Category Archives: Protest

Grad Student Strikes In The University of California System

Grad Student Strikes In The University of California System

"TFSR 11-27-22 | Grad Student Strikes In The University of California System" and image of people at a rally at UC Berkeley in 2020 holding a sign reading "Pay Us Enough To Live Here" with a sabo-cat image (original pic by Jintak Han for DailyBruin.com
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This week, Scott spoke with Rebecca Gross and Robin, Teaching Assistants at University of California Santa Cruz and members of UAW 2865 at the uni, to get informed about the ongoing strike in the UC system for, among other things, a cost of living increase demand for grad student employees and TA’s.

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The strike has extended throughout the UC system and picks up where the wildcat strikes of 2019 at that campus left off before the corona virus pandemic put so many things on hold. Similar strikes occurred earlier this year at Indiana University in Bloomington, are occurring in universities like New School in New York, as well as the system across the UK where the University College Union’s 70,000 members have voted to strike. These labor actions also touch on issues of housing affordability, tuition costs, as well as non-academic staff and employees. Check our show notes for links and social media to learn more or see how you can support or get involved.

Next week…

Next week, we hope to bring you an interview with someone involved in the UCU strikes planned across the so-called UK. Here’s an article sent by a comrade from before the strike votes started.

Sean Swain segment

Just a correction to Sean’s segment on Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, he split with the United Panther Movement and the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (Prison Chapter) to go on to co-found the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party of which he’s Minister of Defense. [ 00:57:37 – 01:05:14 ]

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Featured Tracks:

  • To Hell With Poverty by Gang of Four from Another Day Another Dollar EP
  • Fuck Society by Mac Quayle from Mr. Robot, Vol. 1

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Transcription

TFSR: Can you all introduce yourselves with any names and pronouns that you want to use and any affiliations that you have?

Rebecca Gross: Yeah. My name is Rebecca Gross, my pronouns are she/they, and I guess for the purposes of this, I’m a TA at UC Santa Cruz, and I’m also a Head Steward with UAW 2865 for Santa Cruz.

Robin: My name is Robin, I use he/him pronouns. I am a grad worker at UC Santa Cruz. I am currently working as a TA…well, I’m currently on strike, but I have been working as a TA. Yeah, I’m a rank and file member of UAW 2865. And yeah, I guess I’m also a DSA member, if that’s important as well, I don’t know.

TFSR: Cool. Thank you so much for coming and talking with us today. So we’re talking because there’s a strike going on — I think it’s general in the University of California system, not only at Santa Cruz, right? Yeah, so multiple campuses. But maybe we can just start with a little bit of background, what led to the strike? Who’s involved, what kind of workers and what the workers are looking for?

RG: Yeah. So the strike has been building at UC Santa Cruz, specifically, for a long time now. Although this is currently a larger strike than just UC Santa Cruz, the COLA Demand, the Cost Of Living Adjustment Demand, has been brewing at Santa Cruz for three plus years. And back in 2019-2020, we had a wildcat strike that started at UC Santa Cruz.

So when I talk about what we’re demanding, COLA is at the top of the list, because currently our baseline pay is pitiful, it’s $24,000 a year, and that is taxable income. We ended up taking home less than $20,000, after student fees and things like that. We’re asking for $54,000 a year to keep up with inflation and rising rent costs. And the idea is that this would help remove rent burden, and would make it so that grad workers don’t end up spending more than 30% of their wages on rent. And at UC Santa Cruz 54k probably won’t even do that, because Santa Cruz is so expensive, but it will make it so we’re not severely rent burdened. So that’s really what I’m passionate about right now, and why I’m here fighting for this. But Robin, also, you’re an international student, so maybe you also have a different perspective with some of the other demands on the table.

R: Yeah, I mean, just to jump off of that, with the COLA Demand to start out: I think the issue of rent burden is very deeply felt on this campus. I moved here last September, in order to pursue my PhD program and to work here as a TA. I quickly noticed that many of my friends here, particularly, international students, and people coming from further afield, were ending up in these really bad housing situations. In some instances living in the same space as the landlord, and often dealing with, at best, kind of weird living situations, but at worst, even more abusive type scenarios. I had friends who moved out of that situation and ended up living in the Best Western hotel. And this was kind of one of the “solutions” that the university offered to address the housing crisis.

But really it’s not a solution at all because the folks who are living there are still in rent burden, still spending large percentages of their wages on rent, and also not having access to a kitchen. I had one friend from my program, who’s an international student, he moved here from Turkey, and he ended up in the Best Western and was dealing with bedbugs in his room. So, I think this demand, the demand for a cost of living adjustment to increase our wages, such that they’re commensurate with the rise in rental costs here in Santa Cruz, it’s very deeply felt here, but it’s also one that has gone statewide. And I think people on other UC campuses are also feeling a lot of the same crunch that we’re feeling here. I think that’s been really important to how the strike is going to play out, the kind of widespread resonance of that demand, and how the rent burden issue is affecting us all.

TFSR: Yeah, thank you for all that background. And yeah, you think about Santa Cruz and that area and imagine the rents are pretty high. I’m also in academia and whenever I look at contingent jobs, I’m thinking “Will the salary be able to pay my rent?” and it’s obviously even a worse situation for grad students who don’t make even a baseline salary that a one year contract faculty would have.

You know, one thing that just came to mind when you were talking about this is also the connection — I don’t know if you have thoughts on this — but that a lot of these cities now are kind of waging war against unhoused people. And it seems to me this situation that you’re outlining in terms of what students are experiencing is connected to that issue, because I’m imagining certain students are unhoused, living in cars, too. Have you made any kind of connections with people off campus in terms of like work going on to protect unhoused people?

RG: Yeah, I mean, you’re totally right about students experiencing housing and food insecurity and not having, both undergrads as well as grads, deal with this. I can say that a lot of support has come in from the community, because I think that they see this struggle as related to their own. Food Not Bombs, which is huge in Santa Cruz, they are always some of the folks that come out to help us when we need to feed people. People on the picket line will invite other community members from other unions to come speak. Faculty have been very supportive, by and large, because they understand that we can’t afford to live here, and that this could be this is really a pivotal moment, I think the way they see it.

Of course, you have the fringe folks that are like “well, I have to go through it so you should too”, but by and large, I think that this is seen as a community struggle, and one that is dealing with rent burden in California as a whole. And hopefully, once we get our COLA, we can help others get theirs at their workplaces. So, like Robin mentioned, he’s a part of DSA, I’m also a part of DSA, and we’re doing a lot of work in our labor working group to unionize various institutions and make sure that we can share what’s going on at UC Santa Cruz in the COLAs struggle with other members of the community and other workplaces.

R: Yeah, and just to add to that, many of us from UAW 2865 here at Santa Cruz were out there on the picket lines a few weeks ago when the city workers in SEIU went on strike. And that’s really like being reciprocated as well. A number of other unions have come out in support of us, including the bus drivers here in Santa Cruz have refused to cross the picket line. I believe UPS [drivers, as well]. We’ve been trying to link up with other organizations, especially labor organizing, going on in the area to make sure that the COLA isn’t just something that we win as grad workers, but can be something that we sort of help other unions and other movements fight for too.

I could also say that myself and some other people from from our union were out in the past few weeks canvassing for the “empty homes tax”, to try to tax the second and third homes of very rich people that they don’t actually live in these homes, and use that money to try and address the housing crisis and issues of that unhoused people face here in Santa Cruz. So, we’re trying to sort of link up with other movements, struggles, unions, and we’ve seen a lot of that reciprocated, I think, in the past few days, as we’ve gone on strike as well.

TFSR: That’s awesome. Thanks for pointing out all those connections. It’s really interesting to see the solidarity and the ways that you all are moving outside of the campus to do other projects. I imagine also, like you’re saying, if UC does a cost of living adjustment that’s a huge win for all workers, especially in the state, because UC is such a huge employer. But yeah, I guess maybe some more specific questions about the strike, like: how long has the strike been going on? And what has it been like on the picket line? Has there been a lot of repression? And you’ve talked a little bit about the support, but what’s going on there?

RG: Yeah. Well, we’ve officially withheld labor for the last five days. Well, we’ve had a picket Monday through Friday, but the labor itself now has been withheld for I guess, seven. Which is really exciting. This is an open ended strike, which means sometimes when people go on strike, it’s like, “Okay, we’re gonna withhold our labor for three days, and then we’ll be back just to give them a piece of our mind, show them what we’re worth”. But we actually are in a real position of power here because we have no plans to go back to work. And it’s really exciting. I’m kind of getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Because this week is a short week because of the holiday on Thursday and Friday, and so we are going to be at the picket Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and plan to go into the long weekend continuing to withhold our labor.

In terms of the length of the strike and where it’s at, there is continuous bargaining happening between the university and the bargaining teams, and it doesn’t seem like a lot of movement has taken place on the university side. They’re not willing to give us an offer of more than 7% increase in our wages, which would be like $250 extra dollars a quarter, it’s ridiculous. That’s not going to pay the rent, you know? So we’re sort of stalled and just going to continue doing what we’ve been doing until they actually start taking our demand seriously. And this is 40,000 people to be clear, that are on strike, because it’s four different units across UAW: we have student researchers, we have the 2865 unit, which is like TAs, grad student instructors, tutors, then we have the postdocs and the academic researchers. So the huge contingent of the university spread really widely.

R: Yeah, to echo what Rebecca was saying, we’ve just been out there for one week now and we really haven’t seen any movement on the administration’s end toward coming up with a more reasonable proposal to address the rent burden issue that we’re facing. And I mean, my thinking is that we need to dig our heels in and prepare for the possibility of a much longer strike, a more sustained strike, in order to actually force the concessions that we need to see to address the rent burden here.

TFSR: What labor are you withholding? And also is the timing strategic in terms of it being towards the end of term?

RG: Yeah, so currently, the labor that’s being withheld is, for me personally as a TA: I’m not teaching my section, I’m not going to the lectures of the class that I TA for, I’m not communicating with my students about course materials, although if they do reach out with a question about the strike, or about when they can come to the picket line to help, I will respond. And I would say it is strategic in terms of when we chose to go on strike. We had a lot of meetings over the summer and through the first part of the quarter, about this potential strike, having a feeling that this is where bargaining was going in terms of a stalemate. We chose mid November, as Robin mentioned, a lot of us were working on things like the empty homes tax, and we didn’t want to be distracted, or anyone else to be distracted by the midterm elections.

And we also wanted to situate this in week eight of the quarter gearing up for this Thanksgiving break that was coming, and then all of a sudden we’re in week 10 after that. And then week 11 is finals week, right? So this gives us, hopefully we’re not too tired by the time finals week comes and there’s still good energy on the picket line feeling like we can still be there, and we can still withhold things like teaching and grades, and for researchers it’s things like not going into their lab, not reporting their research results, similar things for post-doctorate students as well.

R: Yeah, I’m also withholding my labor in terms of not teaching sections, not attending lectures, not doing the readings for the class that I’m TAing for, and not responding to course related questions from students. Again, we’re trying to keep open like a line of communication so that students have information about the strike, they know how things are going, and they know how to come out and support us if they want to do that. And, yeah, I’ve been really happy to see many of my students out on the picket line over the past five days coming out to support us.

TFSR: You know, you’re talking about how you had support from faculty. I’m wondering, in particular, if you’re TAing, what that means in terms of the person teaching the class that you are an assistant for?

RG: Yeah, it’s a good question. And it’s really different for every single individual that is a TA. Like I’m TAing for a lecturer, which means that he’s part of AFT, the adjunct lecturers union at UC statewide. It’s different than…he’s not on a tenure track, and he teaches like eight classes across four different institutions. He has it rough, right? In terms of shared struggles, I see his struggle as mine and I really do think he sees my struggle as his. They have a no strike clause, so he really cannot withhold his labor in terms of teaching classes unless he’s willing to risk a very real possibility of being fired. And so he’s still continuing to teach his classes on Zoom, which he agrees and he knows is indeed crossing the picket line. However, he has agreed to withhold other things. For example, he’s dropped the class attendance policy. So if a student decides that they want to go to the picket, instead of going to the lecture, he’s not going to discipline them or reprimand them for that at all. He’s also not going to pick up my labor of grading, he’s not going to teach my sections. So there are various things that he’s able to do in solidarity with us.

Faculty have it a lot easier, in that they have nothing to worry about if they’re on a tenure track, or they’re tenured. So I think we’ve had pretty widespread support from faculty, they’ve been marching down everyday with a banner. They’ve been there singing songs, they’ve been leading reading workshops on the line and talking about labor. So it’s been great to see them there and to have their support.

And Robin, I know that you are actually a TA for another grad student and an organizer. So how’s that? I don’t know. How’s that for you, Robin?

R: Yeah. So, in my case, the course that I’m TAing is being taught by a graduate student instructor, or GSI, so he’s been on strike with the rest of us, actually. He’s actually one of the core, kind of most involved, organizers in our union here at UCSC. What’s interesting about those positions is that, so essentially when graduate students here at UCSC have completed their coursework and their qualifying exams, we are actually eligible to teach our own courses in certain instances, in certain departments. My department is one of those. However, the pay for doing that is actually, it’s not a whole lot higher than a standard TA salary, but it’s quite a bit more work. So, graduate student instructors, by and large, have been out there with us, alongside us on the picket line.

We’ve seen a lot of support from faculty, as well, as Rebecca was mentioning. I think it will just be important for faculty to understand that the potential for this to go on for a more extended period of time — if the UC continues bargaining in the way that they have and basically stonewalling and ignoring our demands — that would mean a longer and more sustained strike. I’m confident that faculty will understand the reasons why this is happening. It’s not because we want to be on strike forever. It’s because we need to, to make real concessions.

RG: And I’ll just add to that: if they don’t and they go back to teaching their classes — and I’ve heard some rumors that that might happen in my department, the Literature Department — they’re scabs.

TFSR: Classic.

RG: They’re not standing in solidarity with our struggle and that’s a shame. So we’re going to keep organizing our own folks and other grad workers, and hope that we continue to have the faculty support, but in the case they don’t…it’s not our job to organize them. It’s their job to do that amongst themselves. So I hope they continue to withhold their labor as well in solidarity with us, but at this point we’re really just worried about connecting with other grad workers and saying “Hey, how are you feeling? Are you experiencing retaliation? Like, how can we support you? Can you come to the line today? There’s free food here for you. There’s a community here.”

TFSR: I was just joking that literature professors as scabs is classic. I guess one difference that I hear listening to you is that you already have unions. I know at other campuses where people are trying to unionize, the tenure faculty can often be a huge obstacle to that because they don’t see themselves…I mean, there’s like a real caste system between, tenured, tenure track, contingent faculty, postdocs, all the others that you’ve mentioned who are going on strike at your campus. It seems like you’re saying you don’t have to deal with the faculty because you have your own union, and so they can’t really stand in your way, they can only just show support or not. I wonder, though, what kind of talks have you had with people in advance of the strike to prepare for it? For the faculty.

RG: Yeah, well, my department sent out a letter to our faculty as soon as the strike authorization vote went out, saying that everyone who voted, signed this letter, and basically was like “we really want your support, we would really like for you to cancel your classes”. You know, so there was communication channels there. But just recently, this past week, we saw in the STEM {Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics] departments, in STEM division, some faculty members were basically strike busting, sending out emails to grad workers saying “you’re not allowed to be on strike, because part of your duties are your student duties, and this is a student conduct issue”. That’s strike busting, and that’s not lawful. We were able to really organize around that, because we have our union, and because there are protections when you have a union and you’re on strike. So we are definitely in a privileged position on that front, to have the good union lawyers and all of that. But yeah, Robin, what do you think about that question? I feel like that’s my orientation around it.

R: Yeah. I want to emphasize the faculty within my department have been really supportive so far and have been canceling their lectures and refusing to cross the picket line, and have written letters in support of our demands, in solidarity with us. Yeah, I mean, our focus is definitely on what we can do as grad workers, and getting people out to the picket line, talking to people who are on strike, talking to people who for whatever reason are still working and trying to convince them to join us. That’s sort of been our focus and so far, the response for faculty, I think, has been really good. I think that will continue.

TFSR: The obstruction from STEM is another classic thing I’ve heard in terms of unionizing struggles. But I was wondering, with that kind of argument that they made to the students — maybe you haven’t had to deal with this, because you already have the union — but one of the issues that I think comes up when you’re talking about grad student striking, and even faculty, is the kind of mythology or the cultural ideas about student that that is not work that it’s something different than than labor that can be withheld. That you all are following a vocation that you’ve made the deal to live an impoverished life or something [laughs] so that you can read books all day. I mean, have you had to deal with any of that kind of baggage in the discourse around the strike?

RG: You know, I think it’s really rare if that does happen. I’ve heard a couple folks that sort of reinforced what I call the “hazing model”, which is just the “we all had to do it, so you should, too”. But as Robin mentioned, and to reiterate this, the faculty support, by and large, is huge and it’s there. And also the lecturers support, the adjunct support. In the case of the adjuncts, when you say, “Hey, once we get our COLA, let’s help get you one. Let’s negotiate, let’s help you all go on strike”. The AFT contract last year was in the works of renegotiating and they took a less than great deal at the 11th hour. And when I talked to other lecturers, I’m like, “you know, you shouldn’t have had to deal with that as a grad worker, that sucks. No one should have to deal with being rent burdened and struggling.” So let’s help change that, at any level of someone’s career.

And in the case of the faculty, they’ve been really supportive. These few people that are doing this strike busting stuff… Like we had a huge March and rally and picket in response to that on Friday afternoon. I would say probably 350 to 400 people were marching through the streets and then it culminated in a blockade for a little while that was very peaceful and a great rally down at the base of campus. That’s the energy we need to bring to show them that’s not acceptable behavior. We have more bodies on the ground then than they have, entirely.

R: So I guess in terms of perceptions around intellectual labor versus other kinds of labor, I think we’ve seen a lot of support from, for instance, people involved in the Starbucks unionizing campaigns. Obviously, as I mentioned, from the bus drivers, and from people in the city workers union, who saw us come up to their picket, and now they’ve come up to ours as well to show their solidarity. I think my perception is, yeah, okay, some people may have these ideas about what it is that academic workers do, but by and large, I think other workers in different sectors, different fields, understand that a victory for us will only benefit them as well. And that it’s one struggle.

This sort of question of STEM departments and getting them more involved: I think, compared to — I wasn’t here yet for it — but compared to the Wildcat strike back in 2019-2020, our STEM departments have done fantastic work to get themselves a lot more organized, especially with the formation of Student Researchers United across the UC. Research positions in certain STEM departments that previously would not have been under a union now are with Student Researchers United. I think a lot of the divisions that may have previously existed or unevenness between STEM and Humanities and Social Science departments, some of that has broken down. And we’ve managed to do a better job of organizing across different fields and different different types of work as well.

TFSR: That’s really good to hear. I want to ask maybe a little bit more about the previous strike. But before that, I did have another question about how you’re connecting with other workers on campus who are not professors or students, like the facilities workers, the people in the cafeteria, or even administration?

RG: Yeah, I believe that the folks that are custodial workers and working in food services on campus… there’s a couple tricky things there. One, I think some of them are represented by AFSCME [American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees], and I think might have a no strike clause. This is something I would love to double check with some folks after this meeting and just make sure that I’m correct about that. The other thing is that student workers that work in places like cafes, and cafeterias on campus, they actually are not unionized and have not been allowed to be unionized. So that’s really challenging in terms of enabling them to feel like they can stop work, because, as we’ve already said, they’re also experiencing things like food and housing insecurity, and these exorbitantly high tuition costs. So that’s a challenge. And I don’t believe we’ve been able to effectively organize, getting solidarity strikes from folks that work in cafes and cafeterias.

However, we have succeeded in getting all of the Metro buses that normally go through campus to stop doing that loop. So they essentially get to our picket, they take a left, they go up the road, and then they turn around and go back down toward downtown, instead of going through our campus. So that’s a huge disruption. We also have prevented UPS from going on to campus and sending deliveries during the picket hours. And the last thing we’ve been recently working on is getting construction halted on our campus, and that’s huge. So that’s really an exciting development. I’m trying to think of other kinds of spheres of campus activity, but those three ways have been really, really primary ways we’ve shut it down thus far. Robin, did I miss anything there?

R: I’m not sure if I know enough, honestly, on this question to speak on it. Sorry about that.

TFSR: That’s cool. That was great.

So yeah, I mean, going back to the Wildcat strike in 2019-2020, that was really inspiring and amazing to hear about. And then the pandemic kind of hit and everything seemed to sort of come to a halt. That also was a strike, maybe it’s because it was Wildcat — I don’t know if you have information about it — but it had a lot of violent repression from cops. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the relationship between your action now and what happened before? I mean, you’ve talked a little bit maybe about some of the lessons you’ve learned, but maybe what’s going on, what’s different? Because it seems like you aren’t facing the same kind of repression, at least now.

RG: Yeah. Robin, do you want to take this one first?

R: Sure. Yeah. So I wasn’t here yet for the Wildcat strike — I started my program the year after — but my understanding is that that action really set the tone for demands that are now just more familiar to us all. I think the language of “rent burden”, this kind of understanding that we shouldn’t be spending half of our wages or even a third of our monthly wages on rent, that this is not a sustainable situation, the cost of living adjustment or COLA demand, I think the Wildcat strike was really seminal in creating awareness of these issues, and setting the tone for a statewide strike on all the UC campuses.

I think, from what I’ve heard from organizers who were involved in the Wildcat, is that essentially things just happened very quickly and almost kind of organically in a sense. A small handful of people had been launching a campaign, throughout the fall quarter around the rent burden issue, and all of a sudden the language really connected with people, and the COLA demand really took off. And basically they were getting emails from people that they didn’t even know saying, “we need to withhold our grades”. People were turning up to union meetings and saying, “we need to take action, we need to go on strike now.” What I think is really great is that the organizers who were involved in it reacted to that, they seized the moment and they realized that the time was ripe to withhold labor to go on a strike.

At the same time this time around we just had much more time for preparation and organization. We’ve coordinated it across many different campuses. That gives us a lot more power because it’s not just UC Santa Cruz, it’s across the UC. We have certain legal protections that we didn’t have last time around because it’s a union endorsed strike. That gives us a bit of an advantage and just talking to other workers and addressing concerns that people might have, particularly international students or students who are otherwise more vulnerable. think that action, which is really just kind of a classic instance of workers self organizing at a moment of heightened intensity, and something that just happened very quickly, has really set the tone for what we’re trying to do now. Which I think can be a longer, more sustained strike, involving not just withholding grades — which was the big thing last time around — but withholding all of our labor. I think this time around, we’ve got an even better chance of actually winning a COLA.

RG: Yeah, I agree with everything Robins said and I’ll just add that, in terms of the police presence, it’s been really great to not see the police get lined up in their SWAT gear, which is terrifying and really scary, particularly, as Robin mentioned, for folks that are undocumented, for Black and Brown folks in the community, for undergrads that are just there in solidarity with us. And we’re hoping to really keep it that way. I understand there’s a lot of folks that are really excited about prospects of physically shutting campus down, and that’s fair, and that’s exciting and I’ve been there too. However, because this is such a long, sustained effort, and we’re hoping to be on the line for for as long as it takes to get this cost of living adjustment, we don’t need people that are brutalized by the cops, we don’t need folks going and having to spend their energy doing jail support. We will be there, we will be there if we have to. But if we can avoid it and use another tactic to contribute to our strategy I think that’s really important right now.

Something I’ll also say, this is the cops strategy too. It looked really bad for them last time when they were photographed brutalizing people. So this is, I think, a concerted effort and strategy on the UCs end and on the cops and to not do that right now, and that could change at any moment. So we’re prepared for that to change. We really hope it doesn’t.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, it’s always the cops decision to escalate it to violence. Not like, yeah that would be the strategy to try to pull the cups out, because that doesn’t really help anyone. In terms of that strike, in relation to this, were there gains that were made? And how do you think the pandemic affected that, and also since it’s ongoing, your current strike action?

R: I know that we won a small housing stipend last time around, so nothing in the order of magnitude that would actually address rent burden. Basically the administration just throwing us a little bone hoping that that would kind of deflate some of the energy that was arising at the time. I’m not sure if I know the timeline well enough to speak to exactly the impact that the pandemic had the last time around…

RG: My understanding is that the pandemic seems to be one of the things that shut down the strike. I don’t know, I think energy was probably also dwindling outside of that. I think it’s exhausting to be on an unsanctioned strike for a month plus, but at the same time, definitely the pandemic, I think organizers were starting to even get sick, not necessarily with COVID, because we didn’t know COVID was around, but people were getting bad flu’s at the end, in early February, which definitely could have been COVID, [sickness was] starting to go around even within the picket. So, my understanding is COLA happens, strike happens, and then COVID starts. But things did come out of it: we also have five year job security, and I don’t think that was across the board in every single department and last time. When I signed my contract, I’m in my second year of my program. I have five years of employment no matter what. Which is fantastic. And that came out of some of the discourse from the Wildcat as well.

R: I mean, I think the biggest thing that came out of it, certainly we did see some small wins, but the biggest thing that came out of it was networks of organization and struggle that were activated that time. Especially bringing students who they weren’t involved in labor organizing, or an activism before, kind of into the fold. Many of those same networks have persisted up till today. That’s been huge for us this time around.

On the question of the pandemic, I wanted to add one thing: I think something important that we’ve learned also, is that in the times of COVID, the picket line is not merely like a physical thing, right? So we are asking people to cancel their lectures, their sections completely, and not to just move on to Zoom, because we moved on to Zoom for a pretty extended period with the pandemic, and we know that the university can still run on Zoom. So thinking of the picket line as not just a physical thing, that’s one important lesson that we’ve probably learned.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s interesting. When I was at NYU, at one point, there was a strike that faculty, to try to stand in solidarity, would just have their classes off-campus. At that time the strikers said that was okay by them, but then looking back thought that that was not really a good decision. So, it’s interesting to hear that with Zoom, too. I mean first of all, it’s labor, but also, like you said, the university knows now that it can function perfectly fine virtually. So it doesn’t it’s not as much of a disruption.

RG: Right.

R: Absolutely. Yeah.

TFSR: We’ve talked a little bit about the tactic of withholding grades, I was talking to someone about that strike who was involved. And they said that that was really powerful. I wonder if you had thoughts on why you think that is. They were talking about it in terms of accreditation and what the university is actually bestowing on students, but I don’t know if you have thoughts on that, and how that fits into your overall strategy.

RG: Well, I will say that this time around there’s been, as Robin alluded to, so much planning, getting ready for this, and each day there’s so much organization that goes into it. So, we haven’t, to be completely honest, we’re not there yet. We’re not necessarily thinking this time around about withholding grades specifically, although I’m sure that in the coming weeks we will be talking about this. But from what I’ve heard about the Wildcat and what that did, it really also linked undergraduate tuition dollars with grades. And that’s not a great look for a higher ed institution to basically just be passing out grades and it really links grades as this commodity that undergrads are paying for.

So, I think from a theoretical point of view was really powerful. But in terms of like the material disruption, undergrads oftentimes need those grades for various things, right? Things that the university stipulates. So things like financial aid, and sure, me saying that could seem like it’s a huge disruption for undergrads — obviously that’s not our intention — but when undergrads come to me, and they say, “I need this grade, because I need to be able to get financial aid for next quarter. I need to say that I passed all my classes last quarter”, I’m like, “I hear you, I’m with you, I’ll help you figure this out. But really this is the university that is preventing you from getting your financial aid because you’re not receiving a grade. They want you to think it’s me that’s causing this problem, but it’s them”. So I think it also produces a tool for us to align with our undergrads and disrupt their business as usual, and say, “Hey, this is disruptive. This is rough. This is difficult. How can we work together to get the university to budge and give us what we need to be able to work and teach here?” So, I think that that’s where a lot of this power lies.

Also, as you mentioned, Scott, I think there is some stuff about the UC receiving certain funding and certain grants, and this making its way into certain end of the year reports and things like that, to clout “oh, we had this many students that passed with flying colors”, whatever. But I think of it more in terms of the ability to connect with undergrads and show them that we’re in the same struggle and this disrupting them is part of our need to collectively disrupt the university at large.

R: Yeah, I would add that, in many ways, I think we, as academic workers, believe in the university’s mission much more than the university itself does. I’m speaking in terms of the administration here. Part of what we’re fighting for is to have more time to dedicate to each individual student, to fostering productive spaces for discussion and that would mean things like smaller class sizes, more personal attention from TA’s toward students. I mean these are all things that we can’t do very well when many of us are worried about getting evicted, or having to choose between paying rent and eating well, or healthcare. And I think we increasingly see this kind of commoditized, or neoliberal model of the university as this product where you pay tuition and then you get grades, right? And I think it’s actually us as academic workers who are on the frontlines of fighting against that, and fighting to provide a much better model of public education for our students.

That being said, we’re gonna see how much the university actually cares about that, through this strike. I mean, it may be the case that they’re okay with sections not being taught. It might be that we have to take this all the way to the end of the quarter, and to the extra leverage that we’ll get from withholding grades. As Rebecca was saying, we don’t know if it’s going to go that far. But we’re ready for it if that’s what has to happen.

TFSR: Yeah. Thanks, both of you, for that. I like the way that you outlined it, Rebecca, in terms of this is a place of potential solidarity between undergrads and graduate students, but clearly the university would try to pin it on the graduate students and say “deal with them, they’re the ones who are harming you”, without at all referencing the way that they allocate their funds not towards supporting the people. I think the way that you describe that, Robin, too, in terms of the time that you have to give to the labor is completely used up by just trying to survive [laughs in an exasperated way]. Anyway, I don’t know why I’m waxing on that, I have a lot I could talk to you about [laughs], but I want to ask you just a couple more questions.

There’s other actions going on other campuses right now. I know New School, I think part time faculty are striking there. I know people in the UK are about to strike. And there’s other unionization struggles on different campuses that I’ve been in touch with people, just wondering what connections you all have to people outside the UC system, if there’s any strategizing or collaboration that’s going on that you can mention.

RG: I haven’t personally been part of these conversations, but I know that last year, or two years ago I guess, when Columbia workers were on strike, there were a lot of discussions happening between folks that were here at Santa Cruz during the Wildcat and folks at Columbia strategizing and sharing stories and experiences and strategies. And then coming out of the Columbia strikes they have now shared their experiences and strategies and what worked and what didn’t work with us. So that’s been great. Also, over the summer, we did like a strike school series. So we had big Zoom rooms with panels of folks talking about their experience. We talked to the West Virginia teachers Wildcat strike that happened…I forget the year to be honest, I have to check that but…I don’t remember.

TFSR: Yeah I’m blanking on that too. Was it before COVID or during COVID?

RG: It was before, I think it was before.

TFSR: It was like 2019 probably.

