Anarchist Resistance In Prison: Jennifer A. Rose and Comrade Z
On this podcast minisode, we feature the voices of two incarcerated comrades: Jennifer Amelie Rose and Comrade Z. Both chats were conducted through the mail and are voiced by comrades in the Channel Zero Network.
First you’ll hear Jennifer Rose. Jennifer, formerly known as Jennifer Gann, is a member of the Fire Ant Collective which just released it’s 6th issue and is due to put out another very soon. She is a trans woman who came up in the southern California punk scene, became politicized and began organizing inside of prison since the late 1990’s. Jennifer Rose has a parole hearing that she could use support letters for coming up on July 28th, 2020 and also more letters in support of her commutation application. You can learn more about Jennifer Rose’s case by visiting BabyGirlGann.noblogs.org where you can find out how to donate to her legal fund. You can read issues #1-5 of Fire Ant Journal up at Bloomington ABC’s website & #6 at Blue Ridge ABC’s website.
And you can write to Jennifer at:
Jennifer Rose E – 23852 Salinas Valley State Prison D3-1250 P.O. Box 1050 Soledad, CA 93960
You can find out how to format support letters, you can email her lawyer, Richard Rutledge at RLaw@RutledgeAttorneys.com or write to Mr Rutledge at: Richard Rutledge, Attorney At Law 7960 B Soquel Drive #354 Aptos, CA 95003
You can write letters of support to the Board of Parole Hearings on behalf of Jennifer by addressing them to the following address:
Board of Parole Hearings Post Office Box 4036 Sacramento, CA 95812-4036
And you can write to the CA governor, Gavin Newsom on Jennifer’s behalf by addressing them to:
Governor Gavin Newsom 1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Then, we’ll hear from Comrade Z, aka Julio Alex Zuniga, an anarchist prisoner in Texas, about the situation at the Darrington Unit. Comrade Z was mentioned by Jason Renard Walker at the end of our interview that we aired on April 19, 2020. Although all three conversations cover some hard to listen to subject matter, we want to give a special warning to Comrade Z’s portion, which talks in detail about terrible conditions at Darrington and discusses suicide and death of prisoners. You can read another interview with Comrade Z that appeared recently on ItsGoingDown.org and you can check out and/or purchase his artwork on instagram by viewing @julioazunigaart. Thanks to Matt Brodnax for helping us set this interview up and his support for Comrade Z.
You can write to Comrade Z at:
Julio A. Zuniga #1961551 Darrington Unit 59 Darrington Rd. Rosharon, TX 77583
As a closing note, I had hoped to share recent words from Jason Goudlock, currently incarcerated at Toledo CI in Ohio, give a brief update on his situation and how the ODRC is not handling covid-19 however technical difficulties got in the way. Suffice to say, prisoners were still being transferred into Toledo CI shortly before April 15th, prisoners were not given any significant protective gear nor cleaning supplies and folks were starting to get sick. Learn about Jason’s case, watch the documentary about him and find out how to support him at FreeJasonGoudlock.org. You can reach Jason via jpay email or write him at
Jason William Goudlock, #284-561 PO Box 80033 Toledo, OH 43608
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Transcription of Jennifer Rose interview
TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself for the audience? Who are you and where are you?
Jennifer Rose: I’m glad to hear from you and happy to have this opportunity to participate in The Final Straw Radio.
So, to introduce myself, my name is Jennifer Rose. I’m a a trans woman incarcerated in California and currently held at Salinas Valley State Prison, a men’s facility.
TFSR: Can you tell us a bit about where you came from and how you came to be incarcerated?
Jennifer Rose:I’m from Southern California, born and raised in Riverside, and spent my teenage years living in Huntington Beach (Orange County). I was in the 1980’s punk rock scene around the L.A. area doing a lot of drinking and drugs which led to my involvement in an attempted robbery and another armed robbery for which I was jailed, convicted and sent to prison for seven years.
TFSR: How did you become politicized?
Jennifer Rose: While I was serving my time at Folsom Prison, I became involved in prison protests and abolitionist struggle, for which I was targeted, placed in solitary confinement and beaten by guards.
This is how I became politicized as a prison rebel, resisting brutality and torture, sabotaging and breaking a dozen prison cell windows in the inhumane ‘Ad-Seg’ unit. I was involved in the gladiator fights where guards encouraged racial violence and then shot at us with 9mm assault rifles using live ammo. There were additional charges brought against me for attacking a pig officer, for weapon possession, and for two assaults on a state prosecutor and associate warden. For these I was given a 25 years-to-life sentence under the ‘three strikes’ law. This was around 1995 and 1996.
TFSR: Can you talk about the struggle of being a woman in a male-assigned prison? What sort of support have you received and what sorts of hurdles?
Jennifer Rose: To answer your question about being a transwoman in a men’s facility, we have faced the most adverse circumstances imaginable. From the discriminatory harassment and brutality of the pigs, to the hatred and violence of other prisoners, and even rapes and murder! This has began to change more recently, at last in California with many legal reforms and court victories.
I have been able to find widespread support from outside groupls like Black & Pink and TGI Justice project, among others. Also, lots of support among abolitionist and anarchist collectives, and the extended family of LGBTQ prisoners. The main hurdles we face continue to be our unsafe housing conditions, exposure to homophobic and transmisogynist violence from gangs, domestic and sexual violence. We are in a very disadvantageous situation facing the various types of gender violence on a daily!
TFSR: Is there anything else you’d like to say about how you discovered anarchism and what inspires you about anarchy?
Jennifer Rose: I became politicized during the 1991 Folsom Prison Food Strike, which was a protest against proposed visiting restrictions that cut our visiting days from four times a week to twice (weekends and holidays). Just prior to this, I was given a copy of the anarchist zine Love & Rage by another prisoner and had also been influenced by Jailhouse Lawyers to educate myself about so-called legal rights and remedies for which I became a strong advocate.
Eventually I would learn the hard way that the pigs don’t give a fuck about the law, or peoples rights. It’s only used at their convenience as a tool of social control and criminalization of marginalized people and communities. The people thing that inspires me about Anarchy is the simplicity of the idea, of abolishing the State and it’s illegitimate Power. They claim their Authority from God and Natural Law… and originally as white male property owners under colonial government. That’s crap! I love the basic concept of Anarchy, which is Freedom! It’s basic principles of voluntary cooperation and mutual aid, non-hierarchy and autonomous collectives, internationalism and solidarity, etc.
TFSR: Have you been able to do much organizing within prison? If so, around what sorts of issues and how did it go?
Jennifer Rose: I’ve done a lot of organizing within prisons, including legal advocacy and ‘jailhouse lawyer’ work, as former leadership in Black & Pink and working with TGI Justice Project to change discriminatory policies and improve living conditions for trans women in the men’s prisons. We’ve had a lot of success and made progress over the past 12 years or so, including betteer access to basic trans health care (e.g. hormones, surgery, etc), access to and inclusion in prison programs and job assignments, accommodation of women’s clothing and cosmetics and more awareness of and prevention of sexual abuse among other things. I am currently awaiting an approved gender affirming surgery and transfer to a women’s facility sometime this year!
TFSR: You mentioned in a letter with me that you organized briefly with Maoists. Are you now or have you ever been a Maoist (that’s a Senator McCarthy joke)? But, really, how did that happen? What was that like?
Jennifer Rose: As for Maoists, yes, I did work with MIM-Prisons for a while which offered study group sand worked directly with prisoners on many projects. I carried on a dialogue with them via correspondence, often debating with them over my anarchist sympathies and their political line on gender and State power (their ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’). I did think I could work within that Maoist framework at one point, but eventually had to reject the ideological bickering sectarianism of Maoists. I’ve always been an anarchist at heart, even when I went through this stage in my personal development. Eventually I came in contact with insurrectionary anarchist writings from Greek comrades in the FAI-IRF and CCF, which I was strongly influenced by, and developed friendships with like-minded comrades.
TFSR: You’re a collective member of Fire Ant. Can you talk about the project and what part you play in it?
Jennifer Rose: I’m extremely proud of my involvement as a member of the Fire Ant collective. The project started as a concept I was discussing with several different comrades via regular correspondence, including Robcat, Michael Kimble, Sean Swain and Bloomington ABC. We all had similar ideas of trying to organize and faciliate a national or international anarchist prisoner conference where we could bring together the collective voice of imprisoned anarchist rebels, perhaps publish a paper, start a support fund to raise funds and material aid, and generally build anarchist prisoner solidarity in a way we haven’t yet seen!
We’ve always had ABC and National Jericho Movement mainly focus on leftist ‘political prisoners.’ Many imprisoned anarchists are not recognized as ‘political.’ In point of fact, we are anti-political! However, we believe that ALL prisons are political. Anyways, the part I played is pulling all these comrades’ ideas together, and putting them in direct contact about this exciting project.
Once Robcat offered to facilitate a zine, Bloomington ABC offered to provide printing and distribution free! And they also halready had a support fund set up. So we all pulled together and formed the Fire Ant collective. Robcat came up with the name and we all contributed to the zine connecting our individual and collective struggles from prisons across the U.S. and internationally! I’m proud to be an accomplice in this seditious conspiracy toward worldwide anarchist insurgency.
TFSR: There have been some victories of recent in your sentence. Can you talk about what happened?
Jennifer Rose: As far as my recent sentence reduction on October 28, 2019, this only affected one of my sentences for assault and battery on the prosecutor, a ‘non-serious’ felony, which was knocked down from 25-years-to-life to 8 years. Yay!
TFSR: Similarly, you were telling me of improvements in the conditions of your confinement as relates to gender, right? And what are next steps for you and what can listeners do to support you and try to hasten your release?
Jennifer Rose: My next steps are getting my surgery, transferring to a women’s facility, and a parole suitability hearing on July 28, 2020 with the Board of Parole Hearings (BPH). The greatest support comes in the form of letters to the Board and/or the Governor advocating for my release, and any amount of commissary funds which I can receive via jpay.com.
TFSR: I’m not sure if you’re much of a reader, but do you have any book suggestions for the audience?
Jennifer Rose: As for recommended reading, I would strongly suggest the Emma Goldman autobiography and Assata Shakur autobiography, Michelle Alexander’s ‘The New Jim Crow’, and anything by Butch Lee, Sean Swain or Greek insurrectionary anarchists of CCF!
TFSR: Any comrades you want to shout out on the show?
Jennifer Rose: Shoutouts to Robcat, Breezy, Michael Kibmle, Sean Swain, Eric King, Marius Mason, Jeremy Hammond, Sacramento Prisoner Support, Nashville ABC, Nadja in Bloomington and Chelsea Manning! And in case I missed someone, solidarity to all anarchists and antifascists! Thank you for your efforts in the struggle. To The streets!!! Thank you!
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Transcription of Comrade Z interview
TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself for the audience? Who you are, where you are, how you got there?
Comrade Z: Hello Everyone, Thank you for having me on The Final Straw. It’s an honor. My name is Julio A. Zuniga. Alex is what everyone calls me, or Comrade Z for those who are standing with me 10 toes down in solidarity.
I am a survivor of B-Line solitary confinement at Dirty Darrington Unit and currently trying to reach out to activists and anarchists in the area who can help me organize a statewide work stoppage. Enemy of the State and of the Dirty Darrington administration, my whole heart and soul is hellbent on bringing the attention of the entire nation to the administration and it’s human rights violations, cruel and unusual punishment, physical assaults by staff, mailroom policy changes, inadequate law library, commissary price gouging, infestation of roaches, mice and spiders, sewage leaks in the cells, constant power outages, the list goes on and on. The torture tactics are of primary concern because it’s driving people to die by suicide. So far it’s been 1 suicide per year since I’ve been here. How I got here was because abolitionists in East Texas rose up against Telford Unit, for Housing Administrative Segregation inmates at that facility without telling the surrounding community about it. They were against it. People of New Boston, TX and Texarkana found out about TDCJ housing G4 and G5 offenders because an Officer Davison was murdered by a solitary confinement offender who was being tortured by Telford Unit by withholding his mail and refusing him basics he needed, like food. This caused the entire town to begin the takedown of wardens and the torture of all inmates by using lockdowns for 90 days or more, then by stopping all hot meals for an entire year in 2017. So, since that officer died in 2015, it was the people who brought forth change to that unit. It is now a pre-release unit, no administrative segregation offenders and no solitary confinement. I was not blessed with any kind of support, so I intentionally got into trouble just so they could ship me off. Best move I ever made, so I thought. However, that is how I ended up here.
TFSR: What can you tell the listeners about Darrington Unit and your experience being held by the TDCJ?
CZ: The Dirty Darrington Unit is a hub unit. Thousands of inmates pass through here weekly, transferring to other units, coming off of UTMB Medical Branch at Galveston, or Psyche Unit Jester 4. Some of them are bleeding, soiled in feces and urine. All mentally ill persons coming off Jester 4 have had no kind of hygiene for over 3 days. All these lay over cells are so unsanitary it takes a healthy person 24 hours to get sick by sleeping in one of these cells. There is nothing humane about that. They usually house people with wrong custody levels, endangering lives at will, resulting in physical and sexual assaults. It’s Dirty Darrington’s specialty.
I encourage you to ask administration how many lives Dirty Darrington has claimed because they refused to help suicidal inmates. Also, how administration uses offenders to snitch on others with a false hope of beating a disciplinary case, then throw them back into population, leaving them to kill themselves behind the dishonor. On the 2nd week of November 2019, a guy killed himself after spilling the beans on others. When he asked them to help him because he felt suicidal, they ignored him. This is the suicide I witnessed that really proved verbatim the words Sean Swain voices in Last Act of the Circus Animals. When Rico killed himself, the show was like Cirque de Soleil. You had every basic need availed to you – blankets, mattresses, toilet paper, toothbrushes, toothpaste, cleaning materials, officers serving trays like they do in population with full portions. They even gave us light bulbs. It was disgusting to see it. You saw paint crews, utility crews, the works. For a week the unit experienced humanity, but once the coast was clear and the administration got away with murder, it was back to torture tactics, a pattern I have seen one too many times on Dirty Darrington.
Overall my experience has been depressing, lonely, stressful, painful. I’ve seen this administration use psychological torture for 23 months straight, for this is how long I’ve been held in solitary confinement. Only recently was I magically released and placed in E-Line (G5) administrative segregation – the filthy administrative segregation area that is notorious for roach infestations, no lighting in showers, no restrooms on the rec yard so if you have to urinate or have a bowel movement you are going to on the same area men play basketball. Fecal matter is all over the floor and people wonder how they got sick. Easy – as soon as you come in from outside rec, they serve chow. If you have been playing basketball then munch on your baked chicken, then suck the grease off your fingers. You just sucked on chicken flavored fecal matter and urine. Dirty Darrington knows exactly what it’s doing. Environmental disaster, B-Line, E-Line, G-Line, A-Line, C-Line, D-Line are all torture areas. In the winter it’s cold showers. In the summer they heat your water for you. No coincidence. There is so much more. There are over 200 men in administrative segregation and solitary confinement on Dirty Darrington. Some men are going through it worse because they believe this is normal prison policy. It’s not. I’m here to expose this unit and it’s human rights violations. I appreciate you hearing me out.
TFSR: It’s hard to imagine that the staff and administration aren’t aware of the conditions there. Are they showing any signs of working to fix the situation?
CZ: I knew something was terribly wrong with this unit when it runs through 4 wardens in less than 2 years. They are aware of every single atrocity. They personally handle all grievances and it’s rare an inmate ever wins on Step 1. They have to go all the way to Huntsville with their grievance to get fair treatment. By that time it’s been 60 days solid since the claim was made.
It’s designed this way to ensure we never win any kind of grievance claim. Another way, as it is now, that they refuse us grievances all together on Dirty Darrington because they also are aware that if they hand them out they will be reading grievances for years. They know this place is crumbling to pieces. If it rains outside it rains inside too. The guards look like underwater welders when it rains. They wear rain coats indoors to stay dry. Nothing is being done except punishment and enslavement. I am on a mission to learn from outside sources how to organize, to create a psychological warfare on this administration in the name of all the dead that could not deal with their torture chambers and for the mentally ill who cannot speak out against them who are, as we speak, living in horrible conditions on Major Pharr’s solitary confinement. It’s only a matter of time before another death by suicide. We can thank Dirty Darrington’s Administrative Segregation ringmasters for imposing torture on the already weak men by starving them, by withholding their mail, by refusing mailroom to give them pictures of loved ones or birthday cards, or by sending their shakedown team to physically abuse them and confiscate their property. It’s all designed to break you. It’s happening every day.
TFSR: How do the conditions you’ve described above affect the health of prisoners? What’s the condition of physical and mental healthcare available at Darrington Unit?
CZ: Personally I don’t get sick easy, but since being on Dirty Darrington I’ve had a serious sinus infection, primarily from the mold in the showers and the dust that carries all kinds of germs. As far as psyche at Dirty Darrington goes, it’s got potential. As far as physical, you’ve got the infamous Nazi doctor Speer, extorting everyone, but not giving adequate care to anyone. If you get sick they still allow this idiot to practice. Nothing gets done about his childish outbursts. He once tried to do a rectal exam on me, He said it was my yearly check-up. This was the first time I met him. As he stood up and slapped on a latex glove my spidey-sense told me to ask a simple question, “What’s the name on the computer, sir?” He said “You’re Contreras #… blah blah blah” I was like “I’m out!” I’ve had problems with this doctor ever since, namely because retaliation is a trend on Dirty Darrington when you file a grievance. I tried to explain to everyone what this man tried to do. No one tried to help. He’s still here. All my medical treatment was taken away by this man for no reason other than I am or was chronic care hypoglycemic. If you have heat restrictions, work restrictions, anything that will make your ailment easier to handle Dr. Speer will terminate it and then send you into a Twilight Zone of sick calls, just so he can charge the co-pay. Others – he refuses to treat simply because it’s not life or death.
TFR: Can you talk about the suicides that you’ve been aware of during your time and are there any in particular you’d like to reflect on? Are there any strings that tie the circumstances together?
CZ: Well, I’ve been on Dirty Darrington for two years, going on three. I got screwed out of my legal work, got all my medical restrictions taken away, basically because I am indigent and I have no one on the outside to call here and raise a fuss, which is the only time you see inmates get what they need.
So, B-Line 3rd row, 15th cell, 2018 – A young man hung himself. The image of a nurse chest compressing this man never left me. It really caused me a lot of anger. It was senseless. It taught me just how they break men’s minds. It would disgust you. I remember this older man who would wake up screaming and just slowly, losing all reality, these torturers left him in that cell with a stack of trays, full of food with dead mice and roaches that he would just stack up toward the end of his sanity. Inmates could smell death. They tried to talk to him but couldn’t stand the stench of death. So, they brought Captain Lance the kitchen boss to remove the trays, stacked 20 high. But, you cannot talk to a broken man. He was a vessel, nothing more. After 2 canisters of pepper spray, still nothing until finally Captain Lance had the courage to tell administrators that he was no longer right. It was his voice that forced them to send him off that night, never to be seen again. For months they left that man in this condition. It’s happening now. This is normal? I’m not trying to hear that.
For these men, I ask to be armed with support, to feed the torturers a taste of their own medicine. I opened my eyes all the way at this past suicide in November 2019. I’m done talking. We need a bombardment of activism, protest, support. We need an uprising so this administration will be forced to take responsibility for all their fuckery.
One thing I know is we have nothing to gain for staying in good standing. “Good time credit” is not counting toward parole. “Work time credit” is another tool they have to control prisoners. Only the prisoners that still believe in the tooth fairy are too scared to accept this fact. People have tried for years to have these laws passed. Republicans are not interested in helping us. With a statewide work stoppage we will bring all these men’s dreams to fruition. We need to spread these facts to the entire state and shut it down. Stop slaving for your ringmasters. You want a real change, stop doing your slave jobs. Stop putting money in politicians pockets and ask them to put it your account to pay for the work you do. Slave days ended over 150 years ago – Why do you volunteer to work for the oppressor? Those of you who have no one, wouldn’t you like to support yourself in prison instead of risking solitary confinement for stealing food to sell in your living areas for hygiene. I can go on and on.
TFSR: What are working conditions like the prisoners incarcerated by the TDCJ as you’ve experienced? What sort of privileges come along with work, what sort of pay (if any), and sort of work is it?
CZ: They work these guys to exhaustion. They do not pay. The work is back breaking. No one will receive as much as an extra portion of food. These units are still slave plantations, only the name has changed. Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Research “The Sugarland 95” – You’ll see what I’m talking about. It’s time to bring this slavery to a screeching halt.
TFSR: How have you experienced support while you’ve been on the inside? What would you like from folks on the outside?
CZ: I had to go to extremes again to have the support I have today. I never conformed to prison culture. I love tattoos, motorcycles, art, hunting, fishing, boats and the only way I was ever going to see or hear about that is by reaching out. As a result of picking up a contraband cell phone I met “Mongoose Matt” by calling a random tattoo shop. Haha! It was awesome. Fineline Tattoo NYC is Matt’s workplace and it took all but 60 seconds to make one of the best friends I’ve ever had. It makes me so proud to say that. Shortly after getting pinched for contraband Matt has been there through all my solitary confinement, sending in anarchist literature, commissary bread for hygiene and art supplies, and in 7 years now on a 15 year sentence for a so called “murder” it’s his solidarity and support that saved my life and sanity.
Dirty Darrington had officers from the McConnell unit come hit us for shakedown and those creeps took all my property and left me with nothing. This was my breaking point. I just felt like giving up, but Mongoose comes flying in with letters and powerful words of encouragement and because of him I am fighting today. They tried to break me intentionally. I know this for a fact. Only problem is I survived. TDCJs “Cease to speak or cease to breathe” motto doesn’t scare me. I have nothing to lose. Now, I’m asking for you to stand with me until we punch a hole in this darkness and make it bleed light. Sean Swain is the other reason I fight. How you doin Sean?
Here’s the deal – folks out there, my only weapon at the moment is this here pen. I want surrounding activists to contact me so we can get started. This is still far from over and I believe that it’s only through the voice of the people that we can bring this down on a statewide level. I could use all the support available in my fight against the state. Things are slowly changing for me, so I will be allowed more visitors on Dirty Darrington Unit. Soon I will be allowed to call out. In the meantime, anyone can write me. There is so much to learn and prepare. No doubt that without your direct support places like Dirty Darrington and surrounding plantations will continue to thrive, rubbing it in the community’s face.
The Texecution state is also a slavery state. Shut em down. Nobody is gaining a thing. It’s a slap in the face when the officials of the state come here to lie to everyone that they are doing everything they can to change these laws so that we actually become productive. The only laws passed are laws to make it harder on us to get home to our families. For the oppressed indigent offenders who cannot afford hygiene products, organizing a hygiene run to bring forth relief, peace of mind, and a sense of compassionate care. I’ve seen exactly how good this place could be, but as long as we have ringmasters like these hypocrite wardens, coward-ass majors and captains, vindictive supervisors who love to use cowardly acts and body slam people while in restraints such as Sergeant Akinsonu, Sergeant Williams, Sergeant Estrada, Sergeant Baker, who writes her own rules when it comes to keeping people down. All these cowards and a few more on my shit list need to be burned at the stake for their inhumane treatment of human beings. We need to give them a little perspective. We need to all come at them via phone calls, media, advocacy centers, anyone that can hit them where it hurts, to show them that we are not alone. We are not going to accept this kind of abuse and pretend it’s normal. It’s policy. Policy is made up as they walk to the pisser. It’s a shame the population is in love with their ringmaster.
