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Hil Malatino on Being Trans in this Moment

Hil Malatino on Being Trans in this Moment

"Hil Malatino on Being Trans in this Moment | TFSR 07-31-22" featuring a picture of Hil
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This week we are presenting Scott’s interview with Hil Malatino, who is a current professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Philosophy at Penn State University. They are also the author of three books, Trans Care, Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience, and Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad. Scott and Hil speak on many themes which are found in his books, plus lots more topics!

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Hil Malatino’s work:

A couple of annoucements…

Giannis Michailidis Suspends Hunger Strike

Anarchist prisoner of the Greek State, Giannis Michailidis, has been on hunger strike since May 23 to demand his release from prison after serving over 8 years in prison and experiencing added cruelties for refusing to bow to the cruelty of the state. There are rumors that the Greek state is betting on Giannis’ death and a public reaction by refusing police vacations in the first half of August. Sympathetic comrades are invited to show resistance at sites related to the Greek state world wide, including embassies and consulates worldwide. You can follow and share solidarity with the hashtags: #free_michailidis #Michailidis_Hungerstrike #antireport

You can read an update at EnoughIsEnough14.org

Shinewhite Needs Help

Joseph “Shinewhite” Stewart, a White Panther affiliate of the Revolutionary Intercommunal Black Panther Party incarcerated in North Carolina, has been denied his property since his recent transfer to Maury Correctional Institution and his supporters are asking for help pressuring the administration into easing off this activist.

Maury CI: Phone: 252-653-5501

We believe the warden’s email to be brett.simmons@ncdps.gov

NCDPS commissioner’s email is todd.ishee@ncdps.gov, though it’s suggested you reach out to acting commissioner brandeshawn.harris@ncdps.gov

An example script:

“Hello,

I am writing with regards to Joseph Stewart #0802041. Upon being transferred to Maury Correctional, the majority of Mr. Stewart’s property was confiscated without good reason, including books and legal papers. I wish to demand that Mr. Stewart’s belongings are returned to him in full immediately. Please be aware that outside observers are monitoring the situation closely, and that any further victimization of Mr. Stewart or other prisoners at Maury will have immediate consequences for the NC DPS, including, but not limited to, negative media publicity and potential legal action.”

Fundraising for TFSR

Our recent interviews with the Anarchist Communist Combat Organization in Russia and Assembly.Org.UA in Ukraine were recently translated into German + Czech and German + Spanish, respectively, thanks to the transcripts being easily available for all online. But as I mentioned a couple of weeks back, we’re not quite hitting our fundraising minimums to carry the transcription project forward.

So we’ve made a few changes to our patreon that are pretty exciting. Here’s a rundown. There is now a $3 tier that allows the patron access to occasional behind-the-scenes content like the hosts discussing upcoming episodes or subjects we’re researching. And every support tier $5 and above will have access to that plus occasional early releases of content. But don’t fret, non-patrons, we won’t be releasing episodes that are patreon-only. Our audience will get access to each weekly episode as it always has. Anyway, check out patreon.com/tfsr for more details or tfsr.wtf/support for other ways to chip in to cover our transcription and other costs. And thanks for listening and supporting as you can.

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Transcription

TFSR: This week we’re presenting Scott’s interview with Hil Malatino, who is a current Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and philosophy at Penn State University. They are also the author of three books, “Trans Care”; “Queer Embodiment: Monstrosity, Medical Violence, and Intersex Experience”; and “Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad.” Scott and Hil speak on many themes, which are found in his books, plus lots more topics.

Hil Matatino: So I’m Hil Malatino, I use he/him and also they/them pronouns. And I’m currently assistant professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Philosophy at Penn State University.

Scott: Well, I’m really excited to talk to you, specifically about the two books that you published in the last couple of years, “Trans Care”, and most recently, “Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad”. I think both of these books really make helpful contributions to understanding trans experience collectively. So I want to talk about those books and also, I’m imagining, since it’s such a terrible moment of trans antagonism and state violence, that we might bring some of that stuff into the discussion also.

But just to start out, I see your work fitting within current trans thought about the experience of transition over against the kind of like neoliberal identity politics that thinks of transness as an individual identity. Can you talk a bit about the factors that individualize transness, and then, sort of, your vision of like alternative, collective or social ways we might understand trans experience?