RG: Had to be around then. And I mean, hearing their stories was super inspiring. So there have been these conversations with folks at different unions, at different institutions all across the country. Other organizers at Santa Cruz have really spearheaded that project. So I can, if you would like more info on that, Scott, I’m also happy to drop a line to some of those folks and ask if they can talk to you about that more.

TFSR: Yeah, I mean, that’s cool to get as many voices in.

R: We had, throughout the summer especially, a few different Zoom calls with different labor organizing projects. The Columbia people and the West Virginia teachers, and I think there was maybe one or two more as well.

TFSR: I know that UC had a pretty strong Cops Off Campus campaign, has that connected at all to the labor strike?

RG: Um, I think it’s huge. First of all, it’s one of our demands.

TFSR: Oh ok.

RG: We’re bargaining for cops off campus.

TFSR: That’s great.

RG: I don’t think I’ve been in any of the Zoom sessions where this has been addressed, and that means one of two things: either I just haven’t been there, or the UC has not been addressing it.

TFSR: Likely.

RG: It could be a combination of both. So this is something we’re bargaining for. And I mean, I see it as huge, because when people ask me things like “well, where’s the COLA money?” I’m like, “it’s going to the cops”. And elsewhere, but if we are to effectively get cops off campus, that budget could easily be redistributed to to give grad workers COLAs.

R: Yeah, just to add to that, I think sometimes in their dealings with us the administration wants to separate out these different kinds of demands. Not that there’s been any movement on the wages thing, either, but to dismiss things like cops off campus, or disability demands around COVID as like “activist demands”, which I think is really quite patronizing actually. And, on our end, I think, as Rebecca was pointing out, we view these things as interconnected. Money that could be spent toward graduate workers and giving us living wages is being directed toward things like campus policing instead. So I think it’s important to keep emphasizing those interconnections even as the line of the administration is to try and separate these things out, sometimes.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s interesting there to make that distinction between a “labor” demand and an “activist” demand.

My last question is just what can people do to support you, from other places, or any ways to connect or plugin if there’s ways that people can help?

RG: Yeah, yeah. I will send you a link to post to the Statewide Hardship Fund, which is going to be something that people are able to apply for if they’re really in a hard place. If our wages get docked and people need a little extra, we do have a strike fund and we do have strike pay from UAW, which is really fantastic that our union has that. But for folks with children or folks that have medical expenses, things like this, we have the hardship fund, so I can send that link over. But in general, I think just finding ways to put pressure on the University. I’m a fan of taking to Twitter, taking to Instagram, you can follow us [on Twitter and Instagram] @PayUsMoreUCSC. And the statewide campaign at @FairUCNow [TikTok]. I think that’s what I would say, is just keep an eye on the campaign.

R: I would encourage people in the community to turn up to the picket line and just come talk to us. Talk to people about their living situations, about our demands, about what is exciting us, what is keeping us out here day after day. And I would encourage people to also talk to their neighbors, their friends, their community, about the strike. Raise awareness and think about what organizations you’re in, what networks you’re in, and can you talk to coworkers, for instance, or people in maybe a community organization, get a letter of solidarity out, that sort of thing would be huge. I would encourage people to just start where they are and try to build some support from there. Yeah, I hope to see people join us out on the picket line, and I’m really looking forward to talking to anyone who comes out.

TFSR: Awesome. Thanks so much for taking the time and maybe, hopefully we can get an update with some really good news about what’s going on. So, yeah, power to you all. Anything that you want to say in closing?

RG: I don’t think so. Just really thank you so much for taking the time and for covering this, having the support from folks with platforms is huge. And I just really appreciate you offering to do this.

TFSR: Of course. Yeah. And we’ll link to all this stuff in the show notes when we post this and yeah, thank you so much.

R: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much.

Stop Camp Grayling!

Stop Camp Grayling!

"End Camp Grayling, Liquidate The Settler Colony" cut with a picture of a burning vehicle
Download This Episode

This week on The Final Straw, we’re sharing a chat that Scott had with Smirk, Wink & Nudge of the Stop Camp Grayling Offensive, an anarchist effort to oppose the doubling expansion of the largest military base on Turtle Island, based in so-called Michigan. For the hour, the militants talk about the ecological, social, economic and other potential impacts of expanding the military industrial complex and this counterinsurgency training ground in particular.

You can learn more at twitter.com/GraylingCamp or instagram.com/stop_camp_grayling, burning humvee featuring the words below: STOP CAMP GRAYLING midwest(ish) tour: • 11/7 Ann Arbor, MI @ U of M, 3512 Haven Hall 5pm; • 11/9 Minneapolis, MN @ he Landing Strip, 2614 30th Ave 7pm • 11/10 Migizi @ TBA • 11/11 Chicago, IL @ 6900 N Glenwood Ave in Rogers Park 7pm • 11/13 Cleveland, OH 11/14 @ Rhizome House 2174 Lee Road 7pm • 11/14 Pittsburgh, PA @ TBA • 11/15 Philadelphia, PA @ Grays Ferry Crescent Skatepark 7pm • 11/16 Ashville, NC @ TBD • 11/17-18 Atlanta, GA @ Weelaunee Forest • 11/19 Bloomington, IN @ TBA • 11/20 Grand Rapids, MI @ TBA instagram: @stop_camp_grayling twitter: @graylingcamp ......... all out against empire, capital, and the war machine. all out against everything."soon at a blog they’ll be starting or on one of their upcoming info tours, with more information in our shownotes. There is also a zine, entitled “The Base Among The Pines: Notes on the Camp Grayling Expansion on Anishinabewaki” available at RiverValleyRevolt.NoBlogs.

This struggle consider itself in solidarity with the movement to #StopCopCity in so-called Atlanta.

STOP CAMP GRAYLING midwest(ish) tour:

  • 11/7 Ann Arbor, MI @ U of M, 3512 Haven Hall 5pm;
  • 11/9 Minneapolis, MN @ he Landing Strip, 2614 30th Ave 7pm;
  • 11/10 Migizi @ TBA;
  • 11/11 Chicago, IL @ 6900 N Glenwood Ave in Rogers Park 7pm;
  • 11/13 Cleveland, OH 11/14 @ Rhizome House 2174 Lee Road 7pm;
  • 11/14 Pittsburgh, PA @ TBA;
  • 11/15 Philadelphia, PA @ Grays Ferry Crescent Skatepark 7pm;
  • 11/16 Ashville, NC @ TBD;
  • 11/17-18 Atlanta, GA @ Weelaunee Forest;
  • 11/19 Bloomington, IN @ TBA;
  • 11/20 Grand Rapids, MI @ TBA;

Next Week…

Stay tuned next week for, hopefully, a segment on making inexpensive, alcohol heaters for surviving out of doors this winter & a conversation with Josh of the Certain Days: Freedom For Political Prisoners Calendars collective about the 2023 edition, now off the presses!

Announcements

Remember Ricardo Flores Magón! Free Xinachtli!

If you’re in the Austin, Texas, area, on November 21st, on the 100th anniversary of the death of Mexican anarchist communist and revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon in Leavenworth Prison, there’ll be a remembrance vigil for RFM as well as a solidarity rally for political prisoner Xinachtli (state name Alvaro Luna Hernandez) at 12 noon at the University of Texas campus, corner stairway entry at 24th & Guadalupe Streets. This event is sponsored by Central Texas Anarchist Black Cross and “Xinachtli Defense Committee.” More info at freealvaro.net! And you can hear our past broadcast of Xinachtli talking about his case at our website.

Solidarity with Alfredo Cospito’s Hunger Strike

Solidarity actions with Alfredo Cospito’s hunger strike against protest banner hung from crane outside La Scala opera house in Milan reading "41 bis = Torture" in Italianconfinement in 41 bis conditions in Italy continue, including the taking up of the method by anarchist prisoners Juan Sorroche Fernandez and Ivan Alocco, the arson of autos owned by subsidiaries of prison profiteers in Berlin and Leipzig, and the occupation of a crane outside the famous Opera theater in Milan, La Scala, who are today holding a rally against the 41 bis prison regime and in solidarity with hunger striking prisoners. You can learn more about Cospito and his struggle from our recent episode on the subject.

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: I’m really happy to be talking today about what’s going on at Camp Grayling. And first off, would you be able to introduce yourselves with whatever name you want to use, pronouns, and associations are that you want to share.

Smirk: I am Smirk. I use she/her pronouns, and I’m with the Stop Camp Grayling Offensive.

Wink: Hi, I’m Wink, I use she/her pronouns, and I’m with the Stop Camp Grayling Offensive.

Nudge: Hi, I’m Nudge, I use she/they pronouns, and I am also with the Camp Grayling Offensive.

TFSR: Great, thank you so much for being here and talking with us today. Just to give a little bit of background, can you describe what Camp Grayling is and the expansion that you’re trying to block?

N: Yeah. Camp Grayling is the largest military base on Turtle Island. And they’re looking to expand it to twice its size. On the base, they will be testing and training new surveillance warfare, space warfare, counterinsurgency, and new autonomous vehicles. Right now, it threatens two major watersheds and is now entering a whole other one. It’s devastating at all of its intersections.

W: Currently, all branches of the military train at Camp Grayling, also local and state law enforcement trains at Camp Grayling. And currently, but also with the expansion, it is planned to have paramilitary and private weapons manufacturers train and test their weapons at Camp Grayling. And with the expansion that will also be expanded.

TFSR: How does Camp Grayling compare to other training sites? I’m thinking of the action to Stop Cop City in Atlanta, for example. And then also, I’m wondering about the National Guard because, in the zine that y’all put together, you talk specifically about the National Guard using that land and what their history is.

N: I think that definitely our struggle is really connected to a Cop City struggle. They used to base to train state police and to train specifically in counterinsurgency. The National Guard is the oldest wing of the so-called US military. And their legacy is to basically establish new settler colonies and to enforce law and order. They aided in Western expansion and the systematic genocide of indigenous folks since its inception and have gone on to suppress strikes and any insurgent movement that has come up in the so-called United States. In so-called Michigan, they’ve been deployed against striking workers, and have been deployed multiple times in reaction to responses to state violence and murder against black folks, namely, in Benton Harbor, and during the Detroit riots [of 1968].

TFSR: Given the history of the use of Camp Grayling for counterinsurgency and violent repression of uprisings, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you see at play in the expansion and how it extends the forces of the Empire and the state and fascism or any other connections you might draw?

S: Yeah, definitely. As we mentioned, a lot of surveillance and counterinsurgent technologies are already tested at Camp Grayling and used by the so-called United States all across the world. And with the expansion specifically, we’ve heard that they’re hoping to further test, specifically, surveillance tech. A lot of the same technology that has been tested at Camp Grayling was used during the 2020 uprising. And we’re also seeing an increase in interest in autonomous vehicles, and specifically, the application of autonomous vehicles in urban warfare environments, which we can only guess what that might mean.

TFSR: In the zine that y’all put together, you make some really important connections between what the US military is doing and rising fascism around the world. Specifically one of the connections you draw is with a Latvian military. And I’m just wondering if you would talk a little bit about these webs of power that you see and what Camp Grayling’s role is in that.

S: The Michigan National Guard has had a pretty close relationship with the Latvian military for I want to say a couple of decades, I don’t know for sure. And the Latvian military will come to so-called Michigan, often to train at Camp Grayling, specifically, during the Northern Strike Exercises, which are this giant conglomeration of different militaries from around the world that come to so-called Michigan to train and to do this big joint training exercise. It’s a show of force. And something that I think is really interesting is the proximity that Latvia has to the war in so-called Ukraine, and how one of the reasons that military officials are claiming to want the Camp Grayling expansion is because of so-called Michigan’s similarities in natural terrain and climates to Eastern Europe. And so it seems very timely that as all of this money and weaponry is being funneled into so-called Ukraine, they’re wanting to expand a military base that has close ties to other far-right countries in the area, as well as to weather out climate collapse and creating these fascist strongholds as we head into worse and worse weather. Yeah, I just think it’s really interesting timing, to be honest.

TFSR: It’s telling to me too that the way that they are comparing terrains that – I don’t know if you all have thoughts on this – but I wonder to what extent the military is thinking strategically, in one way that might be different than the government is doing in other ways, but there’s definitely these fascist connections between the Armed Forces of different countries. That just stood out to me, the thought that they’re thinking about how the terrains are comparable in fighting against popular forces.

S: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s to train people, and soldiers and also to test weapons and specific weather conditions. So it’s not just people that they’re sending into these other territories. It’s weaponry and vehicles and stuff like that, too. So there’s this also direct tie to capitalist industry within the military-industrial complex.

TFSR: Right. It’s also Camp Grayling is made available to privatized security forces for their training and testing.

S: Yep, exactly.

TFSR: So in the writing that you all have, you mentioned this name, which again, is them telling us something – National All-Domain Warfighting Center. Is that a separate thing from Camp Grayling as a military training site? That name really sticks out to me.

S: Yeah, it is not separate. It is the same thing. However, it is a different entity. The NADWC, which was started in 2021. And it basically operates as this interface within the National Guard to have private companies come in and have their new products tested using Camp Grayling facilities and personnel. What they advertise is that, say, you’re making an EMP gun for a wild example, you would contact the NADWC and you have actual soldiers experiment and test the weapons or accessories or vehicles that you’re hoping to manufacture on a mass scale. And then it also grants you connections to the military. So once everything passes inspection and you’ve created a weapon that is acceptable for the United States military, then you have the connections to secure a contract with entities like the Air Force or the Marines or the Navy or the army. Or the National Guard itself.

TFSR: Do you think that there’s a difference in the way that this attempted expansion would be received publicly, given this more military focus – even though you said that they train police there – than something that’s more police-affiliated, like in Atlanta? Just given the different kinds of attitudes that people have towards the military versus the police?

S: Yeah, I do think it would be received differently. Something very interesting is that people that live around the base are very pro-military, but they’re also pro-outdoor sportsmanship. So a lot of people are actually against the expansion, but they’re not anti-military. And they make that very clear. There are certain instances where they do tie in the police to that. But I think that because it’s the military people are more willing to say “no”, but it’s also out of this patriotism that “no” comes from? I don’t know, it’s really interesting. I’m not the best at articulating it.

TFSR: Yeah, that is very interesting. When you said that they support the military, but then feel may be more able to say “no”, in a way, that just points out something different. Because whatever the police are doing in terms of getting more budgets or more weapons or more training spaces, they pose it as this impending necessity for keeping us safe in our homeland or whatever. Whereas the military, I guess, there’s a little bit more space that they’re like “do we have to be doing this here in our backyard, where we enjoy hunting?” or whatever they’re doing there.

S: Exactly, exactly.

TFSR: Would you talk a little bit more about the usage of this Camp Grayling training space by police and prison officials?

S: Totally. As we’ve said, a lot of technologies that police and prisons employ are tested at Camp Grayling. It also has a Law Enforcement Training Center that I think the Michigan State Police actually headed on. And it’s called the Combined Armed Collective Training Facility. And they actually do have a mock city within the Camp Grayling base already, so Cop City already exists there. And also the National Guard and the state police do joint training exercises all the time. I think they’ve been doing that for a couple of decades. A lot of those training exercises focus on counterinsurgents. In some propaganda that we’ve found, we saw that they actually hire black actors to play protesters for the National Guard and the state police to do whatever they do with.

TFSR: Wow, that’s telling. It’s like they keep saying what they’re up to us.

What is the connection with the prison industrial complex? Is there training for guards there, too?

W: Yes, with the Law Enforcement Training Center, all sorts of different branches of law enforcement train there: firefighters, EMTs, and correction officers that will work in prisons and jails as well.

N: And also, the piggyback on this too, the area around the expansion has been used to develop extensively these massive detention centers beyond Camp Grayling. This bio-region is a massive center for carceral infrastructure. And the intersections with the detention center in Baldwin and these other mega prisons around the state feels really important.

S: And on top of all that, there is also a juvenile detention facility located within the area that Camp Grayling actually currently occupies. It’s called the Shawano School, and they are a maximum-security youth detention center that focuses mostly on youth that has histories of problems with sexual behavior and drug crimes. They are known to be one of the facilities with the highest rates of sexual assault on the youth by the staff of any facility in the so-called United States.

TFSR: So they’re locking people up for their supposed problems that they’re then subjecting them to inside.

S: Yes.

TFSR: I don’t think we talked about geographically where Camp Grayling is in relation to Detroit and some of the other cities in Michigan. Could you talk a little bit about what its relationship is to the urban areas?

N: Yeah, definitely. This expansive area is very far away from other urban centers in the so-called Michigan. It’s in a region that is dubbed “Up North”. And it’s mostly historically state forest lands and forests. So it’s probably 2.5 hours north of the nearest city and the more urbanized area of so-called Michigan.

TFSR: So given that, maybe we can turn to talking about the environmental impact of campaigning, which you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation. Thinking about this as a State forest, and also the relationship that it has to the more urban areas. So first, what is the environmental impact of Camp Graying now, and what do you think would happen with the expansion, but also the way that this land is maybe being seen as productive for industry, too?

W: It’s important, first of all, to say that the land that is what the expansion would be is controlled by the DNR [Department of Natural Resources] and that the DNR is working on a land use agreement with the National Guard, in which the DNR would lease the land to the National Guard for free.

Everyone knows that the US military is the largest polluter on our earth. They emit more carbon annually than most countries do. They are historically known for dramatic habitat decrease and pollution, biodiversity losses, and all sorts of just horrible horrible impacts on our environment. Specifically in Camp Grayling, and also in military training centers in general, due to the repeated acts of what training is and what training does military bases and training centers are among the most polluted areas of our Earth. And Camp Grayling is no different.

One of the main pollutants that have been found in Camp Grayling, and it’s not been very long, it’s only been since 2016 that this issue has really become prevalent in the area, is PFAS. The groundwater PFAS are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances. They’re a group of manufactured chemicals that are found specifically in military bases, in something called aqueous film forming foam (AFFF), which has been used as a fire extinguishing component, as well as to do all sorts of other things like dust suppression on the roads, or they spread it all over their vehicles because it is known to be resistant to water, heat, and oil. So Camp Grayling has used this aqueous film-forming foam, along with most other places in the country that train military since the 70’s. And it is full of PFAS. It’s really horrible shit. I’m sure some people have heard about forever chemicals. PFAS bioaccumulates in humans and non-humans over time. So this basically synthetic chemical compound just builds up in your bloodstream. And it’s been found in the groundwater in Grayling, and it is all over at one specific lake that is contained within the current boundaries of Camp Grayling called Lake Margareth. It’s fucked because there’s not a really good way to clean this out of the groundwater. And when you go to so-called Grayling in northern Michigan, everywhere you look there are streams, there’s wetlands, there’s rivers, it’s absolutely fucking beautiful there. But we know that the water is all connected. So, the so-called Michigan is located in an area that has access to 20% of the world’s freshwater in the so-called Great Lakes. And PFAS is just one, countless hazardous chemicals are released by the military every single fucking day. It’s going into the water. And the streams aren’t just staying in Grayling. They’re flowing from the wetlands into the streams into the rivers, which will eventually flow into both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which has been happening at least since the 1970’s.

Also, another fun fact, to tie capitalism into it, is that the military actually owns the patent to the aqueous film-forming foam and with the mega-corporation 3M worked to develop it. So anytime this foam is manufactured, the military actually is making money off of it as well.

TFSR: The state of Michigan has a bad reputation in terms of water and water quality, given the situation in Flint that got a lot of publicity. With this situation, is it a similar response in terms of a lack of concern for the people and the other living creatures having their water poisoned by these chemicals? Or is there anything that they’re doing?

W: Oh, yeah, I mean, the response was underwhelming, at best. The military has not taken any accountability. Why would they? But the people that live in so-called Grayling whose water has been affected by this, there’s really only a handful of individuals, I think it was 19 households that were able to receive remediation by the military. There are a couple of hundred households that have received water filters. Somehow, Camp Grayling got off the Superfund list. I don’t know how, because you can’t clean that shit up. It’s all just a little bit shady. There’s definitely an underwhelming response to the poisoning of the water in the area by the military 100%.

N: Can I add to that? The military solution to the PFAS problem is to discontinue firefighting foam, which is what they allude to as the big thing that’s causing the contamination. But really, this chemical is used and so many things that the military uses. So that solution is really inadequate.

TFSR: It just seems, as you were pointing out, the water doesn’t stay in one place. So these pretty minimal, stopgap measures to help people don’t really address a larger problem, or even acknowledge really that they’re creating this problem and it’s an ongoing situation.

You mentioned the Superfund site, would you just talk a little bit about what that means? And what it means that Camp Grayling isn’t one now?

W: Sure. I don’t know why Camp Grayling isn’t one now. But I do know that a Superfund site is anywhere that the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency decides is so heavily polluted and contaminated by toxic substances that it needs to be completely shut down for remediation purposes, and that resources need to be directed to that ASAP. Last I read, there are just over 1300 Superfund sites in the so-called United States. Over half of them are current or former military bases or training compounds, and then other places that you’re likely to see Superfund sites become factories or places where a lot of industrial waste was disposed of. Unfortunately, here in so-called Michigan, we have the highest concentration of Superfund sites of anywhere in the country. It’s really sad and disappointing, and it’s definitely a direct result of industrialization and capitalism.

TFSR: Given all the environmental impact that you just described, one might think that a tactic that could be applicable here would be one of saving the environment or conservation of some kind. Can you talk a little bit about that method, and also why you all are critical of that approach?

N: Definitely. The history of environmental justice work in so-called Michigan, at least in my lived experience, has been centered around conservation and doing “paper wrenching” as a method of resistance. Basically, there’s a narrative that the State believes and it demonstrates itself in social stratification and the way that capitalist society and exploitation and oppression look and that the State values some lives over others, and that some lives and interests are worth protecting over others. And this is definitely where most conservation narratives stem from. This is also where the tactic of “paper wrenching” feels inadequate and cringy to me.

TFSR: Can you explain what that “paper wrenching” means?

N: Yes, it fundamentally means that we’re using laws or rights that the state has told us exist and basically hold them accountable to those laws and rights. And we know that the State is not a fair or rational entity and that it ultimately exerts power however it wants to. And I think that appealing to rights and laws is something that is also just legitimizing State violence and oppression and legitimizing their worldview that aids all these oppressive structures.

S: Just to add on to that and how conservation legitimizes colonialism and extraction capitalism in this exact circumstance… As oil and gas resources were being discovered and that process was just beginning, there were these settler-conservationists fights over the Pigeon River State Forest, which is just a little north of so-called Grayling, which rests on top of this giant gas shale that we have underneath the peninsula. And there was this very drawn-out fight to prevent oil and gas drilling within the state forest land. As that fight came to a close, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs reached an agreement with oil and gas executives that said that they can drill within State Forest lands. So they conceded on the condition that some of the revenue gets put back into conservation efforts. As that trust developed, it became essentially a DNR fund. So, a lot of the reasons that there are state forests and nature preserves surrounding so-called Grayling are because of this compromise with oil and gas executives, and the love of outdoor sportsmanship by a lot of the folks that live around there, made that a really appealing conservation effort, even though it allowed extraction to continue even more so than it already was at the time. And I feel it’s really important to point out here too, that a lot of the way that conservation happens in this area is hand in hand with extraction capitalism.

TFSR: That’s really helpful to draw those connections explicitly.

One of the things that you are talking about in the writing that you did is the possibility of using State distinctions of endangered species or something as a tool for fighting the expansion. Can you talk about that tool and how you relate to it from this anti-state perspective?

N: This is probably one of the first ways people started to mobilize and take action against the expansion. Right now we’re in a “public comment” period and while we await the decision of politicians on whether this will be approved or not and then we move on to an environmental impact survey phase. Basically, all these people that are being contracted to do the surveying are state entities and agencies that have a stake in the project being completed. So the DNR is going to contract entities to do the surveying and so is the National Guard. By having a grassroots initiative, even though it is a low-risk, low-reward tactic, and it legitimizes States, that it still could open up a path to gum up the gears and slow down the expansion, but through litigation. That’s the thing that is happening. It happened.

TFSR: I wonder if you’d share a little bit of your knowledge about the land that Camp Grayling occupies in terms of the history of indigenous relationship to the land, the history of settlement and colonization that’s gone on because that seems to be an important backdrop to everything that you’re saying.

W: Yeah, definitely. The original stewards of most of Michigan, if not all, are the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi people. They make up the Council of the Three Fires. The land that is currently Camp Grayling and the land that is in the expansion is entirely covered under the Treaty of Washington of 1836. The Treaty of Washington gave specifically Ojibwe and Odawa people hunting and fishing rights. So the US military and Camp Grayling have been in violation of these rights since its inception in 1913. There’s not really a huge Native population in the area as of now. The reservations tend to be north and west and south and east of this area, for whatever reason.

But I think something important to talk about is the land that so-called Grayling sits on is cut by two different rivers, the so-called Au Sable and the so-called Manistee River, both carve what is now known as Grayling. And these were really important watery ways to indigenous folks for centuries before colonization. And then when settlers came and began occupying this area, what they were really attracted to was the huge old-growth forests that were there, and immediately just fucking cut them all down. And then they use the waterways to ship the logs all over. And the logging history of Grayling is really directly tied to Camp Grayling because the lumber baron Rasmus Hansen was one of the original capitalists in the area of the so-called Grayling. And it was customary at the time for logging companies or any other extractive companies to pay their taxes by donating the land back to the state. So the whole reason Camp Grayling exists is that Rasmus Hansen cut down all the old trees on it and then gave it back to the state of Michigan fort to open up a National Guard training center. So that’s the lore.

Unfortunately, a lot of indigenous history has been lost to colonization. We are working on building relationships with indigenous folks that might have some of this knowledge on this ancestral knowledge of the land. But as we know, a lot of their history has been completely destroyed by settler colonization.

TFSR: Thank you for sharing that. It’s important to know that the people who had originally lived there have been really driven off the land. It makes me wonder about who the residents are in that area. We talked a little bit about their military support, but is there more information you could share about who lives in the area?

N: The folks that live in the area, they’re mostly settlers, and there’s a lot of class diversity, as I understand it, but there are a lot of poor white folks that are affected by the ecological issues. But there are also just rich bastards that have a lot of lands. It’s mostly just a NIMBY [Not In My Back Yard] settler population, frankly.

S: Something that’s important to that settler population are also industries created by the river systems. Trophy fishing, fly fishing, and trout fishing are really popular. People travel from all over the world to come to the headwaters of the so-called Au Sable to fly fish. And so that tourism and other kinds of recreational activities along the rivers are really, really important to the economic well-being of a largely poor, conservative white populace. And a lot of those folks see the expansion as a direct threat to that tourism and to their economic well-being and hopefully to the rivers also, but who knows.

TFSR: I wonder if you could talk a little bit then about how the groups that are organizing resistance to Camp Grayling relate to the people living there. Is there any collaboration? Are you taking different stands, if people are resisting who are living there, for different reasons that they want to oppose it? I would just be interested to know about what connections or divergences there are.

N: There are a lot of different groups organizing around the issue, they tend to be affiliated with far-right aligning folks. A lot of the stuff that they’re doing is petition work and awareness. They have a very large Facebook following. Very impressive. But they are pro-military and anti-direct action. The Stop Camp Grayling Offensive is more trying to introduce an anti-military, anarchist contingency to the issue, and really trying to not only focus on stopping the expansion but trying to center other issues like Land Back and anti-military as a whole. To destroy the military-industrial complex and the State as a whole.

And even though I brought the most attention to the far-right contingents that are involved in the project, I do want to say that they’re other, more liberal contingents there as well. But they’re also using the same strategies that center the State to meet there.

W: Some settler conservation groups have also gotten involved. Groups like Trout Unlimited, Sierra Club, and Michigan Conservation Club. These are seen as legitimate by almost everyone, in any political party or whatever, for being experts in this conservation stuff. They have also come to the table to mostly ask for transparency in the environmental impact surveying that will be happening maybe in the next couple of years.

N: And to be frank, I think that these other contingencies that exist of locals, they don’t like us and are antagonistic to us.

TFSR: It’s interesting to me the way that you stake out an anarchist space to reject this project that doesn’t imagine a useful tactic of collaborating with people who don’t share that interconnective, let’s say, view of how the military, the extractive resources, the settler State – all these things connect. I wonder if you could talk just about that strategy on your end of a separate campaign to stop Camp Grayling’s expansion. And what you think it offers for anarchists to not water down their view of things in the projects that we do.

S: A lot of times when I’m thinking about this, I am thinking about what it means to be in solidarity with folks who might not even live in the so-called United States, but are still being hunted down and persecuted by its empire. I am also a trans person. It’s difficult for me to begin with to share spaces with a lot of these far-right contingencies in this fight. I would be almost immediately othered. So, I’m unwilling to compromise with people who are anti-trans, I’m unwilling to compromise with people who are explicitly anti-black. I’m unwilling to compromise with people who love the military. I think that a lot of anarchist organizing in the past decade has done a lot of watering-down [of] analysis to win small victories. I might be alone in this, but I am just observing that it’s not working and that so much movement-building and campaigning is so much more alienating than people like to talk about. In my experience doing other kinds of work, the thing that is not alienating is when you are honest about what your goals are, and why you’re working towards the things you’re working toward. That people who might be sympathetic to anarchists, anti-state communists, or whatever, are much more excited about actions or analyses that reflect this uncompromising belief in the destruction of the so-called United States. It just feels so much more empowering to aim for that and to be formulating strategy around that, than to be fighting to just stop a Camp Grayling expansion, or to just stop a pipeline. So it’s really invigorating to me, and I’ve observed it being invigorating to others. I just think it’s good solidarity to be against the United States Empire as a whole, instead of just this specific part of it.

TFSR: I really how you put all that together, especially highlighting the anti-trans anti-black offensives that are going on around the country now. It seems really important to bring those things together with these other issues that could seem that they’re not connected, like that anti-transness or State racism isn’t connected to extraction of resources or expansion of the military… That’s super important just to center that. And also, I like how you frame it too just thinking about trans people doing this work. And showing that a trans issue isn’t asking the State to recognize us. It’s fighting this State that’s trying to destroy the world.

S: Yeah. Anti-trans bigotry and anti-black bigotry are the United States War Machine.

TFSR: Well said. Given the unwillingness to compromise, this encompassing analysis and approach, I wonder if you would connect the way that you’re framing this struggle with other struggles going on in Michigan, as you mentioned, the Line 5 or the pipeline struggles, or elsewhere too – we’ve mentioned the Atlanta forest. So, what connections do you I see in the way that you’re doing this to other ongoing things, if any?

S: So-called Grayling is only about I want to say 100 miles south of the Straits of Mackinac, which is where Enbridge hopes to build a big old tunnel to put a new pipeline through, called Line 5. Many people probably remember the fight against Line 3, Enbridge is now hoping to build this tunnel underneath the straits to house a new pipeline, again, called Line 5. And there’s a lot of folks that have been resisting that for years. However, we’re starting to see a lot of those people get comfy with Stop Camp Grayling stuff and learning how our struggles can benefit from one another, whether that be building supply lines or teaching each other new skills, having a multiplicity of people willing to work on stuff. And so I’m personally really excited to see connections to that fight.