As a survivor of these gulags, food is still the #1 tool used to break solitary confinement offenders. Many months I went hungry and many months I eat the unwanted veggies inmates discarded just to survive. Sometimes portions were almost a smear of meat on tray. We need to end this today.
TFSR: What inspires you these days? What brings you joy?
CZ: Oh that’s easy – Defiance from Detritus Books is my inspiration. I’ve gotten very close to Comrade Mongoose and against the peace and dignity of the Texecution State I’m in constant contact with Comrade King and Comrade Swain. I wish them the best in the struggle and hope to see them soon, for I am coming up for parole soon. It’s a crap shoot, but optimism is helpful in situations such as this. I get my jollies by sending Matt handcrafted portraits of all kinds of cool, weird characters. Y’all are actually owners of one of my pieces. Thank you.
TFSR: Is there anything I failed to ask you about that you want to talk about?
CZ: You all can check out my Instagram @julioazunigaart or contact Matt to place an order for a handmade portrait. I only have No.2 pencils to work with because this unit will not allow my supporters to send me art supplies. Anything that makes people happy like greeting cards and pictures are slowly being taken from us as well. Go figure. This is Bible seminary college too. This is the unit that pumps out “field ministers”. Unbelievable, huh? Bass-akwards, I tell ya! I gotta let ya go for now. It’s been an amazing and liberating experience. You all are amazing. Please allow me to send hugs to Sean Swain, Eric King and to all the comrades who are in the trenches fighting their ringmaster. Thank you for setting the example. I hope to be in that position soon. Thanks y’all. Hope to hear from you soon. I would like to close with a quote from Benjamin Tucker:
“Power feeds on its spoils and dies when its victims refuse to be despoiled. They can’t persuade it to death; they can’t vote it to death; they can’t shoot it to death; but they can always starve it to death.”
If you would like to contact Alex, please send a letter to:
Julio A. Zuniga #1961551 Darrington Unit 59 Darrington Road Rosharon, Texas 77583
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Tracks heard in this podast:
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me (instrumental)
Harm Reduction in Pandemic and Jason Renard Walker
This week we feature two segments, first up we got to chat with Hill Brown about Asheville’s response to the pandemic in terms of public health, drug use and the houseless communities. Then, Jason Renard Walker talks about his journalism, activism and troubles in the Texas prison system.
Harm Reduction in Asheville during Pandemic
First we got to sit down with Hill Brown who works with Asheville’s Steady Collective doing harm reduction outreach to people experiencing homelessness and addiction. We talk about a lot of topics, including how the current health crisis has affected Steady’s operation, how the city of Asheville is mishandling its resources right now, and how folks can plug in and have solidarity with this work.
If you are concerned about hotel access for oppressed populations, you can call:
The County Commissioners at 828-250-4066 and leave a message,
and the City of Asheville, who funds the TDA, at 828-251-1122
You can also find ways to support the Steady Collective by visiting their website TheSteadyCollective.org. Visit our blog or show notes to see an interview Bursts did with Hill back in 2018 which was done at a time when the city was threatening to close Steady’s operations.
Incarcerated Journalist and Organizer, Jason Renard Walker
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107
You can hear our chat from 2018 with Kevin Rashid Johnson (co-founder of the NABPP and Minister of Defense for the Prison Chapter) which is also transcribed in that post, or printable as a zine here.
Jason Renard Walker also mentions Julio Alex Zunigo, aka Comrade Z, who is rustling up resistance in Darington Unit. Comrade Z was interviewed by ItsGoingDown and we will be airing a recording of an interview with him coming up this week.
Comrade Malik’s Covid-19 Update Update
The elder, politicized prisoner that Comrade Malik references in Texas as Alvaro Luna Hernandez also goes by the name Xinachtli, which you can use in personal communication. You can hear a recording of Xinachtli telling his story in his own words here. For the envelope or dealing with administration you can write to him at:
Alvaro Luna Hernández #255735
James V Allred Unit
2101 FM 369
NorthIowa Park, TX 76367 USA
Jason Renard Walker interview TFSR: Would you please introduce yourself for the audience? Feel free to include any details about your background, political affiliation or current circumstances you think will give a good context for the conversation.
Jason Renard Walker: My name is Jason Renard Walker, Minister of Labor for the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Prison Chapter. I consider my political stance as a reflection of our party’s rules of discipline, principals, adherence to our ten point program and platform and our goals for the future.
For clarity, please feel free to learn about what I mean by reviewing the United Panther Movement section of my website at www.JasonsPrisonJournal.com . Just for the record, I don’t see myself as Democrat, Republican, Anarchist, Communist, or Socialist. I know this seems contradictory to the circumstances, but I’m all about positive change for society and the future of those to come. The New Afrikan Black Panther Party’s effort to carry on the legacy and goals fo the original Black Panther Party is my higher calling. And regardless of not holding an official political stance, my ability to execute my duties and help build the party would be the same if I did have a political stance. Though I’m certainly anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist.
TFSR: Would you mind telling us about your past, the case you caught and an overview of the conditions of your incarceration in Texas?
JRW: Just like a majority of our comrades and party members, I am a product of my environment. The streets of Est Oakland, wehre I grew up, is riddled with drugs, street gangs, violence, prostitution and so on.
If members in my family weren’t drug dealers, addicts, pimps, cons, prostitutes and so on. They held impractical religious views, empty of practical solution, coupled with the preachings of prayer and blief under the banner that this alone would make me a successful member of society.
The latter did little to persuade me from following the footsteps of people I admired; which were drug dealers and crooks that had more than their fair share of wealth and stability. While the so-called true believers toted the transit bus to spend their welfare checks and food stamps. Not only did I witness these contradictions within my neighborhood. I witnessed them within my own family.
By the age of 14 in 1994 I had dropped out of school, became a full time criminal and began experiencing the consequences of my actions. After spending two years in detention centers and a group home in Gilroy, CA called Advent group ministries. I moved to Garland, Texas with my grandma to stay with my aunt and cousin in 1998.
This was supposed to be my transformation from a criminal to a productive member of society… All this did was transfer a career criminal from committing crimes against the poor to committing crimes against the unwitting rich… There was no plan to rid me of my thoughts and behavior so I brought them with me to places no one knew such incivility existed, making these people easier and more fruitful targets of burglary, scams, drug sales and armed robbery.
I received an 18 year sentence in 2008 for robbery and have done 12 years on it so far, since then my outlook on life has changed. From my own experience and from what I read, conditions in Texas prisons are far worse here than most prison systems in the U.S. What gives Texas the edge is that it’s an overtly for-profit-only system. Prisoners undergo unpaid forced labor, grow, harvest and tend to the food we eat, and work and operate everything short of running the cell blocks.
I give a vivid account of the conditions on my kindle ebook on amazon.com called “Reports From Within The Beast: Torture and Justice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice”. I recommend that all your listeners get a copy. The writings span the years 2010-2019, including some of my work during my seven year stay in solitary confinement.
TFSR: We’ve seen your journalism featured in the SFBay View National Black Newspaper. Can you talk about your publishing, feedback you’ve gotten and repression you’ve faced for your expression?
JRW: The San Franscisco Bay View National Black Newspaper has been a big supporter of my writings. If they weren’t publishing journalism by me they published journalism about things concerning me and the bad conditions prisoners are facing in Texas. This includes our organizing and supporting the 2016 and 2018 National Prisoner Work Stoppage. And the reprisals we faced for doing so.
Not only have my journalism in the Bay View drawn the hatred of some guards, it has drawn negative feed back from white supremacist groups that conspire with these same guards to smuggle illicit drugs into the prison namely the deadly drug, k-2.
In the October 2018 issue of the Bay View I wrote an article called “Prison Assisted Drug Overdoses”. This forced Texas officials into giving guards more scrutinized searches before entering the prison, including the use of drug sniffing dogs. Guards have used my article as a manipulation tactic to raise smuggling fees by suggesting that my article in particular has made smuggling riskier. In turn I’ve been confronted by random individuals and groups about the article. These same individuals admit not having read the article so they are ignorant to the message I deliver. I’ve even tried suggesting they read the article to no avail. It only exposes ignored prisoner overdosing.
They are completely reactionary and tend to gravitate towards what guards tell them. Like I’ve been confronted about being a child molester, racist, terrorist, CIA operative and instigator with evidence supposedly the information. Combating this has been quite easy.
I’ve also gotten a lot of positive feedback from other journalists and Bay View readers in the U.S. and Europe who have become supporters of my work and who have chosen to investigate the conditions I describe in my articles.
TFSR: You recently published a book entitled ‘Reports from Within the Belly of the Beast: Torture and Injustice Inside Texas Department of Criminal Justice’ that, among other things, compiles some of your writings you previously published. Can you talk about your method of organizing your writing, who your audience is and what you hope the book achieves?
JRW: I really don’t have a method of organizing my writings. I tend to first document times and dates on things I see or learn of. I seek witnesses and victims, who are always willing to let me write about them. Sometimes I’ll ask a guard about something. Most of the instigators and abusers will openly brag about what they did. At the time they aren’t aware that an article will be written and who I am. After the hammer comes crashing down, they face me with looks of betrayal as if I’m not supposd to expose them because they may have given me extra food or recreation time in the past. Guard Darius Reed stole a Bay View, it mentioned him.
I have a large audience that includes Bay View readers, the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Tribune, SolitaryWatch.Org, the Anarchist Black Cross group, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) and hundreds of people who have never written me but have sent me books and magazines like Sheri Black and Sam Rosen in Great Britain. Or those who send words of courage but fail to provide a reply address.
The message in the book speaks for itself. I hope and wish that it sets in the hands of as many readers as possible. I haven’t found a book by a Texas prisoner of this magnitude like it. It also includes unpublished articles, a forward by Maggie Ray Anderson, a 2011 Central Washington University graduate who got a B.A. in law and justice and a B.S. in social services and Kevin Rashid Johnson.
TFSR: Do you have any plans to publish your book in physical form so it can be available to people in prison?
JRW: Actually we are in the process of publishing 500 copies of the paperback version, specifically so that prisoner supporters can have a copy sent to an incarcerated loved one or friend. These copies will be available on amazon.com as well only costing $5 per copy. Before the paperback version is released we will have it available for pre-release ordering so we’ll know if more copies and how many more will need to be printed. The ebook and the paperback version have come to fruition by the funds and work of me and my girlfriend. But we could use the help of an underwriter or independent publisher.
TFSR: A year and a half ago we had the pleasure to speak with Kevin Rashid Johnson of the NABPP about the organizing he was doing, about the prison strikes, organizing on the outside and his organization. Would you talk about how you came to join the NABPP, what your position in it is, and how organizing in Texas has been as a member of that group?
JRW: Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for me to answer this question without this entire questionaire being banned by the mailroom. Not because of the content but to delay the radio interview entirely under the false pretext that it containes security threat group information. Some insight can be caught by viewing www.RashidMod.com.
TFSR: Are there any other groups you have organized with that you’d care to mention? For instance, you received punishment in the aftermath of the Nationwide Prisoner Strikes in 2016 and 2018.
JRW: Yes, during the 2016 and 2018 National Prison Work stoppage I had the joy to work with the IWOC, different branches of the ABC, the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and a group in Colorado that published The Fire Inside Zine, which I wrote a piece for. The Fire Inside related to the 2016 work stoppage.
TFSR: A common concern raised around incarceration in the US is a lack of medical treatment, the high cost and low quality when it is available, overcrowding and under-staffing leading to medical and health emergencies. I’ve noted on the outside that the conversation is raised more frequently recently during ecological disasters like hurricanes or when people protest the use of solitary confinement in lieu of mental health resources. Now, with the panic and obvious lack of preparedness around Covid-19 (novel caronavirus), can you talk about health and preparedness in terms of incarceration in the US and what the public on the outside can be doing to support the folks in cages?
JRW: I’m glad you brought up the coronavirus. I just recently wrote a short piece on the lack of care we are provided in the midst of this and the prisoners failure to receive care to avoid paying $13.55 medical co-pay fees.
Since I wrote that piece five prisoners were moved to this prison with Corona Virus. They received it form a sick guard during transportation. Now guards at this prison have been confirmed to have it. It is spreading. My request to be tested, because I’m showing signs of illness, have been ignored. I submitted my request four days ago. Today is April 5th. Nurse Ms. Spencer came to see me. I was told I didn’t have a fever so no further care was necessary.
There is no obvious plan in place to prevent further spreading. Guards are wearing masks and there are notes posted about staying six feet away from others. Thus we are confined to our cells with another prisoner and have no way to read any postings that are located places beyond sight-and-walking authority.
I’ve learned that taking vitamin c supplements and driving citns flavored electrolite drinks slow down the manifestation of the germ, along with limited physical activity, lots of sleep and staying warm.
The key thing people on the outside can do for us is to constantly contact the prisons warden about the number of confirmed cases, requesting our medical records, as to monitor their response time to our sick call requests, our diagnosis and the tpe of treatment we are receiving. Sending us updates on how it’s spreading in our particular area and any info they have that can help prevent spreading and exposure. Hair scanning is the only prevention plan being implemented here (whatever that is).
We are being given false info on self diagnosis and testing. One thing that has to be a public conern is how nurses use our blood pressure results to determine if we are sick, hurting, having a stroke and whether we have a common cold or the common flu. I actually describe one instance in my book concerning a stroke victim who was denied hospitalization for over twelve hours based on his blood pressure results. He is now paralyzed and had to undergo brain surgery because of the long delay. No staff were held liable, they actually brought him back from the infirmary on a gurney and laid him on his cell floor, where he remained until we convinced the next shift that he was dying. This incident occurred here at the Clemens Unit. My advice to prisoners is to take matters into your own hands. If you feel you are sick and in need of medical care, keep trying to get it. Don’t let nursing staff suggest your blood pressure is the factor whether you are sick or not. Don’t let medical copay fees factor in either…
TFSR: Are there organizing efforts in Texas around prisoner issues that you would like to highlight or needs that need to be addressed that are particular to the TDCJ or any of the units you’ve been kept in?Where do you see the efforts in the US around prisoner issues? Similar to the prior questions, do you have any inspirations or challenges you’d like to pose to either those on the outside or the inside?
JRW: The only organizing efforts I’m aware of are the ones involving the NABPP, the IWOC and scattered anarchist prisoners in Texas. Since I’ve been in close custody (two man solitary) I haven’t had the chance to use the phone, limiting my access to information.
In fact, incarcerated anarchist Julio A Zuniga (aka Alex) is at the Darrington Unit in Rosharon, Texas organizing. His focus seems to be on conditions, medical care, filth, the treatment of the mentally ill and gladiator fights.
Final Straw listener, Matt Brodnax, did an interview with Alex that is published online. But there are many organizing efforts by unknown Texas prisoners who too face unwarranted acts of repression, including the destruction of ongoing / incoming mail and personal property. I’ve met several during my stay at the Ellis Unit, Michael Unit and Allred Unit. Their lack of firmness in the face of reprisals have kept their efforts to organizing limited to filing grievances and complaining amongst each other. In these circles I’m viewed as radical and going too far. Though they wonder why they can’t win false disciplinary cases.
We need more isolated and groups of prisoners to take their organizing to the next level. If using un-radical forms of organizing was effective, not one prisoner would need to take things to the next level. These groups must form bonds of unity as well. For example, a lot of prisoners chose filing civil suits challenging the 13th Amendments clause on legal slave labor. This was in response and following the 2016 work stoppage. Their focus was on losing commissary privileges, dayroom time and whatnot. So to circumvent foreseeable retaliation and applying some serious action, they used the governments recommended channel, getting each of their claims claims dismissed as frivolous, wasting both time and their own resources.
In a few instances some prisoners did file civil suits and participate in the work stoppage. But even the civil suit filers learned a valuable lesson, I hope they are building on.
TFSR: Where do you see the efforts in the US around prisoner issues? Similar to the prior questions, do you have any inspirations or challenges you’d like to pose to either those on the outside or the inside?
JRW: Efforts to organize in the U.S. around prisoner issues are scattered, contradicting and often misunderstood. You have some prisoner writers out there labeled activists, though their writings and disinterest in foot work reveals their Black Capitalist / White Capitalist / Brown Capitalist interest and agenda. You have others still engaged in the sale of drugs that hold a street mentality called revolutionary but gangsta. Allowing them to engage in some activism while holding the same criminal mentality and world view their activism supposedly opposes. It’s the do as I say not as I do thing.
The challenge to prison activists inside and on the outside is to stay firm at what you do. Continue learning how to strengthen your organization and or support circle, educate those around you about your program and be a positive representative in your community upon release.
For instance the NABPP has transitioned to the outside. Comrade, Chairman Shaka Zulu and others have created our outside headquarters in Newark, New Jersey. Giving us the opportunity to create and expand our community service programs. This includes our Black August BB9, No Prison Fridays protest, and Free Food breakfast and lunch program that occurs Saturdays between 10am and 4pm. These programs are sponsored by Panthers and service community volunteers. Shaka Zulu helped bring this to life upon his release from prison.
As it shows, the NABPP is among the most firm in regards to In-Prison activism, organizing and carry this on in the oppressed and impoverished communities. The role of the NABPP is not to pose as a rescuer of the people but to uplift, inspire and teach them. Through their own cooperation and collective power, they can solve their own problems, meet their own needs and free themselves from this racist, exploitative and oppressed society.
TFSR: Are there any subjects that I failed to ask about that you’d like to speak to?
JRW: No, there isn’t. But I’d like to take time to thank everyone that has helped me with my progress, education, development and needed support. Too many to name here. And a $1 donation will be given to the San Francisco Bay View for every paperback issue of my book sold!
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
9601 Spur 591
Amarillo, TX 79107
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.
Anarchism in El Salvador / An Antifa View of the Militia Demo in RVA
This week we have two segments, an interview with an Anarcha-Feminist organizer in San Salvador, El Salvador on the situation there, followed by Mitch of Red Strings And Maroons podcast on the upcoming Militia demonstration on MLK Jr. Day, January 20th, 2020 in Richmond, VA.
Elisa on GANA Govt in El Salvador
[starts at 00:04:54]
First, you’ll hear my conversation with Elisa, an anarchafeminist in San Salvador, El Salvador, talking about the new neo-liberal government of Nayib Bukele’s GANA party, repression, immigration, relation to the US and anarchist organizing there. More on her work at ConcienciaAnarquista.NoBlogs.Org and a Spanish version of this audio is available at our website.
First up, some prison rebel Jason Renard Walker. Jason had his contacts book stolen by prison staff and has been moved. He’s asking folks who have been in contact with him (or any other comrade) to reach back out to him with a letter as he’s getting situated in his new spot. You can read Jason’s writings up at SFBayView.com by searching his name. You can write him at:
Jason Renard Walker #1532092
3001 S. Emily Dr.
Beeville, TX 78102
Just got the news that MOVE 9 prisoner Delbert Africa has been released! Now it’s time to get the remaining co-defendant, Chuck Africa and their supporter Mumia Abu-Jamal out as well. #FreeThemAll!
Marius Mason, an anarchist, labor organizer and trans prisoner who was sentenced to 22 years for ELF activities that led to no harm of humans or other animals has an upcoming birthday on January 26th. You can learn about how to write him or see his book wish list up at SupportMariusMason.org
Phone Zap for Hunger Striking Prisoners at Central Prison, NC
From Atlanta IWOC:
Sixteen folks incarcerated at Central Prison in Raleigh, NC are going on a hunger strike starting Monday January 20, 2020 as an act of comradery to the 200 prisoners being tortured in Unit One (a mental health unit). They need your help to make the calls on Monday, January 20th. And if you have the time thereafter, call any other day you can until their demands are met and those sixteen hunger strikers can eat again.
In Unit One at Central Prison, guards are daily using chemical mace against both (level 2) mental health prisoners who receive psychiatric help and (level 3) mental health prisoners who take psychotropic medications. Guards are trigger happy and deploy an excessive amount into the prisoner’s small cell at the slightest disagreement. Pursuant to Chapter F Section 1504 Procedure (d):
“An officer is prohibited from using force solely as a result of verbal provocation. An officer shall not use force against an offender who has abandoned his/her resistance or who is effectively restrained. The use of force as punishment is strictly prohibited.”
Furthermore, these prisoners attend a group therapy session every Monday but while these prisoners are in group, Unit One’s guards destroy the cells of these prisoners by searching their cells and throwing their personal belonging all around the cell. This is done to deter the prisoners from attending group, discouraging them from receiving treatment.
Medical staff continue to show deliberate indifference to the needs of the prisoners housed on Unit One. Several prisoners are not receiving their self-meds (medications given out monthly that prisoners keep in their cells, these meds are but are not limited to blood pressure meds and high cholesterol meds, etc.). To receive these meds, the prisoner submits a medication refill request. The medical staff has neglected to submit the requests therefore leaving several prisoners without their meds.
It takes months to be even seen by medical staff when a sick call is submitted. Prisoners are not receiving adequate healthcare. Prisoners are compelled to endure illnesses for months before being seen by medical staff.
This medical neglect and excessive use of force towards the most vulnerable population in Central Prison is cruel and unusual torture and a human rights violation.
These sixteen brave and selfless activists imprisoned in Central Prison are taking a stand for those in Unit One who are mentally incapable of making these demands, by way of a hunger strike. This is a humanitarian display of unity for those inside who face injustice by the very same who face injustices enslaved right there with them. This solidarity is inspiring. Please help them to expose these human rights violations and meet their basic, humanitarian demands by joining the phone zap and calling in to amplify their voices!
Suggested script and demands:
I am aware that Central Prison’s guards and medical staff are directly torturing the prisoners and there are 16 hunger strikers exposing these human rights violations that will not eat until the following issues are addressed:
The excessive use of chemical mace on prisoners who have not been a threat to staff or others.
Stop the targeted searches of mental health prisoners who attend weekly group on Unit One. We know that this is an attempt to discourage from attending group to receive treatment.
Address the deliberate indifference shown by medical staff not refilling prisoners’ self-meds and neglecting to answer sick calls within a timely manner
Who to call:
(919) 733-0800 Central Prison, Request to speak with Deputy Warden Steven Waddel, Unit One Manager Tenbrook, and/or medical personnel.
(919) 838-4000 DPS Office; Request to speak with Commissioner Todd Ishee and/or Dr. Gary Junker
You don’t have to give your name or any other information if you don’t want to.
Entering *67 before any number may block your caller ID.
Don’t worry about anyone giving you the runaround, not getting through or having to leave a message. Just pursue it to the point that you can. We are calling to apply pressure and every call counts.
TFSR is also excited to be a member of the A-Radio Network of anarchist and anti-authoritarian radios. Check out our website or social media streams for the latest episode of our monthly, English-language news roundup from anarchists around the world, BADNews. This month with anti-repression updates about the Park Bench 3 case from Hamburg, steampunk anti-eviction activism from Berlin, support for Chilean uprising prisoners, updates from the not-so-united United Kingdom and anti-repression, prisoner solidarity, labor organizing and squat struggles from Greece’s two largest cities.
Nos complace presentar una conversación con una compañera feminista anarcha, Elisa, en San Salvador, El Salvador. Elisa comparte sus puntos de vista sobre el régimen neoliberal del partido GANA de Nayib Bukele que asumió la presidencia en febrero pasado, la relación de El Salvador con los Estados Unidos, el gobierno anterior del FMLN, la inmigración y la organización anarquista.
