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.
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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 email@example.com 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.
This week we had the chance to interview Matt Meyer, who, among many other pursuits, is a retired professor and an editor of A Soldier’s Story: Revolutionary Writings by a New Afrikan Anarchist, out from PM Press, which highlights the life and writings of Kwasi Balagoon. Balagoon was a defendant in the Panther 21 case in the late 1960s, in which 21 people were arrested and accused of planned coordinated bombing and long-range rifle attacks on two police stations and an education office in New York City. He was ultimately acquitted of this, but was caught up on charges related to a robbery some time later and passed in prison in 1986.
Sean Swain on food in prison 2:48
Matt Meyer on Kuwasi Balagoon 11:44
Support Matt Hinkston announcement 1:06:08
In this interview, Bursts and Matt discuss Balagoon’s life and writings and why this book is especially relevant right now. They’ll talk about his abiding love for his comrades, a things which seems to have driven much of his politics, and his queerness, an aspect of his life which seemed very important and also complex. Stay tuned to the end of the conversation for questions submitted to The Final Straw by imprisoned anarchist Michael Kimble, who has been a guest on this show and is an admirer of Kuwasi. To see more of Michael’s work and to write to him, you can visit anarchylive.noblogs.org
Police violence in Lucasville-Southern Ohio Correctional Facility. Call Monday in support of Matt Hinkston (A724969). Matt is the brother of Mustafa, who Bursts interviewed a few weeks back.
Matt Hinkston (A724969) is being retaliated against for filing a PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) grievance against a correctional officer and for having gone on hunger strikes in protest of human rights violations against himself and others in the past. One of the main officers who has been mistreating him is named Officer Lawless. They’ve put him in solitary confinement without a disciplinary ticket and restricted his access to communication. Although correctional officers claim that Matt has been put in solitary confinement for his protection, they’re also denying him access to his property and to technology for communicating with the outside world.
Incarcerated people’s lives and human rights matter. Nobody should be sent to solitary for filing a PREA report against a guard. Let’s call Lucasville this weekend and Monday at 740-259-5544 to:
-ask for a wellness check on Matthew Hinkston, A#724969
-tell officials in the Warden’s area and on Matt’s block that we support Matt’s demands and oppose continued retaliation against him for filing a PREA grievance.
Support Matt in this continued struggle against police violence, racism, and rape culture!
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Finally, thank you to everyone who replied in response to our 9th anniversary podcast special in which me and Bursts interviewed each other about why we do what we do, some personal backstory for each of us, and opinions on media in general. We also used the opportunity to solicit listeners for another co host, to share the work load and extend the option in case there was anyone out there who was interested.
We got way more responses than we ever thought we would, and are working through to answer them in as complete and responsible a way as possible. If your interest is piqued and you wanna hear this episode, it’s up on our website along with all our other archived material.
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Music at the beginning of the show was an instrumental version of Hip Hop by Dead Prez off of Let’s Get Free.
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TFSR: So your author page on the PM Press website lists you as War Resistors International Africa Support Network coordinator and a bunch of other titles that are part of these committees. And one of the commonalities among the organizations that you are listed as working with is “peace” or like an opposition to militancy. So I’m wondering if you could introduce yourself and also tell listeners a little bit about how you found yourself co-editing a book about an urban guerilla in the US?
Matt Meyer: Ok First we have to speak about “in opposition to militancy”, because I’ve never been opposed to militancy. I am in favor of militancy. And I want to say something about a leader, who is actually now… in certain parts of the US left & progressive circles, getting some more attention, I think more and more is necessary. He was an African liberation movement leader. He was a military commander, his name is Amílcar Cabral. And Amílcar Cabral was the essential center of the movement for independence and freedom of Guinea-Bissau. He was one of the great Pan-Africanist of the 60s and 70s. And he was, again, a military commander. He is probably most famous for giving the speech that contains within it the phrase, “claim no easy victories.” The idea that we can go about using a bunch of pumped up rhetoric and say “we had 10,000 people” when we only had 100 people to rally. So, claim no easy victories. He was telling it to us and he was also telling it to his troops to his armed combatants. He was saying “when we go into a town, when we go into a community, when we go into a village, whether we do it to liberate them, whether we’re doing it to defend territory, we’re looking to liberate the country. We can’t take a thing from them. We can’t take a stitch. Not a loaf of bread, we have to give back more than we take. That’s what our job is as radicals, as revolutionaries.” and Amílcar Cabral, in that same famous speech, where he said “tell no lies, claim no easy victories” also said something that’s not as well known that I go around the country and go around the world quoting, he said to these armed combatants, these troops liberating their country from Portuguese colonialism. He said, “we have to learn to be militants, not militarists.” Militants. Not militarists. So there’s a big difference between being anti-military, anti-military industrial complex, and being anti-militant. I’ve been a pro-militant all my life, we have to increase the confrontation, we have to increase we have to intensify the struggles against Empire, against patriarchy, against white supremacy. And what better way of doing it than by spotlighting the life the work the legacy of Kuwasi Balagoon: Black Liberation Army, Black Panther Party, Panther 21.
TFSR: Cool. Thanks for letting me jump into that the really awkward way. I meant to say militarism, but you took it, right there! Can you introduce yourself now that we’ve heard your hot take response?
Matt Meyer: Bursts, thank you. And it’s really a pleasure to be here, and great to be in North Carolina at the studio. Yes. My name is Matt Meyer. Yes, there are a lot of organizations after my name. I know this is only an hour show. So we won’t talk about all of them. But, you know, I was in part a student of Pan Africanist. Kwame Ture. Stokely Carmichael. And he said “you know, if there’s anything you do from whatever perspective, if you’re looking to make social change, you have to organize, organize, organize!” Sorry, Will mentioned some of the organizations because the organizations are important. Yes, for the longest time, for many decades, I’ve been involved in the War Resistance Movement, I started out as a 17-18 year old, who was called upon to register for the draft. I was one of those public registration resistors. It’s useful to note that now, because even at this very moment… Selective Service has been challenged just recently by a federal court case a few months ago. That said, it’s actually unconstitutional to register only men. So now they’re trying to figure out whether they should do away with the entire process of registration, or, of course, what they would like to register women as well. But that’s a conversation going on. And of course, those of us who are in the anti-militarist movement, say that’s a no-brainer. This whole policy has become a failure. It’s both been a failure, from a point of view of creating a more just society. But it’s also even been a failure from their own standards of creating a policy that makes us more ready for whatever it is the US wants to get ready to do. So War Resistors League in the US, and War Resistors International. And the part of War Resistors International, that for the most part has been Africa support work, supporting groups like the War Resistance movement. In every part of the continent of Africa.
I went on academically. I started when I was 18, as I say, but I went on academically to become a student of contemporary African history. I’m still a student, but I also became a professor. Now I’m a retired professor. So building the Pan-African movement and supporting African movements on the ground today, that are using war resistance and anti-militarist methods to make social change. Revolutionary social change is a big piece of my work. There are two main other organizations that I work closely with and that define me, and that are worth mentioning. And then one local project I’ll just say quickly. I am currently the national co-chair of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA. Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) is the US oldest interfaith peace organization.
I’m here in Asheville, doing some speaking here in North Carolina and Georgia doing a speaking tour, that FOR is co-sponsoring, along with PM Press, the publisher of Kuwasi Balagoon’s: A Soldier Story. And the FOR is not only the oldest group, but it’s a group that has been concerned for almost 100 years , actually, I’m sorry, now it’s a little bit over 100 years. The War Resistor’s League (WRL), and FOR were founded a few years away from each other. So WRL has almost 100 and FOR is just a little over 100. I am younger than that, by a long-shot. But I am one of the elders in both of those organizations. In addition to being slightly over 100 years old and concerned with peace issues, concerned with issues of reconciliation, it has also been at the forefront of movements for racial and economic justice. The very first Freedom Rides actually were 1947 (not the 50s and 60s versions that we are more familiar with). In what was called the journey of reconciliation. And we work closely by addressing who was on staff of both FOR and WRL at different times. So right now the FOR is looking at a new way of understanding racial justice, economic justice, and peace. And that new way is by understanding both the institutional and governmental, but also the individual responsibilities for Reparations. What does it mean, to build a movement deeply for Reparations within a society like the US Empire?, that may be dying. That may be really in some ways in death throes as an empire, but still has tremendous repairs to make even as more harm is being done to people of African, of Latinx, of indigenous descent. And so that’s the FOR. And that’s one piece of my work. And then the last organization, is I academically, as I said, went into teaching African Studies. And it was in the context of an emerging discipline that’s been around about 50 years called “peace studies” or “Peace and Conflict Studies”. And so last December, I was elected the Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association. So actually Do most of my work around the world. But occasionally I get to tour around the US, and especially my base.
So I’m a New Yorker by by birth, and part of my heart is definitely here in North Carolina. But academically, I’m the senior research scholar at the resistance studies initiative at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. It’s not so much the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, it’s the fact that there’s a place in this empire, called the resistance studies initiative. There are not many departments, in fact, only one called the resistance studies initiative. And so I’m happy to be a senior research scholar in that particular program looking to bridge the gaps, from the gown to the town from the Academy, to organizing, grassroots organizing. And so we put out books like this, to understand that there’s a history that we need to recover that we need to uncover, as we’re rebuilding people’s movements.
TFSR: That’s awesome. A very complex answer. So for folks with an older edition of this book, just published, originally published by Kersplebedeb. Man, I might be pronouncing that…
Matt Meyer: Wrong? You are pronouncing it correct!
TFSR: I’ve practiced it first. What differences would they find in this third edition like it’s notably thicker? The prior edition solicited additional material from readers at the end, which I thought was really clever. But can you talk about what process y’all went through in building this version of Balagoon: A Soldier’s Story?
Matt Meyer: Yes, this is one basic answer. And it’s way, way shorter than my previous answer. What is different about this version? More. It’s more, you know, the Soldier Story… and this, this is true for many things that get published in this way. It was thrown together in order to have an in print space for some of Kuwasi’s work. And again, for those who don’t know, Kuwasi, and I’m sure you’ll do, or have done a little introduction, but, you know, this is a person who’s essentially a Black Panther, revolutionary, nationalist, anarchist. This is a person who is a freedom fighter, a soldier, who is also a pussycat, lover of the people… playing with kids on the floor. So you know, Kuwasi, in some ways, is symbolic of so many of the apparent contradictions, that are really part of our whole human-ness that we like to pull together. And so even back in the day, after he passed, but you know, long after, but still, his memory was in some people’s minds, lives, and thoughts. The idea of pulling together some of his pieces of writing, some of the things that he’d put out as pamphlets or as articles in his life.. that that was necessary. And then another edition came out. And when that second professional kind of book like edition, first came out, it satisfies that need.
I guess it was two or three years ago, my co-editor called Chris Kersplebedeb, one of the founders and mainstays of Kersplebedeb, noticed that that second edition was about to run out. That it was simply going to run out of print. He said… a few of us said, “what are we going to do? because we could just simply reprinted or we could do something else!” And that something else that we decided to do was: to really go deep and get every single shred of writing, every video, audio, everything that Kuwasi did that was available, and transcribe it and type it and put it into print. And also take some space for those who knew him, or for those who most directly followed in his wake, to write about their feelings about his life and his legacy. So for example, this book has an incredible historical biographical overview, by the Georgia scholar, Akinyele Umoja. He’s he’s a great New Afrikan leader, one of the founders of the Malcolm X grassroots movement, and Akinyele’s work… the incredible, absolutely significant book We Will Shoot Back is well known. But this special piece he wrote that really brings Kuwasi’s relevance to the 21st century, is reprinted was printed in an academic journal. It’s reprinted as the front article in this new edition. There were a number of Kuwasi’s friends and extended family who had scraps of his writing.
My partner in fact, visited him and knew him and had an engaged correspondence. And though we didn’t reprint all of those private letters, he would often attach poems. Sometimes finished, sometimes ones that hadn’t been seen before. And sometimes just on the spot, he was bursting with poetry. He spoke in poetry from what I heard! And reading some of the letters, the letters themselves are poetic. We extracted the things that were clearly not just personal, you know “how I’m doing How you doing?” but the poems, and printed almost all of those poems in this volume. There were special little projects that may not have been completed. We think this one was. There was a “how to how to stay healthy in prison” an exercise book that we’ve reprinted in here. And yes, we’ve already heard from some people inside and people outside saying “Oh my God! we need that exercise book now! we need this more than ever.” And, so we took as many… I will tell you, this is one of the problems about being the kind of editor I am. I’ve edited other books with PM Press, and this is very restrained. This is PM Press and Kersplebedeb co-published, but some of my PM Press’ are over 1000 pages long. I’m the kind of editor that doesn’t like saying NO, who wants more and more. And I will tell you, and I haven’t said this publicly before but I’ve heard about one poem that we cannot find. And we just decided we can wait 10 more years and maybe or maybe not find it. If whenever, I don’t know… if we find it, we’ll let everyone know. But basically, we think we’ve gotten almost everything that he put into writing, including a couple of pieces that clearly were pretty unfinished, and we decided to err on the side of publishing it all. And then lastly, we collected a group of two or three of his closest comrades. There are two people wonderful, extraordinary elders. Sekou Odinga, former political prisoner did 33 years in prison, and the great jazz saxophonist and also former Grand Jury Resistor Bilal Sunni-Ali. Sekou and Bilal both each claim to have been the ones that recruited Kuwasi into the New York Black Panther Party. They debate that out a little bit in these pages, and we’ll let them continue to do that. But many, many other, you know, a good dozen other people who again, either knew him well, knew him a bit, or grew up in his legacy. I’ll just name one other person that the multi-talented poet, actress and multimedia artist, Kai Lumumba Barrow, who was based for a long time here in North Carolina, and was part of the Southerners On New Ground (SONG) organization. Kai is one of those who has both part of the conversation between people who knew him and her own poetic legacy interpretation of Kuwasi in here. So that’s the final part, some pieces by people who said, this is why Kuwasi is absolutely a person to look at in 2019 and 2020, as relevant now as he ever was.
TFSR: Can you talk a little bit about Kuwasi’s life, like a thumbnail sketch of his background and development?
Matt Meyer: Well, I wasn’t one of those who knew him, I wasn’t, and I actually have a small section I want to read that mainly quotes from Sekou Odinga because I have gotten to know and work under the leadership of, and really be privileged to be part of the current life of Sekou Odinga, who knew him when they were both youth. So I’ll quote from Sekou. But I want to say something about our orientation, our vision towards Kuwasi. And that question of 21st century relevance in putting together this book. We are at a time now, as radicals, where we clearly need, I think, more clearly than ever before: militant, radical, revolutionary social change. Whether violent, nonviolent, armed, unarmed, social change, and radical social change is an urgent task for the empire that is dying, known as the US. And the fact of the matter is, despite that understanding many of our lives, and many of our movements are in silence. We have this little group here, that group there, this campaign here, that campaign there and never really an overarching building movement.
Now Kuwasi made his decisions. He was a member of the Black Panther Party. And before that, he was a housing rights activist in Harlem. He was a member of the New York Black Panther Party. He was a member of the case of the New York Panther 21, which was the New York militants. In some ways they were really pulled together by this wild and crazy FBI investigation, and then New York State indictment and campaign. And then after that, he went underground and was part of the Black Liberation Army. And even after the Black Liberation Army, had been targeted, and in some ways had had some of its militants captured and killed, Kuwasi continued doing clandestine work underground work until his capture in the early 1980s. And so Kuwasi, despite that little thumbnail sketch, was a person who did not, who could not live in silos. He could not segregate. He had his revolutionary nationalist analysis as did most of the Panthers, but he could not live his life segregated one piece here, one piece there, one piece over there. So whether it was about sexuality, whether it was about black and white, whether it was about inter-generation, whether it was about violence/non violence… Kuwasi loved people. Kuwasi’s story is about being radical, being a militant, being a… how did you say before you know, a member of an armed you know, intensely urban guerrilla, he was all those things, but he was also extraordinarily non-sectarian and loving about the people. “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” That’s a quote from Che Guevara. But lots of other revolutionary leaders of all stripes and nationalities, violent or non-violent, have that same reflection. Kuwasi, from everything (I’ve heard everything I’ve read everything) we understand, personified love of the people.