Something else, too, is in the Upper Peninsula: in 2009, there was a fight for Eagle Rock, which is sacred sites along the coast of so-called Lake Superior and a company called Kennecott wanted to mine nickel sulfide there and was ultimately successful in crushing the land defense efforts. However, there was a really interesting campaign around it. Just earlier this year, Kennecott sold the property rights to the land parcel to a company called Talents Metals, which hopes to open up a huge swath of the Upper Peninsula to nickel mining, specifically, to build batteries for Tesla. Which, again, coming back to the military-industrial complex, a lot of the military is trying to switch to renewable energies, including electric vehicles. So not only are our struggles interlinked because of geography and the people who might be involved but also because nickel mining is something that the military is also really excited about.

N: I’m not even sure if this is a direct answer to your question, but I’m gonna try. I’m really excited about this particular offensive because it feels like it’s super, super, super easy to draw connections to all of the issues. For instance, we had initially gotten a lot of inspiration from the SHAC [Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty] and Defend Atlanta Forest’s strategy of tertiary targeting. As we were identifying what breathes life into Camp Grayling, as we identified new targets and new threats and enemies, we would identify three more connected to those and then three more, and ultimately, we saw that everything breathes life… The world that created Camp Grayling is the same world that builds pipelines, that are putting these facial recognition cameras outside of shops in Detroit, and the intersections with Michigan Department of Corrections.

I think that what’s been exciting is that a militant attack against anything that exists in the settler colony is an action against Camp Grayling and the world that it protects. That’s been really inspiring.

TFSR: That’s a helpful way of thinking about it that this one space locates all these forces that are interconnecting in a really telling way. I’m wondering if there’s anything you could share about what ideas of approaches you’re gonna take in stopping the expansion if there’s anything that you can talk about?

N: What I was hinting and touching on just a moment ago was an idea that some folks in the Camp Grayling effort have been exploring and talking about, which is what we’ve dubbed “offensive strategy.” And that it’s basically decentralizing targets altogether, where every niche of settler colonial life is a target for militant action and that you can do a solidarity action with Camp Grayling by just making that connection, either through words or in your communique or whatever. “Let Stop Camp Grayling sponsor your militancy” and vice versa. That’s a quick overview of the strategy that’s being explored. There are also more.

We’re really inspired by Defend Atlanta Forest, too. We have the intention of being decentralized, not really telling people what tactics they should or shouldn’t use. That also means that more campaign-type organizing is happening parallel to our offensive strategy. Some are modeled pretty. Some folks are really modeling after Defend Atlanta Forest and tertiary targeting strategy outside of an offensive structure. So, actually targeting clear contracting forces, too. Instead of generalized antagonism, it’s more of pointed antagonism. It just looks so different depending on who you’re fucking around with.

S: Just to round that out. Some folks are working on movement-building in urban areas in so-called Michigan. Some folks want to give out free food just like Enbridge does. Some folks want to do parties in the forests. Some folks want to do sabotage actions. Some folks want to do petitioning and “paper wrenching”. There’s a huge multiplicity of tactics being talked about. But because this is a very baby offensive, there’s not a lot to show for it yet. But we are very excited.

TFSR: If people wanted to contribute, either with their time, presence, or resources, is there a way that they could plug in?

W: We think everyone should make their own decisions on how to do that. If people want to have more information about what’s going on, really good resources are social media. There are Twitter and Instagram pages. Instagram is @StopCampGrayling and the Twitter is @greylingcamp. Those are updated really frequently. There’s also a ProtonMail people can reach out to if they have specific questions and aren’t on social media. I think that StopCampGrayling@protonmail.com. But really we encourage people to figure out what they can do to get involved and just brand it for themselves as Stop Camp Grayling. Anything can be Stop Camp Grayling, as we already established. We want everyone to make their own decisions.

N: Just to plug, folks in our offensive have been organizing talking tours to go to different communities and help people brainstorm and vision what plugging into a Stop Camp Grayling Offensive might look like. That’s happening pretty regularly where folks are going out and meeting with those communities that have asked for it.

TFSR: Is there information about where you’ll be speaking on your social media?

S: Yeah.

TFSR: I would also just say that you shared the zine The Base Among the Jack Pines: No Camp Grayling Expansion on Anishinabewaki. And I thought that was just a great piece of writing. So I will link to that, too, in our notes for the show.

W: Thank you.

TFSR: Is there anything else that you want to share, anything that we didn’t get to highlight or focus on that you think is important?

S: Fuck the state?

TFSR: Yep. Well, that’s probably a good place to end. I really appreciate all the work you’re doing and all the information that you shared and your taking the time to talk with us. This is a really important front for our ongoing long struggle. So thank you.

S: Yeah, thank you for having us so much. I love Final Straw.

W: Yeah, we love you too.

TFSR: Cool. Hopefully, we’ll have you on again for any updates and when you have more stuff to share.

S: That’d be awesome.

Solidarity With Prisoner Resistance from Alabama to Italy

Solidarity With Prisoner Resistance from Alabama to Italy

"Alfredo out from 41 bis Close 41 bis Freedom for everyone We are facing an attempt by the state to annihilate our comrade Alfredo Cospito, burying him in the infamous 41 bis prison regime to take revenge for his actions and prevent him from continuing to spread his ideas outside. Therefore, we, anarchists, think it is imperative to launch, starting now, a widespread mobilisation to take him out of 41bis. We think it is necessary to deploy a range of practices, everyone according to their own tensions, in order to force the state to remove revolutionary comrade Alfredo Cospito from 41 bis. We are aware of the partial nature of this struggle, but the repressive stranglehold is such that we believe it is necessary to oppose it with all our strength, because we see it as an attempt by the state to undermine, for everyone, the possibilities of fighting against this system. We are convinced that we must defend the comrade’s choices and the practices for which he was sentenced, practices that have always belonged to anarchism. 41 bis is a torture regime, set up to silence, isolate and force collaboration with the institutions: it must be torn down along with all prisons. While the state tries to annihilate us, we remain aware that the best defence is always the attack. DEATH TO THE STATE LONG LIVE ANARCHY Anarchists" + a hand holding a lit ball bomb + "TFSR 10-30-22"
Download This Episode

This week on the show, you’ll hear from Diyawn Caldwell, founder of “Both Sides Of The Wall” which has been supporting striking people behind bars across the Alabama Dept of Corrections where incarcerated workers refused their unpaid work over 3 weeks. The strike is on hold, for now, but prisoners continue resistance despite repression. You can learn more abut the group by finding them on social media or visiting BothSidesOfTheWall.com [00:01:07 – 00:19:31]

Then, you’ll hear anarchist comrades from the anti-repression solidarity group called La Lima, or The File, from Rome, Italy. The comrades will share about the situation of Alfredo Cospito who is now on hunger strike against the conditions in the 41bis hard prison regime. You can hear an interview from 2019 also that gives some context of other anarchist and anticapitalist radical prisoners resisting 41bis in Italy at that time. To keep up on resistance, you can visit ActForFree.NoBlogs.Org or check out the post on EnoughIsEnough calling for international solidarity. [00:20:43 – 00:53:10]

Plus, a segment from Sean Swain with a proposal for these United States…. [00:55:36 – end]

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Featured Tracks:

  • Moving Through Streets (Instrumental version) by The Psycho Realm by Moving Through Streets / Sick Dogs 12″
  • Ballata Per L’Anarchico Pinelli by Gruppo “Z” from Canti Anarchici Italiani (Italian Songs Of Anarchy)

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Alabama Prisoner Struggle Transcription

Diyawn Caldwell: My name is Diyawn Caldwell, my pronouns are she/her/hers. I am the founder of Both Sides Of The Wall.

TFSR: Great. Could you talk a bit about Both Sides Of The Wall, where you all are based out of, how it came to be, and what you all do?

DC: Yeah. Both Sides Of The Wall is an organization that is committed to changing the criminal justice system, also committed to serving the incarcerated citizens and their families. We specialize in re-entry, participatory defense, criminal justice reform, prison reform, and the needs of the incarcerated individuals and their families.

TFSR: What’s your relationship to incarceration? Have you been incarcerated before? Do you have any loved ones behind the walls that you’re advocating with?

DC: I have been incarcerated previously. No prison time. I have a husband that has been incarcerated for 17 years in the Alabama Department of Corrections.

TFSR: That right there is a pretty good reason to be involved in trying to reform or trying to increase the situation for him and folks like him who are stuck behind bars.

DC: Absolutely. Yes. Definitely. You know, you can’t say you love someone that is incarcerated and see what they’re going through in their living conditions and not want to fight and step up and be a part of it. I mean, I don’t see how those two mesh together. If you say that you love someone, you’re going to do whatever you have to do to try to improve their situation, especially if they’re being wronged, or if they’re living in unjust conditions, or living in an unjust penal system.

TFSR: So as I understand there are multiple different formations and groups and individuals taking part behind bars in the strike that’s going on in the Alabama Department of Corrections system. Can you talk a little bit about what some of the groups are that you’ve seen engaging, and what the demands are? Maybe starting with what the general conditions that people like your husband are experiencing?

DC: Well, basically, inside the Department of Corrections, they are living in decrepit, inhumane conditions. They’re living in black mold, the conditions are overcrowded, they have up to 200 men in a warehouse bay that was designed for programming. They have turned all the programming dorms in to living quarters. They have maybe two feet between each one of them that they sleep in. The showers are molded. For 200 men you probably have three toilets and two sinks that work in each bay… two phones to reach out to the family members. If you look and see the conditions, I can send you some pictures, it looks worse than some third world countries. So the guys have banned together to stand up and fight for themselves, fight for their rights, fight for what the taxpayers pay for. Where’s the money going? Because it’s definitely not going to improve the conditions of the prison system.

Then you have the parole board. We have a 98% denial rate. They have no hope. They have no way out. Men and women are getting denied at an all time high, even though they have met every criteria that there is to be able to make parole. They have the institution of parole officer that comes in and assesses them according to the OR stat lines, which is Ohio Risk Assessment that they use. They give the findings to the parole board. Their file has been given over from the institutional of parole officers stating that they have met the guidelines and they’re a good candidate for parole. However, the parole board is still denying them because they have the discretionary call and the parole bill saying regardless that meet the guidelines, regardless if they have done everything possible to rehabilitate themselves and take every program to rehabilitate themselves, they still find and deem them ‘not fit’ to make parole because of that discretionary clause.

TFSR: Is there an impetus for those parole officers or for the departments that run the parole boards economically? To not parole people because they get federal funding out of having more people behind bars, or is there some sort of way to follow the money as to why this is happening? Or what do you think is the the reason that these parole boards are failing to to parole people?

DC: I think they all work together. I do think it’s an economical issue. They’re profiting off the backs of our people. They are trying to build these three new mega prisons, so they have to house the people in these prisons. I think that’s one of the impetus’ behind it. Because they want to fill these prisons. They have to pay these bonds back. They have to profit. In order to do that, they have to hold people incarcerated.

We also have this issue of convict leasing. This has been going on for decades, for centuries. They are profiting through these corporations and these jobs and these government entities who have our people go out and work for little or nothing. When I say a little or nothing, I mean a little. 30 to 35 cents an hour, you know, $1 an hour. They are profiting big time off of the convict leasing program that they have going on.

Of course, we have the factories as well. You have one at home. Every tag in Alabama and Southern Mississippi are made through that tag plant. You have the sewing factory and the furniture factory, they build furniture and sell to high end companies. So yes, it is a profitable entity that they’re using to keep our people incarcerated.

TFSR: Yeah, and when you’re using language like convict lease and saying that is going on for centuries, it is not too much to say that the United States built its wealth as a government and as a nation off of the backs of incarcerated and disinterred people who were living here who had been living or African folks that were brought here and worked to death. Convict leasing goes to the period after the Civil War when the black codes were passed, right. And it allowed for a continuation through the 13th amendment of the extraction of labor through the criminalization of mostly Black folks in this country.

I know that Alabama has had a long history, especially in the last decade, of incarcerated folks and their supporters on the outside speaking in terms of the forced extraction of labor through the prison system, and through the jails as being a continuation of slavery. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that, in your perspective, if you think that’s a fair assessment?

DC: Yeah, definitely. I mean, we have to look at it for what it is. It is definitely a racial bias when it comes down to the judicial system and incarceration. They definitely utilize the Black and brown people to bring profitability to the States, every state in the United States. They also have the slavery clauses that is still in the 13th amendment. So, how are we free? That’s their tactic and their way of utilizing us, again, as Black and brown people with that clause in the 13th amendment saying that you are free unless you have committed a crime, and then you are then a slave. So how are you saying that we’re free? But if we commit a crime then we are slaves. That makes absolutely no sense. If we’re free, we’re free. If we commit a crime, then we pay the cost for our crime, and we continue to go on as free citizens. That’s not right. Even in the Alabama 1901 constitution section 32, it still says that it has involuntary servitude clause in there basically saying the same thing, ‘You are slave if you’ve committed a crime.’

So yes, there’s a lot of disparities in the law. There is a lot of racial bias when it comes to incarceration. They use that to their benefit to continue to confine us Black and brown people as slaves.

TFSR: You were mentioning those things about where’s the money going and the different parts of the prison facilities being used for housing people when they would have been recreational or educational centers, overpopulation in the prisons in existing facilities, and [Alabama Governor] Kay Ivey and other people in the state government pushing for building new mega prisons. At the same time what I’ve heard from incarcerated folks in past interviews, and also seen through work stoppages, or a lack of, or a refusal to get hired for jobs working in these facilities, is that people on the outside who might be doing these jobs, working class people, often Black and brown, sometimes white, are put into a dangerous, overpopulated situation. I have no love for prison guards, but they can’t hire them, because no one will take the jobs because of the the wages that they’re being offered. So in the meantime, it seems like the State government is basically holding the whole population of the State sort of hostage and creating a very dangerous scenario, almost waiting for it to sort of boil over in order to push through the building of these big infrastructure projects.

DC: Yes, definitely. They try to use that as a pedestal to say, “okay, we need to build these in prisons. That way we don’t need as many guards with the infrastructure that it will be built under.” However, what are you doing at this point now? We’re losing people every day. Bodies are leaving out of those facilities every day. So what are you going to do in the meantime, in the between time? Let’s just be real about the situation. If you’re building mega prisons that’s going to house 4000 people, you still don’t have enough guards to fill those positions with the capacity that you have now. That’s not our problem. That’s not the general public’s problem. They need to pay more. They need to do whatever they need to do to get people in there because there is a safety and security risk when it comes down to it, because these guys have no oversight. So when they have a disruption in there… prime example: There was a young man around two weeks ago that got killed in Limestone Prison up in the Huntsville area. You mean to tell me there was no guard in the dorm to intervene, to call for help, to call for any type of outside help, a nurse or anything, and this guy just lay there and bled out and died because you all do not have the proper setup. That’s asinine.

TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been hearing through friends, for instance at William E. Donaldson Correctional about pretty frequent suicide of prisoners under the conditions that there, where they’re not being offered medical treatment or counseling of any sort. There’s a constant decrease in the quality of food being available to people, overcrowding, which will lead to more acts of violence among folks and less oversight when there are dangerous situations by whatever guards there might be around.

DC: I question if they really are all suicides. I questioned that because especially the offices up there, they have a history of murdering individuals, incarcerated citizens, and getting away with it. So I question if they’re all suicides, I really do. They cover up a lot of things. They list these deaths as different causes than what they really are. So I question, again, if they’re all suicides. I wouldn’t be surprised if the guards murdered a few of them. Do we have people that are hopeless that are committing suicide? Yes, we do. But at the rate that they’re recording it, I don’t believe it.

TFSR: Not to say that the federal government is a great bastion of rights and justice for people. But they’ve stepped in multiple times to sue the government of Alabama because of the activities in the Department of Corrections & Prisons, because they’re creating these unsafe circumstances.

You had mentioned before the denial of parole. I know one of the demands that I’ve seen listed from prisoners on the inside is doing away with life without parole. Denying people parole is a de facto way of just creating a life without parole circumstance, as well as creating a Statewide Conviction Integrity Unit to investigate questions of messed up convictions that are unjust against people, mandatory parole criteria that will guarantee parole to all eligible people who meet the criteria, as you said, streamlined review process for medical furloughs and review of elderly incarcerated individuals for medical release.

Do you have any anecdotes of people that you’re in contact with on the inside having to navigate the so called medical care inside of the prison system?

DC: No, I don’t have any that I can name here publicly. I do want to say that, along with those demands, too, we do have several other demands that are not listed. One being to reinstate Good Time for all eligible incarcerated citizens that are eligible to return to society. So that is one of the biggest ones that will alleviate a lot of the overcrowding. If they go back and look at the demands that the governor called unreasonable, which are definitely reasonable, they will see that a few of the demands were in the last legislative session to be voted on, to be looked over. So how are they unreasonable if bills have already been drafted around these situations in these demands.

All the demands will alleviate the overcrowding situation, which will help the staffing situation, which will in retrospect help a lot of the issues that are surrounded in the DOJ report. I mean, okay, we can’t correct the activities in the way that they treat and handle the inmates through these demands. That’s something that has to be implemented through policy and followed up upon, and people are held accountable for their actions, but a lot of the demands will alleviate a lot of issues within the DOJ lawsuit.

Also, I want to say this: We’re not looking for the DOJ to come in and save us. The DOJ has sued Alabama on several occasions and they have not yet to come and take over these prisons. How many bodies do we have to lose before they come in and step in and take over the prisons? I mean, are you all comfortable going to sleep at night knowing that people are dying and you have not intervened? That makes absolutely no sense to me. How many bodies do we have to lose? That in itself gives a reason for emergency intervention. There is no staff there to help intervene with these issues and we are losing people. Why have they not stepped in? That is my question.

TFSR: That’s a totally fair question.

I’d love to learn more about the strike as far as you know it. It’s weeks in at this point. And if you don’t have a sense of this, it’s perfectly fine. But if you wouldn’t mind talking about what you’re aware of if folks on the inside are putting down tools, or refusing to leave their cells, refusing to eat, or attend educational sessions, or is it some mixture of those things? Do you have a sense of which facilities are participating? I’ve heard there’s been more repression recently, so things might have changed.

DC: Yes. We have come to an agreement with the guys on the inside. We take our orders from the guys on the inside, because they are the ones that are living in those conditions. So we just follow their footsteps. However, they have decided to put the strike on hold to give the governor and the legislators and the state of Alabama the opportunity to address our grievances and demands. However, if they have not addressed our demands within a reasonable amount of time, then the women and the men inside will resume the strike. We will continue this and continue with things until they do something. We’re gonna have to tie their hands, you know? We’re going to tie their hands.

TFSR: So, Both Sides Of The Wall had a recent demonstration outside of the Capitol, the State Capitol in Montgomery, how did that go? What was the attendance like? And do you think that you got your point across?

DC: I definitely think we’re building momentum. We got our point across. Kay Ivey was looking at us outside of the window, so she was paying attention to what was going on. We had around 500 people there on the roster, some people did not sign the roster. So I’m sure we had more than that to attend the rally.

We are constantly building momentum, we are going to start going to every major city here shortly to educate people on what’s going on. For people that cannot travel to Montgomery, we’re coming to them. We’re going to educate them on what’s going on. Once we finished the major cities, we will resume again in Montgomery for a big rally. So we are definitely continuing to put the work in. The guys will go back on strike shortly, if they have not come to us to sit down to address the demands and lay out concrete efforts to address and resolve the issues.

TFSR: So just kind of wrapping up, if you could tell listeners where to find out more information about the organizing that you’re doing, as well as any other news sources, social media, that you can think of that are doing a good job of covering this, and especially if they’re getting the direct words of the people behind bars out. I’d love to hear that for the audience.

DC: Okay, awesome. Yes. So you can follow us on every platform @BothSidesOfTheWall on Twitter it’s @BSW_Advocacy. Instagram, it is BothSidesOfTheWall_ . On TikTok it’s BothSidesOfTheWall. You can also visit our website at www.BothSidesOfTheWall.com. All updates will be posted there. You can also contact us by email, and that will be Contact@BothSidesOfTheWall.com

TFSR: Cool. Well, thank you so much for having this chat and for the work that you’re doing and I look forward to a success.

DC: Oh, yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much for having me. And stay tuned! We will resume.

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Alfredo Cospito and 41 bis Transcription

La Lima: So, we are two comrades from Rome and based in Rome. We are anarchist comrades and we are part of a solidarity project called La Lima, which is ‘The File.’ It’s an assembly and a solidarity fund to help those who have problem with the law and comrades struggling with with repression.

TFSR: So we’re here to speak about the ongoing and increased repression of anarchists and other radicals in Italy. With a primary focus on support for Alfredo Cospito. Can you please introduce members of the audience to Alfredo, how long he’s been in prison, tell us what he was accused of, and what he claims responsibility for?

La Lima: Alfredo is a longtime anarchist comrade, who is in jail for almost 10 years. He’s been accused in 2016 of having kneecapped, alongside another anarchists comrade Nicola , to have kneecapped Roberto Adinolfi who was the CEO of a Ansaldo Nucleare, an Italian Corporation who holds the nuclear industry in Italy and all over the world. So Nicola and Alfredo claim that their responsibility of this action in the court, stating that they were moved by the nuclear disaster of Fukushima. They found responsible, among the others, the CEO of this corporation, and kind of retribution and restitution of the damage caused by the nuclear waste, all over the world.

Back in 2012, this action, the kneecap of Adinolfi was indicated by a communique signed as FAI-IRF, International Revolutionary Front of the Informal Anarchist Federation. In court they stated the fact that they claimed that not as a part of an organization, but as the recognition of a method that needs to be the one that people all over the world will train their action in this acronym in order to pursue a method, not a formal organization.

Nicola was charged 9 years and Alfredo 10 years for this action, and while they were in jail they were accused of another criminal persecution against anarchists in Italy, which basically happens every year. That is Scripta Manent, the name of the of the operation, it’s a Latin formula. They were accused of several crimes and felonies. This felony arrived during their time in prison on the on the basis of the subversive association of felons. They were charged alongside other comrades of several bombings and of particular action on police precinct facility in Fasano in the northwest of Italy. This police precinct was like a training facility for carabinieri student. So the training facility of carabinieri. We’re talking about an explosive, let’s say, action, like a bombing. These action was also claimed by an acronym FAI-IRF. Yeah. In the claim of this action was was focused on how hateful is the job of police agents, especially regarding their Italian policy on migrants and immigration in Italy. These felonies that arrived regarding this action were dabbled with like terrorism or criminal association. It is to be noticed that this action occurred that night and caused no harm to no one. The explosive device was in a the trash area.

In Italy we have like three steps of judgment in the court. It was clear since the first that the felony was massacre, which in Italian is a strage, and it’s a very particular felony. It was massacre even though there were no harm and there were no death. In the final step of the three steps of the court, the General Attorney made clear that it was to be framed, this massacre, as a political massacre. So direct harm to the security of the Italian state. So that is unprecedented, the final step of the court system said something like that. Then basically that is no longer to be debated, “the fact” that this massacre was a political massacre in itself, but it has just to be discussed in the very final act of the court, how long these comrades will be in jail for. This particular felony, massacre, is connected to a single option of detention which is a long, life sentence. Particularly, ergastolo ostativo, which we are going to explain.

So, thi felony massacre was never actually applied in Italy even back in the so called Lead Years and in Massacre of Bologna in 1980 when 87 people died, not even in Piazza Fontana, which is the famous state massacre of 1969, in which a bomb exploded. We know from our history that another case, Guiseppe Pinelli was accused of having bombed that, and later on killed by the Luigi Calabrese. So another single time in the Italian history was, this massacre arrived in at the final step of the court. Alfredo always stated in his thoughts and in his writings that he throws back the term terrorism, precising the fact that he doesn’t claim terrorism or act indiscriminate against the population in general, or to the innocent people, but only in reference to the State on behalf of the exploited.

Okay, so this is very important, actually. Both Alfredo and Anna, were charged of this massacre, and they stated out loud and clearly they don’t recognize themselves in this term, and they reject this massacre. They reject it and they claim that the the State is actually the first massacre of the exploited. And it’s not their method.

TFSR: What is the article 41 bis of the prison administration act? It now holds a little under 800 prisoners if I understand. Who else is there? I think you’ve already addressed the reasons that the State is giving for why Alfredo would be being sent there.

La Lima: So they article 41 bis is a prison regime. It’s a provision that was introduced in 1975. But first used in 1992 after the bombing of Giovanni Falcone and [Paulo] Borsellino, two judges that were fighting against mafia alongside the Italian state. In the days following the killing of Falcone and Borsellino, nearly 400 prisoners from the Mafia were transferred from Sicily, from Palermo Ucciardone and another top security prisons on the mainland in the prisons of Pianosa, Asinara, and alongside other prison. They were treated with this 41 bis prison regime.

It has actually evolved in time. It’s a regime that is born in the context of emergency and exception. And it was born in this exception, in emergency, but it’s never been canceled. And it’s always been implemented and evolved in a finest way of like torturing people, in what we call actual torture of the prison population. We are going to explain why so and how so. The laws that were born in context of exception and emergencies tend to be later on verified and kept in Italian law. To justify a so-called prison regime, there has to be declared like a common enemy that is perceived like that by the public audience. Of course, the definition of the enemy changes alongside the project and the particular needs of the State in time.

So if in 1992, the common enemy accused of being bad or the people accused to be part of the mafia. It has to be said that actually in application and in the fulfillment of the 41 bis, the vast majority of the responsibility it has to be pointed at left wing governments actually. In 2002, with the left wing government, it was introduced the fact that 41 bis was extended not only to mafia associations, but also to other kinds of felonies including so-called terrorism and political action as armed organization or subversive political organization. In 2005, for the first time, five communist comrades were charged from the organization called the New Red Brigades (Nuove Brigate Rosse), the were charged with 41 bis in prison. One of them committed suicide on October 21, 2009. After she was in for one year in 41 bis, suffering from deep psychological problem connected to this incarceration. Her name was Diana Blaferi [Melatsi]. Three other comrades are still in jail since 2005. So 17 years in 41 bis.

To explain, you can be charged with 41 bis even if you’re not actually charged of it, but just as a preemptive incarceration. You can be on 41 bis with all the punishments, even before having a trial. For four years, and after each two years it has to be reconfirmed or not. What is 41 days in particular? You are basically alone in a cell. It’s a torture regime based on sensorial deprivation. So you’re alone in the cell with a layer of Plexiglas, plastic glass outside of the window, 24/7 with artificial light and no natural light, you have two hours of working time outside of the cell. But it’s with four people decided by the administration and it only lasts these two hours. These two hours are not outside in the yard, but still inside prison facility guarded 24/7.

If that you’re actually socializing with these other four person that you’re permitted to stay with, the administration can remove you from that group in order to not connect and have bonds and links to other people. You only have a visitation per month and it lasts one hour, you are supposed to talk behind the glass and you you’re supposed to talk on the inter-phone. Only kids under 12 years old are allowed to pass that glass. From 12 years old, no one is allowed to go inside, meeting the person in 41 bis regime.

We can imagine the psychological effects that can affect not only the imprisoned person, but also the family. Also, we have to consider the fact that Italy has now chosen Sardinia as the place where the prison with 41 bis regime should be. In particular, it’s another difficult point for the families of the people of the inmates. Because the people in 41 bis are usually from the south. It’s very difficult to to reach Sardinia, which is an island off of the west coast of Italy. It’s very difficult to reach. It’s also another thing to add.

Alfredo is actually now in the prison of Bancali, in Sardinia. That’s another reason why it’s an island difficult to reach and that’s why even that one visiting hour in a month doesn’t actually occur because people cannot reach in time. As family of the inmate, after six months of detention, you can only receive a 10 minute call from the inmate, but the family or the relatives of the inmate have to reach the nearest prison to receive the call there. And only if you didn’t manage to do the visiting hour. Only the close relative actually can meet someone in 41 bis, very close relatives.

No one can actually bring out the voice of someone in detention in 41 bis, not even the lawyers. Even the lawyers, they could be charged of some crimes if they speak out the voice of someone from 7 up to 15 years of detention if you share a message from inside from the voice of the of the person in 41 bis. So there’s a complete censorship, right? The voice is just a metaphor that we say. All correspondences are censored. There’s a censorship on every correspondence and even books or reviews cannot enter. You are only allowed to have books that are actually authorized by the court, the prison administration and it can be suspended anytime. It would have to be authorized, you cannot send a book to someone who is in 41 bis or a review of whatsoever. Even literature or poetry or an actual newspapers, like official newspapers from the from the press had pages cut off. Some pages were turned off in order to not put the person in the position to see what is happening in his particular region, in his particular town when he resided.

Those who control those sections of the jail are people from GOM, which is an acronym for Gruppo Operativo Mobile, or Mobile Unit Operative Unit. They are very famous for the torture accord among the protesters in 2001 in Genoa, the anti G8 protest. There was actually real torture on students protesters, and protesters in general, in a school in Genoa 2001. They are trained in a military way to have not a single drop of empathy with people in front of them and are like pure, torture-robots.

This is all to annihilate your psychological side. We have to imagine that you cannot even put a single photo of your family on the walls of the cell. The goal is actually to annihilate someone completely, because the only way to get out of the 41 bis regime is both to snitch on someone else, and to refute… We say like… it’s a Catholic term, but to deny your history, your political action, not only political goals also if you’re part of the crime gang, you have to deny your past and your membership to the gang. We are talking not only about a political statement, but also a crime gang. You have to give up completely yourself to the state in order to come out of 41 bis.

Why do we call 41 bis form of democratic torture? Because torture reminds us of the Inquisition court, those of the Middle Ages Catholic society, because the heretics, those who deviated from the official doctrine, they were tortured until an abduration or until they would have said something to snitch on others. It was actually excruciating torture, and that led to a kind of opposition at certain times. Democratic times involve something else, which is that the person convicted or inducted, is put in jail, hidden by very high walls, increasingly outside of cities, so that they disappear from the view of people and of the public opinion.

41 bis is the ultimate expression of solitary confinement, the prisoner disappears completely, no longer has relationship with the loved ones, no opportunities arise. Therefore, it is as if they do not exist. The truculent aspect of punishment disappears completely. What remains is sensory deprivation and the annihilation of the individual. Like the Inquisition, the only way out is to abjure or to put someone else in there, so to say snitch. That’s why we call it a democratic form of torture.

