Rik Scarce is the author of the 1990 exploration of earth liberation and defense and the folks involved, entitled “Eco-Warriors: Understanding The Radical Environmental Movement”, which is still considered required reading in understanding radical eco-defense. At one point, he served 159 days in the Spokane jail for refusing to testify about his sources in his research on the Animal Liberation movement. Leslie James Pickering, co-owner of Burning Books in Buffalo, NY, is an author, activist and is a former spokesperson for the North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office. The following is a recording from November of 2017 at Burning Books of a conversation between Scarce and Pickering about property destruction, terrorism labels and the radical ecological movement. Rik and Leslie speak about definitions of violence, concerns around alienating the wider community and repercussions of militancy.
This conversation feels important to air as we stand at a crossroads here in the U.S. between the pandemic, an uprising to challenge police killings (primarily of Black and Brown bodies) and what role if any police should fill in our society, the collapse of the economy, the continued rise of political fascism, the de-platforming of racist statues, further internalization of the border and it’s logic, and global climate chaos that will likely make human life at this scale impossible. This power structure is amplifying difference and applying privileges and oppressions across that constructed spectrum as it always has, but it is in death throes and thus is made visible in all of it’s ugliness. For that reason, conversations about the serious needs to challenge basic assumptions and work through hard ideas feels important to me.
As usual, we invite listeners to check out the slightly longer podcast version online for free. To hear the questions and answers from the end of the presentation, you can check out the podcast. You can find more presentations from Burning Books plus an interview we did with Leslie a few years back about how they uncovered government surveillance at our website. You can learn more about their bookstore, including books by Pickering and Scarce at BurningBooks.com.
Justice4Jerry2020, Confederate Monuments + Repression During The Movement for Black Lives
This episode has three portions following a segment by anarchist prisoner, Sean Swain, about confederate monuments.
[00:02:31 – 00:09:32]
This episode warrants a general content warning for the mentioning of the murder by shooting of a Black man at the hands of the police.
[00:09:32 – 00:29:36]
First up we got the chance to sit down with Najiyyah Avery Williams, who is a community member, organizer, and mother of Jai Lateef Solveig Williams, also known as Lil Jerry. Jerry, who was a children’s book author, artist, musician, and a 35 year old father was brutally killed by the Asheville Police Department on July 2nd 2016 by Sgt Tyler Radford.
This interview happened outdoors in front of the courthouse and police station in downtown Asheville, where the city was powerwashing a DEFUND THE POLICE street mural which was done autonomously the previous day to honor the life of Jerry Williams, and to call attention to the culture of violence and silence that the police hide behind when they murder Black people. Visit our social media for pictures of this mural before it was taken down!
In this segment we talk about Lil Jerry’s life, his work, the circumstances surrounding his passing, racist violence and harrassment his family has received in the aftermath, and projects his mother is working on and would like to see for the future.
An article by Socialist Worker detailing the initial murder and how contradictions were evidenced at the get go.
To help support Justice for Jerry, which is trying to get his unfinished books published and will go to supporting his family, you can venmo to the handle @J4J2020, or follow them on social media platforms by searching Justice 4 Jerry 2020.
Rural Protest Against Racist Legacy
[00:29:36 – 00:39:10]
After Najiah, we’re happy to share a voice message we received from Gabriel from Tyrrell County, North Carolina, about a protest that happened on the 26th in Columbia, the county seat. Gabriel shares his experience of the protest in this tiny town, giving an insight into some rural experience of confronting confederate monuments and their legacy.
Michael Loadenthal on Repression During 2020 Uprising
[00:39:11 – 02:10:16]
In the third portion of this episode, you’ll hear Michael Loadenthal of The Prosecution Project, which maps how politics impacts the weight of criminal charges attached in the U.S. Michael talks about the scale of repression brought by local, state and federal law enforcement and ideas of resisting it during the uprising against police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others, the destruction of racist statues known variously as the rebirth of the Movement for Black Lives, or the #ACABSpring. For a great article on the subject, check out Mapping the State’s Strategy of Repression Against the Rebellion on IGD. Michael talks about the construction of federal felony charges for what would normally be smaller local charges, the use of grand juries to map social networks. He also shares thoughts about safer practices with social media, shifting dialogue around the role of police in society, the role of open source intelligence as well as surveillance technologies like drones and facial recognition.
In the past few weeks since the uprising in response to police killings of Black and Brown folks around Turtle Island, amazing chances have presented themselves and folks have seized opportunities. One great and unfolding circumstance is known as the CHAZ or CHOP, an autonomous zone and occupational protest surrounding a police precinct in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The area was opened to community redesign after nights of intense battles with the police leading to the department evacuating the East Precinct to crowds of people chanting “Every Day”, meaning they would continue surrounding the police building. In many ways, the ability of the community, including anarchists and other radicals, to be able to respond to the situation was possible because of the mutual aid work that had been being developed during the covid-19 pandemic and years of building relationships.
In this podcast special, you’ll hear a fresh conversation with D. D is a Black Anarchist who grew up in and around Capitol Hill district in Seattle. He talks for this chat about that neighborhood and adjacent Central District’s rebelliousness and conflictual history with the Eastern Precinct that the Seattle Police abandoned, about his knowledge of the protests of past weeks and the retreat of cops from their pen. D talks about the foundation of what has been called the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, aka CHAZ, aka Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (or CHOP), or as D calls it the Chopped City CHAZ. You’ll also hear a tiny bit about the history of occupations during protests in the city, engagement with the zone and indigenous communities in the area, the idea of monolithic Black Leadership, self-defense against the far right, the reproduce-ability of the auonomous zone model and other topics. We’re going to try to bring you more stories from this place soon and are super thankful to D for sharing his perspectives.
note: I was informed by my cohost William that in fact the retaining wall in front of the fourth precinct in Minneapolis that I was referring to was actually constructed by the Minneapolis PD, hence why it looks janky as shit.
// Note from the transcriber: I got rid of some conversational language on part of the speakers, words ‘So, like, well’ and so on. This has created a text that reads a little more formally than the interview itself. The reason for this is that I want to make this as clear as possible to folks who want to read it but are still developing a fluency in English. Apologies for any loss of tone or voice on part of the speakers. If you are studying English and find that it works for you, you may enjoy reading along to get a better feel for the interview.
I put special emphasis on removing words that can be used for approximation when they were being used as placeholders, such as ‘like’ and ‘kind of,’ since without hearing the flow of the conversation meaning might be obscured. I also cleaned up some sentences where the speaker backtracks and corrects themselves, or broke up long flows of speech into shorter punctuated sentences, to give the reader an indication of where an idea wraps up. For example “ …Where I doubt any of the white officers have any roots in Seattle. And Seattle, they’re like cutting edge on shit like community policing and community engagement.“ //
TFSR: Would you be able to identify yourself, maybe what political tendency you identify with, your relationship with Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, maybe whatever name and pronouns you prefer?
D: Sure. My Name is D, I use he/him pronouns. I’m a Black anarchist born and raised in Seattle, I grew up at the bottom on the east side of the Capitol Hill so I’m really familiar with the history of the area.
TFSR: Thanks for taking the time to chat, I really appreciate it.
D: Yeah, no problem.
TFSR: So there’s this occupation, this autonomous zone that was formed in the Capitol Hill district. Can you talk a little bit about what the protests were like in Seattle following the police murder of George Floyd and other Black folks, and what it looked like in Capitol Hill?
D: It started off with the Friday night protest, the Friday following the burning of the third precinct. I had actually just got back into town and went in not knowing what to expect. It was kind of directionless, some targets were hit that made sense for people, like an Amazon Go store was hit which reflected the sheer hated of Jeff Bezos. Then it was a very confrontational atmosphere in the crowd but also [it was] kind of not knowing what to do or where to go and nightfall happened the demographics of the crowd got very younger and much more Black and there was a newfound energy.
People were going around downtown Seattle and made their way up the hill until like 2am in the morning. The following Saturday were more organized protests that were in the heart of the shopping district in downtown, and before the organized event could really get underway the confrontation with the police occurred and things got really wild throughout the evening. That’s where you see the burning cops cars and the Nordstrom’s getting hit and the different looting occurring downtown. That Sunday, the next day, there were hundreds and hundreds of people out on Capitol Hill marching around and the cops wouldn’t let people downtown. Groups would break off in like groups of 100 and try to find a different way downtown while another group would stay behind at each police line that would be formed.
Over the course of maybe like seven hours people finally made their way downtown in different, smaller groups. Simultaneously with that happening, on the east side of Lake Washington in Bellevue, Bellevue Square Mall got hit and looted with seemingly a coordinated group of people there where the police didn’t know how to respond. All they could do was watch a they got hit and looted. I wasn’t there for any of that, I have no idea how that even happened or came about. It was cool to hear about.
Then, on the following Monday, somehow the line, the gathering point for the protest and the goal was the East Precinct on Capitol Hill. That’s kind of where the siege began and it kind of just stayed there.
TFSR: Can you talk a bit about Capitol Hill: the dynamics in that neighborhood, who all lives there, and what standing conflicts are like with the police? Just to name a reference that I have, I was in Seattle for the protests in ’99 and I remember some rad shit happening in that neighborhood. I think that’s where there was a RCP bookstore or whatever. There were a lot of marches, a lot of burning dumpsters in the street and I remember the difficulty of transiting between downtown and neighborhoods like that because those roads that go over the highway are really easy choke points to block off for the police.
D: Yeah, I can give you a quick rundown. I want to say it was like in the ’50s they got all this funding to build I-5 and they basically cut the side of the hill and built the freeway. In doing so the built these overpasses to get to downtown that you were just talking about, which creates these choke points. I think there’s four main ones on Capitol Hill, popular ways, then there’s maybe two more a little bit north in what people call the hospital district or Pill Hill. It’s a pain because you could go from like one overpass to another and if you have a crowd to take the streets it’s kind of hard for the cops to navigate around to get to the choke point. But I feel like they’ve got really good at spreading out their force and being ready for it and not getting stuck.
The population on Capitol Hill, for me in like the ‘90s and the late ‘80s up to the 2000’s was a very counterculture scene. Capitol Hill is also on the edge of the historically Black neighborhood so there was always this counter-culture/Black-culture mingling that’s existed on Capitol Hill. Grunge came out of there, a lot of punk kids, D.I.Y. people, and the hipsters were a really big thing. Especially post ’99 the hipsters moved into Capitol Hill a lot, and at that point I think Capitol Hill had cemented it’s neighborhood legacy as being like the queer neighborhood. So the hipsters started coming in and started changing a lot of the demographics, it became more hip, more expensive to live on the hill.
TFSR: More white?
D: Yeah, more white, for sure. And even the whiteness changed, it wasn’t like counterculture white anymore, it was conformist but like indie. It’s kind of hard to describe. I always use this reference of being in New York and going to a talk learning about how the hipster culture was bad and that was the first time I realized what a hipster was. I realized they were the ones destroying Capitol Hill, it was weird to go all the way across the country to get a name for what was happening to my town. Now it’s a really interesting demographic because there’s definitely a lot of tech money and a lot of single, or young couples. They’re very liberal and progressive and from those ranks you get a lot of ‘allies,’ a lot of people who want to be down, but you also get those who aren’t at all. The contest-ability of the neighborhood is lost, or i thought I was lost up until recently.
But it was always known for protests. Occupy was camped out there, a lot of the more confrontational protests post-Ferguson were up there and the East Precinct in particular was the police precinct which oversaw the Central District, which is the historically Black neighborhood so there’s a very deep-seated relationship, bad relationship, with the Black community in Seattle and that particular precinct. Like gang unit used to operate out of there, one of the more powerful Black churches is like three blocks away from there. So it’s very dynamic but it’s a very controlled neighborhood.
TFSR: Can you talk a little bit more about your understanding of who the cops are and where they come from? Like are they folks out of Tacoma, are they out of like Bellevue or other suburbs, or are they people – if you want to call them people – who lived and grew up in Seattle?
D: I don’t think any of them grew up in Seattle. I’m probably wrong, there might be a few. A lot of them are from surrounding areas. The cops that I know of what area they live in, most of them are from like Sammamish, which is east of Bellevue, and Bellevue is east of Seattle across the lake, so like up almost into the mountains and passes there are little towns up there and bougie enclaves up there. I wouldn’t be surprised that some of them live as far south as Tacoma or as far north as Everett or even further north, in some of the areas you could get some land, rural areas or whatever. I doubt very few come from Seattle, if any at all. I feel like some of the higher-ups maybe will have their kids in some of the more bougie private high school around, but that’s about it.
TFSR: That’s a pretty common trajectory in a lot of cities police departments. Particularly if there’s concentrations of people of color or communities of color and then you’ve got a mostly white police force that comes in from the suburbs and has absolutely no connection to their lives that their work has.
D: Yeah, Seattle’s interesting. I don’t know about other locations regarding this, but I think the cops of color are probably the ones who are most rooted in Seattle or have the most history and relations to Seattle. Where I doubt any of the white officers have any roots in Seattle. And Seattle, they’re like cutting edge on shit like community policing and community engagement. So like when Trayvon Martin died there was a Black officer, her name is officer Cookie, she had just taken over a community started chess program. Basically by like getting the library where it was held to not hold it anymore, and then took city funding to start her own chess club in the same place and talked to all the parents and had the kids come to her chess club.
So that had been going on for a few months and then when Trayvon Martin died she took photo ops holding a bag of skittles and an iced tea can and stuff like that. And this is a Black woman. And this is a few years back, and even now it’s Carmen Best who’s Chief of Police in Seattle, a Black woman who can hit the talking points like “my grandchildren are out in the protest” and “my son/daughter in law is out in the protest” and that type of stuff. But it’s there’s always been like, even in the neighborhood I grew up with, there was the Black officer who responded to every single call that was every made in the neighborhood. He was the first one there because he was the community liaison and so Seattle’s good for that – their community policing’s cutting edge.
TFSR: Some people in the listening audience may have heard the term ‘community policing’ in a positive way as like it’s a way to de-escalate situations and to decrease the likelihood of use of force through that way by officers, and cement conversations in neighborhoods or whatever, the smiling face of cops. When in fact it’s notably a counterinsurgency method.
D: Yeah, in Seattle it came directly out of Weed & Seed funding. Weed & Seed was a Department of Defense project [transcriber’s note – I checked, it’s Department of Justice] and it was literally like weed out the bad and seed the good. I experienced that growing up in the ‘90s, basically it was like they would send these community police officers or whatever into neighborhoods to build relationships with community councils, which were often grassroots organized, and would build these relationships and convince neighbors to snitch on each other. In doing so people, families, lost their homes. They literally get their homes taken away from them because their kids or families members were breaking the law, and they’d be turned in by neighbors. It was a very insidious program. And community policing was not the like…you know, I never once played basketball with a cop. But the cop would be sitting there staring at all the kids who were playing basketball at the park nearby and would know whose parents were who so it would make rounding up people easier for them, if anything. It created more divisions in our community if anything. It was insidious but it was also that happy, like shake hands, I’m here for you, here’s my direct line, give me a call if you see anything sketchy. Then as new neighbors came in and the gentrification picked up it was the white neighbors who were calling the cops on kids for doing what kids do.
TFSR: Well, to sort of switch gears back to the narrative of what happened in the runup to the police retreat from the east precinct, can you talk about that siege that you mentioned, what that looked like and how that panned out?
D: The police precinct’s on an intersection, so it’s a corner building. Basically a block down from the precinct the cops set up barricades, basically in every direction and the western barricade is where people gathered first, and they kind of kept gathering. It was pretty amazing, one chant that really stuck out to me was “Every Day” and people chanted it all the time, they would just chant “Every Day.” At first it made me chuckle, like, okay, we’re not gonna be out here every day. But people just kept coming and kept staying and they’d be at that barricade which wasn’t a super hard barricade, it was like a metal bike rack. People would be there for hours and hours and then the cops would find some excuse or just get worn out or find some excuse and throw like a flash bang or pepper spray people, people would retreat maybe twenty to 100 feet, then you would hear the chant “Every Day” and people would go right back to the front line again. It was that over and over for a few days.
One of the things, the anarchistic intervention in that, there was a call to build a vigil for all the people who had been killed since the uprising started and we built one and it gave the crowd a place to be emotional and process everything. It was about halfway down the block from where that main front was against the police barricade. I would see people leave the crowd, go and kneel in front of these candles and flowers or light a candle and process everything, and then go right back into the crowd. The crowd size would fluctuate, be small in the morning and late at night and then throughout the day it would get bigger and then into the evening it would get really big and more confrontational. It just got to a point where people were sick of the barricade so they removed it. That led to a pitched street battle and the cops pushed the crowd back three blocks but every time they’d try to make a new line you’d hear the can’t “Every Day” and people would re-form. It was different for me ‘cause I’d never been in a situation like that, it wasn’t a march where you were playing cat-and-mouse with the cops. It was like, they’d throw their flash-bangs, people would try and throw them back or try and retreat, and then if you got shrapnel or stuff in your eyes you’d go to the side and you’d get the care that you’d need and then you’d go right back into it.
So they pushed us back like three blocks, then something really strange happened: they started conceding territory, it was like maybe forty-five minutes where they slowly backpedaled all the three blocks they had pushed us. After they had re-established the barricades and got on the other side of the barricades, then it was like we were right back in the same position we had been in for days. Maybe I missed something but over the course of those days people started setting up mutual aid tents because we had a consistent place. So there was a ton of medics everywhere, as soon as someone would be hurt you’d turn around and scream for the medic and they’re there instantly, probably already taking care of the person who wounded. There was snacks, there was water, there was people consoling – like a mental health tent that was set up early on. People were willing to take care of those places and man those places. The medics had a whole area set up and were rotating shifts and were everywhere. So that helped sustain the siege.
The day after we got pushed back those few blocks, the next day when the crowd got pretty substantial and it got to be kind of late but not quite sunset yet, maybe like 7:30, people completely removed the barricades and passed them through the crowd that time, and inched closer and closer to the police. Every time the police would yell a warning over the blowhard it would either be “Fuck the Police,” a loud “Boo,” or the “Every Day” chant again.
TFSR: [laughter] It’s so ominous.
D: Yeah, it was great. A lot of chants I feel like are used to help us rejuvenate our own spirits and keep our own morale up whereas I feel like this “Every Day” thing was like we’re going to ruin the morale of the cops. It was a siege. I think it was effective.
Yeah, so that day they get really close to the cops – they’re now like a foot away from the cops, the frontline of the crowd. Like directly under the spotlight, directly next to the sound system. There’s basically no more room for the cops to give up, no more space that they could relinquish to us. Then they came, and the day before the day before the mayor banned tear gas. I think the police were a little more on edge and trying to be a little more restrained in their tactics. At that point all restraint went out the window, they started using flash-bangs and tear gas. This time the National Guard was actively with them, not just being behind them but actively in their lines and their ranks and they pushed us back down the street and in doing so split the crowd on two sides. Immediately when that happened all the old police barricades got repurposed to protect our flanks and the backside, and I heard that there were other people at the other police barricades that were set up at different areas. We regrouped under the chant of “Every Day,” people took care of themselves and were able to maintain the siege even though we were divided a little bit. And that went on I think until two or three in the morning, and then the next day there was all these reports of the cops preparing to abandon and the news was publishing photos of moving trucks, and then the cops ceded the precinct, they boarded it up and left. I don’t think a lot of people realized on the ground was that those barricades we had created in order to protect our flanks and our sides became the boundary of the zone immediately after. It kind of just happened.
I don’t many of the anarchists in town were ready for it, or prepared. I don’t think many of the activists or the radicals that had been on the street for years were ready or anticipating that by any means. I think it caught a lot of us off guard in the best possible way.
TFSR: Yeah, I don’t think we have many examples of something that feels like a success or a win when confronting the police. They basically are out there usually out there to distract us and tire us out or injure us. I have a friend who spent a lot of time in Chile during the uprising there and they were talking about how a lot of people on Turtle Island don’t realize this but this is something they saw in so-called Chile, there are bodies in those uniforms and that will tire out and they will give up. They put up this visage of being never ending sources of power and determination and whatever else but ultimately they will tire out and there’s more of us than there are of them. It must have been a crazy thing to see like suddenly the footprint of your self-defense became the outline of this little space.
D: Yeah, and the composition of the crowd was like – it’s weird because everyone’s in masks, so it’s even hard to find friends. I think it was also because the crowd had seen what had happened that Saturday when things were on fire and being looted and they saw the precinct burn in Minneapolis and they saw looting occur other places, that there was a level of militancy that didn’t necessarily line up with people’s political ideology. Like Bernie Bros with gas masks. It was just absurd to see what was going on, how people came, you had like sorority girls in training with like White Claw at the front-line screaming at cops, for the good and the bad that that makes. It was a completely heterogeneous crowd and that might be an understatement. It was so different.
TFSR: I want to ask about what you think about where folks who were there were coming from, and the impacts of cohesion being formed in the neighborhood a little bit later. Since the police actually pulled out their stuff there’s a lot of discussion in media like “Are they going to burn it?” The socialist City Council member was talking about turning it into a community center, there’s been a lot of discussion about what would happen and it’s been a while now since the space has been there. Can you talk about immediately after the cops had left and the cops realized what had happened how the space transformed? There have been gardens built, right, for instance?