TFSR: Yeah, and that that comes across in a lot of the reflections, as you mentioned, from a lot of the people that knew him. A lot of the things that I’m more familiar with from the second edition. But there are really moving sections about how like, you would just find him in the prison yard surrounded by a bunch of people just breaking on laughter, or, like you said, sitting on the ground playing with kids just tumbling around like nothing.
Matt Meyer: And it’s interesting, you know, Sekou, again, another incredibly, you know, and rightfully, well respected elder of the Black Panther and black liberation movement. He said, you know, the questions of white and black, we weren’t as advanced. Kuwasi, somehow, it’s not just about being naive. It’s like, understand that there are some allies that you’re going to have that connection with, you know, the Panthers were never a cultural nationalist group, they never said, they always, always build alliances, even the splits within the Panthers… West, East, whatever. You know, the entire Black Panther Party for self defense built alliances with white groups, with the Latino, Puerto Rican, Chicano groups, with Asian groups, etc. Those alliances were part and parcel of their politics. Kuwasi lived it on a very deeply personal level. So some of these issues of black and white that organizations and individuals are still struggling with now. Kuwasi had in some ways transcended. But let me actually read a little bit. So we get to hear Sekou voice about Kuwasi.
“I probably met Kuwasi in the spring or early summer of 1968. And he was always a real energetic brother. You’re always going to hear him telling a story or joke, or enjoying one. He was always full of life, always ready to volunteer for any work that needed to be done: the more dangerous the work, the more ready he was. He was real, sincere, and dependable. That was what struck me early on. He was always ready to step up, even if you didn’t need him. He would volunteer; it wasn’t something where you ever had to go find him…. Kuwasi loved life. He clearly loved life and loved living life. He was always ready to live… He was a living dude, and most of us all really loved him.”
So that’s Sekou Odinga talking about Kuwasi and that’s in that roundtable of love and reflection we did. And I’m going to read one other little piece that we the editors wrote that summarizes that reflection in some ways it summarizes this edition and why this edition, how this edition came about to be what it is bringing pieces together into one whole. UNIQUE!
“Unique. The single word most often used to describe Kuwasi Balagoon, when discussing his life and legacy, with those closest to and most affected by him, is unique. That Kuwasi. His way of living and looking at life, set him apart in special and wondrous ways, even in the midst of amazing friends and colleagues, and even while living and working in extraordinary times. Kuwasi stood out distinction surrounding other labels and descriptions. New Afrikan. Revolutionary. Nationalist and Anarchist. Gay. Bisexual and or Queer. Poet. Militant. Housing Activist. Panther. They can be discussed and debated and reflected upon. But Kuwasi’s greatest quality was surely his lasting love for the people and his ability to transform that love into tangible acts of resistance.”
Bursts: you’ve addressed a couple of the questions already up in here I get my footing again. So you’ve noted you know the the timeliness of the addition coming up the older copies being gone and that inspiring y’all in part to to produce the new edition. Kuwasi has also kind of come up in, among other people that I’ve seen, for instance, the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement (RAM) has a Kuwasi Balagoon Liberation School that they’ve been with their their program that they’ve been running for a couple of years now. Besides the need for being able to transcend, transcend these differences and create a movement of movements, besides like fulfilling that need, do you see any other reasons why Kuwasi’s writing would be coming to the fore, and from all these different places?
Matt Meyer: I mean, it’s interesting, I think, the idea of looking back to move forward, the idea of looking at past strengths and weaknesses, to build and rebuild. For some reason, when you were asking that question, I was thinking of my dear brother, Ashanti Alston, who is now in Rhode Island. He was in New York for a time and he always described himself as anarchist Panther. Now, Ashanti himself was a very, very young brother, who was part of the Black Liberation Army and who did some time. But when he came out, embracing Kuwasi’s ideas of revolutionary nationalism, and anarchism of being an anarchist Panther. It was something Ashanti both held on to, improved upon, but also built upon, built upon and helped grow in the movements of the 90s and the early 21st century. And so the very specific place where Ashanti did and does that most, isn’t a place called the National Jericho Movement. And the National Jericho Movement, as some may know, is a national / international campaign to free all remaining political prisoners and prisoners of war in the United States. And it’s a horror that one of Kuwasi’s own co-defendants Sundiata Acoli, a member of the Panther 21 you know, is also a co defendant of Sekou Odinga still languishes in prison after 40 years, more than 40. And after passing, you know, birthdays, people shouldn’t be in jail for the 17th and 18th birthdays. That’s ridiculous. So this man who actually was a NASA mathematician, who should have had movies about him, like “forgotten here”, you know, whatever, you know it. This is one of the great minds of our times who is in jail because he decided to use that mind and that body for the liberation of his people, by becoming a Black Panther and a militant. So the intensification of the campaigns to free all political prisoners, like Sundiata Acoli, like Mutulu Shakur, like Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, another great legacy leader from the 60s known before as H Rap Brown, who was a lead of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, student National Coordinating Committee, became a Muslim Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, in jail today.
So we talk about the 60s or the 60s & the 70s. And we talk about reconciliation. We talked about moving forward, and in fact, we have never moved forward. These brothers have been in jail Since the 70s, since the 80s. Again more decades, then mass murderers and rapists, you know, people who have committed horrific crimes against the people, these people who have fought for the people… remain in jail. So I say that both because I want listeners to, if they haven’t, look up the website, National Jericho Movement, look up what that organization is doing. And the list of all of the prisons, I only named a few, most of them from the Black Panther movement, and organization, but not just. And we have gotten some political prisoners free. I mentioned Sekou Odinga. But the fact of the matter is, they all must come out! Now it’s time to free them all. They are getting to an age where if we don’t do it soon, we will have lost the opportunity. And these are our elders and leaders who have many cases, the most profound and inspiring stories to tell us now, again, about those strengths and weaknesses of the past.
Bursts: I’d like to mention really quickly that this last week, we saw the release of Janine and Janet Africa of the MOVE organization, which is awesome. FREE THEM ALL.
Matt Meyer: Indeed, FREE THEM ALL.
Bursts: So this is an anarchist podcast, and I would like to know, and other people have asked: How, to your knowledge and as it came out in the book… how did Kuwasi’s political development come to anarchism? And how did he relate that to a revolutionary nationalism?
Matt Meyer: That’s that’s a very good question. And I think it’s, again, one of these questions of terminology. Like militarism and militancy. And the question came up: “To what degree did Kuwasi use the word anarchism?” And I think the answer to your question is best posed this way. Even in his day, and even among his comrades and his colleagues, Kuwasi was always a deep anti-authoritarianist. It wasn’t about ideology wasn’t about saying, “hey, let’s not read Marx, let’s read Bakunin.” It was about saying “we can’t create structures that chain ourselves, we can create hierarchies.” Now, that doesn’t mean that you’re not a disciplined, accountable member of an organization. And all great anarchist revolutionaries know it’s not about chaos, it’s about organization. It’s about liberating organizations. We’re accountable to one another, not to one great leader, who we decide is… you know, the king. It’s always a man. So you know, I say the king advisedly. But the fact of the matter is, that I think the best way in which he embodied it was in his life. He was a deep anti-authoritarian, always suspicious, always critical, always concerned about undue authority. That wasn’t about accountability to the collective, but was about one person or maybe a couple of people getting more power than they needed. More power than was healthy, for a well functioning collective. I think it’s worth saying it’s also an interesting piece of Kuwasi’s life and legacy.
In terms of this question of gay or queer. I think it’s pretty clear that he never self defined in those ways. And yet, it’s also clear that at some point in his life, he had a lover who was male or trans-femme. Again, that term wasn’t used at that time. So it’s hard to put words in people’s mouths that weren’t in play at that moment. But yes. So in this case, he’s not defining as gay and queer, and yet he’s living in some ways what we’d consider a queer identity for at least a piece of that time. What does that mean? Well, for Kuwasi, what it meant was loving life. It meant not making those kind of distinctions as… say.. “you are white” or “you are a white anarchist, so I can’t work with you.” The question is: “are you down with the struggle? Are you willing to do the work?” And you know, today in 2019, we see organizations. I don’t know so much about here in the south east. But you know, in New York, we have different parts of the Anarchist Black Cross Federation and former political prisoners like Daniel McGowan. And, you know, we have a group of radical anti-imperialist anarchists. I don’t care if you’re a Marxist-Leninist, I don’t care if you’re a social democrat. You know, not so many social democrats doing anti-authoritarian and political work. But nonetheless, the idea is if you’re down with the idea that this empire must fall. You don’t say “you’re into non-violence, so I can’t work with you”, or “you are in the wrong struggle, so I can’t work with you.” We have to move beyond our grandfather’s… I would say, false dichotomies. Our grandfather’s battles. It’s not about… It may have been at some moment, then, necessary to say “I’m with Malcolm, I’m not with Martin. I’m a Malcolmite.” But this moment, 50 years later, one does not have to choose. There’s an article co-written with some members of the movement for Black Lives, myself, and a couple of other comrades in a book of mine called White Lives Matter Most – And Other Little White Lies available through Kerbleblespleb, but also published by PM Press that co-published A Soldier’s Story. And the title of that chapter is “Refuse To Choose. Neither Malcolm nor Martin.” Refusing to choose between our grandfather’s battles, we have to transcend those battles to another moment. Who in some ways personified that transcendence? Kuwasi Balagoon.
Bursts: I’m curious, also, like I see the importance of the point that you’re making. I think that for me, an exciting part of this conversation is that and about reading this edition is that he made conscious choices that differed from so many of the people around him. And the uniqueness and what have you. And so exploring the reasons as to why he would have been drawn to… like, if you are deciding if you’ve gone through the national split in the Panther organization, and have chosen to not side with the national leadership and have critiques of centralized authority. And you’re drawn towards the writings of Malatesta, or of Kropotkin, or like others, some of the other names that are mentioned in the book. It’s interesting for me, it’s like not not a political development that most people describe, and also the kind of thing that more doctrinaire members of a movement could like conflict around, right? So I kind of wonder, and also, I brought this question from Anarchist Prisoner, Michael Kimble, who’s also gay and black, in Alabama politicized inside the system.
“What sort of conflicts did come? Or how did how did that jive with his co-defendants or with his comrades inside? Did it lead to conflicts? Or were people able to be like, ‘well, you have your way of approaching things you ask important questions. Labels are aside, we’re in movement together?’”
Matt Meyer: Wow. And thank you, Michael Kimble, and an all power to you. Not just for continued survival on the other side of the wall, but but bringing out a profound question like that one to us here today. That is a complicated and interesting question. And I’m already spinning with three different directions and actual citations to go. Because also, Bursts, you spoke about the splits. And and I think that’s worth talking about. But let me deal with Michael’s question first, as as best as I can. My understanding of the history, my reading of Kuwasi is that that latter piece was the most common. Kuwasi because of his commitment, because of his extraordinary work ethic, because of his love, which just was bursting out. Again, in the writings I’ve seen, you know, in his writing and his every moment, it just was uncontainable. So that energy, I think, put him in a place where most people were not saying, “Oh, these ideas are too challenging. This is too crazy. This is too outside of the box.” I think Rather, they were like, “it’s crazy. We’re going to figure out a way of working with it, you know, Kuwasi is unique. Kuwasi is amazing.” But So I think that’s the main answer in terms of his life. But I think it’s also very important to know that our versions of the history of back then are often way more over simplified than they should be. And so as a movement, historian as a peace researcher and justice researcher, I want us to look much more carefully at the nuances of what happened back then. And now I’m going to give three citations about that.
Another book that PM Press put out that I was involved in, and no, I’m not just doing a public service announcement to sell copies of my books. But this is one that I co-edited with a sister. She’s got to be one of the greatest organizers in my tough city: New York City, within the black movement. Today, she’s the chair of the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee. And her name is Déqui Kioni-Sadiki. And Déqui and I co-edited a book called Look For Me In the Whirlwind: From the Panther 21 to 21st Century Revolutions. Now, some listeners may think “oooh, Look For Me In the Whirlwind! I think I kind of remember that was a book that Panther 21 wrote and published, you know, autobiographical, back in the day.” Yes. And that book had gone out of print and even members of the Panther 21, who were still alive and out of jail would go on eBay and be like “$400?! I can’t pay that I was at what I was in that book!!” So we took the entire book from cover to cover and republished it, but like this book A Soldier’s Story. We added in many, we actually doubled the size of the thing, we added in another 100-200 pages of contemporary reflections and analysis. And so that was especially done under the leadership of and with surviving members of the Panther 21. Like especially Sekou Odinga, Dhoruba bin Wahad when he’s not in West Africa. He’s based here in the southeast in Georgia. Jamal Joseph and others. And the reason I bring out that book, because it talks about the Panther 21 case, is that while understanding in some deep ways about the east/west split, it also understands that some of the nature of that should be more understandable than we make it. There are nuances we miss. One of the simple ones. Simple? complicated? simple. complicated. Internationalism. The New York Panthers and the Panther 21 were especially internationalist. They were the ones mainly, Sekou himself, and others who went to Algeria, and founded and built the Black Panther Party International. And that internationalism, which now we have technology and tools that should make it easier for us to communicate across the borders. There’s an anarchist concern, what are these borders anyway? Well, we have the technology to be true internationalists. But, we haven’t necessarily freed our minds. We haven’t necessarily freed our consciousness. We haven’t necessarily freed our history, in order to understand the level of internationalism that they were doing back then, and how we need to build upon that, understand it and deepen it today.
I’ll give a second example. Even the West Coast, even the other side of the split, the leadership of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, it should be known, and it is often not known and forgotten, put out ahead of their time, a statement in favor of gay and lesbian liberation. It’s not the most publicized of the Black Panther documents, but it’s there. And it’s there because of their own visionary struggle. So people like Kuwasi Balagoon may have been visionary 10 times further out the field. But there was still more vision, more analysis, more depth, more nuance, and conversation and debate within those structures there, then we have come to really believe and understand. So even as there were splits, and even though there were harsh debates, sometimes those debates could be contained in a place where we loved one another anyway. And again, my reading for Michael and for your question is, when Kuwasi was in those debates with his comrades in the New York and East Coast Panthers, they weren’t primary contradictions. They were all “we’re gonna work together, we have our differences in personality and character and approach. But ultimately, our eyes are on the same prize.”
I said three, I’m going to name the third and last of them. And it’s another PM Press book. Kuwasi wasn’t the only Panther who was way ahead of his time. And Sekou is not the only, and Dhoruba and Jamal are not the only surviving Panthers, who are way ahead of their time. So I would like to name another of the still remaining Black Panther black liberation movement political prisoners who is inside. Whose work is so visionary, and so proficient and so profound, and so necessary for advocacy, especially, but also all people looking to make real deep struggle. That man’s name is Russell Maroon Shoatz. Maroon, we had a successful campaign some years ago, to get him out of solitary confinement. 22 plus years of torture. State sponsored torture, under solitary confinement. He’s in general population, but he’s still in prison. His health is not so great. And he is a visionary of little equal. His understanding of an analysis of economics and eco-socialism, of anti-authoritarianism, of looking at building Maroon cultures of resistance. And why he took the name Maroon, are absolutely reading for 21st century revolutionaries. So looking at Russell Maroon Shoats, his book from PM Press is another place I’d look to for the kinds of things that Kuwasi epitomized. This idea that one can have struggle within an organization, even at the moment, and certainly upon historical reflection 40 years, 50 years later, we have to have that kind of struggle to build a stronger, better, richer, deeper, more effective movement that will smash the state.