HM: Absolutely. A lot of my thinking about the importance of de-individuating the way we understand transition is routed through my research and trans medical archive specifically. So I’ve approached those archives with an eye towards communal resistance and intervention in relation to medical gatekeeping. And there’s a real rich history — going back for probably as long as there has been such a thing as, like, a medical etiology of transness — of communal resistance to the gatekeeping that informs the diagnosis and the proposed treatment protocols for transness.

So what I’ve realized doing that archival work over the course of the last, probably over a decade, in fits and starts, is that the ability to transition, and the ability to transition outside of really rigid, Eurocentric, bourgeois, white and gendered norms, has been enabled through the protestations of trans collectives and communities. And that is in really considerable tension with the historic strict medical model of transsexuality, and the trans treatment protocol that’s been attached to that. That, you know, historically recommended that folks go deep stealth, relocate, start lives and new. And then later on, if not emphasizing what we now call “stealthness”, they tended to, I think, really hyper-individuate the process of transition, where it was the sort of journey or rebirth that was undertaken by discrete and really atomized subjects, who were considered at least in the medical literature — and there are probably lots of reasons for this — any absence of communities that that enable those transitions.

So it just seemed like there was a, on the one hand: this history of trans collective resistance to medical gatekeeping that, I think, on the ground, in very real ways, has made transition possible for so many people. And then [on the other hand:] this medical narrative of what transition is about, and how one accesses it, that is very hyper individual. So I just have seen those histories’ intentions, and I think in terms of trans experience and all its diversity, the former, this more collective understanding of how transitions happen, just seems more true, more accurate, to people’s experiences.

S: Yeah, and one of the things you talked about in terms of medical interface that new trans people seeking hormones or surgeries, or whatever, faces…like, there’s the one hand of trans people being kind of diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder, but also this makes us be seen as consumers of healthcare. And I wonder if you have any thoughts on that, like, the way that the medical industry kind of receives trans people. And then also how you see those medical narratives being taken on by trans people themselves a kind of transnormative way,

HM: I think it’s really important to think about trans healthcare in relationship to the broader US healthcare system. And to the extent that trans subjects are interpolated as just consumers or, you know, patient customers of medical services…I think, to some extent, everybody is in the United States because of the way that our healthcare system has developed along this pretty strictly for profit model. So that’s the first thing I want to say, right? My argument about trans folks as consumers, being positioned as consumers of medical services by the healthcare industry, or the medical industrial complex, might, in some respects, be specific to the US, or at least a sort of unique to the United States, or maybe intensified in the United States in ways that might not be elsewhere.

But I think what we see with the history of trans healthcare is that for profit medical systems, spawning transition related procedures, is sort of like, niche markets for particular medical practitioners to exploit. And this has been specifically the case with different surgical practices and remains the case, is surgeons develop innovations, or some surgeons have better outcomes than others, and are then able to market those better outcomes in ways that enable them to to increase their prices, right? I mean, so there’s this phenomenon of trans surgical procedures becoming a specialized niche in the medical community. And I think making some surgeons a lot of money, right? Surgeons with long wait lists that are relatively well known within trans communities for having good outcomes. And, yeah, I mean, it raises a lot of questions for me about how people access transition and the sort of lack of, really, radically democratic access to medical transition.

So it seems, it has seemed — maybe it still seems I think it does still seem to me — accessing medical transition becomes the sort of quest to marshal as many financial resources as possible so that one can receive decent treatment. And I think that that gets internalized in maybe unpredictable ways. But I think when folks begin to think about embarking upon transition, the stress and anxiety that attends it has a lot to do with how financially inaccessible, many transition related procedures, have been and remain. I’m rambling a bit, but I think that speaks a little bit to what you’re asking.