Yeah, so initially I wasn’t on the ground that morning, I showed up later in the afternoon. But it seemed like people were a little bit unsure what to do and a few people who had been kind of like chosen by the city as “leaders” didn’t want it to burn down and other people were unsure if it should burn down or if we should even there the premises. So just like nothing happened. Which the next day kind of made a weird split, the first split between the Chief of Police and the Mayor because the next morning the Chief of Police went out and made a video directly to the rank and file saying that it wasn’t her decision to withdraw from the precinct and kind of throwing the Mayor under the bus when talking to her rank and file cops. It seems like they were expecting it to burn down and they were preparing for that because all the press conferences and talking points the next day said that, that they had got word from the FBI that there were plans to burn it down. Weirdly it might have been a strategic advantage to not do it, we’re really gonna know the answer to that later, like after this all unfolds.
In terms of the area it was cool to see because there were already mutual aid tents set up, the vigil was set up, the medic tents were set up, people immediately started to use this cop free zone to do what they wanted, and started taking care of each other. The zone is attached to a pretty big park on Capitol Hill, Cal Anderson park, so people immediately started setting up tents on the soccer field that’s there. Just past the soccer field there’s a small grass hill and people immediately started building a garden that grows every day. Around the garden now a tent city kind of popped up around it, and just past that area is an even bigger grass field and people started woking on that field, growing mushrooms I believe. Then some people planted nut trees along the sides, the full length of the park. Every surface became a canvas, basically. I think on that first day when the zone was established someone came in with white paint and wrote “Black Lives Matter” really big across the length of the whole block. The next day local artists came and each one got a letter and they did their own art in the letter. It was all local artists who did it for free as far as I know. It’s a beautiful sight, you see art everywhere, people helping each other. It continued to grow in that manner to the point where last time I was there, they call themselves the ‘No-Cop Co-Op’ or something. There were people doing shopping, get toiletries, fresh produce, snacks and water, Gatorade and juice. They were handing out tote bags so people could do their shopping, it was unbelievable. Then directly in front of the precinct was a stage area, sometime there would be a literal stage there and bands performing. It became a place for speak outs and other organized events that continually tried to ground the space in the Black struggle, to make it so that identity was trying to staying there. I think it’s yet to be determined if that was a success or not. It definitely became like a tourist attraction on weekends. There’s a nightly rotation at the barricades and crews that are doing that, who maintain that.
TFSR: In terms of like the barricades and defense of the space, I’ve heard about community patrols to stop white supremacists attacks. Can you talk briefly about this fear and say what you can about what security’s looked like? Do you have an honest impression of – like, the right wing has all these talking points (and probably a lot of centrists and liberals) about ‘lawlessness’ and ‘violence being created in the space’ and I have no sense from out here if that’s an on the ground reality or if I just have my ideological perspective that people tend to take care of each other if they have the ability to.
D: One thing I can’t stress enough is that the on-the-ground-reality is constantly in flux there, but in terms of your question, the barricades themselves were a response initially to street battle with the cops and then became more fortified, but they’re very modular so people can open them up for cars that need to come in for whatever reason. There’s no checkpoint, anyone could just walk in. I think the difficulty with that is that the heterogeneous nature of the crowd, there were a lot of liberals and a lot of progressive types who were still very adamant about free speech and so as the right-wingers and the alt-right and the white supremacists have been trickling in to see what’s there, confronting them has often leads to a couple of people from the crowd trying to defend their right to be there and their right to free speech, often because they don’t understand who these people are or the history or the violence these people enact. So that’s very difficult. I think once you get enough people who know that or are with it they can get them out of the zone, but I’ve also witnessed some conservatives, maybe not alt-right or people who flirt with that, come to the space and are kind of like disappointed. One person vocalized that they felt lied to by the conservative media and they don’t know what to think anymore. Which was very interesting.
It’s hard, security, there’s different formations that I think if we knew ahead of time what was gonna happen we would have been more organized and maybe politicized those barricades a little bit more. I think again it was like, woah, we were just given this zone, we didn’t expect it. But I think because of the history of Seattle and the radical organizing over the last 15 years in that town people kind of fell into natural roles that they knew needed to be done, maybe natural is the wrong word but it just fell into place.
What safety means in that that space is very different in that space than the rest of the city, for sure. I’ve had multiple like femme bodied people who have mentioned that for them it’s harder to actually confront people who are being inappropriate or touching them in that space because they’re surrounded by liberals, whereas if they were just on the street they could actually do something. They would actually feel a little bit safer defending themselves, which is interesting. Not having police is a very big thing and I don’t think a lot of people who go to that zone are ready to deal with that reality. And it became especially difficult during the weekends when it was such a tourist zone, you’d get a lot of well-off drunk people, or well-off liberals who are coming to see what it’s about and don’t understand a lot of the politics of the alt-right and the white supremacists factions. There’s the video of the armed Black man with his crew running around on the night when we thought some Proud Boys were coming to town. They were kind of behaving like police, they never like physically kicked anyone out but you do have a machismo or a macho culture that’s associated with that crew that’s problematic. It’s hard to describe.
TFSR: It seems like a conversation. I think the way that people keep themselves and their communities safe is imperfect and shifting, and like you said stuff on the ground is shifting. If you’ve got like a peace police instance, not saying the crew with guns are peace police, where people are experiencing getting inappropriately touched or getting attention they don’t want or they can’t just defend themselves and be like “Get out of my space, get out of my business, leave me alone,” because you’ve got liberals who are like “Woah, woah, woah, peace peace!” That’s weird.
D: Yeah, everything’s strange. I wish there were more conversations about the difference between peace policing and self-defense, and more time and avenues to have those conversations with people. I think most of the people who were really invested in the space were having those conversations but I think the overall appeal as a tourist attraction made it hard to really figure out solutions to these problems.
TFSR: Yeah, it sounds kind of like some sort of Exarchia situation where they have to deal with a bunch of drunk western tourists wandering in and being like, “I hear this is a cop free zone.”
D: Yeah, exactly.
TFSR: So at different point’s there’s been talk of there being demands from the commune or from the autonomous zone. Are you aware of any decision making forum in the neighborhood and if so can you talk a little bit about the process and the makeup of it?
D: There was an attempt, they tried to do a general assembly to help facilitate some kind of way to make decisions and breakout groups so smaller groups could figure out what they wanted to do. It seemed like it was going somewhere after a couple of days, but again just the flux of people all the time made that model really hard to implement and people who were on the ground were making autonomous decisions, the people who were really invested in the space. In terms of the demands it seems like three demands came out of the city of Seattle as a whole, or the communities of Seattle as whole which were: defund the police, fund the communities, and then basically amnesty for all protesters or rioters, so, free ‘em all and drop all charges. It seems like ‘Defund the Police’ is a national call, so it seems that that was really popular, and the idea of funding community police was also really popular. I think a lot of people were down the third demand of amnesty for all but maybe when they talked wouldn’t push that line or that would be the one that kind of got left out sometimes. There was one speak out early on in particular where someone was really attentively listening and compiled a list of I think 19 demands out of the while speak out that’s like pretty exhaustive, everything form like free college to like closing the juvenile detention center, no kids in jail anymore, increased diversion plans, defunding the police, I think releasing nonviolent offenders, decriminalizing sex work and all drugs, it’s like pretty exhaustive. That’s really the only demands I’ve seen that come out of the zone.
Right now we’re in an interesting spot because there are certain people who are working with the city and small businesses and they’re working with I think like the Department of Transportation, the Fire Chief and like some of these small businesses nearby and one person from one of these mutual aid tents. They’ve opened up the zone basically, that’s currently underway right now. It seems like they’re trying to make it like a pedestrian zone area. They are allowing the garden to still exist, I think the tent city still exists as of now. But these leaders have been picked out of people who have been on the ground. I think they’re often picked out in the morning when there are very little people around but I’m not 100% sure about that. To me it’s interesting because the city didn’t roll in the mayor or the city council or the police, it was like the fire department and the transportation or department of utilities or something, the aspects of the city that people don’t have a hostility to naturally, they were the ones that came in and made these negotiations to open it up for emergency vehicles, which is I think for the most part and for the average person a really hard thing to fight against. It’s hard to tell the fire department, “No you can’t have the street to put out fires,” or you don’t think of the department of transportation as being, um..
D: Yeah. Or doing the work of the mayor or the police. So that’s happened but it’s also increased some people’s antagonism again which is great. There are certain barricades that people are trying to keep erected and some people are feeling duped, honestly. They’re feeling like they got played by these department heads.
TFSR: Are people staying in conversation about that? It sounds like it, if you’re hearing it, people aren’t just trowing up their hands and walking away.
D: Yeah, it’s interesting. I feel like the anarchists and other radicals have maybe been a little burnt out and are exhausted to a degree. I’ve felt this way a bunch, where I’m kind of like “okay, that’s the end of that” and then something happens and brings the energy back. So I’m hoping for something like that. The precinct is still there, there’s an underground tunnel to the precinct so every once in a while you’ll see a cop in the building doing stuff. But figuring out what to do with that building beforehand or making sure it doesn’t get back into the hands of the police is a big priority for a lot of the people. The zone is one of these areas where some people are really, really invested with it and are going to hold it down til the last dying breath. Where other people might just be like, so much energy is going to this and our demands aren’t really being discussed with the city or leveraged.
TFSR: Well someone could always just like liberate a cement truck or whatever and fill in that tunnel pretty easy. [laughter] I saw pictures of a precinct in Minneapolis that just got a bunch of cinder blocks sealed up in front of the entrance in front of it.
D: That’s hilarious.
What’s been nice is that here people are like ‘how moveable are these things?” Anything in the zone people are like ‘we could do with it what we want’ which is really cool, that mentality is still there, it’s just how the energy turns. I’m personally waiting for the “Every Day” chants again.
TFSR: Weird question but is it CHAZ or CHOP? What’s the difference?
D: Uh…man, I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m up for either really, I also just don’t really care. The CHAZ thingI think was like a media branding more than anything. I want to say it came out of the Stranger because it sounds like something that they would do. The Stranger is the local, weird independent press that goes in-between being friendly with anarchists to despising anarchists. It seems like a very corporate brands so CHOP was the response to that. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about the CHAZ, the name. So the argument for the CHOP was that it’s like Capitol Hill Occupied Protest is somehow less offensive to the Duwamish people. Which from what I’ve heard the Duwamish people didn’t really care what this area was called. The Duwamish people are one of the indigenous people who were the original caretakers of what is now Seattle. There’s another argument I heard where someone tried to say that ‘occupied protest’ is more part of the Black radical tradition than autonomous zone, but I couldn’t follow the logic or history they were presenting. I think part of it was that some people felt like the name CHAZ came from the outside and they just wanted to re-brand it for that reason. Some people talked about CHAZ sounding super white and wanting to re-brand it for that reason. I’ve been referring to it as Chopped City CHAZ just to kind of like laugh at the name. But yeah, it’s interesting. I feel like the name being contested is reflective of the on the ground scene where there’s this contact flux and people are having identity problems, I don’t want to go as far as to call it a crisis but the space is still trying to figure out what it is.
TFSR: And the people that you – Suquamish, is that what you were saying?
TFSR: That’s the S-U-Q-U-A-M-I-S-H?
That’s Suquamish. Duwamish, so yeah, the area of Seattle from the history I know, totally could be wrong, was a shared space from a lot of tribes: Mukilteo, Suquamish, Duwamish, Snohomish, I’m forgetting a bunch probably, maybe the Puyallup. The treaty as far as I know was signed with the Mukilteo people but I could be wrong*. I’m just gonna stop talking about it because I don’t want to mess up anything.
The Duwamish people are, the government considers them a part of the Mukilteo tribe but they’ve been fighting for federal recognition for a long time and they have a longhouse in west Seattle that was actually where the original settlers landed. Oftentimes the opening of an event you would recognize the Duwamish and Suquamish people as the original caretakers of the land. So those are the two that are often recognized as the original caretakers.
*transriber’s note – the treaty was signed in Mukilteo by a number of tribes
TFSR: We had someone come on the show and present an interview that they did with someone from up there who was talking about this community center that I think had an art collective – it was like Rising Star, I think was the name of the indigenous community space.
D: Was it Daybreak Star?
TFSR: Daybreak Star – yeah, I think so.
D: Yeah, that came out of the occupation of a military base. Seattle has a real strong history of occupations and getting those spaces. So Daybreak Star was one, I forget the name of the organization that runs it now.
TFSR: Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center…
D: Oh, okay. Then there’s El Centro De La Raza which is a Latinx community space that was occupied by Roberto Maestas and his crew back in the day, I dunno the full history very well but they have like a huge building, they have low-income apartments now, the area where it is is kind of a cultural hub for the Beacon Hill neighborhood in South Seattle. And then the Northwest African American Museum (NAAM), it came out of an elementary school building occupation that lasted for years, I think it’s still considered the longest occupation in US history minus the government US itself occupying all the territory of whatever. But it was a couple Black people who held down the school building for years and it was weirdly taken away from them and given to another Black group to then create the African American Museum and it has apartments above it. The people who were holding that down in the original occupation have occupied three other buildings in recent history and have been violently removed from them all. But there’s a radical history of people occupying stuff, I believe in ’99 that was a thing too, there were two or three apartment buildings that got taken over during the WTO thing
TFSR: I didn’t hear about that, that’s awesome. I’ll make sure in the show notes to link to some of these projects and spaces that you’re mentioning. I was wondering about the Suquamish folks because the political prisoner Oso Blanco put out a public statement saying there should be coordination and communication with Suquamish folks since it’s on occupied territory so it’s cool to hear that there is some dialogue and back and forth going on.
D: Yeah, there’s a lot of networks in Seattle that have been established over the years and I feel like a lot of those networks have moderate to pretty deep intimate connections with the CHAZ. I think figuring out how to turn that intimacy into a level of accountability is very, very difficult and takes a lot of energy that I think because people are doing so much stuff in this time they’re not, I dunno, the capacity isn’t all the way there. But I think on the second day of the occupation being established I overheard a phone call with the Duwamish tribe just getting clarification and I haven’t checked, they might have already put out their official statement. For the first week at the CHAZ there was drum circles, indigenous people were leading prayer and ceremony throughout the day at different times. It was indigenous people from tribes all around the region. I think there definitely could have been more connection and it could have been done much better but I think, again, people just not expecting this to happen. I think we were a little underprepared for that.
TFSR: Kinda ad hoc.
TFSR: Well, also, this is all a process, and accountability requires like you said, intimacy and so hopefully if nothing else this is sparking people to deep their relationships with each other and such.
D: Yeah, I really hope so.
TFSR: Well I just have a couple more questions. Rates of infection and death from the COVID-19 pandemic are rising nationally as states “reopen their economies.” I know Washington was one of the places hit really hard and really early. People aren’t getting public assistance or the public assistance they were offered was pretty paltry and ran out , so people are feeling forced to go back to jobs and maybe are in danger of losing their unemployment if they don’t. These protests nationwide have been expressing rage and challenging disproportionate rates of death at the hands of police of BIPOC but also have presented a dangerous vector for infection, is a fear that I have. Are people in the sustained spaced of Chopped City CHAZ keeping up harm reductive measures around the pandemic, is that a conversation folks are having? Cause I know it’s easy to be like ‘we need to stop Black death in this way’ that’s a demand that’s 400 years old.
D: I think, in terms of conversations I haven’t participated in too many besides like a couple of my friends who thought they maybe got exposed and they went and got tested and they found out it was negative so they came out. But there’s hand sanitizer everywhere, everyone’s wearing masks for the most part, it’s hard to maintain social distance but I feel like if you want to step away, people will let you step away if you want to practice it. I was trying to find the numbers particularly for Seattle and it looks like 1% of everyone who’s gotten tested who’s been at the protest has been infected, so weirdly enough the numbers haven’t risen yet, I dunno if that’s because of the incubation time, I don’t really understand biochemistry very well. I don’t really know why.
I think people are taking the measures that they can take. It’s been interesting for me to see that now racism is being talked about as public health crisis. So I’ve been seeing a lot of talking heads from the medical field who are saying like, this COVID thing’s a thing but we also have to talk about this as being a public health crisis. I’m curious how that conversation continues to grow.
TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. For me too. I’d heard inklings among activist communities and occasionally public health officials about – I mean, are you referring to rates of infection being higher because of disproportionate access to resources and stressors throughout lifetimes among communities and individuals that are affected by immediate racism?
D: Yeah, and I think also it’s like how the medical field itself is governed by white supremacy, so like Black women given birth have a much higher rate of death than white women, or any other category of women. How white supremacy affects the health of Black people and non-white people. I saw someone on I think it was CBS News, a corporate news channel, push back against – I dunno what they’re called, the talking heads, journalists – the guy from the medical field was pushing back saying yeah the COVID thing is a crisis, too, but racism as a health crisis has been affecting people for hundreds of years and we should now acknowledge it and talk about it. I think part of it is related to COVID and the disproportionate infection rates among different communities of color, but it’s also pushing this conversation to a point where we are talking about white supremacy as a public health crisis beyond just COVID, or Corona.
TFSR: I’m really glad people are digging into the roots of this and bringing it up. So I guess the last thing I was gonna ask was folks have been talking about trying to create autonomous zones following the model of Seattle, and it seems like if I understand the situation was kind of ripe in a lot of really material senses for the CHAZ with a lot of neighborhood unity around hated of the police, police stepping back, momentum from the protests, talk about police abolition, and amidst collective traumas of grieving the murder of Mr Floyd and countless others and on the back of months of the pressures of quarantining in this slow strangulation of capitalism, to create autonomous zones it seems like the means to live, like access to water, food, shelter and a wide shared sentiment of solidarity kind of need there for it to sustain itself. I know Asheville had a very, very short lived attempt a few nights ago at an autonomous zone on auto-zone or whatever. It did not stick, it did not plant roots.
D: Yeah, the solidarity point I think is crucial. The goal was never to build an autonomous zone as much it’s its ever a goal to build an autonomous zone. It was a siege, and that’s what we got out of it. It definitely wasn’t the intention of most people that I know, to manifest an autonomous zone. It was just kind of a siege and I think that’s the interesting point, it was a siege and it exhausted that precinct. I haven’t got to the point where I can image we have the capability to force a tactical retreat, I just think it was a siege. I think they were just exhausted and I think the chief of police and the mayor were playing a media game, and not really making their decisions based on what was happening on the ground. I could be wrong. I dunno, I’m not in those halls of power. But the “Every Day” thing – that was huge, just people saying they were gonna be here every day and then living up to that.
I was just watching about, I forget where it was in the country, they were setting up tents and camping outside of a precinct. I think that might lead to something. I think the siege tactic was what got us the zone, not any intention to go out and build the zone, if that makes sense.
TFSR: Yeah, . think so. Were there any things I didn’t ask about that you have a burning desire to talk about or any other pointers that you think people should take with, or good sources for keeping up on this?
D: Sources for keeping up on it? There’s a media outlet called Converge Media, they’ve been on the front-line live-streaming everything. When we were in to confrontation with the cops they were literally on the front-line filming everything. They’re they’re whenever the Proud Boys – when a crowd forms around someone, they tend to get really good video and the guy doing the filming asks pretty good questions for the most part. But there’s even a couple videos on their YouTube where they find someone new to the zone. It’s a Black media outlet, too, but a Black person would come into the zone, really curious and they would meet this person who’s filming, his name’s like Amari. He would give them a nice tour of the zone, there’s like two or three videos where he would do that at different times so you can see how the zone progresses over time.
But just, yeah, keep at it. And the “Every Day” thing, I can’t stress how powerful that was. I think just getting people to say they’ll be there and then just keep coming back, and keep coming back, and keep coming back. I think for anarchists and other radicals just being smart with their interventions and thoughtful and maybe creative, being prepared for the unexpected and hopefully being able to communicate and move together pretty rapidly. And just recognize face-to-face communication is so much better than any kind of text thread or email chain or signal group, and meeting people where they’re at and realizing the people are a little bit more open than they’ve been in the past to typical anarchist talking points.
TFSR: Actually I did think of another question that I didn’t script out, and if you don’t want to tackle it it’s totally fine. One of the things people had passed for me to bring up, was I had written down ‘liberal co-optation’ and that kind of felt covered by the talk of the bureaucracies coming in the mornings and looking for representatives to talk about the demands of the community, or sort of chipping away at the edges of it. I don’t know if you have any views you want to share about the call for taking Black leadership. I know there’s this conflict around this idea of monolithic Black leadership or any kind of community representation and people, like well meaning white folks wanting to be allies or accomplices or whatever word they want to put on it, showing up for things and then in some instances the loudest voice or the voice that has the most amplification from power as it exists, as in institutional power, gaining the mic and directing folks. Do you want to say anything about this?
D: Yes, man, that’s a heavy question. I think it’s important as a Black anarchists who are up in the city and who has been pretty active mostly for like the last 12 years. I’ve seen people who I grew up with who regularly sit down and are in a negotiation with the city and other projects like that, specifically Black capitalist milieus and the Black church and a lot of those people who I know intimately, who I grew up with, who are typically positioned to suck the energy from any Black radical uprising or divert the energy into what they’re doing. When they abandoned the precinct they came up to me and were very congratulatory, like “Good job, keep it up,” things I would never expect to hear from these people. We’re all for Black liberation but our understandings of how to get there are in opposition to each other and we both know it, are now saying “Good job.” They’ve been pushed a little more radical or at least is an opening for them to be amenable to these more radical things happening. I think there’s examples of that of some of the discourse between the civil rights movement and the Black Power movement, but I’ve never experienced that in my lifetime. I think that’s something that’s important to understand now, that the terrain’s different, especially with the recuperative measures from the Black bourgeoisie class or the Black Popular class or whatever you want to call it, and I think for specifically white radicals and white anarchists it’s important to understand that these so-called allies are coming out because they saw a precinct burn. In their mind they’re saying it’s for Floyd, which it may be partly, it may be in their heart. But they’re also responding to a precinct burning it’s not just the death of black bodies that’s bringing people out, it’s the action taken by those brave souls in Minneapolis. The discourse is a little different, that’s not to say these people have been pushed all the way radical but the conversations in Seattle – early on, it was oh this is kinda like Occupy except all the conversations are good.