Bursts: And that’s Maroon the Implacable.
Matt Meyer: That is the name of the book. Yes.
Bursts: Well if you know anyone, I’ve talked to Russell Shoats III to try to get him on the show, and it just hasn’t worked out. But if you have anyone who would ever want to come on and talk about his case, and try to amplify Maroon’s words, and also his case, and a push to actually get him out of prison, please send it my way.
Matt Meyer: I will say this now. And I appreciate that and we’ll make it happen. I was with with Maroon’s daughter, Teresa Shoats, I was a national co-chair of the campaign to free Russell Maroon Shoatz in that year, year and a half when we were doing the work to get him out of solitary. And I actually just came back from Sri Lanka, where Quincy Saul one of the co-editors that book along with the late, Fred Ho. But Quincy is now in Sri Lanka and Fred’s no longer with us. But I will tell you that in addition to absolutely pledging to help get Russell or Sharon or Theresa Shoats on the show, I think we’re going to see very soon in the next maybe month or so, a re-intensified a reinvigorated campaign for compassionate release around Maroon in particular. Look, it’s one of the complicated things, because again, we’re individualists and we’re institution builders, we believe in the collective and we believe in our own hearts and minds. So yes, we build movements that are focused on individual political prisoners and their release. That was just a very strong campaign. That was put forth that’s building now for release of New York State prisoner. Jalil Muntaqim. So I think I’m telling you now a little preview, there’s going to be a re-intensified campaign for compassionate release for Russell Maroon Shoats, at the same time, all of these movements from Mumia Abu Jamal, etc. all say, FREE THEM ALL. And so when I say look at the National Jericho movement, and its website, it is going to ultimately be about freeing them all.
Bursts: So I know we’ve only got a few minutes left. But Michael Kimble had another question, or he had a couple of other questions, but one of them is:
“I’ve read much of Kuwasi story, but never anything about organizing in prison. Was he involved in organizing his fellow prisoners?”
Matt Meyer: And give me Michael’s other question, because it’s so profound, I want to get them all and see how many as I can cover
Bursts: The other question:
“What roadblocks, if any, did Kuwasi encounter from those he struggled with because of his sexuality and adherence to anarchy? And how did he deal with it?”
But so the the part of that that we didn’t talk about was in terms of his sexuality.
Matt Meyer: Right? It’s a very similar answer to the previous question around differences in general. I also think, for a certain amount of time, as I understand it, Kuwasi’s relationship was when he was in prison at the very end of his life. So it was less about his comrades in the Panthers who were out, and more about the people around him in prison. So in some ways, that segues into the previous question about his life in prison. And I think it’s very, very good to lead into that question as one of our later questions, because it leads into another political prisoner whose name I’d like to mention and who has books written or published by PM Press. And that’s David Gilbert, North American, anti-imperialist white dude. David Gilbert. David’s a close personal friend of mine, and of course, we want David to come out as well. The last years of Kuwasi’s life were spent in prison in the same in the same institution as David and and so they had… not an ability to have that much depth or closeness, you know, prison still constraints you even with fellow prisoners. But there was an understanding that Kuwasi’s relationships like the relationships of most people in prison are individual or personal and not about judgment. So I think that’s the main answer to that question about the sexuality and sexual orientation.
But the more question about organizing is key. Like Maroon, Kuwasi was a master organizer. I think in some ways Maroon actually has built cadre. That’s what he’s in solitary confinement for, he was in solitary because he kept producing within the prisons that he was mini-revolutionaries or maybe not so mini. He also escaped from prison twice. Kuwasi was known to escape from prison. So the fact of the matter is, the essence of conversation was about organization. And though there may not have been a particular campaign, what he did in his work inside prison, was to explain what revolutionary nationalism, anti-authoritarianism, black liberation, was. Black liberation, black liberation, what did it mean to free the people? What did it mean to free the land? What did it mean to be a black revolutionary in the spirit of Malcolm? What did it mean to have armed self defense and self defense in general, as a principal? What did it mean to create programs like the free breakfast program? To understand that housing, that education, that food that these are rights and that people shouldn’t have to beg from within their own country for rights. People should be able to free themselves and provide for themselves. And so that organization, that consciousness raising that education was part of what Kuwasi did probably every waking hour of the day, and that was his organizing in prison.
But I also bring David Gilbert’s name up not because he just witnessed some of that and described some of that, but also because Kuwasi died of AIDS. And he died in prison of AIDS. When it became clear to the fellow inmates and to the large community of people outside, who loved Kuwasi, that he died, he died of AIDS. There was a certain shock, the way, there’s always a shock when you lose someone who is vibrant and is alive and who’s there. And then they’re not there. Even if someone’s ill for some time. But there’s also that shock of recognition that doing something about the AIDS crisis in prison, was absolutely vital. And so David began at that point, in the light of Kuwasi’s death, and in the years after Kuwasi’s death of developing in New York State, what ended up being one of the first national programs of peer education within prisons, around HIV/AIDS and HIV/AIDS prevention. And, you know, we can’t say how many, countless lives that saved and and how many people inside and outside had their own understanding of what it meant to have safer sex and what it meant to have protection and even within the prison walls and outside of the idea that HIV/AIDS could be contained, not because of any conspiracy theory of how it was created, or who was created, but simply because of the way and by the way we relate to one another. And that peer program that David helped pioneer, was absolutely part of, I would say Kuwasi’s legacy. And it’s an organizing legacy that affected the New York state prison system. And unfortunately, as we know, two steps forward one step back, sometimes it feels like two steps back, but you know, the the struggle for creating humane programs within the prisons is a difficult one at best. But we do have brothers inside like Michael, who’s asking these profound questions, obviously doing his own work. And I think when and where it’s possible, creating little breathing spaces, or more than that, is still important and imperative as much as we need to be militants and revolutionaries. No revolution in the history of the world has ever been made without many, many, many reforms. So of course, we want to abolish prisons, we want to abolish the prison industrial complex. But on that road, reforms to make Michael’s life a little bit easier, is definitely something we need to do. We also want to free them all.
And lastly, I’ll say this, we have a little call in that I got from Lynne Stewart’s husband, Ralph Poynter, great black liberation leader and educator in his own right, and people hopefully know Lynne’s too, with the great people’s lawyer who was herself a political prisoner, and passed away some years ago, outside. But, you know, Ralph said and he is right to remind us that in addition to all of these key figures we named. Be they those who have gone before Like Kuwasi Balagoon those were inside we need to fight for their freedom. Sundiata Acoli, Russell Maroon Shoats, David Gilbert, Imam Jamil Al-Amin, etc, etc. There are hundreds and hundreds of unnamed heroes and sheroes who are languishing inside. Often for nonviolent offenses, often for non-offenses for trumped up charges. If their name is Trump, they wouldn’t be inside they’d be outside. And we have to work both to enable their survival, but mainly to free them. Because Freeing them all is in part, how we free ourselves.
Bursts: Cool. Well, that’s a great note to end on. Matt, thank you so much for taking the time to be in this conversation with me. I really appreciate it and I hope you have a great presentation tonight.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
This week William got the chance to speak to Bruno Renero-Hannan, who is an anarchist historical anthropologist from Mexico City, about their solidarity work around two of the original 250 Loxicha Prisoners in the state of Oaxaca. This rebellion and imprisonment occurred almost simultaneously to the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas in the mid-late 90s with very different results. We talk about the long and complex history of this case, the similarities and differences between this uprising and that of the Zapatistas, the ongoing political repression of Alvaro Ramirez and Abraham Ramirez, and the economic solidarity push being orgainized by our guest, as well as some stark parallels between this case and that of the remaining 59 J20 defendants. If you would like to see the 45 minute broadcast edit of this interview, you can go to The Final Straw Radio Collection on archive.org.
As per the very reasonable request on the part of the folks doing support for Alvaro and Abraham, we have omitted the Sean Swain segment for this episode. The You Are the Resistance topic did not pair well with the main interview content nor were Keep Loxicha Free supporters aware of the segment. We regret any confusion or discomfort that this caused.
We would like to take a bit of space here to explain to new listeners that many of the Sean Swain segments are meant in the spirit of satire; Swain himself has been a political prisoner for over 25 years at this point, and his humor is sometimes abrasive, but he is a committed believer in the dismantling of all forms of oppression.
He and we are open to feedback on this segment, and any content we present!
Sean Swain #243-205 Warren CI P.O. Box 120 Lebanon, Ohio 45036
Resist Nazis in Tennessee
On Saturday, Feb 17, Matthew Heinbach of the Traditionalist Workers Party will be speaking at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville from 1-4pm. If you don’t like this, you can contact the University by calling 8659749265 and demand that they disinvite this open neo-nazi organizer from their campus!
Some Benefits in Asheville
For the drinkers in Asheville, this week features two libation-centric benefits for books to prisoners projects.
On Wednesday, February 14, Valentines Day, three bars in Asheville will be participating in a drink special that will raise money for Tranzmission Prison Project, our local LGBT books to prisoners project with a national scope. You can visit the Crow & Quill on Lexington, the Lazy Diamond around the corner in Downtown or the Double Crown on Haywood in West Asheville on Wednesday for more details.
On Thursday, February 15th at the Catawba’s South Slope Tasting Room & Brewery (32 Banks Avenue #105) for their first New Beer Thursday fundraiser of 2018!! Starting with the release on the 15th and running through March, a portion of the cost of every glass of their pomegranate sour sold will be donated to the Asheville Prison Books Program!
More events coming up this week include: Thursday the 15th at 7pm Blue Ridge ABC is holding a benefit show at Static Age for a local activists with a sliding scale cost. Bands featured are Kreamy Lectric Santa, Cloudgayzer, Secret Shame, Falcon Mitts & Chris Head
Later that night in Asheville, the monthly benefit dance party called HEX will be holding an event at the Mothlight to raise money and materials for A-Hope, which provides services locally to houseless and poor folks. Bring socks, footwear and camping gear to donate!
On Tuesday, April 20th at 6pm at The Shell Studio, 474 Haywood Rd on the second floor, there will be a showing of the locally produced documentary entitled Hebron about human rights struggles in Palestine.
On Friday the 23rd at 6:30pm, the Steady Collective will be participating in a Harm Reduction forum at the Haywood Street Congregation at 297 Haywood St. in downtown.
Also that night, BRABC will be showing the latest TROUBLE documentary by sub.media at 7:30pm at firestorm books and coffee. This will be a second on Student Organizing around the world.
Finally, on Saturday the 24th 9am to 3pm at Rainbow School, 60 State Street in Asheville there’ll be a Really Really Free Market organized by the Blue Ridge General Defense Committee or GDC. Bring stuff that’s still good to share and come back with other stuff that’s still good for free! Perfect for spring cleaning or dealing with inclement weather on a budget.
A Call for Art Submissions for ACAB2018…
A reminder that if you are the sensitive, artistic type, the ACAB2018, or Asheville Carolina Anarchist Bookfair is soliciting art for fundraising and advertising purposes. If you have image ideas that you can put into action and want to share them, that’d be dope. We’re looking for things we can put onto postcards, t-shirts, posters and other swag to spread word about the event and help us cover the costs of operation. Contact us at email@example.com
…and for Yours Truly at TFS
Likewise, if you are feeling artsy fartsy and want to help out this show, we’re looking for swag imagery, either as a logo or a standalone piece of art we can feature for fundraising purposes. If you like the show and want to help, post your files on share.riseup.net and send us a link at firstname.lastname@example.org or share it with one of our social media identities. If we choose to use your art, we’ll send you a mix tape with one side produced by each of our regular contributing editors.
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This is the transcript of an hour and a half long interviewconducted by The Final Straw radio show, which is a weekly anarchist radio show that hosts interviews about a wide range of topics, including Black liberation, anti racism, anti sexism, LGBTQ solidarity, struggles against extraction industry and pipelines, prisoner solidarity,and solidarity with refugees and migrants, among many other topics. While we do some informal fundraising, this show is a volunteer effort and can be accessed free of charge.
The Final Straw RadioP.O. Box 6004Asheville, NC28816
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The Final Straw Radio: (Introduction) This week, I got the chance to speak with Bruno Renero Hanan, who is an anarchist historical anthropologist from Mexico City about their solidarity work around two of the original 250 Loxicha prisoners in the state of Oaxaca. This rebellion and imprisonment occurred almost simultaneously with the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in the mid to late 90’s with very different results. We talk about the long and complex history of this case, the similarities and differences between this uprising and that of the Zapatistas, the ongoing political repression of Alvaro Ramirez and Abram Ramirez and the economic solidarity push being organized by our guest. As well as some stark parallels between this case and the case of the J20 defendants.
TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time to come onto the show. Would you tell listeners a little about yourself and talk about what projects you do?
Bruno: Yeah, sure, I’d be happy to. And first of all, thank you for having me on the show. It’s an honor, a pleasure and I really appreciate the space.
My name is Brune Renero Hanan. I am originally from Mexico City where I grew up, although I’ve lived in the United States for quite a while now. And I am from a kind of bi-cultural, bi-national family. So, currently I live in south east Michigan where I am a PHD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Michigan. And the main work I’ve been working on the last 3 years has been, partly through political solidarity and party through my academic research with political prisoners in Oaxaca Mexico. In particular over the last several years I’ve been writing about and working in different capacities to support a group of political prisoners known as the Loxicha prisoners who were all Zapotec men incarcerated for several decades since the 1990’s up until just last year. And that’s mostly what we’ll be talking about today. But, other projects that I’ve been involved in, I’ve also done other forms of politically engaged research in the state of Guerrero around guerrilla movements there in the 1970’s and state terror and the so-called Dirty War of state violence there.
I’ve also done stuff around anarchist organizing in Mexico City, other left political stuff around the Cult of Santa Muerte in Mexico City. I’ve been involved in political organizing to support the families of the families of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa. For instance we, here comrades and I in 2014, organized a welcome for the caravan of family members when they came through. I’ve also been involved in anarchistic and antifascist organizing in Ann Arbor and in Michigan, working with Huron Valley. Right now, I’ve kind of brought some of that solidarity with political prisoners in Oaxaca into conversation with folks here in Michigan and that’s sort of become a joint project between folks in Oaxaca and here Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
As far as resources, the one thing I’d like to plug is our Patreon website. It’s a sort of gofundme sort of thing where people can sign up to make monthly donations which can be anything (as little as $1 each month up to as much as they’d like to. And we’re trying to build up to covering the impossible and unjust court fees being called “damage reparations” which our comrades Abram and Alvaro have to pay each month. So that’s the one thing I would ask people to remember and if they’re able to get on there and donate. So, that website is https://www.patreon.com/keeploxichafree . That Patreon website is what we’re trying to build right now.
And it’s challenging, trying to build it up through folks we know and without having to really go through any questionable or unethical ways of getting money or would compromise this project in any way. It’s sort of going peer to peer, our friends, friend networks, or reaching out in a space like this where people who might also feel solidarity, could join on.
TFSR: And let’s talk about the situation. So, like you mentioned, we’re here to talk about an ongoing situation of political repression against two indigenous, Zapotec men, community members Alvaro Sebastian Ramirez and Abraham Garcia Ramirez who are from the Loxicha region in Oaxaca. They were incarcerated for 20 years, also like you mentioned, for resisting the Mexican state and were just given what is ridiculously called early release. And we’ll talk about that more later. But could you talk about the original struggle in which Alvaro and Abraham got arrested?