Más informacion sobre la organización suya en ConcienciaAnarquista.NoBlogs.Org, Comuna Estudiantil Libertaria y el Kolectivo San Jacinto. Bienvenido a The Final Straw Radio, soy uno de los anfitriones, Bursts. En general, solo producimos nuestro podcast y programa de radio semanal en inglés, pero, gracias al apoyo de la comunidad en la traducción y transcripción, presentamos esta conversación en español. Una versión en inglés, junto con 10 años de nuestra radio está disponible en TheFinalStrawRadio.noblogs.org.
Anarchism In El Salvador: An Anarcha-Feminist Perspective
We are happy to present a conversation with an anarcha-feminist comrade, Elisa, in San Salvador, El Salvador. Elisa shares her perspectives on the neo-liberal regime of Nayib Bukele’s GANA party which took the presidency last February, El Salvador’s relation to the US, the former FMLN government, immigration and anarchist organizing. We generally only produce our weekly podcast and radio show in English but, thanks to community support in translation and transcription, we present this conversation in Spanish here. The full script follows in both English and Spanish as well. More information on the projects Elisa mentions can be found at ConcienciaAnarquista.NoBlogs.Org, the Libertarian Youth Commune and the San Jacinto Kollective (Comuna Estudiantil Libertaria and Kolectivo San Jacinto).
A script in English follows the Spanish and the English audio can be found in our January 18, 2020 episode of TFSR.
. … . ..
Guión en Español
TFSR – Te puedes presentar a nosotros y decirnos tus pronombres preferidos por favor? Te identificas con algunas posiciones políticas o trabajas en algún proyecto que te parece relevante a esta conversación?
Elisa – Hola, agradecer este espacio y un saludo a todas las personas que nos están escuchando, mi nombre es Elisa, soy de El Salvador, mi pronombre preferido de género es ella y pues me identifico como anarcofeminista, estoy en proyectos como un colectivo Agrupación Conciencia Anarquista y también en la Colectiva Ni Una Menos El Salvador
TFSR – Ya pasó casi un año desde las elecciones en El Salvador pusieron el partido GANA en poder ejecutivo. Para lxs que no saben, puedes describir el sistema política salvadoreña para dar contexto?
Elisa – Comentar un poco acerca del poder en El Salvador está distribuido en el órgano legislativo, ejecutivo y judicial, dentro del órgano legislativo es unicameral, tenemos 84 diputados, las elecciones se realizan para diputados cada tres años y para presidente cada cinco años, este año tuvimos las elecciones para presidente, en las que queda como ganador Nayib Bukele con el partido político GANA, este partido político surge de las personas que salen del partido ARENA que es el partido de derecha que estuvo gobernando anteriormente a los dos períodos del FMLN. Nayib Bukele también formó parte del FMLN, él fue expulsado y debido a que su partido político no pudo inscribirlo a tiempo entonces utiliza a GANA como vehículo para llegar a las elecciones y pues llega a ser presidente, ya que Nuevas Ideas que es su partido político no se pudo inscribir para las elecciones.
TFSR – Estás ubicada en San Salvador, y presidente actual Nayib Bukele fue alcalde ahí. Qué nos puedes decir de su tiempo como alcalde y la condición de la ciudad. Qué son sus prácticas políticas? Reflejan las posiciones de GANA?
Elisa – Nayib Bukele fue alcalde de la capital de San Salvador con el FMLN y anteriormente para Nuevo Cuscatlán que es una municipalidad cerca en las afueras de la capital y pues en cuanto al trabajo que hizo como alcalde habían algunas irregularidades en cuanto a por ejemplo en San Salvador tenía un mercado que se está alquilando, se hizo un contrato para 25 años en el que se va a pagar mucho más del valor que tenía el edificio, se hizo una investigación debido a esto porque no había un valúo, no se realizó un valúo del edificio y pues en cuanto a otras cosas, el mercado pues lo que buscaba como muchos de los vendedores y vendedoras ambulantes que hay en el centro histórico de San Salvador tienen sus ventas en la calle lo que hace pues muy difícil el tráfico y era como reubicar a esas personas en el mercado pero tampoco es tan grande como para que tenga la capacidad para albergar a muchas de esas ventas y habían también reclamos de estas vendedoras vendedores porque realmente no hay una afluencia tan grande de compradores y pues realmente no funcionaba y otras de las cosas que ha hecho es más que todo a nivel estético, la recuperación del centro histórico con cooperación española también cooperación de Estados Unidos que ha invertido en la remodelación de un gran parque que está en la capital cerca del centro histórico que es el Parque Cuscatlán pero es entregar también a Fundaciones la administración de estos parques es decir un poco como ir privatizando estos espacios que son públicos y que son tan necesarios para el esparcimiento.
En cuanto a lo de las ventas ambulantes también, se han dado varios casos que han sido públicos en los que se han encontrado a varios políticos que han tenido reuniones con las pandillas y para anteriores administraciones de la capital siempre ha sido uno de los puntos difíciles lograr como desplazar o recolocar a esas ventas en otros lugares, hay una gran presencia de pandillas, es decir el centro histórico está controlado por las pandillas están unas zonas específicas de cada pandilla entonces al igual que estos casos que han salido a la luz pública de estas negociaciones que se han dado para apoyo en las elecciones entonces también se presume que como es posible que Nayib Bukele haya logrado hacer un poco de este reordenamiento si se supone que debe haber tenido algún tipo de negociación con las pandillas.
También en cuanto a cuando fue alcalde de Nuevo Cuscatlán como mencionaba que es una zona que está ya a las afueras de la capital y se vio cómo permitió porque en esa parte hay muchas empresas y también las personas que viven ahí tienen un nivel económico mayor y se vio cómo beneficio a empresas porque ahí se han dado muchos permisos ambientales para realizar residenciales nuevas, se ha deforestado bastante esa parte que anteriormente conservaba bastante vegetación que era cuando uno sale ahí porque sale, es la carretera que va hacia el Puerto de La Libertad entonces era una zona con bastante vegetación y se vio cómo facilitó a las empresas permisos ambientales para construcción.
Como parte integrante del partido GANA creo que sí tiene posiciones similares, un partido que como decía surge del partido ARENA y que vemos como pues ha estado siempre en beneficio de empresas, empresarios, él Nayib Bukele viene de una familia de empresarios entonces creo que sí es similar su posición a la del partido.
TFSR – Cómo son los servicios sociales y la responsividad democrática del gobierno debajo de GANA?
Elisa – El gobierno de Nayib Bukele empieza, toma posesión en junio y vemos cómo en estos seis meses ha endeudado más al país con préstamos, ahora van dos mil millones y pues vemos que se ha invertido más que todo en el plan de control territorial que es el plan que está implementado en el tema de seguridad contra las pandillas, vemos cómo se han militarizado las calles, han salido más militares a las calles, se hacen patrullajes de la policía y el ejército pero sí han salido más militares a las calles, hasta agosto de este año habían 7300 efectivos militares en las calles y se pretendía llegar a incluir 3000 más a enero del próximo año. También en julio se tuvo una visita de la Guardia Nacional de Masachussets con la que se pretendió tener acercamiento y algún tipo de relación para apoyo en este Plan de Control Territorial y también estaban haciendo como esta visita porque se pretende tener una base de operaciones en el 2021 con respecto siempre a este apoyo que se le daría al ejército en el plan de seguridad. Se ha visto como este Plan de Control Territorial pues no está funcionando a pesar de que el presidente dice que han disminuido los homicidios pero en realidad están aumentando las desapariciones, también se habla de que se están encubriendo algunas cifras, con los gobiernos anteriores en los que se tenía también la presencia del ejército en las calles pues hay investigaciones periodísticas y de instituciones de derechos humanos en las que se ven las violaciones que han ocurrido y asesinatos extrajudiciales por parte de la policía y el ejército. También por ejemplo dentro de los últimos días se ha visto como han aumentado los feminicidios también hay transfeminicidios que no ha habido ningún denuncia por parte del presidente, no ha hecho ningún comunicado referente a esos crímenes de odio y también vemos como en el presupuesto para el próximo año se ha reducido en el presupuesto aquel dirigido para las instituciones que tienen atención para mujeres también se eliminó la Secretaría de Inclusión Social que tenía programas con jóvenes, para la comunidad LGTBI también se ha reducido en cuanto a salud hay un programa que estaba muy enfocado a la prevención para las áreas rurales que eran los ecos comunitarios que se ha reducido, también se ha eliminado el programa de alfabetización que se tenía, se reduce también el subsidio del gas, el programa como decía de jóvenes se reduce en un 23%, también la eliminación de becas y pasantias juveniles y por otro lado se ve como hay un aumento en la publicidad, un aumento de 22 millones en el presupuesto y cómo está la evasión de impuestos de las empresas de 600 millones para el otro año sólo van a pagar 100 millones y del presupuesto los hogares van a estar pagando el próximo año en impuestos 3300 millones mientras que las empresas sólo 1600.
TFSR – Como anti-autoritario, anticapitalista, y feminista puedes reflexionar en las diferencias y similaridades entre el gobierno del presidente anterior, Salvador Sánchez Cerén del partido de la izquierda FMLN, y el gobierno de GANA durante su primer año en poder?
Elisa – Con digamos la similaridad o la diferencia que hay entre el gobierno de el FMLN y el gobierno de Nayib Bukele pues veía un poco lo que mencionaba de la militarización, vemos como así como el FMLN criticaba a ARENA cuando sacó al ejército a las calles pero el FMLN siguió usando el ejército, ahora Nayib Bukele también incluso ha sacado más militares a las calles, vemos que la represión es parte de ambos gobiernos.
Lo que pasó un poco con el gobierno del FMLN fue que cuando gana las elecciones en el primer gobierno del FMLN en el 2009 el movimiento social estaba apoyando y por eso es que gana porque se quería sacar a ARENA del gobierno entonces se da una baja en el movimiento social porque se esperaba que iba a haber más cambios de lo que hubo, se esperaba mucho más de estos dos gobiernos del FMLN, si hubo algunas mejoras en cuanto a programas sociales, por ejemplo en educación se implementa lo del uniforme escolar que sirve para las escuelas públicas para que los estudiantes puedan tener el uniforme que utilizan, que antes era parte del gasto que tenía que tener las familias también la parte de una merienda, que le llaman vaso de leche pero se les da como una merienda, una comida, en la escuela. También en salud se tiene un poco, se eliminan cobros que anteriormente se hacían para acceder a los hospitales públicos también en las escuelas se daba una cuota que tenían que pagar que se eliminó, en la parte de educación el programa de alfabetización que ahora con Nayib Bukele se elimina esto, también con la parte de los paquetes agrícolas lo que se empezó a hacer con el gobierno del FMLN es comprar a cooperativas la semilla porque también acá hay un monopolio de la semilla, es dueño un expresidente de la semilla y todos los insumos agrícolas que entran, él tiene ahí su empresa que hace esto entonces con Nayib se han eliminado algunos de estos paquetes agrícolas pero con el FMLN se ve que no se busca romper con este sistema neoliberal sino que es seguir ese mismo patrón. Debido a esto hubo un disgusto de la población porque se esperaban cambios mayores a nivel social, por ejemplo lo que no hizo el gobierno del frente que habría sido un poco aportar a disminuir esa desigualdad que existe por ejemplo con los datos del presupuesto 2020 que son los hogares los que aportan más impuestos, lo que no cambió el gobierno del FMLN fue esa recaudación fiscal y vemos cómo también no hubo apertura a críticas porque las personas que eran críticas al partido a lo que estaba haciendo no se permitía, esto hizo que hubiera mucho disgusto por parte de la población, las bases fueron olvidadas, esas poblaciones más necesitadas, como la mayoría de partidos políticos sólo se buscaban para las elecciones para que dieran un voto pero realmente no hubo interés de organizar a las personas, de que sean más independientes, no hubo ninguna voluntad hacia eso.
Entonces lo que pasó también con cómo llega Nayib Bukele a ganar es a través de que tiene bastante presencia en redes sociales y vemos como por eso en el presupuesto tiene un aumento porque se ha movido bastante con publicidad, él tampoco ha llegado a visitar tanto a las comunidades si no más bien lo ha manejado a través de redes sociales y cómo también no sólo en el país sino a nivel internacional se está viendo bien. No todas las personas que lo siguen son personas reales porque también se veía como se han hecho perfiles falsos para tener posición en la opinión pública pero no es tan real pero sí hay personas que sí lo siguen apoyando pero vemos como toda esta parte que quizás había un poco de avance en cuanto a lo social se ha venido dando un retroceso.
TFSR – El gobierno de Bukele ha creado una relación con la administración de Trump en EEUU. Con respecto a la inmigración, nos puedes describir la relación entre los dos países y lo supuesto estatus de ‘tercer país seguro?’
Elisa – Con las relaciones que hay con EEUU ya hablaba un poco de cómo hay apoyo militar, en las visitas que se han dado pues lo ha llamado su amigo que es un presidente muy cool a pesar de como se ha referido Trump a nuestros países entonces vemos como hay ese acercamiento, también es una total sumisión creo, incluso la canciller antes de que tomara posesión el gobierno, se le preguntaba cuáles iban a ser las relaciones y dijo una frase: como vamos a morder la mano que nos da de comer entonces es preocupante, es como dejar totalmente abierta la intervención de EEUU y ahora con el tema del tercer país seguro es para evitar toda la migración hacia EEUU, se dice que los tres países del triángulo Norte, Guatemala, Honduras y El Salvador, las personas que quieran solicitar asilo a EEUU puedan hacerlo en estos países y es totalmente contradictorio porque vemos que la migración va desde estos países, no son países seguros, las personas están huyendo de sus países, por toda la situación económica, social que hay y no hay esas posibilidades para dar a las personas que viven en esos países mucho menos a personas que están buscando asilo entonces es permitir a EEUU lo que decía Trump que quería poner un muro para evitar las migraciones pues lo está haciendo de otra forma.
TFSR – No se puede hablar de la inmigración entre Estados Unidos y El Salvador si no se menciona la tragedia terrible la guerra civil que duró 12 años en El Salvador de 1979 hasta 1992. Debajo de presidente de EEUU Jimmy Carter hasta Reagan, EEUU suministraba entre $1-2 millones cada día al gobierno salvadoreño para su programa de contrainsurgencia contra la población. Incluía masacres cometidos por escuadrones de la muerte entrenados por los EEUU. Puedes hablar de esta historia, cómo queda en la historia de inmigración y conflicto social en El Salvador hoy en día?
Elisa – Con respecto a esto de la migración y cómo se relaciona con la guerra civil de El Salvador, la migración que se da durante la guerra, este período en que muchas personas salen debido a la guerra después con los acuerdos de paz hay un retorno de algunas personas que estuvieron en EEUU que como migrantes tuvieron la necesidad de organizarse de alguna forma contra otras pandillas que se formaban en EEUU y es así como una parte de esas personas que son deportadas de EEUU entonces al venir a El Salvador se forman las pandillas entonces tiene una gran relación con esa migración también porque muchas de las familias están separadas, sea la madre o el padre que han migrado a EEUU y dejan a sus hijos ya sea con sus abuelas u otro familiar entonces esto también pone a la niñez y adolescencia en vulnerabilidad porque no siempre tienen un apoyo, una persona que esté a cargo o pendiente de ellas, entonces la situación también que viven, a veces son comunidades con condiciones precarias, muchas veces no tienen acceso a lo básico como salud, educación y buscan la salida en donde la encuentran que muchas veces es la pandilla entonces todo eso pues sí tiene una relación con la migración.
TFSR – Cómo se organizan lxs anarquistxs de El Salvador? Cómo se relacionan ustedes a la sociedad civil y a las ONGs? Hay alguna victoria o lección que han aprendido que quieren compartir?
Elisa – Como organizaciones anarquistas lo que hemos estado trabajando ha sido en la difusión de las ideas a partir de revistas, hemos hecho diálogos, debates, también se trató de tener un centro social en el que hubieran actividades como conversatorios, cine foros, eso más o menos. Hay organizaciones también no sólo en la capital sino en la zona de oriente y occidente del país, han existido algunos grupos, pienso que la parte del conocimiento de compartir conocimiento se ha estado dando pero muchos han estado relacionados con la Universidad por ser estudiantes o por haber salido de ahí pero se ha quedado por ser un número pequeño de personas las que se organizadas, no ha llegado a un grupo mayor de personas entonces pienso que se necesita un mayor acercamiento a comunidades, a una mayor parte de la población, a través de un conocimiento popular para acercarnos también a personas que no necesariamente hayan tenido una educación universitaria y un poco llevarlo más a la práctica, se ha hecho bastante sobre debate, conocimiento pero sí falta ponerlo más en práctica.
Con respecto a las organizaciones no gubernamentales pues los esfuerzos que hemos hecho se han hecho autogestinados, a veces con donaciones, hemos tenido donaciones de fuera para la parte de lo que habíamos tratado de hacer de un centro social pero no hemos tenido, no hemos querido tener una relación de donación con ONG’s pero por otra parte algunas personas sí trabajamos con ONG’s entonces esa podría ser la relación que hay.
TFSR – En 2015 un artículo que salió en LibCom anunció la creación de la Federación Anarquista de Centroamérica y el Caribe. Este grupo es un factor en la organización contra la reacción en El Salvador? Hay otras relaciones regionales con activistas que quieres compartir con nosotros?
Elisa – Con la conformación de la Federación Anarquista de Centroamérica y el Caribe sí como Agrupación Conciencia Anarquista formamos parte y pues se ha tratado de estar en comunicación pero no se ha logrado tener otro encuentro, sí digamos se trata de seguir teniendo comunicación pero aún no se ha logrado hacer algunas actividades en conjunto aún está pendiente de realizar el encuentro para ver realmente que actividades se pueden hacer conjuntamente.
TFSR – Cómo pueden los oyentes seguir informándose de la situación ahí en El Salvador y del trabajo que hacen tú y lxs otrxs compañerxs? Que tipo de solidaridad les ayudaría de afuera?
Elisa – Pueden buscar información de Conciencia Anarquista hay una página de Facebook también hay un blog concienciaanarquista.noblogs.org, también pueden buscar a la Comuna Estudiantil Libertaria, al Colectivo San Jacinto y pues pienso que parte de la solidaridad es visibilizar esas relaciones de interferencia de EEUU con El Salvador, dar también difusión al material, a la información de lo que está pasando acá, entonces de esa forma creo que podrían ser muestras de solidaridad.
TFSR – Tienes algo a decir a los salvadoreños en EEUU que tal vez reciban noticias de su hogar de fuentes mediocres o malas?
Elisa – Y con las personas que siguen, que están viendo las noticias de acá del país les diría que no se queden con una sola fuente porque como les decía el gobierno se está vendiendo muy bien hacia fuera pero las cosas que están pasando no se ven bien entonces les sugeriría que no se queden con una sola fuente que busquen otras fuentes de información para que tengan más material y se enteren de lo que está pasando, eso sería y muchas gracias por escucharnos.
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TFSR – Would you please introduce yourself for the audience and state your preferred gender pronouns. Are there any political positions you identify with or any projects you work on that you feel are relevant to this conversation?
Elisa – Hello, thankyou tothe space and greetings to all of the people that are listening to us. My name is Elisa, I’m from El Salvador, my preferred pronounsare she/her and, well, I identify as an anarcha-feminist. I participate in projects like the Anarchist Conscience Formation collective and also in the Not One(Woman)Less Collective.
TFSR – It is almost a year since the presidential elections took place in El Salvador, bringing the GANA party to executive power. For those of us who don’t know, can you describe the Salvadoran political system for context?
Elisa – To say a little aboutgovernment power in El Salvador, it’s distributed between the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches. The Legislative branch is unicameral with 84 representatives elected every 3 years and a president every 5 years, 2019 having been the most recent presidential election. In that election, the winner was Nayib Bukele of thepolitical partyGANA (an acronym meaning to gain or earn or win), a party arising from former members of the rightist ARENA party that had been in power prior to the last two election cycles of rule by the leftist FMLN party. Nayib Bukele was formerly of the FMLN and was kicked out and because he didn’t have time to register his own political party, Nueva Idea (or New Idea) in time for elections he used GANA as a vehicle for his candidacy in the elections and therefore arrived at the presidency with GANA.
TFSR – You’re in San Salvador, the city that president Nayib Bukele was formerly mayor of. What can you say about his time as mayor and the condition of the city? What are his political practices? Do they reflect the positions of the GANA party?
Elisa – Nayib Bukele was the mayor of the capital, San Salvador, while a member of the FMLN and formerly mayor of Nuevo Cuscatlán, which is a city on the outskirtsof the capital. In time, his record as mayor began to show irregularities. For instance, during his time as mayor of San Salvador, there was a market that was renting its space which signed a 25 year rent contract but the payment would be of much greater value than the worth of the building. There was aninvestigation made to assess the worth of the building among that showed that it didn’t have the value being paid for it. Butit turned out that what he was looking for was a place to house San Salvador’s many street vendors.A thing to know about San Salvador is that the traffic is very bad in the historic city-center because the streets are filled with vendors and Bukele’s plan was to move the vendors into the building. But when I investigated this, I found that there was not room for many of the vendors to relocate inside and anyway not very many of the vendors had begun renting spaces in the indoor market. Other things he has done are mainly limited to aesthetic changes around the capital’s historic district, the recuperation of the district has taken place with the financial support of Spain and the US in order to remodel the large park in the center of the city, Cuscatlán Park. Seeing how the administration of the park has been handed over to large foundations gives some sense of how the privatization of public space–public space that is very important for day-to-day recreation–is happening here.
In the case of open-air sellers, there are reported various public cases of politicians having closed door meetingswith street gangs.Former administrations of San Salvador have always tried very hard to find ways to displace and relocate those street vendors. The gangs are very present, which is to say that the historic district of San Salvador is controlled by street gangs, each gang having it’s own zone. As the public has become aware of these cases of public officials and gangs coordinating in support of elections, it is safe to assume that Nayib Bukele had his hands in these negotiations, and this explains how he has been able to implement some of the reorganizing of the city center.
As to his time as mayor of Neuvo Cuscatlán, it was mentioned that it sits on the outskirts of the capital. His administration was seen to be permissive, the area having many businesses and the residences of many rich people. We can see thatNayib Bukele’s government benefittedmany businesses by giving environmental permits, allowing deforestation of formerly conserved and protected areas followed by the building of new housing. This area along the road to Puerto de la Libertad was lush with plant-life and now has been given over to the businesses holding environmental construction permits.
As an integral part of the GANA Party, I believe that yes, he has similar positions to the party, a party that I have told you arose from the ARENA Party and that we see has stated it functions for the benefit of businesses and business owners, Nayib Bukele came from a family of business owners. Therefore, I think it should not be surprising that the he holds that same perspective as the party does.
TFSR –How has GANA affected the social safety net and democratic responsiveness of the government since taking office?
Elisa – The government of Nayib Bukele came to national power in June and we see have in these six months how he has driven the state into debt with loans, to the tune of two billion dollars. Most of this has beeninvested in the Territorial Control Plan, the security plan implemented to handle the problem of the street gangs. We can see that the streets have become militarized, more soldiers have gone into the streets. ByAugust of 2019 there were 7,300 soldiers in the streets and it has been announced that another 3,000 will join them at the turning of 2020. Also, in July there was a visit from the Massachusetts National Guard with the intention of developing a relationship of support for the Territorial Control Plan here. They intend to build a permanent base of operations by2021for implementing the security plan that will behanded over to the military.