S: Yeah, and I mean in the beginning of Side Affects, you start reframing the idea of transition, and one of the things you look at is a kind of normative narrative that’s presented, particularly on social media, by trans people themselves. It’s like a goal-oriented understanding of transition, and you talk about how that doesn’t actually reflect most trans people’s access to hormones, for example, which can be intermittent, depending on health insurance and the area that you live in. So in response to this, you start talking about a different kind of understanding of transition that doesn’t have a specific endpoint maybe, and you call this “interregnum”. I thought this was a really cool idea of rethinking transition outside of medical definitions, cis expectations, and these these transnormative narratives. So I wonder if you could kind of unpack that concept and what you hope it would bring to trans people for understanding our own position and our own experiences?

HM: Yeah, absolutely. There’s this critique of transnormativity in “Side Affects”, and it’s in some of my other work as well, doesn’t come from me specifically. It’s not something that I came up with, it’s actually drawn from the work of trans-of-color scholars. I’m thinking specifically of Riley Snorton and Jin Haritaworn but also others who have really named the way that there’s a certain sort of trafficking in these goal-oriented transition narratives that are predicated, to a certain degree, of economic privilege, of maybe geographic privilege, that’s something we can think about, right? The fact that some people are located in areas where trans affirming care is easily accessible, or more easily accessible, and some people aren’t, right? And also, of course, questions of racial stratification that inform economic access to medical transition. And then just questions of desire, right? I mean, the very different kinds of desires that some folks have or don’t have for specific forms of medical and hormonal transition.

That’s why I critique transnormative narratives. And I think it’s also important to point out that when one is beginning to access information about how to surgically and hormonally transition, those are the narratives that one is sort of inundated with immediately, right? [chuckles] Those are the ones that, like, you know, the “trans influencers” that are easiest to find are the ones that traffic in those narratives. And that’s all good, and well for them. I have no bone to pick with them, but I think the social media landscape that folks encounter as they begin to think about transition is so steeped in transnormativity, that it’s really important to point to it and say “this is not the only possibility for how to navigate transition.”

The other thing that I wanted to mention that just really has informed my thinking about this — and I say this because I’m very mindful of the fact that you are in North Carolina, and I’ve spent years in East Tennessee, and in those — in southern Appalachia access to medical technologies of transition was very, very difficult to come by in a way that it’s just not if you live in the Northeast or in a major metropolitan coastal city. That meant that most of the trans folks that I knew in southern Appalachia had intermittent relationships to hormone use, had real difficulty finding trans affirming primary care physicians, and also many of us, myself included, had specific trans exclusions on our insurance coverage, and could not afford to pay for medical transition out of pocket.

My critique of transnormativity is rooted in that real experiential reality of myself and so many other trans folks I knew, not being able to access medical technologies of transition that we desired because of real structural gatekeeping. It just seems like, if structural change is on the horizon — for some of us in terms of what a “radical trans politics” might work towards — it’s important to keep pointing to the specific structural phenomenon that still gate keep transition, even if there are way more trans affirming medical practitioners and then than there used to be.

So this idea of “the interregnum”, which my partner is a medievalist, and a queer medievalist, so a very weird and delightful medievalist [Scott and Hil both laugh] but they’ve teased me about using the term “interregnum” because they’re very familiar with it as a medievalist, and of course the way I use it is not that. But the idea of “the interregnum” in historical literature names the space that occurs between the rise and consolidation of state forms. So I’m like an old, I don’t know, I’ve been reading Deleuze and Guattari for a long time since I was, I want to say, a baby, since I was like a teenager, and in my early 20s. And it seems to me that this emphasis on the space of possibility that exists between sort of sedimented state forms, spoke to the distinction that they made between the molar and the molecular.

So I started thinking — and I don’t want to, like, we don’t have to go into D and G for a long time [Hil laughs] — but I just thought like, “oh, there’s something about the interregnum that could be a space of possibility that has something to do with more molecular forms of becoming, they don’t have to do with the realization of like a stable gendered state, but instead put emphasis on questions of process and becoming in relationship to transition.” That just seemed to me like a more capacious way of understanding transition, than this journey from, you know, a beginning point towards an endpoint. And I also don’t really know about the temporality of that. Like, I don’t know when transition started for me and I don’t know if it’s ever going to really end, you know, and that’s personal. But I also have so many friends who I think would say something very similar, about transition.