Bruno: Definitely. So, this is a slightly complicated story and it’s a long history now. So, we’re talking about the situation of political repression against these two political prisoners, Alvaro & Abraham (no relation between the two of them) and they are both Zapotec community organizers from San Augustin de Loxicha, which is a town in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, very close to the state of Chiapas which is very well known as being the site of the rebellion of the Zapatistas as you mentioned. Yes, Alvaro and Abraham were longterm political prisoners known as the Loxicha prisoners. They were the last 3 to be released but originally this was a group of upwards of 200 prisoners, all of them Zapotec men, a few women later, but from the original group almost entirely men, arrested between 1996 and the late 90’s.
All of them were accused of being complicit in a guerrilla armed uprising that took place on August 28, 1996, when a guerrilla group called The Popular Revolutionary Army, or EPR, attacked soldiers, police and marines, naval installations in various part of Mexico simultaneously that night, but the most forceful of those simultaneous attacks took place on the coast of Oaxaca near a very fancy tourist resort town in a place called La Cruzecita Juatulco. And there, close to 20 police and soldiers died and several guerrillas died as well in this confrontation. And according to the state and federal authorities, they discovered amongst these dead guerrillas that one of the members was a municipal authority from this town San Augustin de Loxicha, where there happened to be this very strong indigenous movement which had emerged in the early 1980’s and was at this point very strong, fairly radical.
Alvaro and Abram were both members of this movement that was largely organized around this indigenous organization called The Organization of Indigenous Zapotec Pueblos, or Communities, formed in 1984.
So, in 1986 when the guerrillas of the EPR attacked soldiers and police, the state ended up basically pointing their fingers at this entire region, this entire region of Zapotec communities within the fairly large municipality of San Augustin de Loxicha. It basically uses this guerrilla uprising as an alibi to crush this strong indigenous movement that had been growing for the previous ten years in this area. So, there’s various ways to answer this question of why are Alvaro and Abraham in prison, what was this original struggle? Part of that original struggle that landed them in prison was their many years of activism and organizing in the OPIC, the Organization of Indigenous Zapotec Pueblos in and around Loxicha.
Alvaro had also been involved in the democratic teachers struggle of Oaxaca since the early 1980’s. Abraham had also been involved in other leftist organizing prior to that as well. So, that’s one answer: they were political prisoners because they were political subjects who were very active in their communities, forming assemblies, organizing marches, enormous marches, taking over the central plaza of Oaxaca City, in the Zocalo, taking over the airport. That’s part of what makes them political prisoners from 1986 onwards.
The other is that they’re accused of being Guerrilleros, members of a revolutionary, clandestine organization which has often been the classic definition of being political prisoners. However, Alvaro and Abraham weren’t the only ones arrested, as I mentioned. They were 2 out of upwards of over 200 people from this cluster of communities that share the Loxicha Zapotec langauge who were all arrested under these charges of being guerrilla’s, but many of them were not even involved in even the region social movement. Many of them were completely a-political or perhaps might have had a contrary politics.
The point being that in the kind of witch-hunt that took place there in the aftermath of the EPR attacks, people were just rounded up randomly at times. It was really a situation of state terror that happened there in San Augustin de Loxicha from late 1996 with the militarization of that region, with the beginning of the mass arrests that led them to this sort of locally well-known story of the Loxicha prisoners. So, militarization, mass arrest, kind of explosion of paramilitarism, a return of violent executions. In addition to the prisoners, there’s also the situation of executions, disappearances, rape… You know, it’s really a horrific situation that took place that didn’t end up getting a lot of attention for many reasons at the time. It got a little attention, but nothing in comparison for instance to the attention that the Zapatistas got in Chiapas at the time. And partly, that had to do with the complicatied reputation of the EPR, this guerrilla movement that has it’s origins in the late 1960’s and 1970’s in other parts of Mexico, Central Mexico, also kind of through coalitions and alliances through, it’s roots in the state of Guerrero.
Going back to the original question of what was the original conflict then that got Alvaro and Abraham to be long-term political prisoners and at that having just gotten down to 2017, that they were in fact the longest ongoing cases of political imprisonment in Mexico that I know of. I don’t know of any political prisoner in Mexico in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s that was in for 20 years or even close.
TFSR: Thank you so much for that incredibly detailed answer. Can you talk about just what they were officially charged with by the state? I just remember seeing Alvaro’s statement, his recorded statement on ItsGoingDown.org about “I was charged with this and this and this and this” and it was just this amazing long list of charges.
Bruno: Yeah, definitely I recommend that folks check out that video, it’s like 3 minutes. Especially if you speak Spanish, even though Alvaro’s just reading from his letter, he’s a very charming person. It’s cool to be able to hear his voice. And for me it was special to produce that video and to be able to see it because, having known him for upwards of 6 years now, it was the first that I was able to film him or take a picture of him or use an audio recorder while talking to him. Even though we’ve had this kind of relationship of interviewer, interviewee for half of a decade.
So, in that video he lists all of those charges and it’s kind of ridiculous, this laundry list of every imaginable crime that you could throw at someone, including terrorism, conspiracy, homicide… Basically, every conceivable high-caliber political and violent crime thrown at somebody. To the extent that in the early days when he was first charged, he had a sentence of 190 years. He was a well-known and respected teacher where he was from, kind of a well-respected and radical organizer. And this is why he ended up with those charges. Partly the fact that he was who he was, as someone who was really working to build autonomy in San Augustin de Loxicha, in a model that was similar to what the Zapatistas were doing, not identical, but something similar.
The combination that Alvaro and his comrades were doing that work and the fact that the Mexican state urgently needed scapegoats and the infliction of actual terror in order to clamp down on the uprising of the Popular Revolutionary Army or anything that smelled like it in order to not be dealing with that front as well as the Zapatista front which at this point the state could not simply annihilate or ignore… So, they had to kind of deal and negotiate with it.
The combination of these two situations are what led them to someone like Alvaro having a 190 year sentence. What exactly these were… The most important of these is Omicidio Calificado, which can be translated sort of like 1st Degree Murder. It’s not exactly the same as 1st degree, it can also be translated as Aggravated Murder. That’s the one that ended up adding the most number of years to the sentence as well as attempted homicide. They were kind of pinning the murder of soldiers and police to them, as well as several of the other long-term Loxicha prisoners. In addition to the charges of aggravated homicide and intended homicide, there was also as I mentioned terrorism, conspiracy, stockpiling of weapons, theft, illicit use of foreign property, damage of former property, illegally detaining someone else or impinging on their freedoms… it’s a long mouthful of things which in the end some of those were dropped through appeals, through different legal actions over the 20 years in prison.
Several of them such as terrorism, stockpiling of weapons, were honest symbolic ornaments placed there by the state to make clear what this was about. On the one hand, dismissing these charges as being about criminals and not authentic, political entities that the State should have to negotiate or deal with such as they were with the Zapatistas, but rather to deny that they were political prisoners while placing these very strongly politically tinted and stigmatizing charges onto their sentences such as terrorism, conspiracy, so on. Which were later dropped. So, terrorism, that kind of very particularly stigmatizing and dangerous charge… Being called a terrorist gives states basically a free hand to do whatever they want to people. And that was even before the so-called War On Terror had begun. This was in the 1990’s, sort of the run-up to the logic of this War On Terror, as well as in this sense developing and practicing some of the methods that the State would later use in the so-called War On Drugs. Both as Narcos and as the State.
Yeah, so the charges, I was saying, in the end that Terrorism, an especially flashy one, got dropped I think around 2009 during an appeal, 2010. But, it was notable to me as I was living in Oaxaca, visiting the prisoners regularly, at which point they were transferred from this low-security state prison where some of them had lived/been held captive, this group of the last 7 of them were transferred to a new high security Federal semi-privatized prison 2 hours south of Oaxaca city. I remember that in a statement from the State government explaining why these prisoners were transferred, they would invoke this charge of terrorism even though it had been dropped already. They said something like “The secretary of Internal State Security announced yesterday in a statement that all of the Federal prisoners in the state of Oaxaca being accused of being Narcos as well as the 7 Loxicha prisoners accused of being armed guerrillas and terrorism were all transferred yesterday to the new Federal Prison in Miahuatlan etc etc”.
So, constantly invoking this terrorism charge even though it was dropped years ago and was always useless, but symbolically those things ring out and give the State a lot of power in being able to manipulate people and coerce people or throw them in prison or use violence against them when you accuse them of being a terrorist. Especially when there’s a lot of silence and un-memory, I would call it, around the issue such as there were around Loxicha, where there’s always been a committed solidarity movement around the prisoners since 1996, but it has waxed and waned, kind of in and out of public perception, submerged and then emerging again into awareness locally, sometimes nationally. At times, gotten international attention. Certainly there has been committed International solidarity from anarchists in France, from the CGT in Spain, folks locally in Oaxaca City, in Mexico City. From, sometimes, fairweather solidarity and sometimes really long-term. I think it’s particularly different anarchist groups or anarchist leaning groups in Mexico and Europe who really stuck with Alvaro in particular. On account of his kind of adopting the 6th Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle of the Zapatistas in the last 7 years. That’s something we can talk about…
TFSR: As you were talking I was thinking about this aspect that the state has which is a kind of toxically manipulative… especially with the stigmatizing charges that you were talking about like terrorism, which… I was interviewing somebody some time ago and they said something like “The war on terror is a war on emotion”, which issomething that is very very difficult to contain and very difficult to define. And it’s something that, even though the charges were dropped, it’s something that follows folks around forever. Which I think is the nature of the carceral state and will sound very familiar to people who have been keeping even half an eye on political repression cases around the world. And you did answer the question that I had, to some degree, I was going to ask “What have solidarity endeavors been like throughout their incarceration and what kind of media attention have they gotten?” And I was wondering if you had any other words about the fair-weather nature of support for the Loxicha prisoners…
Bruno: You’re absolutely right in seeing that one aspect of what the state does is manipulating and coercing. Particularly in some of it’s most egregious ways through methods or strategy such as War on Terror or War on Drugs. You’d mentioned that someone you had interviewed before had called it a sort of War of Emotion against Ghosts, not that one metaphor has to exclude the other.
But I think that you kind of need the emotion in order to animate the war, to allow it to happen. And in order to have the emotions, you need to have the ghosts and they can be ghosts on illusions of things that are there or things that are made up. And I think that toxicity is also really an important concept when thinking about State violence, especially the most directed State of Exception-y violence really depends on ideological toxicity. It strikes me as relevant to the Loxicha story..
The Loxicha story is, as I’ve come to know it, there’s the pre-96 Loxicha story, which is politically the story of a growth of the Inidgenous Movement. And the second half is the story of a community or cluster of communities dealing with State violence and political stigma that particularly took its most direct form in the formation of this group of people that became known as the Loxicha prisoners. As I mentioned, some of them were highly politicized (even radical) political subjects, organizers, militants. Some of them, who became part of this group of hundreds of political prisoners, were completely non-political or political in ways that you wouldn’t think would get them in prison for being Leftist Insurgents. But many of them, almost all of them were Inidgenous, many of them spoke very little Spanish. That’s partly a manifestation of structural racism and classism in the Mexican political/legal/carceral system. Mexican prisons are full of poor people, indigenous people, innocent people… Not that I think that innocent or non-innocent is a formula that works to put people into cages, I don’t think that you can put people into cages. But this is one of those lines that people in cages, the prisoners themselves would say to me “Prisons are full of poor, full of Indigenous, full of Innocent people.” So, that’s sort of some of their thinking.
So, in any case, you get hundreds of people thrown in there and part of what this focused mass-incarceration of Indigenous people from this one area accomplished was to fracture this political Indigenous movement that had emerged there in the previous ten years. Kind of fractured, and stopped it in its tracks. The State is always good, the Mexican State in particular, at causing infighting, infiltrating social movements and here it really showed its talent at undoing and fracturing a social movement, pitting it’s leaders and members against each other. While at the same time, they were being attacked on all sides. They were confronting militarization, the rise of paramilitarism, the return of caciquismo and pistolerismo, the rule of old political bosses and gunmen which that organization had emerged partly in order to oppose.
What the State needed at this point in 1996 when it was dealing with the Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas, really taking the State by surprise… There was certainly a lot of fear on the part of the State of other Indigenous rebellions or other rebellions of the poor, of other Zapatista movements and uprisings happening in other parts of the country. The State, quite frankly, was terrified of this. So in ‘96 when you get yet another surprising attack, but at this point the Mexican State, the Federal government, had no other choice but to engage with the Zapatistas because they were very successful in what they did. In forming their communities and their rebellions, a revolutionary army. Throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, the Zapatistas… it wasn’t all victories.
Now in the decades that they’ve been around, they’ve suffered many losses and confronted great struggles, but it’s been a successful revolution. I guess that’s just one of the important things that has to be noted in this discussion. The Zapatista uprising has been success, and that’s why in 2018 you can visit Chiapas and visit the Caracoles and actually witness a successful living, breathing and walking Revolutinoary society, small and embattled as it may be. And this other story that we’re talking about here, this kind of other Revolutionary movement that emerged in Oaxaca in the early 80’s and 90’s, is the story, sadly, of a failed revolution on the other hand.
It’s a story of a rose that failed for many reasons. Part of them might have been internal contradictions, but part of it was unrelenting and effective State violence. And it’s really hard to talk about what happened in Oaxaca and with the Loxicha prisoners and not refer it to what happened and was happening in Chiapas at the same time. It was about surviving. The Mexican state certainly tried to annihilate it, using military force against it, and could not. They couldn’t use military force and they were not effective with the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party / Partido Revolucionario Institucional), the long-term ruling party in Mexico. None of it’s large and well-tried arsenal of political, social-economic tools of co-optation was effective at undoing the Zapatista movement, either. It was somewhat effective, they lost some of their Caracoles/autonomous regions, but 5 of them, there they are!
But this is the reality that the Mexican State had to deal with in 1994, 95, 96. And with the emergence, then, of this other Guerrilla uprising with the face of the EPR, the Mexican State effectively made it’s project to take a different course of action then to basically annihilate them. Because of how well the Zapatistas grounded themselves, the state was negotiating with them and refused to do this on two fronts. They said “we’re going to recognize the Zapatistas as a political entity, we’re not going to say that specifically, but we’re at the negotiating table.” By 1996 you had the State negotiating with the Zapatistas over potential Constitutional reforms that would recognize Indigenous autonomy. As the EPR makes itself known, it’s strongest in parts of Oaxaca and Guerrero and parts of central Mexico, but the state at all levels organized itself to focus on the military solution to dealing with the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and with other Indigenous communities that may or may not have been involved, may or may not have sympathized but where there was a risk of that… That was the Loxicha story. Yes, there was some presence of this revolutionary movement, the EPR, but in throwing so many people (including “innocent people” into prison) part of what you get is this sort of social punishment. It doesn’t matter if you were in or you weren’t, whether you knew or you didn’t. It was here, it was around you, so you were all going to pay for some kind of a random act.
Some of the high profile prisoners among the Loxicha prisoners, were the Municipal Authorities. So, essentially the entire democratically elected, local government of the municipality in Oaxaca, the majority of local government municipalities. More than 400 of the 500 of these entities, like counties, are ruled by Usos y Costumbres. It means that indigenous communities at the municipal level can determine their own way of electing local authorities and it also means that they do this to the exclusion of political parties. So, this is how the authorities in Loxicha are elected, that this has practically been happening pretty much always in indigenous communities in Oaxaca but had only become Constitutionally recognized one year earlier in 1995 as part of efforts of the Oaxacan State level (Mexico’s most indigenous state). It was their way of trying to placate the indigenous communities in the way of throwing them a bone in the form of recognizing autonomy to a limited extent. So obviously it’s not coincidental that it’s one year after the Zapatista Uprising.