D: You know, you’re not banging your head against some person stuck in their liberal politics or whatever.
TFSR: Or jet fuel burned down the third precinct or whatever.
D: Yeah. I think it’s worth nothing that, and it’s understanding that the Black community is definitely not monolithic. Nuance is very important, but people have changed, this has changed people to some degree and it’s worth acknowledging that. So even though you might have a past history with a certain group, the dynamics have changed so the conversations are going to be different than they might have been in the past, at least in the context of Seattle. I think in terms of following Black leadership I think you’re always going to hit that contradiction like you were saying of the person whose voice is most amplified is probably going to resonate with the same logic of the people who govern over us. So it’s going to be difficult to navigate that, but I think there was initially at least, hopefully it’s still there, an underlying hostility that’s bubbling to the surface. I think things are different, people are different. I think it’s important that formations like John Brown Gun club or any anti-fascist formation or any anti white supremacy formation need to be clear about their politics and what they’re doing, especially when confronting people who are white supremacists or known fascist. And willing to share simple ideas with people they find around them, like: bring an extra t-shirt and if you do something wearing that shirt get rid of it, no souvenirs. That kind of stuff. I think people are really open to hearing it if you just tell them. I think one thing we could have done better is help the people we’ve seen on the ground organize themselves in non-hierarchical ways and faster. I think that would have been very useful. It sucks because it happens but it’s an anti-police uprising and it sucks because there are still some liberals who say we need to dialogue with the police. Or will try to become the peace police, but in Seattle there are a lot less than there used to be. I don’t know in other places how they’re dealing with or facing that. I know personally for me every time I met a Black person who was like,“we need to be peaceful,” it was really easy to be like, “You want to abolish the police, right?” and they’re like “Well, yeah.” To get them to acknowledge that policing is bad in some way, and then to be like “Well, look at Minneapolis. This is what they’re doing and their city council is already trying to figure out how to disband the police. So the simple fact is burning a precinct works.”
I kept going back to that a lot, in my conversations with Black people. I’m also Black so I don’t know how that would work with white people engaging with liberal Black people. I would say maybe don’t do, maybe find people whose ideas are resonating with you and figure out how to move together and be effective and safe.
TFSR: I really, really appreciate that. When you said “Burning a precinct works” makes me think of this artist in the Bay Area who, I was still living out there when the Oscar Grant riots were happening. They put out a poster, just black and white stark, this was their style, with a picture of that cop that killed Oscar Grant behind bars. It just said “Riots Work” in big letters on it. This Overton window, shit is shifting like you say, and without people pushing on it it wouldn’t shift. Sorry to speak over you.
D: Oh, no, no, you’re fine. I was just gonna reiterate what you were saying, like, “Hey, this tactic works” whatever it is. That it’s rioting, burning a police precinct, whatever. It’s something the state does, the state knows that. I once went to a talk during Occupy times. It was shortly after that May Day that the courthouse got hit, that Niketown and some other businesses got hit, and banks got hit.
TFSR: It was 2012.
D: Yeah, I think it was 2012. I went to a talk and there was this person called Connie Rice who’s actually first cousins with Condoleezza Rice, and her job is to basically go to different towns and help them, I dunno if she still does this, but at the time her job was to go to different towns and basically sit in a room with the cops, the fire department, city officials and Uncle Toms and Aunt Sallies and other Black recuperative forces, and explain to them what their job is and how they need to move to recuperate the energy. One of her big lines was “A million dollars of damage,” like once a million dollars of damage is hit you have to concede certain efforts and once that point is made it’s the job of the Uncle Toms to get involved instantly, to immediately be there with the politicians who are making the concessions. That was her thing, they do that, they know that. They know that at a certain level of damage they have to give concessions, and that if the Uncle Toms and Aunt Sallies are there the concessions can be very minimal, and that’s all they need to do to quench the fire, or at least that’s all they used to do to quench the fire. But now it’s a little different, I think. We could use that on our side, at least, explaining to especially Black and Brown folks, “Hey, look, this tactic works, we get what we need, we could live a better life if this happens.” I think specifically anarchists are positions in a way where we can also talk about the repression that comes later and add that to the conversation. I dunno if any of that makes sense.
TFSR: Yeah, absolutely. Well D, thank you very much for taking this time to chat. I really appreciate the candor and you sharing your perspectives. I know you’re super busy, I think people will get a lot out of this.
D: Shit, thanks for having me. Also I dunno if you want to cut this or not, I think it’s worth maybe trying to reach out to one or two other people because I feel like there are so many perspectives to how this all unfolded.
Social Justice and Struggle in Lebanon and Syria: Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami
This week on The Final Straw we’re featuring a chat with Joey Ayoub and Leila Al-Shami. In this conversation, Joey tells us of some of the history of Lebanon, since the civil war that ended in 1990 and up to the current demonstrations against the clientelist warlords in power in that country. Intertwined with this, Leila speaks about the sparking of the resistance to Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, the tumult of the civil war, and the state of anti-authoritarian and social justice organizing and media work in that country. Then the two talk about the experience of countering disinformation, conspiracy thinking and poor solidarity in the so-called Left in the West and ways to combat ignorance.
This is another long conversation, covering a lot of the last 30 years in these two neighboring nations. The guests proposed speaking about the interrelations across that border because of the similarities, differences, and shared experiences between the two places. Lebanon has Syrian refugees, it was occupied by Syria until 2005. Both spaces share Palestinian refugees, experienced war with Israel, are politically influenced from Hezbollah, mostly speak Arabic and even the flames of the recent wildfires that ignited anti-regime sentiment in Lebanon last fall crossed the border between Lebanon and Syria. We hope to have future chats that play with borders in this way to explore ways we can bridge these borders in our understanding in hopes of increased solidarity.
Lebanese Protests of 2015 & 2019 [00:21:35 – 00:31:40]
Syrian Revolution to Civil War [00:31:40 – 00:41:34]
Current Social Justice Struggle in Syria [00:41:46 – 00:45:56]
Daesh / ISIS and Syrian Civil War [00:45:56 – 00:49:56]
Solidarity with Syrians in Lebanese Protests [00:49:56 – 01:05:38]
Leila on Tahrir-ICN [01:05:50 – 01:09:18]
Educating Ourselves on Syria and Lebanon [01:09:18 – 01:23:07]
White Helmets and other Conspiracy Theories [01:23:07 – 01:32:59]
Syrian Diaspora and Western Left [01:32:59 – 01:37:19]
Rojava and the Syrian Revolution [01:37:19 – 01:41:56]
Better Practice in Solidarity with people in Syria and Lebanon [01:41:56 – 01:53:38]
Michael Kimble Benefit
Last week we announced a fundraiser for Michael Kimble. Because of issues with the platforms, the fundraiser for Michael Kimble’s legal benefit to help raise money for his fight to get him released from prison has been moved. Now you can find it at ActionNetwork.org/Fundraising/Support-Michael-Kimble . Because the fundraiser had to be moved a couple of times, some of the initial push to get word out and initial donations may be irreplaceable. So, folks are asking for an extra push to help rasie this money to get our comrade out and organizing on the outside after 33 years behind bars.
BADNews February 2020 (#31)
This month, the A-Radio Network released it’s monthly, international English-language podcast featuring voices from anarchist and anti-authoritarian radio shows, pirate stations and podcasts from around the world. The episode is up at A-Radio-Network.org by clicking the B(A)DNews. If you’re interested in joining the network or learning more, info’s up on that site.
Thank you both very much for taking the time to chat with me.
Leila al-Shami: Thank you.
Joey Ayoub: Thank you.
FS: I thought we could talk about anti-authoritarian aspects of popular movements against the regimes in both Lebanon and Syria and for new ways of living, and what solidarity can look like, within that region and from outside, with those popular anti-authoritarian movements. This is a really big conversation, and I’m very excited for the information that y’all are going to present.
First can y’all lay out a thumbnail of the post-colonial development in the respective countries—in Syria and Lebanon—including a bit about the interrelation between those neighboring countries, at least up until those anti-corruption and anti-authoritarian protests known as the Arab Spring?
JA: The primary thing to remember when it comes to the relationship between Syria and Lebanon is that historically they are the same region, “Greater Syria.” With regard to contemporary events, what’s important to understand from a Lebanese perspective is that the Syrian regime was one of two military occupiers of Lebanon—the other being Israel—between 1976 and 2005, when it was essentially forced out after a popular uprising.
Since then, the relationship between the two countries is extremely complicated, to say the least. On the one hand there is a major Lebanese political party that is active in supporting the Assad regime in Syria—I’m talking about Hezbollah. On the other hand, when we speak of Syrians in Lebanon we have to differentiate between the Syrian regime and Syrian refugees. Syrian refugees are effectively powerless and living in pretty bad conditions—I’m phrasing this lightly. It is really bad these days. They are often the victims of scapegoating by xenophobic sectarian parties that have played the same card against Palestinian refugees in the past—they are just using it against Syrian refugees today.
Any relationship is very complicated; there are historical links, but there are activist links as well. But other than that, the two countries are fairly separated due to this power dynamic.
LS: From my side, I think it’s important to understand how the Syrian regime, the current regime, came to power. The Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party came to power in 1963 through a military coup, and it was founded upon an ideology which incorporated elements of Arab nationalism and Arab socialism, both of which were witnessing popular resurgence in the wave of decolonization. Hafez al-Assad came to power in 1970 through an internal coup within the Ba’ath Party. It was under him that the totalitarian police state was built, which repressed all political freedom. Any opposition or dissidents were dealt with very severely under Hafez al-Assad, and what became known as the ‘Kingdom of Silence’ was built. People were not able to express themselves politically.
Bashar inherited the dictatorship from his father in 2000, and when he came to power, Syrians were hoping for an opening—that they would have more rights and freedoms. But really he continued the policies of his father in terms of political repression, and the prisons were full of Muslim Brotherhood members, Kurdish opposition activists, leftist activists, and human rights activists. And there was also a very desperate socioeconomic situation: a wave of liberalization of the economy under Bashar which really consolidated the wealth in the hands of crony capitalists who were loyal to or related to the president, meanwhile subsidies and welfare that the poor relied on were dismantled.
It was these two factors, both the political repression and the very desperate socioeconomic situation, which led to the uprising which broke out in 2011—which of course arrived in the context of this transnational revolutionary wave that was sweeping the region.
FS: I think a lot of people in the West get confused with the term socialist in the expression of Ba’athists, and don’t have a specific understanding of what that term means in that instance. Can you break it down for those of us who are confused about what socialism refers to in terms of Ba’athism?
LS: The Ba’ath Party advocated socialist economics, but rejected the Marxist conception of class struggle. The Ba’ath believed that all classes among the Arabs were united in opposing capitalist domination by imperial powers, proposing that nations themselves, rather than social groups within and across nations, constituted the real subjects of struggle against domination.
So when they came to power, they pursued top-down socialist economic planning based on the Soviet model. They nationalized major industries, and engaged in large infrastructural modernization to contribute to this nation-state building enterprise: redistributing land, erasing the land-owning class, and improving rural conditions. It was these kinds of populist policies which brought the party a measure of cross-sectarian public support.
But at the same time, leftists were purged from the Ba’ath Party right at the beginning. Hafez al-Assad’s coup within the Ba’ath Party was against the leftwing faction. And later, all left opposition was either co-opted or crushed. Independent associations of workers, students, and producers were repressed, and para-statal organizations said to represent their interests emerged—a kind of corporatist model.
And like I said, under Bashar there was an increasing liberalization of the economy; it really moved away from any kind of socialist economic model towards a model which created a great deal of wealth disparity within the population.
FS: Joey, I wonder if you could set up how, after the civil war and occupation in Lebanon, power was distributed through the state structure there.
JA: It’s been thirty years since the end of the civil war. The postwar era, as we call it, started in 1990, when the civil war officially ended with the signing of the Taif agreement—Taif being the city in Saudi Arabia where they signed it. So it’s been almost exactly three decades since then.
The postwar era is defined by a number of things. The primary two components relevant to what is happening today are the format in which this so-called peace happened, and what happened after that. The format can be symbolized through an amnesty law that was passed in early 1991, which pardoned most crimes which were committed during the war—the only exception being the killing of other important people. If you had assassinated a prime minister or something like that, you might be exempted from the amnesty law. Other than that—if you were involved in kidnappings, enforced disappearances, torture, murder, all of these things—all of your crimes were wiped clean overnight.
Warlords who made their names during the war became the warlords who entered government in the nineties. They removed their military uniforms, put on their business suits, and became the government. The people we’re dealing with today for the most part are the exact same people who were the warlords during the civil war. The two very easy examples I can give are the current president, Michel Aoun, who was a warlord in the eighties, and the speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri, who was also a warlord in the eighties.
These people have each created clientelist networks—we call it wasta in Arabic—and the result is we don’t really have one state. We do in theory—but that state is subsumed within these sectarian networks.
The second thing that happened in the postwar era which is also important is what you might describe as actually-existing neoliberalism. There was a rabid form of capitalism, the “shock doctrine” scenario that Naomi Klein famously coined in her book, wherein all the ruins of the war were further demolished. The most symbolic example of that is downtown Beirut, which saw a lot of the violence. Large parts of it were completely demolished instead of being renovated and public spaces being made accessible again, and everything was privatized.
Fast forward three decades: what we’ve been seeing since October 17, 2019, this symbolic date when the current uprisings started, are attempts by a number of protesters to reclaim this public space that has been privatized, and to reclaim a sense of identity that transcends these sectarian limits which were implemented in the postwar era.
They were always there—they have been part of Lebanon’s de facto legal reality. Sectarianism is institutionalized. Political confessionalism is the official term for it. In the postwar era there have been quite a lot of protest movements trying to move beyond sectarianism, calling for some kind of secularism, some kind of trans-sectarian identity, with the knowledge that sectarianism isn’t just a social ill in itself (as in, it’s bad to be sectarian) but also understanding that sectarianism is used in a specific way in Lebanon that benefits those who are already at the top.
That’s a simplistic summary, of course, but that’s essentially what we’ve been seeing since October 17. And this time there is a momentum that is explicitly anti-sectarian, and an awareness that as soon as sectarianism wins, the movement immediately loses. There’s an extreme sensibility towards remaining anti-sectarian.
FS: Would you mind talking a little bit about how the clientelism and expectations of social infrastructure, and the lack of following through on these expectations, led to the October protests, and how clientelism stands in opposition to the idea of a social contract?
JA: It is very difficult in Lebanon to do anything unless you have the connections. Education, healthcare, basic services like electricity and water—people tend to rely on private networks for all these things. I went through a private education. Most people in Lebanon have to pay two electricity bills, one private and one public, because the public one is not 24/7. For water, technically you pay three different bills, because there’s public and private running water, and separately there is bottled water because the tap water is not potable. This is a small example of how the clientelism functions in Lebanon.
It really precedes the civil war, and going all the way into that would require a different kind of analysis which I’m not the most capable of giving. But what we saw in October—and in the months and years preceding October 17—was this lack of social contract becoming even more painful. Before then, there was always a way for a percentage of the population—I can’t even say for sure it’s a majority—to sort of get by. There was always a way to make ends meet, so to speak, one way or another. Living conditions were never extremely good, but they were decent enough for you to have an okay life. Especially, obviously, if you’re middle class. That has declined in the last decade or so.
The 2011 uprisings had an impact on Lebanon. Cutting off Syria economically from Lebanon impacted business locally. It also reduced significantly any kind of Gulf investment, which had been reliable up until 2011-12. That’s what has been breaking down slowly in the last decade, and that’s part of the spark that led to October 17, 2019. But that week, that same week, there were very bad wildfires that ravaged through the country and even reached parts of Syria; it was over forty-eight hours before they were fought off through a combination of luck—it started raining—and airplanes that were donated by foreign governments.
And just a day later, the government decided to impose a tax on WhatsApp calls, which are obviously free and used by virtually all Lebanese because actual phonecalls are so expensive due to the corruption and clientelism. That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
On the night of 17 October, the day the WhatsApp tax was proposed, people spontaneously went to Beirut, to Nabatiyeh in the south, to Tripoli in the north—people went out in cities across Lebanon. In the first couple of weeks, the momentum was so overwhelming. It was on all levels across all regions of Lebanon, with almost no exceptions, touching all socioeconomic classes (there were even protests where I live; this has never happened before), and there was a very explicit anti-sectarian component.
This is remarkable because sectarianism in Lebanon has created a reality where it is virtually impossible—in practice it just never happens—that if you are from a certain region and you’re just used to seeing people from a certain sect (with the exception of the big cities like Beirut), you don’t really know much about other parts of the country where a different sect has a majority. If you come from Mount Lebanon you don’t necessarily know much about the south or the north, unless you have family connections.
That’s been our reality for three decades. And nonetheless in the first month or so, it was very common to see people in Tripoli (the Sunni-majority city in the north) sending their solidarity to Nabatiyeh (the Shia-majority area in the south) and vice versa. In Jounieh (which is Christian majority) and Beirut (which is very mixed) and Mount Lebanon (which is Druze majority), there were always explicit statements of solidarity from one region to another, from one sect to another, saying, essentially: we have this thing that unites us beyond our sectarian allegiances.
The other extremely important component is summarized by the chant kelon ya’neh kelon, which means “All of them means all of them.” It’s very simple. Every single politician that has participated in this postwar status quo has to go. It’s a complete rejection of every single political leader of the postwar era, basically, whether they are currently in government or not.
That’s very important, because there have been a number of sectarian parties that were previously in the government and currently are less so—they still have MPs but they are not the ruling parties—that have been trying to ride the wave of the revolution by presenting themselves as opposition parties, trying to play with the binary that is the March 8 and March 14 movements.
What are these two? March 8 and March 14 are the names of two coalitions that were formed on those dates in 2005. Following the assassination of then-prime minister Rafic Hariri on February 14, 2005, there were mass mobilizations on these two dates with different orientations towards the Syrian regime. On March 8 was the pro-Syrian regime protest, led by Hezbollah and Amal at the time. On March 14 was the anti-Syrian regime protest, led by the Future Movement, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalangists, and the Progressive Socialist Party and other parties. Since then they have created a power-sharing agreement following the model of the postwar era, where it’s one coalition or the other that’s ruling, always fighting with each other but always finding more things in common than things that distinguish them—especially when there are independents trying to run against both of them, that’s when they close ranks.
Because the current government, for various reasons, is a March 8 government—Hezbollah, Amal, and the Free Patriotic Movement—there are parties that were traditionally associated with March 14—the Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party, the Lebanese Forces, and the Phalangists—that have been trying to place themselves in the position of opposition against the March 8-led government.
The protesters are rejecting that. No. All of them means all of them; you will not be able to ride the wave of the revolution. In five days it will be the four-month anniversary of these protests, and the momentum has changed, but it is still firmly anti-sectarian.
FS: Let’s turn and rejoin Leila in the chronology of how anti-corruption movements had been developing in Syria and then come back to anti-corruption in Lebanon. Leila, Joey had mentioned Syrian refugees being present and the way the forest fires crossed the border; these two countries have had a lot of interaction between each other. I’m wondering if you could talk about how the anti-corruption and reform movements and revolutionary movements of the Arab Spring effected and impacted Syria, with the Syrian revolution and subsequent civil war.
LS: People in Syria were generally quietly against the regime prior to 2000. The last major uprising had been at the end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties, and started off as a broad-based movement against the regime but ended up becoming very dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood due to the severe repression of those who were participating in it. It culminated in the massacre of Hama, when thousands of people were killed and much of the old city of Hama was destroyed by Assad’s forces. In addition to that, thousands of people disappeared into regime detention; many of them were never seen again. This experience of such brutal repression had kept Syrians quiet since that time.
But when the Arab Spring, as it came to be known in the West, emerged in 2010-11, people in Syria were seeing what was happening in Egypt, what was happening in Tunisia, and the governments being brought down there, and they began to ask, “Why not us?” This gave people—a new generation that hadn’t directly experienced the repression that had occurred before—the strength to go out onto the streets and start demonstrating themselves. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, though, people in Syria didn’t go out into the streets calling for the fall of the regime, initially. What they were calling for was reforms: things like a multi-party system, the release of political prisoners, a free press.
These were demands which had been taken up in 2000 when Bashar first came to power, and people thought there was an opening for change. There was a small movement—it wasn’t a popular broad-based movement like we saw in 2011, but it was a movement among intellectuals and human rights activists that started to call for reforms when Bashar came to power. That movement, again, was severely repressed, and all hope for change under Bashar died at that point—until 2011, when what happened in Tunisia and Egypt really reignited the hopes of a new generation.
So they came out onto the streets calling for reform, but the brutality of the response by the state—which immediately began meeting peaceful, unarmed pro-democracy protesters with gunfire, massive waves of detention, and repression—radicalized the movement. It caused it to spread rapidly across the country, and it encouraged people to start calling for the fall of the regime and even for the execution of the president. It was the regime’s repression which really catalyzed the movement’s spreading and becoming a revolutionary movement.