S: I love all that you were saying. And there’s even sometimes a retroactive aspect of transition, where you look back from your present lens and kind of reinterpret experiences that are from earlier times, from a different vantage point and be like “Oh, that makes a different kind of sense to me now than it did then, when I didn’t have maybe the language to talk about it.”

I like that you brought up desire, I’m thinking in this recent essay I read by Kadji Amin, he kind of defines trans people as people who desire transition, and I thought that was a helpful way of thinking about it. Because putting it in relation to desire, and then that kind of process — but it’s interesting, with that sort of social media landscape that you talk about, a lot of trans people have this common experience of like, being inundated with these images, and then sort of thinking like “am I trans enough, am I trans in the right way?” And I’m thinking about how this era for young people, there’s way more information about transition and access to it, and sharing of resources that I didn’t have as a kid. Like I didn’t even have any understanding of this until I was already an adult. And I think that’s great and I think that’s why we see this uptick of trans people — which is like posing a real threat to society — but then there’s also this weird kind of way that you can do this sort of internalized gatekeeping. And also maybe re-emphasize that kind of atomized or individualized version of it. Because I know young people transitioning without trans community in their real life at all.

So I wonder if, I don’t know, I’m not sure if this is really a question, but I’m wondering if you have thoughts about this kind of current landscape and how it’s different for young trans people? And like, what are some of the dangers of that, and what are the positive aspects of it?

HM: I wonder, I have so many questions about what it’s like to be a young trans person in this particular historical moment. It’s hard for me, you know, I can’t speak for that positionality, I came of age in the 90’s [laughs]. So that’s the landscape I’m familiar with. I think that trans folks, or prototrans folks — or maybe we can think about this just in relationship to folks that are, like, gender and sexually non normative more broadly — I feel like we often find each other even if we don’t really know that that’s what we’re seeking out or finding when we’re young. That may not necessarily be conscious, right, but it tends to happen. And I think that that’s probably still the case, right? I would wager. So even if there are trans youth that are navigating or thinking about transition, in the absence of a community that they might be able to point to and say “this is a trans community”, or “this is my trans community”, I think it’s very likely that folks are connecting with other sorts of weird kids, teenagers, who are trans affirming, even if they’re not necessarily cognizant of the fact that they are right. There’s something that happens with youth that are non normative, where there are collectives and affinities and friendships that are built that are ultimately really sustaining, that may not look like a “community” that are still really imperative.

So I think that, while it’s absolutely true that it’s important to think about how to marshal community support for trans youth — especially in relationship to wave after wave of trans antagonistic attacks on the possibilities of youth to transition — I think the other thing that I’ve been trying to hold in my mind to balance that grim reality is the fact that friendships are always possible and are sustaining even in the context of really, really brutal forms of structural violence and gatekeeping. There’s something about affinity and solidarity that is possible within friendship that’s not necessarily possible in the context of “Community”, with a capital C. Like there’s something looser there that I think is actually more capacious.

So the other thing I want to say, is that my colleague Erin Heidt-Forsythe and I have started — we’re at the very beginnings of undertaking work on fertility preservation and trans youth, researching the medical apparatus that is attempting to ensure or make possible fertility preservation for trans youth — and something that we learned in the context of beginning that work was that at certain clinics in progressive cities that are working with trans youth, there’s been this phenomenon of bringing in trans elders or trans adults to talk to trans youth about possibilities for family making, reproduction, kin making. And on the one hand, I think like, “Oh, that’s really wonderful” because I would have loved to have a trans elder to talk to you about like reproductive capacity and family building when I was young.

But on the other hand, the fact that that’s happening through this space of the clinic, and specifically with an eye towards getting patients to consider paying for gamete freezing, right? It’s like, “oh, that’s, this is not the way I would like to see that happen”. So I feel like having some sort of more robust way to have trans youth and have intergenerational trans dialogues, and support networks exist, would be very welcome, especially if it happened outside of institutions that had some sort of profit motive informing how they operate.

S: Yeah, that’s really interesting. The thing about finding ways to preserve fertility for the future is — it’s interesting because I see that sort of coming up more for younger trans people than it did for trans people coming of age in the 90’s and early 2000’s, which, in a way, I don’t know, if that’s like reaffirming some kind of normativity, but certainly, as you’re pointing out, is helpful to different industries raising money and kind of reaping benefits from trans people as consumers. Whether or not it is, that’s separate from the desires that trans people have to have kids, which I think is great. Yeah, that was really interesting.