The president has claimed that the Territorial Control Plan is working because the reported homicides in the country have decreased, however the reality is that disappearances have increased with the military in the streets under past governments and continuing. Journalists are investigating reports that the government is faking the statistics and NGOs are reporting about human rights violations and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by police and the army. In recent days we have seen an increase in femicides as well as the killing of trans women or transfemicides and yet the government has made no public note of these hate crimes. In fact, we see a decrease in funding in next years proposed budget for institutions supporting womens care. The Secretary of Social Inclusion has reduced funding for programs for the youth,whilehealth support for LGBTI communities and the system of preventative medicine for rural commmunities (including paying for doctors travels) havealsosuffered deep cuts. Additionally, there was the elimination of literacy programs, and reductions in gas subsidies… The program for youth I mentioned was reduced by 23%, along with the elimination of scholarships and youth internships. Simultaneously there was an increase in state advertising budgets by $22 million. There was effectively tax evasion by companies of $600 million the other year, they only paid $100 million. Next year, households will pay $3.3 billion in taxes while businesses will only be paying $1.6 billion.
TFSR – As an anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist and feminist, can you reflect on the differences and similarities between presidential rule by former president Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the leftist FMLN party and the GANA party in their first year in office?
Elisa – While speaking of the similarities anddifferences between the governance of the FMLN and the government of Nayib Bukele, well we see many of the same things. We saw how the FMLN criticized ARENA for taking the army into the streets but the FMLN continued using the army in the same ways. Now Nayib Bukele also has increased the number of soldiers inthestreets. We see that repression is a part of both governments.
What happenedwith FMLN was that when they won the elections their first time in 2009, social movementsweresupportiveof their campaignbecause there was a desire to kick ARENA out of the government. In the wake of their victory,the power ofsocial movements decreasedbecause people expected large changes to be implemented by the FMLN than materialized. And there weresomeimprovements in social programs, for example in education students were given uniforms to use because before they had to pay for their own. Also there was a snack provided forstudentsduring the school day. They eliminated existing charges for access to public hospitals. The literacy program, whichI mentioned thatNayib Bukele has eliminated,was also implemented during this time. A similar thing happened withthe agricultural packages, which started with the FMLN government purchasing seeds from agricultural cooperatives because there is a seed monopoly here. A former president holds the seed monopoly and now Nayib Bukele has resumed business with the former president and has eliminated some of these agricultural packages.
Whatthe FMLN could not do wasto break with the Neoliberal economic system, which is what continues to this day. Because of this, disgust developed in the population which had hoped for large scale social changes. For instance, one thing the government didn’t do from the beginning was to diminish existing inequality. The budget for 2020 that has households contributing so much more in taxes is possible because the FMLN did not recalibrate the tax collection system. There was no room for criticizing the FMLN, it wasn’t open to it. This built resentment from the population, from it’s forgotten power base, the most needy of the population. Like most other political parties, it only sought votes for the election. But, really, they weren’t interested in organizing people to become more independent, that was not the will of the party.
So then what happened with Nayib Bukele, was that he was able to win by means of a significant presence on social media. We can even see that in the current budget he has given himself a raise, and this is possible through a large advertising effort. Really, he hasn’t even done many actual visits to the communities in the country, but he has directed support and positive coverage through social media, not just here in El Salvador but on an international level. Many of his followers on social networks aren’t even real people. You can rather easily see that they’re fake profiles, but nevertheless this has a real impact on public opinion. With all of this we can see that what appears to be a small social advance with FMLN can bring someone like Bukele who is a genuine step backwards.
TFSR – Bukele’s government has built a relationship with the Trump administration in the U.S.A. At least as concerns immigration, can you describe the relationship between the two countries and the so-called ‘third safe country’ status?
Elisa – Concerning the relations with the US, I have already spoken a little about military support. In visits that have taken place Bukele has called his friend a very cool president, in spite of what Trump has said about countries like ours. I believe it’s a case of total submission, actually. Even the Chancellor, before the current government took the office, was asked what the relationship was going to be like and retorted with the question, “How are we going to bite the hand that feeds us?” It is worrying, like leaving the door completely open to US intervention. And now with the theme of “Third Safe Country” so as to avoid all immigration to the US, it is said that the three countries of the Northern Traingle (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), that the people seeking asylum from the US can do it from within these countries. And that is totally contradictory the immigrants who are escaping these countries are leaving precisely because they are not safe countries, people are fleeing their countries for all of the political and social situations that there are. So this letsthe US prevent immigration,and while Trump is talking about building a wall, this is building a wall by another means.
TFSR – Talk of immigration relationships between the United States of America and El Salvador would be lacking greatly if it did not mention the terrible tragedy of the 12 year civil war in El Salvador from 1979 until 1992. Under U.S. president Jimmy Carter and continuing through Reagan, the U.S. began supplying between $1-2 Million per day to the Salvadoran government for it’s counterinsurgency against the population, including massacres by government allied, US trained death squads. Can you talk about this history, how it fits in to the story of immigration and the state of social conflict in El Salvador today?
Elisa – With respect to immigration and the relation to the Salvadoran Civil War, during this periodmany people were forced to flee. After the the peace treaty was signed,some people returned to El Salvador that had been in the US,others were eventually deported. Of all these people who returned one way or another,some had had to defend themselves from street gangsin the U.S.by forming their own gangs while they were there. These gangs were later reconstituted here, so yes, there is a big relationship here between migration and street level gang violence. Migration also resulted in separation of manyfamilies. Sometimes it was the mother or the father that had immigrated to the US and left their children with their grandparents or other family members. This mademany kids and adolescentsvulnerable since theydidn’t have support, any caretaker. They had to live, sometimes in precarious communities, many times without access to the basics like healthcare, education and are looking for an exit wherever they can find it. Many times that security is in the gang. So, all of this has a relationship to immigraiton.
TFSR – What sort of organizing are anarchists in El Salvador doing? How do y’all relate to civil society and NGO’s? Are there any victories or lessons learned that you’d like to share?
Elisa – As to anarchist organizing, we have been working to disseminate ideas via magazines, we have hosted dialogues, debates. We have also tried to have a social center where there could be activities like conversations, film forums, that sort of thing. There are also organizations outside of the capital, including in the eastern and western parts of the country. I think that the sharing of knowledge has been taking place but much of it has been among students in relation to the University and even upon graduation only speaking with other students, with the result being that their groups remain small. It must reach a greater part of the population. So, I think that a community approach to organizing from a popular knowledge standpoint is needed to reach a larger population, people who may not have a university education.Additionally, there’s the challenge of putting knowledge into practice. Muchhas been done by way of debate, learning, but there is a lack of ideas beingput it into practice.
With respect to Non-Governmental Organization, well the power that we have built has been through self-organization (autogestion), sometimes with donations. We have had donations from abroad at times, for instance when we were trying to build a social center. We haven’t wanted to have a reliance on NGO’s but on the other hand, yes, some of our people have worked with NGO’s. So, that could be said to be our relationship.
TFSR – In 2015, an article in LibCom announced the creation of Anarchist Federation of Central America and the Caribbean. Does this factor into organizing in El Salvador against the reaction? Are there other regional relationships with activists that you’d like to share about?
Elisa – Yes, the Anarchist Conscience Association that we formed is a part of AFCAC and it has tried to be in communication but there has not been another AFCAC gathering since 2015. Yes let’s say it is about continuing to have communication but we have not yet been managed to do many activities together. As we wait to see if we can put together another AFCAC gathering, we have yet to see what activities can really be done together.
TFSR – How can listeners continue to inform themselves on the situation in El Salvador and the work that you and other comrades are doing? What sort of solidarity could be helpful from abroad?
Elisa – Y’all can look up information about the Anarchist Conscience group. There’s a facebook page and there’s also a blog at concienciaanarquista.noblogs.org. You can also find the Libertarian Student Commune and the San Jacinto Collective (Comuna Estudiantil Libertaria and Colectivo San Jacinto). And, well, I think part of solidarity is making visible the interferences of the US in El Salvador, distributing material about this, about what’s going on here… So I think that’s a form that y’all could demonstrate solidarity.
TFSR – And are there any words for Salvadoran people in the United States maybe hearing about news from their home from mediocre or bad sources that you’d like to share?
Elisa – For those of you who are following things, who are seeing the news from here, I’d tell you to not stick with a single news source. Like I said, the government is selling itself really well with the media to those outside the country, but the things that are happening here don’t look good. So I’d suggest to not stay with one single news source. Look for multiple sources of information so you can have more to go through and find out what’s going on. I guess that’d be it, and thank you very much for listening.
This week on The Final Straw we feature a chat with a translator of the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran to share perspectives from membership in Iran and abroad about resistance to the regime from within, solidarity from abroad, the impact of US Sabre-rattling.
An inspirational movement arose out of the Cold War period among anarchists who found themselves on either side of the international chess-board. In the US this was called Neither East Nor West. The movement published a journal called On Gogol Boulevard, which after 1990, lived as a column in Profane Existence (an anarcho-punk journal), Fifth Estate and other journals. This project seems to have existed for about 15 years, from 1980 to 1994. The Final Straw lost the opportunity a few years ago to interview a New Yorker deeply engaged throughout this project, Bob McGlynn, when he passed away. He was obviously not the only person involved, but sharing his experience and story is a missed opportunity on our part. A link to an article that McGlynn penned about the project will be linked in our show notes.
Today, we find ourselves as anarchists in the USA, 20 years into the so-called War On Terror. This war of destabilization has targeted criminalized populations in within the U.S. borders and has had massively violent and deadly consequences across the globe. What we call a War, for lack of a better word, serves to destroy, enslave, maim and kill animals, human and non-human, around the world. And throughout the whole of this 20 year period a constant boogey-man has been that of the Iranian state, whose people have lived under the varying pressure of US-led sanctions. The US war machine hovers close to shifting from it’s regional proxy wars and an active war with Iran as the Trump regime’s rhetoric and economic policy close around the throats of the Iranian people.
In the interest of international solidarity and understanding and the spirit of the Neither East Nor West, we are quite pleased to be having a conversation with people from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. In this conversation we’ll be learning about Iranian struggles and what solidarity from the West might look like. We hope that in the future we can talk more about the impact of the 20 years of war on the peoples of Afghanistan perpetrated by the US government and it’s allies and the work of anti-authoritarians on the ground.
More than 2000 people have been arrested on charges related to the Chilean uprising. To raise funds for arrestees mounting legal fees, comrades in Santiago had the idea to organize an international tattoo party fundraiser to raise money for legal funds and increase the coordination across territories. The date will be February 15th. Currently, events in Santiago and Atlanta GA have signed on and we are waiting for confirmation from Valdivia and Punto Varas. A flyer announcing the international tattoo party is forthcoming with more details on how we can link up the different events. The idea is to cross promote the different events to build a broader network, showcase different tattoo artists, and take advantage of our our shared capacity across territories.
Deadline to sign on is February 1st, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved
Solidarity w Greek Antifascists
Comrades abroad are doing a campaign for the persecuted antifascists that are charged for the attacks of the offices of the greek fascist party, they will have to gather 30000 until 17/1. Show solidarity support/spread it!
Check out the support site for Chip Fitzgerald, Black Panther activist in the California prison system for 50 years now. Chip is an elder who has suffered a stroke inside prison and is sometimes confined to a wheelchair, often uses a cane and is the longest held Black Panther prisoner. He has served 3 times the usual sentence served for folks convicted of similar crimes and has been denied parole over a dozen times since he became eligible in 1976. More on his case and how you can help to bring this aging revolutionary home is up at https://www.freedom4chip.org/
Transcription of the interview with a member of AUAI
Thanks to A-Radio Berlin for the transcription. German translation available soon via that project.
TFSR: Today, we find ourselves as anarchists in the USA, 20 years into the so-called ‘War on Terror’. This war of destabilization has targeted criminalized populations within the US borders and has had massive violent and deadly consequences across the globe. What we call a war, for lack of a better word, serves to destroy, enslave and maim animals, human and nonhuman, around the world. And throughout this whole 20 year period, one of the constant boogeymen has been that of the Iranian state, whose people have lived under varying pressure from US-led sanctions. The US war machine hovers close to shifting from its regional proxy wars to an active war with Iran, as the Trump regime’s rhetoric and economic policy close around the throats of the Iranian people. In the interest of international solidarity and understanding and the spirit of ‘Neither East Nor West’, we’re quite pleased to be having a conversation with a translator from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. In this conversation, we’ll be learning about Iranian struggles and what solidarity from the West might look like. We hope that in the future we can talk more about the impact of the 20 years of war on the peoples of Afghanistan, perpetrated by the US government at its allies, and the work of anti-authoritarians on the ground.
So, right now I’m speaking with a translator from the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran. Thank you so much for agreeing to speak and do you want to introduce yourself further than that?
AUIA: Thank you for having me. And no, that’s adequate, thank you.
TFSR: Can you talk about the makeup generally of the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran and what its aims are? Like, why does it include both of those territories and not others and what are the unifying principles of the Union?
AUIA: The Union is composed of the ‘Anarchist Era Collective’, which is a community of anarchists from Afghanistan and Iran, operating both inside and outside of the respective countries, ‘Aleyh’, an anarchist group based out of Afghanistan and the ‘Revolutionary Radical Anarchist Front’ who is based in Iran. Our members are about two thirds in Afghanistan and Iran and one third outside of them. With many of those in Europe, Canada, and the United States. The vast majority of our new members are recruited from within Afghanistan and Iran. The reason why it is those two countries is because they share Persian as a lingua franca, referred to as Farsi in Iran, or Farsi and Dari in Afghanistan. Peoples in these territories as well share similar struggles and the states of the respective countries and the political elites share commonalities as well. We have many points of unity, though one thing to know is that we are open to all anarchists, except pacifists, sectarian religious anarchists and those who call themselves so-called ‘anarcho-capitalists’. Due to different situations on the ground in Afghanistan and Iran, we embrace a multitude of different strategies and except many different tendencies of anarchists, depending on the situations that they face.
TFSR: Can you give an explanation very briefly, of why – I can understand why an-caps, because they are not real, and partisan-religious anything wouldn’t be able to work with other people without those other people turning to their side, so that makes sense. What is it about the pacifist anarchists that puts them in with those other categories of groups that can’t be a part of the Union?
AUIA: Our reason for not accepting pacifists into the Anarchist Union is that pacifism does not effectively confront the state and in many ways reifies the legitimacy of the state. We also accept the necessity of armed struggle and armed self-defense, which pacifism does not encompass. But for people on the ground in the struggles and protests in Iran, it is necessary for us to use violence when necessary against the regime.
TFSR: That makes sense. So, as we’re speaking, tensions are ratcheting up between the US regime and the Irani regime. What does the Anarchist Union think about the assassination of major general Qasem Suleimani of the Quds Force, of the Irani Revolutionary Guard and how has the assassination affected living and resisting under the regime? How have people reacted to the states threatening one another?
AUIA: We are happy that Qasem Suleimani is dead and many found his death cathartic. He has been terrorizing the region in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Lebanon, as well as in Afghanistan for quite some time and he was an important figure within the Revolutionary Guard, which unleashes domestic forces on protesters, demonstrators frequently, including the uprising in November. At the same time, we also condemn the reckless actions of Trump’s executive branch in Iraq and their self-interested strike, which served to stir up tensions in the region and bring more suffering on Iraqis and Syrians who are in the lines of fire. This recent international incident emerges from decades of conflict between opposing imperialist blocks, who are largely responsible for the wars, famines, and displacement of many people, that is so common now in the Middle East.
We believe that the death of Suleimani will not change Iran’s approach in regions that border it because his longtime deputy commander Esmail Ghaani is being appointed to replace him as commander of the Quds. As well the militia leader who was killed, al-Muhandis, his death will not end his militia or any other militia that Iran backs. On the opposite side, Iraq did request American forces leave, and many NATO operations were suspended during the last week, but there is no indication Western powers will dramatically change their policies or their presence in Iraq. So far there has been little effect on resistance under the regime. There was a day of state mourning, there were many state-mandated parades, and the regime banned any sort of protests or rallies against these.
There may be a lull due to a nationalist fervor, but it will not last long, because the economic conditions, the domestic conditions, the repression, that is forced on the Iranian people, will lead to riots and uprisings again. For this, we’re pretty certain. In Iran, the regime’s reaction has to be understood as well within the upcoming election. There is an election that is being held in Iran on February 21st 2020, and the strong condemnation and retaliation to the strike by the Americans was expected. So if Trump has an election, he’s currently in the cycle, he’s campaigning for, so too are Iranian politicians.
TFSR: What are the conditions of life in Iran under the regime? Many listeners in the West and in the US, in particular, will be curious to learn about the experience of day-to-day life. We understand that Iran is a large and heterogeneous territory, so whatever you can do to inform us, will be appreciated.
AUIA: The current situation should be seen as a part of the 40-year history of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the regime that was born in 1979, during the revolution. The current situation is a result of four decades of divisions and splits within the government and since the beginning the regime has been gradually eliminating one group after another that has supported the revolution, getting rid of parties and curtailing their prominence and stopping political participation and excluding voices from the political arena that don’t support the revolution that occurred in 1979. While there are elections, the people who may run for the elections are carefully chosen by the Guardian Committee. So they are not the same as elections that happen in the US or Canada, where the party apparatuses are responsible for electing their own representatives to run as leaders of the parties or as presidents.
In the economic arena as well, there is a large gap in income. A majority of Iranians are either in absolute poverty, or they’re in relative poverty. There is a large working class, as well as a large unemployed population. And this is because neoliberal policies are being imposed by the Iranian regime, to kind of pave the way for the seizure of public property by political elites, and the impoverishment of many. Money that could be redistributed to the people has been instead funneled towards proxy wars that Iran is fighting as well as being funneled into the hands of clerics and the Revolutionary Guard. Iranian state assets are owned by four organizations, including the ‘Holy Shrine of Imam Reza’, the ‘Foundation of the Oppressed’, and the ‘Seal of the Prophets’. These organizations own companies in vast amounts of wealth and assets, including various factories and companies, as well as property that was confiscated from the Shah Regime. And the policies that Iran pursues, by taking much of the economy for the elite and to fund proxy wars and their own repression, is having a negative effect on the country and the livelihoods of normal people who live there.
TFSR: For listeners that are in the US and are concerned around the sanctions that the US has been imposing, it sounds basically like it’s just being passed on to the population and not actually affecting the policies and choices of the regime directly in Iran. Does this seem like a correct assessment?
AUIA: Yes, that is a correct assessment. Though some businesses and some members of the Iranian regime do feel the pressures of the economic sanctions, much of the actual burden of these is held by regular people.
TFSR: Could you talk about the protests that rocked Iran in November? Their genesis, and what role, if any, anarchists played in them? And also what sort of political, social, religious or gender strata participated in the protests? Were there demands? And how successful was it? Sorry, that’s a very big question.
If you want to more generally, would you tell us about those protests? And who participated, what went on, and how they went?
AUIA: These protests emerged from the pressure of US economic sanctions because they’ve paralyzed the government, which means that the regime is facing a severe budget deficit. A first spark for these protests was the regime deciding to cut the subsidies for gasoline in order to pay for some of the other parts of their budget. This created an outcry from the vulnerable parts of society and those who were lower income. What is perhaps surprising is that many of those who form the base of pro-government support were out in the streets: the lower classes. And they have been driven onto the streets to protest because of the economic pressure and the organized corruption in the country.
There are also reports of young people from affluent classes as well as people from the middle class and many students who joined. However, we can suspect that it wasn’t necessarily economic reasons that made those protesters join in the demonstrations. As to anarchist presence, there was serious and widespread anarchist participation in the protest that happened in November of this year as well as December 2017/2018. In the aftermath of the 2017/2018 protests, we know of at least some anarchists who were arrested and tortured, though it is not clear to us that the government knew that they were anarchists. And the Union does not have links with all Iranian anarchists, so we don’t know how many were arrested or were killed. As for this November, as far as we know, there were no anarchists associated with the Union who were arrested or killed, but again, we can’t know of the fate of all anarchists. And anarchists have participated in the uprising in different ways, in each location, because it involved a variety of different events, different rallies, different marches, depending on the circumstances and the severity of state response. We can’t really get into that due to security reasons.
But during these protests, there were three key drivers that brought people to the streets, and those were domestic politics, the economic situation, as well as the international policies of Iran. People were in the streets protesting Iran’s involvement in Syria, in Iraq and in Lebanon. We also know that Afghan refugees participated in the demonstrations because nine were killed, and many more were arrested. So we know that there was widespread participation by all classes and people in society against the regime, and the economic situation, and the imperialism that Iran has been inflicting on the rest of the region.
TFSR: There was what appeared to be an inconsistency between those two answers and so I would like to just address that and get a clarification if that’s ok. Because in the prior question that I asked [you said that the economic sanctions do not affect the Iranian regime]. So the sanctions are in fact affecting the regime, but the elite as individuals don’t feel the burden as much as the majority of the population, is that a correct understanding? Because you said that subsidies had lead to…
AUIA: So, the regime as a whole and the political elite as a class, do not feel the burden of the economic sanctions. They don’t go without food, they have plenty of fuel, it hasn’t affected their electricity or their internet, it hasn’t affected their day-to-day life. It has affected the running of the Iranian state. And Instead of directing money to the people, who are feeling the burden of the sanctions, they’re instead hoarding the money for themselves or using the money to rage proxy wars.
TFSR: The Iranian government has shut off the internet in a reaction to protests at various times. Can you talk about the impact that this has had on the resistance in Iran and social and technical workarounds that people have constructed or found?
AUIA: Definitely. Shutting off the internet did a great deal of damage to internet businesses, but did not have too much of an effect on protests themselves. The protests had begun before the internet crash and while the shutdown did limit the amount of information we could receive from the streets, people instead just decided to speak face-to-face, and they didn’t really use internet access to create the protests, to begin with, and so they just continued not using the internet. Given the events that happened over that week, we don’t believe the internet had much of an effect of protests, people tend to be organizing these protests and getting involved in demonstrations against the state through face-to-face interactions. Considering that many common social media tools that activists use in the West and other places to organize clandestinely with encryption and security aren’t available in Iran. And some apps and platforms such as Twitter are not accessible in Iran without VPN services.
TFSR: We often hear in the West about the Iranian state repression for feminist stances, for queerness, unorthodox religious expression and practice. How much is day-to-day life policed around issues of gender, sexuality, and religion? How free are people to live their identities as they see fit, love and worship as they will, and how much room culturally is there for these expressions?
AUIA: Day-to-day life in Iran is heavily policed, and one of the main organs that polices the expression of sexuality and gender is the Gashte Ershad, which translates to the Guidance Patrol, they’re also known as the morality police. We can see the effects of repression of women especially through the symbolic videos that have been coming out of Iran of women taking off their hijab. That doesn’t mean they’re not Muslims, it doesn’t mean they’re anti-Islam, but it means that they are performing a symbolic protest to reject the type of the Islamic rules that are imposed by the state. In general, women, all religious minorities, oppressed genders, and minority nationalities are under constant police pressure and control, they’re subjected to constant repression. Women must usually travel with a father or a husband or some other male guardian, and there are many human rights issues that Iranian feminists attempt to address.
LGBTQ people are oppressed by the religious police and the Iranian state’s interpretation of Islamic law, meaning that if a homosexual is discovered and it’s proved that they have had gay sex, they can suffer a death sentence. Largely, relations between men and women in society are very limited and in public, there is always police supervision or Guidance Patrols, who are tasked with enforcing the coverage of women, and the separation between young men and women. There are instances that even at parties that people are having in their own homes, police and Guidance Patrols come to attack them and arrest those who are in attendance if they find that the party is in breach with any of the state’s laws. The Iranian state has used religion to create this prison for marginalized peoples.