Someone say that rather than this, it would be better to have the firing squad, that is the death of the body. The Democratic State does to not shoot with a firing squad, not because it is not in keeping with today’s times or with the very definition of democracy. In fact, with the capital punishment and the killing of the body, the State would not achieve what it really wants, which is the total victory over the person or cooperation. We have said before, repeatedly, and underlined that the person without their relationships, without confronting someone, without being able to hangout or spend time with someone is not a living person, despite the difficulty of socializing that prison itself poses.

In 41 bis, there are about 747 people, 14 are women. Deprivation of relationships is extended to all of them. There are about 100 people in 41 bis with an unappealable life imprisonment, and therefore with the expectation that they will never be able to leave this condition. Imagine what this might mean for Alfredo who spent the previous 10 years of incarceration in a high security section. But, still, with the possibility of meeting other people, anarchist and communist political prisoners. He had the opportunity to confront and intervene in the debate among comrades with letters, writings, publications. He even participated in the addition of two books. Imagine then what it might mean to him to think that he will have to spend his whole life in such a condition, to not live his whole life in such a condition. The punishment he is going to face for so called political massacre could be precisely that of an unappealable life imprisonment, which does not provide for a return to the so called ‘free society’ except through cooperation and abjuration.

Therefore, Alfredo decided to start a hunger strike, he took the opportunity of an appeal to announce it. He has in fact filed an appeal with the court to challenge the total censorship of letters, not a single one arrives. And of course, he self sensors the letter he sends. He has not received any letters since May 5th, so he appealed to the probation judge. The announcement was made by video conference because the attorneys in 41 bis cannot even attend their own hearings in person but with a video call in from the prison that they are being held, with guards around deciding on Judge instruction, when to turn on the microphone and when to have them speak. Alfredo then announced these all out hunger strike against 41 bis and life imprisonment without appeal.

TFSR: So, to my understanding, this is also the culmination of another State of emergency, that of the COVID 19 pandemic that ravaged Italy from early on in 2020. Has the state’s response to the pandemic dovetailed with the circumstances like Alfredo’s or a general increase in police powers?

La Lima: We can say that the period of the COVID Emergency was certainly a social laboratory. Unfortunately, also, a quite successful one. There were so many people who decided to submit to rules that had never been enforced until that moment. It was said that we were all under house arrest, with entry and exit times with the only possibility of going out to work, subject to paper justification that you had to take with you and present and show to the policeman or the military man would ask you for an explanation of your being on the street. We’re alking about people who could not even go walking in the mountains and with police cars patrolling the street with loud speakers repeating to stay home and not go out [as we outside prison dealt with]. That was on scene in Italy.

The feeling for us all was to be in a true state of war, in a state of exception, a state of sanitary emergency that transformed itself into a state of exception due to the war in Ukraine that still is ongoing right now. A passage without any interruption from a state of emergency to another that is useful to discipline the population. The discipling of the population is completely preventive and it is now clear to everyone that it is aimed at the period to come, a period of great crisis of capitalism and the reorganization of geopolitics of exploitation and monopolization of resources. Those who pay for it, and those who are going to pay for it are obviously the exploited ones all over the world.

TFSR: How does Alfredo continue to resist? And how will this limit his and other comrade’s abilities to reach through the bars?

La Lima: Dissent in opposition to mandatory green pass and vaccination for those over 50 years old, was governed in the form of underhanded blackmail. If you didn’t get the vaccine, you couldn’t go to work, and in this regard, let me make an aside: The first people to be subjected to this blackmail were the inmates, who if they didn’t get the vaccine, they will not be able to meet with family members or participate in activities in prison. Once again in prison, the norms that are being experimented with. Those norms will later cross those walls and extend into society.

Despite the mass media hammering propaganda, the dictate of the scientific and technical committees, not a few people began to question the truths of those sources and seek other sources of information and try to oppose something that seemed increasingly absurd. In some context of dissent, predominately attended by the small and petty bourgeoisie, shopkeepers and small business owners or entrepreneurs, obviously with attempts to be co-opted by the far right, comrades still managed to insert themselves by taking away the vital info of the right wingers. These people were mocked and ridiculed, they will called selfish toward the so called united people, and even persecuted because dissent was not provided for that social laboratory that was called political and social management of the emergency.

If this is what happened to segments of the population who dare not to submit to dictates, let’s imagine how the State stands toward anarchism, and especially active anarchism, the one that favors direct action rather than theorization. So we can say that all the most advanced points of social critique, and the practice of that social critique must be absolutely punished and eliminated as a warning to everyone else.

The State power therefore does not only want to get rid of those who declared themselves enemies, but it also it is also warning to everybody. We see these also with respect to the logistics workers who have been hit with extortion charges for labor struggles, they are very much targeted by repression. Same thing for the students crossing the street in an angry way after the death of some of them in a project called Alternanza Sculoa Lovoro which is an alternating school and work, so basically unpaid labor force. In the marches they have been attacked by the police and some of them persecuted and caught up in repressive measures. So it seems that internationally and globally, the State power knows that it’s pushing its luck too far and that everything could get out of hand. It’s trying step by step to zero the opponent voices to avoid the conflicts to come.

TFSR: How can listeners and readers best support Alfredo and other comrades and other anti-authoritarians struggling in Italy?

La Lima: The first step is definitely this: to talk about it. Let people know about Alfredo’s situation and what these democratic regimes are hiding under the carpet. To continue to fight, to never stop being present and trying to get in the way of the murderous policies of the State all over the world. Yes, those are the [real] massacres.

Feminist Uprising in Iran + Atlanta Radical Bookfair

Feminist Uprising in Iran + Atlanta Radical Bookfair

Image from @loozanar on Instagram, Drawing in black and red of Persian words swirling around Zhina watching over a crowd of people in the streets and a youth holding a giant, burning dandelion
Download This Episode

This week on The Final Straw, we feature two portions.

First up, you’ll hear from Modibo Kadalie and Andrew Zonneveld of On Our Own Authority! Publishing about the upcoming Atlanta Radical Bookfair happening on October 15th at the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture and History.

Then, you’ll hear a recent interview with Aryanam, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era, an anarchist grouping based in Iran, Afghanistan and the diaspora to speak about the morality police murder of Zhina or Mahsa Amini and the ongoing revolt against the imposition of the hijab and general cruelty of the Islamic Republic regime. More by the Federation can be found at https://asranarshism.com and their fundraiser for comrades in Afghanistan & Iran at https://asranarshism.com/donation/

Image from @loozanar on Instagram, Drawing in black and red of Persian words swirling around Zhina watching over a crowd of people in the streets and a youth holding a giant, burning dandelion

Next week….

Next week we hope to share with you an interview about the case of the Pendleton 2, two Black prisoners still suffering punishment in the Indiana Department of Corrections for standing up to defend their lives and that of a jailhouse lawyer in the face of a racist, Ku Klux Klan -affiliated corrections officer gang known as the Sons of Light in 1985. To learn more, check out related episodes of Kiteline Radio or the recent documentary by TheKingTrill on youtube, both linked in our show notes, or by visiting linktr.ee/freedomcampaign

Announcements

Solidarity with Striking Alabama Prisoners

If you’re in the southeast, there is a Break Every Chain demonstration outside of the Alabama State Capital, 600 Dexter Avenue in Montgomery on Friday, October 14th at 9am in support of striking prisoners across the Alabama Dept of Corrections. You can find more info at www.bothsidesofthewall.com or by emailing contact@bothsidesofthewall.com

Certain Days Calendars Out

Also, the Certain Days: Freedom For Political Prisoners Calendars are back from the printers. You can find out how to order one for someone behind bars, for your self or place a bulk order for distribution at certaindays.org

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription

Atlanta Radical Bookfair

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourselves to the audience with any names, gender pronouns, affiliations, or any information that will help the audience have a context for who they’re hearing from right now?

Modibo: I am Modibo Kadalie, you can refer to me with the standard pronouns. I’m glad to say that I was the actual first speaker at the first Atlanta Radical Book Fair back in 2016. That distinguishes me. (laughs)

Andrew: I’m Andrew Zonneveld, also he/him pronouns. I am one of the co-founders of the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. We were away for a couple of years for obvious reasons and making our comeback this year.

TFSR: Awesome. Well, can you tell us a bit about the book fair? You mentioned that the first one was in 2016. How did it come about? Why is it called the radical book fair instead of an anarchist book fair or some other term?

A: Modibo and I co-founded On Our Own Authority! Publishing in 2012. And since that time, the beginning at that time, I had become acquainted with what I call the anarchist book fair circuit, where, as a radical publisher, you get familiar with it, there’s this wonderful proliferation of these anarchists book fairs all across North America and into Europe, as far as I know, and probably elsewhere.

So, in the first couple of years of On Our Own Authority! Publishing, I went to anarchist book fairs in North Carolina, New Orleans, New York, and a couple places in Canada – Montreal, and Toronto. Modibo and I just got back from the Halifax Anarchist Book Fair. But I began to notice some things that made these book fairs really successful and some things that I thought were trends in the book fairs that weren’t the best for community engagement. I also said “I can’t believe we haven’t ever done this in Atlanta,” because anarchist book fairs are pretty damn fun. There’s a lot of great radical publishers there, and usually a lot of community organizations, speakers, sharing ideas, and stuff like that. But we wanted to make sure that when we did it in Atlanta, it’d be something special, that it will be something that reflected the community, something that was inviting and available to a large number of people.

The reason why we called it a radical book fair, as opposed to an anarchist book fair ,was that Modibo and I had never been involved in exclusively anarchist publishing. Because I do consider myself an anarchist, but I’ve always thought that there’s a lot of anarchism that happens that doesn’t necessarily use the label of anarchism. So, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t hold an event that was purely for one counter-cultural scene, that this was something that was going to be inviting to people who, broadly, thought that capitalism and the State power were fucking up the earth and that we want to do something about it. At the same time, I and the co-founders of the book fair also wanted to exercise caution and some of the more toxic left organizations that might be kicking around. This space also wasn’t really for them. So it is curated. It’s not that anything goes broad left thing. But we wanted it to reflect the community. And radical ideas in the South, and definitely in Atlanta, has never been entirely encompassed or represented by people who strictly identify themselves as anarchists.

That being said, in the first year, we had a bit of an issue trying to figure out what our venue was going to be because Modibo and I had been working with Morris at the Auburn Avenue Research Library for a really long time already. But during that year, they were in the middle of a remodel. The Auburn Avenue research library is an African-American History Research Library and Archive. And their programming division is run by a guy named Morris Gardner. And Morris is just an absolute pillar of the literary community in Atlanta. Basically, through his programming, he was able to get funded by the city government, I want to say it was a $10-million renovation for the Auburn Avenue Library, it was incredible. And what they’ve transformed that space into is just this gorgeous event space with multiple art galleries, meeting rooms, and a big event hall, auditorium. Morris at first didn’t think that he was going to be able to open up for the book fair. We were considering a bunch of other venues and the venue that we actually had booked, ended up canceling on us last minute. But as luck would have it, Morris was like “Hey, I think we’re going to be able to open” and we were the first event in the newly remodeled Auburn Avenue Research Library in 2016. And we’ve been holding it there ever since., except for 2020 and 2021. So this will be the fifth time that we’ve done it. And we’re really excited to be back at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, and I was very grateful to Morris and the staff there for making it possible.

M: I just want to add, during the time when the Auburn Avenue Research Library was being renovated, it really expanded, it became something else. We were having our events in various other venues around the city, which Morris helped us get, not during COVID, but during the time when they were renovating. So we weathered that storm. I really don’t know how we did that pod. But we came through and we have a base of people who look forward to the radical book fair every year. It’s a cross-section of people. And it’s not one scene. Looking at the way it has evolved, it has been part of the activist community too. And I think that was because of the founding committee who wanted to create this book fair, they didn’t want to look at the book fair as being separate from the activism in the community. That’s one of its strengths. This particular book fair is going to have some people who are active in the forest movement and trying to stop the police from building a police academy in a natural space in the Atlanta area. And in the past, it was designed to highlight certain lesser-known social motions in Atlanta to counteract the petit bourgeoisie, for instance, Atlanta’s garbage workers strike, and “the bat patrol”, all of these things were integrated into the event planning at the Research Library. Other stuff was just literary stuff, but these were heavy-duty, movement-oriented books that were being published about these things and people who are active in these particular movements. That’s what gave it the strength to endure.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I was only there for the book fair in 2018 or 2019, but I really appreciated what you’re talking about – “the bat patrols” and the sanitation worker strikes. These historical events are being brought in and people with the experience of having been there talking about those things. And at the same time, like you said, with Stop Cops City, you’ve got younger people that are actively engaged in activism simultaneously, really bringing together a multi-generational space. I think that’s super important.

M: Keeping the petty-bourgeois heads out, too, since they think they’re radicals or some shit…

TFSR: …and the authoritarian leftists.

A: I’ll say it because I’m assuming that they probably don’t listen to your podcast because of how they are. Maybe they do. Every year as the book fair approaches, one or two of those organizations reach out to us and ask if they can get a table. We say that we’re full. We do get quite complete because the tabling space is limited in the library. And that creates some barriers because not everybody that we want to have there can come.

M: I think the anarchist book fairs can do that in their name. But since we just call ourselves a radical book fair, we can do it in the policy sessions.

A: That’s one drawback of having a broader name. You have to find other ways to make sure the content represents the values of the collective.

M: But in the long run, though, I think it serves to bring in people who hadn’t really– It doesn’t exclude anybody who hadn’t had the experience of having somebody who calls himself an anarchist outline some things that should be done and some books that should be read. Because I remember that was a big problem in my early development, people just condemn people for being anarchists and they never even read them. “They’re just anarchists, fuck them!”

TFSR: Are we expecting any dramatic expositions that the San Francisco Bay Area Anarchists Book Fair has cyclically where they get to overturn tables of racists, Leninists, or nationalists that show up?

A: I don’t think you can expect any such drama. It’s usually a pretty happy and inviting occasion.

M: I wasn’t aware of what was going on, but it sure is good to know.

TFSR: Yeah, there are some funny videos, I’ll send them to you later.

Can you all give examples of what the visitors are likely to see and experience this year? What tables they might find or what presentations are scheduled? I don’t know if it’s been announced yet.

A: We’re gonna have a variety of different radical publishers and booksellers on the scene this year, some of them – if you’ve been to the Atlanta Radical Book Fair before – you might have encountered AK Press, PM Press, local feminist bookstore Charis Books that is I think the oldest continuously operating feminist bookstore in the country, Firestorm Books is coming down from Ashville, Rebel Hearts Publishing is going to be there. The Final Straw Radio is going to be there. And so is WRFG, our local left-wing radio station. I’m leaving people out. Atlanta Vintage Books will be there.

M: What about the folks from Baltimore?

A: No, I don’t think anybody from Baltimore is coming down. But we’re also going to have Unity and Struggle from New York and On Our Own Authority! Publishing will be there. That gets almost everyone. Oh, and in terms of panels, I guess I should probably talk about that.

We have three panels and a keynote address. The first panel, please excuse me if the order of the day gets changed before the actual event, but we have a panel called Riots, Looting and the Movement for Black Lives. Actually, that’s the subtitle, the actual title is “Big Brick Energy.” So we’re gonna have a panel of speakers reflecting on these massive urban rebellions that have taken place over the last couple of years and drawing some interesting conclusions from that. We have a panel on Land Back and Abolition featuring our esteemed guest Modibo Kadalie and a couple of people from the Stop Cop City movement. We also have a panel on critical race theory and the don’t-say-gay policy in Florida. That’s called the Fight for Youth’s Autonomy. Those would be the three panels of the day. And then we are closing our day with a keynote address by William C. Anderson, who is the author of the Nation on No Map. William C. Anderson is, if you’re not familiar, a black anarchist, writer, and thinker whose work has been published in just a million places. He is on his second book with AK press. And William is also on the book fair collective, so you’ll likely be seeing him around all day in some capacity.

TFSR: That’s awesome. That’s a lot to look forward to. Modibo, did you have anything to add?

M: Everybody’s invited. Just come here with a spirit of positivity. And let’s have some fellowship and some face-to-face conversation about the future of the world. How about that?

TFSR: Sounds good. So, you mentioned how the pandemic– Responsibly for you, thank you for taking precautions and taking that into account. The pandemic isn’t over. Even though the boosters have done an amazing job of dampening the damage that it’s done. Can you talk a bit about the precautions that are being taken around COVID-19 and safety for this indoor event?

A: Thank you very much for asking that question. Because I would have really kicked myself, if I had gotten off this program and didn’t mention: “Everybody, please wear your mask when you come to the Auburn Avenue Research Library.” It is an indoor venue, although the ceilings are really high, so it’s really good circulation in there. And there’s usually plenty of elbow room, you shouldn’t have too much problem putting some distance between you and people who you’re just meeting for the first time. But we are asking that everybody who comes to wear their mask. Masks will be available at the entrance, we’re going to have people handing out masks to everybody who comes in. That’s a big part of what makes it possible for us to do this year. So we would appreciate everybody being cool about that and not giving us anti-mask bullshit or something like that.

M: And some sense of social distances in the auditorium itself.

A: Yes, we’re asking people to make sure that they leave some space in the auditorium and not crowd too much. Usually, there’s a lot of seating there. So that should be quite doable. And when you get there, there’s also auditorium seating on a balcony above. So if the floor level is looking a little too crowded for you, you can go to the balcony. And there’s usually no one seated up there. We’re just asking people to do some social distancing and wear their mask. And masks will be provided if you forget yours at home.

TFSR: It’s some pretty cool content that you’ve mentioned that you’re going to be providing for anyone who starts to feel a tickle in their throat or a little bit too far away to get there, or they find it difficult to travel for whatever reason, a lot of book fairs – London, Montreal, Victoria – during COVID have done a really good job of recording and presenting, documenting the stuff for later consumption. And I’ve seen videos from past Atlanta Radical Book Fairs up online. Are people who can’t make it to the actual event going to be able to enjoy some of the discussions?

A: Yeah, that’s the idea. We do our best to record all the events at the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. The way that we’re able to do that is through a lot of the technology that came on board at the Auburn Avenue Research Library during the remodel. The only problem is that sometimes the library itself, cause it’s a public library in Atlanta where they’re constantly trying to cut funding to such things, sometimes they don’t have enough staff to handle so much stuff throughout the day that we throw their way at the book fair. So I tried to be on top of making sure every panel gets recorded. We have missed some in the past. But our goal is to make sure that each panel gets recorded and that everybody who can’t make it… Because if you’re feeling a little sick, you should definitely stay home. So if you can’t make it, you should be able to see those events online in some form.

TFSR: Cool. Well, awesome. I was just gonna ask the last question about how folks can find out more and get involved? Did y’all have any other comments you wanted to make or reminders for folks or surprises?

M: I just wanted to say something about these book fairs. These book fairs are really widespread. And they’re catching on in communities that have bookstores. They usually start off as a collective of people, voluntarily coming together and beginning to read, sometimes it started off as reading groups, and reading clubs, then they cluster around a bookstore with a certain literature in it. And then they usually end up being active around someplace like a housing cooperative or around the homeless in the community and that draws them closer together, and you bring more and more people involved. I’m very encouraged by what we’ve seen in the places we’ve visited, because it’s getting some steam, getting some motion, and people understand these questions better. In the past, there has been some confusion about what anarchism is and what the state is, what the role of a centralized state and wars are, and what violence is. All these questions are being clarified. So, I’m very encouraged by this process that’s unfolding right in front of our eyes.

TFSR: It’s also awesome that, in my experience, too, these sorts of events that bring people together offer new life and new ideas and new discourse, because this is a long-term culture-building project that isn’t just going to end once everyone reads the right pamphlet. Andrew, what were you gonna say?

A: Well, I think that was really well said. Culture-building and community-building and publicly engaging, I think, are also really important. Inviting people who are just walking by to come through and think critically about shit going on in their community and in the world around them. That’s something I think that we really have strived hard to do at the Atlanta Radical Book Fair. And we really have to thank everybody who’s ever organized an anarchist book fair before us, because I’ve never really thought that this was something that I would do. And here I am six years after the first one is still doing it. It really shows that you can do something that people enjoy and people will take find value in it if you just give it a shot.

Every anarchist book fair that I’ve been to is really exemplifying that. So everybody who’s out there doing it, keep doing it. If you live in a small town, you’re like “I don’t know, if we’re gonna ever have an anarchist book fair,” just do it anyway, because somebody will probably come and that probably be me, probably Modibo, too! We literally just got back from Halifax, Nova Scotia. And it was, in my view, one of the best anarchists book fairs I’ve ever been to. The community was just so wonderful, so welcoming, you could tell that this was an effort that was organized by people who are neighbors, who know each other, and the entire community come out. We saw and met a lot of people, shook a lot of hands, and used a lot of hand sanitizer…

M: And it was in a public library, too, just want to amplify it. You can learn so much from one another but we have to be open to venues like this. Active people, because in Halifax anarchist book fair, they were activist people that came together with their literature and with their books and with their summation of what they’ve learned. That’s what it is there for: we can all learn from one another and from what’s going on in the past, so we can enrich our own understanding of the future.

A: Yeah, and I think what you said about the venues is really important. In some book fairs that you go to, people assume that the place that they’re going to have to do this is sometimes at somebody’s house or in this DIY punk venue or something like that, which is all fine and good. But oftentimes we forget that there are these publicly facing, available buildings that we can make use of. And sometimes the people who work there are all about it, you just gotta ask.

M: It seemed like they were waiting for us up in Canada, didn’t they?. Like “where have you been, welcome back!”

A: Whether it’s a public library, a community center, art museum. Modibo and I did events at the Hammonds House Museum several times. Nowadays in New Orleans one, when I first did that, when I went to New Orleans for the New Orleans Anarchists BookFair in 2014, nobody came because it was in a music venue during the day. Nobody came, except for maybe 10 local anarchists. It was all white people, and it was in New Orleans, which is very weird. But then at some point, they switched to a public library. And it’s a really cool event. It changed, it engaged a lot more people, they had a lot more vendors and everybody had a much more engaging and fulfilling experience. If those spaces are available to you where you live, you can absolutely make an effort to organize something there and it is really just a great experience.

M: Everybody, stay in touch with one another, so we can keep on learning about these things.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s definitely a thing from the uprising in 2020 that I regret is that we were able to have outdoor events in our community here. But there were so many people that I didn’t get a chance to meet because public spaces of interaction with less masking, not necessarily my whole face covered, were just not available and that’s something that I’ve missed.

M: There’s a struggle for these public spaces going on because the state is trying to isolate them and cut them off and put all kinds of shit in there, and you can’t even access. The public spaces have to be defended. That’s really what the anti-police movement in the (Atlanta) Forest there is all about. We need to claim these places with books, singing, dancing, with conversations, in any way we can. We need to keep them wide open.

TFSR: How can folks find out more? How to get there? The physical list once it gets published? What’s the website? How do they get in touch with you to talk about planning their own book fair and get some ideas?

A: Well, the website is atlantaradicalbookfair.com, we are all over social media. Our most followed social media account is our Instagram account. You can email us through the website there. So if you have any questions, feel free to reach out. We’re looking forward to seeing people and doing our best.

M: The library is in the heart of the historic black community on Auburn Avenue. I think it’s all been in Cortland, right down the corner. So it is centrally located, it’s a public library. It’s called Auburn Avenue Research Library. I think you can just Google the address and come up.

A: The address is 101 Auburn Avenue.

M: Yeah, that’s nice and easy – 101 Auburn Avenue. It is the street where… I’m glad they didn’t name that one Martin Luther King Drive (laughs). But Auburn Avenue is a place of great historical notes for the whole area.

TFSR: Easy to find. Well, Andrew and Modibo, thank you so much for this conversation.

M: It’s been a pleasure. I always like to talk to people who are interested in trying to figure out where the hell we going in this world.

TFSR: It’s always a pleasure. Thank you too.

A: Alright, take it easy.

. … . ..

Feminist Uprising in Iran

TFSR: I’m very pleased to have Aryanam, a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era, back onto the show to share perspectives of the Federation about the unrest in Iran since the police murder of Zhina Amini. Would you please introduce yourself to the audience?

Aryanam: Hello, my name is Aryanam. I’m a member of the Federation of Anarchism Era. Thank you very much for having me again.

TFSR: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for coming back on.

People, and women in particular, living under the Islamic Republic of Iran have grabbed headlines due to widespread revolts following the September 16 morality police murder of Zhina or Mahsa Amini for allegedly allowing a wisp of hair to escape her hijab. But I’ve also heard that it was about her jeans being too tight in the view of the pigs. Can you describe what we know of what happened and the protests that have erupted?

And if you could, explain why there are two names? I’ve heard Zhina Amini as well as Mahsa Amini. It gets a little confusing, I think.

A: Mahsa Amini is her legal name which is recorded on her birth certificate. But among her family and friends, she was better known as Zhina which actually means “life” in the Kurdish language. Because of the discrimination that Kurdish people face, they don’t put their Kurdish names on legal document if they have can help it. They use Persian name. Mahsa is Persian, but she was known as Zhina among her family and friends. From now on I would call her Zhina.

So, Zhina came to Tehran with her family from her hometown Saqqez to visit some relatives and family. At the Shahid Haghani Expressway in Tehran, she was with her brother, and they were approached by the guidance patrol, or morality police, and she got arrested because of her improper hijab. There is a picture of her before she gets arrested and her hijab was no problem, but we are talking about the police and they can do whatever with impunity, so she got arrested. Her brother protested her arrest saying that they are not from Tehran, they are new here and they should not arrest her. But the morality police said that it would only be a one-hour briefing class, and she will be released after that. But, as we know, after a few hours her family found her in the hospital in a coma. We know what happened in the police van and the police station because of all the eyewitnesses, all the other women who were arrested and saw what happened. When she got into the [police] van, there was an altercation between the detained women and police saying that they shouldn’t be arrested. Zhina was one of the people who were protesting, and the police wanted to shut the detainees up so they started beating the women inside the van. One of the eye witnesses mentioned that the police hit Zhina’s head against the van wall really hard.

After that, they arrived at the police station and Zhina was not well. She didn’t have color in her face, she was unsteady. This is a place where she fell down based on CCTV footage. The police chose that specific station, to not beat her again. Once again at the police station, she kept saying to the police that she didn’t feel well, and then she fell down unconscious. Then she came to [consciousness] but the police were like “No, you’re faking it. We know all these tricks that you guys are playing.” The other women noticed that it was serious, so they started protesting and demanded help for Zhina. But the police started beating them up again to make them stop. They beat Zhina one more time. This time Zhina went unconscious for the last time, she did not recover after that. The police knew that situation and they started humping her chest and raising her leg and massaging it thinking that she just went unconscious.

In an hour or so, they got an ambulance and took her to the Kasra Hospital. But before they did that they made sure to get all the evidence that the detainee women might have from their cell phones, they might have taken pictures. The police made sure they confiscate all of it. They threatened all the detainee woman’s witnessing what happened to force them to silence. Once they moved her to the Kasra Hospital, we have another eyewitness who actually told her story to a friend who retold that story on Twitter. So Zhina came to the hospital. When she arrived at the hospital, she was unconscious, she was beaten. They moved her to the special care unit and she was kept in a coma for two days and then declared dead. The police threatened the doctors, the nurses, and hospital employees to stay silent and lie to the parents about the cause of death. The clinic that admitted Zhina released a post on Instagram saying that she had heavy brain trauma. They threatened the hospital to stay silent and lie to the parents. They wanted to spin the story as a heart attack, heart failure, and brain stroke. But hacktivists managed to get access to medical data of Zhina and from that, we know that she died because of heavy brain injury and brain edema from internal bleeding. She was in a coma for a few days.

The day she got admitted into the hospital, her brother was smart enough to contact news agencies to cover the story. And the story was already on Twitter and Persian social media on September 14, and it kept circulating. But since she was in a coma, there was hope that she would recover, people didn’t have the whole story of why she got admitted to the hospital. She was declared dead two days later on September 16, in a few hours, there was a protest at the hospital. The police managed to scatter the protests with tear gas and pepper sprays and by arresting and beating the protesters. The actual protest started in Saqqez. But the police started playing all the tricks they could to make whatever was going to happen as small as possible. They had Zhina’s body, and instead of taking it to Sanandaj directly, from where they could drive it to Saqqez, her hometown, they brought it to Tabriz, which is in a different province, it’s in Azerbaijani province, while Sanandaj and Saqqez are in the Kurdistan province. Then they started driving with her body and stopped in the middle of the road to throw off the protesters. They gave the wrong cemetery location to avoid the protesters and they wanted to bury her body at five o’clock in the morning so they cannot gather and the funeral is small or non-existent. But her family resisted all the pressure that they were receiving from the government and they wanted to have a proper funeral.

So the crowd managed to gather and that’s when the first chants started with “Marg bar dictator,” which means “Death to dictators” and the other one was “Jin Jiyan Azadi,” which is Kurdish for “Woman, life, freedom.” This slogan has been with the Kurdish people for a long time. It started with Öcalan, with the feminist ideals that Öcalan was proposing to the PKK, that the women struggle within that party, they managed to win with Öcalan’s support, and they managed to turn the PKK into a more feminist organization. And after that “Jin Jiyan Azadi” became a prominent slogan within Rojava. This is a slogan that has been in the social media and satellite TV for the Kurdish people, so it was in the back of their minds. So “Jin Jiyan Azadi” was, especially in this situation where a woman was killed because of just hijab, was chanted as a counter, including “Marg bar dictator” (Death to dictators). Women started to remove their headscarves with the support and encouragement of men right at the funeral. And from there, protesters spread to other Kurdish cities including Sanandaj. On September 18-19, the uprising spread to Tehran, Rasht, Esfahan, Karaj, Mashhad, Ilam… On September 20th, it went even further, to Sari, Tabriz, Qom, Kerman, Hamedan, and Kish.

There are so many significant cities here, they are all major cities. Something significant here is Qom and Mashhad are the ideological strongholds of the regime. Mashhad is where the eighth Imam of the Shia sect is buried, Imam Reza. Qom is where all the major mullahs train, that’s where they come from, but they were one of the first cities that joined the uprising. And Tabriz was another amazing one. In the first few days, a lot of people from Tabriz didn’t want to join because people were chanting “Jin Jiyan Azadi,” that’s the slogan of PKK, the terrorists (they were following the line of Turkey). So there was a surprise that Tabriz rose as fast as they did. And it was a very pleasant surprise.

By now, all 31 provinces, and more than 100 cities have risen up. And 100 is just an underestimate, I just don’t have the number at the moment. Oshnavieh was a city that got liberated, but unfortunately, it got retaken the following day. The regime used drones thanks to the technology that the US gave them. They had tested those on Baluchistan during previous uprisings, they used it on Oshnavieh and on the stronghold of the Kurdish democratic parties. So Oshnavieh fell into the hands of the regime again, but the uprising is still ongoing. The universities have started a massive strike. By now, at least 110 universities went on strike. The Sharif University of Technology, which is well-known worldwide, went on strike and was brutally suppressed. The police surrounded the University and started shooting at the students and arresting them. They closed down the university for the next few days so the protests cannot happen and so they can erase any evidence of human rights violations. But after the strike, the arrests of students continued. Also, high school students and even younger students are joining the protest. We are seeing 15-17-year-olds are joining the strike. There was one video that high school students throwing their Principal out of the high school.