I wonder, since you brought up C. Riley Snorton, I had a question that I had sort of geared towards the end, but I kind of wanted to bring it in now. Just thinking about these dominant narratives of transness, there’s simultaneously a kind of heavy racialization that we see of transness in the media, when it comes to spectacles of violence, right? Like the image of the Black trans woman as the victim of some kind of violence. But then I think there’s also, perhaps, a kind of “whitening” of transness, and you talk about this relationship of transit and whiteness in specific community spaces of healing, at the end of Side Affects. In psychedelic healing communities, is where you’re looking, and how sort of a white trans logic can reproduce forms of white supremacy under the guise of liberation and escape from that structure. So I would love to hear you talk a little bit about how transness gets whitened in the media or in sort of, perhaps, unconscious white supremacist logics for trans people who are trying to be antiracist. And how we might rethink transness from a kind of decolonial, or Black feminist lens, as you were mentioning before.

HM: It’s so complicated, this nexus. And the last chapter of Side Affects is just the very beginning of my attempt to work through these questions of race, coloniality and healing practice. I want to start responding to this by situating myself, because I think that’s really imperative. So, you know, white, settler born in upstate New York in the foothills of the Adirondacks, grew up in South Florida, and mentored by decolonial feminist philosopher Maria Lugones. So she very much informs my thinking about all of these questions, and is always in the background of whatever I happen to say on this topic. But I also want to mention that both of my parents were pretty committed to New Age spiritualities, or what I understood as forms of New Age spirituality. My mother was a student of Buddhism for most of her adult life. And my father is a musician and just an unrepentant lifelong stoner who grew up reading out loud to me from magazines about extraterrestrial life forms, and I think they took like an aura reading class together at the local community college when I was a kid. So I’ve always, in some ways, been steeped in forms of very, very white New Age spirituality that were sort of like hippie or post hippy, really from day one, right? That was always part of my domestic space growing up.

It became something that I argued with my family about as I as I got older, and specifically as I read more Black feminist and decolonial work. And the arguments started off being about appropriation, about questions of appropriation of spiritual traditions that are not white Eurocentric ones, right? But then there’s also a real strong pagan throughline in thinking about the forms of New Age spirituality that I saw my parents and many other white leftist, sort of post 1960’s leftists, taking up. And I have questions about that too, because there’s this way in which it seems like the turn towards a kind of, maybe like a precolonial paganism is a way of imagining a cultural space that is sort of untainted by chattel slavery and by settler colonialality.

So it went beyond questions of appropriation for me, and I began to think about how this desire to recuperate things like Taro, on the part of white leftist and white queers and white trans folks, had to do with wanting to find a form of spiritual practice that is more pure, or less tainted by the violence of settler colonialality, and Christendom that comes along with that. On the one hand, I understand that recuperative desire. But on the other hand, if you look at some of the, specifically trans related material that has been published, that tarries with this really heteroclite ensemble of spiritual practices, there is this like, really troubling world historical narrative that emerges from it, that has to do with — and this is the case study that I talked about in the last chapter of the book — specifically a group that was based in western North Carolina in the late 90’s, and early 2000’s. And in their newsletters, and in their writings, you see, the development of this attempt to recuperate like a matriarchal goddess culture that was affirmative have multiple forms of embodiment, that was sort of prebinary gender and is being recuperated in a way that enables us to become like post binary gender.

There’s also an evolutionary narrative that gets tied to that, where trans folks are this “avant garde”, or I don’t know, new radical evolutionary phenomenon that’s going to usher in this — I wish I had the language in front of me of how this collective put it — but like a New World Order of peace and prosperity and tranquility, that is no longer informed by the violence of binary gender and the patriarchal logic that informs that. And that, it’s a “just so” story, and it also enables folks who are pulling on these spiritual threads, to not think about their implication and current forms of racial colonial violence.