TFSR: So the last question didn’t really touch on ethnic differences, and you mentioned ethnic minorities and repression from the Iranian regime. Can you talk about the struggles of non-Persian peoples within Iran, the forms that those struggles take and the relationship between the Anarchist Union and those struggles? You already mentioned that the union has a stance in support of armed struggle against the Iranian state.
AUIA: As you have said, we are supportive of armed struggle against the Iranian state, and we have made two communiqués calling for an armed united front to defend unarmed protesters from security forces during these demonstrations and further uprisings. Iran has different ethnic groups and they all have their own struggles. The territory of Iran is home to many different peoples who speak Iranic languages, such as Balochs, Kurds, Lari, Luri, Mazandarani, Bashkardis, just to name a few, as well as Arab speakers. There are speakers of Turkic languages, like Yazidi. As a nation-state, Iran has continued ‘Persianization’, to forcibly assimilate non-Persian nationalities. Many minorities are kept out of the decision making positions in their regions, by Tehran, many languages are also discriminated against and economic distribution is kept away from minority regions, like Baluchestan and Kurdistan. Tehran wants access to resources in these regions and strategic ports and roadways but wants to keep the local people suppressed. The Anarchist Union had run a Twitter poll, and although Twitter accounts for about 10% of Iranian internet users and there aren’t too many Iranian internet users, according to the poll, out of Irans 31 provinces there are 30 with anarchists. There are anarchists among all the non-Persian ethnicities. There are also anarchists in the only province that no anarchists selected for the poll, but they don’t use Twitter or the internet and they can’t participate in those polls.
We shouldn’t forget that in Iran, anarchists are largely disadvantaged and impoverished and don’t always have access to the internet or to an internet café, and rarely have access to smartphones with that capability. The Anarchist Union itself does not rely solely on its own members and has a multitude of anarchist audiences and groups who coordinate union activities without direct contact to keep it decentralized for security reasons. We don’t want everybody to be in direct contact with us or to be a member of the Union because that could leave the Union open to being targeted easier by the Iranian regime. Many of the anarchists are movement-oriented and involved in many different initiatives including ethnic minority struggles. Non-Persian anarchists mainly fall outside of ethnic parties, that are organized, and have their own independent activities as anarchists that we are either about in contact with or indirectly coordinate with, though the non-Persian peoples of Iran and their anarchists are definitely involved in union activities and we do respond to the need and the struggles of everyone who lives under the Iranian regime.
TFSR: A painful truth of ignorance is the inability to see the bounds of that ignorance. Would you please speak about Orientalist approaches of Western leftists and anarchists as you’ve experienced it as the Union, as least since you’ve participated in the Anarchist Union of Afghanistan and Iran? And insights that we in the West can act from to overcome some of these shortcomings?
AUIA: Western leftists are very quick to defend states opposed to the US. Western chauvinism prioritizes a worldview that centers the United States and therefore makes opposing American imperialism at the expense of other states a priority. This orientalism subordinates the struggles of Afghans and Iranians who have to confront both their own governments, as well as many competing international interests. Many Western leftists are ignorant of the complexity of situations in places like Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Instead of listening to authoritarians on the ground or in the diaspora, they are quick to make judgments that confirm their own biases about the United States and American imperialism. For example, we receive negative feedback from Western leftists, mostly Marxists, to our own statements to the death of Qasem Suleimani, because we condemned him and found catharsis in his death in addition to condemning reckless American actions. For the Union, it is paramount that we both oppose American sanctions and warmongering as well as the Iranian regime’s corruption and brutal oppression. The insight that Western leftists can take away is to focus on and raise up the voices of those who are suffering from oppression abroad and people of those diasporas who have rigorous analyses of all imperialisms, not merely reflexively falling back on American imperialism and its allies.
TFSR: I raise that question because there is a certain brand of authoritarian leftists. In the US, and in the West I guess, we have a brand of so-called leftism that often supports repressive states that are viewed to be oppositional to the US state. However, they are also standing on the throats of the people that they claim to rule over. So, often we call those people ‘Tankies’. That nickname came from a derisive nickname, an insult for British communists who supported the Stalinist repression of Hungarian workers’ democracy in 1956. So, that is kind of why I raise this question because we have also gotten some push-back for trying to help amplify the voices, to American audiences mostly, of people in resistance in Hong Kong or Rojava. And ‘Tankies’ come at us on Twitter and they’re like ‘actually, you’re just anti-Chinese’, or ‘Assad is actually a Socialist’. Can you talk a little more about ‘Tankies’?
AUIA: Of course. ‘Tankies’ represent a threat to internationalism, especially in the region of Afghanistan and Iran. They support the Iranian regime even though Iran represses and targets anarchists as well as Marxists. They support the Assad regime, which is opposed to leftist thought as well as liberty and egalitarianism and has waged a war to keep authoritarianism in that country. They go back, as you said, they support the People’s Republic of China, as well as supporting Russia and Putin. For us, it seems that these self-described leftists do not support any sort of leftism, they have merely taken up a different imperialist block in these struggles. And they’re again centering the United States and Western action and agency, rather than centering the resistance of people who live in the places where struggles are ongoing and where different imperialist blocs are attempting to influence the region to install governments that are amicable to them. This creates complications in their geopolitics, especially in the case of Afghanistan, where the Americans have been waging a decades-long occupation and the Afghan state has been fighting a civil war against the Taliban. However, the Taliban are being supported by Iran, Russia, and China, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, and Pakistan. So, for the ‘tankie’ this raises a question: if Iran and China and Russia are always on the side of anti-imperialism, would that make the Taliban anti-imperialist? Would that make Pakistan, who also supports the Taliban, anti-imperialist? We also must look back.
‘Tankies’ often defend the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and present the Mujahedin as the precursors of al-Qaida, even though al-Qaida were Arabs and not Afghans. The Afghan Mujahedin was also supported by Iran and Suleimani himself participated in supporting the Northern Alliance that fought against the Taliban, which the Americans also supported. So we see how the pragmatic opportunism of Iran and other imperialist states sometimes coincides with American and other imperialist interests that these ‘Tankies’ definitely don’t support and these are problems with their worldview. It is based on some simple heuristics that they know about the world and that they apply to everything in order to make it simple. And perhaps in isolation, they can make sense but they can’t explain the global system unless they out and out become supporters of Russian imperialism or Iranian imperialism globally.
TFSR: That point is very well made. And I could see them – I mean if people relate the Mujahedin to the Taliban, there is the Osama bin Laden connection, right?…
AUIA: Following the fall of the PDPA (the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) government, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, that was ruled by Najibullah, who was installed by the Soviets, there was a civil war among Mujahedin commanders. And out from the Pakistani refugee camps, where Afghans were kept, emerged the Taliban movement and it joined the civil war. So the Taliban were largely fighting against who we would think of as the Mujahedin. And the Northern Alliance and many of the political elite that formed a coalition government are from the Mujahedin but they are also from the PDPA. So, the narrative that the Mujahedin became the Taliban is not true. There are fighters from the Mujahedin who joined the Taliban but by and large, the majority of factions and commanders that fought in the Mujahedin opposed the Taliban.
And to the second point of bin Laden: bin Laden was responsible for Maktab al-Khidamat which was an organization that helped bring Arab fighters, Arab foreign fighters, to Afghanistan, and fight in the Mujahedin against the Soviets. They never brought very many, they may have been no more than 5.000 in Afghanistan at any point in time. Most of the money that was raised by bin Laden came from private investors in the Gulf states. Some of the money came from Saudi Arabia’s security apparatuses directly, in order to do things that they did not want the Americans or the Pakistanis to know about because the Americans and the Saudi government were funneling money through the Pakistani Intelligence Agency, the ISI, and the ISI controlled the distribution of funds to the major Mujahedin groups. So, there’s no evidence to suggest that the Americans had any ties to bin Laden. Most of the time that comes from orientalism and assuming that Afghans and Arabs are the same, and that bin Laden was a participant in the Afghan Mujahedin, which he was not.
TFSR: Thank you for the clarification.
Switching gears a little bit: Anarchists in other parts of the world may be interested to learn about how you all from the Anarchist Union learned about anarchism, what anarchism looks like in Iran, such as what tendencies or influences there are. Maybe if it has subcultural roots in Punk or Metal as can be seen in a lot of other parts of the world or if it comes more from labor roots? And does the praxis hold any particular religious, secular, or anti-religious sentiment?
AUIA: Our own praxis definitely holds secular sentiment, and there are some who hold anti-religious sentiments. Much like Bakunin who said, “no gods, no masters” when he was living under a time of Christian hierarchy and when Christian organizations represented an authoritarian presence in society, so too does anti-religious sentiment stem from the authoritarian usage of Islam by the Iranian regime. What we have found is that there are many anarcho-syndicalists in Iran. However, there are also anarchists of other tendencies as well, anarcho-feminists, green anarchists, anarcho-communists, and other anarchist tendencies. Many people do not emphasize a branch or tendency of anarchism that they hold, they merely say that they are anarchists. Since 1979 there have been translations of anarchist works that have made their way into Iran, normally in zines. There are European, Western thinkers like Bakunin or Kropotkin who were able to introduce anarchism into Iran. Though anarchism in the region goes back further. There were Armenian anarchists and other anarchists, who were located close to the Ottoman Empire and Iran, that wrote in Persian as well as other languages, like Armenian and Turkish. So there is anarchist literature that is from the region as well.
TFSR: Iran is one of the states that overlap with Kurdistan. We would be curious to hear what sort of impact the Rojava revolution has had within Iran, particularly since decentralization, agnosticism, and plurality, feminism, and anti-capitalism appear as they might be in conflict with the aims of the Iranian, and any, state.
AUIA: Yes, we take inspiration from Kurds in northern Syria who are part of the PYD and the other groups who are part of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Autonomous Administration of North-Eastern Syria. They have shown us another political system that strives to achieve a society where there is respect for all citizens. In addition to that, they have opposed imperialism and reactionary politics by fighting against the Islamic State as well as Erdoğan’s fascist government in Turkey. In addition to this, there is an equivalent to the PYD and PKK operating in Iran, called PJAK, and they are present in the North-west and western provinces, such as Kurdistan, West-Azerbaijan, Kermanshah. And they have been waging a domestic armed struggle against the Iranian regime for quite some time with the support of their affiliated organizations. We also encourage everyone to participate in protest actions and rallies that support northern Syria and communities there.
TFSR: Iran is surrounded by nations destabilized by US wars over the last 20 years and beyond, and the borders are often just lines in the sand. The news hit the US media this year that much of the power vacuum left within Iraq by the US invasion and occupation has been filled by the Iranian government and its proxies. This comes as the US puppet state has failed to realize, unsurprisingly and thanks in part to the extremists and the extremism and ethic and religious feuds stoked by the US leading to the rise of Daesh and other groups… Unsurprisingly they haven’t been able to reach stability, this puppet government. Recent protest movements in the streets of Iraq have called for jobs, for security, for self-determination. This has been met with bloody consequences at the hands of security forces and para-state actors like those militias. Can you talk about the relationship between Iraq and Iran in this period and maybe give an assessment of the recent struggles in Iraq? Is there any chance of extending the Anarchist Union into Iraq as well?
AUIA: The situation in Iraq needs to take into account that Iraq and Iran have been in conflict since shortly after the Iranian revolution. There was a decade long war, the Iraq-Iran war, and following that and the invasion and occupation by the United States, Iran has been attempting to influence and control the Iraqi government. So recently Iran has played the role of regional imperialist by creating mercenary Muslim groups, they’re mostly Shia, to export their revolution throughout the Shiite Crescent, and they are injecting large amounts of money to support their own state intervention and support non-state proxy groups throughout the region. This is largely being done by the Quds force and was built by the late Suleimani. So far the amount of money that the Iranian government has pumped into militias and segments of the Iraqi government has been successful. And parts of the Iraqi government have begun affiliating with Iran. And we can see that from parts of the Iranian security apparatus opening fire on protesters in October who were protesting against Iranian imperialism, as well as instances of Iranian-backed militia members joining the police or the Iraqi military and firing on Americans. Much of the Iraqi resistance was suppressed and crushed by affiliated organizations of the Iranian regime including their militias and Qasem Suleimani played a large role in these events. Many of the activists in the Iraqi people’s movement were assassinated or tortured by Iran and Iranian-backed forces. And the struggles extent beyond Iraq to Lebanon, Iran itself, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Syria. All of these conflicts are intertwined because of the amount of money that Iran is spending and the organizing that they are doing to create militias in these areas or to infiltrate groups that already exist, like the Taliban which I mentioned previously. And if the Iranian regime falls, then the peoples in these countries will witness the collapse of the Iranian infiltrated parts of their own governments and the Iranian-backed militias would be defeated or disintegrated very easily without the constant funding from Tehran.
Speaking about anarchists, in Iraq, there are many anarchists in the Kurdish part and there are anarchists throughout Iraq as a whole but in order for our Anarchist Union to expand into the geographical area of Iraq, we would need more people in the Union to know Arabic, as that’s the language of the majority of the population in Iraq. And currently, we are focusing on Persian-language content and the struggles of people who speak Persian.
TFSR: Yeah, that makes sense. So in the West, we hear in our media and from the US government that the survival of Jews in West Asia is only possible by repression of the Iranian state through sanctions and military actions, in defense of Israel as a state. May people, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and of other faiths, or a lack of faiths, or various identities, suffer under the Israeli state. Has there been any show of solidarity between anarchists and anti-authoritarians living under these regimes and can you say some words about the role of religious regimes and stoking hatred among working peoples? Do you have any hope that international solidarity could surpass these limitations?
AUIA: We’ve seen demonstrations of solidarity from Palestinians and other people who are living under this regime and we have shown solidarity in return. We see the function of religion by oppressive regimes is similar to the functions of how fascist regimes operate. They create hatred among their people and fear and creating internal enemies through the use of propaganda. And this hatred is not only confined to religious differences, as it reinforces ethnic differences, racial differences, and the differences between nationalities. And it has produced, along with the colonial borders in the Middle East, much of the tension and ongoing conflicts that we see. We believe our international solidarity has already broken the barriers in many cases, we have developed very strong international relations with anarchists and resistance groups in other parts of the Middle East and are hoping to be better able to support and show solidarity with them in the future too.
TFSR: What should folks living in the United States or other Western states know about resistance in Iran? What can we do to support liberation struggles in Iran and against the State in Capital And how can we build stronger bonds across borders? Is there a way to avoid having our support being used by the Iranian regime as a reason for further repression?
AUIA: Resistance in Iran is very difficult. There is minimal access to secure communications technology in order for people to plan actions. It is also illegal and heavily policed to have demonstrations and have protests and rallies, where it is very easy in Western countries to either get permits or have spontaneous protests. This means that Iranians must operate clandestinely or wait for massive uprisings and demonstrations that the police can’t immediately respond to and must bring in the Revolutionary Guard or the military in order to suppress. Supporting Iranians fighting in Iran must at the minimum include criticism of the regime. Support that valorizes the regime as anti-imperialist in any way makes it difficult to create internationalist support for Iranian resistance. This is something that we see in Hong Kong as well as Iran and other parts of the world, where authoritarian self-described leftists are very quick to support the imperialist power, whether it would be the People’s Republic of China or Iran and this leads to conservatives, republicans, hawkish liberals, being opportunists and siding with, say Hong Kong or Iranian protesters merely because it suits their interests because they oppose Iran or China geopolitically. And as internationalist leftists, we should not allow that to happen and we should not cede that space to conservatives. Western leftists cannot hesitate to show solidarity with Iranian and Afghan struggles against their own states and all imperialist actors for that reason.
The Union has been approached by organizations around the world, in Belarus and Mexico, to exchange written interviews to learn more about the struggle happening in other places and this is a way to build stronger bonds between borders and share struggles and the ways that different anarchist groups approach those struggles and approach confronting their own states as well as the other international interests that have effects on their lives.
TFSR: Are there any topics that I failed to ask you about, that you would like to address?
AUIA: No, I think we covered them all.
TFSR: We covered a lot. Can you talk about how folks can learn more and keep up on the struggles of Iranian anarchists and anti-authoritarians? How can we keep up on the Union in particular?
AUIA: You can keep up with our work by following the Twitter of our media collective @asranarshism where we post translations of our communiqués and statements as well as news and prisoner letters that have been translated. You can also visit our website which you can find on our Twitter, though it is primarily made for Persian speakers. However, all of the translated content you can find by searching our Twitter handle. You can also access and join the Telegram group, though that is also largely written in Farsi.
TFSR: Well thank you so much for taking this time to chat and going through the effort personally of translating these words from Farsi on the spot, I really appreciate this. And also I realized a thing before we started chatting that after I sent you the questions and that little script about ‘Neither East Nor West’. I didn’t realize that that was actually one of the chants that were used within the Iranian revolution which was, of course, a lot of different tendencies pushing before Ayatollah Khomeini took over and his group took over. I really like the idea of sharing information and building solidarity through it, so thank you so much for participating in this.
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.
Indigenous Space and Decolonizing Prison Abolition
(Sean Swain starts [00:05:12])
This week, we feature two conversations that from two different settler-colonial states on Turtle Island. First up, organizers in so-called Quebec called Ni Frontiers Ni Prison talk about resisting Laval prison and the border regime of the Canadian state. Then, Robert Free, a long-term Tewa resident of Seattle, WA, talks about the struggle to wrest territory from the hands of the US military and found the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.
Today we have a two part show! In the first part we are presenting a conversation with someone from Ni Frontiers Ni Prison, which is a group in so called Canada that is resisting the proposed construction of a new migrant prison in Laval, a town just outside of Montreal. This is a transcript of the original audio, read for the show by Grier, shout out to him! In this interview we talk about the prison and what it would mean for people who’d be most affected by it, the general rise of far right sentiment in so called Canada, and many more topics.
The interviewee names the place they are based as occupied Tio’tia:ke (jo-jahg’-eh), which is the original indigenous name for so called Montreal, the colonizer name. The naming of indigenous land will continue throughout the interview with various locations in the name of decolonization, though Tio’tia:ke is the one which will be the most prominent.
As an audio note to all those paying attention, a fridge turns on midway through the interview then turns back off nearing the end, we’ve tried to minimize the background noise but it’s still somewhat noticeable.
Music for the intro and outro by A Tribe Called Red with Stadium Pow Wow.
Some links to historical events mentioned by our guest relating to Canada’s’ treatment of immigrants and refugees:
“Chinese Head Tax“, a policy which “meant to discourage Chinese people from entering Canada after the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway”, a government project which I conjecture used a bunch of precarious and immigrant labor in order to complete.
Komagata Maru Incident, the historic entry denial of a group of Indian refugees seeking entry into Canada on the Japanese steamship Komagata Maru in 1914, resulting in the death of 20 Sikh people at the hands of the then occupying British government.
“None Is Too Many” policy for Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, an anti Semitic stance that put people who were fleeing Nazi terror in further danger and possible death.
Robert Free on the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center
(starts at 38min, 04sec)
Next we’ll hear an interview with Robert Free, a long-term Seattle, WA resident and Tewa (pronounced tay-oh-wa) Native American. We discuss the history of the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, a cultural and resource center for urban Native Americans in Seattle and the surrounding communities. The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center was established after a series of protests and occupations in 1970 of Fort Lawton, an army base that had previously occupied the park. Robert Free discusses the influencing factors of that time, some of the finer points of the occupations, as well as the implications of protesting and occupation on stolen native land.
Some of the names and events mentioned in this chat you may recognize from our February 17th, 2019, episode of The Final Straw when we had the pleasure to speak with Paulette D’auteuil, about the case of long-term American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier. More info on Peltier’s case can be found at whoisleonardpeltier.info
. … . ..
Next week we hope to bring you a conversation with support crew for incarcerated former military whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who is now imprisoned for refusing to testify before a Grand Jury. More on her case can be found at https://xychelsea.is including links for donating towards her fundraising goal for legal costs aiming at 150 thousand smackeroos.
On December 7, 2018, Columbus police murdered 16 year old Julius Ervin Tate Jr.. On December 13, they arrested his 16 year old girlfriend, Masonique Saunders, charging her with the murder they committed.
Masonique is being charged with aggravated robbery and felony murder, and is currently being held in juvenile detention. The police have alleged that Julius attempted to rob, and pulled a gun on a police officer, and that Masonique was involved in said robbery. Felony murder means that if you commit a felony and someone dies as a result of that crime you can be charged with their murder.
We believe that these charges are unjust, and demand the freedom of this 16 year old Black girl and justice for the family of Julius Tate!
To help Masonique and her family, donate to her GoFundMe.
A quick reminder, if you’re in the Asheville area this coming week, Blue Ridge Anarchist Black Cross is hosting two events. On Friday, April 4th from 6:30 to 8pm at Firestorm, (as we do every first Friday of the month) BRABC will show the latest episode of Trouble, by sub.Media. Episode 19 focuses on Technology and Social Control. After the ½ hour video we’ll turn chairs around and have a discussion of the film for those who’d like. Then, on Sunday, April 6th from 5-7pm as BRABC does every first Sunday of the month, we’ll be hosting a monthly letter writing event. We’ll provide names, addresses, backstories, postage and stationary.
Prisoners we’ll focus on are longterm political prisoners from Black liberation, to Earth and Animal Liberation, to anti-police violence activists caught up in prison whose birthdays are coming up or who are facing severe repression. Or, just come and write a letter you’ve been meaning to write to someone else. It’s a nice environ for that sort of thing.
Extinction Rebellion week of action
The movement to halt and roll back human driven climate change called Extinction Rebellion is planning some upcoming events in the so-called U.S. in line with a worldwide call for action over the week of April 15-22nd. Check out https://extinctionrebellion.us/rebellion-week for info and ways to plug in. If you’re in the L.A. area, see our shownotes for a fedbook link to some of their upcoming events. And remember, practice good security culture by not giving up as little info as possible. Keeping your info more secure today ensures your ability to fight with less hindrance tomorrow!
Marius Mason moved
Anarchist political prisoner Marius Mason has been moved to a prison in Connecticut, a change viewed as a success by his supporters as he’s closer to family by hundreds of miles. If you’d like to write him a letter to welcome him to his new place, consider writing him at the following site, but make sure to address it as follows:
Now, here’s a statement by the Highlander Research and Education Center outside of New Market, TN, about the fire early on March 29, 2019:
“Early this morning, officials responded to a serious fire on the grounds of the Highlander Research and Education Center, one of the nation’s oldest social justice institutions that provides training and education for emerging and existing movements throughout the South, Appalachia, and the world.
As of 6am, the main office building was completely engulfed and destroyed. One of ten structures on approximately 200 acres, the building housed the offices of the organization’s leadership and staff. Highlander’s staff released the following statement:
“Highlander has been a movement home for nearly 87 years and has weathered many storms. This is no different. Several people were on the grounds at the time of the fire, but thankfully no one was inside the structure and no one was injured.
“While we are physically unhurt, we are saddened about the loss of our main office. The fire destroyed decades of historic documents, speeches, artifacts and memorabilia from movements of all kinds, including the Civil Rights Movement. A fuller assessment of the damage will be forthcoming once we are cleared to enter the remains of the building.
“We are grateful for the support of the many movements who are now showing up for us in this critical time. This has been a space for training, strategy and respite for decades and it will continue to be for decades to come.