TFSR: That video was amazing.

A: Yes. They kept saying “beesharaf”, which means “scoundrel,” “without honor.” The universities are getting brutally suppressed, at one university at least there was one dead student, many injured and many arrested, over 100 were arrested in one university. But the uprising is still going on. This is the third week of the protest. It’s been 21 days since the start of the uprising, and this is the longest uprising in the last few years in Iran.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s amazing. Part of me just thinks of how embedded the secret police and security state are in parts of Iranian society, how many levels of policing there are, and how frequently people are getting stopped. I mean, I live in the United States, there’s a lot of policing here too. But it’s so brave that people of all these different generations, especially the youth, would be rising up and refusing to take the shit anymore. When you said that Oshnavieh had been liberated briefly but retaken by the regime, was it just the government was kicked out for a day or two by the population or by a specific group?

A: Oshnavieh is a city in the Kurdistan province near the border, but they managed to take control of all the government buildings, and they threw out all the police and all the regime forces. But that night, there was a military unit from Tabriz that headed towards, and the government used drones to strike all the government buildings, all the possible gathering places for the people. A few people died just because of that. The city was suppressed again.

TFSR: That’s incredible and it’s amazing how widespread, as you say, this has been. Getting back to Zhina’s case, what the morality police or the guidance patrol is, what do they do and what is your impression of how people generally think of them?

A: Guidance patrol is an organization that was established in 2005. But it succeeded an older organization, the Islamic Religious Police, and they have one goal – enforcing the Islamic code of conduct. This is not limited to the women’s Islamic dress code, it is controlling the relationship of the people in all ways possible. The boyfriends and girlfriends cannot be seen together in public. You can only be seen with the opposite gender if they are part of your family, if they are mahram, an Islamic word meaning a member of your family, marrying whom is haram – taboo or forbidden. So you can be together with a member of your family. But, again, this is a patriarchal society in which you need to have either a brother, even a younger brother or younger cousin, or a father, so you don’t get harassed by the regime or other people when you’re going about doing your business as a woman. That’s one of the reasons that Kiarash, Zhina’s brother was with her, because this is how it is expected to be. Unfortunately, as part of the patriarchal society, you cannot be alone. In the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, if they are seen together, the police harass either both of them or the woman. So people have to play different tricks to circumvent the guidance patrol.

But guidance patrol does a lot of things like harassing transgender or queer people because of lack of gender conformity, they can do everything with impunity. They even monitor men’s attire. Back in Rafsanjani’s presidency, which was from 1989 to 1997, even men could not wear short-sleeve clothing in public. Now, if men are wearing clothing coded as western or whatever guidance patrol sees as improper clothing for men, they get into the same problem as women. Not as bad as women because men can resist more, since it’s a patriarchal society, they are more lenient to men. They would be sent to do 40 hours of the briefing class, and there is not as much beating. But for women, there is much beating to make them stop.

Also, they monitor what people buy, and there are cases when people had to return newly bought goods, such as clothing, bags, shoes, whatever that morality police finds improper for the Islamic code of conduct. As I said, they can do anything with impunity, as long as they can frame it as an issue of the Islamic trust code or Islamic code of conduct in public. As you might expect, the majority of people in Iran hate the guidance patrol. Putting it more concretely, there was an independent survey done by Gaman in 2020. 58% of the people in that survey do not believe in the hijab at all. Of those that believe in hijab, 76% are against compulsory hijab. Only 15% of the people in the survey were for legal obligation and compulsory hijab. There is no family, no individual in Iran that has not experienced the harassment of the guidance police, didn’t have a family member or a relative being harassed or arrested by them. Unless they are part of this regime, they are a religious and patriarchal family that enforces hijab strictly, before even the guidance patrol gets the chance to enforce it for them. So that 15% that are for compulsory hijab, they already enforce it on their family members and are part of the conservative, religious and patriarchal family unit. People pretty much hate this unit called morality police or guidance patrol. And they join in burning down, flipping over the cars, or hitting the police whenever they get the chance.

TFSR: Is Zhina’s killing totally out of the ordinary? Did they just go too far and the family was able to follow up so it didn’t get covered up? Is it a semi-normal thing or was this just an act of brutality that was totally out of the ordinary for how the morality police are?

A: Women experience police brutality similar to Mahsa’s case every single day in Iran. They get pressured, some get raped, some get killed by the police, and the regime managed to silence the family by getting forced confession from them to say something positive about the regime and why their child was wrong. It happens every single day. Before this event happened, there was a video of a woman in Raj being thrown out of the morality patrol’s van, there were multiple videos of morality police beating a woman and forcing her into a van or beating them down. This is normal. This happens every day. The only reason that they failed in Mahsa’s case was that the family resisted the intimidation and refused the pressure. They allowed the large gathering, and Kurdish people were behind them in the funeral and it sparked. Morality police have always been brutal.

But in the last few months, it had been more brutal because of what I believe to be a reaction to the women’s popular grassroots activism. In Iran, some businesses enforce the hijab as well. So what the women of Iran did was blacklist the businesses that do that. They didn’t have any leader, they just gathered the listings saying, “We don’t go to this business. This business just keeps harassing us for a hijab, or being with our boyfriend or girlfriend.” Transgender people of Iran joined as well saying that “these businesses harass them for their gender nonconformity.” The businesses were like, “Oh, you’re shutting our businesses by blacklisting us, don’t do that, we are good people.” But right then the cases of morality police brutality started increasing or it became more visible (to be more honest). People are becoming more aware of what’s happening. The cases of people taking a video of the morality police van, recording the brutality of police inflicting on a woman are being videotaped everywhere. So there was a tipping point. Mahsa’s death, unfortunately, was a tipping point. As they say, her name, the slogan that we use is “Mahsa, you’re not dead, your name became a symbol.” So although being Kurdish in Tehran had a significant effect on how the police treated Zhina but it’s happening all across the country, unfortunately.

TFSR: As you say, the awareness is happening all across the country. You mentioned before, when I asked about the two names, that the regime is generally unfriendly to Kurdish people as a minority. Is that because of a Persian supremacist perspective? Is it because they view any break from what they consider to be the norm, to be a sectarian grouping? Is it because of separatist groups in the Kurdistan region? What do you understand to be the motivating factor for the state to repress Kurds or Baluchi or other minorities?

A: The regime is using Persian supremacy for sure, but their motivation is to keep their hegemony. And their cultural hegemony is rooted in the Persian language and Persian culture. The Kurdish people, the Baluchi people, the Arab people, and the people of Sistan, the Afghani people, are breaking the hegemony. They are outside the hegemony that the regime wants to project. So, it’s not just the people of Kurdistan. The people of Kurdistan are prominent because they can resist, they have organizations, but the regime keeps the people in the periphery poor. For example, people in Baluchistan are getting massacred right now. The number of deaths right now in Baluchistan is at least 91 people. Those are the ones who have birth certificates, a lot of Baluchi people do not have birth certificates. So it is easier to cause genocide when the people do not legally exist. That’s how they do it, it is a colonial and genocidal tactic. And they do that all over the periphery in Iran, which is Kurdish, Baluchi, Gilak, people of northern Iran, which in northern Raj, Sistan… It is a way to have control.

TFSR: In your view, is there an underlying philosophical movement that people are being motivated through their resistance to the morality police at this point? Is there an idea spreading? Or is it just the existent dignity of human beings to not live under omnipresent attack and surveillance that’s motivating a lot of the uprising?

A: People in every uprising have a dialogue with each other. In the uprising in 2017, they ended the conversation about reformism. They started the conversation about overthrowing the regime. Before that, in 1997 when Hatami became the president of the Islamic Republic, he brought reforms into the government, which gave a lot of hope to the people who believed that things can get better through reforms. Before then, it was Rafsanjani’s presidency. So Hatami relaxed some rules about hijab, about Islamic code of conduct, and just gave some breathing room to the people. That helped the regime for 20 years, they could play that reformism game for 20 years, until 2017 when people were done with reformism, their slogans were like “Reformers, this is the end!” In 2019, that continued but it became more radical, and the conversation about overthrowing the government through armed means started happening. And thru the Uprising of the Thirsty, the uprising of Baluchistan, through Uprising of the Hungry, the bread riots that happened this year, every time we are advancing and moving the position to “fuck the police.”

First, we’ve been like “Screw the reformers, we cannot survive through reform. We need to get rid of this government.” People believed in voting, for example, in 2009, it was the Green Movement in Iran, and the main slogan of the people was “Where is my vote?”, people were still believing in the vote. In 2017, that went away, they were not talking about votes that much. They were some small groups, but in 2019, more radical conversations started saying “Marg bar setamgar, che Shah bashe che Rahbar”, which means “Death to the oppressor, be it the Shah or the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic”. So these slogans became more prominent. In 2021, which was the Uprising of the Thirsty, that conversation went forward, and became more radical, until this year 2022, in which the conversation from the beginning was “Death to the dictator”, “Death to the oppressor, be it Shah or leader”, it was against the police. This is a way that people kept going forward and using their previous experience from the last uprising to inform the current action.

TFSR: Thank you. So there have been a lot of videos that have come out of girls and women mobbing authoritarian men, dancing in the streets, and people burning their hijabs. Can you talk about how the word has spread during the uprisings and if any digital tech or social media, in particular, have aided, and maybe a little bit about internet shutdowns too?

A: Yes, the internet had a major effect on the advance of the uprising. As I said, the news of Zhina’s death was spread the moment that she was admitted into the hospital, hashtags were used, and people were learning about it. So, the majority of the population on social media was already aware of Zhina’s situation, they were just not going to act because she was in a coma. One thing worth mentioning is that the majority of the people protesting right now in the uprising were born in 1380 [Islamic calendar]. We call them the 80s, which is generation Z. They were born around 2000. And the oldest of them are about 21 years old, the same age as Zhina. A good section of them is from 17 to 20 years old that are on the street fighting the regime.

So they are very savvy with the internet and social media. And one thing that we are noticing recently in this protest is that the people of Iran are doing an amazing job, they are taking security culture very seriously. This is the first time that we are noticing that majority, if not all the videos that are coming out, are taken from the back of the head or taken with a low angle so that people cannot be identified by their faces. And this is another thing that people learned through the continued protests throughout the last few years – to protect themselves and their friends and fellow people fighting against the regime, they need to take the security culture seriously, and they are doing that correctly. It is really hard to see people without a mask protesting. They are covering their face as much as they can. If they’re not, before posting a video, people are blurring faces. People were using the internet to inform each other of what was happening, where to gather, what to do, what to get and keep motivating each other like that.

Right now, with the shutdown of the Internet, in some cities, people are using a small paper notice on every house, saying “Let’s gather up here.” In some other places, people have gathered in the neighborhood, they already organized themselves in the neighborhood, they know each other, they do talk, they organize themselves, and they set up a meeting time at a certain place. They do it through that or they get each other’s phone numbers because the cell phones are still working. But once in a while, the internet comes in and people can use it to get news and information. WhatsApp, Instagram, Telegram, and Session are filtered, people need to use a proxy to use the Session app, which is another good app for anonymous communication. Signal got shut down, and people were using Signal. But people found other ways, some people are just going out every day at 5pm on the streets, and they find other people protesting and start taking action. They form their own solidarity groups and keep their speaking habit every day. So, this is not like during previous protests and uprisings when the government shut down the internet and could basically shut down the protests.

TFSR: Oh, that’s interesting. I was thinking, “Oh, in the past, when we spoke and you talked about how a lot of people don’t bother organizing online because of the surveillance and the internet getting shut down.” But then I started thinking about the videos being everywhere. That makes perfect sense. But I’m so glad to hear that people have been taking the security of themselves and the people around them seriously. And I’ve noticed that about the videos that a lot of them are from behind or at a low angle. Super smart.

A: Yes. They keep mentioning to the protesters that they need to film from the back and wear a mask. We are glad it happens everywhere, not only in the bigger cities, they learn from their previous experiences. They saw people getting arrested after the protests. So many Arab activists were arrested after the Uprising of the Thirsty because their videos were released in public and people could see their faces. We are really glad that it’s going forward.

TFSR: You’ve mentioned before in past conversations how in Afghanistan, when the Taliban was able to regain control, some men would come out in solidarity with women but also be repressed, maybe not. They would face different repression. Everybody hates the morality cops in Iran but they suffer different consequences often. Have you witnessed or has the Federation expressed witnessing a lot of people crossing the imposed gender lines in these protests, in terms of coming out and supporting and standing with people that are forced to wear the hijab or people who are policed in their body differently? Is it mostly just femme-presenting people that are out there? Or has this shifted conversation of solidarity in the streets or within families to common hatred of the imposition of patriarchal gender?

A: Oh, it definitely moved the conversation toward rejecting the patriarchal ruling of hijab. There were a lot of older women that came out in support of the uprising. They burned their own scars, and some of them were like, “We go old, our time is over, you guys fight on. You’re doing your job.” They are supporting. There was a video of a senior woman in the metro sitting and not wearing a hijab. Another older man was trying to enforce hijabs, saying “Why are you not wearing hijab, are you not ashamed of yourself?” And the woman answered his question really well with a very sharp word, when the man got up, she got up and started beating him for trying to enforce hijab on someone he has no business forcing hijab on her, and people were really supportive. People’s awareness about hijab and patriarchal and religious norms is increasing not just among young people, but all across the family strata.

Whenever women remove their scarves, before they would get harassed by men, now they are getting encouraged and supported by men. This is something that didn’t happen before. Before, there were women’s protests about compulsory hijab. Women would individually go to the streets and removed their headscarves, but they were not getting support from the people around them, and the morality police took them. But this case is different. People are supporting the actions of women, they are at the forefront of the uprising and are getting support from the men most of the time.

There are always some patriarchal men… some who have started a new slogan to basically go against Woman Life, Freedom. Their horrible slogan is “Men, Nation, Prosperity.” An example that comes to mind in the US is “Black Lives Matter” when it was countered by “All Lives Matter,” but unfortunately, some people are chanting it right now, but it is counter-revolutionary, and it counters the ideals set out by this uprising.

TFSR: According to the Iran Human Rights NGO based in Norway, there have been at least 150 killings so far that they’ve been able to record during demonstrations and hundreds detained. Among those killed was a 16-year-old woman, Nika Shakarami, who disappeared on September 27 and was found dead from what appeared to be bludgeoned wounds and their allegations of her body being snatched by the state for a private burial. I don’t know if you can talk about Nika’s situation, I was seeing some videos up on the Federation of Anarchism Era’s social media earlier. And you’ve covered how widespread the demonstrations are, the drone strikes in certain instances, and another government repression, but if you could talk a little bit about if the repression has been successful in your view of dampening people’s resistance, or if people have continued to endure despite it.

A: The number of deaths grossly exceeds 100. 100 deaths were just in the city of Zahedan in Sistan and Baluchistan Province. And that’s just counted deaths. As I said earlier, a large section of Baluchi people do not have birth certificates and their identity is not known. So their deaths will not be counted in the official record. Nobody knows, as if they do not exist and that their deaths don’t count. This is the same in the other major cities. If in Zahedan we had 100 deaths, we can see that throughout three weeks, there are at least 100 dead in Tehran and other major cities. One hundred deaths are grossly underestimated.

Another point, as I was saying earlier, the majority of the protesters are from Generation Z. They are 16-22 years old and coming out on the street fighting the regime. Nika Shararami was a 16-year-old girl who was one of the protesters. She went out to protest with a water bottle and a bag with her birth certificate for identification. She mentioned that she was followed by the police a few minutes before her disappearance. The CCTV showed that she did not go to her relatives’ house, because she knew that she was getting followed, she was trying to get them off the trail. She didn’t want to go straight to her aunt’s house and cause trouble there. So she went to the empty construction area. On that same night, her Telegram account and her Instagram account were deleted and her cell phone was turned off. 10 days later, her family did not get any news from her. They went to the police, they went everywhere – to the hospitals, to the morgue, everywhere to find out anything about her. After 10 days, they got a call from the police saying they should come and identify her body. She, again, had a bad head injury caused by police batons. The police claimed that she fell from the high ground and died. But this is police, so they fabricated that they possibly threw her body down. Who knows what they did in 10 days before calling her parents? She’s not the only 16-year-old that was killed in this uprising. We don’t have a count, but many 16-year-olds like her were killed by the police in the last few weeks.

In her case, the police were so scared about causing another spark in the uprising that they stole her body from the funeral house and they buried it in a village surrounding Khorramabad where her family lived. In the dead of night without the consent and knowledge of the parents. The news started getting out. The mother started talking about their circumstances of Nika’s of death. And today, the police forced a false confession from her, she had to repeat what the police wanted her to tell. In a forced confession from her uncle, we can hear the interrogator. Like a quiet voice was saying, “Talk, talk now. Talk now, dammit.” So the uncle had to say whatever they were feeding him. And he was audible in the video. They didn’t know they had accidentally released it like that. So they threatened and intimidated the family. I think her uncle might be in prison right now, and I can’t confirm that, but that’s the story. That’s how they do it to Nika’s family. They couldn’t do it to Mahsa, but they did it to Nika and to many other 16-year-olds whose names we might not know. They just intimidated and threatened the family into silence.

TFSR: Have you witnessed much solidarity from other places in the region in terms of the uprising against the regime’s brutality and the imposition of the hijab?

A: Yes, absolutely. There was solidarity across the region, amazing solidarity from the women of Afghanistan. They showed their solidarity with the people of Iran for the cause of Zhina and for the cause of freedom for women and the cause of women. And one of their slogans was “Bread, work, freedom,” which is one of the slogans that was also chanted in Iran. Maybe it was in Raj, where there is a video in which people were chanting “Bread, work, freedom” alongside with “Woman, life, freedom,” But there was a bombing that we believe to be caused by Taliban in the Kaaj education center that had the main women’s section and it is in the Hazara ethnicity neighborhood. A suicide bombing happened in the women’s section of the Education Center, and many women were killed in this bombing. That caused a new wave of solidarity. Some of their slogans include “Bread, work, freedom,” and “Death to Taliban, whether it’s Kabul or Tehran.” The other one is “Stop Hazara genocide”. Since this is part of the campaign against the Hazara people, and also against women and women’s autonomy, and the right to education. The women in Afghanistan, across Herat, Bamyan, Kabul, and many other cities started protesting and chanting “Stop Hazara genocide,” “Education is our right,” and “Death to enemies of knowledge.” Everything that goes on in Afghanistan and Iran is basically the same. Taliban is just a younger sibling of the Islamic Republic.

Also in Iran, the government used ambulances to covertly move the detained protesters. Taliban did the same thing in Afghanistan. So Taliban is just copying Iran in all its ways to suppress the people. We also saw amazing protests in Iraq and Lebanon. In Iraq, there were protests in solidarity with the uprising, and also against the intervention of Iran in Iraq’s politics, which we are very grateful for and we hope to see more. This is how we see solidarity. Each of us is acting with our own goals and tactics but at the same time, we are strengthening the movement in our surrounding area. We are acting in solidarity. The people of Lebanon also had a demonstration in solidarity with the uprising for Zhina Amini. We are very grateful and hope to see more.

TFSR: Media in the USA and the West are presenting this revolt as feminist, and the West frequently uses symbols of the hijab, for instance, as a dog whistle for Islamophobia and Orientalism. The part that isn’t said out loud is the idea that there should be regime change and the imposition of a neoliberal “democracy” installed in Iran. But I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you’ve seen of Western media presentations of what’s going on, where they get it right, and where they get it wrong…

A: First of all, I want to touch on the word Islamophobia. I don’t think that we have a good anarchist critique of religion at all. So far, I saw two reactions. One reaction was, as you said, the West trying to explain this as something that people are rising against backward ways of the region, which use Islam as a code word, which doesn’t mean the culture and, like you said, Orientalism. The other one is that Islam is not the problem, it is just the Islamic Republic, it is just this regime or that regime, there is no compulsion in Islam, which is, I’m sorry, a really ridiculous statement. The vast majority of the Islamic religion, and also the rest of religions are about enforcing the sacred taboos about society and what the consequences would be if we obey or do not obey. I’m from a federation that does not accept the religious tendency of anarchism because we see religion as another mode of power that forces people into obedience. That’s another tool in the masters’ hands to make people obey.

While capitalism is doing that by interfering by sabotaging the production and consumption relations of human beings, religion does lead to sabotaging human everyday relations by using sacredness as property. This was mentioned by Graeber in The Dawn of Everything, that the sacred is the oldest form of property that we observe in human society so far. They have sacred knowledge that only the clergy class can know, which is intellectual property. There are sacred grounds or tools or a base that are all part of the property which is monopolized by the clergy class. These are things that people get enslaved by and forced to obey things against their interests. The problem is the institution of the religion, not the way the religion acts.

As Graeber mentioned– I am using Graeber because it was really instrumental in my thinking about this. He said that capitalism is not natural. It is a social construct that we reproduce every single day. The same is true about religion. Religion is a social construct that is something that we reproduce every day. We decide what religion is and how we conduct ourselves. We decide every day that we obey instead of revolting against these institutions, we are reproducing these oppressive systems. We are not the right-wing fascists who blame the people for failures of capitalism. We are not fascists that are blaming the poor and disfranchised for the problems. They are the victims of this system. We look at the problem systematically: capitalism as a system problem, not the individuals entrapped and enslaved in it. The same is true about religion. The institution of religion is the problem, not the people being entrapped and enslaved by it. We have comrades in Afghanistan giving examples that when the Communist Party took over Afghanistan, they took the land from the Khan, the landlord in the feudal system, and gave it to the people living in it, the serfs. But the serfs, because of their religious upbringing, resisted the fact they could have autonomy and produce and consume as they will, and they saw that as haram and even prayed that land that was given to them as haram.

So religion is not just a branch of capitalism, it is another tree in the poisonous garden that is authoritarianism. In the world we live in, we have to get rid of all of them, or we cannot be free. We cannot live in this world that is created on death. But it is not just regarding the West and a dog whistle, and is not something new. It is not something that only the West does. The Iranian right-wing fascists use Islam as a way to be racist toward Arabs. They blame Arabs after 1400 years for the problems they are having now. So this is not new. But the only way that you can differentiate them is by who’s blaming the people, who’s blaming the individual who’s blaming the system. The anarchist way is to blame the system, blame all the authoritarian systems in the world, which is all the religions, including Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and Buddhism. Graeber, in Debt: The First 5000 Years, mentions Hinduism and consequently, Buddhism using karma, which is basically a threat for the people to pay their debt, or they’re going to become a slave in their future lives. That’s how they enforce the proto-capitalist way of life. We know that the principle “You always have to pay your debt” is something essential in capitalism. It has been something that was enforced by religion, it was always first introduced by religion, and capitalism used that from religion. Even before Christianity, even before the birth of capitalism, this has been taking place.

So yeah, the Western media uses the current uprising as a dog whistle that they want liberal democracy. It’s liberal democracy, what they did in Afghanistan. We saw what they did with the hypocrisy of inviting the Taliban to Oslo to have a conversation with them. The West stayed silent in the pleas of the women of Afghanistan being suppressed and killed every single day by the Taliban. It was funny when we heard the chanting Jin, Jiyan, Azadi in the EU Parliament. When they listed PKK, whose leader is Öcalan, who basically invented the Jin, Jiyan, Azadi,, basically, which was popularized by PKK and was considered a terrorist slogan of the PKK. Now they are saying it out loud, like all the previous experiences did not happen. What happened to the liberal democracy, when Turkey part of NATO attacked Rojava, the place where Jin, Jiyan, Azadi was chanted every day. It was popularized with Rojava. That’s where the rest of the world heard Jin, Jiyan, Azadi. The liberal democracy failed Rojava, and now they want to help the Iranian people? I don’t think so. It is very hypocritical and disgusting, to be honest.

TFSR: I assume that you can’t see the future. But do you have a sense that this uprising in Iran against the regime will cause enough cracks to be able to sustain itself that something more permanent can come, like an actual overthrow of the regime or this has seemed like another stepping stone in that direction?

A: Yes. The uprising is still going. The regime is doing everything it can to suppress it. People are still protesting, the regime came with tanks and water cannons. Oh, I wanted to add one more thing that I just remembered when I mentioned water canons, regarding the previous question. The water cannons that the Islamic Republic used were possibly bought from Austria or Germany. These same water cannons, the anti-riot water cannons were sold to Chile during the protests and uprising, and now they are being used in Iran. Some of the pellet guns and ammunition are produced locally, but others are purchased from either China or some European countries. They’re still selling to Iran. Just wanted to mention it.

So the regime is doing everything it can to suppress the uprising. They are brutal in Zahedan, in Baluchistan, and there was a very brutal suppression in Kurdistan, in Saqqez and Sanandaj. But people are still taking the streets. Right now, a very visible section of protesters are the university students and high school students, even the middle school students, the 14-15-year-olds who are going on a strike or protesting. People either arranged by themselves where to meet and organize either through their neighborhood or by meeting each other in the protests and exchanging details. It became a habit to come out every single day at a certain time and see what was happening. If there is a significant number of people coming out, we’re going to have a good protest that day.

As I was saying earlier, in every single protest, every single operation we are advancing the dialogue. First, we were finished with reformism, we started going toward overthrowing the government, then it became more radical. This time it became much more radical. Never before have we had this much anger towards the police. This time people did not have any requests from the government, one of their slogans is “No more protests. This is the beginning of a revolution.” People are not asking the government to do something for them, they want it gone. From the very beginning, it was like that. In the Uprising of the Thirsty, Uprising of the Hungry, in the November 2019 uprising, people were coming out because of the hard, economic problems they faced. And in the beginning, it was just to ease those sufferings for themselves, but this time, there was no request for the government to do something because the government is not going to cancel the Islamic code of conduct, it is not gonna get rid of hijab. Sometime in the beginning of the uprising, people were chanting “Voluntary hijab,” but that went away quickly, that didn’t stay. It would direct the movement, the uprising toward the reformist place, and the regime could control the movement. But people realize that and they stopped that completely. All the slogans are against the regime. And it is for Woman, life, freedom.

If we cannot overthrow this regime this time, it’s only because we are not armed. And one of the slogans that people are chanting all across Iran was “Woe the day we get armed!” So people realize that we need to get armed to overthrow the regime. And the problem is that the regime is armed to the teeth. And we need some sort of organization to attack, to get guns and arm ourselves. Nobody else can do about ourselves. Right now, the regime is trying to give free reigns to the militia, to the Basij, the government sanctioned militia to suppress the university student movements. If you could take over a university there might be guns that we can get and start moving there. The military bases are harder to get but the police stations have been taken over and burned down in multiple cities all across the country. So, the only problem we have is that we don’t have arms. Once we get over that, this regime will fall. And after that, our problem will be stopping other forces to take over this revolution and steal it from us, like the Islamic Republic stole the 1979 revolution from us.

TFSR: Yeah, or like the Bolsheviks stole the Russian Revolution in 1917.

A: Yes, exactly.

TFSR: Well, Aryanam, thank you so much for having this conversation. I really appreciate the insights. How can people follow the work of the Federation of Anarchism Era and support the project and the folks that are in Iran and elsewhere?

A: People can follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram. Also on our website asranarchism.com. I believe you both provide links to them. We’re doing your fundraising at the moment for both our comrades in Afghanistan and the uprising in Iran. I did not mention this during this interview, but it has been mentioned on our social media that we have lost at least one comrade from our federation and many were arrested and injured. We are trying to support them as much as we can. We will be very grateful for people’s support and solidarity. Thank you very much for having me and hope we talk when we win this revolution.

TFSR: I hope that it will happen soon.

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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August 23-30th is the International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners. The site https://Solidarity.International has suggestions of ways to get involved, a poster for this year, and place to contact to announce or share your action or event.

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On Earth Day 2022, affiliates of Reject Raytheon AVL performed a rally, march and direct action at the Bent Creek River Park to block traffic and protest the building of a factory by Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of aerospace war drone and fighter plan component manufacturer, Raytheon. You can support folks as they attend court at 9am on August 31st the Buncombe County courthouse, room 1A for trespassing charges. And you can learn more about the struggle to push back the murder machine manufacturer Raytheon locally at RejectRaytheonAVL.com

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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.

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

This week’s episode has two audio segments…

Download Episode Here!

Merced County Prisoner Hunger Strikes

This week, you’ll hear a chat with California-based activist Victoria from Merced Under Construction, who talks to us about the prisoner hunger strikes at Merced County Jail and John Latorraca Center. Over 40 prisoners engaged in hunger strike for 17 days, fighting for issues like protesting black mold, little food, lack of visitation and other issues. The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. You can learn more about how to support and keep up on https://linktr.ee/mercedunderconstruction or MIRA’s facebook page

You can find coverage of the 2016 Merced Jail protests, check out ItsGoingDown.Org

Eric King Trial Ends

Then, you’ll hear from Josh from the Certain Days Calendar and Mookie from the Civil Liberties Defense Center do an update on a roundup of the recent trial of Eric King. Eric was found innocent on charges of assaulting a Federal Bureau of Prisons Lieutenant, a charge that would have added another 20 years to his time in prison, thankfully. More on his case at SupportEricKing.Org, more on Certain Days at CertainDays.Org and the CLDC at CLDC.org

Eric King links:

CLDC links:

Certain Days interviews:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription (Merced County Hunger Strike)

Victoria Espinoza: Alright, great. My name is Victoria Espinoza, and identify as a Child of God. I’m born and raised in Merced, California, and I’m the founder of Merced Under Construction.

TFSR: And could you tell us a bit about where Merced County is? What listeners should know about the county? The economy, who lives there, what it looks like, that sort of stuff?

VS: Well, Merced, man, not a lot of people know where Merced is. When they hear Central Valley. They’re like, “what is that?” They think of like Bay Area, LA, when you think of California. But we are literally the central of the state of California, like the Central Valley area in between Fresno and Modesto, or Stanislaus and Fresno County. Our city slogan is “we are the gateway to Yosemite.” And, you know, we boast about it, or the city does at least. But nearly 25% of our population is living in poverty. So it’s predominantly white, Latino, like Hispanic, Mexican, indigenous folks living here with some other races mixed in. We have like, less than 4% Black folks, we do have a very strong Hmong community here and a lot of other different nationalities, race that are here.

TFSR: And for like, as far as, you mentioned, 25% of the population living in poverty, what are the sort of industries that people are involved in? Is it agriculture? Since we’re gonna be talking about prisons, I’m sure that prisons, and police and military are like big employers for parts of the population.