TFSR: I was really curious about the relationship between the Loxicha uprising to the Zapatista revolution, and you spoke to that really really eloquently and I thank you for that because you know, the Zapatistas are world wide such a revolutionary example and are very very looked to, and the examples that they bring into revolutionary discourse are very cherished I think. And I think that it’s a really poignant situation to me when I’m hearing you talk about it cause these two things were going on so concurrently and one of them is way more lower profile and the one that’s way more lower profile somebody you know, was in prison for 20 years, you know? It’s very poignant to me that these two things were happening simultaneously. But yeah I thank you for talking about that, that wasn’t really a question it was just a reflection.
Bruno: I can actually say one or two things more about it, so I wouldn’t want to make it sound like the Zapatista’s fault that the Loxichas and the indigenous movement in Loxicha kind of was dealt a harder hand, you know I wouldn’t want to kind of say “oh well because the Zapatistas were getting all this attention people in Loxicha were screwed over”.
A way of understanding the different forms of attention they got but it’s very much to its credit that the Zapatista movement is still there today, and I think it’s partially due to the fact that they really knew how to organize. It’s why they’re there now. But I do want to say something more about the more substantial versus fair weather forms of solidarity.
So, one of the facets or one of the realities of the Loxicha story in its second phase as a story of many many political prisoners and their many families, tons of fractured families and fractured communities who then, while faced with a lot of violence, have to organize themselves in order to out of nowhere create this prisoner solidarity freedom movement, one important aspect of that Loxicha story as a prisoner liberation story is that the struggle was made particularly difficult by its association with this particular armed group, the EPR. So, while in the mid ’90s a lot of people wanted to be on board with supporting the Zapatistas because really they did have a very novel, very moving, very inspiring political message, which is why they really changed political discourse at the time. And a lot of people wanted to be involved with them, whereas the Popular Revolutionary Army, the EPR, at least kind of at its leadership level – this was a national, IS still a national organization, it’s still around – their discourse was fairly stuck in the past, it was still a very old fashioned stodgy Marxist-Leninism with a Maoist streak that really wasn’t speaking to people. To be honest, I’ve been studying this cluster of movements for years, and I find it really hard to get through a statement by the EPR through to the end, it’s just really hard to read.
Whereas with the Zapatistas stuff, it’s impossible to put down! So there’s partly this: the EPR’s political discourse, its rhetoric, its public statements, don’t really inspire. Also the EPR comes out of the longer lineage of armed clandestine movements in Mexico, and some of these such as the PROCOUP-PDLP, which is the Partido Revolucionario Obrero Campesino Union del Pueblo – Partido de los Pobres. So this predecessor of the EPR, one of its predecessors, has a lot of dark associations; in the 1970s and ’80s that group was involved with a lot of violent infighting within its own ranks, there are these stories of so called “revolutionary trials” against its own former comrades, very foul treatment of its own political prisoners and then disavowing them, and in some cases killing its own former prisoners who had abandoned rank.
So there were these dark associations, some of which are on the level of legend some of which are actual, around this organization. And the fact that also then in 1996 when the EPR rises up, the Zapatistas who really are holding a lot of the world’s political imagination, or at least in Mexico and many other places, they’d already put down their weapons. The actual armed confrontation between the Zapatistas and the Mexican state lasted for twelve days. Then because the Zapatistas have always been really good at listening – the practice of listening has always been really integral to a lot of their political praxis on many levels – they heard this public outcry calling for an end to the war, and they put down their weapons and have since then, while there is still a revolutionary army that is a part of its movement and it’s not going away. But it has managed to successfully implement and develop its revolutionary society and communities without having to ever go on the military offensive since 1994.
Anyway at that point, it had been two years since then when in 1996 the EPR rises up, shooting up police and soldiers, and for several of these reasons then a lot of people weren’t that sympathetic when you then get this story of indigenous political prisoners who are all accused of being members of this particular revolutionary organization. And, you know it really doesn’t matter, clearly for most of them the Loxicha movement wasn’t the EPR. The Loxicha prisoners were really the product of a witch hunt, and you had a very diverse group of individuals in there. So because these many associations around the EPR, the state was very good at stigmatizing that movement. And so then as you arrest people who you accuse of being members of the EPR, you call them “terrorists”, and then it’s very easy to throw them away and to make people think twice before getting associated.
So as I began saying, a lot of people wanted to get on board with the Zapatistas in terms of NGOs, human rights organizations, legal aid, translators, all sorts of solidarity. But with the Loxichas, people were very hesitant. It was a very very limited kind of people, of organizations, essentially it was one of each category: one human rights organization, one team of solidarity lawyers, one NGO, that got on board with the legal and political defense of the Loxichas in the aftermath of ’96. And you know, this was making a full loop back to one of your questions, I think this is really one of the manifestations of the state being effective at using toxicity and stigma as it needs to. So here because of its political needs it was essentially effective at stigmatizing an entire community, a racialized stigma, such that for years young men or adult men from Loxicha would never say they were from Loxicha to this day. People will say they’re from the coast, or any other town, but people just won’t identify with being from Loxicha because it’s very dangerous. And nobody wants to get involved in anything that smells of Loxicha much less the EPR, because as late as 2007, whatever you say about the EPR the truth is that its own militants are still being disappeared by the Mexican state. So effectively being branded as EPR is to be branded as someone that the state might very well disappear or at the very least thrown into prison for years.
It became a very very toxic accusation, and that’s one of the byproducts of this whole conflict, of the Loxicha crisis.
TFSR: (Break audio) You’re listening to our conversation with Brunero Rennero-Hanan about the situation regarding Alvaro and Abraham Ramirez – no relation between the two – who are two out of the two hundred fifty original indigenous people arrested in the Loxicha region of Oaxaca in the mid ’90s. If you’d like to hear a 45 minute edit of this interview you can visit archive.org and search for The Final Straw Radio Collection. We’ll be back with the rest of the interview after a short musical break, what you’re hearing right now is Gabylonia with her 2012 release Abuso de Poder. Shoutout to subMedia’s hip hop podcast Burning Cop Car which is where I first heard this track.
TFSR: I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mid talking about who are Alvaro and Abraham personally, you mentioned at several points that you had a personal relationship with Alvaro, but will you talk about who they are and the projects that they do, and what is important to them politically these days?
Bruno: Yeah, definitely. So first how I got to know them -and I have a personal relationship with both of them, Alvaro and Abraham – because both of them were among the last 7 of the Loxicha prisoners. So of that group of prisoners that was upwards of of 200, maybe as many as 250 in the late ’90s, all those that were originally associated with this case there were still seven of them in prison in 2012. I started visiting them and interviewing them to record their oral histories. So, I started visiting Oaxaca regularly around 2008 because I was beginning my doctoral research around questions of social movements and historical memory, and originally I was interested in students around the popular assembly of the peoples of Oaxaca, and around then is when I became aware of the Loxicha prisoners who were definitely an old story, it’s kind of one of these long still breathing stories of state violence and grassroots solidarity that I didn’t quite understand too well but it was something that was because of the effervescence of the 2006 urban uprising of the Iapo, there was this rising to the surface of other forgotten or dormant political struggles.
I got to know Abraham and Alvaro in 2012 when I shifted my research from the popular assembly of the peoples of Oaxaca in that 2006 movement to the Loxicha story. And so I moved for a while to their community, to San Agustin Loxicha, where I lived for a bit over a year conducting interviews there and doing historical research, ethnography. At the same time that I started visiting them in two state prisons close to Oaxaca City, in Iscotel and Etla, I would visit these last seven of the Loxicha prisoners. I ended up getting to know five of them, or interviewing and recording the oral histories of five of them, and I got to know particularly well a few of them. In particular, Alvaro and Abraham as well as a couple of others.
So my relationship with them was from the beginning one of political solidarity and accompaniment as well as being centered around this project of recording their oral histories. It’s partly for my academic research in order to try and get this piece of paper, but I’ve often seen my role in politically engaged research as being someone who can amplify the voices of others, or share stories. That really became the basis of our relationship, the beginning was I would go and visit them, and six of them were in Iscotel Prison. This being kind of a low security prison, I would be able to spend several hours hanging out with them just listening and writing down stories in my notebook.
Low security prisons in Mexico might be kind of surprising to what Americans imagine prisons being like. The fact is that it’s still a prison, and a place that is locked up and constrained, but a place like Iscotel Prison, the prisoners didn’t have to wear uniforms. They could walk around in the periphery inside the gates, and around the building. And the Loxicha prisoners having been there so long, when I got to know them they had already been there for like fifteen years, they’d kind of accrued some seniority, some respect from both the guards, authorities, other prisoners. One of them was on his own in a different prison in Etla, Zacharias who became a master carpenter there, but the other six were in Iscotel. They were all in one single cell, cell 22, where several had been since 1996. Originally there were maybe 50 or 60 of them in two cells, but as they ended up slowly getting out and just those with the longest sentences remained in, the first six of them lived in cell 22 there in Iscotel Prison. And it was always striking to me that a prison, its main purpose is kinda to isolate humans, to de-socialize them, to try to extract them from society, and I was always struck by how limited the state could be for just how great humans are at subverting that. How the Loxicha prisoners had over these 15 years been able to carve out a little habitable space, a little human corner, within this dehumanizing place.
So Alvaro had also become a carpenter in prison, he’d picked up the trade there, and for instance built a second story inside the cell, what’s called a tapanco, kind of a little loft so that they wouldn’t be so cramped and that way two of them had their beds upstairs and the other four were down below. He also ended up building a little altar to the Virgin and their other patron saints, in Mexico it’s not uncommon at all to be leftist, even radical, perhaps even revolutionary, and still be devout, they’d organize events.
So anyway that was their life in there, and I got to know them through this relationship of interviews and recording their stories. The first time I got to know Alvaro actually was in the context of a forum that was organized by a collective known as La Voz de Loxiches Zapotecos en Prision, which is a collective that Alvaro is part of, along with some of his relatives and other supporters. And so they in conjunction with La Rev Contra la Revolucion, the network against repression which is part of the Zapatista network. So they collaborated to make this forum about Alvaro or for him, in solidarity with him, as well as other political prisoners in Oaxaca, in Chiapas. And the second day of this forum involved making a visit to Iscotel, so that’s kind of how I first went in. I was hesitant at first to just go in to try to visit them and say like “Hey I just want to hear about your stories.”
I thought it was important to first go in on the side of political solidarity rather than the side of oral history. And so my first encounter with Alvaro was in the context of the second day of this forum when about a dozen of us, including some members of his collective and relatives and then a few other anarchist-anarchist leaning comrades from Mexico City and Chiapas, Zapatista supporters who ended up going in and to my surprise ended up having a seminar – you know, sitting in a circle and discussing politics and prison with Alvaro himself – inside the prison. I never really expected that something like that could happen, so that to me was one of my early lessons in what effective prisoner accompaniment and solidarity looks like.
Let me tell you about them as well, and my impressions of them. So, of those last seven Loxicha prisoners who were in when I got to know them in 2012 and started working with a few of them, the first one I got to know was Alvaro. He’s the one I’ve gotten to know best so far, and this is partly because his political project and his views align the most with mine, and I’ve just found him to be a very inspiring and inspired political collaborator and interlocutor, he’s someone I’ve learned a lot from. But anyway so, Alvaro has been a political organizer and radical pretty much his whole life. He grew up in a small community called Iganoma Guay, which is a little village in the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha, as a Zapotec speaker in a peasant family. I think he didn’t have a pair of shoes until he was 12 years old, he grew up farming but ended up working in the country side and then as a young man went to become a teacher.
In Oaxaca since the 1980s, which is when he started the teacher’s union, there has been a fairly powerful and at times radical movement. He was part of that original radical emergence of that kind of the Democratic Teacher’s Movement in the early ’80s, and then some of his early political struggles back in Loxicha, back near his home, were the establishment of schools for communities. Then in 1984 he was one of the co founders of the organization of indigenous Zapotec communities or pueblos, the OPIZ, and he also became a member of the local municipal government. So from the mid ’80s to the mid ’90s, Alvaro basically dedicated himself full time to becoming an organizer, and so this meant organizing the communities of Loxicha politically, internally, often in order to really try to break the power of casicas and pistoleros, political bosses and gun men in the region.
Loxicha was a place where political violence was really rampant, there was a lot of land theft, peasants were really badly exploited by middle men purchasers – coyotes – who would buy their coffee, this was a coffee growing region. And so some of Alvaro’s early struggles with the OPIZ were to try and combat some of the biggest problems of the communities which were poverty and that political violence and marginalization. He ended up being an important figure within the OPIZ through the ’90s and up until he had to go into hiding once the persecution of the movement began particularly in earnest, although he’d been in hiding and kind of living a partly clandestine life in the past before. And then he was arrested in 1998, as he mentions in that video that’s on the publication on It’s Going Down, he mentioned that he was detained in mid December in 1998 but then it wasn’t until 11 days later that he was actually presented at a prison and this was because for 11 days he was disappeared and tortured by the authorities who were trying to force him into making false confessions, to denounce his comrades, and this was something that happened frequently with many of the arrests and detentions of people from Loxicha. Many cases of torture and forced confessions, signing hundreds of blank pages.
So then Alvaro is later sent to state prison in Etla where he stayed for many years. He was a victim of an assassination attempt there several years later and then he was transferred to Iscotel Prison where most of the other Loxicha prisoners were. That’s where I got to know him. At the point when I got to know him he had gotten kind of a new political faith and he was by then the most politically active and most radical of them. I think several of the others were perhaps experiencing political burnout after so many years of struggle, of different failed options. And I think Alvaro also suffered from burnout, that’s something that I’m sure is common for prisoners in general. But at this point Alvaro was going through a kind of political re-animation that had been brought about probably a few years before when he became really invested in the project of the Zapatistas and particularly that which is explained in the 6th Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. That has really become one of the most important parts of his political project since then, he kind of found a new political energy at that point sharing it with other prisoners, trying to enact it. I think the Zapatista discourse really served for him to re think a lot of his current political practice; inside the prison he started thinking about how to think about new forms of organization, how to talk to other people about horizontal organizing and autonomous work, how to get that message through in a successful way.
He also began corresponding and engaging with other prisoners who were adherents of the 6th Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle. And I think it also served partly to reinterpret his own political trajectory and his past.
Some of the most insightful and exciting political discussions I’ve had were with Alvaro, and his daughter and her partner who were some of the members of the collective that has supported Alvaro for many years, at least since 2009, built around this Zapatista model. Not that it’s trying to replicate, but to just use some of those basic principles. And some of that work has been around re-thinking as people in solidarity with him, cause his relatives are his allies but also for himself, kind of re-thinking what it is to be a political prisoner as a political subject. To re-think what solidarity looks like, that solidarity isn’t charity, or a favor, that it’s not done for someone but with someone. Really trying to place a political prisoner at the very center of his, her, their struggle for liberation. So in sum, Alvaro is someone who has inspired and taught me a lot about prison, about freedom, about solidarity, about autonomy. His Zapatismo has become a really influential thing for him, and so as soon as he got out of prison in 2017 one of the first things he did was, instead of now just corresponding with that Zapatista network and that network organized by adherents of the 6th, he went and started meeting people.
He got involved immediately with the campaign to support Marichuy, the potential candidate for the National Indigenous Congress, was kind of a recent Zapatista project to try to subvert the national elections in Mexico. He joined the campaign to support her and get signatures, and joined their tour through southern Mexico and followed them to the Zapatista communities. He ended up visiting all 5 caracoles, which I know a lot of people who claim to be Zapatista supporters who haven’t visited even one, certainly not 5!
He had just gotten out of prison, been inside for 20 years, that’s a scary moment for a lot of people getting out of long term incarceration. People are often very flustered, maybe kind of scared, suffering from some trauma. He certainly had no money but he somehow just made it work.