I think it’s very important to recognize that when this happened in 2011, it was a broad-based, inclusive movement. It included many women from all different backgrounds, a diversity of Syria’s religious groups and ethnic groups, all united around the demands for freedom, for democracy, and for social justice. The social justice element is often not focused on very much in the West. But it was a large component of the revolutionary demands.
Many people went out on the streets and chanted against the crony capitalists who had amassed a great deal of wealth under the current regime. For example, Rami Makhlouf, who is Assad’s maternal cousin, was estimated prior to 2011 to control some sixty percent of the Syrian economy through his business interests—in real estate, mobile telephone companies, etcetera. There were large chants against him on the streets and against other crony capitalists.
There was a strong element of awareness and strong social and economic demands as part of the revolutionary movement, but those were not focused on very much in Western reporting.
FS: In your book Burning Country that you coauthored, y’all made a point of saying when people took up arms to defend themselves against the government, the inclusivity of the popular movement started to dissipate. That’s how I remember reading it, at least. Can you talk about what the integration of armed struggle into the movement against the government did to the dynamic of the revolution, and how it became a civil war?
LS: Taking up arms was a response to the massive repression by the state against peaceful protesters. At the beginning it was still inclusive—this wasn’t an organized military or army. This was people taking up weapons in their communities to defend their communities and their families from assault. People were being taken from their homes and detained; there was also a mass rape campaign carried out in oppositional communities by Assad-affiliated militias. So people took up arms to defend themselves in loosely-coordinated defense brigades.
By the summer of 2012, we started to see the Free Army label being used. Now, the Free Army was never really an organized army; it was never centrally controlled or centrally funded, although there were failed attempts to do so. It was an umbrella which different groups and different militias could come under with two main aims: one was the fall of the regime, to force Assad out of power, and the other was to see some kind of democratic transition take place. The people who signed up to the Free Army label were people who were united behind those aims.
But as time went by, the armed opposition became more and more fragmented, due to external pressures on them. They couldn’t get the weapons that they needed to really defend themselves and their communities from regime assaults. There were light weapons going in, but the anti-aircraft missiles which people desperately needed were not being provided. Aerial assaults were the main cause of destruction and main cause of death, and it was Assad who was controlling the skies—later alongside his Russian ally.
We also saw, around December 2013, an increasing Islamization among armed groups in Syria. The main reason for that was the failure of the democrats of the Free Army to attract funding and support from the Western states that they were reaching out to. Some brigades started Islamizing their rhetoric in order to attract support from Gulf donors specifically.
So there was an increasing Islamization of the opposition groups, and an increasing fragmentation of armed opposition groups. There were so many different armed brigades that were present at that time, and we see now that most of the armed groups operating in Syria do have an Islamist leaning and have eclipsed in strength the democrats of the Free Army.
But while there was this fragmentation of the armed opposition—which was due in large part to this competing struggle for weapons, competing struggles for military dominance and political dominance in areas they were controlling—there was also, in parallel, a continuing civil movement which was committed to the original goals of the revolutionary struggle and remained an inclusive and diverse movement.
FS: Fast-forwarding now into what has been nine years of one of the most deadly civil wars of the twenty-first century so far, I’m sure what a lot of people are experiencing on the ground in opposition areas at this point is simply a struggle for survival against this genocidal regime. But can you say anything about what exists, as far as you’re aware, of democratic movements for social justice in Syria?
LS: There are plenty of Syrians who are still committed to those ideals of the revolution, and there are plenty of Syrians working today within their communities trying to keep things functioning; plenty of civil society organizations that are continuing to do media work, continuing to assist the displaced, trying to keep hospitals functioning. But it has become a matter of survival, a struggle for survival. Today the main area which is outside Assad regime control, or still in the control of rebel groups, is Idlib. Idlib today is facing an absolutely relentless assault, a war of extermination against the civilian population there.
Since the assault on Idlib began in April 2019, over a million people have been displaced, nearly 700,000 since December alone—just gone. There have been massive attacks on civilian infrastructure; dozens of hospitals put out of action. People are fleeing for their lives. It’s very hard in such circumstances to talk about any kind of organized movement, because people are really just struggling to survive. People are fleeing outside of Idlib city or to the north of Idlib, and there’s no place left to go, no remaining safe haven for people. Many of these people had already been displaced multiple times, when their communities came under attack or were forced to surrender and recaptured by regime forces. And the borders are not open. The situation on the ground today in Syria is completely desperate.
In areas that have come back under regime control, whether we’re talking about Dera’a in the south or the Ghouta around Damascas, there have been massive waves of repression against the population who stayed. Anyone who is seen to have been in any way affiliated with the opposition has been arrested and detained. Young men have been rounded up and sent to the front lines to fight, basically on missions from which they are not going to return.
But we have also seen that resistance has continued. There have been waves of protests happening in Dera’a. Extremely courageous people in regime-controlled areas have still been protesting, calling for things like the release of prisoners, protesting against the desperate economic situation. Just in the last couple of weeks in Sweida, which is a Druze-majority area, people have been out on the streets protesting against a very desperate economic situation, protesting against the corruption they’re seeing.
In Dera’a, we’re seeing waves of assassinations against regime forces as well. So while the organized resistance movement and organized civil society has been very much crushed over recent months as the regime has taken control, we see that those desires for freedom, for justice, for this regime to end, have not gone away. And when others have a chance to organize, they’re still trying to organize—they’re very clear that they’re not going to accept this regime. There’s no life for people under this regime.
FS: This is a subject that I’m sure gets brought up a lot in conversations about Syria with Westerners, but it seems like the democratic social movement had a few different fronts on which they were being attacked, including with the uprising of Daesh as a movement across Iraq and Syria. In your experience, is Daesh still a threat against social movements, or has it been crushed, as it’s been presented in the Western media?
LS: Daesh hasn’t been crushed. There’s this idea that you can defeat an ideology militarily when the conditions that fed that ideology are still very preset, when the chaos which allows such extremist groups to thrive is still there. Daesh has certainly lost a lot of its organized power, but it has the ability to regroup and re-form—we’ve seen that in Iraq, and in attacks that have been carried out in Syria in recent months.
It’s not just Daesh which is a threat. If we look at Idlib—I said that Idlib was the main province still under rebel control. The group in control of a large part of Idlib is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra, which is a very extremist Islamist militia. They have repeatedly tried to wrest power away from the democratic opposition structures which were established in Idlib following the liberation from the regime, and have tried to impose their own extremely authoritarian religious strictures upon a population which overwhelmingly rejects them.
This is something which is not spoken about much in the West. People often say Idlib is an “al-Qaeda enclave” because this group HTS was formerly affiliated to al-Qaeda. What they’re overlooking is all the people protesting against the group. We’ve seen continuous demonstrations in Idlib, up until now, people calling for HTS to leave their communities and hand over power to democratic opposition structures.
So yes, Syrians have had a battle on two fronts. They’ve had a battle against this fascist tyrannical regime which is committing genocide against a population which demanded freedom, and a struggle against extremist Islamist groups such as Daesh and HTS and others.
The third battle, of course, has been against people in the West, often people who identify as being on the left, who have continuously slandered revolutionary Syrians, have equated revolutionary Syrians with groups like al-Qaeda, and have in fact thrown their support behind the Assad regime. Free Syrians have found that they have very few friends. But they retain their desire for freedom, and they continue to maintain that they are not going to accept one tyranny being followed by another.
FS: Joey, on an episode of the Arab Tyrant Manual from November 2019, you and another guest, Timour Azhari, were talking about calls for solidarity with the Syrian people that were coming up in the chants of Lebanese protesters, and I wonder if you, or both of you, could talk a little bit about solidarity against authoritarian structures across that border, between Lebanon and Syria, and between the popular mobilizations against sectarianism that you’ve seen.
JA: The anti-sectarian component of the protest movements in Lebanon essentially appeals to some kind of national identity. It’s one thing to have my religion as a Christian, as a Shia, as a Sunni, as a Druze, and that’s fine, but there should be something that unites us further than that—we’re all Lebanese. Of course that’s a double-edged sword: nationalism can unite people across sects within one nation-state, and it can also otherize people who are not Lebanese.
That’s a very common thing, and it’s a reality that anti-authoritarians, progressives, radicals, lefties, and others in Lebanon have to contend with: the overwhelming presence of xenophobia. Much of it was created during the civil war; the Syrian regime was an occupier, so many Lebanese, especially those of the older generation, equate Syrians with the Assad regime. This is very ironic and self-defeating, because obviously Syrian refugees in Lebanon are fleeing a conflict that was started by the Assad regime; there could have been opportunities for cooperation and unity. But what is happening is xenophobia and nationalism.
In the same way as in Hong Kong, where there is a segment of the population which is anti-China in the ethnic sense rather than being anti-Chinese-government, there is in Lebanon a segment of the protesters that is anti-Syrian, not just anti-Syrian regime. There are even Lebanese who oppose the Syrian regime, who oppose Hezbollah, who still share the same xenophobic, racist attitudes towards Syrian refugees.
And this power dynamic is worsened by the fact that the economic situation in Lebanon is already shit. It’s really bad. It creates the opportunity for scapegoating Syrian refugees, modeled after the scapegoating of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon since the Nakba: they faced this type of attitude, especially during the civil war because there was an armed Palestinian faction, but that’s a different story.
To try and counter that, there is a segment of Lebanese protesters, most notably the feminists, who are trying to create a movement that is more inclusive. They are openly intersectional and speak about class struggle, and about gender equality beyond the confines of citizenship—which is already very restrictive in Lebanon. You cannot become Lebanese other than by marrying a Lebanese citizen or inheriting it—and even then it is only passed on by a man. You can inherit citizenship if your father is Lebanese, but you cannot inherit it if only your mother is Lebanese. So there is a percentage of the population in Lebanon that are “not even Lebanese” but who are in fact Lebanese. What the progressives are saying is that if someone can be Lebanese and not Lebanese at the same time, we can also accept that there might be more than one way of being Lebanese. This is why I insist on calling myself Lebanese-Palestinian, to refuse to relinquish my grandfather’s identity. It’s not even considered something that can be a reality. You’re either one or the other, and that’s it.
Something being called a “revolution” or having revolutionary momentum does not automatically mean that everyone participating in that uprising has the best politics in the world. Even in Syria in 2011-12, there were conservatives who would take part in the protests. That’s completely normal. There’s more than one way of expressing opposition to illegitimate authority. If we’re talking about the Assad regime, there are multiple ways of opposing it. There are even Islamists who oppose the Assad regime. As a progressive who would not want to have an Islamist regime either, you still can’t automatically reject everyone who doesn’t share every single one of your politics. It’s complicated.
In Lebanon it’s complicated in different ways. In the beginning, there were sectarian people participating in the protests. There were members of Hezbollah, members of the Lebanese Forces, and members of other sectarian political parties among us. Even to this day, there still are, but to a lesser extent. They were in fact going against their own parties, without renouncing their parties. What happens in that space, within that momentum, is a sort of negotiation. Chanting kelon ya’neh kelon made lots of people uncomfortable. Calling out certain specific politicians by name made certain people uncomfortable. That alienated some people, whereas other stuck around. Some people were “converted.” Other people still participate without chanting these specific chants.
So there’s an ideal: kelon ya’neh kelon, anti-sectarianism, a vision of a fair society. And within that ideal, there are multiple ways of negotiating, because at the end of the day, if I want a society that is better than the current society, I have to face the contradictions of that society. Those contradictions, whether we’re talking about sectarianism, xenophobia, nationalism—all of these things exist everywhere in Lebanon. They exist within your own family, within your community networks. It is very difficult just to say, “Screw all of you, I am going to create something without all of you.”
FS: Leila, the reason I first heard your name besides Burning Country was in reference to Tahrir-ICN coming up in the 2010s. Can you talk a little bit about that project and what became of it, how it developed, and what impacts you saw it have?
LS: Tahrir-ICN was an attempt to address the issue of a lack of knowledge of anti-authoritarian struggles in the region, outside of it. A group of activists came together, myself included, with the idea to build this network among anti-authoritarian activists in the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe. It had two components to it. The first was an information-sharing platform, establishing a blog and social media accounts. The second was to build a physical network where we could work on practical actions and build solidarity together, sharing experiences.
The first aspect of it was quite successful. It started in 2012, just after the revolutions in the region broke out. Different collectives from across the region and in Europe started sharing information of what was happening in their country. This was a time when there were lots of uprisings across the region and also in Greece and in Spain: the Occupy movement, a lot of exciting things were happening. It didn’t have one vision. It was trying to learn from a wide variety of experiences and struggles loosely labeled anti-authoritarian. We had quite a wide readership for our blog, and I think it was very useful for people outside, in Europe or in America, to find out more about anti-authoritarian struggles in the Middle East and North Africa, and vice-versa..
The second aspect, building a physical network—we had a number of discussions about having an event to bring people together. There was certainly a lot of interest in that. But then the counterrevolutions broke out very strongly. People became very bogged down in what was happening in their countries. People started losing a lot of energy, and the network kind of fizzled out. I myself decided that I had to prioritize what was happening in Syria due to my connections with Syria. People got very caught up in their own stuff, and it kind of died out. But I think that for the time when it was operative, it provided a useful source of information to learn about each other and to see the wide variety of struggles that were occurring.
FS: For the sake of us staying informed and educated about what’s actually going on in this region of the world, can y’all talk about maybe some resources that we have, particularly in English, that we could be relying on to get a better grasp? And also maybe some resources that you think are trash and we should avoid? That would be very helpful.
LS: I would encourage people to look for resources which are produced by people who are living in or connected to the regions themselves. It’s very important to try to go to native sources where possible, to people who have a very real understanding of the issues because they’re directly affected by them. We’ve been very privileged that there is so much information available in English. There are so many activists who are very active on social media across the region who we can connect with on Twitter, on Facebook, who are telling their stories. From Syria, there are so many great independent media initiatives. There is Enab Baladi—Joey worked on producing a book of some of their texts—which was established by women in one of the main revolutionary towns known as Daraya. There were some amazing experiences of self-organization in that town. There is al-Jumhuriya, which was established by Syrians, which is great for analysis of the region.
I would encourage people to find out a bit more and to go to these sources, and to try to educate themselves. The first and most important aspect of solidarity is correcting the information. There is so much disinformation circulating about what is happening in the region. It’s so exhausting for activists who have much more important struggles than focusing on correcting the narrative. It would be great if some of that work could be done from the outside. It would certainly free up Syrian activists to focus on other more practical things that they need to address.
JA: On the Lebanon side of things, I can start by recommending a podcast that’s called The Lebanese Politics Podcast. Starting with the episode which was released just after the October 17 revolution started, they’ve put out about an episode a week, in English, in which they go back to the events of that week and interpret them and talk about them. It is as objective as you can get, from an archival perspective. Both of them are on the left and are analyzing from the anti-sectarian angle.
Other than that, most good media in Lebanon is in Arabic. Recently, especially since 2015 when there was another uprising—which was not as successful but laid the groundwork for what was to come—there were things like Megaphone News, which is mostly in Arabic but sometimes has English stuff; they are really good. There is the Public Source—again, these are mostly in Arabic but occasionally have some English stuff.
A lot of the voices of anti-authoritarian Syrians are present in mainstream Anglo media. Just recently there was For Sama, the documentary that was nominated for an Oscar and won many film festival awards. There was the White Helmets documentary from 2017. There are a bunch of really good war-related but more personal-narrative documentaries popping up. All of these are available with English subtitles, and are very easy to find these days.
The main thing to challenge, really, is disinformation. The decision is whether people want to believe what they are seeing with their own eyes. For Sama is literally just footage put together to tell a story. You can think whatever you want, but if you’re starting to doubt what you see with your own eyes, the bombing that you’re literally seeing in front of you, then we’re entering a world that has not just implications for Syrians and Palestinians and Lebanese and others, but indeed implications for everyone else.
The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote and the so-called wave of far-right populism (which is a nice euphemism for fascism a lot of the time) didn’t really surprise a lot of us who live on this side of the world and have been involved with anti-authoritarian politics. Some of the signs that we were going into a dangerous international moment were already present in Syria as early as 2013, with the chemical massacre in Eastern Ghouta, among other things. The reactions to that started signaling that we’re slowly moving towards a normalization of blatant violence against civilian bodies.
What progressives in Lebanon are trying to do right now is create a different media landscape outside the norms, a counternarrative to the dominant narratives in Lebanon, because they are very influenced by the sectarian status quo. Many of them are owned by the sectarian parties. With Syria it was very different at first, because there wasn’t really any independent media before 2011. But an explosion of creativity came after 2011 (Enab Baladi, the project I worked on, is one of the examples of that), so now it is very easy to get very decent, advanced, sophisticated information. The question is how much energy people are willing to put into it.
It’s always good to inform yourself as much as possible about what’s happening in the rest of the world, just as a general rule, and there tends to be enough information these days. But the other thing is calling out disinformation when you see it online. To do that convincingly, you do need to arm yourself with quite a lot of knowledge, because the disinformation campaigns, especially since Russia decided to intervene militarily in Syria, have been pretty extraordinary. We’re not just dealing with RT and Sputnik. There are horrific takes being taken for granted which if they were on Palestine would be the abode of the far right, but for some reason when it comes to Syria, lots of lefties repeat basically the same things that rightwing Zionists would repeat on Palestine—the same takes! They just go with that narrative instead of looking at the facts on the ground and reading the books by Syrians who have been writing for decades now, many of whom are translated into English.
Information is power, and it can be used for good. But we have to deal with all of the disinformation around us. It’s been exhausting. Many of us have experienced months of burnout. Most activists I know, including those who were in Aleppo until recently, or in Ghouta or in Idlib or in the south or wherever, have completely given up on trying to challenge anyone online, or are just working locally. Some still spend entire days sometimes arguing with mostly Westerners online about their own country and their own homes that they just had to leave.
Westerners are not going through fascism in the same sense that Syrians are. There is definitely that threat, especially these days, but it’s still not at the level of the Assad regime controlling everything and dropping barrel bombs, and having foreign militaries invited into your country. I don’t know how to say this, but privilege is a responsibility. Having privilege means you should do something with it. Use the access to knowledge that you have and inform yourself on what’s been happening in Syria, especially since 2011, or since 1982 with the Hama massacre as Leila mentioned, or wherever you want to start, instead of just getting stuck in these echo chambers which have been so common, unfortunately, with the Western left.
FS: I’m wondering if either of you have the energy to talk really briefly about that or touch on some of the conspiracy theories we need to challenge? You don’t have to answer if you don’t have the energy.
LS: Very briefly, the White Helmets are volunteer first responders, men and women, people who are often the first on the scene to assist victims of Assad and Russia’s aerial bombardment, taking bodies from the rubble, taking people to makeshift hospitals for treatment. I think it’s because they are first on the scene to record and witness these state crimes that they have come under vicious attack. A lot of the assault on the White Helmets does originate in Russian state media; the Russian state has carried out a massive disinformation campaign against the White Helmets. We’ve seen them being accused of being al-Qaeda operatives; we’ve seen them being accused of being behind chemical weapons massacres. There have even been reports that they are engaged in organ harvesting. All sorts of horrendous and malicious accusations have been thrown at them.
The problem is that a lot of these accusations, which are starting in Russian or Syrian state media, are then being propagated and spread by people who identify as being on the left. We’ve seen a lot of these disinformation campaigns carried out by purportedly leftist activists, and these kinds of conspiracies also find their way into the mainstream. It’s very difficult now to even mention the White Helmets. I spend quite a lot of my time traveling and giving talks about Syria, trying to build solidarity for Syria, and even when I come across people who are generally sympathetic to what I’m saying—they’re not supportive in any way of the Assad regime; they seem to want to stand in solidarity with free Syrians—they’ll come up to me at the end of the talk and say, “Well, what about these White Helmets? We’ve heard this, we’ve heard that.” So this campaign of disinformation has been very successful in polluting the public space in such a way that really makes any kind of practical solidarity with revolutionary Syrians almost impossible.
It’s so dangerous at the moment in a place like Idlib, where international aid agencies have all pulled out. We’re seeing massive targeting of residential infrastructure and survival infrastructure—hospitals, schools, water supplies. It’s the White Helmets who are there, who can provide any kind of lifeline to people who are facing that kind of assault. They are maligned and slandered, when they are really the people who we should be standing behind and supporting—they are in desperate need of funding to continue their work. It’s very difficult to constantly face these kinds of attacks.
JA: Russia’s online disinformation campaigns have been widely studied by now. The discourse that Russia appeals to, or that pro-Assad or pro-Hezbollah folks appeal to, is identical to the War on Terror narrative that was popularized by George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. The whole “You’re either with us or the enemy” mentality was literally almost quoted verbatim by Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, just a few weeks ago. This discourse has been reinforced and rendered hegemonic in some circles of the broader left, especially (but not just) the Western left. Russia has an obvious interest in people believing that the White Helmets are terrorists, because under the War on Terror, terrorists are fair game. You can shoot them. It’s really that simple.
The Russian embassies on Twitter (some particular embassies, like the one in South Africa, have a particular notoriety for some reason) post disinformation against the White Helmets, and against the documentary about the White Helmets—they posted a photo of Osama bin Laden receiving the Oscar. All of these things are Islamophobic smears that have been widespread especially since the aftermath of 9/11. Russia has utilized this in the past, in Chechnya. Chechnya is particularly important to mention here because one of the Russian embassies also tweeted at one point some years ago, during the fall of Aleppo, a before-and-after picture of Grozny—eradicated by Putin and rebuilt—and the message was, “This could be Aleppo.”