VS: Yeah, so we are a very large agriculture community. So we do have a lot of farm workers. We have a lot in many of our cities and our outskirts as well and unincorporated areas. So that is one thing that we do have strong here in Merced is the ag. We have some industry, industrial stuff, but mainly we’re known for agriculture, honestly. We do have UC Merced, last university that’s been built in. They’re building on that. UC Merced is growing, obviously. So we are seeing some of that, some things that are happening in our community, with rent controls not happening, people are getting pushed out and it’s not the Merced that it used to be 10 years ago, definitely.

TFSR: I guess I do want to ask some questions about Merced Under Construction later and imagine that that’s, like, gentrification and issues like that are being engaged with that group. Is that right?

VS: Yes.

TFSR: Jumping off into the main topic, though. So we’re speaking because there’s been hunger strikes among incarcerated folks at the jails in the county. Can you talk a bit about the conditions at Merced County Jail, and also at the John Latorraca excuse me…

VS: John Latorraca, you said it right. It has a nickname called Sandy Mush? I don’t even know that nickname comes from, but it’s its nickname.

TFSR: Yeah, what’s been up with the hunger strike? Can you talk a little bit about what sparked it? And how many folks are participating and sort of like the basic stuff on that?

VS: Yeah, so the last count that we had, it was about 44, initially, but since then, we’ve had people probably come out and people probably go in. So I haven’t got an accurate count as to how many that could be from the initial start of the strike. Yesterday marked day 17. I haven’t heard from anybody since noontime yesterday, so I’m hoping privileges were not taken. But they were dealing with a ton. A ton of stuff going on, black mold in the housing units and that’s impacting health, not being given hot meals, even hot water, just simple basic human asks, just necessities to live on.

The grievances for these things that there were issues in administration, they were being ignored, or they’re getting vague responses, that whole system had failed. Losing mail, incoming and outgoing was already a problem before the pandemic. And since the pandemic had started it became even worse. Since they had their visitations taken for over two years with the excuse of the pandemic, and weren’t offered any other means, the mail and the phones became a vital lifeline. Those were basically stolen from them.

That has impacted them in negative ways. I mean, their mental health, inability to make appropriate decisions. So many people that were in the facility the past two plus years were taking deals just to get out of the jails here so they could go to a prison that offers visitation, and that is crazy. That’s like people at there last, at their wit’s end, like “I’m gonna take a deal just so I could get out of here because this is like living hell.” That was a serious thing.

Being discriminated against based on their housing status, the jail uniforms that impacts them when they’re before a judge or the district attorney. A lot of these same asks were things that we saw from the 2016 prison strikes that Merced county jails were also a part of, and it’s nearly six years later, and not much has changed. It’s just kind of kind of crazy. They were on day 17 as of yesterday, and they were in negotiation. So the agreement was actually yesterday for them to end their strike. They were supposed to end it with the hot breakfast, have their hot water.

But then the morning came, and we ran into issues with the staff. They began to be hostile towards them. And when meals came around, they didn’t bring them anything, they didn’t even bring them cold food, they didn’t bring them anything that did not bring them hot water. They were just being cold. When I think about it, it was just evil towards them. So they basically went through all these negotiations for what purpose? They were with the Sheriff’s corrections, they had agreed to this on day 17, that it would break in the morning on these conditions. Those two basic conditions weren’t even met.

So they weren’t accepting any meals from the admin. They weren’t doing any movements at all. So that means their yard time and they’re getting maybe two or three hours a week, if that. Anyway, they weren’t accepting court movements. They weren’t even seeing their attorneys for meetings. They basically weren’t doing anything, any medical, anything like that, they were basically saying, “I’m not moving, I’m not eating until you guys change some stuff.” And the negotiations after noon time yesterday, they said that they had pulled some folks out. We were doing some phones zaps for them on their behalf yesterday to all the jail facilities and the Board of Supervisors. They did pull some of them out to have more talks. But after that, it’s been radio silence. So I’m hoping everything’s going okay.

TFSR: That sounds like a terrible flex, kind of authoritarian flex, that places like jails and the kind of people that staff them would make. When you’re mentioning people taking deals just so they can go to prison, are a lot of the people that are there and who are participating in this in pretrial conditions right now just sort of awaiting their day in court? And also people who’ve gotten county charges who are being held there, too?

VS: Yeah, we do have some people that serve sentences here locally. I think if it’s under two years, one year. It’s at the discretion of our county facility if they want to house somebody for their time, or if they’re going to send them to state prison. They have that ability. But most of the folks that are here are pretrial detainees, so they haven’t yet been convicted of a crime. Some of these are not sight-and-release offenses with the whole bail reform law. Some of these people are sitting in there on bale-able offenses, but yet they don’t have the funds to make that happen.

TFSR: It’s so so inhumane that you expect someone to be able to put their life on hold and also not be able to necessarily access the means to build a defense for themselves because they’re worrying about how their family is doing on the outside. They’re just kind of waiting until the courts have enough time to see them.

You’d mentioned the uniforms too. And I know that in the demands, there was a statement about how the uniforms that were being assigned to people weren’t necessarily respective to like security threat group status that people were in. I know that even the STG [Security Threat Group] type thing, saying that someone’s in a gang or whatever isn’t always applied according to someone’s actual participation in a criminal organization. But can you say a little bit about people’s experience of the of the issue of the uniforms and what that means for access to programs or to things like ability to research in the library? Not that there probably is a library, but you know what I mean?

VS: Yeah, I think a lot of it… the people that are more impacted by this whole uniform thing, are predominantly brown, Latino, hispanic, Mexican, indigenous individuals, because they separate them by the two gang classifications, Norteños and Sureños. Pretty much everybody else gets housed as general population when it comes to the maximum security facility of the Merced County Jail. But mainly these folks are the southern, northern, or the red and the blue, however the classification deems it. They separate them, and since Merced County unfortunately operates on LA County’s informal gang injunction model, a lot of people come into our jails are impacted and being labeled gang members based on familial association, based on where they live. They might live next to somebody that’s a documented or validated gang member. So they get housed, and they say it’s for their safety to house them this way, but then we have people that are not from any of these origins, being classified like this.

So when they go to court, and you see the northern, Norteño, classifications, they’re in green and white stripes, the southern are in a blue and white stripe. And so that takes a big toll on them, when they’re going through the whole process, how the district attorney is looking at them, how the judges are looking at them, and the bias that comes with that. This has been going on for a long time with this facility. We know that other jails, like in Stanislaus County, have a different system. Basically, people are housed as general population, just like they do in prisons, everybody’s pretty much housed together, and they know how to separate folks.

So that’s what the sheriff’s corrections here in Merced, were talking about introducing a bracelet system. But they’ve talked about this before back in 2016 and no changes have been made. So that’s a problem for a lot of people, especially when they’re going through this whole unfortunate situation, with being incarcerated, being labeled as a “gang member” even if they’ve never even been a part of that lifestyle. It’s pretty disgusting that that’s been going on for so many decades. This has been happening for a long time in this community.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of if they are just gonna keep going as long as they can go with it?

VS: So right now, so what they were doing, they were refusing all admin meals, and basically attempting to survive minimally off what they could get on commissary. Commissary is trash. It’s a lot of things that are not even acceptable for the human body. And these are things that people are forced to buy because they’re not getting proper nutrition from the food that they’re getting from the facility itself. The food, they were protesting, part of the strike was protesting the inadequate conditions of the food and improper nutrition. I mean, people’s health being impacted. They’ve been in there for a few months and we got folks losing teeth. I mean, that that’s how bad it is.

So that was pretty much what they were doing, refusing all admin meals. Because they weren’t even getting hot meals like they should have been. At least two hot meals a day. It’s the minimum. They weren’t getting that for so long. And that’s pretty much what they were refusing. It was affecting a lot of them. I mean, yesterday was day 17. They were in the negotiations ready to say, “All right, we will accept if we get a hot meal. Like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a hot meal.” I can’t imagine going 17 days without a hot meal or even hot water. That’s just like the basic things that you need. Right? That was the other thing, is the hot water, being able to have hot water.

TFSR: So there’s the cruelty of not offering these things. You mentioned that administration had made the agreement that after 17 days, they would offer them a warm meal and hot water and they refused that. How have they been expressing themselves and their reasoning for continuing to treat people in this manner in the media? Because I’m sure that they’ve been making statements, the media has been reproducing right?

VS: Yeah, well, initially, the Merced Sun Star had wrote an article, again, without interviewing any detainees or inmates, and without reaching out and speaking to any of the loved ones, or anybody that was involved in the organizing around the strike out here. They interviewed the Sheriff’s Department. Basically, they were just talking about how they’re supposedly meeting and in negotiations with these asks of the detainees and the inmates. Which was not true at that point. So we had sent out a media advisory, challenging, to show us to tell us exactly what’s being done, because the public has a right to know. Public state funds or whatever is being used to fund that facility and all the things that are happening in there.

So I mean, they’re going to paint their own narrative. That’s basically what they’re going to do and they’re going to do that time and time again, I don’t think that’s going to change. But when they were in negotiations and they had clearly stated, “Okay, we will break our strike on day 17 when we get our hot breakfast and our hot water.” At about five, six o’clock, when they’re usually taking out the trays, they came around, nothing came. Not even cold food. Then when they were trying to communicate with the correctional staff, they were being treated hostilely. They were basically taunting, saying, “Yeah, your hot water is out here. But we’re not going to bring it to you.” Well how are they going to go and get it? How are they going to go and get that water? It’s out there. But we’re not bringing it to you. I mean, that type of behavior, it’s just unnecessary.

So yeah, you’re right, it was just kind of like that flex, “we can pretty much continue to do what we want,” kind of thing. They were reaching out to us. So we started, we had put out posts and numbers for phone zaps to try to get something. Then after a couple of hours, they pulled some folks out, to have more communications with them. But that was around noon time yesterday. And again, like I said, we haven’t heard anything from inside as of now.

TFSR: So yeah, as far as the public needing to know about this and you mentioned the taxpayer money and such. But also all the people that are in there, almost everyone is going to have people on the outside who care about them. I’m sure a lot of the people, not just people who have an idea that this is a wrong circumstance, but they have a personal care for loved ones that are stuck behind these bars. How is the outside engagement, then, as far as you could tell, in terms of organizing, communicating, offering support to loved ones, participating in the phone zaps, or showing up in person?

VS: Oh, yeah, I mean, for instance the rally that we had on the 21st, the turnout was low. We had less than 12, like 12 people total. A lot of that right now has to do with the inmates and the loved ones, they’re concerned with the possibility of retaliation, and also the risk of even advocating for somebody, out here, that’s in there, people that are labeled as “gang members,” you run the risk of being labeled a gang member yourself. I mean, and that’s a consequence, that many folks that are impacted face. I might even be labeled as a gang member, because according to a loved one that I had, that was inside the facility, just recently, the end of last year, they were taken out by classifications and asked questions about myself about “we know she’s a gang member, who does she run with?” and these type of things.

I know that this facility has blocked my phone number so that folks in there can no longer reach out to me. That’s unfortunate, because I didn’t know about the hunger strike, actually, until day 10. Somebody from the family members in there had to find me, and search for me, in order to make the connection because I didn’t know my number had been blocked from the facility itself. So I mean, that’s another thing. Folks trying to organize in there trying to reach out for help and they’re literally blocking their means of a lifeline from within the Merced County Jails, for whatever reason. I don’t know why.

That’s pretty much what we’re seeing. There are people in there that don’t have anyone. So we have people in there reaching out, because they need funds, they don’t have any funds for personal care, or to get anything from the commissary line. And it becomes a community within the facility when you have people like that that are indigent, and they should be able to utilize the welfare funds. And when they utilize the welfare funds, when they do get commissary on their book, then all of a sudden, the staff comes and takes that for anytime they went to the doctor, anytime they got a mail package for the one month, what are those four or five dollars if they’ve been in there for a year. Then somebody puts $50, $100 on their books, and all of a sudden administration comes and says, “Oh, you owe us this money,” and then they snatch it. So that’s kind of a problem as well, for those people that are impacted in that way. They don’t have loved ones out here at all.

TFSR: So, if the administration takes the tack of separating people, according to ostensible gang certifications, or whatever, putting them in these different uniforms, have people been able to, despite that, organize across these lines with each other for the hunger strike and the common understanding that we’re all suffering under this?

VS: Yeah, I have seen that this time around as well, that people were joining in solidarity within the facility itself. But yet, it’s just very hard to try to make those connections inside the facility. The Merced County Jail is the maximum security facility. So it’s heavily segregated. But people were still in solidarity with that, trying to say, “hey, we’re having the same issues, let’s join together, let’s band together.” So that was one thing that they were doing in there to try to show them “hey, we don’t have to be segregated, we don’t have to be labeled like this, and we don’t have to work different uniforms. We could be housed together, we can even organize together inside of the facility for change.”

TFSR: Is anyone on the outside raising the alarm, obviously, black mold is a health issue that that is on the books that black mold can cause mental issues, it can cause lung issues, quite obviously. And, not getting your caloric value or your intake of calories every day can also cause mental anguish, as well as starvation basically. Have there been anyone successfully being able to raise concerns about the demands of the folks inside of these two jail from a legal standpoint saying, “this doesn’t follow the California requirements for how a county jail operates?” Has that been a direction that’s been helpful at all?

VS: We haven’t had any support in that area. And I’ve reached out and it just seems like they’re not. I’ve reached out to ACLU, I’ve reached out to other firms for prisoners rights, and a lot of these places, they’re not based near our area and so they just say, “we don’t have anybody that can cover” or, “we’re at our capacity.” So we haven’t seen any relief in that way. But I’m gonna hopefully be getting together with some folks in the next week to draft something up, because we want to have an external review and investigation because I don’t think our Merced County Grand Jury is doing a good enough job, because they’ve seen these conditions for a number of years and they haven’t enforced any type of action to make them correct it on a permanent status. So we’re gonna have to look to like OGI or OIG, whatever the that external government entity that’s over our prisons and our jails is going to have to come and put eyes on this.

TFSR: I See. So could you talk a little bit about MIRA and about Merced Under Construction, who’s getting involved, and what the groups are about, and talk about the difficulties or any difficulties or wins that you’ve seen with those groups?

VS: Oh, awesome. So MIRA, was actually Merced Inmates Rights Association and it is the page that’s ran by the loved ones of the current detainees and inmates of the Merced county jails and the John Latorraca Jail. It’s pretty awesome, and they’re new to all of this stuff. But they’re so passionate and driven to bring awareness. And that’s kind of where I fit in. I’ve been a directly impacted person, right? It’s kind of how Mercer Under Construction all came together.

Right now, we’re just looking for support. Merced Under Construction isn’t officially an org or anything like that. I’m actually, we’re opposed to the whole nonprofit industrial complex. So we’re really looking to folks, to keep it really grassroots and centered around real people, and being able to find funding for the work and whatnot. Hopefully, we can start doing that here pretty soon. But that’s basically what we’re doing. We’re just centered around incarceration, and the impacts of that on people in their families, a lot of work around police accountability, and creating opportunities for formerly incarcerated folks and their families. One of the pillars is to definitely to reach out to the children that are impacted by it as well.

TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about the name Merced Under Construction? Does it concern that the community is not completed? It’s not done? We’re still building it as we go? Or is it more of a like, “there’s money coming in for development projects, we need to make sure that those developments are actually supporting the people that already live here as opposed to larger entities?”

VS: It’s a little bit of both and the fact that we’re just never done. There’s so much work to be done. When we have developers, and we have businesses looking at Merced to build, and we have more and more funding going into suppression and first-responding in our community. Yet, we still have youth that are being impacted, joblessness, homelessness, houslessness, and people that are struggling trying to stretch a food stamp, people that are just falling through the cracks. I just feel like it’s always gonna be undone until we can finally bring that awareness and bring folks together, have this accountability, and figure out where the money is going. Because some of these funds that they’re they’re getting, like the COVID-19 funding, and all the extra grants and stuff that they get for every arrest that they can deem a gang related arrest, or an incarceration they can deem gang related, they’re getting federal and state fund grants on top of that. So is that a reason? Merced is just always under construction.

TFSR: Kind of like a side note, I did Cop Watch when I was living in Sonoma County. This is like the mid 2000s, and we were seeing that the local Gang Task Force, which was made up to some degree, it did have California Highway Patrol participation, but also it’s mostly the county that was coordinating with local police departments. They would all kind of joined together under the auspices of gang issues, would set up checkpoints. They would also get Driving Under the Influence, like federal anti DUI funding, to set up checkpoints in immigrant neighborhoods where people maybe didn’t have the papers for the car that they were driving because they were sharing it among multiple families, or maybe they didn’t have a license because they weren’t legally allowed to because they were undocumented. Just getting the money to go and set up there under the auspices of gangs, or DUIs nowhere near a bar, and taking people’s vehicles who were absolutely being marginalized by capitalism and white supremacy, and selling those and funding their own department out of that. That sounds kind of like it’s par for the course for California’s policing systems.

VS: Yeah. There’s so many. There’s the minor decoy program grants that they get. There’s just so many little things and it’s all fruit of the poisonous tree, in my opinion. It doesn’t really impact anything like what you’re talking about, the DUIs, and the minor decoy. These little grants get a ton of money. but yet, in my community, violent crime is up, murder is up, rapes are up, child murder… We just had a little girl that was killed in our community, her body was found. Nine years old, Sophia Mason, a beautiful black child. These types of crimes are happening. But they’re putting money into checkpoints. They’re putting money into seeing if anybody’s gonna buy a minor alcohol or cigarettes. But we have some dark, unnecessary crime rising here. My mind is blown. Home invasions are up, it’s just crazy. We’re a very small community compared on the scale of the state of California, Merced County is tiny. We’re very small. So again, it just doesn’t make any sense to me at all whatsoever.

TFSR: Well, how can listeners find out more about the strike and support it from where they’re at? Maybe not locally? Or if or locally? If you have some suggestions?

VS: Oh, definitely awesome. So we will continue posting on the MIRA page, the Merced Inmate Rights Association page, and the Merced Under Construction Instagram and Facebook page. But like I said, we’re unofficial org, so we’re asking folks to support. Right now we have a link tree link up. If folks have it in their heart or their conscience to support us, we’ll be accepting donations through ‘buy me a coffee,’ through that outlet. But we’re putting funds together for detainees and inmates directly. So we want to be able to put, fund several people’s, at least a month commissary account, whether that’s $25, whether that’s $50, we want to be able to put money for them to use themselves, for the phone, for food, for personal care, etc. We’re also going to be having some letter writing days, where we’ll be sending them out handwritten letters, cards, and communication with folks that are inside of the facilities themselves. So we have a direct line. There’s a lot of people like I had said before, they don’t have anybody out on the outside, they don’t come from much. We want to be able to support them, and let them know that they are loved. That they’re cared about and that there are people out here that say that they matter.

A lot of other work we’re doing that we need support with, it’s police accountability part of our work. And man, sometimes we have bits of a drive, we have to drive got to take reports, do our own investigations. We also have to request records from whatever government agency that the officer involved works with. So we have to pay for flex or dash cam or other records. And again, we don’t want to be a part of the nonprofit industrial complex, so we’re trying to just keep it grassroots and just real people funding real work that’s really happening in Merced. We’ve never done this before. It’s only always been on our own time on our own dime. And now we’re like really needing assistance because it’s growing. So that’s basically it. Just check us out on Facebook, Instagram, and hopefully we can get our website up here in like the next month or so.

TFSR: Victoria, thank you so much for having this conversation for the work that you’re doing. Yeah, I guess keep in touch. And we’ll keep trying to cover this when we can.

VS: I appreciate you Bursts. Thank you so much.

[ Editors note: The hunger strike ended Saturday, March 28th, despite the disrespect of the jail administration. ]

Transcription (Eric King Trial)

Josh: My name is Josh, I’m based out of Baltimore. And I do a lot of political prisoner support work and abolition work. I’m a member of the Certain Days Calendar Collective, and the children’s art project with political prisoner Oso Blanco. I’m currently also editing a book with Eric King, where we interview political prisoners about their lives inside. I work in communications with the Zinn education project. And I guess I first started writing Eric in 2017 or so and we’ve been corresponding ever since.

Mookie:My name is Mookie Moss, and my pronouns are he and him. I’ve been on the CLDC board of directors for gosh, maybe six or seven years, my day job has been a farmer for the last 25 or 26 years. But I’ve worked in and around a lot of radical organizations, both in the United States and in South America. A lot of the work that I’ve done has been around indigenous farmers down south, and anti-capitalist movements in South America, and here in the United States, environmental activist, that kind of stuff. So that’s who I am.

TFSR: So for listeners who don’t know, Eric, can you say some words about who he is and what he was convicted of?

Mookie: To be totally frank and honest, I have come to Eric Kings’ case pretty late in the game. But I did jump in with both feet based on this opportunity to work with the organization that I work with, which is the Civil Liberties Defense Center. My learning of Eric’s life and his story was kind of a crash course. But just based on my past experience being there for his trial, he came across to me as an incredibly emotionally sensitive guy, and also a really intelligent guy. He spoke really, really well. Obviously, because he’s a political prisoner, my view is that he really looks at his experience, both in jail and the world around him through a very, very strong political lens. So I would just add that.

TFSR: Oh, yeah. And with, with the usage of the term political prisoner in there, that says a lot, not only for what he was convicted for. Right? For that politically motivated property destruction, but also for the way that he’s conducted himself, and also how he’s been treated by administration’s since he’s been inside.

Can you all talk a bit about as sort of background for this case, what has Eric’s treatment been like in prison? How is he related to other prisoners as an antifascist, and as an anti-authoritarian, and also how the staff has related to him for these reasons?

Josh: Sure. So Eric, currently has been in solitary confinement for over 1,000 days, for over three years. He’s been in federal prisons all over the country, in private prisons as well. And he’s been brutalized and attacked wherever he’s been sent, either by guards or by Nazi-type prisoners. He’s defended himself every step of the way. He’s tried to help other prisoners, whenever he’s been given the chance, to to help voice their concerns.

I think it’s also important to point out that it’s not just Eric being targeted, that this happens to political prisoners and prisoners in general, throughout history. It’s currently happening not only with Eric King, but as you know with Sean Swain having his finger chopped recently by guards, there’s several indigenous prisoners being abused now, for the religious reasons, having their sweat lodge destroyed in a federal prison in California. I mean, it goes back all the way, the Attica brothers, Herman Bell being abused years ago before he got out. You know, it goes back throughout American history of guard abuse. It’s it’s pretty endless.

Mookie: I would also add, just to what Josh eloquently put, is that witnessing what Eric actually just went through as an extenuation of that type of torture, and bullshit, and experience that he has dealt with all along the way. Watching how the Bureau of Prisons handled him even just during this court case, where there was obviously a spotlight put upon him and put upon his conditions and experience was mind boggling to watch and to bear witness to. I have been interested in political prisoners and the struggle for a very, very long time. It’s not like I came into this with a blind eye like people are being treated well in prison, but the amount of punitive and destructive behavior from the Bureau of Prisons towards Eric, just during this case, there was something coming up. I can talk about that. Josh and I can talk about that. But it was just it was a microcosm of a much larger experience of let’s turn the screws against the people that are standing up for themselves and for their their belief system. It was really something else.

TFSR: He was speaking of “screws”, would y’all mind talking a little bit about what this trial was about? And what what sort of outcomes Eric was facing during it, and how long it’s lasted? Because it seems like it’s lasted a very long time to get to the phase of actually going before a judge and jury.

Mookie: Yeah, that’s right. So if I’m getting my dates right, the original incident which caused this recent trial, took place August 17, 2018. It was a situation where an assault had happened in the institution that Eric was spending time in and Eric wrote a[n] email to his wife to sort of blow off some steam and describe the situation that had happened in the institution he was spending time in. Basically, he said… I don’t have the email in front of me. So I’m not going to read it word for word, but basically, he was describing and feeling some excitement over the fact that a prisoner had struck a correctional officer. And beyond that, he went on to describe the feeling of wishing that he could be there to witness it, wishing he could have seen it, he said something along the lines of even watching it in virtual reality.

He was pulled out of his pulled out of his cell, because that email, obviously was read by the correctional authorities and the guards. So he got pulled out of his cell under the guise that they were going to do an investigation. He walked himself from his cell down to a place called the lieutenant’s office. And the lieutenant’s office, which really was a long hallway that had four rooms that came off of that hallway. A couple of them were lieutenants offices, one was a property room, I believe it was described as, and then the last room in that hallway was a broom closet. A broom closet full of mop buckets, rakes, tools, all these different things.

What happened next changes a lot depending on which correctional authority you heard the story from but Eric’s story never really changed a bit. What Eric’s story was as he was led into this broom closet. There were two correctional guards, two lieutenants, Lieutenant Wilcox and a Lieutenant Kammrad. Lieutenant Wilcox got in his face, Eric said, “I don’t want to fight.There’s two of you,” essentially, Wilcox kicked out his subordinate, Kammrad. Wilcox started a fight with Eric and he called him a ‘bitch’ he called him a ‘punk’ in this broom closet and he attacked Eric. Eric, decided that he didn’t think that being attacked a broom closet was going to be good for his life or good for his situation and so he fought back and he struck Lieutenant Wilcox in the face three times very in very quick succession. Lieutenant Wilcox was a really big guy, and Eric is not a big guy.

So it was pretty clear that Eric was more skilled in that expression, and he broke Wilcox’s nose. And after he broke Wilcox’s nose the other guards the other lieutenants ran in and you know, Eric had assumed a neutral position after he put wilt Wilcox down on the ground, and then from there, a whole series of things unfolded. Essentially the case was a “he said, he said” case, you know, where Wilcox said one thing and Eric said the truth. Fortunately for this court case, the guards that all had a story to share, the story was so convoluted and and frankly bullshit that that really came out in the trial.

So this turned out to be a self defense case. And it’s pretty remarkable, the legal team for the CLDC Lauren Regan, Sarah Alvarez, and Sandra Freeman, they did an incredible job of not only showing the inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Bureau of Prisons story, but also did a really good job giving Eric an opportunity to speak his truth up on the stand. And we’re lucky enough to be in one of those very rare situations where justice prevailed.

TFSR: Okay, there’s a few things that are heard throughout the course of the last, I guess, three and a half years, including that Wilcox had said, “Oh, you’re in Antifa, huh?” Something about his daughter running into anti-fascists and having a problem with that. He just sort of threw out a bunch of weird, disconnected shit, it sounded like. But it seemed like it must have been some sort of prefigured situation for them to take him into a room that the only room that didn’t have any cameras, which was a bit suspect, and then afterwards to hold him down in restraint for a number of hours, like 14 hours or something like that. Can you talk a little bit about some of that?

Josh: Sure. Yeah. He was held in four point restraint for hours after the incident occurred, after he was beaten. Yeah, there’s parts of it on video. There’s parts of it that were missing on video. I think it’s also worth mentioning, I listen to the trial from afar, but at one point I think they tried to make the case that a black eye that Eric suffered, was actually his Antifa tattoo on his face, which is just another way of showing that it’s his politics that they’re attacking, which I think does go to show what you were saying that it’s intentional and it is planned out. Anything to add, Mookie?

Mookie: You know, Josh is correct. They did at one point try to pin that black eye on the fact that he had a tattoo there. At another point, they were sort of edging towards this reasoning and this was very skillfully shut down by Eric’s defense team, but potentially that Eric either got the black eye when he was brought down on his face by the rest of the guards who rushed into save their buddy Wilcox. It was sort of hinted at one time that maybe potentially he could have given himself that black eye, which is of course ridiculous. Because after this incident, there wasn’t a moment that Eric was off camera.

Luckily, there was a nurse at the facility that Eric was sent to after this attack took place. This was the only Bureau of Prisons nurse that actually checked Eric out in any sort of realistic way and made notes that he had showed up with a pretty significant shiner. If you look at the video of the medical assessment that they did after this whole incident took place. This should shock absolutely no one who has any sort of understanding about how the Bureau of Prisons works, but the nurse who did the initial medical assessment spent about three minutes. Eric complained of a high level of pain in this temple, he had pain in some other places, but really was like, “hey, yeah, I’m hurt, and I’m hurting right now.” And there was never a second look given to him.

It was really something else. She inquired about a potential new tattoo, which he was like, “No, this tattoos not new.” But you could tell that there was a very purposeful, obfuscation of the truth that started immediately following the incident, because my perception was, is that they knew that they were going to have a difficult storyline to defend. And so at every turn where modicum, a little chunk of truth could come out, instead of asking questions and risking documented truth on Eric’s behalf coming out, they just slid right past it.

So the medical assessment, even though Eric, the State, or the government in this case, showed a picture repeatedly of Eric immediately following the incident, but we’re talking minutes after the incident. They’re like, “look, he’s got no black eye. This isn’t true. This didn’t happen.” Because their whole case hinged on the fact that Wilcox never took a swing at Eric, never assaulted him. That Eric sucker punched Wilcox, which is just blatantly not true. But so yeah, so they showed this picture of Eric right after the incident. And he didn’t have a shiner, because as anybody knows, it takes a good chunk of time after you get hit the eyeball to to get a big black eye. So it was really, really, really something.

TFSR: Eric has had a history of negative interactions with authorities and with guards in the past. And if I recall, a lot of those instances were in relation to private communication with his partner, or poetry that he’s written, or drawings that he’s made, and them being eschewed as threats by administration. So for that he’s gotten time in solitary, he’s had his rights to mail taken away, he’s had his ability to receive books taken away, or magazines. Just sort of exacerbating, and just amplifying the academic isolation as well as personal isolation of prison that he’s had to go through over these years.

Usually, he would just face ,as most prisoners… This this kind of crap is not abnormal in the US Prison System, whether it be in a State system, in a county, where someone’s in jail, or in the BOP, retaliation for petty things by petty guards, and all being adjudicated before some sort of internal rules board or some sort of internal court. Luckily, Eric did not have to defend himself before a kangaroo court inside without press and without legal defense from other parties. How is it that this case, why is it that this case, that could have tacked another 20 years onto his sentence, why did this become a public case? And how did the CLDC get involved, as far as you all know?

Mookie: My understanding, Bursts, is this case was brought to Lauren Regan initially by Daniel McGowan. Correct?

Josh: Yeah, believe so.

Mookie: So Daniel, you know, has a long standing relationship with the CLDC, because they did defense for him back in the day when when he was going through his trial, that he had been in contact with Eric for some time and reached out to Lauren Regan, who’s Eric’s lead defense attorney, and was the founder of the CDC, and said, “Hey, there’s this guy who’s serving time, he’s got a really compelling story. He was assaulted. He’s a really good guy and I really believe in him and believe in trying to seek some sort of justice in this case.” Lauren has a very close friendship with Daniel, and they’ve got really good history together.