And then I can tell you about Abraham. Abraham was one of the next prisoners that I got to know by recording their oral histories. Abraham Garcia Ramirez is like Alvaro someone who grew up very poor in a rural community in the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha, he’s from Santa Cruz. He tells a story about not being able to get past the 5th grade at the closest school because he suffered an accident when his teacher’s donkey had a rope attached to it that accidentally caught on his leg and ended up dragging him several meters and messing up his leg really badly to the extent that he couldn’t walk. And his parents were afraid to take him to a doctor because they were afraid that they would amputate his leg, which may sound silly but it’s not a story about these ignorant parents, those stories are expressions of what structural racism and poverty look and feel like where indigenous people, speakers of Zapotec like Abraham’s parents, were generally treated so poorly with so much derision, discrimination, by authorities, by doctors, judges, police, people who held power, it was so common that they were afraid that if they took their son in that they would sooner amputate his leg than fix it.
So Abraham tells a story about not being able to back to school because he basically sat at home on a little stool for a year and would just read by himself. He sat on his own, he continued working as a coffee cultivator from a very early age. Then in his youth he ended up getting involved first through a kind of leftist political party, the PRD, on the coast of Oaxaca, and then I think being disappointed with party politics, he ended up then hearing about the indigenous movement of the OPIZ that was forming back in his hometown and around Loxicha. And when he went back there in the early ’90s he ended up getting involved.
And so I would say that Abraham like Zacharias, another of the last prisoners to get out, were part of kind of like a second generation of all these militants and community organizers. So Abraham was very charismatic, he was very charming and effective political organizer, so at this point the OPIZ in the early ’90s really had a lot of political presence throughout most of the 70 odd towns and villages that make up the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha. So Abraham was someone who was organizing people to organizing assemblies, getting people to come out. Things he would do would be to organize in communities internally to counter an absence of the state in many places, to be able to deal with problems on their own whether it was questions of, say, domestic violence: Abraham would say “ok we’ve got this problem, how do we get to the root of it?” This led to women organizing themselves and saying that alcohol was one of the biggest problems behind domestic violence in the communities, and so many communities ended up banning alcohol. Enacting that kind of local change was part of what these organizers including Abraham were doing as well as in some cases organizing to make demands of the State, whether through negotiating with the State itself at points or organizing enormous marches of hundreds or in some cases thousands of people to take the highway and march to Oaxaca City, four hours to the north, or to occupy the central plaza in Oaxaca, to take the airport.
So then by 1996 when the EPR uprisings happened, Abraham was a well known organizer. And certainly the State had its eye on him, because he’d been one of the important organizers in taking the plaza in Oaxaca City, the airport. So it was very easy to pin the guerilla accusation on him, as well as many others who were well known activists or organizers with this organization of the OPIZ. By the time I got to know Abraham as another of the long term prisoners who’d been in for decades, he always struck me for being extremely humble. I’m not sure if that’s the most flattering thing..
TFSR: It’s not necessarily like a quality you would find in – you mentioned that he’s very charismatic and very charming, and humility is a really interesting character trait to go along with those two things. I don’t often find that.
Bruno: One of the striking things about Abraham is that he is humble, and you’re right that is sometimes an unusual feature in charming or charasmatic figures. But that’s I think one of the things that’s notable about indigenous and peasant movements in a place like Mexico, I was always struck by the motto or the principles of the organization that Abraham and Alvaro were militants in back in the ’80s and ’90s, the OPIZ, their 3 core principles were discipline, honesty, and humility. And you say ok, discipline and honesty are pretty standard fare for the values of activists, maybe even revolutionaries, but humility is not something you often find in the espoused values of revolutionary movements. But I think it’s certainly an expression of this being a peasant and indigenous movement rooted in the country side, and humility is something that’s really highly valued in the communities.
And it’s something like someone like Abraham certainly really lives by. By the time that I got to know him better and was recording his stories, he was not as politically involved. At that point he was a bit more focused on his legal case, plus he had a baby daughter; he’d separated from his previous partner in prison and met another partner there. This was at that time a co-ed prison, and they had a baby daughter who was born there in prison, and in fact grew up there for the first couple years of her life, and that was really the main focus of his attention at that point. Now currently, since he got out in 2017, he’s returned to some of his organizing but at a very local level. I think he’s been re adjusting to life on the outside slowly, but he’s been living in a shelter that was one of the material gains you could say of the Loxicha Prisoners Movement. They eventually managed to extract this shelter from the State in a concession in the early 2000s where now several families who were victims of state violence in Loxicha now live. It used to be mostly for families of prisoners to be able to stay in Oaxaca while they visited from Loxicha.
But anyway, now people who were victims of violence in different forms now live there, and Abraham and Zacharias are both living there. Abraham is kind of taken upon himself to reorganize the space where you’ve got dozens of people living in order to make it a little more comfortable and clean and pleasant for the people living there. And on that, he’s also working to try and support himself and his family, his wife who’s still in prison and his smallest daughter who’s 5 in school. He’s weaving baskets to support himself like that, to try and help his comrade Zacharias to set up a carpentry workshop. And that’s what he’s up to these days.
TFSR: One of the reasons that we both are talking right now is that they are out of prison, but they are being forced to pay some pretty exorbitant fees to the Mexican State for so called “damage reparations”. Could you talk a little bit about what they are being forced to pay per month and is this a common tactic on the part of the Mexican State for extracting funds from former political prisoners?
Bruno: Yeah, so Alvaro and Abraham got out finally after 20 years in prison, on July 7th of 2017. And so for 20 years the demands for them and for the other prisoners has always been immediate and unconditional freedom. And finally they were able to get their freedom after being robbed of 20 years of their life, but in order to accept it they basically had to sign onto a really sordid deal where in order to be recognized as being accepting of a quote unquote “early release”, because at this point their sentences were around 30 years, and having gone through 2/3rds of their sentence and proven that they are well behaved or something like that, then they were granted this so called benefit of being given an early release. In order to do that they said ‘we’ll give you the early release but you have to accept a whole list of conditions’ some of them just kind of being symbolic nonesense, like “I promise not to do drugs or commit crimes”, but also they had to promise to pay these so called damage reparations to the court. Which allegedly are a way of monetizing the deaths that they accuse them of causing. But really this is just ransom money that goes to the courts.
So each of them are being charged slightly different figures, but close to around 125,000 pesos, which is sort of like 7,000 dollars depending on the exchange rate, over the course of 2 years. Which translates basically to paying in the case of Abraham 250 dollars more or less to the courts each month and for Alvaro, about 280 dollars each month. Which is a ludicrous amount! I mean I would find it hard to be paying that each month on top of my rent, and frankly the kind of money that you can come by even as a relatively modestly living person in the US is impossible compared to Mexico. So to assume that ordinary people, not to mention poor people, could pay this in Oaxaca is unrealistic. Not to mention people from rural communities who happened to have spent the last 20 years in prison and just got out. It’s just another slap in the face right, this added injustice heaped on top of a mountain of injustices, the core of which is 20 years of prison built of course on top of all the injustices that led these people to rising up against the State in various forms, or confronting the State, and then being made political prisoners. So anyway, this is just yet one more injustice. And part of why we’ve taken it up here.
Through my connections with the Loxicha prisoners to help out however I could, and we’ve taken it up here in the US, even though there’s a network of support for Alvaro and Abraham in Mexico, it’s just doing something in the vein of economic solidarity is much easier here in the US. Even just a few dollars that might not be a lot to people here, even ordinary people who might have low-paying jobs, just a couple of bucks a month is something that we can afford. If we hit up some wealthier Liberals, maybe they can throw in some more. That’d be great! But even with some very small donations built up from a pool of friends and comrades, I think we can hopefully get to covering that $530 a month that would cover both of their damage reparation fees. Thus, helping them to not be forced to go back to prison. That’s really the punchline behind this. They’re being charged these damage reparations, essentially ransom by the courts, under the threat of being forced back into prison for another 10 years.
They both realize that this is a threat that they face and they’re both very philosophical about it, but it’s impossible to fathom (for them, their families, friends) that they’d go back in for another 10 years for this completely unjust and counter-insurgent political imprisonment.
TFSR: In a recent statement by Alvaro that’s posted on ItsGoingDown, he makes a declaration of solidarity with the J20 defendants and he calls the process “an attack against the youth who resist, reveal themselves and rebel.” Will you talk about the parallels between this case and those of the J20 defendants, 59 of whom are still facing decades in prison?
BR: Gladly. To be forced to think of the parallels between the Loxicha case and the J20 defendants amongst the friends and comrades here in South East Michigan who have worked with us to start this economic solidarity project with the Loxicha Prisoners, Abraham and Alvaro, that includes a couple of the J20 defendants who live here in Michigan. As we started up this economic solidarity project, I was really pleased, I thought it was really cool, that these comrades in the J20 defense, were keen to help out. And then it struck me that it made perfect sense, that you would get really heart-felt solidarity without having to really think about it much from folks who are facing the prospect of political imprisonment with people who are just emerging from it. The conditions and situations of the two movements are different in many ways: one in the United States during the Trump Era; the other we’re talking about in the mid-90’s in Mexico. And yet, the parallels are looking at violence and political imprisonment from opposite sides of a prism.
It’s sort of like in the case of the J20 defendants, you’ve got this original group of around 250 (coincidentally 250 people arrested and accused of ludicrous crimes, these really symbolically charged & trumped up charges aimed by the state at putting dissidents behind bars and at dissuading people from dissenting against the state; politically motivated use of the courts and of prisons to scare people, to inflict a bit of terror against dissidents or possible dissidents… Even among the J20 defendants, it was very clearly targeted against people who were marching under the banner of anti-capitalism, anti-fascism. But you’ve also got people who were thrown in there who were journalists, photographers, who weren’t directly involved in protesting but it doesn’t matter, it’s a part of the message. Similarly in Loxicha, in the mid-90’s, again you’ve got different conditions, but a group of around 250 people who were arrested, detained, sent to prison, under these symbolically loaded political charges. Again, some of them were resisting, protesting, organizing against capitalism and the State. Some of them just got caught up in the violence, swept up in the witch-hunt. And yet, I think that what caught the imagination of these comrades who are J20 defendants in Michigan who want to support Alvaro and Abraham is to think… Here the J20 defendants are looking down the barrel, looking at the prospect of decades of political imprisonment for resisting the state, for protesting it. And they’re looking at these comrades in Mexico, from very different worlds, but one which also for resisting capitalism and organizing these hundred of people. Instead of looking at the prospect of it, they’re emerging from decades of political imprisonment.
This led to conversations here about how there must be a lot to learn from one site to the other. What can folks who are young organizers such as the J20 defendants, what can they learn, what can we all learn from listening tot he story of people who did suffer through decades of political imprisonment. And the other way around, what can folks like Alvaro and Abraham learn from new forms of resistance and solidarity that are emerging from and being expressed by something like the J20 defense. So, it was this cool surprise here to get J20 defendants in on the project and to have these discussions and to compare the two phenomenon. And then, when some of us visited Alvaro this past December, we had a visit with him now the first time in freedom, recorded this video, did some interviews. We were talking about J20 and the J20 defendants so, on one had he hadn’t heard about the J20 (which shows that we need more communication across Leftist networks internationally) but then we had a really great conversation where we explained what had happened on J20 and the situation of the defendants were.
It took so little explanation, he was immediately captivated, perceptive, clapping his hands “Of course, that makes perfect sense. Obviously these are the repercussions, this is what the State did in reaction to those who are marching under the banner of anti-capitalism and anti-fascism.” And we had one of those classical, great discussions that Alvaro is fantastic at, discussing some of these comparisons. One fo the great things to come out of it was that we kind of proposed that this could be the beginning of some exchanges. We thought it’d be really great to organize some form of dialogue, exchanges, encounters somehow between Alvaro, his comrades, the former prisoners in Mexico and J20 defendants and their allies in the US to give this conversation some actual substance. And there, Alvaro and comrades offered then that they could disseminate that and share it in a newspaper like Unios (a newspaper of the network of adherents of the 6th Declaration [of the Lacondon Jungle, the Other Campaign of the Zapatistas]).
TFSR: That’s so wonderful that it was such a productive conversation. That makes me really happy to hear that and congratulations for being a part of that and for setting that up and drawing those parallels. I think that’s really really awesome.
BR: Thanks. And out of that conversation is where Alvaro wanted to send a shoutout to the J20 Defendants that we recorded that’s on the video on Its Going Down. So, I have to confess that last line in the video which you quoted where he says “we recognize this as an attack against the youth that organizes and rebels and reveals itself”… I was the one who wrote the subtitles on that video. I was translating this letter which he was reading from. The word “to rebel” in Spanish, which is “que se rebela” he spelled it “revela” which means “reveals itself”. I knew he meant “rebels” and I wondered if whether that had been purposeful, so I translated it as both: it both rebels and reveals itself. You never know, was it a slip of the pen or that might have just been Alvaro’s message itself. In one word, you both rebel and reveal yourself.
TFSR: I liked it very much, especially in the context of J20, which was a Black Bloc, which is supposed to be an anonymous thing, that was then revealed by police, it was then also… people were doxxed by fascists and members of the alt-right. I found it to be a very great, linguistic insertion. Like, you revealed yourself, that’s courageous, you rebelled and that was courageous. I thought that was brilliant.
BR: I love that. And you know, you’re totally right. You mention, it was the Black Bloc where people concealed their identities, their faces, and that they do so in order to reveal themselves., in order to rebel. It’s kind of like what the Zapatistas did in covering their faces. “In order to be noticed, in order to have a face, we had to cover our faces.” I’ve always loved that through this kind of anonymizing yourself, you become someone.
I kind of imagine that in rebelling and revealing themselves, Alvaro might be saying that in that act of rebellion that you reveal yourself, not only to the State, to others, but even to yourself. People discover themselves in that moment of action, as Frantz Fanon said, “Consciousness is born in action, not the other way around.”
TFSR: Could you remind us of the Patreon link and talk a little bit about the economic solidarity project / endeavor being organized under the banner “Keep Loxicha Free”?
BR: That’s kind of the main focus of what we’re tryihng to organize with this economic solidarity, so I really appreciate the change to broadcast it a bit. For most of us who are working on this, this is our first time doing this kind of economic solidarity. I, personally at least, find that economic solidarity can feel kind of tricky or off-putting. Economic Solidarity is one tiny fragment, one tiny instance of what solidarity can look like. And I think for those of us who are further left, with anarchistic leanings, Zapatista sympathizers, dealing with money is something that’s really uncomfortable. We don’t like doing it and it’s partly why Alvaro and Abraham themselves have not been able to raise that money.
A couple of the other last Loxicha prisoners who got out last year had the same conditions but were able to raise that money through connections to Unions or through asking the State. Alvaro and Abraham had not wanted to do that. A part of the way that these ransoms work in Mexico is that you have to ask someone powerful to help you out and you end up indebted. So, what we’re trying to do by bringing that economic solidarity pitch here to the US (and
internationally, if people want to donate) is to try to take that weight off of having to ask for the money over there. Instead, we said “let us ask for you, it’ll probably be easier.” But several of us have never done fundraising, so it’s figuring it out as we do it. We thought that one of these go-fund-me type pages would work and that Patreon with it’s monthly donation system would work for this.
So, we’re trying to work up to $530 per month, we’re currently at $201, almost halfway there. In recent months we’ve been making this work also by presenting this story at events, going to events organized by comrades and friends, and making little 5-10 minute pitches and passing the bucket. Through that along with the Patreon we’ve been able to cover their payments so far. But you can only present so many times in your community and pass the bucket, so we’re really hoping this Patreon website will be a self-sustaining effort so that for the next 2 years Alvaro and Abraham will be covered and don’t have to live every day with this hanging threat the moment you wake of “if I don’t pay this money, I go back to prison.” So, that’s what we’re trying to do with the Patreon site. https://ww.patreon.com/keeploxichafree
TFSR: Bruno, thank you so much for taking the time. I got a lot out of talking with you about this topic. Many thanks and solidarity from here!