So that’s, I don’t know, I’m rambling. I know, I could go on about this for a long time. I encountered that material beginning when I was a teenager and I was trying to come into some kind of spiritual practice my own that helped me deal with questions of queerness and transness. I just was initially and am still like “what the fuck is going on here?” I don’t know. Why am I drawn to it, while at the same time finding certain aspects of it really repellent?

S: I mean, it seems like there’s a particularly white version of a search for authenticity that kind of uses either a Black cultural expression or other kind of Indigenous cultural expression as its form. Which is totally ingrained within a kind of colonial logic, and the way that you show that in the book, like just looking at the makeup of the spaces, right? That they’re talking about all this stuff and then everyone in the room is white. And so they’re not actually threatened in any way out of their comfort zone of an all white space, and they can say whatever they want without really any repercussions. But I think it’s interesting, because this does really connect with current social media trans, queer landscape, which is totally inundated with different versions of what we call “woo” [outlandishly spiritual or supernatural]. And I think there’s really beautiful things and really troubling things there, too.

HM: I was just thinking about the legacy of that. If you look at queer movements that have tarried with questions of spirituality in the US specifically, I think one go to example is the radical fairies but if you look at the history of radical fairy spaces, they’re overwhelmingly white and traffic in so many troubling appropriations of different kinds of Indigenous belief systems

S: Right.

HM: Yeah. So what’s happening currently in the spaces of social media, around discourses on spirituality, I understand is very much connected to this post 1960’s legacy of queer and trans spiritual searching that always partakes of these really troubling settler logics and appropriations.

S: Right. And I think what I see a lot in current thinking and writing by trans people, is sort of grappling with this moment where we’re past the quote, unquote “tipping point” where there’s way more visibility and representation of transness that is perhaps allowing more people to transition, but one of the maybe unintended consequences of that is this sort of “fad” of being nonbinary, or like claiming nonbinaryness, or using they/them pronouns, but not really engaging in any kind of transition or troubling of the gender structure. So, I don’t know, it’s almost like trans people who maybe previously wanted this Big Tent idea, or trying to rethink what being trans means when you have that phenomenon of maybe not even really associating with any kind of material practice anymore, right? Just being like, “I’m nonbinary, and yet I dress the same as a man or woman is imagined to dress” or whatever. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that, that current moment of thinking, like, something became sort of popular in a way. Oh, yeah! And just the idea that if we say “we’re nonbinary”, we’re doing something against the colonial gender system, even though, what does it do?

HM: Yeah, this is another Nexus that is so complicated, because I think immediately of the fact that this move to identify as non binary but not necessarily change anything in terms of your gender presentation, and not access hormones, or different forms of medical transition. On the one hand, I see how it can become sort of understood as faddish, but on the other hand, I’ve known so many people for whom that move was the beginning of a much longer process of transition too. So it’s like who am I to parse out whether, you know, something really troubling and faddish is happening, or whether this is just the beginning of a much longer process? And maybe if it is “trendy” in certain sort of radical, queer spaces, to be nonbinary to be a “they/them”, even though one appears entirely binary in most other respects, I want to think that it’s possible that that’s opening up more trans affirming space than it is shutting down trans affirming space.

So I don’t know, my tendency is to be really generous about that. And I also think that questions of solidarity and affinity are way more important than questions of identity. Always. So it doesn’t matter to me how somebody identifies in terms of the relationship to transness, if they understand themselves as trans in a nonmedically transitioning, nonhormonally transitioning sort of they/them way, or if they don’t and if they very much embrace a sort of transsexual understanding of their transition, what matters more to me is the political work that they are doing, and the pedagogical work maybe that they are doing and how they comport themselves in spaces of community and collectivity. That seems more imperative.

S: You know maybe like 10-15 years ago gender queer was like the preliminary stage to trans transition. And now it’s nonbinary. It could serve as a gateway for someone to…we’ve used the word “proto trans” before too, right? It’s like: that might be how you find other people, right? That gives you a sort of idea of how things could go. I think going from that, I want to talk about some of the more mundane, and also granular, experiences of tranness that you discuss in the book. One of the things, actually in Side Affects and in Trans Care, you talk about “misrecognition” or “unrecognition” as a fundamental experience of transness, negotiating how we’re perceived, whether it’s from people we don’t know, or people we do know, and you talk about this as sort of a relational model of gender. Because this takes us away from identity, right? Like I’m trans, or whatever, I can say that, but transness happens in between people, and the other person can give us whatever gender we end up with, whether that’s right or wrong. And you talk, from personal experience, in this really interesting way about a kind of nonbinary moment of misrecognition as being part of your own experience. I really liked that. So I just wanted to hear you talk about the moment of encounter as gendering but also these visions that you have for building other ways of seeing and witnessing each other, particularly among trans people.