So I think that really, Bursts, the reason why this happened is because there was a lot of trust. There’s a lot of historic trusts. And I think that’s a really important piece of this case is that. Lauren, and I were talking about this after the trial wrapped up just that. It’s really incredible when you see real true solidarity pay dividends like it does. Daniel felt solidarity with Eric, and because he had solidarity with Lauren, they came together and Lauren was like, “Daniel, if you believe in this person, I believe in you so much that, let’s go.” And that’s how it went forward. The CLDC, this is one of the things that they specialize in is shining lights in the dark corners of the key parts of our judicial system. So, I think that that’s that’s originally how Lauren got the case.

TFSR: What are the next steps in legal process for Eric? Is the outcome of the not guilty finding by that jury, does that does that mean he’s going to get any sort of reduction in his sentence? Or are there grounds for, because they were able to prove in a public court that the claims from the administration were false and that he had been subjected to harm, are there grounds for other lawsuits to sort of go back and point to the other portions of time when he’s been stuck in solitary? Been put in courtyards with giant Nazis? Gotten diesel therapy? Not had the ability anymore to get visits from his spouse in his family, is there anything brewing in terms of that? Or is he just scheduled for release in December 2023 and we’re just hoping to get him out.

Josh: Yeah, I think a lot of that is still to be determined. Like you said, he’s scheduled to be released in a year and a half, in December 2023. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that he’s still locked up in there. As of right now, the end of March, he’s still on a mail ban, he can still only receive mail from his family. Last I heard he’s still in solitary confinement, even though he won the case. I think that there’s a likelihood that he’ll probably be transferred, who knows where that might be. Probably a lot of diesel therapy, a lot more diesel therapy.

But I think it’s also again, important to keep in mind that in the face of all this violence, in the face of all this state repression that he’s met it face on with a sense of humor, and he’s been able to build strong relationships, not only with people, those of us on the outside, but with those imprisoned right alongside of him, even when he’s in the worst possible conditions. He’s organizing them. He’s educating and is sharing as much as he can with those around him.

Mookie: I would also just add, Bursts, to echo what Josh said. I mean, Josh is right on there. And also I do know that the CLDC has a civil case filed on Eric’s behalf. I think that ideally, when somebody is wronged to such a grievous level, as Eric was wronged in prison, that there would be some sort of… I don’t even know if I should say like financial or time served retribution, but my understanding is that based on the law, it would be almost impossible for Eric to benefit in any monetary way from this civil case. I believe that there’s a Prison Act that says that you can’t benefit, even if you’re wronged from something that occurs if you [are in] prison if you’re there. I wish I knew and could speak a little bit more articulately.

But I think what’s really important about this, the civil case is that what I really think that the CLDC, and what Eric’s defense team, and what I would imagine Eric is hoping for is that by bringing the civil case, it’s going to effectively shine a spotlight on his treatment and will be a cautionary tale to any of the psychopaths in the bureau of prisons that decide to make his remaining time the hardest time in the world. That’s not to say that it’s not going to happen. I am just always shocked at the level of depravity that the Bureau of Prisons will go to make people are uncomfortable on the inside.

But having said that, every single night of this case, as it went on through the week, Eric was subjected to some new bizarre turn by the Bureau of Prisons, whether all of a sudden he was getting yanked out of his the cell that he’d been in and got transferred to a whole new facility next door. That happened one night. Another day, his cell flooded and coffee was spilled on his documents, another day, his documents and all of his personal property were removed. That made it almost impossible for him to prep for trial. I mean, it was so bizarre that that even the Bureau of Prisons… I’m sorry, there is nothing funny about this. It’s just unreal.

The Bureau of Prisons story when a cup of coffee was spilled on his documents and made them impossible to read, the BOP story was that a bird flew into his cell and knocked this cup of coffee over on his documents. The courtroom, when this was said, was just like… jaws dropped. And the judge who presided over this case, Judge Martinez, he even at that point leaned back in his chair and shook his head and said, I’m not going to be able to quote him verbatim, but basically the gist of what he said was, “I cannot believe that what’s happening to Mr. King is happening to Mr. King and the Bureau of Prisons better watch itself, because they’re setting themselves up for a civil suit.” I don’t know if he knew that was already in action, but all of those actions are going to be added to the suit. So hopefully, that gives them just the tiniest bit of cover from more torture and abuse. But it’s hard to say.

TFSR: Yeah, I remember seeing tweets about the stupidity of that moment. Unicorn Riot had a nice image for their posting of their coverage.

Were there any other highlights that stood out from the case? Either testimony from Eric or… because he was actually able to speak on his own behalf and had to answer like cross examination, I would imagine, but can you talk about any other elements of how the the case itself went?

Mookie: Sure. Let’s see highlights or lowlights. I guess in a case like this, they are kind of one and the same. It was very interesting to see Lieutenant Wilcox walk into the courtroom for his testimony. I think that was on day one. You know, all the photographs that I’d seen of Lieutenant Wilcox. He’s a fairly large, imposing, hulking figure and that was not the guy who walked into the courtroom. The guy who walked into the courtroom had a cane was bent over. Evidently in his off time, he has now since retired from the Bureau of Prisons, probably related to this incident… But he’s got a ranch and I’m not sure exactly if he was supposedly or actually injured on his ranch. I’m really not sure. But he walked into the courtroom and sort of shuffled down the center like an old man. I was like, “wow, the theatrics just don’t stop” and I’m not I’m not saying that he wasn’t actually injured, but whatever was happening, they did their very best to make sure that he didn’t come in as an imposing hulking prison guard type.

He got up on the stand and I would say what was most interesting to me, and I guess this was written and you could have seen it coming from a mile away, but the government’s case was so incredibly weak that anytime he was asked a question by the CLDC, or by Eric’s defense team, in any way that could impeach a previous story, or a previous statement he had made, it was just one, “I can’t remember, I can’t remember, I can’t remember” after another. Then when the government would come and ask him a similar questions, it was remarkable how quickly his memory sharpened up. So that was really, really interesting.

The other Lieutenant that that got on the stand, Lieutenant Kammrad, his his testimony was really weak. And I think the take home, the important take home of that piece was that the government was really trying to flip it 180 degrees, they are trying to say, “Look how authentic our guys are. It’s been three years since this incident and you can tell that our guys are telling the truth, because there’s variation in the story.” Well, the fact of the matter is, is that the variation of the story was was wildly varied. And it was backed up with video evidence that the defense team had brought that just punched so many different holes in the way that this moment in the broom closet unfolded that it just was absolutely unbelievable. Then the inverse of that is when Eric went up on the stand, he told such an incredibly lucid and cohesive story that matched up to every single one of his previous statements. So that was, I thought that was pretty interesting. How about you, Josh, what am I forgetting? Give me a second to think about those highlights.

Josh: No, no, I think you captured them all. My partner and I were kind of glued to the phone all week, working and listening to this in the background. I think you’ve captured all the major highlights. Eric did a great job while he was on the stand, of course.

Mookie: Yeah. Eric did a great job. I guess I would also just say, Bursts, that I had heard lots of things about Judge Martinez going into this case and I definitely had some concern. I’ve got concern anytime in the same realm as a federal judge, of course, but I have to say that… And of course, my experience as somebody in the gallery watching or Josh’s experience listening and I know a lot of people have listened, we don’t have the same experience that the attorneys do, because we’re not privy to all the sidebars. And I will say that there were more sidebars in this case than I’ve definitely ever heard of. I think even judge Martinez said, “there are more sidebars and objections in this case than he’s ever seen in his career.”

So, it was very clear to everybody in the courtroom that this was not only a very contentious case, like any political case can be, but it was really important to find a passage through this story in a way that didn’t bias the jury either way, and because this case was political in nature, and because Eric chose to do a politically motivated act of property destruction, it was very tenuous in in how they would go after Eric. You could tell that the government, the US Attorney’s, were doing everything that they could open up lines of questioning that we’re going to shock and dismay jurors who might not have the same or even a political analysis as Eric’s. I think that Eric’s defense team did a really skillful job guiding the jury through the story in a way where it didn’t open those doors necessarily.

There’s just lots of different feelings on what the term “violence” means and whether a politically motivated act of property destruction is violent. I have very strong feelings that it’s not, but I think that there was some concern that the jury could grab on to certain terminology that would then bias them and they would lose their ability to see this case for what it really was: One side is speaking the truth and one side is making up stories as they go along.

So I have to say that not having access to what has happened in those sidebars, I feel like there was 100 sidebars, I’m sure I’m exaggerating, but there was so many that I felt like judge Martinez did a pretty darn good job running a clean courtroom. I didn’t see bias in him, what I saw was a judge that actually just really wanted to follow the letter of the law. Luckily, you know, in this case, the letter of the law is on Eric side, he was defending himself and that’s a right that every single person has to do in this country, even if you’re locked up. So I thought the judge did a pretty good job walking that middle path. I have to say that I think that he was impressed with Eric’s defense team. I think that because of the nature of this trial would have been very possible to have lawyers that weren’t necessarily prepared to handle something at this high level. I think they hit it out of the park.

TFSR: I can see how like bringing up the fact that there are political views that are held by Eric, and the nature of his conviction, and pointing to that as being potentially counter to the political views of the guards, and thus, motivating them to act in juvenile and petty manners… Differentiating that from like, “he burned down a politician’s office, and someone could have been hurt!” That seems like a very thin line to walk and it sounds like folks did that very, very well. Do you all have any updates on how Eric’s health is these days? And how are his spirits?

Josh: Due to the mail ban, not many people have heard from him. I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is extremely happy about the outcome of the trial, happy to be getting the few visits that he does, that he is able to get. He’s looking forward to getting everyone’s letters and everyone’s love. Everyone keeps sending solidarity from around the world. He’s looking forward to reading everyone’s letters, responding to everyone’s letters. You can follow him on social media. His support site is SupportEricKing.org. You can send a books now, which is great. If you follow him on social media, or check out his website, you’ll find out when the mail ban is lifted, and you can write to him. But in the meantime, just know that he does appreciate all the support. I think he’s vocalized that as much as possible to those he has been able to speak to.

TFSR: So it’s been mentioned that Eric’s a pretty prolific poet, you can find a bunch of his poems up on his support website. I don’t know if y’all want to share any poetry by Eric that you feel especially moved by? If not, that’s totally okay. But I just wanted to put that out there.

Josh: Well, yeah, I’ll share one, actually, if you haven’t picked up the 2022 Certain Days Calendar, Eric wrote a poem for the month of May. So you’re still in time to get one you can go to BurningBooks.com. They are only five bucks at this point and all the proceeds benefit political prisoners. But in May, Eric wrote a poem, he actually wrote it to me one time before this calendar came out when we were just thinking of the theme. It’s called “Mutual Aid is Friendship.” Yeah, it’s a great piece. It’s very short. And it’s one of the last ones he was able to send out before one of the many mail bans he’s faced.

TFSR: Well, that’s about it for the questions that I had. Are there any other topics that you want to talk about? Otherwise if you could remind folks about how they can support the CLDC, the defense work that they do, and the research and we’ve had guests from CLDC on the show a few times to talk about digital security. We’ve had Lauren Reagan on before to talk about political repression more generally. I’d love to hear more about where to find more about that. Also, Josh has prior been on the show to talk about Certain Days, it’d be good to hear about that, too. But were there any other topics other than shouting out projects that I didn’t ask about that y’all want to touch on?

Mookie: I guess I would just like to throw this in the ring a little bit that I know that supporting political prisoners in this country and around the world is something that I think a very narrow band of people who are politically active do. I just would like to say publicly to anybody who’s listening to this podcast, that it’s very easy to find resources to support political prisoners in this country. You can go online and literally Google that. There’s going to be a ton of different places that sends you to, and I just want to encourage people to take 15 or 20 minutes out of their week and find a different prisoner to write to. I think it can’t be overstated how potent this act is. Not only does it have the potential to change somebody’s time on the inside, but I also think that it creates bonds that can last a lifetime, but it’s also an incredible way to build our movement. So I just want to give a “Rah! Rah!” for that. I think that’s something that’s really worth people’s time.

And just since I have the I have the air right now, if people are interested in supporting the CLDC, which I think is a really great to do. The CLDC, one of the things that I love about working with this organization is the breadth of their work in movement building, and resistance, and support for activists. It’s staggering, really the CLDC goes to where the work is, whether it be in pipeline work, or prisoner support, or environmental, or animal rights work. It’s just a really remarkable organization and anybody can find how to support that at CLDC.org.

Josh: Absolutely. Yeah. I’ll just mirror pretty much everything Mookie said. CLDC is great. Actually, in two days now I guess it’ll be in the past when people are listening to this, but the CLDC is hosting a political prisoner talk with Daniel McGowan, with Linda Evans, Ray Luc Levasseur, Rattler, a few other people. I’m sure it’ll be amazing like most of the other projects are. But also yes, just write political prisoners every chance you get. Just try to learn about them. Eric has really been amazing with that. Every time he’s sent to a new prison, he finds friends that he advocates other people writing to and building relationships. I think it really can be life changing not only for those inside, but for those of us on the outside, too.

I guess besides getting a Certain Days Calendar if you can, we’re coming up with a theme now for 2023. But if you’re heading over to burning books to get a calendar, you could get some Oso Blanco greeting cards. It’s a project called ‘Children’s Art Project’ that he and I and a few other people helped start where greeting cards are made with artwork from indigenous political prisoners and the funds benefit the Zapatistas in Chiapas. It’s a really cool project. Oso Blanco is a fascinating person to get to know. And a shout out to Sean Swain. I hope he’s doing all right, even though he’s one digit down.

TFSR: One digit down, but he’s still two fists in the air.

Josh: Absolutely.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. We didn’t end up interviewing folks about Certain Days this year, but there was one that some of y’all participated in on, “Millennials are Killing Capitalism,” I saw.

Josh: Yeah, yeah. That was Daniel and I a few weeks ago. That was a good one.

TFSR: That’s awesome. I’ll link that in the show notes, too. Mookie and Josh, thank you so much for being a part of this conversation and for the work that you do. I really appreciate it

Josh: Thank you Bursts, it was a pleasure.

Mookie: Hey, Bursts, yeah, it was. Thank you so much. And, Josh, thank you so much for your support for me in this case, you were really instrumental in bringing me along and I’m so grateful for the whole team that came to came together to stand with Eric. It was really a group of outstanding people and thanks again Bursts.

Josh: Yes, thank you.

Transcription (Eric King Transfer)

TFSR: Eric, where are you at right now?

Eric King: Right now I’m at a federal transfer facility called Grady County. It’s one of the marshal’s contracts out in Oklahoma City.

TFSR: It seems like a pretty frequently used facility. This is the one that I talked to Jeremy Hammond at a couple of years ago in 2020. What’s the facility like?

EK: It’s usually fucking sweet but right now we’re having a goddamn Ad-Seg thing where we only get out one-two hours a day tops. It went from being super sweet where you get commissary and video visits to goddamn annoying.

TFSR: Did they give you some reason as to why directly after the trial where BOP was found to have abused you that they transferred you across the country from Colorado.

EK: This makes me sick, for real, because everyone at Inglewood [Prison] during the pre-trial shit was telling me, “If you get found innocent, you’re good, you’re gonna go to a medium or the communication unit, things are gonna be better for you. You could just feel the venom in their kindness. So they’re telling me all these lies, and then I go to pack up for transfer and they are “Oh, we’re sending you back to this miserable, horrible dup of a penitentiary out in Virginia.” “Well, that’s not what you motherfuckers just told me.” “Well, it is what it is.” There’s no way for this not to be retaliation, I’m the one that has low security points. I should be coasting with my feet up wearing shower shoes all day, not having to work, wearing boots for the shower.

TFSR: You’re going to USP Lee, as far as I was aware. Is that a max facility? Or what level is that? Have you been there before?

EK: It’s a penitentiary, so it holds high-security people, max-security people. There are big gang leaders there, but then there are also just violent assholes that can’t function in lower securities. Then there’s me and one of the World Trade Center bombers.

TFSR: What are you thinking in terms of what recourse you and your support folks have right now? I know that getting your voice out right now is an important part of it, that people know what’s going on.

EK: The issue is that most likely, they’re going to dump me in the SHU. In the SHU, you have no radio, books, magazines, newspapers, no pictures, no commissary, no food, you don’t even have pens and pencils, they give you rubber pencils. I’m going to be isolated, I’m going to be cut off. People need to know: get a hold of these Virginia centers, get a hold of the Northeastern Atlantic region. I want people contacting those in charge to get a hold of the designation center in Grand Prairie, Texas, the SEC. Call these people, do mass calling. Call 1,000 times and ask them why is a medium or low-security guy being held at this prison again? Why is he back here? Why are you going to take someone’s mail, take someone’s phone calls, say all this communication shit about them, and then put them somewhere where you can’t be in touch with his family and his life in danger. Now, I can’t let anyone know something’s happening to me. We got to have a spotlight on this. We got this big-ass trial victory, people are watching, people are happy. This is the next stage in that fight. I still need support. I still need people. The trial didn’t end the problems. It ended with one big problem. But now we have this other big problem. I still need people to fight for me and let them know that we’re keeping EK safe.

TFSR: This trial ending is pretty enormous. But you do have a year and just under nine months left inside, and since your whole time inside has been a history of provocations, harassment, diesel therapy, violence by the administration…

EK: I said this to my wife. “Not every win is a win.” If we had two months last maybe, but 19 months is more than enough time to get somebody really fucked up. I don’t want any more goddamn problems in the in here. It’s been such a long arduous hassle with these people.

TFSR: You’ve been two years without mail, with mail bans and books bans and stuff like that, right? You just started getting books recently.

EK: Yeah, and they gave me another mail ban. They just put another one on in February. I’m going to land in this new play. I am just getting things back again for one month in January. Then they immediately say “well, we’re taking it again, because you’re circumventing the mail ban.” So I’m going to land at [USP] Lee with five months left on this new mail ban. God damn it.

TFSR: All the way across the country from your family as you said.

EK: Yeah, they took away my phone. I don’t get any phone calls ever. Because of this phoney-public-safety-factor bullshit they made up. I’m just stuck.

TFSR: What do you want to talk about, we have eight more minutes or something. You got to the point already of how fucked up it is and where you’re heading.

EK: Yeah, things aren’t going to be good. That’s really where my mind is, I want people to know my family needs support too. Send them kindness, be kind to my family, my wife is the one that I give all my information to. If I’m scared, if I’m sad, if I’m depressed, I ask her, “Let people know this.” People hear that shit from her. Please, take it seriously. She’s often literally the only one talking to me. Because if I can pay some dude to use his phone, that’s who I’m going to call. If she puts out the word that I’m in trouble, or I’m sad, or I need something, please show me love and listen to that. We did really well at the trial. It wasn’t a flawless victory, we butted heads and there were things I wasn’t happy about, things that they weren’t happy about. But my legal team did fight for me tough. They spent a lot of money and time and they showed up and had me prepared. But it’s not over. I want them to be able to celebrate because they spent a lot of resources to get this win. It is a win, but for me,…

TFSR: …it’s not a win till you’re out. Right?

EK: Right. I don’t get to celebrate yet because they can still put me in there with someone who is getting drugs from SIS to stab me or some shit like that. That stuff is still in the back of my mind because it’s happened so many times that it doesn’t feel– I can’t celebrate, I got to celebrate for a few days after it happened. But right now it’s back to “Alright, we need to focus on the Bureau and focus on keeping me safe.” It’s just such a horrible way to exist. You can’t be super happy and celebrate with your family because you don’t know what the Bureau’s up to.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s real.

EK: It’s on my mouth on this fucking this $8 coffee that we have here. They sell this little bullshit bag. It’s called Maxima. It’s got maybe 20 scoops in it and it is $8.44. That’s other shit my wife’s having to deal with. God!

TFSR: Spaces like Grady really rely on people being in a panic mode and putting too much money in the commissary and too much money on phones, if people have money available because they don’t know how long they’re going to be there. Do you have any sense of how long you’ll be at this middle facility? Or could it just be they’ll swape you out today?

EK: It’s important to acknowledge that this place is a hella exploitative. They know we’re all panicking, all trying to talk to our family as much as we can. The best way to tell this is these phone calls are expensive. That computer that we use over there is expensive as shit. Commissary, I just told you $8 for a bag of coffee and all of us are having coffee withdrawals, needing some coffee. They’re vicious. I have no idea how long I’ll be here. In my mind, I’ll probably leave on Friday, on Friday morning, they’ll probably come and grab us. But if we make it to the weekend, that’s just two more days of spending shit-tons of money. They give you the lowest quality stuff, just bad.

TFSR: Two fewer days of being at Lee at least…

EK: My dream is that enough people contact them for the right, let’s just get this fucking dope bag out of here. Get him moving. That’s what I’m hoping, that they do it in a way that was different than at McCreary. Let’s get this fucking dirtbag out of here. The way to do it is we’re going to set them up to get jumped. Hopefully, at least they do it a different way. They’re just like, “He’s a problem, let’s move him.”

They don’t have goddamn toilet paper, the toilet paper rolls. They don’t give you those, they give you a little folded bundle, and it’s eight squares in a bundle. You get two bundles a week. Think about that. Think about what that means. You learn to make do your 16 squares a week.

TFSR: That’s so fucking cruel and inhumane. Well, if you did have like 20 sheets, maybe you could make a weapon out of it somehow, an explosive or-

EK: [laughs] Those extra sheets could come in handy for violence, for sure. I don’t know if people understand how horrible the SHU’s get. As I mentioned earlier, we don’t have pens or pencils there. They give you a rubber pencil. You have to sharpen it by scraping it on the concrete. Then you can’t file grievances with that. You can’t write legal mail with that. When I try to write to one person I can write, my wife or my cousin Deb, who was at trial, God bless her. They can’t read what I’m writing. It’s just a complete way to cut you off from the– They can do whatever they want. No visibility has no accountability or whatever. That’s what they do. They bury motherfuckers there and once you leave, you can cry about it, but you’re going to say nothing while you’re there. They might take away your 16 sheets.

Automated voice: This call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: Do they have to word it that way?

TFSR: Terminated. “I’m the Terminator, enjoy this call.”

EK: Please, stress my gratitude, but also my urgency. This isn’t a sit like, “Let’s plan, and let’s see what feels best.” This is I need action. If we make a mistake, we make a mistake. I need people mobilized quickly. I’m okay with a mistake. I need them to know the eyes are on me.

TFSR: Yeah, for real. How is it you said that you haven’t shared space with other people in years and you just got moved to an open dorm, general population? Could you describe how that feels?

EK: I’ve been in it, literally a 6×8 box for two and a half years, and before that different SHUs for another year. Going from such a confined space by myself and now I am literally surrounded by people. It feels like a fucking wave of people. There’s also a microwave next to me. When’s the last time I use a microwave? There’s a TV above me. I haven’t seen anything from the Ukraine-Russia war. I just now saw the Will Smith hitting Chris Rock thing. It’s super, super positive. But also, the SHU really damages you. I didn’t realize it until I got out, like right now for this brief period. It feels like someone’s stepping on my chest this entire time. It’s exhausting.

TFSR: Are you able to like find the corner and breathe by yourself? You don’t have to say anything about this. But you know someone who’s in there, right?

EK: I got a bro in here. There are a few other people from the system that we know the same people. Because it’s a small-ass system. There are people here that have been in the same prisons I have, or we know the same people. It’s all respect, there’s no conflict or tension or anything. It’s all just internal.

TFSR: You’ve been someone who’s done a lot of practice and meditation and yoga and instructed other people on these practices. Are you finding that those are helping you right now? Or are you just having to move through it?

EK: Not right now. The meditation, yes, because I can just focus on breathing and focus on my being. There’s obviously no room to sit in the middle of this goddamn open dorm and start doing yoga. I would look like a complete jackass. Justifiably so. But just being in my own space, being centered definitely helps because in the past, when I did long SHU days– Because I always do these goddamn long SHU bids, I don’t know what’s the deal it, it is just a vindication on resistance, I guess. But in the past, when I got the SHU, it would be so suffocating that I thought I could die. Things have improved drastically.

TFSR: Do you have any more updates, any news about when you think you’re getting transferred out? Have you been able to hear from any lawyers or anything like that while you’re at Grady?

EK: I had my legal call, Lauren did get ahold of me. I told her what I needed. She asked, and I told her, and so I trust that it will help. I’ve heard that they are organizing the calling campaign and doing that which I asked for and have been desperate for. I hope people stick with that and continue to put pressure because these people aren’t going to tell me anything. The people at Grady County are not going to tell me shit because they don’t know anything, they are just the county workers. It is just what I’m hoping on and I’ve read some things and heard some things from different comrades. Everything seems like it’s going in the direction that I need. So often we will need something and maybe the people don’t understand how serious it is, or some people don’t. You just need a few to listen to you and believe you and hear you and they can get this ball rolling. It feels like that’s what’s happening right now. I’m really grateful, that makes me feel safe and seen. What this whole thing is about is just making sure that the Bureau knows that people are watching. They’re not going to get away with any sly shit. People are watching, senators will be checking in or whatever we’re able to do with a little bit of pressure. That makes me feel good. Really good.

TFSR: This is a little bit off-topic. But when Josh was on the show the other day, Josh from Certain Days. He was talking about the book that you all are working on. Can you say a few words about that if it’s interesting?

EK: Josh is the perfect person to talk to, he is just such a clever, beautiful person. I started having this idea after reading some IRA books that talked about not just the bombing and killing, but the trauma of suffering and doing suffering to others and what’s left afterwards? What’s left when the ashes and the smoke clears? It’s not glory. It’s internal. Then I had that time with Jaan in his cell and just hearing him talk, and all these stories that I knew, these aren’t documented, no one will ever hear these stories. These stories could change someone’s life, they changed my life. I, Josh, and all of us really honor our mothers and fathers that were in this struggle before us. What they’ve gone through in prison shouldn’t be negated down to a couple of typed-up quotes for some magazine, or their ideas on the struggle. Their lives inside are equally as valuable in the mundane as they are in the extreme. So I didn’t want just to have their stories about how bad they suffered, I wouldn’t want my story to just be about all the SHU time I did. I’d wanted it to be about my life because I still exist. I want that for those that have been through this.

I had that idea and brought it up to Josh, and Josh is just an astoundingly productive person who just wants to help and work, brought it to life. We typed up a questionnaire and he just got to work. I think he’s interviewed some 7000 people so far. It’s actually just 30 or 40 , but it is still a lot. That’s a lot of work. You got a full-time job. This is just comrade work, which – I don’t want to disrespect movement, but I don’t see that all the time. I haven’t seen that in my entire life. I see it a lot, you do it, a few other people do it, but it’s not the most common thing. No questions asked no, “oh, I don’t know, this might be a bad idea.” It was “Let’s bring this shit to life.” And we have, and some of the things I’ve read have been so touching. Something I didn’t know about people. I didn’t know what Kojo [Bomani Sababu] had been through. I didn’t know that Oso [Blanco] was so aggressive. I didn’t know so much about Ray [Luc Levasseur]. So, to me, it’s a project of honoring our existences, not just our suffering, if that makes sense.

TFSR: Absolutely. Recognizing that people aren’t just these two-dimensional struggle machines that are there for putting on a flyer or sticker whatever. That could be a band name.

EK: Yes. It could be title the cover of the book.

TFSR: We have a minute and a half left, these are 15-minute calls. Is that right?

EK: They’ll tell us the two-minute mark.

TFSR: Are there any other things that are coming to mind right now that you want to express?

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in two minutes.

EK: For me, the most important thing is just asking people to please be there for my family. Mutual aid and community support, she is in prison too. I got two little girls, they’re in prison too. Lend us your voices, keep these eyes on me. I’m not trying to be an attention grabber here, like I’m Mr. Big Deal. But this can get very serious very quickly, it could get very dark. That’s all I can think about right now. Help me fight, help me keep an eye on these people so they can’t bury one of us. Don’t let them put the dirt over me right now after we just got this big-ass plan. Don’t let this win turn into a loss. That’s where my heart and that’s where my head’s at right now. And be nice to my wife.

TFSR: For sure. That’s true.

Automated voice: The call will be terminated in one minute.

EK: Bursts, thank you so much. Please give my regards to both Swains, to Lauren and Sean.

TFSR: I will.

EK: Please give yourself a big hug for me.

TFSR: Thanks, Eric. I appreciate it. Take care of yourself, okay? Make some friends.

EK: How are you doing? It’s been a very selfish call. We only got 20 seconds.

TFSR: I’m good. Just got off of work, and got some pizza and a beer waiting for me. Some local IPAs Chicago area.

EK: Oh, IPA is gross.

TFSR: Right. I’m from the West Coast. It’s what I do.

EK: Oh my gosh, don’t…

Housing Struggles in Asheville

Housing Struggles in Asheville

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

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

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Announcements

Sean Swain’s Transfer

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

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

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

Biologica Squat in Thessaloniki

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

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Papi: We could make plans for it.

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

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

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

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

Papi: It was really nice.

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

TFSR: Like storage containers?

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

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

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

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

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

Papi: If art is controversial…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Papi: They will listen.

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

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

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

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

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

Papi: And it’s boring!

Onion: It’s super bad. Yeah.

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

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

Onion: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug: A loaf of bread is almost five dollars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onion: Something’s got to give.

TFSR: It has to stop being us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: So much anti ICE graffiti.

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

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

TFSR: in Minecraft.

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

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

Papi: For housing. Yeah. For years.

Doug: I just want a roof over my head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug: Bring your Christmas tree.

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

Doug: Yeah, we want to make a birdhouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Congratulations on keeping sober.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Papi: Thanks for having us.

Doug: Yeah. Thanks, man.

Onion: Thank you.

Ecological Uprising, Antifascism and Anarchist Organizing in Serbia

Ecological Uprising, Antifascism & Anarchist Organizing in Serbia

Crowds block a bridge in Belgrade, Serbia during the December 2021 Ecological Uprising
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Serbia has been rocked by recent, mass blockades in the streets to challenge changes to the Law of Expropriation which would allow the state to take farm lands and other private property to open space for constructing mega projects and extraction like the proposed Rio Tinto lithium and jadarite mine in the Jadar Valley. This is building off of earlier ecological protests in 2021 against the building of private mini hydroelectric power plants along rivers in Stara Planina (aka the Balkan mountain range) threatening access to and health of drinking water. These protest in December forced the 12-year ruling right-neoliberal SNS Party to backtrack and modify plans for the Expropriation and public Referendum laws and put an undefined pause on Rio Tinto’s mine.

For the hour, we speak with Marko about those protests, the influence of western NGOs in politics, the Linglong Tire Factory scandal, labor and solidarity organizing with the Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative of which hes a member and which is a part of the Internatioal Workers Association IWA-AIT and challenges faced by leftist anti-authoritarian organizers in former Yugoslavia. He also speaks about his experience of the covid pandemic in Serbia, the politics of anti-lockdown protests, anti-vaxers and the far right in general around Serbia, the impact of US-born neo-nazi Rob Rundo of the Rise Above Movement and Media2Rise who has returned to Serbia despite being deported to Bosnia and has been organizing fight clubs, international ties and solidarity between various fascistic groups around Belgrade.