Fire officials are working to determine the cause as quickly as possible and we are monitoring the investigation closely.” –Ash-Lee Woodward Henderson and Rev. Allyn Maxfield-Steele, Co-Executive Directors, Highlander Research and Education Center.
Highlander has played a critical role in the Civil Rights Movement, training and supporting the work of a number of movement activists: Rosa Parks prior to her historic role in the Montgomery Bus Boycot, members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Septima Clark, Anne Braden, Martin Luther King Jr., James Bevel, Hollis Watkins, Bernard Lafayette, Ralph Abernathy and John Lewis.”
On March 25, 2019, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Wende Kerl shot and killed Danquirs Franklin in the parking lot of the Burger King on Beatties Ford Rd in Charlotte. Police narratives posit that Mr Franklin was armed and posing a threat, while eye witnesses say that Danquirs Franklin interceded against an armed man bothering an employee and that the armed man ran away before the police arrived, who then shot the first black man they encountered. Friends at Charlotte Uprising have been holding vigil and fundraising for Danquirs Franklin’s family as the police’s actions leave his child fatherless. More can be found at the Charlotte Uprising twitter and fedbook pages. Rise In Power, Danquirs.
William Goodenuff: First of all, thank you so much for your time in coming onto this radio show! Could you first talk about what is attempting to be planned on the part of the Canadian state in terms of this migrant prison in Laval?
Ni Frontieres Ni Prisons: Yeah! So the proposed new migrant prison is actually one part of a plan that the Canadian government announced just over two years ago now. It’s called the National Immigration Detention Framework. And the plan came in response to a period of sustained resistance against the government’s practice of incarcerating migrants, many in provincial jails. Um, and for years, going back to 2011, migrants held by the CBSA (which is the Canada Border Services Agency), had been going on periodic hunger strikes in facilities across Ontario. And in the months before the governments announcement of this plan a new hunger strike was initiated, and there were mobilizations across the country in solidarity. There was a lot of pressure on the government to do something, especially because several migrants had died in CBSA custody over that same period.
And so the government responds to all this by announcing a new $138 million plan, but instead of ceding to the demands of the hunger strikers, most of the money ends up being dedicated to building two new migrant prisons, one in [Sur ABC] replacing the CBSA’s Vancouver Airport Facility, and one in Laval replacing the current one just across the street. So strengthening the detention system that the hunger strikers were fighting against. Many detained migrants in Ontario actually went back on hunger strike following the announcement but the government just ignored them.
W: Is there anything more to say about the sustained period of resistance on the part of people who were in custody and people who weren’t in custody?
NFNP: Because it’s been so long now I feel like I hesitate to talk more in depth about it because I’m worried I’ll get something wrong.
W: That’s totally fine. So you talked a little bit about how it got started, in what ways have people already been resisting the prison?
NFNP: Right, so in 2017 the government hired two architecture firms, one called Lamais one called Group A, to design the new prison. And Solidarity Across Borders, which is a migrant justice network that’s been based here in occupied Tio’tia:ke for over 15 years now, was one of the first groups to talk publicly about this, which brought the project to a lot of people’s attention including myself. And the resistance since then has been focused on the companies working on the project. Last year, an anonymous group released crickets into Lamais’ headquarters, that was great! A nice biblical flourish!
And last month the group I’m a part of, Ni frontiers ni prisons, organized a demonstration against Lamais that ended at their headquarters. Since then, a company that remediated the soil at the proposed construction site had their offices spray painted, and just a few weeks ago a group of about 30 people barricaded the road leading to what was called the “site visit” for companies who want to bid on the contract to build the prison. So that’s a bit of an overview of what’s been happening. Ni Frontiers Ni Prison which I’m a part of is focused more on organizing public actions and events which are just one part of the struggle against the construction of the prison which includes a diversity of tactics in multiple groups.
W: Does the group work in coalition with other groups that are fighting the prison or people that are detained in the prison?
NFNP: So there’s no formal coalition but there is dialogue and discussion between other groups who are also doing work against this specific prison but also against migrant detention more generally, working for status for all against the border. And so Solidarity Across Borders is a group that includes many people without status, many people who have been through the current migrant detention center and have been doing that work for a very long time.
W: So, I would really love to get a sense, and maybe listeners already know these things based on their own experiences, but what would this prison mean for those people who would be most directly affected by it?
NFNP: Right, so the first thing I should say is that migrant detention is central to Canada’s ability to deport people. And the CBSA has made a commitment recently to start increasing deportations by about 30%. So this prison represents an investment in both the continued violence of deportation as well as detention. But in practical terms, strengthening that threat of violence means that it’ll continue to be almost impossible to seek services here, or to resist exploitation. It maintains them as a source of precarious and exploitable labor.
But I mean, the violence of the migrant prison itself can’t be understated, people are often imprisoned in these facilities for years without charge. People die in these facilities, and I believe very strongly that prisons aren’t the answer to the challenges we face in our communities; locking people up, limiting people’s movement, deporting people to dangerous situations, or possible death, all of these things only cause more violence and harm.
Speaking for myself, I want to live in a world without prisons and without borders where people actually have the things they need to live their lives with dignity and respect.
W: Definitely, and it’s been my understanding too. In the US as well prisons are a huge source of capitaistic gain and a source of precarious and exploitable labor like you mentioned so that makes a lot of sense just for me coming from a US context.
So at the radio show we’ve been hearing about this prison couched in terms of humanity, like it would be a so called “more humane detention center”. And you mentioned that it was being built like right across the street or right next to a detention center that already exists. Would you talk about why the Canadian state is attempting this branding right now?
NFNP: Yeah, so the government has been marketing this entire project as creating a more humane approach to incarcerating migrants, but it’s just an attempt to change the subject from the question of why the government is putting migrants in prison to begin with, something a lot of people started asking following the hunger strikes. And if you look at the designs that the architects put together it makes it really clear whats actually going on, like the plans talk about how all the fencing around the prison needs to be covered by foliage to limit what it calls “the harshness of the look”, or that the iron bars over the windows have to be as inconspicuous as possible to the outside public, and that the children’s area needs to be bordered by what they call a 6 foot high visual barrier to make sure that no one outside can see the imprisoned children.
So essentially it’s just a new prison with a nicer looking face. And if you’re being separated from your family , your community, awaiting deportation to possible torture or death, I highly doubt you’re gonna be too concerned with how sustainable the concrete is or what color the ceilings are in the prison you’re being held in. But another element of this plan is something that the government is marketing as “alternatives to detention”. I mean, these programs only make up something like 3% of the total budget of the plan, but it’s been a central part of its marketing as a more humane approach than the previous government. These alternatives, they include forcing migrants to wear electronic ankle bracelets so their movements can be tracked. There’s this collaboration with the John Howard Society to force migrants into their halfway houses, they’ve also created this gps phone reporting system that forces migrants to make regular check in calls that test their voice prints. And so these are all ways that the government is actually expanding its capacity for surveillance and control of migrants outside of its prisons. Ya know, before the only option was detaining or releasing people but now they’re expanding their reach. And there was actually a renewed hunger strike by incarcerated migrants when these alternatives were launched last year, but again the government just ignored them.
W: And I’m assuming that the halfway house that you mentioned as well as the ankle bracelets, are those a for profit endeavor?
NFNP: So yeah, the halfway houses, the John Howard Society, got a multi million dollar contract to oversee that project. I’m not sure offhand what the company is that’s overseeing the ankle bracelets, but the technology was actually engineered as part of the post 9/11 national security certificate program here, which involved imprisoning non-citizens indefinitely without charge on secret evidence, mostly it was Arab and Muslim men. And some of those men who were caught up in the system in the early 2000’s, they actually requested to be transferred back to prison rather than continuing to live with those ankle monitors, because of how intense and repressive that system really was. But it’s really clear with these alternatives that all these carceral technologies that have been used in these post 9/11 sort of state of exception moments, but also through the federal prison system are leaking in and bleeding in to the system of how Canada relates to migrant populations.
W: It’s like bringing the prison into the home is kinda my experience of how ankle monitors generally work.
And I’m really bothered by this entire situation, but also this sort of softer, gentler prison where you can’t really see the kids and the harshness of the prison is dulled by some kind of fake foliage. The quality of the Canadian state is something that as a US resident I’m not really all that informed about but what I have been informed of, it’s just like extraordinarily toxic neoliberal cooptation of like “diversity” and “understanding” when it in fact is a genocidal machine.
NFNP: Yeah I think that was very well put!
W: I’ve been listening to a lot of From Embers (anarchist radio show at http://fromembers.libsyn.com/) so I’ve been like “this fucking Canadian state is a fucking hellscape!”
But yeah thank you for going into that, the ankle bracelets and the for profit nature of the John Howard Society.
So, speaking of the state, I think that people all over the world have been noting the increasingly frenetic attention that governments are paying to borders, with similarly increasingly racist rhetoric applied to many people seeking safety in places like so called Canada, so called US, and UK. Are there things to keep in mind about this proposed detention center in this current polarizing climate?
NFNP: Right. So over the past few years in Quebec we’ve seen the rise of far right anti-immigrant groups that have actually achieved a level of mass support here that I think is unique compared to the rest of the country. And this is for a lot of reasons, an important one is the turn of Quebec nationalism toward a very xenophobic form of state secularism. And that’s resulted in a huge increase of attacks on Muslim people, a formal ban on anyone wearing non Christian religious symbols from either working or receiving services from the Quebec government–
W: Wait, really??
NFNP: Yeah… And also of course there’s the mass murder at the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City. But it’s also resulted in a new far right government that ran on substantially reducing immigration to Quebec and also introducing values and language tests for new migrants, which they’ve begun to put in place. And so, this more I guess local far right upsurge in anti-immigrant sentiment is increasingly bolstering support here for the federal government’s deportation regime.
And I think this makes it an important moment to intervene, to help disrupt that. Because I think that fighting back against the rise of the sentiment needs to be more than a one pronged fight against the far right groups on the ground. I really think that the struggle also needs to be connected to sustained resistance toward the racist structures that pre-date these groups. These structures often share a vision with these newer far right groups, but I think there may be more fundamental parts of our colonial context here.
W: Yeah, definitely! I’m wondering if you would say more about fighting against the structures that pre-date the current governmental climate, or political climate that’s happening right now? What would you think would be involved in that?
NFNP: Oh! Well I think that migration policy is a great example of this, where so much of the focus of that conversation around the country and in Quebec right now is so focused around people crossing the border from the United States on foot into Canada. And talking about the influx of refugees who are crossing into Canada or applying for refugee status here, many of which are being denied.
But the entire apparatus of detention and deportation completely pre-dates this.
It’s in fact not linked to this upsurge in migration, it’s linked to the temporization of status for people here, which has been going back for decades. And if we’re only looking at what’s directly in front of us, we’re not gonna understand or be able to effectively confront these structures that are MUCH more deeply rooted in the fabric of the Canadian state and in Canadian history.
W: Thank you very much for bringing up that point! And I think that goes really well into the next questions which is, would you talk about how the concept of citizenship is being weaponized by the state in this case but also has always been weaponized by the state?
NFNP: Yeah, I mean the concept of citizenship has always been based on exclusion, and the Canadian context is no different! Things like the Chinese Head Tax, the Komagata Maru incident, the None is Too Many Policy toward Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, the Canadian state’s approach to immigration has always been shaped by its white supremacist foundations. And actually with the exception of the British Commonwealth countries, Canada had an official ‘whites only’ immigration policy until the ’60s. But since the 1960’s the government, like I was saying, it’s been increasingly temporizing the status of people coming here. It’s gotten to the point where now over 2/3rds of people who are granted status to live and work here each year are getting some form of temporary status.
And so the CBSA’s migrant detention and deportation apparatus was built to enforce this, it was a necessary by-product of these changes. And that system is part of maintaining the flow of wealth from the global South to the global North. Workers from the global South come here, have their labor exploited at extreme levels, put huge sums of money into the Canadian economy, and then they’re kicked out. And Canada doesn’t just benefit from this but it actively participates in impoverishing and displacing people in the global South who then end up their doorstep.
W: Definitely, I think there’s a lot to talk about there but I think you gave a really good summary. And I think that I would love to move on to some other questions which have to do with the more positive aspects of the resistance to this thing. So, we in the states are familiar with the concept of a sanctuary city, which indicates that a place limits their cooperation with the national government to follow through on deportations in many ways. But I came across the term “solidarity city” in articles on your website, would you talk about the distinction between the two, and what is meant by “solidarity city”?
NFNP: Oh sure! So this is actually a framing that comes out of the work of Solidarity Across Borders. Sanctuary city campaigns, they tend to be focused on asking the municipal government to protect people without status. But for years now, Solidarity Across Borders has put forward the analysis that we should be creating our own networks of mutual aid and solidarity. And a good example for this is the police, y’know at least here the police are one of the biggest problems that undocumented migrants face. And that problem doesn’t go away with city officials signing a sanctuary city declaration. The last mayor here actually announced that Montreal was a sanctuary city, but nothing changed. The police continued to collaborate with the CBSA to detain and deport people.
But a solidarity city is different because it’s something that’s built from the ground up, through building networks of resistance and non-cooperation with those agencies that enforce deportations and detentions, not by appealing to power.
W: Yeah, I think that building from the ground up while at the same time refusing cooperation is sparking something in my head. Thanks for talking about that!
W: So would you speak about this struggle in terms of decolonization? What are some parallels that you can locate between decolonization and a project that has a more anti-border ethic?
NFNP: Right! So the most influential border around us here in occupied Tio’tia:ke is the American border, which is very close by. And about two hours east of us here is Akwesasne (a-kwa-sas’-nay), which is Kanienkiahaka (kan-eh-ga-hag’-ay) territory, this territory additionally is recognized as a federal reserve. Tio’tia:ke is also Kanienkiahaka territory but isn’t federally recognized as such. Akwasasne itself is actually cut in two by that border, and there’s been conflict for decades there between the CBSA who attempt to enforce that border and indigenous people who refuse to acknowledge their authority on their territory.
So anyway, all this is to say that it’s very clear here the ways that the borders around us are fairly recent colonial constructions. But since we’re talking about prisons, in Canada incarceration as a practice was largely spread as part of the ongoing genocide against indigenous peoples, as a tool of assimilation. And today when you look at who’s inside Canadian prisons, indigenous people are dis-proportionally represented.
And so, the same colonial and capitalist forces that are creating war, poverty, destruction, throughout the global South are continuing to oversee the genocide and dispossession of Indigenous peoples here in the global North. Many people being displaced and arriving to this territory are indigenous to different areas on this continent and many of them are ending up in these migrant prisons.
But over the last decade or so here, different migrant justice formations have gone through processes of dialogue and discussion with indigenous groups. Which has led to some changes in messaging and outlook over time and I mean, we’ve been influenced by this too, but as settlers we have a lot more work to do on this front I think.
W: Definitely, did I understand you correctly that indigenous folks are being incarcerated in these migrant jails?
NFNP: Well, not people who are indigenous to the territories governed by the Canadian state, but people who are indigenous to like other areas on the continent who are then displaced and would not be understood or classified by the Canadian state as their indigenous identity based on the country of origin.
W: Yeah for sure! The border is a colonial construct, and the indigenous territories obviously vastly predate that colonial construct.
So, how can people support the group that you are speaking from, Ni Frontiers Ni Prison, and could you also brainstorm modes of support that folks can enact who, for whatever reason, are not in a position to do confrontational or legally risky direct action?
NFNP: Oh yeah for sure! So this month we actually have a call in campaign, where we’re encouraging folks to either call, email, or fax the companies who are currently bidding for the contract to build this new prison. So we highly encourage anyone who would like to to do this, you can go on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/nifrontieresniprisons/, and you’ll see the information about the call in campaign there.
But in terms of non risky ways to participate in struggle like this, the group I’m a part of we do public actions, and the demonstrations we’ve organized so far have been very low risk, very family friendly to quote maybe an outdated activist parlance. We have been helping organize
information sessions in neighborhoods across the city in partnership with different groups, artists have contributed a series of posters which people have been helping put up across the city, people have made videos about the struggle against the prison, or written articles, there’s a lot of ways that people have contributed and continue to and to participate in this that isn’t particularly high risk. Particularly right now we could actually use some help spreading word about the struggle and why we’re in opposition to the prison.
W: I wonder if you have any words about the importance of the call in campaign, cause I think that many anarchists, at least many anarchists that I know are a little bit hesitant to do call in campaigns, would you talk about the importance of that tactic?
NFNP: Oh sure! I mean, I can talk about it in context to our strategy here, we decided to focus on the call in campaign after an action that happened disrupting a site visit that the CBSA organized to talk with the people interested in bidding on the contract to build the prison. And so people went there and disrupted it, and there were a lot of conversations with workers from the companies who had been sent there to talk with the CBSA about the contract. And some of those conversations went really well! What we’re trying to do in this phase before the general contractor is chosen to build the prison, is to let all the companies know who are considering doing this work that there will be resistance if they decide to take that contract. To let them know that it may be in their financial best interest to walk away from this project. And that strategy will continue depending on what company is chosen, but obviously the tactics will shift.
W: I’m also really interested in hearing any words that you have about like the nature of the tactic of a call in campaign. Maybe this is a bit of a circular or esoteric question but I’m wanting to like provide people with some sort of way to mentally grasp on to what is being achieved here and what is being proposed, and what the goals are generally of something like that?
Is it just annoyance or–
NFNP: Well there are multiple reasons for it, like on one side of it there is the effect of heightening the contradictions that actually already exist within some of these companies in relationship to projects like this. Of creating a sense of wariness on the part of these companies about embarking, but it also gives a way for organizations and for individuals to engage with the struggle at the faze that it’s at right now. So you don’t have to go if you can’t go to a public demonstration.
W: It makes sense cause it is a “safer” way to participate in showing dissent.
NFNP: Yeah! And also we can’t rely on mainstream corporate media to relay a message to these companies that there is widespread opposition to the practice of incarcerating migrants, like we need to do that ourselves! And what that looks like is actually going and disrupting their events and their meetings, and showing up at their workplaces. But it also means calling them incessantly and sending them endless faxes with lots of black ink. To let them know that this is the wrong move for them, and if they make it things like this will probably increase, and that’s generally the thinking behind it.
W: Excellent, thank you so much! So those are all the questions that I had! Is there anything you’d like to add or words you’d leave listeners with?
NFNP: The only thing I haven’t mentioned is that at the end of this month, the government is scheduled to make a decision about which company they’re gonna give the contract to to build the new prison. And depending on who that is I’m sure there will be actions coming up! So if you wanna keep up on what’s happening with the struggle you can go to stopponslaprison.info, it’s a clearing house for information about the construction of the prison as well as resistance against it. Or you can follow us on Facebook and you can send us an email at email@example.com if you wanna get involved.
W: Is there anything that we missed that you wanted to give more voice to or present here?
NFNP: No I think we covered it! Thanks so much for the time and for taking an interest in this struggle!
W: Yeah! I think that the world has always been moving toward something like this and shit like this has happened before, and thank you for the work that you do and your time in coming onto the radio.
This week on The Final Straw, the episode’s theme is anarchist interventions in struggles around the world. We’ll be sharing audios from comrades in the A-Radio Network, which just had it’s 5th Annual Gathering in Zurich, Switzerland. The A-Radio Network is made up of stations around Europe, plus a smattering in South + North America. We have been a member of the ARN for 4 years now, which over the last year and a half produces the monthly B(A)DNews: Angry Voices From Around The World news podcast in English, made up of contributions by A-Radio member-projects. You can find past episodes at our website.
In lieu of this month’s BADNews, the gathering produced an 8 hour radio show last week and elements of this broadcast. We’ll present here two interviews from that broadcast concerning the struggle for autonomy in the social revolutionary region of Rojava, in northern Syria. The first is with a fighter with the Tekosina Anarsist (Anarchist Struggle, starts at 42:49) and the second with Zaher Baher, a member of the Kurdish Anarchist Forum in London (starts at 57:04). well as one from another an interview conducted a week ago with an anarchist in Paris, France, involved with the Yellow Vest (Gilets jaunes) social movement in France for some updates and perspectives.
But first, we’ll be airing audio from another member of the A-Radio as well as Channel Zero Network projects, Dissident Island Radio from London in the U.K., with an interview about the geopolitics of Rojava and leadership within the Kurdish struggle with a comrade participating in the annual ‘Long March‘ in solidarity with Abdullah Öcalan (starts at 14:05). We apologize for the audio quality. We invite you to note the differences of opinion between the anarchists who’ve witnessed, lived in, or fought for the Rojava Revolution, as somewhere within and between their perspectives I believe lies some of the truth of the complex situation there.
Happy Birthday Yona Unega (Oso Blanco)
From occupied Cherokee territory in so-called western North Carolina, we’d like to wish a happy birthday on February 26th to wolf clan Cherokee/Choctaw political prisoner, Oso Blanco or, in Cherokee, Yona Unega. Oso is in for armed robberies, where he expropriated from U.S. banks and sent funds to Zapatistas communities in the Yucatan in Mexico. You can write to Oso to write him a happy birthday by addressing letters to his state name:
Byron Chubbuck #07909051 USP Victorville PO BOX 3900 Adelanto, CA 92301
If you’re listening to the radio version, please check out our online/podcast version up at our website for another 20 minutes of interviews plus the Sean Swain segment for this week.
Blue Ridge ABC events
Friday, March 1st is the first Friday of the month and therefore the Trouble Showing at Firestorm Books and Coffee in Asheville, NC. Episode 18, entitled ACAB (for All Cops Are Bastards) airs at 6:30pm and will be followed by a little over an hour of discussion.
Then, on Sunday March 3rd, as the 1st Sunday of the month, BRABC will hold it’s Political Prisoner letter writing event, again at Firestorm. The event begins at 5pm, letter writing materials including stamps, prisoners names and stories, addresses and help in writing. If you’ve never written someone a letter or someone in prison in particular, no worries. It’s a nice social time. The event runs from 5pm to 7:30pm.
Finally, on Saturday, March 16th, Blue Ridge ABC is holding a double-header at Static Age Records in downtown Asheville. First up, from 3-5pm, a Super Smash Brothers benefit tournament, with vegan cheese-steaks and fries available. Double elimination, best 2 out of 3 rounds. For more info, check out https://www.smashprisonssmashbros.eventbrite.com. Then, from 9pm til late at Static Age, get ready for a lineup of anti-fascist metal including Rat Broth, Arid, and Margaret Killjoy’s project Feminazgul, plus more to be announced.
TFSR: This week on the final straw radio, this episode’s theme is anarchist interventions in struggles around the world. We’ll be sharing content from the A-Radio network, which just had its fifth annual gathering in Zurich, Switzerland. The A-Radio network is made up of stations and podcasts from around Europe, plus a smattering in South and North America. We’ve been a member of the A radio network for four years now, which over the last year and a half produces the monthly ‘Bad News: Angry Voices From Around the World’ news podcast in english, made up of contributions from A-Radio member projects. You can find past episodes at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org searching for the term A-Radio Network.
In lieu of this months Bad News, the gathering produced an eight hour radio show last week and elements end up in this broadcast. We’ll be presenting here two episodes from that broadcast, concerning the struggle for autonomy in the social revolutionary region of Rojava in northern Syria, as well as an interview conducted two weeks ago with an anarchist in Paris, France involved in the yellow vest social movement, for some updates and perspectives on that.