If those among us who call ourselves anti-authoritarians do not understand the consequences or the connotations of this, then we’re basically saying that we do not really care about groups of people that are vulnerable in our own societies, let alone in other societies or in the wider world, including Syrians in this case. The disinformation campaigns don’t just tell you something—they also tell you what not to think. Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. It’s that sort of mentality. It stays in the back of your mind, it just festers there, and that alone is enough to reduce any momentum towards solidarity. What it does is discourage people from looking further.
That is the success of the disinformation. You pollute the media sphere. If you just google the White Helmets, on the first pages you will find a lot of horrible things being said. If you go on Twitter it’s dominated by Russian disinformation campaigns. When I say Russian disinformation I don’t just mean RT and Sputnik, but anyone who hovers around that world. That is extremely dangerous in a situation where these people are literally being murdered as we speak. They have even been targeted by al-Qaeda. Calling them al-Qaeda is not just a horrific, racist, Islamophobic smear—it actually puts their lives in danger.
FS: We haven’t really touched on the Syrian diaspora. I didn’t think about how a lot of this conspiracy theory stuff plays into the rightwing xenophobic rhetoric about people escaping the civil war there or escaping war in Libya or other parts of the world that the West often views through an orientalist and Islamophobic lens: that they are bringing this contagion of terrorism with them or whatever.
JA: Leila’s coauthor Robin Yassin-Kassab observed that before Syrians arrived on the shores of Fortress Europe and were being demonized by the far right as terrorists and demographic threats and all of these slurs, they were already being demonized and treated with hostility by large segments of the left. That scapegoating was already there—it’s not just that suddenly Syrians started appearing in Europe and there was massive reaction against them by the right. Of course there was that as well. But the stories of Syrians arriving in Europe (most are not in Europe, obviously; they are in Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan and so on) were canceled, deleted, smeared, and demonized in advance, accelerating the process of dehumanization.
Understanding what’s happening, the context of a country, especially one in “conflict” like Syria, also means supporting the refugees that come to your shores.
FS: A lot of the coverage that this show has done on war in Syria has been specifically focusing on the struggles in northern Syria, particularly as relates to the Kurdish-majority areas and the PYD and the PKK-affiliated Kurdish movement. This is partly because there’s a better infrastructure for communication and discourse in the West, but also a lot of anarchists and leftists have been for a long time in very active solidarity with PKK-related struggles.
Leila, as someone who’s covered the war in Syria and the revolution before that, could you talk a little bit about how the PYD has related to that?
LS: That struggle has certainly gained much more solidarity in the West, and you touched on the reasons for that: the Kurdish diaspora in Europe and the US has been there for a long time and has been able to build solidarity networks that take a long time to build, and Syrians living in other parts of the country had not had that. They didn’t have so much connection with the West. It’s very difficult, obviously. Even prior to the revolution it was difficult for Syrians to travel, to get visas, to be outside. So there wasn’t that much exchange built up for people to know what was happening in other areas.
Some of it also comes down to a Western orientalism that often likes to focus on minority groups as being the most persecuted, combined with Islamophobic racism towards Sunni majorities in Syria and elsewhere. This does tend to have a disproportionate impact on the way minority groups are able to attract solidarity.
That said, there are lots of very inspiring things happening within the Kurdish movement in northern Syria which are directly attractive to anti-authoritarians and anarchists in the West, and I see why there’s an appeal. But there have also been plenty of very inspiring things happening in other parts of Syria. One of the untold stories of the Syrian revolution is how in the absence of the state, when the state collapsed or was pushed out of the majority of the country, people came together and began to build alternative structures for self-organization within those areas.
For example, when the state withdrew and pulled out services, people realized that they needed to build forums to keep their communities functioning. The model that they looked to was developed by a Syrian anarchist called Omar Aziz, who advocated for the establishment of local councils, grassroots forums in which people could come together to discuss the needs in their community and self-organize to keep services functioning, such as electricity supply, hospitals, water supply systems, education systems. That model spread throughout Syria, leading to the establishment of hundreds of local councils throughout the country.
These experiences of self-organization and autonomous politics that happened as a direct result of the Syrian revolution should have been something that people outside were looking at and learning from, and that was a missed opportunity. Possibly some of that was on us, on our inability to communicate effectively what was happening. But also we had a lot of other priorities. It should have been people on the outside looking at what was happening inside Syria and seeing how they could find access to better information.
FS: To close, where do you think the people’s more democratic movements in these two venues are going? Are there any things to keep an eye on? Any direct ways, other than countering disinformation, that folks in the listening audience can support people who are struggling for autonomy and to uplift their dignity in Syria and Lebanon?
LS: I would love to talk about all the opportunities for political solidarity, to build the free Syria that we all want to see. But Syrians are facing a war of extermination right now. The situation on the ground is so absolutely desperate in places like Idlib that any immediate call has to be a purely humanitarian call, to try to pressure a ceasefire, to stop the assault by Russia and the regime on residential communities, to stop this humanitarian crisis from spiraling absolutely out of control, which it is doing at the moment.
I would encourage people to look at some of the Syrian-led organizations which are providing support to these internally displaced people on the ground. The Molham Volunteering Team is a wonderful organization doing wonderful work. Violet Organization, Kids Paradise—the immediate needs for survival take precedence over any other call I think of right now.
And then I’ll reiterate what we’ve been saying about being more informed—there are still many Syrians working to try to hold this regime accountable, to try to keep going with their desire to live in a free country. I encourage people to find out who they are and to see which ways they can stand in solidarity with them.
JA: As for Lebanon, what’s been happening in the past almost four months is often described as a rebirth. There is a lot of very new momentum. Some of the media outlets that I mentioned before were literally launched in the past few weeks. A few of them are the offspring of the 2015 movement, but others are really much newer than that. There are websites that only have half a dozen articles and they are just building on that.
That’s the exciting part. We’re having an emergence. There is an emergence of a civic-society mentality—though that has a lot of limitations. Sometimes it’s limited by a liberal paradigm. But it creates a space. It’s a moment to push for ideas that are more progressive. That’s what folks like me are trying to do. I am just a writer. Other people are doing much more direct work on the ground. There are soup kitchens that have popped up in places like Beirut and Tripoli. There are independent unions being formed because the current unions are either co-opted or useless. There are independent media workers—while there are good people working within mainstream outlets, they tend to be limited by those outlets’ priorities.
At the same time, in the same way as in Syria, there has been an outburst of creativity. Arts and music genres that hadn’t been explored before are now being explored, like metal and rap and hip-hop. Lebanon is freer than Syria as a society, there are fewer restrictions. There is a lot of self-censorship, but not as much of the overt censorship that there is in Syria. You can pretty much say whatever you want, within some limits sometimes, and that has allowed us a little bit more breathing space compared with what Syrians have had, to create some of this infrastructure that is now booming. Currents like environmentalism, feminism, queer rights, and so on are also finding momentum in the ongoing revolutionary upheavals.
The only limitation so far is refugee rights, and migrant domestic worker rights. The revolution hasn’t really addressed these issues as much as it should. But hopefully the more we continue and the more progressives and others manage to steer the revolution in a certain direction rather than in a nationalist direction, that might be possible in the near future. I personally think it’s going to be extremely difficult, but there is hope in that matter.
LS: One other area that I’d like to draw attention to is the prisoners’ struggle. The prisoner issue is something that everybody should be supporting. There are thousands of Syrians in prison, and we know the horror stories of how widely practiced torture is within regime detention. Those are our people. Those are the peaceful pro-democracy activists who were struggling against this regime. They are the people who are inside prison who we should be supporting.
There are some fantastic organizations that people can get behind. Families for Freedom is a women-led movement set up by Syrian women: the mothers, wives, sisters of political prisoners. It is a movement that was inspired by Argentina’s Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and by a similar women-led movement looking for the disappeared in Lebanon. They’re doing as much work as they can trying to keep the issue of prisoners on the international agenda, calling for the release of not only those detained in regime prisons but also those detained in prisons by Islamist groups.
That’s something that everybody should be getting behind and finding out about and seeing how they can support, because it’s never on the agenda even though for every Syrian, it’s one of the most important issues because we all have family members or friends who have disappeared in regime detention.
We spoke a lot about how exhausted and traumatized Syrian activists are right now because of the strength of the counterrevolution and what they’ve gone through over the past few years. But one thing that has given us so much hope and strength and inspiration is seeing the protests happening in Lebanon. Also in Iraq, where people have been out on the streets and going through extremely challenging circumstances—this is also very inspirational in the way they are using anti-sectarian slogans. Also what’s happening in Iran with the protest movement there. All these movement have given us a lot of hope and courage.
Syria has been used to silence people across the region as a kind of bogeyman: if you raise your voice and demand freedom, this is what’s going to happen to you. You’re going to end up like Syria. The revolutions and uprisings that happened in 2010-11 have been crushed, they’re over. But they haven’t been crushed. This is part of a long term process. Although each country has its own specific situation, there are a lot of similarities: the authoritarian regimes, the corruption, the bad socioeconomic situation. And people are not being silenced. Something changed in 2011, and despite the massive repression these protest movements have faced, something has changed within people. That’s going to have a massive impact on the future. There’s going to be a lot of change happening in the region, and we’re only at the start of that process.
FS: Thank you so much for having this conversation, I really appreciate it.
First, we’ll hear from Jason Goudlock, a prisoner under the so-called “Old Law” in Ohio serving his 26th year of a 6-25 year sentence. Jason talks about the situation in Ohio between the “Old Law” and the “New Law”, for instance if he had been convicted of the same robbery and battery crimes three years later he might have served half of the time. Jason also speaks about the whims of the the Ohio Parole Board, some corroborated in public statements by former OPB member, Shirley Smith (linked in the show notes, and mentioning the situation of Marc Houc for instance).
Jason is the subject of a documentary, “Invisible Chess: The Jason Goudlock Story”, which can be found for free at FreeJasonGoudlock.org. Education packs for teachers can be found on the site for the film, InvisibleChess.com. The film will be shown on Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 from 1:30-3pm alongside a discussion at Bard College led by the filmmaker, Samuel Crow, along with prison reformer Bill Nichols. It can be viewed it at the Bertelsmann Weis Cinema on the Bard College campus. You can find Jason’s website and blog up at his website. There is a gofundme run to raise funds for Jason’s legal defense and raising awareness of his case and those of other Old Law prisoners.
Jason also suggests FairTreatmentReformAndReentry.org to learn more about the struggle and check out recent legislation put forth in Ohio to affect the Old Law/New Law sentencing disparities (and in particular, Beverley A. Seymore, author of the Parole Reform Bill).
Near the end I ask Jason about recent hunger strikes by Mark Hinkston and David Easley, two other Ohio prisoners held for a bit at Toledo CI, who we’ve interviewed before on the show. The hunger strike was a protest against the use of solitary confinement specifically to torture prisoners suffering from mental health crises. More on that below. Jason also mentions the recent sexual abuse of prisoners at Toledo CI by mental health staff member Maggie Jedlinsky.
Finally, Jason shouts out the cases of the Lucasville Uprising. Check our show notes for links to our interviews with Hasan over the years and with Bomani Shakur, aka Keith Lamar, on his book Condemned and Greg Curry from the case. We also spoke with an attorney (Niki Schwartz) and another prisoner present on the 25th anniversary of the uprising.
David Easley Faces Inter-State Transfer
We’ll be hearing briefly from David Easley about some updates in his situation, including the hunger strike that he and Mark “Mustafa” Hinkston just got off of in protest of the torture of prisoners suffering mental health distress by stuffing them in segregation at Toledo CI and the legal shenanigans by administration at Toledo CI in an attempt to get them on an out-of-state transfer. You can keep up on Mark and David’s activity on their supporters twitters. There is a request that folks email and call the Ohio Interstate Compact Administrators to demand David and Mark not get transferred far from their family, loved ones and supporters and to emphasize that they are being threatened with transfer for legitimate free speech. You can contact:
“Hello. I am calling as a concerned citizen about the ongoing crisis at Parchman. The Board of Directors must ensure that the superintendent find an amicable and peaceful solution, as well as, address the prisoners needs. They need to ensure that the prisoners have sanitary and safe housing conditions. We, as a community, along with the prisoners have these demands: 1. Immediate separation of all rival groups to halt the violence. 2. Restore full food service and immediate emergency medical care. 3. Removal of the corrupt guards who instigated violence. Remember, the world is watching. Thank you.”
Health update on Dr Shakur
Dr Mutulu Shakur, a Black Liberation activist and Accupuncturist has been imprisoned for 33 years and this year was found to have bone marrow cancer. There is an article up on SFBayView.com linked in the show notes. Supporters are requesting letters of support and love to Dr Mutulu at:
Dr. Mutulu Shakur 83205-012 USP Victorville, P.O. Box 3900, Adelanto, CA 92301
They are also asking for donations for his medical, legal, commissary and more with details in the article and up at mutulushakur.com and the associated donate button. At Dr. Shakur’s request there is, at this time, no public campaign for his release.
Twin Trouble interview
Incarcerated hactivist and anarchist, Jeremy Hammond and his twin brother, Jason (who served some time for participating in the anti-fascist action at Tinley Park, IL in May of 2012) have started releasing a new media project. The show self-describes as:
“Twin Trouble – the podcast about fighting the system and staying rebellious while being incarcerated.The showtakes the form of a recorded phone call between Jason in Chicago, and his twin brother Jeremy,locked up in Alexandria, VA, just outside D.C. “
There is an update on Eric King’s support page, supportericking.org, giving details on materials he can receive and what he cannot. Drop Eric a line and use the final straw promocode… wait… that… Eric could use some love. And please be aware also that each letter he receives is read by a guard.
Yah, if only. But there’s this awesome source for updates on political prisoners across the so-called US authored by the lovely folks at Certain Days that is a regular column on IGD. Prison Break gives case updates, health situations, releases, passings and calls for support we can participate in, helping to keep this movement multi-generational and spread support for our comrades taken captive by the state while in struggle. We need to be in for the long haul if our movement will have teeth.
This week William had the chance to interview someone, a 20 year old anarchist from the territory of so called Chile, about the uprisings which have been occurring there. The protests began on Monday October 14th in Chile’s capital, Santiago, as a coordinated fare evasion campaign by high school students which led to spontaneous takeovers of the city’s main train stations and open confrontations with the Chilean Police. While the reason for these protests was a fare hike for public transportation by the government and the transit companies, this was only the tipping point in a much larger and diffuse situation of economic pracarity. We will post a great info graphic on social media about all that is tied up in this situation, but in short education and healthcare are private and so are very expensive, jobs pay very little (400 US dollars a month on average), and it is the only country in the world where water is privatized. According to Food and Water Watch, having a privatized water system increases the yearly cost of water by 59%, or over twice the amount as public water. Many of the systems that people are forced to live under, such as the current mechanisms of the State of Emergency and the pension system, were created under the Pinochet dictatorship and have not been updated to reflect the so called “democratic” rule.
Our guest outlines these situations, and also speaks about the violence that protestors are facing from the police and from the state. They also speak on the relationship of this current violence to the violences that Indigenous Mapuche people have been facing from the Chilean state all along.
According to the Wikipedia article on the 2019 Chilean Protests, as of yesterday October 26th “19 people have died, nearly 2,500 have been injured, and 2,840 have been arrested. Human rights organisations have received several reports of violations conducted against protesters, including torture.” Our guest outlines the peaceful nature at the outset of these protests, which were quickly escalated by hyper repressive tactics on the part of the police, and says that these actions are making it clear that the “democracy” – which was fought for by the generations above them – is a fake system.
Here is an announcement on behalf of the IDOC Watch:
IDOC (Indiana Dept of Correction) Watch is an organization in Indiana, composed of people directly affected by the prison system and prison abolitionists, that is organizing to expose and stop the widespread abuses in the Indiana prison system, with the long-term objective of dismantling the prison system. (check out IDOC Watch at idocwatch.org)
This event will be a panel discussion on the base-building IDOC Watch is doing in prisons and communities affected by incarceration, prisoner struggles and counter-insurgency in Indiana, and the effects of the prison-industrial complex on individuals, families, and communities.
Zolo Agona Azania, former Black Liberation Army activist and long-term New Afrikan political prisoner from Gary, IN, who beat two death sentences after being falsely accused and convicted of murdering a Gary police officer during a bank robbery. Zolo was released from prison in 2017, after serving over 35 years. He is currently working to establish re-entry housing for people being released from prison in Gary, through the Gary Alliance for the Empowerment of the Formerly Incarcerated.
S.T. : A mother and grandmother from Gary who organizes with IDOC Watch and currently has a son incarcerated at Indiana State Prison, a maximum-security facility in Michigan City, IN.
An organizer with FOCUS Initiatives LTD, an abolitionist re-entry project in Indianapolis, IN: focusreentry.com.
1845 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL 60208
217 Fisk Hall
Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM CDT
For the hour, we spoke with Ahkok who identifies as a humanitarian, antifascist and musician who grew up in Hong Kong and has participated in protests over the years including the Umbrella Movement and current protests today. We talk about the mindset of the Hong Kong protests, the situation in China, decolonization, racism and more.
Y’all may have heard that over the last 8 weeks or so, Hong Kong has been rocked by protests to undermine efforts by the government to create an extradition treaty with China. The protests have included barricades, interesting uses of AirDrop, Telegram and whatsapp and other digital platforms to avoid censorship to spread information, street fights against police and attacks from criminal gangs they and the Chinese government hired (the so-called “White Shirts”) and a raucous romp through the empty legislative chambers of governance leaving wreck and ruin behind. The street actions come on the 30th anniversary of the Tienanmen Square Protests of 1989 when student sit-ins demanding democratic political and economic reforms were killed in Beijing and around by the so-called Peoples Liberation Army. Currently, western reporting and word from dissidents inside of China has come about the Re-Education camps such as in Xinjiang where the Chinese government has been interring Uighur Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in order to stamp out their religion and socialize them to a more homogeneous Chinese lifestyles, definitely a reason for Hong Kongers to take the streets to keep dissenters there from easy deportation to China.
If you’re in the Asheville area, on Friday August 2nd from 6:30-8 at Firestorm Books, Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross will be showing the documentary “Love And Revolution” about autonomous and anarchist responses to austerity, police violence and resistance to borders and love for the people who cross them in Greece. More on the film at the website lamouretlarevolution.net. Then, on Sunday August 4th from 5-7pm BRABC invites you to it’s monthly political prisoner letter writing. Show up to scrawl a few screeds and meet some nice wingnuts.
Bennu Hannibale Ra-Sun
Supporters of Bennu Hannibal Ra-Sun, recently moved out of solitary confinement after years in the hole for organizing non-violent resistance behind bars, are asking folks to show up in Montgomery, AL to support a court hearing for him at 10AM Montgomery County Courthouse, Courtroom 3C, 251 S Lawrence St. Montgomery, AL 36104 held before Circuit Judge James H. Anderson Fifteenth Judicial Circuit.
Support Workers Coop Efforts
Finally, comrades in Carbondale, IL, have put together a gofundme to help fund a workers cooperative. You can find the site by searching “Carbondale Spring Fat Patties Cooperative”, an effort to re-open a closed burger joint to feed the working class, not some fat cat CEO. More info about organizing efforts in Carbondale can be found at carbondalespring.org.
BAD News: July 2019
This month for the A-Radio Network’s “Angry Voices From Around The World” podcast we feature a shortened segment from our previous episode of TFSR with Perilous Chronicles, as well as A-Radio Berlin with notes on the National Socialist Underground trial in Germany and A-Radio Vienna with call-ups for the August 23-30 International Week of Solidarity with Anarchist Prisoners and support for prison rebel, Andreas Krebs.
. … . ..
This week, we featured “Jab Cross” by Lucy Furr from their recent album, The Jungle, as well as the track “4K Punk Rock” by antifascist post-rock band Remiso’s album, Pleasant With Presentiment.
Y’all may have heard that over the last 8 weeks or so, Hong Kong has been rocked by protests to undermine efforts by the government to create an extradition treaty with China. The protests have included barricades, interesting uses of Air-Drop, Telegram and WhatApp and other digital platforms to avoid censorship to spread information, street fights against police and attacks from criminal gangs they and the Chinese government hired (the so-called “White Shirts”) and a raucous romp through the empty legislative chambers of governance leaving wreck and ruin behind. The street actions come on the 30th anniversary of the Tianeman Square Protests of 1989 when student sit-ins demanding democratic political and economic reforms were killed in Beijing and around by the so-called Peoples Liberation Army. Currently, western reporting and word from dissidents inside of China has come about the Re-Education camps such as in Xinjiang where the Chinese government has been interring Uighar Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in order to stamp out their religion and socialize them to a more homogeneous Chinese lifestyles, definitely a reason for Hong Kongers to take the streets to keep dissenters there from easy deportation to China.
For the hour, I spoke with Ahkok who identifies as a humanitarian, antifascist and musician who grew up in Hong Kong and has participated in protests over the years including the Umbrella Movement and current protests today. We talk about the mindset of the Hong Kong protests, the situation in China, decolonization, racism and more.
TFSR: Could you introduce yourself to the audience?
Ahkok: Ok, yeah, my name is Ahkok. Originally I’m from Hong Kong, now based in London. I just came back from the Hong Kong massive protests starting from June, lasting until now, really. I’m a musician and I’m also a member of the Hong Kong antifa group. Yeah, that’s basically who I am.