BR: Thank you so much, I really really appreciate the space. I really appreciate the attention. There are a lot of things that you all could be covering, so I appreciate that you also thought this was important and were willing to open your space, your time for this story. Also, thank you to all of the listeners.
Again, hopefully, what we’re trying to do is to plug that Patreon website, but we also think it’s really important just to be having these conversations. A part of this is that we want to raise this money to help our comrades, but we also think that sharing their story, their testimony, their experience and also our own experiences. Making that a conversation is really an important part of building grassroots solidarity, awareness and political education. I’m really glad to be a part of the conversation!
Walidah Imarisha on Angels With Dirty Faces, Accountability Processes, and more
This week William and Disembodied Voice had the chance to interview Walidah Imarisha, who is an Oregon based writer, educator, public scholar and spoken word artist about her book Angels With Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption, her 2016 book out from AK Press and IAS, which highlights three distinct experiences that are all in different degrees tangential to the realities inherent to the prison industrial complex.
This book just won the Creative Non-Fiction Award in the state of Oregon earlier in 2017. In this interview we got to touch on a wide array of topics, mostly centered on Angels With Dirty Faces but also on accountability processes and what might have to change in order for them to feel more effective, her relationship to anarchism, and some upcoming projects and appearances.
We also get to touch on the book Octavia’s Brood, a compilation of speculative fiction that Imarisha co edited with Adrienne Maree Brown, who also wrote the book Emergent Strategy.
Resist Package Restrictions for Those Incarcerated in New York State!
The thugs who run the NYS prison system (NYS DOCCS) has issued a new directive (4911A) that describes new, draconian package rules that they are testing in 3 facilities as a ‘pilot program’.
Currently, at most facilities, family and friends can drop off packages at the front desk when visiting- packages that include fresh fruit and vegetables that supplement the high carb/sugar, meager diet provided by DOCCS.
These new rules are problematic in a lot of ways including:
1) Packages can be ordered only from approved vendors.
2) Fresh fruit and vegetables are not allowed.
3) Family and friends cannot drop off packages while visiting. All packages must be shipped through the vendor.
4) Each person is limited to ordering three packages a month for him or herself and receiving three packages a month from others. Each package cannot be more than 30 pounds. Of the 30 pounds per package, only 8 pounds can be food.
5) Allowable items will be the same in all facilities. (No more local permits.)
6) There are far fewer items allowed than before and of the items that are allowed, far less variety. This includes additional restrictions on clothing.
7) The pilot rules are not clear about how books, media, religious items and literature, or other items subject to First Amendment protection will be treated. This could mean that groups like NYC Books through Bars will not be able to send free books to the 52,000 people in the prison system.
The pilot program implements an “approved venders only” package system. This means that only packages from approved vendors will be accepted. The vendors appear to be companies that specialize in shipping into prisons and jails. There are currently five approved vendors identified on the DOCCS website. This amounts to a cash grab for these companies.
The pilot program is starting at three facilities: Taconic, Greene, and Green Haven. Those facilities will stop accepting packages from non-approved vendors on
January 2, 2018.
We have to make this package directive unworkable. These new rules are cruel- eliminating fresh fruit and vegetables and creating massive profits for the vampire companies that will fill the niche.
2-Get in touch with your people in NYS Prisons and let them know about this. Inform them, send them the info. Massive non-cooperation on the part of NYS prisoners will play a huge role in this.
3- Flood the electeds with postcards. Send one to Governor Cuomo and one to Anthony Annucci, the acting commissioner of DOCCS. It costs 34 cents.
Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci
Building 2, State Campus
Albany, NY 12226
Some sample text:
Dear Governor Cuomo,
This holiday season is about giving, not taking away. I object to the new DOCCS package rules.
(Your relationship to people in prison, if applicable)
Dear Acting Commissioner Annucci,
The new DOCCS package pilot punishes innocent families. Having a loved one in prison is already expensive and difficult—the new rules make it worse. Rescind the package pilot!
(Your relationship to people in prison, if applicable)
4) Write a letter to both of these people (address above)
5)Call Cuomo’s office and leave a message about it. You won’t have to talk to anyone. Just leave your message. 518-474-8390
This week, I and sometimes contributor & commentator Disembodied Voice had the chance to interview Walidah Imarisha, who is an Oregon-based writer, educator, public scholar and spoken word artist, about her book Angels With Dirty Faces, which came out in 2016 `out From AI and AK Press, [and] which highlights three distinct experiences that are, in different degrees, tangential to the realities inherent to the prison-industrial complex. This book just won the creative nonfiction award in the state of Oregon earlier in 2017. In this interview, we got to touch on a wide array of topics, mostly centered on Angels With Dirty Faces but also on accountability processes, and on what might have to change in order for them to feel more effective her relationship to anarchism, and some up-coming projects and appearances. We also get to touch on the book Octavia’s Brood, a compilation of speculative fiction that Imarisha co-edited with Adriene Marie Brown, who also wrote Emergent Strategy. More about Imarisha, her work, and up coming event can be found www.walidah.com.
TFSR-William Goodenuff: So, we are here with Walidah Imarisha, author of Angels with Dirty Faces, and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood. Thank you so much for coming on to this show. Would you introduce yourself a little bit more and talk a little about what you do?
Walidah: Sure! Thanks for having me. My name’s Walidah Imarisha and I’m an educator, and a writer, and I work in a number of different areas. I see my work all tying together as trying to claim a right to the future and trying to be able to move folks toward imagining and then creating better and more just futures.
TFSR-WG: Will you talk more about your experience as an educator who is also involved in movement work, and also maybe more broadly about the role of the academy in movement?
W: Sure. I think I’ve been very lucky to teach in places and positions that have allowed me to shape and to have as much autonomy as possible around the content of my classes and the subject material. I think that intellectualism is incredibly important in movements for change. I think its important to have spaces where we are thinking about theory, and we’re thinking about larger frame works and questions. To me all intellectualism should be public intellectualism, which is, in my definition, intellectualism not in service of the powers that be, but in service of the people, and in service of creating new just worlds. And, to me, the distinction that is very important is about, “Who are you accountable to, and who is your work accountable to?” And I’m very proud to call myself a public scholar, because, to me, that means I am accountable to those communities who are marginalized, who are oppressed. I’m accountable to making sure my work reflects them, making sure my work is centered in their leadership and their resistance, and that my work inherently attempts to support changing the structures that created that oppression in the first place.
TFSR-WG: That’s really cool. Sometimes I find in far left, at least the strains of the far left that I find myself in, that there’s this kind of anti-intellectualism that happens. Do you find that that has been the case for you, or do you have a different experience with that?
W: I think I’ve seen, you know, both sides of the extremes, and I think that’s part of the problem — is that it’s extreme. So I’ve definitely seen folks who are anti-intellectualism and focused only on practice. I’ve also seen folks who have only immersed themselves in theory and are not engaged with or thinking about how that moves on the ground. And I think that both of those extremes ultimately keep us from being able to create the kind of change that we want, so there has to be a balance. And I also think it’s important, again, that intellectualism and the engagement with thinking about the future is really not only rooted in oppressed communities, but includes the imaginings of oppressed communities. So I think it’s important that we’re not just looking to public scholars to just articulate these ideas, but we’re looking to public scholars to help and hold space for communities to articulate these ideas and these imaginings for themselves.
TFSR-WG: Yeah, definitely. I couldn’t agree more. Yeah, the acknowledgment that intellectual theory comes from so many different places and not just out of academies or whatever — though there is a lot of super useful stuff coming out of academies too. So, you’ve done a lot of lectures, and you say you’re an educator and a writer, and you wrote this book Angels with Dirty Faces a couple of years ago. Would you describe this book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet?
W: Sure. It’ Angels With Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption. It’s a creative nonfiction book that looks at the criminal legal system, at prisons, and at the idea of harm and accountability through the narrative and the stories of three people. My goal in putting the book out was to create spaces here we can have conversations about the idea of what happens when harm is done. So when there’s been harm done in communities, when folks have hurt each other, then what happens? And the book doesn’t answer that question, but what I realized in doing my work as an a prison abolitionist is that we needed to humanize those folks who are incarcerated, and also folks who have done harm, and they actually aren’t necessarily the same people, because those folks have been dehumanized. And we can’t begin to have conversations about how to heal communities when we’re imagining folks in the communities not as human beings who have, in some cases, made incredibly atrocious mistakes, but as monsters.
TFSR-WG: Yeah, that resonates a lot with me, and one of the questions that we were really interested about, is kind of this disposability mindset that the world at large seems to have for so many people, and that that’s certainly conditioned on forces of classism and racism and anti-Blackness.
W: Absolutely. I think that when you live in a capitalist society, everything becomes a commodity, including human beings, and I think that, you know, it’s very clear that, you know — and I think there`s been a lot of amazing scholarship work done about this, the connections between system of racial oppression, like slavery, and the prison system. And recognizing that the prison system is not about safety, it’s not about reducing crime – it’s about exploitation and control of potentially rebellious communities. You know, folks like Angela Davis, Ruthie Gilmore, and Michelle Alexander have moved these conversations in the public. And so I think it’s important to have a historical and larger frame work around it, so that we can see its not just that people are being thrown away – it’s that certain folks especially are being thrown away, because they were never wanted in the first place.
TFSR-Disembodied Voice: Absolutely, yes. What you just said about that there are particular folks who tend to become dehumanized and disposed of in our society is very much true, but what I appreciated about your book and the stories that you tell in it, is that you’re really approaching it from a space where you’re talking about people…who we actually care deeply for who create harm and hurt us, and that is something that has often been an conversation in the community that I’m in, and that we’re in, with things like accountability processes and different ways of trying to address harm at the community level, that – where we don’t want to throw people away, right? And we’ll talk more about that question a little later on in the interview, but I’m curious because you mentioned prison abolitionism. What do you feel, when we talk about the end of prisons, what would need to be true of our society, in order for us to stop throwing people away?
W: Yeah. I think, you know, it’s important to talk bout what abolition is, and I think that Angela Davis has a great short book that she wrote called Abolition Democracy that’s based on the ideas of W.E.B. Du Bois, and him talking about the fact that, you know, calling ourselves “prison abolitionists” is specifically and directly linking back to abolitionists who are fighting against slavery. and Du Bois was writing about slavery and said that, you know, abolition is not just the end of slavery – it is the presence of justice for those who were enslaved. It is the ability to participate fully in society, so it’s not just the tearing down; it’s actually a replacement and a building up of those folks who had for so long been exploited and brutalized and terrorized. And I think that that’s a very important and useful framing when we’re talking about prison , because when we talk about prison abolition, often folks think only of tearing down the walls. They think of an absence. And the question becomes, well then, you know, if you wanna tear down the prisons, then what? And I think that for many prison abolitionists, we believe that abolition as a mind set is about ending this carceral mentality, this idea that punishment and retribution that prisons are founded on, but it’s also about creating systems that actually focus on keeping communities whole and safe, and when harm is done, to healing those communities. And so I think it’s important to recognize that abolition is not just about destruction. It’s also about creation. And Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who is an amazing Black Feminist visionary thinker, wrote “What if abolition is a growing thing?” and I think that that idea, as abolition as growing, as a garden, as a plant, rather than as a wrecking ball, is a really powerful one.
TFSR-WG: Yeah, definitely. It seems like yeah, I – it’s hard for me to grapple with this question, super, like — what might need to be true of our society in order for us to stop throwing people away is a really huge question that I sometimes don’t really have great foot holds in — the carceral state, and capitalism, and all of these things like patriarchy, anti-blackness, misogynoir – all these things build walls between people, and you know, take the element of caring out of the human equation, which is a super huge shame. So I think approaching it like that makes a lot of sense to me.
Just to get back to the book, I was really taken with the style that the book was written in, the narrative or creative nonfiction, and I’m really interested in about the evolution of this book. Would you talk a little bit about how it changed stylistically throughout the writing process?
W: Sure. So, Angels With Dirty Faces focuses on three people stories: myself, my adopted brother Kakamia, who is currently incarcerated in CA, and James McElroy, also known as Jimmy Mac, who was a member of the Westies, which was the Irish Mob that ran Hell’s Kitchen in NewYork from the 1960s to the 1980s, and also served as hit men for the Gambino family, for John Gotti, for the (???). And the book actually began because Jimmy Mac and my brother were incarcerated in the same place and got to know each other, and Jimmy Mac had never done an interview with any journalist, but, because of my brother, he agreed to do an interview with me. And through doing that process, he, you know, was like, do you want to write my biography? And I was like yes, this would be fascinating. But as I began to write the biography, I realized that it was something that was growing. I had been doing work around prisons and justice within prisons for, you know, 20 years or more then. I couldn’t help but want to bring that into talking about Jimmy Mac to give it a framework and to be able to give a full picture of these ideas of crime, of violence, of prisons, of justice, that are so racialized, that are so much about class and gender and sexual identity, and are so much used as a method of social control. And so the book just grew from there to include my brother, to include myself, and then to include the work that I’ve done that has been a lot around Black Liberation political prisoners.
And so, I really began to realize that i think the best way to change folks’ minds is through stories. And I think that what really causes a deep shift within a person is being able to emotionally connect with someone else’s experiences, and I think that is p of the reason that this system works so hard to dehumanize those who it is scared of, because if we are not people, if we are things, then there is less of a possibility of other folks in society empathizing, connecting, and then seeing the ways that the system functions. And so I felt like sharing those stories would be an important way to create a shift. So, the creative nonfiction genre is kind of a giant snatch bag with a lot of things in it. But, you know, my book definitely — it includes statistics, it includes history, it includes analysis. It also includes personal narrative. I’m a poet, so some of the writing incorporates the aesthetic of poetics. So, it definitely is a hybrid creature. But I think that actually how we live our lives is seeing everything as connected rather than in these neat boxes.
TFSR-DV: Yea, and that is one of the most remarkable aspects of the book. I can imagine that this is something that people comment on to you frequently about it — the way you just charted that evolution of kind of talking about Jimmy Mac and then realizing that more stories needed to be included sounds very natural and organic, and yet the stories that you chose to include about yourself and your brother were highly personal, and I was wondering because, I suppose, you could have chosen to talk about some other folks who are incarcerated who you had learned about or corresponded with, but you chose to speak about yourself and your relationship with your brother and your family. I wonder if you could reflect a little bit on the choice not just to widen the scope of the book from one story to multiple stories, but specifically to those stories.
W: Sure. Well, as I was working on what I thought would by the biography for Jimmy Mac, I came to feel that I was really connected with Jimmy and with this process. I mean, the reason Jimmy spoke to me was because of my brother and, you know, Jimmy was calling me his niece, and said I was an “ Westie,” which I was like, “I don’t know that I want to do that, but thank you,” um, [laughter] and I felt like I was very much a part of the story. I think that any idea of objectivity is a fallacy in human beings. I don’t think that you can be objective. And I think that folks who say they’re being objective in their writing, in their creation, in their education, teaching — they are either lying to you or to themselves. I think that the most principled things is to be clear about your subjectivity, and to be clear about how your subjectivity affects the information you’re presenting, and then to allow the reader to engage with it on that level.