But first, we’ll be airing audio from another member of the A-Radio as well as Channel Zero Network projects, Dissident Island from London and the UK, with a review about the geopolitics of Rojava and leadership with the Kurdish struggle with a comrade participating in the annual ‘Long March’ in solidarity with Abdullah Öcalan. We apologize for the audio quality, and we invite you to notice the differences in opinion between the anarchists who have witnessed, lived or fought for the Rojava Revolution, as somewhere within and between their perspectives, I believe, lies some of the truth of this complex situation there.
Dissident Island Radio: Now in our final piece tonight we discuss the ongoing Kurdish struggle and the campaign to free Abdullah Öcalan.
Hi Kawa, thanks for joining us here on the show tonight, do you want to introduce yourself a bit?
Kawa: Yes well I can say that I’m now in a bus in the direction to Strassbourg for the demonstration that will happen tomorrow in solidarity with the Kurdish movement and that I’m taking part of the international Long March and that several people from more than ten countries from different places around Europe are with me right now in this bus going to, uh, Strassbourg.
D*I: Cool and the march stated in Luxembourg, there was a kickoff event in Luxembourg last Sunday?
Kawa: Right, exactly. We start in Luxembourg and have been walking since there. And we have been crossing different villages and places around france and meeting the different Kurdish community and different political groups in different places we go.
D*I: How many people on the march, how many people doing the full kind of distance?
Kawa: Yeah in this march from Luxembourg to Strassbourg we start like around maybe 60-70 people but now we are much more because there was a several marches, there was one started in Germany but German police stopped them and like attacked them and forbid them to continue the demonstration after two days that they were walking. So they decide to stop their march in Germany and join the international march so now we have this, like the international march with like 60-70 people with also this also this other youth march with I dunno, you call it more like atypical that are together. There are also another march that are coming from Switzerland there is also a lot of people that have come to buses for demonstration tomorrow in Stassbourg.
D*I: And this kind of response from local people on the route of the march, what kind of response have you received?
Kawa: Well, uh, especially the Kurdish people is welcoming us, like really happy, really motivated to see so many people in solidarity with the Kurdish people, with the Kurdish struggle because we are also demanding the freedom for Abdullah Öcalan because in fact today 15 of February is 20 years since he was arrested and put in jail, in isolation, and that’s why we are asking us for the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan.
D*I: Part of the demand of the march is petitioning the EU to put pressure on Turkey to release Öcalan.
Kawa: Yes, exactly. Um, that’s one of the points and somehow that’s why we’re going to Strassbourg. The European Council is there and also the building of the committee for prevention of torture. Because this is, Öcalan is in complete isolation, they are not allowing him to the lawyers and there are several questions about how is his health situation. The committee for prevention of torture make a short visit one year ago, something like this and they just release a note saying he was alive and he was okay. They never said anything if he was under torture or not, and we don’t know anything about his health situation and we are asking at least if his lawyers can see him, because we don’t know anything about him, he’s in complete isolation for now, today, 20 years.
D*I: And what is the European Union’s position on that, because in the mainstream news we hear a lot about the US, and Turkey, and Russia and Iran, and the roles they are playing in what’s going on in Syria in the moment. But there’s a lot less information about the EU’s position, and what you just said about how the German police stopped the German part of the march from marching altogether, that’s not really a good sign.
Kawa: No, it’s not really a good sign. And we can see how somehow for the European Union, we can see how they [?] with Turkey because somehow Turkey is a NATO country and Europe and the NATO and the US of course and all the countries of NATO keep Turkey close to them because they like being able to do the things that the western countries cannot do in the middle east, that Europe cannot do – Turkey it’s there, and being member of NATO it’s alliance with western powers in middle east. But we can see in the last years [?] Turkey’s turning more close to Russia and to Iran and Europe is trying to also keep Turkey together.
We have also the deal for refugees when Turkey receives at the beginning three thousand millions of Euros and the material of supporting refugees but at the end there is no keeping track of this money and we can see how this money it’s ending in building military bases or like the wall that Turkey build in 2016, a wall that it’s more than 600 km between the border of Turkey and Syria for control the Kurdish people to not cross from Turkey to Syria. And we can see how in Europe the ban on PKK it’s only forcing Kurdish people to have more difficulties to work in solidarity since we can see how Abdullah Öcalan has been the president of the PKK, the Kurdish Workers Party, and this ban accusing the PKK of terrorist organization is making the things much more difficult. But at the same time, in fact a few months ago there was an initiative in the European Parliament to remove the ban on PKK and at the end at the last sentence on the European Parliament that yes, it’s true, that PKK is never making any kind of terrorist attack or any kind of terrorist actually in Europe. So it’s right that actually we have no reasons for keep them on the terrorist list. But anyway, even saying that, the PKK is still on the terrorist list of the European Union.
D*I: And the whole situation is very confusing for someone on the outside to fully understand because the PKK is not actually in Syria or in Turkey but Öcalan is arrested in Turkey and the US were supporting the YPG/YPJ, the Syrian defense forces, to defeat ISIL in Syria. And they recently announced less than two months ago that they were eventually going to remove their backing and withdraw from Syria and this had caused quite a lot of concern about Turkey is going to do in that northwestern region of Rojava, so do you want to say a bit about what people’s response there has been?
Kawa: Yeah, it’s true there can be a bit complicated because we have a lot of different actors in the same conflict. First for clarify the situation it’s important to understand that when we talk that when we talk about Kurdistan and the Kurdish people, we are talking about, uh, at one time about Turkey but at the same time about Syria, about Iran, about Iraq, and of course over one million of Kurdish people that are in Germany and in other countries all around the world. It’s a lot of actors at the same time, so when we see the situation in Rojava right now we can see that since 2012 there is this social revolution that is happened there where there Kurdish people in the north of Syria start to manage society outside the frame of nation-state.
So it’s interesting to see how the Kurdish liberation movement was born with a frame of national liberation movement in the frame of building a Kurdish state but the beginning of the 2000s they reformulate the political project and they make this step, uh, this step that they call Democratic Confederalist pushing for a society that is based on values of the women’s liberation, ecology, and direct democracy without a state. So we can see how since the autonomy of Rojava in 2012 they are building this society based on these ideas, we can see how in Turkey the Kurdish people in the southeast of Turkey they were also building this autonomy, a system based on Democratic Confederalist, but the Turkish state completely attacked them and in 2015 they start a lot of military operations destroying a lot of cities. Cities like Nusaybin were completely destroyed by the Turkish army. It’s important to see that now the army wants to enter the north of Syria but it’s not something new, like the war from the Turkish state against the Kurdish people have been for a lot of years. In the 90’s there was a huge war.
Now Turkey wants to attack the Kurds in Syria but of course Syria means to cross a border so it means that still Turkey is a county that’s part of NATO. And of course like Russia that’s a country that has been supporting more the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and can put objections if Turkey wants to enter Syria, so that’s why there have been so many objections and diplomatic interactions with so many different actors and Turkey’s getting closer and closer to Russia in order to have green light from Russia in order to allow them to attack the Kurds in northern Syria and Rojava. So we can see since how the announcement of Donald Trump in December 15th that they withdraw from Syria they start to withdraw the diplomatic body of US in Syria, some soldiers are still remainin there. And these has been presented for Erdogan as an example of how Donald Trump is ready to withdraw from Syria for allowing Turkey to enter there. After that there was some contradiction messages, it’s not clear, if the US will allow Turkey to fully enter the north of Syria with bombs and airplanes and drones like they did in Afrin one year ago. Or if they will stop Turkey to use planes, though it’s a discussion ongoing you can see how Turkey is now also talking with Iran, Russia in these international meetings that they are having after the process of Astana. And it’s a really complicated situation with a lot of different actors that it’s sometimes different to follow maybe.
D*I: And how does it feel to be a part of that actually? Because it’s one thing to attempt to build an alternative community structure that’s really quite large – the region that it’s covering is not insignificant, there’s many many small communes that make up this region of north Syria – so how does it feel to be a part of that, to try and build that, and at the same time be so incredibly vulnerable to all of these international geopolitical movements over which you have absolutely no influence, no control, no ability, you’re just completely vulnerable in that situation?
Kawa: Yeah, and this vulnerability, it’s really interesting point though because we can see the hegemony of the model of the nation-state succeed in taking over the world. And since the Kurdish movement is northeast Syria they are developing a society outside the frame of nation-states, the threat of nation-states is always there. And we can especially how Daesh, the ISIS, the Islamic State start try to create their own system also outside the frame and in opposition to that, and of course the Kurdish people were in the need to defend themselves. And that’s what allow them to also allow them to take so much territory because the threat of the Islamic State and the terror society that they were implementing on to all the people were a direct war and somehow the Kurds were saying “We’re defending ourselves and we are fighting also, not fighting Daesh because we want to fight them. It’s just because this is a threat for humanity, this is a pure fascist system. So it’s an antifascist struggle and we need to defeat them.”
And since all this war against the islamic state, a lot of different territories that have been liberated from the caliphate have been joining to the Autonomous Administration that the Kurds started in the north. When I went to Rojava and I had the opportunity to view for one year how this society’s working for one year interesting to see how they are succeeding in developing a system outside the frame of the nation-state with the women’s liberation as a main point of this social transformation but uh, of course, all the states that are surrounding this territory don’t recognize Rojava as something that they can fear[?}. There is a problem that when the situation of war came, it’s really difficult to defend yourself from an army like Turkey, that it’s a member of NATO with warplanes, drones, like full technology of NATO. And of course, no one will ever sell of give anti-aircraft weapons to Rojava because they are not an actor that can be recognized as a state and they don’t want to be so, uh, somehow it’s a really complicated situation and we can see how all these structure of capitalism and the connection of capitalism with, uh, the weapon industry it’s creating a system which is not allowing other projects outside the frame of nation-state to exist because there is this military frontier that you can’t go and we saw it in Afrin one year ago when was the division of Afrin and it was really clear that the military technology was creating a border that you can’t overcome.
D*I: And I think that something that Rojava has shown us over the past year is just how difficult the creation of an alternative way of structuring society really is. I mean we had some of this experience with seeing what was going on in Latin America some years ago but I guess Rojava is the most recent example of this, and it’s been really impressive to see people actually putting their own lives on the line and going out and fighting the powers that are trying to stop them from existing. Has that the willingness to fight and the demands that fighting has made on that society, like has it had an impact on the communes and the way that they’re organized or has it has any effect in that way?
Kawa: Of course it have effect but I think it’s important to understand the Kurdish people they are used to live outside the frame of nation-state. We can see how in a lot of the structures in the system of communes that they are developing, it may sound like something new for us but for them it’s nothing that it’s completely new. They have been living in this system from, like, forever. So it’s important to see that this process that they are doing it’s without states because they have the knowledge of how the state and it’s important to see how at some point the communes are able to exist now because Daesh has been defeated so a lot of places before the communes was the war. And the war was the thing that was more necessary, so we can see how not only the Kurdish people from Rojava but the Kurdish people from all around Kurdistan came to the northern Syria to fight against the Islamic state because they know that the Kurds are their brothers and their sisters and every step and every city that was liberated, the Kurdish people was able to go back to their cities and then they realized that they were able to win the war so they were able to bring this system of Democratic Confederalist to the maximum example. So before they were already somehow living in a communal way, building up communes, but the point is that now the Syrian state left because they were not able to fight the Islamic State and now they are self-managing all the parts of society. They succeed in creating a self-managed system of justice, a self-managed system of economy based on cooperatives. So they are in a full way of managing all the aspects of life, all the aspects of society outside the frame of nation-state. And of course for the communes it has a huge impact, this war, as they know they can exist and they have the life that they have today because the war that they did and they always remember all the people that has been fighting and all the people that has died.
D*I: And what was it like to be an international there, what does it feel like to go there as an international person?
Kawa: Well, it’s a really interesting experience. We can see how a lot of people already went there as internationalists, especially since 2014-15 a lot of people started to join more in the military side, in the fight against the Islamic State. But since the war against Islamic State was able to take more land and to liberate more territories this society system that they are building is attracting more and more the attention of internationals. So I was one of these internationals that went there in the civilian side, I was traveling there for see the society, for see what means to build the revolution, what means to build a society without a state, what means to build this system of Democratic Confederalism that they are building. And for me I can say that I was really impressed for see a lot of things that seems impossible to be, but at the same time it’s a really hard situation so we’re just fighting a war that means a lot of people and a lot of resources needs to focus on this war and it’s really important to see how this situation there it’s really hard. But what they are building it’s something that can bring a lot of inspiration in order to develop new ways of thinking and understanding the society that can allow the humanity to think beyond the nation-state, beyond capitalism, beyond patriarchy and try to bring new ideas and new hopes to the revolutionary movements all around the world. Like, we saw in the ‘90s with the Zapatistas movement that was giving inspiration to a lot of movements, a lot of revolutionary organizations. We can see how this is happening in Rojava and to be able to be there and to see not only the nice parts and all the beautiful things that you can see but also the difficulties, the sacrifices, and all the problems that they are facing. It’s giving perspective for how we can also start to develop a revolutionary movements all around the world in our countries because somehow if we go there as internationalists it’s not just for going there to see the situation in Rojava, we are also going there for learn, for understand their movement, how they succeed on doing this revolution and then bringing these ideas back home and being able to develop an internationalist movement. We can develop a revolution all around the world.
For me also I’m from Catalonia, so the impact of the international brigades that came in Spain in 1936 at least more than 50,000 peoples from different countries fighting fascism together, um, it had a huge impact. So now we can see how fascism is affecting Rojava, is attacking the people in northern Syria. So it’s important also to have this in mind and to see that internationalist is not something that is in the books of history, it’s something that is it’s happening right now. So we can see internationalists from all around the world are going there to learn, to support and for fight to defend this revolution.
D*I: You said that the march that you’re doing right now is calling for the EU to put pressure on Turkey to release Öcalan. So I have a slightly perhaps controversial question. How important is Öcalan to the movement, is it necessary that there is a leader in the movement or is it more of a kind of solidarity support for an arrested comrade? What’s the dynamic there?
Kawa: It’s a good question, and especially for anarchist people who have been interested in the stateless society that they are building it’s sometimes a bit contradictory, no? This focus on the leader. But it’s important to understand when Abdullah Öcalan started this movement he was always trying to give perspectives on developing revolutionary line in this movement and of course he has been respected for all the perspective and all the ideological background. He’s a person that was writing a lot of books and was giving a lot of political perspectives because he had been studying a lot of different revolutions, different movements. And the point is that he did not it alone, so he was always pushing for education, for studying, for learning together. So the threat of catching him and putting him in jail when Turkey was making the trial they condemn him to seven death penalties but somehow Europe and the western powers was putting pressure for make the Turkey cannot execute him and they have been keeping him in complete isolation in this jail so it’s important to see also how he’s in jail and he’s not able to push for the revolutionary struggle in a practical way, he has been using this time to read a lot and to develop this frame of Democratic Confederalism. So it’s important to see Öcalan not only as the political or military leader but also as one that brings the ideological perspectives, all the ideas of Democratic Confederalism that are summarized in this Manifesto for a Democratic Civilization that is this five books that he wrote from prison, are the books that are presenting this model of Democratic Confederalist that somehow we can see that is a synthesis of all the things that he was reading and all the things also that he was experiencing when he was in the guerrilla movement, in this revolutionary movements. So when read these ideas of Democratic Confederalist we can see influence from all this Marxist background that this movement have, but of course also we can see a lot of influences from different authors. He’s even quoting Bakunin in some books, Sylvia Federici so a lot of different thinkers that are giving perspectives so he’s the one who made the synthesis and for this the Kurdish people it’s really know how he put a lot of effort on giving a perspective for a solution not only for Kurdistan but for middle east and all the world, making this synthesis of other revolutionary movements.
And for this it’s also important to understand the reality in Middle East. Like, middle east has been a place where the oppression and all the attacks of the colonialism has been really strong and we can see how one hundred years ago after the first world war the western powers went there and started to build the nation-states and the dynamics on middle east are not fitting with this system of nation-state, and they are keeping with the system of tribes and different clans so for them this point of the leadership is something that’s really rooted in the society. That of course, from a western view can be difficult to understand and to give meaning. And I think that even for me, before to go there, it was sometimes difficult to understand. But there you can see how this kind of leadership is bringing unity in order to face the enemy so somehow also the point that he’s in isolation as a political prisoner it’s also increasing the solidarity for all the people but it’s not only him, there are thousands of Kurdish peoples in jails, especially in Turkey, that they are also developing a huge movement of resistance in jails, an anti-jail movement. But of course he as the leader of these revolutionary movement have a special importance for the Kurdish people.
D*I: So there was a very interesting and really quite brutal critique a few years ago released by the anarchist federation, of Öcalan, comparing him to Gadaffi and Gadaffi’s pre-dictatorship politics, and then what actually transpired. And I wondered if recognizing kind of the brutality of the geopolitical dynamics that are going on with all of these nation-states fighting for different reasons over this territory, and then also within the wider region of Kurdistan, how many different smaller groups exist that are all toeing not exactly the same line, which is positive in some way and also the ability of a leader to unite these people. Having been there, do you feel that there is structural resilience within what you’ve seen, within the structure of the communes against a kind of re-hash of a kind of Gadaffi situation, of a leader coming in and then eventually capitulating under these geopolitical dynamics and having to force a dictatorship through, like is there a resilience to that happening.
Kawa: Yes, for sure, the implementation of Democratic Confederalism it’s really interesting to see how they are pushing a lot for the development of the communes, how they are really creating systems for avoid any kind of centralization of powers. For example they are building different committees for take care of different things, and for example in Rojava there is one big city, Qamişlo, somehow it’s the biggest city in Rojava and they are putting a lot of effort toward these committees, like for culture or economy and to avoid to put the central place of these kind of institutions in Qamişlo and to decentralize completely them. Somehow they have a huge analysis on the society and the nation-state and what they are understanding is that nation-state it’s the main power of centralization, of homogenization, of control. So in order to avoid a dictatorship, in order to avoid a fascism to happen, the most important thing is to decentralize the power, to decentralize the society for allow anyone to be autonomous and in the commune system it’s exactly this, they are trying to give power to every commune that they can solve their problems but they understand that the situation it’s complicated, so that somehow it’s important that still keeping some structures, and some institutions where these communes can go if they face problems. So the idea is that the commune is able to solve all their problems and all their needs in the life, but in case they are facing problems that they cannot, they are making coordinations in a district level, in a province level, in order to be able to support all these communes.
So we can see how is this system of power is bottom up and it’s important to see that some kind of central institutions have this mentality of like, serving the people, you know like the Zapatistas were saying, a place where the people rule and the government obeys. So they are creating central institutions because of the needs of some dealing with some things, especially with the military situation, with the war. But they are trying to reinforce these experiences of the direct democracy the communes are giving to the people. But of course you cannot change from one system to another in one night, it needs time, it means that the people needs what means direct democracy, what means to manage their own life in all the levels. So for this they are seeing the history also as a process, so they want to push for this society, for direct democracy but they know that managing a society of like four million people, five million people that are living now in Rojava it’s not something easy. So they are trying to develop different institutions that ensure that this revolution is able to defend itself because this is one of the main points of this movement, self defense. They understand how all the living beings need to be able to defend themself in order to survive. So they are trying to push also for all the communities to have their own self-defense system. And I think this is the main structure you can have in order to avoid fascism, when you have a centralization of power to control the others, if you decentralize the ability of self defense, this cannot happen because any kind of commune can see that ‘hey, this is not going in the line that we want with the society so we cannot allow this to control other things.’ So this point of develop self defense in any commune, I think it’s one of the best ways to ensure that dictatorship will not be ever possible there.
D*I: Thank you very much Kawa for taking the time to discuss with us these crazy complexities of an actual real-world attempt to live without a state. So if people want to support the struggle in general, how can they get in touch, where should they go what’s the points of contact and information?
D*I: Cool, thank you very much and I hope it’s successful
Kawa: It has been a pleasure, thank you a lot for this time and I’ve been happy to talk with you.
TFSR: You’re listening the Final Straw Radio and I’m Bursts O’Goodness.
And I’m William Goodenough.
You just heard Dissident Island Radio’s interview about Kurdish solidarity and the struggle in Rojava. Next up is an interview by comrades from Črna Luknja on Radio Student in Ljubljana, Slovenia with an anarchist fighter in the militia Anarchist Stuggle, a signatory to the International Freedom Battalion.
A-Radio Network Announcers: We’re back in the studio in Turic, so it’s been quite a start, this fifth radio live anarchist broadcast from the gathering of different anarchist and antiauthoritarian radios. We know that in capitalist society class struggle is never far away so battlefields are opening up everywhere, so we will have also on today’s show some reports from France about Gilet Jaunes movement, we will hear from London by our correspondents from Dissident Island and we begin this section of the show with that other ever important struggle that has lightened up all sort of revolutionary imagination of many around the world and of course, Rojava. Territory in Syria that wasn’t widely known a couple of years ago but due to the actions of different political and even military forces and due to the revolutionary efforts of movements there, Rojava somehow became for us in Europe something, a recognizable entity for some fantasy, for others unfulfilled expectation, etc etc. So we will try to also add some more information, some analysis, some reflection to the understanding of ongoing struggles in and around Rojava so for today we will hear two pieces, two interviews.
So first one is an interview conducted by Črna Luknja with a fighter directly from Rojava. So the interview is a couple of weeks old, it deals with the latest geopolitical changes on the terrain that are connected with the recent announcement of the US president that USA would withdraw its military forces and then the other interview that will follow the first is also lets say, tries to critically engage with the common narratives around Rojava Revolution. So it will be an interview with a comrade from Kurdish Anarchist Forum and we should also add a technical remark that the interview was originally conducted in a language other than english, but for this purpose it was translated and then re-enacted. So, yeah. The content of the interview is true to the original even if the voices that you will hear do not belong to the people that were interviewed. So this Rojava slot will take maybe the next 25 minutes of the broadcast, so stay tuned, and inform yourself about the struggles and get ready to open up some battlefields also closer to home.
Črna Luknja: Rojava from Tekoşina Anarşişt, Anarchist Struggle collective that was established in autumn 2017 and just recently announced its military presence in Rojava. They are also participating in the International Freedom Battalion. For the beginning can you present yourself, anarchist collective and International Freedom Battalion.
Tekoşina Anarşişt Member: We’ve been in Rojava – I mean a lot of us have been in Rojava for a longer duration, a long period of time – but our collective was established in autumn of 2017 and we didn’t really want to become like a public, propaganda oriented collective. That was never our interest, we were more focused on doing, you know, material work in terms of going to the front and also engaging with the movement here. We decided to go public simply because of the impending Turkish threat, so everyone right now is kind of, you know, attempting to rally their base and our base is obviously anarchists. So we decided to go public because of that, as well as to some extent we were forced to go public because of the IBF formation, because we are a signing member of the IFB. And I don’t want to speak very much about IFB because they have not made their announcement yet and we prematurely mentioned their formation and we’ve received criticism for this. I don’t want to speak about the IFB very much until the formation has made itself public.
ČL: So it would be very interesting to get some news from within Rojava, what is current political situation there.
TA: I guess I’ll touch a little bit on the Turkey situation. Information here is difficult to come by, to some extent, so a lot of the stuff that we are made aware of actually comes from the internet as well, just following Syria Livemap and stuff like that. Obviously, we are, there has been two particular situations where based upon Erdogan’s threats that we believe that there was gonna be some sort of massive invasion of Rojava, so we’re obviously getting prepared for that, if that is a reality, if that’s going to happen. Things have a little bit seemed to kind of have calmed down but obviously that is a very tangible reality and something that could happen at any given moment so that we need to be prepared for.