HM: Yeah. I talk about the, the nonbinary form of recognition, which I think is also a form of misecognition and that’s what makes it interesting. By talking, I think I use the phrase “pronomial stammering”, so I was just thinking about those instances where you’re encountering somebody, they assign one pronoun to you, and then you say something back to them and then they assign another pronoun to you, or apologize because they think they got it wrong the first time and now they’re attempting to get it right. Those moments, in my biography — because I did actually identify for a long time is nonbinary and genderqueer and use they/them pronouns, this is also probably part of why I’m so generous with folks who find themselves inhabiting that space, because I was there for years, in large part because of gatekeeping around medical transition.

So it was easier to be a they/them if I couldn’t pay for hormones and top surgery in social spaces than it was to insist on he/him in those spaces of recognition. So I say that because in those moments of pronomial stammering that just felt like they were dramatizing what always happened in terms of the way that gender recognition had circulated in my life. So there was something that was truer about the stammering than just the assignation of a pronoun that was then never second guessed felt. So it just felt like it more authentically registered the realities of having a sort of complicated, or loud, gender.

The other bit that’s informed my thinking about misrecognition has to do with the fact that even if one comes to inhabit a space where they’re relatively consistently gendered, socially — and personally, I’m in the space where I get he/him’d almost all the time as I go about my daily life — the memory of that history of misrecognition is something that that I always carry with me. So even in moments of being consistently gendered in the way that I desire to be gendered, I am very acutely aware of how precarious that gendering has been historically and I also relate to every moment of gendering as something that is contingent, and in some respects still surprising, honestly, even if I could probably rely on it now. And I don’t think that’s the way that cis people experience pronouns, right? Like, there’s something very specifically trans about that. So, a lot of my thinking about misrecognition is coming from this place of trying to think about what it means to have become habituated to systematic misrecognition over the course of one’s life. And how that plays out just in terms of how we trust, who we trust, how we navigate social space.

S: Yeah. Building off of that trans people will sort of set themselves their own version of the real life test, by being correctly recognized or “pronouned” by a stranger, right? But you want to focus more on how we, as trans people, can create other ways of seeing and receiving each other, perceiving each other, supporting each other, that kind of operates in a different register. And one of the places that you’re really working in Side Affects is through this idea of T4T, which you talk about as a strategic or contingent separatism, and it’s where a lot of transition happens, where survival work and support happens, where trans world building happens. So I wonder if you could talk about that term T4T, and then what the way that you want to use it to think about what trans people are doing?

HM: Yeah. So the term, as far as I know — and this is the account that I’ve given in my writing on T4T — the term comes from Craigslist personals. So there were like the M4M, W4W, M4W, M4T and then T4T was just one of the iterations of that cognate. So folks seeking to hook up with folks of various gendered experiences have this option of being a trans person looking for another trans person. And then it was taken up within trans cultural production as a way of naming this contingent kind of trans separatism. And I’m thinking specifically about Torrey Peters novella Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones, where there’s a T4T tattoo that is a really important part of the plot, and T4T relationships that are central, like that whole book is just comprised of T4T relationships that are fraught and ambivalent and complicated. Non-utopic, definitively.