Covid Mutual Aid in Serbia

Belgrade 6

Ecological Uprising

Labor Issues

Anti-Fascism

Announcements

B(A)D News Episode 51

The 51st episode the the A-Radio Network’s monthly anarchist news roundup is online and ready to hear. Check it out!: https://www.a-radio-network.org/bad-news-angry-voices-from-around-the-world/episode-51-12-2021/

Phone Zap for Rashid

New Afrikan communist and Minister in the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party, Kevin Rashid Johnson is being punished at Nottoway CI in Virginia and there’s a call-in & email campaign starting on Monday, December 20th to get him:

  1. That he be released from segregation and be given access to general population property and privileges
  2. That he be put in an actual quarantine unit if quarantine is legitimate
  3. That he not be subjected to a retaliatory transfer AND that his classification level NOT be raised as retaliation for beating the write ups/charges.

More at bit.ly/rashidzap122021

Phone Zap for Comrades Easley & Turner

Hunger Strike: December 17th, 2021: Calling all comrades. Easley & Turner will be going on hunger strike at ToCI due to the fact that Warden May is holding them beyond the policy associated with Restrictive Housing & Level E Status. Policy in question is DRC POlicy 55-SPC-02, e,(6)

Call-in request for David Easley #A306400 & Frasier G. Turner #A753786 at Toledo CI in Ohio as they begin a hunger strike beginning 12/17/2021. Folks are asked to call Warden Harold May & ask why he is not following ODRC policy pertaining to Easley & Turner and others being held in ToCI Restrictive Housing Units beyond the policy associated with Restrictive Housing & Level E Status. Policy in question is DRC POlicy 55-SPC-02, e,(6)

Warden Harold May, ToCI(419) 726 7977drc.toci@odrc.state.oh.us
ODRC Headquarters contact form: www.odrc.gov/family

ODRC Director Annette Chambers Smith
(614) 387 0588

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Transcription

TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself with whatever name, gender pronouns, political identity, or affiliation that you’d like for the audience? And tell us about where you’re based.

Marko: Okay, I’m Marko, from the Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative, IWA section, International Workers Association. I am from Belgrade, Serbia. And I have lived here pretty much all of my life.

TFSR: I do want to ask about the Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative. But first, just because it’s universal, how has the pandemic been in Serbia? Have you had vaccines available and accessible? Has the government imposed lockdowns? Is there much in the way of either right-wing anti-vaccine movement or left-wing social mutual aid projects to fill in where the health infrastructure hasn’t?

Marko: At the beginning of the crisis, of course, our government is a bit similar to Trump, it reacted as if it is something not so serious. We even had doctors who were approaching this problem as not serious. They saw it as something not so dangerous. But when it came, it was pretty much panic, as I guess, the whole world was more or less in panic. Even in our structures, or some imaginary free society, we will have the same difficulties to handle all these situations. I think it is a challenging situation for humanity. Also, it is a populist government that likes to be connected with the West but also with the East policies. And the only good thing about the government is that we got all vaccines from all over the world, even much more than some other Western countries in Europe. It happened that at one point, even people from Western Europe were coming here to get vaccinated. On the other hand, here, people are not used to getting vaccinated. In this sense, it’s pretty bad.

We have also these conscious anti-vax people. In the beginning, we had a lockdown. We had a state of emergency. It was pretty tough because the state apparatus could practice all these authoritarian principles in the highest manners. But on the other hand, [an emergency response] was something that was needed, but it’s different when the state does it and it looks pretty bad. In April, we had the first lockdown which lasted till May in 2020. In June, we already started to open up little by little, and then these protests came up with the far right-wing people that are anti-vaxxers. But the thing with this is that this just started as the anti-vax protest. Other people protested against police repression. And a lot of people that are not anti-vaxxers came out to protest against police repression. We cannot say that it was an anti-vax protest, there was just a minority in the beginning. At one moment, the leftist groups and anarchist groups took over the protests, a lot of far-right people were defending the police. They wanted to say “We are antivaccine but don’t attack our police”, and para-police and fascist forces were trying to make a group that is protecting the police. But at one moment, some anarchist groups started to throw things at the police and everybody accepted this, and the far-right groups were defeated in a way. I see this protest as our victory because we were able to organize in real action. It was direct action and we practiced organizing there. Later, there were a lot of events under this far-right protest, but not as you see in France or other countries, even in the Balkans. In Croatia, Slovenia, there are a lot of big anti-vaxxer protests. With anti-vaxxers we have here, the scene is big but poorly organized. The far-right groups are not organized in an anti-vaccine way. In this sense, we didn’t have a problem.

The other thing that you asked about, the mutual aid, we had a solidarity kitchen and it’s still going. It is a leftist initiative that was made for people who are homeless and hungry people. During the pandemic, these groups organized mutual aid actions, bringing food to the elderly who couldn’t go out. And that was during the whole pandemic, even with lockdowns, those people were pretty busy with this and they’re still active in different struggles. But all of them are connected either with minority groups, elders, and even the last one was with some workers, like those at Linglong Factory, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. It was a big scandal that the government accepted a Chinese policy that made a big company that is making tires for cars. And they have Vietnamese workers there in very bad working conditions, some of them are forced to work like complete convicts that were brought there to work. This solidarity kitchen also contributed to the struggle against the repression of these people.

TFSR: To clarify that, is it that there were people from Vietnam, that got certain visas that allowed them to work for this company on Serbian soil in a “free trade” compound? It’s basically an off-site Chinese manufacture that employs imprisoned Vietnamese people in Serbia?

Marko: Yeah, but those visas are not actually working visas, they are just travel visas. If you’re from Vietnam, you need a visa to stay in Serbia. I think it is not even a visa, they took their passports, they didn’t even have visas. The Chinese company stole their passports so they cannot go home. It was a big scandal. The government didn’t react at all, it was pretending that this is normal.

TFSR: That’s terrible. That must be so scary for those people, even if you get out of that place, then unless you happen to speak Serbo-Croatian or maybe English, or German, some other language that’s in the region is a general economic language, where do you go?

Let’s talk a little bit more about the labor organizing work that you’ve been doing there. You mentioned that you were involved in the Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative in Serbia. Can you talk about the work that you all do? What are some of the campaigns going on? We’ve had guests in the past who have affiliated with other networks, like Anarquismo or the Federation of Anarchist Internationals, but I’ve never talked to someone from the IWA-AIT. Could you tell me more about that as well?

Marko: With ASI, IWA-AIT member organization, I recently joined, but I participated in actions for a long time. A lot of people from there were my friends from the past. ASI gained full membership in IWA-AIT in 2004. But it was originally established in 1999 or 2000, I’m not sure. ASI was very active as an anarcho-syndicalist movement concerning the workers’ problems, but also, it was active in university blockades, which is one of the things that is actually where maybe 80% of the left scene in Serbia originated from. It was three students blockades in which ASI introduced direct democracy principles. In this sense, ASI was very important.

Also, I was involved with some ASI members and some other people in a political scandal before I was a member. We were arrested. It was a solidarity event for an arrested guy from Greece, Thodoros Iliopoulos, arrested for an uprising when Alexis Grigoropolous was killed. We got arrested for international terrorism and they were trying to charge us for 15 years or something in prison, but these charges failed. They accused us of attacking the Greek embassy but it was politically instrumentalized action and they didn’t have any proof that we did it. All these claims failed and everybody was released. After that, I was from time to time active in organizing with those comrades, but just last year I joined the organization.

TFSR: One of the things that you mentioned that ASI is doing is to help to coordinate campaigns to get people’s stolen wages back.

Marko: This was something that was actually announced, I think, by the Polish sectionn last year or two years ago. For different contexts, different places the idea work differently. We have a lot of trouble organizing, motivating people to organize on their workplaces but this action was pretty successful. We made some announcements on social media that we are doing these actions, helping people to get their wages back and a lot of people contacted us. We were surprised, really a lot of people. We managed to deal with a lot of these problems, not all, we are still working on some, but a lot of these problems are actually very easy to solve. Usually, we contact the owner, we just contact with the letter, seriously written, with all kinds of threats. Of course, there is a legal way but we also say that we are going to picket in front of their stores, or whatever, but most people who contacted us are restaurants, the service industry. Those problems are very easy to solve. It’s looked funny how owners tried to avoid always, they didn’t answer and in the end, they would say, “No, we were answering, we wanted to pay this worker, but she quit and didn’t call us.” But we record the whole thing. They admit in the end, when they say they want to pay the worker back and we always return to this working place with the workers so that they cannot get manipulated. We see that they are ready to pay the back wages, the owners agree that they will pay the salary, they really want to avoid our threats. Each time we had success, and this success is mainly because we have these threats that we are going to protest in front of their stores. In the past, ASI did such protests, and it was successful. Before this last event that Polish comrades announced, we had experiences doing this. We are pretty sure that we can manage to convince the owner to pay the salaries in this way, and we’ve improved in our writing, how to write a good message to the owners. We have to protest less often these days.

TFSR: That sounds like my experience here in the US of Solidarity Unions, not necessarily labor formations, but you’ll go to a landlord, you’ll go to a boss, and say, “Do you want to be embarrassed publicly? Because we know that you did this, and you’re going to lose friends, you’re going to lose customers.” It’s amazing how much embarrassment it can actually do, and it’s also so poignant how when someone is isolated, either as a worker who hasn’t gotten their wages, or that isolated worker going to the workplace afterwards, when the boss is, “Oh, yeah, just show up, we’ll give you the money.” That’s so good that you make sure they’re not isolated because they can be intimidated so easily.

Marko: Exactly. This is our focus. But in terms of a sense of business, I used to live in the US in 1998-99. But it’s pretty much different because Serbia doesn’t have capitalist history. It was a very long period when we were socialist. So the owners are not sure… In the US, I know “the customer is always right” but here, it is not like that. In these terms, the US has much bigger potential in these protests. It’s easier to convince the owner. I know there are some other problems for sure. But in this sense, even in syndicalism, the US has much better potential than Serbia.

TFSR: I hope that people in the audience in the US hear that.

Marko: Also in Chicago, there is one section that is about to be accepted by IWA. I hope that will be soon.

TFSR: Is that the IWW?

Marko: No, not an association, just some section group.

TFSR: Oh, cool.

Marko: IWW is a separate association. But this is a group that is going to be a full member of the IWA.

TFSR: In November and December of 2021, we’ve seen tens of thousands of people taking the streets to block traffic and cities across Serbia. Can you talk about the ecological uprising? What’s inspiring it, who’s participating and what the limits are, and what’s happening now?

Marko: In this ecological uprising, in the beginning, there were several problematic cases. For example, micro electric river dams being built that are destroying the streams, smaller rivers [in the Balkan Mountains, Stara Planina]. And the first initiatives were established on those struggles. And then later, mining companies came up. In the beginning, it was small organizations, local organizations. They united and made bigger organizations and alliances. They’re usually NGOs but there are different organizations. These groups and their motivations can be hard to understand. Here, a lot of people from the left have trouble recognizing those struggles as worker struggles, because it’s an environmental thing. But also, a confusing thing with this last struggle was that the government wanted to introduce neoliberal capitalism, because the government was about to announce a new law for the appropriation of private property, which is not abolishing private property, but expropriation by the state in order to give the land to bigger private companies. So they wanted to appropriate smaller farms from people so they can give that to the mining companies. In this sense, I think the struggles are really anti-capitalist. A lot of people were organizing because of the environment. But I think we should recognize those struggles and be in solidarity with those people because they’re also anti-capitalist struggles.

TFSR: Just to step back a little bit. The hydroelectric dams that were being proposed on some of the rivers would have flooded people’s farmlands, would have damaged the water tables, would have forced villages to move probably. What was that power production for, was that for domestic use, or was that for export to another country?

Marko: That was small private companies that are making small river dams that destroy the whole water infrastructure in terms of drinking water, but also the biodiversity, animal and plants. A lot of these dams were also going to be built in protected areas for biodiversity [noted in the Red Book published by Biologia Serbica journal from the University of Novi Sad]. But because corruption is very big, this is nothing for them, the government never mentions this.

TFSR: You may not know this, but in the US we have a thing called Eminent Domain where the government comes in and appropriates people’s private property or the apartment building where people live, gives them a “fair payment” and then gives it over for the development of another capitalist project. That sounds like what you mention.

Marko: It’s kind of like this, but when I compare Chilean appropriation, I can see this. Because in Chile, you have something similar was happening and at the end of the 70’s, when they announced a whole package of new agricultural laws, they announced the appropriation law, which was announced not for appropriating and distributing property to everybody. It was an appropriation for the distribution to private companies, that now own the whole drinking water. All these multinational companies own water sources in Chile. This is something that I recognize here also with this new law and probably what’s in the US, it might be something similar.

TFSR: Yeah. You were saying there was resistance from a lot of local farmers to the micro dams and then to the wider Law of Expropriation. That was coming on the books. Can you talk about some of the mining initiatives that have been especially bringing a bunch of people into the streets, because of the pollution that would be coming alongside them?

Marko: This last one was about Rio Tinto, it’s one of the biggest companies in the world owned by Australia and maybe Canada. They have a history of making a mess in a lot of countries. Probably somewhere, they didn’t make a mess, but in the end, those are the ones who get profit, not the people. Even some Western countries like France didn’t allow them to mine and here, the government allows those companies to mind because it sees opportunities. Not only opportunities in the sense of making some money out of it, but the whole infrastructure, then invest in infrastructures. They are building roads, they paid for big roads in advance. They didn’t even get permits to build on this mine, but they already invested in building roads. I think the government also sees opportunities in this sense.

There were a lot of people bothered by it in the last struggle. A lot of people came out. And there were threatening the government that people would block the streets. Of course, the government didn’t bother, they were even laughing. But when they blocked the streets, the government changed their mind. The problem with our government is that much of their support base are working class, often not the people we see in ecological protests. And they saw that a lot of working-class people were out in the protests, so they had to change the policy. They froze the law, but they didn’t totally stop it. Probably, they will start it back up. But right now something is happening, I don’t know in which direction it will go. They announced plans for a real reorganization of this area in which the mining industry was supposed to be built but just yesterday or the day before, they put down this plan of reorganization. We shall see.

Pretty much a lot of leftist people in some sense are not aware of the importance of this struggle. And a lot of leftist people see it as a middle-class struggle and this is a symptom of the 90’s because, in the 90s, people were betrayed by the new government after the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević. Everybody was expecting something to happen when we overthrew socialist populism but actually, liberals came and privatized everything. There is a lot of this fear in the leftist scene that NGOs are instrumentalized by Western countries and are taking over the narrative with these environmentalist ideas, Green ideas because here in Europe, there are a lot of Green parties, the German Green party has their affiliations here also. I even know some people in organizations that are running for the campaign and they are directly affiliated with the German Green Party. They claim they are left also, but the German Green Party was in coalition with different far-right groups. In this sense, there is a lot of fear that people who came out will be instrumentalized for the parties again. But in reality, it’s not like that, because a couple of times, even some of those people who are members or leaders of these parties showed up in those protests, and they were boo’d out. So I cannot say that this makes sense.

TFSR: I don’t know how much that theory that the Western EU liberal establishment is trying to control is a product of the ruling party, the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). Aren’t they also saying that the protests are a product of…

Marko: Yes, but those two narratives are compatible. The opinion of some of the leftist people is almost the same as the ruling party’s view. In this sense, it’s problematic. But I think also, that even if there is a narrative like that, even if it’s true that some Green Parties or some Western establishment want to use this protest, we shouldn’t recognize that as their struggle. It is our struggle, and we should fight and take it, not pacify ourselves with this idea.

TFSR: There was another law alongside the Expropriation Law. That was another point of contention that the government seemed to back down on, that concerned popular intercession in the process. Wasn’t there a public mandate?

Marko: That was a referendum. The problem with this Law of Referendum is when this referendum is legal, and when it is not? If there are only 100 people, they can make a referendum, it doesn’t matter if other people are boycotting the referendum. And that is a problem. But the biggest problem is the idea to pass the Appropriation Law. I think this is an introduction to the neoliberal economy.

TFSR: Again, tens of thousands of people in the streets, the government laughed and said, “this isn’t going to happen”. But in fact, Belgrade and tons of other places were shut down for hours at a time. It seems like quite a victory for pushing back the appropriation law, but is Rio Tinto still hovering as an option?

Marko: To make it clear, the blocking of the streets was only two weeks. It was two weeks’ weekends. It was not two months, but before that, there were different protests in the streets. In the end, the government saw it as a danger because they saw their target groups are involved also in this protests, not only, as they thought, the western and liberal citizens but there are also working-class people. And they have the vocabulary of the working class when they are talking to the people. They saw it as a danger because elections are coming in April. They stopped it immediately. There is still potential that something will come up. People aren’t stopping. Some organizations stopped, but still, a lot of people are protesting. We will see what will happen at the end.

TFSR: Fingers crossed.

Could you talk a bit about the work of resisting the far right in Serbia? What sorts of formations are around? And what sort of problems do they make?

Marko: We have a couple of pretty problematic groups. We have a lot of small groups that don’t have big political danger, but they are still dangerous in terms of attracting people. We also have this organization that was running for elections and they now they accepted some new strategies to introduce the far right, like animal liberation, etc. That is something new here in Serbia because it’s a more traditionalist country, which is used to engage in socially accepted struggles, but now these far-right groups introduce Western ideas, because I saw it in the West, here I’ve never seen it before. One of the dangerous groups is Leviathan/ Levijatan, which is an animal protection and a Nazi group that has lots of opportunities to go on state media. They have opened doors to state media and they use it well. They have pretty bad language, they have a mafia style of talking. Some of these groups are connected to the mafia, historically, it was also like that, all Nazi groups were connected with the mafia and with some social struggles. They are introducing this mafia language, which is interesting to some kids, how they talk, how to be tough, which is dangerous in a way. On the other hand, they have an intellectual limitation and they will fall apart pretty soon, even though they have existed for five or six years.

TFSR: Can we stick to that for just a moment? Because it’s interesting, the Leviathan movement is an interesting thing. Being an animal rights organization that is distinctly anti-human immigration? It seems like maybe they have this idea that there’s a Pure Serbia, where humans and animals and plants, it’s like the ecological fascist crossover.

Marko: You can say that. You are right, when you say these groups are anti-immigrant, they’re pretty much active in marching and hunting immigrants around the city. They have an idea of animals, pure race, things like that. They were even going to some minority groups like Roma groups, taking their dogs with a pretext of them not being treated well.

TFSR: Do they participate in the anti-vax movement also?

Marko: The Leviathan group was in coalition with one of the most famous anti-vax parties, but as themselves, they don’t talk too much about it. There are other far-right groups. Leviathan is no longer in this coalition. The grandfather or the leader of the group was a famous internationalist partisan, he participated in the Spanish Civil War. He was a member of the German Communist Party and Yugoslavian Communist Party. He was also a publisher, before World War II he owned bookstores all around Serbia. With the privatization, his grandchild got it all back. All these companies were appropriated by the state and were used for the public good in the socialist era. But after socialism, they had to give it back so this guy has a lot of money.

TFSR: Did he get that big communist publishing money?

Marko: Yeah. [laughs] And he claimed he never saw his grandfather as a communist. He has a very strong stance against communism. The other thing, his family is a very famous Jewish family, and he’s also a Jewish guy who claimed that he’s not Jewish, he was baptized in Orthodox Church, and he changed his beliefs. This is maybe something psychological, which all Nazi people have in common.

TFSR: Thanks for going with that. You were gonna say about other groups that are causing problems?

Marko: Yeah, there is a group called Kormilo Srbija [Serbian Helming], another is Belgrade Nationalists, and Zentropa Srbija [Central Europe, Serbia]. Kormilo started their activism back in 1916, or something. And they are affiliated with Italian Nazi movements, the CasaPound squat. A lot of Italians come to visit them. But in later years, they’re mostly doing some humanitarian work, trying to be socially accepted and introduce their work to young people who want to fight for Kosovo.

TFSR: They’re like autonomous nationalists inspired by Ezra Pound, right?

Marko: Something like that. Zentropa evolved from Kormilo. It’s a new group that has some people from the old group. For example, Gajinovic, these people are pretty much lifestyle, which is also interesting for Serbia, they have introduced a lifestylist nationalist thing, like alt-right. They’re using a lot of ideas from the leftist scene, they even admire Makhno and sometimes Marx. But they’re a far-right group.

TFSR: Are they third positionist, you would say? Like they draw in some of the social elements of those?

Marko: Something like NAM. I don’t know if you have it in the US. I know there was National Anarchist Movement. I think something like that. When I read those ideologists, it was actually the same. It’s something new here and it’s very exciting for the younger population because they have stickers etc. This is also bizarre, most of these stickers are Western, they have like this “Boer Lives Matter”, like South African nationalism. Nobody knows about South Africa, especially in this scene, you know. Even “Kyle Was Right” and so on, about Kyle Rittenhouse.

So, now we’ll talk about the famous far-right guy from the US, Rundo. He also is responsible for getting into the scene. But it’s interesting if we are mentioning Rundo, that he was able to connect all these groups because of his charisma. Some of these groups are totally un-connectable because a lot of pro-Kosovo groups are more into Russian side of imperialism, they even advocate uniting Serbia with Russia. Rundo is coming from the West, he went to Ukraine, participating in joint actions with Azov Battalion, some fight clubs, which is totally opposite. He was fighting a lot of those people from the far right in the front in the war against the Ukrainian people for the Russian side. But he was able to connect them. That was something very interesting. People started to paint graffiti in English, which is unimaginable here because nationalists are generally pro-Cyrillic, anti-Western. It’s unimaginable how he made it.

Also, the guy who brought him here is one of the guys who is also a Western-oriented Nazi who lived in Sweden and the US for a short time. I think he brought Rundo here and they have clothing companies, both of them. They have pretty much their security, their income, and their activism through different clothing companies. But not only that, they introduced these “antiantifa” slogans, not only to right-wing groups but now they are accepted even in some football fan groups. We have two biggest football fan groups in Serbia, which is Partisan and Red Star. Now they have started wearing these T-shirts, which is totally bizarre. I’m telling you about this for you to imagine the impact they have. I cannot say that they made many street actions except graffiti but only the distribution of brands has a big impact.

TFSR: That’s cultural intervention.

Just to say a few words about Rundo. This was the founder of the Rise Above Movement. He was facing federal charges for crossing state lines in the US to engage in violence on the West coast in 2017 in the Battle of Berkeley, as well as in, I don’t know if he was in Anaheim, but a few other spots around Southern California. And those charges had been dismissed in a federal court. But in the meantime, he went into international exile and someone from Bellingcat thinktank had been able to track him down to Belgrade and get him deported to Bosnia beginning of this year, supposedly for three years. But then Bellingcat just did another expose where they said, “Actually, he’s still in Belgrade. We found these videos of him and these promo photos from his clothing line that show graffiti and we can see him working out on his balcony”. The Federal Court has rescinded the dismissal of his case. He now could be extradited to the US to face charges. A bunch of the other Rise Above people are in prison right now for fighting in Charlottesville in 2017. It’s really interesting to hear about how the trash from the US got brought to Serbia and is polluting the scene in Serbia. But also networking the far right in these ways, also the Patriot Front group that just did a march in Washington DC and then I guess got attacked or something. One thing that Rob Rundo does is runs Media2Rise, it’s his media company and they were videographing the march, they do the video for far-right groups like Patriot Front. There’s this really clear international connection.

Marko: He was on the run from all these charges from the US, and then he went to South America. He was active there and in a couple of countries in Europe. I’m sure about Ukraine, and I think Bulgaria. This is something that contradicts the narrative here. We weren’t aware for maybe eight months that he was here. Actually, there was some funny graffiti of his US Nazi group, Rise Above Movement.

So he made some graffiti with their faces. I have a lot of friends from the US who live here. The graffiti has that Rise Above website, so we checked up and we saw something strange and then we saw him, we were not sure who he was. At one moment, we saw an American antiantifa graffiti. An antifa group from Berlin destroyed it and he repainted it the next day and recorded himself. This is something very important for American far-right groups to show that they can do graffiti because graffiti here is not forbidden like in the US. There are no strict laws, you can get some minor offense for that. To me, he seems like a total no-show guy. I cannot talk explicitly about what we all know here about his movements but he is a very funny guy.

Even if he’s here now, I don’t think he can be active anymore. You mentioned at the beginning of this year, he was expelled from Serbia to Bosnia. And now there is new information that he is here. Even if he is here, he can not go out because he is forbidden here. So his activism is not impacting too much. I’m following all these Nazi groups that are active in Serbia. He’s not active. He is active in producing t-shirts, and in the sense is dangerous, he’s bothering a lot of people. After all, he’s a symbol of fascism today, because he’s a very charismatic person that impacts a lot of people, has this closing company, but right now, many more other groups are more dangerous. He’s totally passive. I think he doesn’t know yet that his career is done. The biggest thing he can do is this public showing off, like “I can do this, media follows me, I’m very famous”. Of course, you can do this for some time, but then you have to be really underground if you’re willing to do these kinds of activities. But we’ll see, I cannot predict.

His important role here was that he united these different groups of Belgrade nationalists, which involve four or five different Nazi groups, and they are doing Mladic graffiti, war criminals graffiti. These groups are more dangerous here and have much bigger political potential. Lately, we are concerned much more with those.

TFSR: Well, definitely connecting them up and sharing tools between the groups is a scary proposition for anyone.

Marko: Also, when he was expelled from Serbia for the first time in March this year, all these groups stopped their networking, they’re still active, but not so much as when he was here. They split again, even if they’re together, they’re a much smaller amount of people.

TFSR: The far-right seems to really need one individual to focus on. And when that collapses, their focus on status and having a pinnacle or a leader seems to break down into little groups then competing to be the big dog.

Marko: Exactly. This was a perfect example of it. When Rundo was there, you could see their political potential, their will to act. But after this, you don’t see that. They are doing a lot of stuff, but they are not focused as they were when Rundo was active here.

TFSR: I wonder if you have any insights or want to say some words about the state of the left in the former Yugoslavia, and some challenges that you’ve seen, and what you see as possibilities?

Marko: I wanted to share some knowledge about the context here because Serbia was part of ex-Yugoslav National Federation, and those were socialist countries with an authoritarian leader, but at that period, despite that, the sense of unity and nationalism… There was no nationalism at the time, you couldn’t be nationalist, which is like a big thing today. In terms of equality and equity is was a pretty high standard. But also, under the Titoist regime, people didn’t follow the USSR side, he split and wanted to make his own socialist country, he didn’t believe in a real communist idea in those areas in Serbia and the Balkans because people are not so educated, and they believe it’s easier for people to believe in some imaginary personality icon, than in being organized themselves under communist principles. He understood this. He made it all his own way but the problem is he couldn’t do it alone. So, the US government some Western countries also supported him. There were a lot of problems in terms of how this ideology will survive. In the end, it split because of nationalism, it was not strong. When Tito died, everybody was thinking that maybe Tito was supporting only Serbs or only Croats, and nationalist tensions emerged in this area. People generalize communist ideas and something bad that produced a very bad reputation and it is not an accepted idea anymore. Something that people don’t believe, they were betrayed.

TFSR: That’s like people have difficulty promoting anti-capitalist politics because they get painted with the same brush and Titoist Yugoslavia?

Marko: Yeah. Even if you’re using terms like anti-capitalism, they see something wrong. Then after Tito, you have ex-Yugoslav countries split into two sides, the Western countries and the eastern bloc that are like using an anti-imperialist idea to advocate their own capitalism. And then you have countries that are okay with capitalism, but they promote socialism in some cases, but they’re with these western countries. And then, in Serbia, the biggest problem is that people would rather accept this anti-imperialist agenda of the current politicians because they believe that they are anti-capitalist but actually they are not. They’re capitalists because imperialism is always here, whether it’s Western or not. People are struggling to choose a position, they’re confused. They view politics very polarized, either you’re Western or anti-imperialist. Which is a problem of maturity. They are not politically mature yet.

Then, from the Western side we have too many Western-funded NGOs which gives other people from the Eastern countries a right to say, “we don’t want that”. It makes sense. But in the west-oriented ex-Yugoslavian countries, Croatia and Slovenia, there are some pretty good anarchist organizations, especially in Slovenia, that are active for a long time. They’re doing really well. But, for example, I have a lot of friends in Croatia from the punk scene. I know a lot of people there. And they are pretty much into this like reformist ideas, lifestylism, which is not good enough for the struggle. In Montenegro, it’s very bad. You have an anti-fascist movement, but it’s pretty much national liberation oriented, it’s not oriented to the liberation of the working class. And then Macedonia has some groups that are okay. Mostly, I’m focused on Serbia, so I can talk much more about the Serbian struggle. The biggest issue is that people who are influencing others by social media are much more focused on anti-imperialist struggle, which I think at the moment is not the right way because they’re not oriented against capitalism. Rather, it seems that they protect state capitalism and the status quo as fighters of the anti-imperialist country.

TFSR: Little bullies are still bullies, right? Even if they’re not the big ones.

Marko: Yes, but I think Serbia is not a little bully. Our culture is impacting all other ex-Yugoslavian little states. They view us as a little imperialist state. But this is very hard to say in the leftist scene here. It’s problematic when you say this, you are totally not right because other states are protected by Western countries, imperialist states. But it’s not all black and white.

TFSR: You start where you’re at geographically and because you have a shared history with a lot of people that are in Montenegro, or Slovenia, Croatia, or Bosnia and Herzegovina. There’s a shared past of a period when people had an imagination that we didn’t think about our ethnicity, the particular accent that we had, and the religion that we practiced, we were just all together. And I wonder how things like the Balkan Anarchist Book Fair that was going on for a few years that seemed to move between different places – was that a good project for building more solidarity between different scenes in different places?

Marko: Yes, for sure. I was in pretty much at most of these book fairs. This is something that helps our scene in general. Of course, there are some divisions, and some misunderstandings are always there. But I think is something good to have, although it wasn’t happening last year. When you mentioned Bosnia, I can say that right now it has a pretty strong anti-fascist group that is very important for us, because in World War II, resistance against Nazi occupation started from Bosnia. And it’s also someplace where you have the most diversity in terms of national identity, religion. They have a pretty pure revolutionary line, which is very interesting to see. They were very wounded by these wars. In terms of building a strong movement, they don’t have too much financial support, but there is probably something that we can learn from them. Because I see that they are rising from nothing there and there is a big future in Bosnia, we’ll see.

TFSR: That’s inspiring. Cool, thank you so much. It was really nice to meet you.

Marko: It was very nice to meet you, too.

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.