ČL: Maybe you can predict some possible scenarios for the future.
TA: Yeah, I mean obviously Rojava and the PYD have been in negotiations with the regime for quite some time now, so hopefully they’re able to come to some sort of agreement. And I say ‘hopefully’ – obviously as anarchists we are not supportive of the Assad regime, we’re not supportive of any regime or any state, etc. – but in terms of survival it’s kind of the only way, as far as I see it, or we see it, in terms of being able to maintain some element of the revolution here. And in terms of scenarios of outcomes, if there is no deal with the regime I think it’ll be a very difficult situation for them to be in simply because not only will they then have to deal with Turkey but they’ll have to deal with attacks from the regime. So it’s a kind of indefensible position to be in if they don’t cut some sort of deal. I don’t want to say any sort of my predictions about the future of Rojava or anything like that. After Trump decided that he’s just gonna pull out of Syria, just, you know, I’ve kind of given up on making predictions because we’re dealing with irrational actors here. You know Erdogan is not necessarily a rational actor and Trump is definitely not a rational actor so it’s very difficult to make accurate predictions, what’s going to transpire here.
ČL: I don’t know how much you are able to be in contact with the society, how is in general the situation, how is living for the population there?
TA: The good thing is that we are able to have contact with people from like the general population, in fact we have a good friend of ours who is Assyrian, he speaks perfect English and he learned it primarily through American hip-hip which is a kind of interesting thing. And he’s given us a little but of light into more of the civilian population here. I mean, a lot of people are obviously incredibly supportive of like the YPG, the QSD [SDF], YPJ, etc. But a lot of people, especially people who are not Kurdish, are not aware of exactly what’s happening, you know, because it’s a very complicated situation. They’ve had al-Nusra come through, they’ve had ISIS come through, they’ve had different groups and a lot of people aren’t actually incredibly familiar with what you know, YPG, YPJ, the revolution, etc. is but they view it very favorably for sure. I mean, when you have something like ISIS, like al-Nusra or TFSA or something like that, you know obviously people are going to prefer the alternatives. Personally I think that there is a lot of education and communication that needs to happen with the population here simply because they don’t know what is going on, or why internationals are here. They kind of want to go back to their normal life, they don’t want this war to be happening. They really just want security.
ČL: How can people support your struggle and where can they find more information?
TA: So in terms of supporting the struggle at some point we’ll figure out how to properly how to get donations and figure that all out online. So that will be posted. We also very much need medical supplies, that’s one of the projects that we’re trying to work on right now is having competent combat medics. It’s something that’s very very needed here and the medical supplies are quite lacking so, you know, if people can donate things like chest seals, tourniquets, hemistatic dressing, a lot of these kinds of things are very much needed. In terms of finding more information, we’re really kind of starting to be public as I had said previously. So things are kind of going to come out over time, so I guess if you want to follow our twitter that’s the primary place that we will be posting everything. We’ve posted our involvement in Der ez-Zour, today we’ll post about the anniversary of Afrin and the actions that our people took in that. So, yeah, I guess follow our twitter for more information.
ČL: Okay, do you want to add something maybe?
TA: Obviously in Afrin there is consistently examples of people being kidnapped, people being sexually assaulted, people being murdered by the TFSA. There is ethnic cleansing happening in Afrin and if this continues, if the Turkish army is allowed to come in to Rojava the exact same thing is going to be happening. We have to dispel this narrative that, like, Turkey is fighting ISIS. Turkey has never fought ISIS, they never considered ISIS to be a threat when they were on their border. So with the Americans pulling out, with the defeat of ISIS, etc, is the trying time for Rojava. As I stated earlier, we cannot let what happened in Afrin happen to the rest of Rojava. The people in Rojava are living a decent life, a good life, and a safe life, comparatively. So I guess in summation what I want to say is that we need to be supporting Rojava right now, we need to be supporting the people of Rojava. We cannot let this just drift out of the 24-hour news cycle as some tragedy that’s happening somewhere else in the world that doesn’t effect us. This is an incredibly important thing and the Rojava project has provided people with a good life, with a safe life, within the Syrian civil war. So we cannot let them be betrayed, we cannot turn our backs on the Kurds, we cannot turn our backs on the Arabs here, we cannot turn our backs on the Assyrians, the Armenians, etc. We need to stand up for Rojava now.
TFSR: You’re listening the Final Straw Radio and I’m Bursts O’Goodness.
And I’m William Goodenuff.
You just heard Črna Luknja’s interview with an anarchist fighter with the militia Anarchist Struggle, which is a signatory to the International Freedom Battalion, just back from Rojava. Next up we’ll hear from the Kurdistan Anarchist Forum with Zahir Bahir, an Iraqi Kurd living in London.
ARN: Dear [?] thank you for your time, would you shortly introduce yourself. Where are your from, where do you live and what is your connection to the Rojava revolution?
Zahir Bahir: I am Zahir Bahir, originally from Iraq. I am part of Kurdistan Anarchist Forum and part different anarchist groups in London, among others Rebel City. I am also engaged in writing and translation, and as I am retired I am now a full-time activist.
ARN: Let us talk about Rojava. When have you last been there and what was your general impression?
ZB: Well, in respect to Rojava, basically I am part of the Kurdistan Anarchist Forum. We believe in building local groups and changing the society from the bottom and not from the top. At the time I was really excited, I had a close friend who worked at the PKK media and he interviewed me in 2013 for one and a half hours about the local groups. Then they interviewed me again in Brussels and we arranged a journey afterwards to Rojava. I went in May 2014 with a friend of mine. As I was the first one, they were very concerned that the news were spread. I had all the freedom to speak and see whomever I wanted. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. I went to all the meetings, to the communes, etc. I met the top of the people of the PYD and the movement for a democratic society and also from the bottom. I also went to events then. When I came back I wrote a big report in English and Kurdish. However, when I came back the anarchist book fair took place and the comrades organized a meeting at the anarchist and socialist movement. In 2016, I wanted to go back to Rojava to feel the difference between 2014 and 2016 with a French comrade. We tried to organize the border crossing but there was a blockade by the KDP of Barzani. In the end we had to come back. Last year I went back to Kurdistan for one and a half months but I refused to go to Rojava, as then I was supposed to follow the plan of the authorities, and to be honest at the moment it is very difficult to write news about Rojava. Many people went and came back, but they usually went as academics or as a delegation and they usually stay a week or a bit more, and whatever they see was organized for them. They don’t really see or talk to the ordinary people. There are exceptions, but only a few.
ARN: What can you tell us about the political situation now?
ZB: It is very complex and it can change week by week. There are so many forces there, which makes it difficult to have a proper analysis. But one thing is very clear: when I was there, the situation is completely different from now. At the time, there were three powers: the movement for a democratic society, the self-administration, and the PYD. There was a balance between them. Today, the PYD is the dominant actor. At the time, the YPJ was a voluntary force. It is very difficult to properly analyze the development, because I wasn’t there all the time. What I saw so far is that many people don’t realize what would be there to criticize. However, a few things are clear. At least we can say some things about how Rojava is changing. There was a change in voluntary forces or forces that belong to the community. Now, they are a PYD force and are not any more a defender but became an attacker. All this actually happened because of the fight against ISIS. When they attacked Kobani, there was a good moment for the US to get involved in order to control the movement. The best way was to get involved in Kobani side by side with the PYD and YPG. By the strategic change from a defense to an offensive force, they, the PYD and the YPG, needed more weapons, more tanks and more hospitals, more food, more clothes, a lot of things. That’s why a guerrilla force or any movement which has an army cannot do much until they are supported by an original or international power if they are acting offensively. YPG completely became dependent on the US, which tried to increase its influence.
ARN: You have published many articles about the developments in Rojava. What are your most important points about the situation on the ground?
ZB: The situation is continuously changing. What I thought last year was that there was time to resolve the Kurdish issue in the region. There was no guarantee if Assad is winning the battle and if he’ll negotiate or or if he’ll attack. I said if Assad is defeated in Idlib, then the Turkish state will overrun the Kurdish people. However, US and Trump don’t want their power and forces staying there and of course it is important to talk about the interests of the Turkish state and Erdogan. There is no way for any state to support the Kurdish people in expense of their relationship to Turkey. This is one thing. The second thing is one with which a vast majority of Kurdish intellectuals disagree with me, but I can always say that Erdogan is a very clever political that knows how to play. He plays with Russia, with ISIS and with the KRG. He even managed to involve the PKK in a peace process, but now the situation in Rojava and Bakur is getting worse. At the moment there is heavy fighting between the last ISIS groups and the Syrian Democratic forces in Dier ez-Zor. For me it was important that PYD would not get involved so much in the fight against ISIS. This wasn’t a Kurdish war due to many reasons. One of them is that Turkey was exporting his own interior crisis into Northern Syria. This was one reason. Another important thing to talk about is the embargo. Democratic Confederalism is a big task for many, many people. Not only for cadre or PYD or a small minority. In order to achieve that we need an enormous revolution, in education, economic, ecological and other spheres. So ignoring the cultural and political revolution was and is a threat to successful societal change. This is also connected with the embargo. As soon as the money starts to flow and if the sanctions were lifted, this will influence the situation and is a threat to solidarity. If there wouldn’t have been sanctions, Rojava could have been defeated a long time ago.
ARN: One of your main arguments is the gap between the theory of Democratic Confederalism and it’s practical outcome in northern Syria. Could you say a few words about that?
ZB: In my article ‘Confederalism,’ I argue that Bookchin and Öcalan don’t have many differences in their definition of Confederalism. They’re only minor differences. Basically, Bookchin extends his idea to feminism, but Öcalan goes beyond that and extends it to a feminist movement. In addition, Bookchin never believed that a political party can achieve Democratic Confederallism by itself, but in Rojava at the moment it is mainly the PYD that is trying to install and achieve Democratic Confederalism. Bookchin believed in decentralization, and according to what I know, and according to people who went to Rojava it is not exactly Democratic Confederalism that is happening there, as it is mainly executed and organized by political parties. If you give power to political parties to the PYD, you give it to an organization with hierarchy. None of their decisions like cooperating with the US or negotiations with the Kurdish opposition were based on debate with people, but based on decisions made by a tiny minority within the PYD and probably in accordance with PKK cadres. This kind of things, if you look at the connection to the US and the hierarchical organization and the focus on fighting, this is done on the expenses of the commune and the communal organization. This is the opposite direction of Democratic Confederalism. I think PYD and PKK, both of them are somehow counteracting Öcalan’s ideas. His ideas are very clear when it comes to Democratic Confederalism. As many people attack us, we will defend ourselves but we will not attack.
ARN:Nonetheless, there is some sort of emancipation happening. Where do you see the most emancipatory elements within the current development?
ZB: Before I come to the positive point, I’d to point out that if they get defeated it will take a long time to emerge again. In my opinion, this will leave a very bad picture for the people. In the end this will cause a lot of problems and the idea of Democratic Confederalism and the movement as such will be damaged. Regardless of what happened, the movement in general is good. They are supporting the building and emergence of local groups. This is what we are trying to do in Başur, and what is at the core of anarchist ideas. That is one thing. Another thing is the empowerment of individuals. The third thing is the emergence of the women’s movement. The women’s issues were, and are promoted. It took quite a lot in order to develop and support the women’s role. If you are comparing KRG and Rojava, in the KRG women’s issues have women in the past 27 years rather than decreased. Men are in power. When it comes to Rojava, there is a fourth positive point: the ecological issue. It’s important and a direct reference to Öcalan. They have done very little work to ecology, but in fact even if there is only information spread, it’s important. We cannot work towards an ecological society if we are in war. But they still did it and that’s impressive. The fifth positive point is that they make the people live together. Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, etc. That was a big step because still many people at many places are fighting each other based on ethnics, religion and other identitarian reasons. In Rojava, they seperated religion from the power. They made religion a religion s personal issue, and separated from the political area. They don’t force people not to have a religion, but created another way of decision making in this regard.
ARN: What’s your point of view about Democratic Confederalism from an anarchist perspective?
ZB: It’s a big issue, basically. I don’t think that anybody’s definition’s as good as Bookchin’s. I completely agree with Bookchin. I think there are many important things within his concept. One of them is the argument against the nation-state. It’s not only for the working class, but it’s for all the people. Everyone is building up the confederal society. In Bookchin’s eyes, we have to democratize the municipality and regard the municipality as the alternative to the nation-state. He calls this alternative ‘libertarian municipalism’ and regards it as the possibility to achieve a socialist society. In this regard, Öcalan and Bookchin agree with one difference. Bookchin called it ‘libertarian municipals’ and Öcalan called the units ‘people’s houses’. People’s houses are an assembly of the people, these assemblies contain representatives of the groups. In practice, people’s houses are representing local groups. But in the case of Rojava, it seems that people that are on top of the People’s Houses are always the same ones. Bookchin wants everyone to get involved, and everyone to be entitled to get involved, even though he did not believe in consensus within big groups. But he never believed in a leader. He constructed a concept where people can be replaced at any time. For Bookchin, everything has to rotate and people have to change in order to prevent hierarchy and power structures. And I just want to add something, I think that in Rojava it seems to me now that putting decisions into practice is made by the same body that is taken the decision. But it should never be one body, the decision maker and the decision implementor. A decision should always be made by the vast majority of people. In this regard, Bookchin was very clear about Confederalism. What he said was that Confederalism was only administrative. The members of assemblies need to be empowered to participate in direct action and direct democracy. Members of higher bodies should be strictly mandated to be in an assembly or in a group, they should only be chosen to administrate and coordinate the politics that have been shaped by the assembly itself. It’s never ever thought to be a fixed system of representation.
ARN: You called for critical solidarity. What do you mean exactly by that, especially regarding the current threats for the people and the federation?
ZB: Well, in my opinion anarchists do not believe that anything is perfect. That is the beauty of anarchism; even any idea from an anarchist movement should be regarded critically. Even anarchist ideas should be regarded with critical solidarity. I wrote an article about why we anarchists are divided about Rojava, and in fact anarchists are divided. Some regard Rojava as the project of PKK. They reject it as they believe PKK and Öcalan didn’t change. On the other side there are people just supporting it without criticizing, and this is wrong. There is movement, no group that should not be criticized. Criticism is at the core of anarchist actions and ideas. If you isolate criticism from anarchism, you isolate anarchism from a core characteristic. The third part are people like me, supporting Rojava critically. If we support it we can see what’s going on and wrong with the movement and how we can or want to tackle the problem. It cannot be good to only criticize Rojava. I believe that every movement has good and bad things. We need to promote the good, and reject the bad. Referring to the positive points I mentioned, we need to promote these points. At the same time there are negative points we should not support. What’s important for anarchist comrades is not to just support the movement, but also to criticize it on the basis of our ideas. It is not right to align with the US or the UK, it’s wrong to line up with them, it’s wrong how the town meetings are shaped and how influential cadres are. This is why we need to offer both criticism and solidarity.
TFSR: You’re listening the Final Straw Radio and I’m Bursts O’Goodness.
And I’m William Goodenuff. You’ve just heard a translated interview with Zahir Bahir of the Kurdistan Anarchist Forum in London about Rojava and changes she’s seen there, and what might be termed a shift from a social revolution to a political revolution. Finally, we’re about to hear an interview with an anarchist living in Paris, France about engagement with the Yellow Vest movement. This was recorded and broadcast as part of the 2019 A-Radio gathering live broadcast in mid-February.
ARN: Yeah, so you’re still listening to the fifth international radio broadcast from the anarchist and anti-authoritarian radios. Now, this morning we made a short telephone interview with somebody from Paris about the Yellow Vest movement and you’re going to hear it now.
Rebel Girl: Can you introduce yourself and give us a little background on the Yellow Vest movement?
Anarchist In Paris: I’m an anarchist living in Paris, France and since the beginning of the Yellow Vest movement have been taking part of several actions throughout different cities of France as well as writing articles about what is going on here for US comrades. Um, so the Yellow Vest movement started exactly three months ago on November 17th. It started as a grassroots response to the government’s proposal of increasing taxes on fuels for supposedly ecological purposes. Um, then, people realized that this increase of taxes will worsen their living situation. Therefor they decided to oppose the government’s decision. It is important to remember that the same government before wanted to increase taxes on fuels, this idea at the beginning of 2016 to clearly stop taxing the ultra rich. And so by these two kind of decisions, one of like reducing taxes for the ultra rich and increasing taxes on fuels for people who are constantly dependent on their cars, this created the spark that put people out in the streets. And so since November 17th every single week people decided to get organized wherever they were living, that is to say some people decided to gather during major demonstration in major cities in France. Or simply blocking traffic circles. The Yellow Vest movement was supposedly apolitical, leaderless and decentralized at first. And I think that it’s important to notice that instead of talking about the Yellow Vest movement as whole unit, it’s important to approach it as several movements with their own characteristic strategies and specificities depending on the geographical area we are studying. So yeah, for like the little background of the Yellow Vest movement that’s what I have right now. Of course, the movement had like different stages. For example the beginning of it led to a major riot, like in Paris at the Champs-Eleysess there have been like huge riots in the three first weeks of the movement. Then by mid-December it seems like the movement was reaching some kind of plateau with the Christmas holidays approaching, but a lot of us were afraid that it would end up dying after the Christmas holidays. But surprisingly in 2019 it started all over again and until today there are still people in the streets.
RG: Yeah, so I didn’t know if you would want to to talk a little more about what’s going on now and how it has changed or where you think it’s going to go.
AIP: Okay, so like about what is going on now, um, it’s a bit difficult to know. Yesterday there were major national day of action and in Paris there have been some clashed with police forces as usual and about 5,000 people took the streets, which is kind of like massive compared to the previous week. So clearly there are still people willing to be in the streets fighting for their living situations against the government. And this didn’t also just happen in Paris but there was also demonstration in Rouen, Toulouse, Leon, so it was really like a national call again. But what is going on now, it’s difficult. In the sense that people are still gathering in the streets, people are still upset but there’s feeling we are clearly reaching another kind of plateau, according to me.
RG: Yeah, if you want to talk about maybe a little bit all the different forces that have been at play, what’s been inspiring or problematic.
AIP: Uh, so, I think what is important to remember what is inspiring first to the movement is that it’s been lasting for three months and this is something that is quite rare and we should acknowledge it because the government tried on several occasions to pacify the situations by making concessions, by trying open dialogue with some forces among the movement. But besides all this attempts of pacifying the situation and turning the pages of the Yellow Vest movement, the movement is still in the streets, people are still angry, upset, and part of the die-hard participants refuse complete dialogue with the government and have lost all trust in politicians and the system itself. So I think that’s something first really inspiring because it’s quite rare that among our circles or even among social movements there is like, this capacity of lasting so long and refusing any form of dialogue. Another inspiring fact is that the movement started as a grassroots response without any traditional political framework in the sense that usually France, when there is like a social movement, there is always like a call made by trade unions or traditional leftist parties to start a social movement or a demonstration, and for the first time it’s just like people in the streets that gathered and were brought together because of shared frustrations and that refuse any form of like political parties or political trade unions became part of it. So they really started from just common people deciding to gather by their own means and organize by their own means, so there’s like a really interesting aspect in this.
Because we can clearly see some links between our ways of organizing as anarchists and the way the movement started in a sense, with the ideas of being leaderless, decentralized and a horizontal platform. So that’s the things that are inspiring but there’s also a lot of problems within the movement. First, of course, it’s the apolitical stance that the movement decided to embrace from the beginning. And this apolitical stance allowed a lot of like, reactionary tendencies to use the movement as a platform for their own ideas and actions. Since the beginning of the movement there have been a lot of issues with fascist groups taking part in the movement and fighting alongside anarchists and other demonstrators. There have been a lot of problem with conspiracy like discourse, misogynist discourse, racist discourse, anti-Semitic discourse, nationalistic discourse too. So that’s a major problem and it still remain a problem nowadays. That is to say just yesterday in the Parisian demonstration fascists were there too, but luckily, which is inspiring the group of 20 fascists or so got kicked out by yellow vesters and radials. So even if they are still taking part in demonstration there is at least an answer from part of the demonstration to clearly chase them out of the actions. So that’s also something that we need to keep working on, to continue making the movement somehow unwelcoming for those groups of individuals which is extremely difficult. Because only three weeks ago fascists were super organized in Paris and attacked two weeks in a row an anti-racist block that was within the Yellow Vest movement. So right now we have a second front within the movement that leads to a lot of street flights between anti-racists and facsists. So that’s still problematic.
Something that is also really problematic among the movement is that because the movement is really unpredictable, the Yellow Vests are still trying to find a way to increase their structure and to get more efficient. So in January, for example, for the first time since the beginning of the yellow vest movement the so-called leaders of the movement in Paris decided to make a legal demonstration instead of the wildcat demos that they used to do before. Let me explain: when I said a legal demonstration, they decided to discuss with authorities so the authorities will allow a specific march with the people organizing the demonstration. So for the first time they agreed with the authorities to work hand-in-hand on organizing the demonstration with clearly was a big step back in the process of trying to be some kind of grassroots power against authorities and the government. While doing this, the Yellow Vest movement also decided to create their own security group to protect the Yellow Vest participants, and from this specific security groups they hired a lot of ex-paramilitary that are well known far right figures, and for example some of these ex-paramilitary fought in the Donbass during the Ukrainian upraising along side pro-Russians. It’s really problematic to see that for their own security the Yellow Vest movement decide to hire well known fascists and ex-paramilitary to do the job. That’s a major issue also that we’ve been facing. So far we don’t know if this will keep happening or not so that’s clearly something we need to try to fight against and making this ex-paramilitary also unwelcome.
RG: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
AIP: Yeah, there’s several things. First, at the time we are talking right now there is another demonstration happening. The demonstration’s to celebrate the three month anniversary of the Yellow Vest movement, so it should begin in less than ten minutes. We don’t know what’s gonna happen, there’s going to be a lot of people joining this demonstration because the national call was to gather to Paris. So we will see what’s coming out of this major demonstration, if there is like an increase of people in the street or if it still seems to be stagnating or slowly declining. The major problem, or asset, depending on where you situate yourself, is that it’s still remains really unpredictable so it’s really hard to tell where the movement is going, even among us radicals we are constantly discussing about where do we think this is going now and we clearly have no clue.
It seems that it’s losing some strength little by little because there are less people in the streets than during December, for example, but there is lot a like of new elements that could bring a new momentum to the Yellow Vest movement. For example right now there are students from high school and university that are deciding to go on strike every Friday to fight against climate change, to force the government to make some efforts to fight against climate change. So if these student strikes is gaining momentum and decide to join their forces to the Yellow Vest movement it could bring some kind of like fresh air within the movement and maybe lead to like a new momentum. It’s also important to know that like a week or so ago trade unions decided to make a major stride and demonstration in Paris. So if trade unions also decide to continue their fight and join the forces to the Yellow Vest it could bring more people in the street and maybe like bring more, like, claims within the movement. But what’s important to remember with the Yellow Vest movement and this has been something extremely difficult among radical circles because we had a lot of fights on this issue is that the movement is by itself impure and some radicals consider this impurity as a good reason for not taking part in it instead of understanding that the world we live in by itself impure and so the movement is just an image of the world we live in, and by taking part of it we can try to bring more analysis and structural systemic answers to the structural problem we are all facing right now. So I think it is important that we stop our purity stance and decide to join what is going on right now and to fight from within to like bring the fresh air to the movement with our own criticisms to it.
RG: Well, thanks so much for speaking with us and good luck out there today.
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