And so that’s what I began doing. And as I was doing that, I was realizing that these conversations around harm, around crime, around violence, were things that I was also grappling with personally. And so, you know, my brother was arrested and tried — at the age of 16 tried as an adult and has served almost 30 years in prison at this point. And then, you know, I had actually gone through a failed accountability – a community accountability process with my partner at the time who had sexually assaulted me. And really recognizing that these stories are not stories that are easy to discuss, these are not stories that there is a neat simple ending that can be created, but these complicated, messy, difficult, painful stories are the ones we have to talk about, because if we don’t talk about them, then any conception of justice we’re creating will eventually derail when we get to places like that. And so I think that, for me, we have to go into those places that make us uncomfortable, that make us scared, that are painful, to be able to sit with the complexities and contradictions of humanity. And I think that’s the only way that we can build new systems of justice, new processes to address harm, new ways to keep communities safe, that will actually both be effective and will embody the values and principles that we have and that we want for this new world.
TFSR-WG: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, and I think that that point just can not be overstated. There’s no amount of times when, you know, having that information will ever be too much.
TFSR-DV: I wanted to say that one of the things that really challenged me in the book, when you talk about sitting with that complexity, you speak about how — I’m sorry, can you pronounce your brother’s name for me again?
TFSR-DV: Kakamia. That you talk about how Kakamia really resisted becoming an informant, and really didn’t want to play that role, but eventually did, and that was really painful for him, it was difficult for you, and it really made me sit with the complexity of that because I think in the circles that I run in there’s like this anti-snitch kind of thing, and it’s this very knee jerk, kind of all of nothing kind of approach that can just be so harsh toward people who do that. And on the one hand, yes, it’s a decision that we can condemn, but on the other hand, it’s also — you capture the horrible choice of that so well in the book. So I just wanted to say that, just for me, that was a moment where the story really forced me to sit with that complexity, so… thank you [laughs].
W: Yeah…thanks. I think that I just wanna be, I mean, Kakamia is anti-snitch, and, you know, hates himself for debriefing. And also probably wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t debriefed. And that both of those things that are in seeming contradiction with each other is absolutely true. I think it is important to take in to account context. I think that one of the things, one of the many things that is so flawed with the criminal legal system is the idea that people fit neatly in to categories, and human interactions fit neatly into categories, and so we can predict what needs to happen when a situation occurs. And I think one of the things that’s really powerful about the idea of transformative justice, which is you know, prison abolition is a part of that, is the idea of saying, as we are living the values we have for this new world, how are we respecting that every human interaction is different, is unique, and how are we responding to that and creating situations that address that moment? I think that’s on e of the things that is so both challenging and powerful about transformative justice — is that it accepts that each situation is unique.
TFSR-WG: I’m wondering about what the reception of the book has been, either critically or, if you’ve done book events, how have people received the book?
W: Well, the reception has been really good for the book. I think I definitely was very nervous about putting out the book for many reasons. Because the book is so deeply personally for myself, and for Kakamia and for Jimmy Mac, as well as other folks who’s stories are partially told in the book, I wanted it to be as honest as possible, and I tried to be honest and accountable to those folks– Jimmy & Kakamia read different versions of the book, they got to see the book and give feed back on it. I felt that was very important, especially writing about folks who are incarcerated, where so much has been taken from them. I did not want tot take their stories and their experiences from them as well, and use it to my own end. So, even though I worked to try and make the book as honest and as real as possible, that also meant that all of us are kind of laid open for the world, which was you know a very scary idea, I think. And the response to the book has been really incredible and powerful. It’s – I think what has honored me the most is when folks who’s family members are incarcerated, people who have been incarcerated, and folks who are survivors of sexual assault all say they felt like they saw themselves and their experiences reflected accurately in the book, and that the complexities of that which they live with every day, was something that was in the book. And that to me was the highest honor that I could receive in relationship to the book.
But the response has been powerful from all sectors and I won the creative nonfiction award for the Oregon Book Awards in 2017, and that has kind of given a new round of interest in the book, so it’s been really powerful to use the book as a way to have conversations in communities, and as a way for communities to begin having that dialogue of saying, “Well than, what do we do? And what can we create now that can be ready when harm happens in our community?”
TFSR-WG: Definitely. And congratulations for the award, and speaking for my own self, one of the most powerful aspects of the book, which seemingly I’m not alone in this, the fact that you name all these really difficult complexities that are just inherent to human interactions, and you know, the question of snitching and the question of the accountability process — those were really, really powerful, powerful moments, and like very, very real. And I’d love to hear, has — so the reception has been good, but I’d love to hear, has Kakamia or Mac’s or even your situation, has have there been any material changes to any of y’all’s lives or situations because of Angels With Dirty Faces?
W: Well, unfortunately, Jimmy Mac passed away before the book came out so, it is one of my biggest regrets that he didn’t get to see the book out in the world. And I worked hard with Kakamia – because he is still trying to make parole and get out of prison – to, you know, protect his identity as much as possible around that. But he has shared the book with folks who are also incarcerated with him and that has meant a lot to me because the book is very personal about him as well, and he has felt comfortable enough to hare that with folks who have all given positive feedback to him about it.
TFSR-WG: That’s awesome. You touched on accountability processes several times and I – they are kind of the thorn in, you know, kind of a thorn in the side of the far left in a way, and they probably don’t work as well as we like to believe that they work. I was wondering if you cold reflect on accountability processes a little bit and kind of talk a little bit about – can we boil down the failure of these processes to individual flaws or is there some sort of structural component, structural aspect to their consistently lukewarm results?
W: I think one of the biggest things, and I talk about this in Angels, I think a lot of the problem is what we consider to be failure and success, and how we are judging community accountability process, especially when it has been serious harm that’s been done around, especially intimate violence and sexual violence. And I think that we have the idea that has been, is very much a product of this capitalist society that we can find a quick fix for these things. And that we can create something that ,at the end of the day, everyone will feel healed and will feel whole and will move on from. And I think that those are fairly unrealistic expectations. I think that there is no quick fix to healing, and there is no quick fix in the process of transformation. And so, for me, what I have really come to think about is, are the individuals and is the community, at the “end” of the accountability process, healed enough that they are able to continue their healing and growth and accountability in a less formal structure afterwards? And I think that if that was one of the criteria we may see accountability processes very different.
But I think that we have to begin shifting the ways we talk about harm that is done, the ways we talk about who is doing this harm, because I think that, you know, and I think that things like the #MeToo campaign, and this response to individual men who have committed sexual assault and sexual harassment, is you know, we have to see that it is pervasive, that it is something that happens. We often talk about how many women and gender nonconforming folks have experienced sexual assault, but we don’t talk about how many folks are assaulting, right? And I think that we have to talk about that, because that is where it is most awful and uncomfortable, to think about people in our lives, people we care about, people we respect, who are committing this harm. And yet, that is the case. And if we don’t talk about that, we cant begin to actually transform our communities. And then we just rely on these individual instances and our response to them, which will continue to feel inadequate, unless we really begin to shift how we’re thinking about it, and have these larger conversations about the culture, and the pervasiveness of intimate violence and sexual violence.
TFSR-WG:: You touched on #MeToo and other initiatives which highlight survivors of sexual assault. I was wondering if you had any more reflections on how much they break from normative narratives, or alternatively do they uphold narratives, or is that not really a helpful framework for thinking about that?
W: I mean, I’m of the mind — my co-editor for Octavia’s Brood, Adrienne Maree Brown, talks a lot about growing possibilities, and so I think that there is no one right way to do things. I think that there are actually, – we live in a quantum universe so there infinite possibilities, and to me, infinite ways to create justice. And so for me, as long as folks are holding on to their values and principles, I think that the work can and should move in many different ways. So when we do Octavia’s Brood, we do workshops, and we ask folks to say practicing “yes, and” rather than “no, but.” I think that we live in a ‘no, but…” society. There is one right answer, so all the rest must be wrong, right? This dichotomy which creates hierarchy. Rather than saying yes and all these things can be true and therefore there is no hierarchy, it’s all decentralized, its all here and accessible. So, you know, I am thankful for the campaign, I am thankful to the Black woman visionary who created and held that campaign for 10 years before it’s — this kind of mainstream resurrection . I’ve seen many positive things come out of the campaign and I think there are great conversations that are happening, and I think that to me, it is about capturing moments. And so I think that this is a moment that we can be using to ask these bigger questions so that it becomes about, “How do we fundamentally change a rape culture. how do we fundamentally shift the ways that institutionalized oppression have been ingrained in us, and how do we envision and begin to build something different?”
TFSR-DV: Absolutely, and I’m not surprised that in speaking with you, that I hear you asking all these questions, and really posing kind of how you think about the world in question form, because that really came across in book, in a way, that it really feels like the whole book is about posing questions. And certainly for folks who are familiar with your other work, that also questions is very much a through-line in the way that you do your work. And to us, we felt that questioning and kind of like seeking out more conversation and not seeking closure is very much like an intrinsically anarchist thing, and we wondering if you would talk a little bit about your relationship to anarchism.
W: Sure. Yeah, I definitely think that asking questions is incredibly important for may reasons. And you know — a number of folks have been disappointed by the book, because they are like, “You just asked questions, you didn’t give us the answers.” [Laughs] Like, boo, if I had the answers, I would have done something along time ago. But I also think even more importantly than that is the understanding and importance, and the value of collectively, and recognize that no one person is going to have the answers, and anyone who says they have all the answers is lying to themselves or to you. And I think that the recognition that is part of that collective process that will ultimately help us build different futures, and come up with new questions. Because this movement for change, there’s no end point. It’s a continual revolution in the fundamental sense of that word, in continual movement. And you know, I think some folks could feel depressed about that. I choose to feel incredibly hopeful, because it means that we continually have the opportunity to ask ourselves is this the world we want to live in? And we continually have the opportunity to re-envision the part, as we grow, that we also want to grow.
And so, to me, those are a lot of my principles and values, and I do believe that the idea of anarchism can be useful and helpful. I identify politically closest as an anarchist. I also think that to me, if a label is useful in encapsulating ideas in a way that helps move work forward, then use them, and if it doesn’t, then keep the values and principles and move on. And also, as a Black woman, I want to recognize that a lot of what we call anarchism, which we think of as being created by these old european white dudes, are actually principles and values and ways of being and ways of knowing that communities of color have practiced for eternity. And so, I also think it important to acknowledge and recognize that this information is not something that is separate from oppressed peoples, it is something that actually comes from oppressed peoples and that, in may, ways it’s about time traveling and having those values and principles help us to inform and envision different futures.
TFSR-DV: I love what you said about the label being useful only if it moves the work forward, and that actually reminds me a lot of things that I’ve heard people, particularly who do prisoner support, say, because it is a space where you’re offering solidarity and you’re offering support, and sometimes you’re offering it to people who aren’t ideologically on the exact same page as you, and it becomes an evolution of your relationship to that person and the reasons that you’re in relationship to them. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about, beyond just about yr brother, and how you write about, your experience with supporting incarcerated people, and maybe, like, your best practices around that.
W: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that I have a checklist, but I think for me I have been incredibly lucky and honored to learn and be mentored by many different folks who have been and are incarcerated, and to work in solidarity and as compañeros with those folks. I would not be the person I am as a human, as someone involved in change or as an artist without the mentorship and guidance and leadership of folks who are incarcerated. So for me, I think it’s important to see folks who are incarcerated who you are engaging with as, A. Part of the community, because they absolutely are; and B. As folks you are working with rather than helping or working for. I think that a lot of folks who get involved come in and are often white folks. They come in with a savior mentality, and folks who are incarcerated and more, broadly, POC don’t need saviors, they need allies.
Because some of the most courageous, innovative, incredible organizing work is happening in prisons, behind these walls, in some of the worst conditions possible. And we on the outside have so much to learn, and we need the wisdom – we need that leadership, we need that ingenuity and creativity, and bravery. And so, I think it’s important to come from that perspective, rather than coming from the perspective of, “I’m doing this to help this person,” rather than coming from the perspective of saying, “I’m doing this because we are both in shared struggle, and this person has a lot to share with me about that, and I want to be in communion and in conversation with this person to be able to make our communities and make our world better.”
TFSR-DV: Absolutely, thank you for that.
TFSR-WG: Yeah, definitely. Perhaps to veer off topic just for a moment, you’ve mentioned Octvia’s Brood throughout this interview, and this is an anthology of speculative fiction that you co-edited. Will you talk little bit about how this project compared to Angels With Dirty Faces? Like similarities, differences..?
W: So Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements is an anthology of fantastical writing by activists, organizers, and change-makers. So it’s science fiction created by people doing work on the ground to envision different futures. My co-editor, Adrienne, and I created the anthology with the premise that all organizing is science fiction, and therefore all organizers are creators and visionaries of science fiction, because these worlds — they are trying to imagine a world without borders, without prisons, a world without sexual violence — that is science fiction, because we haven’t seen that world. But also recognize we need imaginative spaces like science fiction, where we can explore beyond the boundaries of what we’re told is possible, because we cant build what we can’t imagine. Imagination is the first step to new worlds.
So we have to have spaces where we can throw out what we’ve been told is realistic and possible, and instead start with the question, “What do we want? What is a world we want to live in? “ And I’ve – yeah. This project has been incredible. It’s something – we spent five yeas putting the book out, and it is something that has helped me be more visionary in my life and in my work, and I very much see Angels With Dirty Faces as connected with that. It was funny because I worked on Angels With Dirty Faces for ten years. So I started it well before we even had the idea of Octavia’s Brood, but it came out after Octavia’s Brood. And so, when I would tell people, “I have a book coming out,” and they would be like, “Oh, is it science fiction?” and I would be like, “No, it’s a creative nonfiction book about prisons and harm,” and they’re like, “Whoa, that’s really different.” I’m like, “Is it?” [laughter]. Because in my mind, again, they’re intimately connected because the reason I think it’s important to put Angels With Dirty Faces is to create the space so that we can imagine diff futures. And to me, you know, Angels With Dirty Faces is about helping to cultivate the values that will allow us to build a different world. And so for me, all of my work is connected. And I understand why other folks are like “You just jump around a lot,” but I feel strongly that, I’ve hoped that my work is able to embody sort of a visionary ethos and aesthetic that allows to create space for more possibilities, as my co-editor Adrienne says.
TFSR-WG: That’s so excellent. You mentioned you write poetry. do you write speculative fiction as well?
W: I do, yes. And I write science fiction poetry as well.
TFSR-WG: Excellent. How can people get their hands on that?
W: I’m still working on it. So I’m working on a book of science fiction poetry that is called Tubman’s Uncertainty Principle and looks at Black women’s liberation movements through the lens of quantum physics. [laughter] So nerdy. I do love the project because when I tell people, I find my folks real quick. Cause most people’s reaction is “Um, what now?” But the folks like you who are like [audible gasp] [laughter] — there my people are. [inaudible due to laughter] So I’m working on that, and I’ve been working on some science fiction short stories and projects as well, so I have some sci-fi stories that have been put out in various places, but I’m still sort of working on putting out more work on that. But right now, my main project is actually a nonfiction historical book on Oregon Black history, because I live in Oregon. So yet again, you’re jumping to something new and I’m like, I don’t really see it a being different, but I feel you.
TFSR-WG: Yeah, for sure. That all sounds super super exciting. I remember seeing just a YouTube talk that you did, or a talk on YouTube that you did about the racist history of Oregon and I definitely learned a lot. I think you did it anywhere between 3 and 5 years ago, or something like that, and I got a lot out of it.
Those are all of the questions that we had. Is there anything else you wanted to add a a part of this interview?
W: I don’t think so.
TFSR-WG: Well, Walidah Imarisha, thank you so much for coming on to this show for an extremely thought-provoking and incisive interview. Yeah, thank you so much for your time, and your energy, and for this book you’ve written. It’s been great to have you on.
W: Well, thanks so much for having me, and for creating spaces to have these conversations. There aren’t enough, so I’m thankful for the space that y’all are holding.
TFSR-WG: Yeah, absolutely.
TFSR-DV: It’s been wonderful.
W: Thank you.
TFSR-WG: Thanks for listening to our interview with Walidah Imarisha. Again, more can be found from er at www.walidah.com