarchist movement doesn’t exist… like most of the world. They are intelligent and impassioned women doing hard work to grow community resistance and engagement. Abolition also includes the complicated work of decreasing the harm caused by systems of oppression like the police, courts, borders, white supremacy and capitalism while simultaneously building discourse against those institutions that impose harm. We really hope that listeners will get a lot from this conversation.

Announcements

Eric King updates

Anarchist and antifascist prisoner Eric King caught covid at FCI Englewood, alongside over a hundred other prisoners, thanks to the ineptitude of his captors at the BOP who have been moving staff between Englewood and FCI Florence where an outbreak had been ongoing. His trial for defending himself from an attack by a prison officer has been pushed back to April of 2021. In good news, his mail ban appears temprorarily lifted and his website hosts his book list again. He’s been able to receive letters, magazines and books for the first time in years. Check out the update at SupportEricKing.org and send Eric some love.

To hear our interview with Eric from last year, visit our website.

Xinachtli Parole Support

    “Xinachtli,” as. many of you know, means literally in English, “Seed,” or, as Comrade “X” likes to phrase, it from a prisoner’s perspective, “Germinating Seed” and s/n Alvaro Luna Hernandez, is a Chicano/Mexicano-Anarchist Communist and Anti-Imperialist Internationally-recognized Political Prisoner, has suffered long enough from a (50-year) bogus Aggravated Assault conviction rife with racist civil rights abuse and judicial misconduct.
    The contrived & trumped-up Aggravated Robbery charge brought by Sheriff McDaniel without the authority of a warrant, was thrown out later at trial, but through prosecutorial chicanery, allowed the assault charge to stick being a paroled felon.
     The so-called Aggravated-Assault charge, which should’ve amounted to a ‘misdemeanor,’ occurred with his near-term pregnant wife nearby in their own front yard, as he, showing no demonstrative violent aggressive behavior, correctly disarmed the Sheriff as he drew his service revolver in anger as “Xinachtli” challenged his authority to attempt an arrest in a situation that could’ve proved lethal for all three, mother, baby, and most surely “Xinachtli” himself. The local authorities hated him and his family and his labor organizing in Brewster County, Alpine, Texas.
     Many of you already are familiar with this abuse of authority yarn, but, does bear repeating, as he is still held captive for this injustice in ‘STG’ (Security Threat Group) status, studying law and assisting other prisoners with their appeals, while continuously sharing, and germinating his revolutionary thoughts and ideals in cocoon-like solitary confinement, at the repressive TDCJ-CID James V. Allred Unit, ‘Supermax’ Gulag, in Iowa Park, Texas, marooned in the North Texas’ Red River Valley. Texas prisons are now one of the nation’s COVID-19 virus’ ‘hotspots,’ and the courts are refusing to intervene, WHILE PRISONER DEAD BODIES PILE UP IN LOCAL MORGUES. “XINACHTLI” is an elderly person, with his life in danger.
     Presently, “Xinachtli” is preparing for his (1st) upcoming ‘Parole Review Hearing,’ on July 18, 2021. We are in need of help with a groundswell of support from the Prison Abolitionists, Human Rights, Indigenous, and Prison Activist Movement communities. TBPP suggests that FEW, clear & concise letters are preferred, to place in his case-file for review; lazy eyes is a disguise with TBPP Parole Panels. So, let’s blast ’em with a barrage of letters to help us ensure that his ‘Review’ is an impartially-heard (Hearing?) by traditionally ‘parole-stingy’ Texas Board of Pardons & Parole Commissioners; and is a successful one.
     Try to include in the letter, that”Xinachtli,” though, he has tested ‘COVID-19 – negative,’ and in recent months received a ‘flu shot,’ he has hypertension that’s medicated, and is ostensibly cured of Hep-C, he nonetheless will be 69 years old next May 12th, 2021; so the Corona Virus danger rages on!
     Also include, a solid confirmation that there’s a solid support system waiting, available opportunities of employment, residence, and transportation, as well as psychological/coping support and a period of adjustment, are all important – he’s been in a solitary ‘time-capsule, the worldwide ‘spider’ web has exploded on the social scene since his conviction in June of 1997.
     Please address all your Letters of Support for “Xinachtli” with his registered name, ALVARO LUNA HERNANDEZ, and prison number, TDCJ-CID#00255735
You can mail the letters to his lawyer:

Allen D. Place

Attorneys at Law

109 S. 7th Street

Gatesville, TX, 76528

To hear Xinachtli telling his story in his own voice, check out our website.

Uncovering Spy Cops in the UK

Uncovering Spy Cops in the UK

A collection of posters from the #SpyCops campaign
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This week, I spoke with Dónal O’Driscoll, an animal rights activist and anarchist from the UK talking about the work of the Undercover Research Group to investigate possible SpyCops in the UK, share resources by those harmed by the lies of long term undercovers in activist communities and the current Inquiry that activists are using to unearth the legacy of police infiltration since the 1960’s.

Helpful sites:

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Track Heard In This Episode:

SpyCops by Armoured Flu Unit from Crusading Nations