TFSR: Do you identify as an anarchist as well?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah, I..
TFSR: It’s ok if you don’t…
Ahkok: I, I do, but I like to call myself a humanitarian more, maybe. But sometimes I’ll put on an anarchist hat and, for to, make my ground or something. So, yeah, I would say I’m an anarchist.
TFSR: So,I got ahold of you because there are these ongoing and incredible protests going on for the last 8 weeks…
Ahkok: yeah, mmm
TFSR: …in Hong Kong. Can you talk a little bit about where they came from, recently, and sort of what’s gone on, please?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s basically… it started from a murder that happened in Taiwan. So, basically there’s a Hong Kong guy, I think he was going out with this Taiwanese girl. That girl got murdered and he flew back to Hong Kong. And there wasn’t any extradition bill between Hong Kong and Taiwan. So, the Hong Kong government was trying to use this as a chance to introduce this extradition bill. But, it’s not for Taiwan, it’s basically trying to bridge this gap from Hong Kong to China. So, yeah, that happened I think in April. And then a lot of different people trying to reject the bill, but the Hong Kong government was really, really determined to pass the bill. So, on the 9th of June there was this massive protest about this extradition bill worldwide, really. I was in Berlin, and I was participating in a gathering in Berlin. There’s a lot of Hong Kong people living there, about a couple of hundred people.
And then it just… went more aggressive along. There was, on the 12th of June, there was a protest outside of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong and the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas. There was a guy, I think he is a reporter, and he got shot in the head, so everyone was sort of watching it and he was in a pool of blood, almost died. I was just really shocked, so I took a flight back to Hong Kong just to be with all of my mates and with the protesters. It just escalated from there and continues right now.
Well, it’s actually a little bit different now because initially we all gathered outside of the Legislative Council, it’s basically like a Parliament in Hong Kong. So there are a lot of protests there. On the first of July some of the protesters actually broke into the Parliament, I think people have seen the videos. Then they trashed the Parliament with lots of graffiti and then came out safely. But the Legislative Council isn’t really operating now so people start to organize different protests in different districts around Hong Kong. Like, for instance, last week it was in Lin Yao and the week before it was in Xiao Tin and so on and so forth. So, it’s basically that there are a lot of smaller protests now rather than just one big, gigantic one happening outside of the Legislative Council.
TFSR: So, is the Legislative Council between sessions where it’s taking an official break that is timed or is it that they are on pause because of the amount of disruption that’s occurring?
Ahkok: They are on pause because of the destruction, yes. Actually, the Chief Executive in Hong Kong, she said the bill is dead but we all think that’s a big lie because there are no options about the bill going dead. You can either pass the bill, approve it, or you withdraw it. But she never said ‘withdraw’, so we think she’s just trying to bide her time and maybe try to reintroduce it later on. So, the protesters keep on protesting her to say ‘withdraw’ but she never used the word. So we just don’t believe her and think the bill is just hanging there.
But, yeah, the Legislative Council is trashed pretty badly and it’ll take a couple of weeks to reinstall. But there will be a somewhat of a break later on anyway. We think that if the bill is coming back, it’ll be in October. But now I think it escalated more than just the extradition bill. It’s more about the independence or the staying away from the evil control from the Chinese government, really.
TFSR: So, I think it’s a good time for people in the audience who may not understand the situation with Hong Kong’s government. SO, basically, for a very long time China was in control, right, and then that was wrested away by the British during the Opium Wars, which gave it back in 1997. Can you talk a bit about that transition and what say the people of Hong Kong had in that and sort of what conflict there would be between the methods of governance that were present or expectations of the ways society ran under British rule versus under Chinese?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s a very complicated and long story. But, there is this Sino-British joint declaration. Basically, Hong Kong is a British Colony, right? I think we got pretty wealthy because of the Cultural Revolution. There’s a lot of businessmen, maybe from Shanghai or somewhere, who tried to escape the Cultural Revolution so they went to Hong Kong to establish their business.
TFSR: And this was the Maoist attempt to change the cultural landscape in the 1960’s…
Ahkok: Yeah, totally. This was the attempt to try to introduce this really rigid communism around the 1950’s and 60’s. So, the economy was pretty much flourishing under the British colonial government. There was this Sino-British joint declaration saying “we have to hand over in 1997” so the British were handing over Hong Kong back to China. But they had this joint-declaration saying that there will be one country, two systems within this 50 years. So, from 1997 to 2047 we should be benefiting from this one-country-two-systems. Basically, meaning we have our own legislative system, we have our own declarations and so on and so forth, but we’re still a part of China. But as you know since 1997, it’s only been 20 years. Things are just going really really fast.
A lot of people are really scared now. Especially with this extradition bill. Meaning, if the Chinese Govt thought you broke some law in China, they can take you from Hong Kong and try to punish you in China. What this means is that we still have some Free Speech in Hong Kong, we can still criticize the government. We can still criticize the Chinese Communist Party, but if this bill passed then there will be no more freedom of speech whatsoever. They can just take you and put you in a jail in China. So people got really scared. Especially since we’ve been having this Freedom of Speech for a long time, we’ve been saying things about the Chinese government for ages. So, yeah, I think the Hong Kong people are really, really scared about this extradition bill.
The tricky part is that we’ve moved on from one colonial system to another one, I would put it that way. We were a British Colony and we feel like a Chinese Colony right now. So, the younger generation is having a stronger mind on the Hong Kong independence, more than ever, really. In the old days we usually talked about trying influence China as a country so Hong Kong can benefit from it. But now the younger generation is just trying to break apart from China to have their own way, their own system. They don’t really care about the Chinese democratic movement that much anymore.
TFSR: Just to sort of put a pin in what you said about dissent and the suffering at the hands of censorship. I’m reading through this CrimethInc article “Anarchists in the Resistance to Extradition in Hong Kong” that just came our recently. And the person being interviewed talked a bit about booksellers in Hong Kong who were disappeared for selling publications that were banned on the mainland. And activists in Hong Kong who have been detained or deprived of contact while cross the borders with no real possibility for challenging the situations. It seems like this isn’t just based in some conspiracy theory or fear based out of nothing, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, it escalated really fast in the last couple of years. Basically, we have a lot of different bookstores in Hong Kong selling censored books in China, so it actually is quite profitable because a lot of Chinese tourists would like to come and buy some censored books and bring them back to China.
I think the bookstore owner.. there was three of them. Three of them vanished for several months. What happened was this guy, I think he was trying to work with the Chinese government and go back to the store and try to get these phone numbers, so he has these customers information. I think the Chinese government wanted to have this. So, he was told to go back to Hong Kong and take it. But when he went back to Hong Kong, he changed his mind and reported to the mass what happened. So, actually, he’s now in Taiwan and because of this extradition bill he thinks he may not be safe anymore. He went back to Taiwan and thinks that Taiwan is still safe in a way. Don’t know for how long. A lot of people like him feel really that Hong Kong is not a safe place to stay away from the Chinese government anymore.
TFSR: You mentioned a younger generation having a perspective that this was imperialism being imposed after a different form of colonialism and imperialism. Does that mean that young people engaging in this wave of protests against the extradition, are they coming from more of a populist or nativist perspective? Is there nationalism underpinning it? Or is it more of a request of not being, or a push to just not be controlled by a power that is out of their own hands?
Ahkok: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question and very critical. I have to be honest, the younger generation are mostly organized by localists. They are in this spectrum, they are actually quite right wing. The younger generation that is now trying to pick up the identity of what Hong Kong people means, but there are a lot of privileges and discrimination that are behind it. I think, softly speaking, Hong Kong was… they have this elitism in their own sense of identity. Like ‘Hong Kong is much better than China. Hong Kong are a little better species than the Chinese…’. I think that’s the biggest problem about the movement happening it he last couple of years.
There’s a lot of localist leaders in jail now, so these sort of notions that the ‘Hong Kong people are better than the Chinese’ are dying down I think. But at the backbone it’s still the same localist thing. So, what happened was… there’s a lot of fights with the riot police but there are also organized groups to… We have some Chinese buskers, Chinese street performers in Hong Kong and the localists will go and attack them or try to kick them off from the park or something. I think that is not covered in mainstream media at all but that actually makes me really concerned, that sort of backbone of right-wing, localist identity. The tricky part is, how can we address the Hong Kong identity that we aren’t the Chinese and aren’t the British. But at the same time not be discriminating, especially against the Chinese. So, that’s the tricky part.
TFSR: It seems like there’s a possibility, and this is based again on my reading of that article, but that there’s a part of the Hong Kong identity that lies in the identification with refugees who have sought their own life-ways in spite of larger powers trying to control them. And that could be maybe some sort of unifying and non-xenophobic approach. I don’t know if that’s a correct reading on a part of the myth of what it means to be from Hong Kong.
Ahkok: I think, as a local Hong Konger… I spent 30 years in Hong Kong, I have to say that Hong Kong people are fucking racist, man. We had these Vietnamese refugees in the early 90’s. They were treated like rats, man, honestly. They were thrown into concentration camps and having really, really inhumane treatment from the government or the citizens. I think there’s this really powerful colony, the Hong Kong people usually are really.. they prefer the British or the Americans. If your people are black or brown… quite a lot of people from India and Pakistan live in Hong Kong but they are still treated like second-grade citizens still. It’s so difficult to tackle that.
They have this sense of ‘white people are better than the others.’ So, Hong Kong people have been trying to be white for ages. I think that’s one of the most successful colonies, British colonies you can find on earth. So, now, even going to protests, some of them will still wave the British colonial flag, it’s so fucking embarrassing to see. Even some protesters who trashed the parliament they actually took one of these colonial flags with them from inside the parliament. That actually reflects this kind of, really…
Ahkok: … reactionary… Yeah, yeah. I think it’s really naive as well. They thought ‘We have to stand strong and fight off the Chinese colonial power, the Chinese imperial power, so we have to stand aside with the British colony. You know what I mean? It’s like, oh my god can you think of something else. So that’s a pity, really.
TFSR: So, this is an instance that these days, since the end of the cold war, I haven’t heard very much of like how… Hearing from populations resisting a leftist imperialist force. You’ve mentioned that localism and a right wing populism is really frequent and, at least an inherited xenophobia from British colonialism or white supremacy. But, are there many conflictual or resistance movements in Hong Kong that come from an anti-capitalist perspective? And how do they relate to the fact that the Chinese imperial force calls itself ‘Communist’?
Ahkok: Ah, good question. I think one of the key protests was in 2011 with… well we actually had two Occupy Centrals. One was called, really lamely, “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” that was not actually part of the Umbrella Movement but was .. they had this plan with occupying Central with love and peace for a long time but they didn’t know how to execute it because it was a plan from the university elites. But we actually had an Occupy Central in 2011. We spent one year occupying this Hong Kong HSBC bank, the headquarters of this bank. So, we were at the ground-level of this bank for 1 year and then we got kicked out. But that was actually echoing the Occupy movement around the world, so it was basically anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian. But it wasn’t that popular in Hong Kong, actually.
When it was started, actually, we got a lot of attention but gradually, maybe it was just like 5 or 6 tents left at the occupying space. It is actually very difficult to introduce anti-capitalist ideology in Hong Kong because that is precisely the core identity of Hong Kong people. They think they have the economic power, much better than China. Not so, now, but in the 80’s and 90’s that we were much better than the Chinese because we were rich. That we were much better than the other Asian countries because we were one of the strongest Asian countries in terms of GDP and so on and so forth. So, that makes up a lot of Hong Kong’s identity, and people are proud of it because of the financial power.
Part of this Sino-phobia is because we are losing that privilege and China is growing into the second biggest Imperial power in the world. So, Hong Kong is actually losing this privilege. A lot of middle class, right wing Hong Kong people are actually frightened because we don’t have this privilege now. Rather than saying ‘Freedom of Speech’ or ‘Freedom of whatever’.
** 32 minutes **?
TFSR: If there was room for anti-capitalism or if it was so tainted by the dialogue coming… or the monologue coming from the Chinese Communist Party…
Ahkok: I think in the 1960’s and 70’s there was actually more left-wing, anarchist movements. I think because, precisely, in the 80’s and 90’s the financial power in Hong Kong was soaring. People tried to be a-political in order to not cause any trouble. You know, capitalism needs a really smooth, operating system. So they tried not to disturb it. So they became very a-political in the 80’s and 90’s.
I think since the early 2000’s, we tried to pick up social movements again from the 80’s generation. We, who were born in the 80’s, stated to pick up a lot of different protests from that point in the early 2000’s. So, within these 19 years, we actually went on this crash course. Before that, we went to protest and if we tried to snatch a barricade, we got maimed really from the media (saying that we’re Thugs and shit). But, until now we have gotten really good with tear gas, setting up barricades, trying to stop the riot police. This is actually moving so fast, faster than anyone could imagine.
Nowadays in the really front-line, trying to fight off the riot police, are actually people who are like 16, or 16-21. Really, really young. People like me in their 30’s, we are like the older generation already. We actually try to participate by saving the kids in the front, or just providing the resources, the tools that are needed. It actually changes so fast. I got arrested a lot of times before, but usually I was charged with unlawful assembly. The charge wasn’t really, really serious. I got social service for 80 hours and things like that. But now, it’s escalated so that whenever you participate in this kind of demonstration you participate in a riot. So, it jumps from social service to like 8 years of prison time.
Ahkok: So, yeah, actually, the risk is really, really high now. But the young generation knows it, but they are really very desperate. This desperate feeling, you can get it from the young generation. If this one-country-two-systems is ending in 2047, that’s actually not.. it’s 20 years later. So, maybe this is.. I think that a lot of people think this is our only chance to stop this from happening. This is the only chance to introduce or try to ask for Hong Kong independence. So, the young generation would risk that 8 years prison time to fight for their future.
TFSR: So you mentioned that capitalism requires a lot of smoth running for it to be able to extract resources and move them up the chain in a population. And this sort of disruption, of course, it will bring a reaction from a capitalist state. Earlier, you mentioned that the two-state-one-nation approach… Can you talk a bit more about the shifting power towards China within the decision making within Hong Kong? For instance, representation of the CCP within whatever supposedly democratic institutions that exist in Hong Kong? And how that might impact things like the passage of this extradition rule or punishments for participating in disruptions and such?
Ahkok: You know, we were pretty proud of Hong Kong not having any corruption at all, it’s not like in China. But I wouldn’t say so now, because there are so many new construction plans coming up. It costs fortunes, billions and billions of dollars, even for just one pedestrian bridge or something. So, we actually know that the Hong Kong gove3rnemnt is answering to the Chinese government and trying to maneuver all the money to the Chinese by these kind of construction works. It costs a fortune but the quality is shit. So, the new train stations, for example, even the construction site is sinking a couple of inches, a couple of inches. But, literally, no one got arrested, they still have a way to get around it. They were able to find some specialists to say ‘it’s safe’, that kind of bullshit, but it costs a fortune and things aren’t safe anymore in Hong Kong.
I think a lot of people in Hong Kong are very sensitive to this kind of money investments. So, that makes a lot of people angry in the society in general.
We know this Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong is actually behind almost everything. The Hong Kong government is no longer answering ot the Hong Kong people anymore, it is directly answering to Beijing, and the Liaison Office is actually more powerful than the Hong Kong government.
So, what we saw with the thugs attacking people randomly in the train station last week. A lot of evidence shows that they were actually hired by the Liaison Office. That’s why the Hong Kong police were working so explicitly with them. Because, it came from the highest order of the Liaison Office, so they weren’t interfering when the thugs were attacking. There were no police whatsoever for like 40 minutes and the thugs were just attacking people with pipes and sticks and whatever, randomly. It’s actually state-sponsored terrorism happening in Hong Kong. It was happening in the street called Yuen Long, so a lot of protesters went back to Yuen Long yesterday, Saturday, right. But, the riot police came and they actually… last week we were beaten up by the terrorists and this week we were beaten up by the riot police. Actually, it’s the same, but they’re just dressing different coats really. But they all isolated this Liaison Office. It’s actually an open secret, we know that this government in Hong Kong has this kind of attitude, shamelessly having so much of this police brutality. Because they aren’t really answering ot the Hong Kong people anymore, they are actually working for the Beijing government.
TFSR: So, these thugs that you mentioned, for people who may not have seen the video. There was a video shared online that showed this so-called ‘White Shirt Gang’, a bunch of men in their teens and 20’s, rather large, wearing white t-shirts and attacking protesters in public transit stations. And this isn’t, I mean, but it may be getting worse but this isn’t a new thing, right? In 2014 during the Umbrella Movement, there were also noted cases of Triads or thugs being hired or working with the police to undermine the occupy encampments and beat up protesters, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, it’s not new, but the scale is quite different. It’s not so explicit now. The police just don’t give a shit. They would go and talk to the gangsters saying “Yeah, well done.” Something like that we can see on the videos. I think, back then in 2014, they were still pretty shy to show that the police were working with the thugs. But now, they just don’t care and just admit it. When people were under attack, when people tried to go to the police station to report, they actually closed the police stations. If you call *999, it’s like calling 911 in the States, they actually hang up. If you say, ‘the thugs are attacking’, they’ll hang up or just say ‘if you think it’s not safe, just don’t go out on the street’ and hang up. So, it’s really explicit now, they’re actually the same. **chuckle**. Yeah.
I’m not saying that the police were a fine unit before, we’re not that naive, but this kind of explicitly working together in front of cameras is quite new. I think in 2014, thugs were trying to blend in with the protesters. Their mission was to make the protesters look dirty on the media by throwing things at the police or something like that. Or trying to harass the protesters to make the occupying area less safe. But the mission now is actually quite different. They actually go out and terrorize people. I mean, they aren’t attacking protesters, they are attacking pedestrians, they are attacking random people taking the train.
Yah, I think the scale is actually quite different. I would say that now it’s like corporate terrorism, it’s actually like state-sponsored terrorism. And before it was actually just a little bit different.
TFSR: I think that the US doesn’t have a very proper understanding of the term ‘terrorist’. Recently there was some legislation that was pushed by a few senators, including Ted Cruz (who’s very far right wing), to accuse antifascists or ‘antifa’ being terrorists. When in fact over the last 5 years how many, like 100, people have been killed by right-wing extremists. But, whatever. But to imply, to actually impose terror and make it so that people don’t want to go outside would be an example of terrorism, right?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s actually a very different kind of context in the States, I think. But, yeah. Maybe it’s not a really good term to use, ‘terrorism’, but the thugs in Hong Kong… I think we have to go back to the history of how these thugs happen to be really snobbish in the first place. Actually, they claim to be the indigenous inhabitants of Hong Kong because their ancestors actually helped by fighting the colonial government. With plows and stuff like that. So, the colonial government tried to say to them, ‘You and your off-springs will have the right to claim the lands” as a way of making a truce. So, what happened is that all of the males from these indigenous inhabitants will have the rights of the land. You know, in Hong Kong, land is really scarce. We have a lot of different living issues, living in really cramped places. But these ‘indigenous inhabitants’, they have the land, so they become one of the privileged classes in Hong Kong. They actually think they own the place. They actually think they own the territory, so they become their own group of people, the main part of these thugs or the gangs that are operating in these terrorist attacks.
The notion that they came out to beat people randomly, saying that they were trying to protect their land. It’s actually really funny. They actually think that the Black Bloc will come to start trouble. So, their first intention is to punish the Black Blocs. So, I think they are trying to go out and beat people in black shirts, and it just escalated to beating up people no matter what they’re wearing. That’s one of the really strange things happening in Hong Kong.
The gangs that are wearing white, the Black Bloc is actually the protesters. Because within this anti-extradition bill, we dress wholly in black, actually, I think it helps a lot of introduce Black Blocs, really. Starting in 2014, we saw Black Blocs, but never in this scale or therefore this kind of organization. I’m actually really proud of the organized Black Blocs, they’re really really powerful and have gained a lot of momentum in the last few weeks. You have to understand that in 2014 it was really just a few people wearing black clothing and throwing objects at the police. But now we’ve become so strong that we can organize many different resources, help people by having our own medics. Yeah, it’s become a really organized groups. I should write something about these Black Blocs coming together in this last couple of months. It’s really interesting.
TFSR: Yeah, I think that you mentioned before the difficulty of engaging barricades and other such things. And now, they seem to be really commonly used and somewhat dispersed among the population. Critiques that people may have gotten for resisting the police in the past have sort of gone by the wayside as wider parts of the population have experienced how difficult the situation is and how dangerous it is. I think it is really impressive and a lot of people have also commented on the very intelligent use of buckets of water to stop teargas. Most people try to throw it back and burn their hands. Can you talk about some of the improved tactics and usch that you’ve seen used in the protests?
Ahkok: Yeah, I think it has a lot to do with the punishment, it’s getting really scary. So, when, back maybe like 10 years ago and we would go out protesting and set up barricades, we didn’t even think of covering our faces because the jail-time was so short. But it escalated with the Hong Kong government trying to prosecute people with riot charges, with 6-8 years in prison. So people think seriously about hiding their identity whenever they go out. So, I think that makes it more popular to have Black Blocs go out in Hong Kong.
I think we learned a lot in the 2014 Umbrella Movement by organizing really big occupying spaces, how to move the tools and resources, how to fight the riot police. Yeah, well after that 79 days of occupy8ing movement in Umbrella Movement, a lot of people went home feeling really pessimistic for almost 5 years, actually. But, in these couple of years, actually, we had a lot of time to really chew on what happened in 2014 and let it sink in. So, when we went back out ot protest in 2019 we came back really strong and really prepared. I think, especially the really young generations don’t have the…
I would say that when we went out to protest maybe 10, 20 years ago, a lot of mainstream politicians were afraid to look dirty on mainstream media. They also calculated how we were actually represented by the media, ‘are we doing things right? Are we looking good?’ Because we thought images would mobilize people to join in.
But, nowadays the younger generation doesn’t give a shit. I mean, they don’t really care about if they try to hit the riot police, if it looks bad on the news. They don’t really care. So, I think from representation to being present in the riot is really different now. So, the younger generation participates and they actually are present in that and don’t really think about representation in the media at all.
And one of the reasons that we have escalated into this kind of mobilization and organization is because a lot of the leaders were arrested **laughs**, they’re actually in jail. I shouldn’t laugh about it, they’re having really hard jail time, but this time we don’t have leaders or main-stages telling what people should do or what people shouldn’t do. So, I think we actually benefited from all of those mainstream political leaders being arrested. So, people have literally no leaders telling them what to do. And now they mobilize with Telegram, or co-location social media… We actually have this main, massive discussion board called Ling-dung, so basically they’ll go online and discuss strategies, what to do and what not to do. Or how to coexist with different knid of risks and tasks. I think that’s the main difference, thinking about it, we don’t have one idealized leader trying to steer away the movement. So things are just born naturally. Some people, maybe they would like to take more risks, to do more things, or some people want to participate in some really peaceful demonstration and go home when things are getting dirty. But they can still work with the Black Bloc. Yeah, I think it’s a new era of protest in Hong Kong.
TFSR: Do you have a sense of how, as trust and this sort of knowledge gets dispersed among more people and decentralized, how people know at what point… I mean, because the Chinese government and the Hong Kong government are watching what’s going on, are listening to what decisions are being made and I’m sure trying to engage and trying to confuse peoples activity and trust with each other. Is there an understanding that at a certain scale we need to devolve our methods of approaching things or have people come to that point yet?
Ahkok: I think that since 2014, there’s a lot of, we call them ‘Ghosts’, undercover cops who would blend in and try to start things or escalate to something more violent, or whatever. They try to make the scripts play out by the movement. I think we still have a lot of those. But we spent a lot of time trying to catch the ghosts in 2014, ‘oh those are undercover cops, those are protesters’ but how do you identify and distinguish them? I think that now people are so aware of it, we always try to remind ourselves ‘don’t spend time catching ghosts, just do your own thing.’ I think this actually works quite well, we don’t really spend time trying to call other people out from the protests ‘they aren’t one of us or they are ghosts or they aren’t protesters’. We don’t actually care now. We do our own stuff, we stay with our own groups of people. But I think that people are getting really smart at the same time. We try to analyze the situation, where to stop and what not to do.
There was this incident on the 1st of July when people trashed the parliament. Actually, four people had this death oath that they wanted to stay inside until the riot police came inside and they wanted to (it was actually suicidal). They actually made this oath to stay inside and fight off the riot police. Before the police came, 100 protesters went into the parliament to pick them up. They said ‘We either leave together or stay together.’ I think this was a very powerful moment of the protests, we actually learned a lot of trust. We’re on the front-line all of the time and we can analyze what would be really harmful fro the protesters, for the Black Blocs and where to actually call it off for the day and come back later on.
It’s just a lot of trial and error, really. But I would say that we’ve been waiting for this moment of leaderless protests for a long time. Because, even in 2014 there were so many idolized leaders that had their mics and said shit, making deals with the police… a lot of people just chanting what they were chanting on the stage. But not anymore. Even some of the politicians, some of the mainstream politicians they know this is not their time. They would just go and try to encourage the protesters to be safe or whatever, Even the lawmakers in Hong Kong know they know shouldn’t take the stage or take the mic to give orders anymore. That’s what makes it really powerful at this time.
TFSR: So, this show sometimes gets heard in China, gets downloads in China and I seriously doubt this will get past the censors.
TFSR: But, in the hopes that someone has a VPN or TOR and can hear this. As you said, things are feeling very dire for people and especially the youth who see a future in 27 years or whatever of China fully taking control of Hong Kong and it losing it’s autonomy and independence, whatever it has now. And it’s also the 30th anniversary of the Tianeman Square massacre, which I know is not allowed to be covered and is censored highly from within China. And I wonder if you have any words for people that are within the mainland about this situation and any hopes that you have… if you have any hopes… for their independence and autonomy. And what you want them to understand about what’s going on in your home.
Ahkok: Yeah, I mean we have a lot of really strong connections with activists in China. We have a lot of respect. Because they are paying a really high price for being dissidents in china. I would say, look, all tyranny collapses. I’ve actually been quite positive. Of course, if the Chinese Communist Party is still around in 2047 Hong Kong will become a part of it and then maybe there’s no escape. But, who knows, maybe the Chinese Community Party might collapse any time soon, man. Part of the reason why there are so many people obedient to the Chinese Communist Party is because of the economic power. There’s only one reason why you obey them, because of money (honestly). Even from Hong Kong. Even some people in Hong Kong are pro-Beijing because they will be made rich.
But I think the economic structure in China is so unstable that it might just collapse at any time. They just make up their numbers. We have been waiting for the bubble to burst for like, for a long time. It might happen any time soon. Once that happens, there will be no more obedience. People will question about the Communist Party in China. Things will be very different.
You know, they have this one… one row one belt, what’s it called, initiative in China. So, in the UN people try to question about… they have these concentration camps, reeducation camps in China now. Actually, 27 countries support these re-education camps in China because they are in the pocket of China. They want to get a piece of it. But I think this time, because of this extradition bill, or maybe we should pay attention to how evil the Chinese government is. Of course, I know a lot of people are trying to go against the imperialism in the States, so they would choose to side with China. I think that is just nonsense, that is just two evil empires. You shouldn’t choose one of them and then think “I’m with the Chinese, so fuck the US government and US imperialism.” No, China is just another, maybe even more evil imperial power, they are just getting stronger and stronger and a lot of countries are supporting them. I think it’s actually a very good time to raise the question “Should we really side with the Chinese?” Look at what they’re doing, there’s no humanity in this system, and that’s why they can grow their economy so fast because there is no legal system, no humanity. Just money. They still use the term ‘Communism’, but they are on the most right side of the spectrum you could imagine on earth.. Let’s think about this. It will collapse pretty soon, man, I have a lot of faith in that.
TFSR: Yeah. I… I don’t necessarily have the faith but I don’t know any better. I can hope for it. And that people can have something better. Definitely not the US coming in but something for themselves.
You kind of addressed one of the questions I had, which was… There are communists, that are statists, who we call Tankies in the west which is a British term. It’s for authoritarian leftists who believe that the opposition to the main capitalist empire, which would be the United States as you said, which would be to support anything that anyone else does that’s in opposition. I appreciate you raising that.
Ahkok: My pleasure, man.
TFSR: So, in terms of that… and I won’t keep you too much longer, I’ve kept you an hour now… But there’s been rumors of the so-called People’s Liberation Army showing up in Hong Kong. Have you heard of that happening or does that seem like a thing that the Chinese government is likely to impose at this point?
Ahkok: Yeah, that’s maybe the worst nightmare of Hong Kong is what happened in Beijing in 1989 happening in Hong Kong. So, there’s always rumors when we do something to upset the Chinese that “The People’s Liberation Army is actually standing by somewhere closer to Hong Kong, maybe in Song Jen (?) or Guangzhou.” And now we have the high speed train, they can just carry all the armies into Hong Kong in no time. But, honestly, to me… I mean… There’s a lot of people saying it won’t happen because the Chinese capitalists still need Hong Kong to make money. If they send in the armies to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong economic structure will collapse and the Chinese government can’t benefit from it. Honestly, I think it might just happen. But, we shouldn’t worry about it. If that’s the trump card, then the CCP has it and they might use it. But we have to mentally be ready for this knkid of reaction to happen in Hong Kong. But I think that we shouldn’t be threatened by this army behind the Chinese.
Or to think that we shouldn’t do this to upset the government more, or we shouldn’t do that. Even going to protest at the Liaison Office, some people are scared because the Liaison Office answers to the Beijing Government. So, when people are throwing paint at the Liaison Office and Chinese officials say ‘We will deploy the army on you if it happens again.’ I mean, yah, just fuck them, just do it then, man. What happened in 1989, it might happen again. Maybe not in Hong Kong, maybe not in Beijing, maybe somewhere else. But we should be mentally prepared if we are still on the road of resistance then we’ll have this obstacle in front of us.
TFSR: Do yo mind if I step back for a moment of clarification for the sake of the audience?
Ahkok: Yeah, yeah.
TFSR: So, when you are talking about the re-education camps that are being engage by the Chinese government, “re-education”, are you talking about the use of concentration camps to break up Ouigar and other Muslim populations within mainland China to socialize them in to, I guess, Han culture or Chinese Communist Party culture?
Ahkok: Well, China doesn’t allow for freedom of religion, right? So, they have been doing a lot of things, bad things, to Muslims for a long time. I think it was the BBC that had this really long coverage about these re-education camps in China. So, basically they throw Muslims from Sun Gong into these concentration camps to make them eat pork or brainwash them into something, until they are not Muslims and are free to go. We call them concentration camps because that’s what they are. I think a lot of people in Hong Kong are worried there might be this kind of concentration camps for Hong Kong Chinese, Hong Kongers. Because it actually might happen, you know? Yeah, yeah, it’s actually really frightening. I think the world should do something about it. We should organize… I don’t know…. We should save them from the tortures happening. We have news of this Muslim poet maybe just died inside the concentration camps. We have this kind of news all of the time. I think the world should really react to those.
TFSR: Boycotting and divesting countries that operate concentration camps such as the United States and China might be a really good idea for people internationally who have a sense of ethics. Or people domestically in those countries if they have that opportunity. Or sabotaging.
Ahkok: Absolutely, man, sabotaging.
TFSR: One thing we haven’t really talked about really… I’d like to touch back on the idea of the youth coming from a kind of right wing, populist perspectve in their resistance to the imposition of rule by the Chinese mainland, by the Chinese Communist Party, which is a very absolutely undemocratic institution by definition. So, with these concepts of Free Speech and Freedom of Entrepreneurship, Freedom of Protest and Religion that exists in Hong Kong, which is very parallel to what I’ve experienced in the United States, is that people point to these beautiful rights that are enshrined in these documents and protected. There’s also incredibly large class divides. A lot of populations, often racialized populations that live at the bottom of society that don’t have the opportunity to partake of that GDP, that fast moving economy that is enriching ‘the country’. So, I wonder, nearing the end of the conversation, do you think that in this push for independence and for thinking outside of.. away from… What do you think it would take or do you see an inkling in the youth in Hong Kong who see that their officials and their business people are willing to make deals with the Chinese Communist Party and state capitalism in the form of Chinese Communism that they can find an autonomous anti-capitalist alternative that doesn’t support the police state authoritarianism of the Chinese or the capitalist creation of feudalism in the current conditions?
Ahkok: Oh, man, that’s tough. I was having this conversation with this guy who’s also participating in the protests. He actually doesn’t know he’s right wing. From this conversation, he said “We’re not welcoming the Chinese in here, we should welcome some people with more, higher standard. Mainly whites, English-speaking groups.” They don’t even know they’re being really right wing. But that’s a part of the problem of being colonized for so long here in Hong Kong. One of the really tough issues is how to decolonize Hong Kong. You know, actually, people still fantasize about the British ruling days. They think it was really good, the financial structure was strong and the legal system was a really smart way of colonizing a place. They haven’t got the tools to criticize about being colonized for so long. Maybe, I would say, we have to educate people, or we have to remind people how bad it actually was when the British ruled Hong Kong. It actually is just really smart. We didn’t have universal suffrage when the British ruled. They just gave a certain kind of freedom: you could criticize the government, you name it. But deep down, we were actually enslaved, we just got really wealthy because of this financial movement benefiting Asia. In the 80’s and 90’s it seemed really good. We should really education people about decolonization means. Also, I think these different places we can look up to or have a different exchange. For example, Catalunya in Spain. I think we have this really common problem around raising our identities while at the same time not being a right wing fascist, saying that people are lower than us.
I’ve been engaging with a lot of Catalan activists. They have a lot of experience to share. Maybe we should have more of this kind of exchange in the future. Actually, there’s a lot of this work to do, but I think now we are more active politically, but we should be educated better with what to do with our deep politics in the future.
TFSR: Well, so how can people abroad.. you mentioned going to a demonstration in Germany at one point… How can people internationally get involved in offering support to resistance to Chinese imposition and the Hong Kong police and how can people educate themselves better on the outside?
Ahkok: There’s a free press in Hong Kong that does a pretty good job in English. If you search Free Press I think you can find a lot of coverage of that. I think there’s a reporter based in Beijing, she’s been writing a lot of articles on Hong Kong and Chinese political issues. Her articles are, I think, in The Guardian, the UK Guardian. So, if you search Guardian and Hong Kong you can find some of her articles as well. So, by knowing the history and the political facts, I think would be quite helpful.
Hong Kong is a really tiny place, really, you know and I’m not really surprised if no one heard of it or thinks it’s a part of Japan. So, knowing the facts is really good.
So, how can foreigners participate? The G20 is happening. Some Hong Kong protesters actually raised a couple of million of dollars to have a lot of different countries front page newspapers saying to address the G20 leaders to help us in Hong Kong. That is so embarrassing, but that actually really reflects how Hong Kong, the majority of Hong Kong protesters think. They are actually trying to ask help from other, strong leaders, or evil organizations.
Well at the same time a lot of my friends in Asia, anarchist groups, actually came to participate in the protests. A lot of comrades from Japan and Taiwan and Korea actually came. We actually have this, really strong anarchist network in east Asia these days. We have meetings probably more than once a year. We always try to talk about how to participate in your countries demonstrations, or other movements. So, we should definitely think about that. Besides knowing the facts and how we can participate when you guys are mobilizing or having different demonstrations and so on and so forth. Yeah, having these kinds of networks actually make us feel better. Maybe it will become something really powerful later on, who knows? Yeah, we actually have this really strong collaboration starting from Fukushima. The No-Nuke campaign in Japan and Taiwan was really active and they were actually working together really well. And of course, in Hong Kong, we have nuclear power plants that have threatened us for a really long time. And China is building quite a lot of new power plants in the near future. So, we actually have a very similar threat. So, from this No-Nuke network we slowly developed this pan-Asian anarchist network. We should definitely think of how to mobilize later on.
TFSR: Is there anything that I didn’t ask about that you think listeners should know about? That I didn’t ask out of ignorance?
Ahkok: Uh, no, actually that was really good. That was some really tough questions. I tried to answer them but it’s not really easy. I tried to prepare for it, though. I think… I haven’t really engaged with media that have been asking things that deep before…
TFSR: Well, thank you.
Ahkok: Yeah, I feel like I’m still really stimulated by the questions. Yeah, I can’t think of anything to add ,really.
TFSR: Well, I really appreciate the candor and making this work. I know it’s really late where you are.
This week we air two interviews about the struggle of Alabama activist and prisoner Kinetic Justice. Kinetic, aka Robert Earl Council, conducted a 6 day hunger strike because he was transferred with no altercations, investigations or disciplinary actions and after just having ended an almost 54 month stint in solitary confinement as punishment for Kinetic’s activism. Check out our past interview here that we conducted years back with Kinetic and others of the FAM.
(Swift Justice: 10min 45sec)
First up, Swift Justice, a prisoner currently in the Alabama system and member of the Free Alabama Movement and founder of UnheardVoicesOTCJ. Swift talks about the Free Alabama Movement’s inside/outside work, the organizing work that prisoners, former prisoners and outside community members have done in raising awareness of the slavery system of American prisons. Swift also talks about the inspiration and struggle of Kinetic Justice and the attempt to expand the prison system in Alabama by Governor Kay Ivey with a $900 million project to build 3 super max facilities. Swift’s writings can be found at https://unheardvoicesotcj.wordpress.com/ and on his twitter @unheardvoices16 and fedbook page.
(Pastor Glasgow: 35min 14sec)
Then we Pastor Kenneth Sharpton Glasgow of The Ordinary Peoples Society out of Dothan, Alabama, talks about Kinetic, about the harm reduction and community empowerment projects that he’s involved in. You can learn more about the related projects at https://www.theordinarypeoplesociety.org/.
*** Update: 8 of the other prisoners transferred with Kinetic to solitary have just begun a hunger strike, March 18th. IWOC has begun spreading a phone zap that you can partake in to help amplify the 8 voices. ***
SC Prisoner Speaks + Resisting Nuclear Waste in Bure, France
This week, we feature two audios with y’all. The voice of a prisoner in SC as the 2018 #PrisonStrike ends and someone resisting Nuclear Waste in Bure, France.
South Carolina Prisoner, “J”
First, “J” is in segregation in a South Carolina prison. He does not give his full name or the prison he’s inside for reasons of personal safety. You’ll hear him share a bit about his experience of the prison strike from the inside, the repression of prisoners at his facilities, prisoner unity in the strike,the high costs of living in prison and poor quality of food and other goods available and the red herring of administration that cell phones are the cause of violence. He shares condolences for families of those who were killed at Lee Correctional, the guard-instigated violence in April that sparked the call for the Nationwide Prison Strike. J also shares his thanks of outside supporters who have demonstrated outside of his facility, IWOC in particular and those who’ve helped to carry prisoners words around the world.
After that, for the bulk of the episode shares words from Daniel, who is involved in resistance to the building of a nuclear waste storage facility in the Gran Est (formerly Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine or ACAL) region near the French border with Germany. This infrastructure mega project threatens to poison the ground-water that feeds Paris, poison the ground in Gran Est and for villages like Bure where Daniel is based, and the resistance to the CIGEO storage facility has been met by harsh government repression and a heavy response police response. Daniel talks about the energy infrastructure in France, the military and colonial connection with the fuel of Uranium, comparisons to the ZAD at Notre Dame de Landes in Western France, resistance to other damaging power sources like in the Hambach Forest against a huge lignite mine in Germany and a few words about anti-pipeline struggles in the U.S.
We experienced some technical difficulties during the Bure interview, so for about 15 minutes there is a buzz. We hope that you will power through and listen carefully through the audio because the information is very interesting. After that time, it clears up and Daniel is far more listenable.
Here are a few references Daniel makes, such as the Tarnac Case, the ZAD (our interviews on the ZAD) , Hambach Forest (including interviews by crimethInc and us). The deforestation may happen this autumn, so actions in Bure (which is bristling with police who detain and inspect people). You can find out info in French at https://vmc.camp (most updated) that can be put through a translator or a less-updated English-language version at https://en.vmc.camp or one in German at https://de.vmc.camp that’s slightly more updated. And Unicorn Riot did a piece last year contextualizing the ZAD NDDL, Hambach Forest resistance and struggle in Bure.
If you’d like to hear an update and call-out about resistance in the Hambach forest by audio comrades from Infolara in Switzerland, check out the link in our shownotes. This audio will be a part of the next edition of B(A)DNews: Angry Voices From Around The World, produced by the International A-Radio Network of Anarchist and Anti-Authoritarian radio and podcast projects, of which we and Infolara are members. B(A)DNews is a monthly, English-language podcast (sometimes with a Spanish-language edition) released in the middle of each month. Stay tuned for that and you can find past episodes at A-Radio-Network.Org
Resisting Neo-Confederates and Nazis in Eastern TN
TriPride will be held in Johnson City, TN and will march through downtown, starting at 101 Commerce Street. Tennessee LOS coordinator Tom Pierce has called for a protest to happen along the march route. Pierce helped organize a similar protest against a Pride march last June in Knoxville.”
“We’re calling for folx to organize autonomously for this event. The fascists could show up on any part of the march route so be prepared to visibly or physically block them from interfering with the pride march.”
Check out the IGD article to see the full, article.
Rashid In Danger of Punitive Transfer
The prominent voice featured in last week’s episode of The Final Straw, the political prisoner Kevin Rashid Johnson, is being threatened with another punitive transfer because of his organizing and speaking out. There is a hearing on Monday, September 10th in his prison in Virginia, the state in which he was captured before being transferred away. His past transfers have moved him further from his family, have resulted in beatings, medical neglect, threats, starvation other attacks by prison officials and other prisoners.
It would be awesome if you, dear listener, could take a moment to call and email tomorrow starting at 9am eastern time to the official in charge of interstate compact: Chief of Corrections Operations David Robinson. We can call the main office number at 804-674-3000 and ask to be transferred to his phone line. Robinson’s email address is email@example.com.
When leaving a message or talking to Mr Robinson, refer to Rashid by his legal name Kevin Johnson, and give his Virginia prison id # 1007485. Explain that he is better off in Virginia, that he has been subjected to serious human rights abuses during previous transfers. Over ten thousand people have already signed a petition demanding that he be released from solitary and that he not be transferred. More info at RashidMod.Com
Certain Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar 2019
Pre-orders of the 2019 Certain Days Calendar have begun! For those who order now, calendars will ship around September 10th. You can order in the U.S., Canada and internationally at https://www.certaindays.org/order
The Ceratin Days: Freedom for Political Prisoners Calendar is a joint fundraising and educational project between outside organizers in Montreal, Hamilton, New York and Balitmore, in partnership with a political prisoner being held in maximum-security prison in New York State, David Gilbert. Co-founders Robert Seth Hayes and Herman Bell were released from prison in 2018. The proceeds from Certain Days 2019 will be divided among these groups: Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Assoc. (Palestine), Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) and other groups in need.
Check out our interview with former Political Prisoner, Daniel McGowan, about the Certain Days calendar.
Update on Harm Reduction and Food Distribution in Asheville
The City of #Asheville just dropped their notice of violation against the 12 Baskets food distribution project out of the Kairos West community center, however is still retaining it’s attack on Steady Collective’s needle exchange, noloxin distribution and harm reduction program by an unprecedented challenge to Firestorm’s hosting of the project via claiming that Firestorm is operating a homeless shelter by hosting Steady Collective. This is idiotic. Distributing harm reduction tools to the public saves lives and providing a space for people to sit, read, access reading materials and the internet does not amount to a shelter. If you haven’t heard the issues, check out our August 12th interview with Hill Brown of Steady Collective and keep an eye on their social media presence as well as that of Firestorm. Also, consider a visit to their public event every Tuesday at Firestorm from 1:30 to 4pm.
On Thursday, September 20th at Firestorm Books & Coffee in West Asheville, NC, Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross will be packaging mail for prisoners. No experience needed, just show up ready to fold and address and stamp materials. Snacks and good company will be provided!
First, an interview we conducted with Kevin “Rashid” Johnson. Rashid is a co-founder of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party and is the Minister of Defense from within it’s Prison Chapter. He is the author of two books available from Kersplebedeb, Defying the Tomb & Panther Vision, both collections of Rashid’s art and essays on capitalism, racism, imperialism and his view of a road towards liberation. Rashid is a Maoist and presents some interesting arguments in his writings. In this interview, Rashid talks briefly about his own case, his politicization behind bars, organizing the NABPP-PC, it’s split from the New Black Panther Party, cross-racial class organizing, the #PrisonStrike and more. We hope to be able to bring more of Rashid’s voice in the future. To check out his writing and and his quite literally iconic art, check out rashidmod.com. And at the moment you can write to Rashid at the following address:
Kevin Johnson #1007485 Sussex 1 State Prison 24414 Musselwhite Dr. Waverly, VA 23891
Next, we’ll hear an audio post-card that some friends put together, interspersing words of encouragement and audio from a noise demonstration outside Hyde prison in Eastern North Carolina on August 20th. Prisoners at Hyde CI met the outside supporters in the yard and from across lines of razor wire they unfurled three banners with simple statements: “parole”; “better food”; & “In Solidarity”. To read an article about the noise demo, see some pictures and hear about NC specific demands, check out the article, “Community Shows Support as NC Prisoners Rally With Banners“ on ItsGoingDown. Make some noise!
To close out the hour, we will hear some words of encouragement to striking prisoners in #Amerikkka from comrades incarcerated in #Klanada!
If you’re in Asheville today (Sunday September 9th), consider dropping by Firestorm at 610 Haywood Rd at 5pm to join #BlueRidgeABC for the monthly political prisoner letter writing night. Supplies will be free as well as info on writing prisoners, names and addresses, and comradery.
TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself for the listening audience?
Rashid: Alright, this is Kevin Rashid Johnson, I am a prisoner, incarcerated in Virginia at Sussex 1 State Prison.
TFSR: How has the prison tried to silence your organizing and writing over the years, and is this a consequence of the prison strike or other efforts?
R: I think I’ve gone through the entire range of reprisals. I’ve been subjected to physical attacks. I’ve been denied meals. I’ve been attempted to be subjected to dehydration, I’ve been subjected to destruction of property. Most recently I was transferred out of state, sent first to Oregon, then transferred from Oregon as a result of writing and exposing abuses in that prison system, to Texas. Same process resulted — I was transferred from Texas to Florida. Florida just got rid of me in June and sent me back to Virginia. I was then transferred — when I returned to Virginia, to Red Onion State Prison, and moved from Red Onion State prison and transferred on the 12th of July, and sent here to Sussex 1 State Prison, and I’m now being house on death row, although I have no death sentence, and that being with the obvious purpose of isolating me from other prisoners, as there are only three prisoners left on Virginia’s Death Row, and they’re spread out in a 44 cell pod, which I’m housed in separated and all the inmates have been instructed not to talk to me.
So, the major effort has been to isolate me and to remove me from areas and places where they felt I would be able to talk to prisoners, to be able to gain info about abusive conditions and to, I guess, influence prisoners to challenge abuses and to stand up to conditions that are pretty inhumane and abusive. As far as responses to the prison work strike, I have not as of yet seen any reprisals or any response that I could call reprisals. And they expect that there would be exposure of anything they did, which may be the only deterrent at this point for any type of retaliation. But I’ve been involved in a commissary strike, not spending any money, as my contribution to the strike, because I’m confined in solitary and don’t have the ability to work. I have never participated in prison work. I’ve refused through my incarceration because I have recognized it is slave labor, and I refuse to allow them to exploit me in that fashion.
TFSR: For the listeners in the wider public, can you talk about the purpose of prisons under white supremacist capitalism in the US, and why it’s in all of our interest to not only struggle against these institutions, but to support prisoners’’ organizing efforts?
R: Well, from the outset, I think it’s rather obvious that there is a racial component to who is targeted with mass imprisonment within America, from the New Afrikan, that is Black, prisoners, Black social population being 12 to 13% in mainstream society but being some 50% of the prison pop nationwide. In Virginia, where I’m incarcerated, they have been something like 13% of the state population but 58% of the prison population. So, race clearly is a determinative factor in who is targeted within imprisonment and who receives their sentences and the extent of incarceration and where they are housed. In that context, within the prison system, it’s usually at the low security, the low level institutions where predominately white prisoners are housed, and the most extreme and harsh prisons, in each prison system I’ve been to and I know of, this is where the predominately Black and Brown prisoners are housed at.
Within the prison structure, prisoners tend to polarize into racial groups, based on their shared cultural and social experiences, and guards and administration are typically inclined to try to manipulate prisoners against each other along racial grounds, racial lines, you know. The guards in my experience, especially where I just came from — Florida — are particularly orientated to acting out racist policies and politics. In fact, where I was confined, two of the institutions I was confined to, the Reception and Medical Center in Florida, in the Florida State Prison, those institutions have been exposed as employing card-carrying Ku Klux Klan members, in fact — three guards who were exposed as having plotted to kill an ex-prisoner who was Black, at the Reception and Medical Center, and revealed their plans to an FBI informant were recently prosecuted, and it came out during the prosecution that all three of them were card carrying Klansman, and that they work at the institution. And not long ago one of the legislatures on the Florida Congress had done a tour of the Reception and Medical Center, she being a Black woman, she pretty much expressed in the media that she feared for her life, the attitude of the white guards there were just openly racist. She acknowledged that she knew that the Klan played a prominent role in the staff and the administration of that institution and in that region, which is the same are the Florida State Prison is located. And she expressed her knowledge of a portion of the institution’s guards kicking Black prisoners’ teeth out who had gold teeth, and that in general, she knew that these institutions were run by the Ku Klux Klan. And this is from an elected member of the Congress of Florida, a Black woman who had done a tour and said that she literally was in fear of her life as she did this tour within the institution, because of the treatment and attitudes of white guards of the institution when she did her tour. So, the racial politics are pretty out in the open, and they’re able to exist in such at such a level because prisons not only hold people on the inside and keep us isolated from the general public, they also keep the general public locked out. So there is no scrutiny, there is no supervision, and there is generally no public accountability for and by those who work within the institution, so it’s just a closed culture, where all sorts of corruption and abuse is allowed to fester and just to be carried out with pretty much impunity. The support that is needed on the outside is tremendous. The support that the prisoners have been able to gain over the past several years in response to the work strikes and various attempts to publicize and challenge abusive conditions in the prisons have pretty much got word in to the institutions where prison officials had blocked prisoners from becoming aware of what was going on as far as protests going on and attempts to challenge and expose abuses. And it bolstered and motivated prisoners who otherwise were afraid to challenge abusive conditions and didn’t feel that there was anything that could be accomplished by trying to stand up and oppose conditions. It kind of motivated a lot of prisoners who weren’t otherwise involved to get involved. So the support that can be garnered on the outside and has been garnered is very important to this type of work and this type of struggle. It’s essential that those who are aware of these struggles and aware of these conditions give what support they can, not only as allies, but also as comrades.
TFSR: to anyone behind bars out there who might hear this interview, and is sitting on the fence about participation, what can you say about the nation-wide prison strike?
R: That they should not be deterred, they should not be discouraged, they should not just sit on their hands and refuse to get involved. The more of us who get involved, the stronger the outside support and awareness that we’re serious about the conditions that we’re challenging and the need for change — that they should not allow officials to continue to manipulate us against each other, whether along racial lines whether you’re talking about along the lines of street organizing. That’s what supporters… They should also not allow loved ones to discourage them from participating in the work strike. I know a lot of the loved ones who may hear about the strike, they may advise them to not get involved because of fear of them being transferred, a long way away from their loved ones, or they don’t want to see them subject to relation or being placed on lock down, but their loved ones should understand that this is a condition, that these are conditions that we live, that they’re not living them and that its important that we take a stand to change these abuses, and not play in to officials trying to isolate and play us one against the other, and cause people to refuse or fear coming involved, and keep us divided amongst ourselves. We need all possible participants; we need the greatest level of unity possible. And one of the things I always emphasize to my peers is, we outnumber the prison guards, the prison officers around us some 30 to one at very least. But they have total power and total control, because they always keep us divided, fearful, envious, and not trusting or believing in our own potential, where as they exercise complete and absolute unity in their actions. If they want to abuse you, the rest of them are gonna fall in line and support that abuse. If one them lies on us and mistreats us, the rest of them are going to conform to that lie and they’re gonna carry out that abuse. And that’s why they have the control and power that they have, because no matter what, no matter what the situation no matter the condition, they always work and stick together. And we need to take that same example and apply it to how we exercise our unity and our level of power amongst ourselves.
TFSR: Rashid, can you talk about your incarceration, political development, and a bit about the New Afrikan Black Panther Party that you helped to co-found? Also, how does it differ from the New Black Panther Party, formerly of the nation of Islam?
R: Ok, my imprisonment initially began in 1990. I was incarcerated for a murder that I had no involvement in, and large part, it was conspiratorial on the part of a police officer who I had a history of conflicts with. They subjected me to deliberate misidentification and a number of procedural violations during the prosecution of the case that was imputed against me, that went the actual jurisdiction, the actual power of the court to try to convict and sentence me for the charges that they were attempting to impute against me.
Ok, throughout my imprisonment, particularly the first decade and a half, I spent a large part of my time struggling directly against guard abuses. Their physical abuses, I responded to with physical responses. They would abuse physically myself or others around me, and I would respond with physical reactions to their abuses. I went through the struggle pretty much back and forth, one to one head up conflicts with guards and their teams, riot guards and cell extraction teams, for about the first decade and a half. I became exposed to political thought put, particularly the writings of George Jackson, around 2002, when I was housed in an area with another prisoner, another political prisoner, Hanif Shabazz Bey, from the Virgin Islands. He turned me on to a lot of different political writings, and different political organizations that were involved in the system in America, the various revolutionary nationalist struggles that had taken place through the world through the 40s and 50s.
I began to do extensive studies into various aspects and levels of progressive as well as revolutionary history and politics. Various theories, etc. And as I studied more, I came to understand the inherent dysfunctional nature of the capitalist, imperialist system that America is at the center of, and I understood or came to understand that the oppression that I was struggling against was much bigger than head to head clashes with individual guards, that it was largely an invalid system that pitted a small group of powerful wealthy people against the masses of working class people and poor people through out the world, and that they lived at the expense of these people. And to change conditions requires a struggle that mobilized the oppressed to bring about fundamental change at various levels of society. And I grew from a person inclined to react on a more individual level to one who recognized or saw the bigger picture and was more inclined to organize people and to contribute what I could with my resources, and the understanding that I was developed to build into something bigger, that was more, addressed more to the fundamental problems of the overall system. So in that, my clashes with individual guards lessened. I was also involved in mitigation and studying and understanding the political system and legal system. I became less inclined to, as I said, individualize my struggle against the system. Though, in doing that, I began to reach out more to people on the outside who were involved in political organizations, trying to pull people who were in positions of influence, politically people who were willing to mobilize groups of people in support of prisoners and conditions that we lived under, to challenge those conditions, to educate prisoners, and to try to consolidate a base of support on the outside to the inside. In doing this, I was able to understand some of the weaker points of the system.
I understood where it was most effective to attack the power structure, and I understood, or came to understand that one of the most vulnerable places that you can direct your attack at the system is by exposing its corruption to the masses, because the masses are the sources of their power, that those people can’t be ruled over by an oppressor, or any power, unless they give their consent at some level to that ruling. And once they become aware of the illegitimacies and the corruption of the system, and they refuse to acknowledge or concede the legitimacy of the system, then they can typically overnight overthrow that system. And this is why the power structure expends such a massive amount of resources and propaganda to try to influence and keep the masses brainwashed and believing that they’re moralistic and they’re honest and they’re well-meaning and their intentions are oriented to the best interests of the masses, because they realize without some level of acknowledgment and consent, the masses of the people could not be ruled over and would not accept their authority, and as you observed during the Arab Spring in, what, 2011? — once the mass of the people refused to accept the power that rules over them, they can send that power into exile and flight over night, and the powers that be understand this. So I understood that by exposing the corruption and illegitimacy of those in power and the lies that the sustain themselves with, this is one means of undermining the false power and the false credibility and sense of legitimacy that these people try to portray themselves, as the basis of them exercising their authority over others. And it has proven most effective, particularly my writings about abuses going on inside of the prisons. My writings exposing the corruptions and illegitimacy of the power structure and the economic system to the extent that people have been receptive to my writings, I have seen a corresponding reaction by those in power, which, as I pointed out earlier, is a result of me facing a much higher level of reprisal and attempts to isolate me now, a very different response from when I was just in my head to head clashes with, you know, guards at a very low ranking lever. When I started to expose the system, they started tryna isolate me, to try and stop me from communicating with people on the outside, to shutting down my lines of communication, transferring me from state to state and deliberately sending me to states where conditions were known to be the most abusive in the country, particularly Texas and Florida, and trying to put me in positions where I would end up in violent clashes with other prisoners, and that sort of thing.
But anyway, as I became more politically I aware, I saw the need for political organizations to represent those who do not have political representations and to operate to educate and organizing the masses on a more revolutionary and fundamental level of understanding the political economic system on how to challenge and ultimately over throw that oppressive system in the interest of the working class and in support of the people. So, we co-founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter initially as an autonomous of the New Black Panther Party, being aware the New Black Panther Party started in 2000 was not practicing the politics and they were not living up to principles in the program of the original Black Panther Party, but had pretty much wrapped up these politics, the racial politics of the Nation of Islam, in an artificial garb of Black Pantherism. And our agenda was to try to take that organization in to the politics and the revolutionary ideology of the original Black Panther Party and to change their reverse racism, and to put them more on to the path of revolutionary politics of the original party. Ultimately, we realized that it was futile trying to do this, in that they were not interested in changing their political orientation, or to maintaining or carrying forward the agenda of the original Panther Party, so we ultimately split from the New Black Panther Party.
We changed our name to the National Black Panther Party Prison Chapter, and from there we have maintained the political line of the original Black Panther Party, but we have been very focused on not repeating the mistakes of the original party, but building on the correct contributions that the party made to the struggle of the 60s and 70s. And trying to carry forward what they were able to accomplish during their more revolutionary stages, which was from 1966 to 1971, and to, again, not repeat the errors that they made, and to learn from the mistakes that they made and from the what we understand now to be a very vicious campaign carried out against them by the US government, and the inclination of the government to attack any organization that seeks to open the eyes of the masses of the people. And we ourselves have been subjected to the same sort attacks and attempts to undermine. We’ve been stigmatized as Black Separatists and domestic terrorists, and all when we have done nothing and we have not been fighting for doing anything except publicizing the corruption of the law enforcement establishment and the abuses inside the US prisons, and they have identified this as being the behavior that they dislike, that they feel qualified us as threats to the security of the country. And I was personally profiled in a 2009 threat assessment report as a domestic terrorist because of my involvement in publicizing abuses in, you know, American prisons. And they’re saying that I prove to have exercised a good level of influence over people and society, in turning them against the law enforcement system because of my writings, which is pretty absurd. But this has been the thrust of what we are trying to organize, and some of the work that we’ve done, and the response has been, as I said, repression, isolation, attempts to attack us, subjecting the various members, leading members of our org to various levels of reprisal. Being placed in, thrown in solitary, subjected to all sorts of physical abuses, and you know, other attempts to try and dissuade and deter us from the work that we’re trying to do.
TFSR: The New Afrikan Black Panther Party has a focus of org with folks of African descent. In your view, how can folks in other groups, like white folks, act as comrades as you say in struggle against white supremacy?
R: Alright, within our party, we founded in 2006 in what’s called the White Panther Organization and subsequent to that, the Brown Panther Organizational Committee, as arms of our party. We are the first Panther organization that has actually brought white comrades and brown comrades in to our party. So we have brown and white Panthers in our party, and the function of them is to take the line of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party in to the white communities to struggle against the racism in the white communities, the Brown Panthers take the same line in to the brown communities, and the thing is to bring all these different sectors of society, both domestic and abroad, into a consolidated, united front that will unify us in the single struggle against the imperialist system, particularly focused on the marginalized people that are called criminalized or the Lumpen. Our work is specifically again to take the struggle to the power structure at the most fundamental level, and to build the sort of unity that has been probably the Achilles heel of revolutionary struggles, and undermining their effectiveness, and that has been polarizing factor of race. And as I see it, this is our approach in it has proven quite effective.
Initially when they sent me out of state, they sent me to Oregon, which is one of the few prison systems in America where there is a predominately white prisoner population — it’s probably like 5 or 10% Black. And they sent me there after they had profiled me as a Black Separatist, and when I got to Oregon, they spread amongst the large number of Aryan gangs up there that I was Black Panther, which they portrayed as some sort of Black variation of the Ku Klux Klan, portraying us as anti-white and wanted to make race war against white people and this sort of thing, and they were trying to create a violent conflict between me and the white groups up there, which was obviously the point of them sending me to that state. But in effect, because of the politics of our party, and the orientation of the line of our white panther organization, I was able to politicize the white groups up there to various — they had like 13 different Aryan gangs up there in the prison system. I ended up politicking with them. They immediately released me into the population, which was another indication what they intended to try to see happen. But instead of me ending up in a war with them, I ended up politicking with them, exposing them to the history of racism, how racism was manipulated and created in the late 1600’s, and how it had been used and has been used as the most effective polarizing factor in society to manipulate oppressed people against each other. And I won a large sector of them over, and when I started to prove effective as not engaging them in violence, but winning them over to more revolutionary political and understanding of racial politics, they immediately threw me into solitary, got me out of population, and started to impose a different regiment of abuse and oppression against me, and ultimately kicked me out of the state and sent me to Texas, and when I was able to influence white Aryan gangs there to get involved in the national prison hunger strike that was taking place in 2013, where 30,00 prisoners got involved in Oregon joined them in hunger strike, so the line of our party, with respect to racial politics is specifically to organize white comrades to take the politics of our party, unifying politics in to the white community to struggle against the polarizing culture in, you know, white culture and white society in America, and to try to bring us all together in a common, united front.
TFSR: Can you talk about your views on feminism in the revolutionary struggle for a new society?
R: Alright, I should make a distinction between our line on the gender issue and the question of the struggle against paternalism and male domination. We are not feminist. We are, we are about revolutionary women’s liberation. Feminism seems to be the equal opposite of chauvinism, no– male chauvinism. The line in feminism largely has been represented by the bourgeois sector of the women’s movement, the upper middle class to upper class has always dominated the voice of the feminist movement, so we find it to be largely not a movement that really is about advancing the cause of women, at all levels of oppression, but at the interest of bourgeois and upwardly middle class women to gain an equal foothold with the bourgeois males in dominating society in general. So our struggle is for gender equality, not to raise the interest of upper class women at the exclusion of the lower class and oppressed women. Our struggle is to see working class women, poor women have all their rights respected and to be given an equal stage of power and an equal stage of respect throughout society at all stages, though I would make the distinction between what is known or generally represented as feminism with what we call revolutionary women’s liberation. But we are allied, of course, to the women’s movement, those women who identify as and those other people who may reject the concept of gender etc, who identify with the feminist struggle, but from the standpoint of working class women and working class non gender people or working class lgbtq people, and we stand on an equal footing with them and seek to have all forms of repression of women or all forms of repression of non gendered people, all forms of repression of LGBTQ people overthrown, and all people to have an equal share in power, and an equal interest in having their rights, and their desires, so long as they aren’t opposing and oppressing other people.
TFSR: Are there any other final statements you’d like to make, before we get cut off
R: Well, I would like to state that I appreciate this opportunity to speak to the listen au of this program, and I really hope that much can be achieved through the struggles that are gaining ground and momentum now, and that there will be a growing link between those on the outside and the prison movement, and that this will help advance the cause of the oppressed against this oppressive system.
TFSR: Thank you so much for making this conversation happen, and solidarity
As of May 2019, Rashid has been transferred out of state yet again to Virginia. He can be written at:
Kevin Johnson # 264847
Pendleton Correctional Facility
4490 W. Reformatory Road
Pendleton, IN 46064
You can read his essays and updates on his case, plus get ahold of his two books, learn about the NABPP-PC and see his revolutionary artwork up at: http://rashid.mod