So T4T became a way of naming the kind of complex affinities and solidarities that circulate amongst trans folks, but also the way that trans folks are producing spaces with one another, that make the survival of social misrecognition possible. So part of the way that I think about this — although I don’t think I’ve written about it expressly, has to do with Marie Lagunas’ concept of world traveling, and actually Talia Mae Bettcher who is a brilliant trans thinker and philosopher has been writing specifically about world traveling in relationship to trans experience, so I want to mention her work here — but say that this idea of world traveling that comes from the scholarship of Maria Lagunas, has to do with not packing up your suitcase and actually moving literally around the globe, but this idea that on a day to day basis, we move between very different worlds of sense. And we are known very differently in those different worlds. So in the domestic space of my home, or when hanging out with close friends of mine, the forms of recognition that circulate there are very different from the forms of recognition that circulate when I enter a classroom or when I enter a faculty meeting or some sort of like academic DEI meeting — [Hil cracking up] your eyes got big when I said “DEI meeting” and I felt that. Yeah, spaces I happen to find myself in that are deeply troubling spaces.

So yeah, so those are all different worlds, right? And the sense that folks are able to make, and the kinds of recognition that are possible, are going to be very different from one of those worlds to another one of those worlds. But the phenomenon of world traveling between worlds, where we feel as if we are seen and witnessed and received in ways that are much more affirming, is what makes our ability to travel to more hostile worlds of sense, possible.

S: Yeah, that’s interesting. I was thinking about that too, with the various experiences related to me by trans people who, during the initial lockdown of pandemic, were thinking about what their gender is like when they’re alone or in that space, and people just being like “oh, when I’m just alone I don’t even think, it doesn’t really matter, I don’t think about it a lot”. But this space was also a space where a lot of people who didn’t identify as trans before found the place to transition, which is interesting. Like potentially an absence of other trans people to affirm that. So that was helpful for me just thinking about those spaces.

And just kind of relating that back to one of the moments that you analyze in the book, you talk about this idea — and maybe this gets to the way that trans people tend to find each other — you talk about this idea of “trans intercorporeality”. Specifically you’re looking at this moment in Casey Plett’s novel Little Fish where there’s a trans woman sex worker whose client is maybe someone who will eventually become a trans woman too, or be out as a trans woman, and the extra sort of work that that the character is doing for that person. But I really want to understand more about this intercorporeality that you’re talking about, sort of how we co-produce our bodies together. Could you explain a little bit what you mean by that?

HM: So I was thinking really specifically about spaces of sexuality and desire when I was writing about that, although I think the intercorporeality is a phenomenon that is not necessarily erotic or sexual. But I was just thinking about how common it is for folks to have really affirming experiences around questions of gender in the context of sexual contexts before maybe ever actually taking steps towards surgical hormonal transition. The reason I talked about that scene in Casey Plett’s work — on top of it just being a beautiful and really, really moving scene, and also a kind of traumatizing scene, as well, because of what happens both during and after that encounter. I won’t spoil the book, but I’ll just say you should read Little Fish, in part because of the scene because it’s amazing, and poignant and hard — so I wanted to write about that scene, but I wanted to write about that scene in large part because it gets at this phenomenon of being brought into being, through a sexual contact, by somebody who just intuitively or intimately understands how you want your body to be related to, in relationship to questions of gender, that has nothing to do with how your body is actually aesthetically or visually manifesting, but it has to do with the way that it’s touched in the language people use to refer to both the body sort of holistically, but also specific body parts.

I think that there’s a “transing” that is possible in those spaces, or a kind of recognition that’s possible in those spaces, that actually does really recalibrate one’s sense of embodiment, one’s inhabitation of the body in the absence of questions of hormones and surgery. That has something to do with witnessing and touch and gesture and recognition that I think actually can manifest trans embodiment in the spaces where it happens. And that’s a very different understanding of what makes a body trans or not trans, I think, but it also seems very, I don’t know, just phenomenologically true. That happens.

S: That’s interesting the way that you put it. I hadn’t really thought that way about it but it makes me think about, one of the things I think about a lot is the limitations of our framework of consent in negotiating sexual encounters or whatever, and how you might not be able to, in that moment, say — like, the moment that you’re analyzing in your book from Casey Plett is a moment where maybe that person is not really able to say these things about their desire, but the other person can recognize it without that language, right? And that for me kind of questions that idea of this verbal consent model, because you don’t always have the language. You can’t rely on the other person all the time in a sexual encounter to know these things, right? But this is like a special kind of circumstance where something happens outside of being able to talk about it. So yeah, I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it that way. That’s really interesting.

HM: I think it also happens in friendships, too. I mean, I imagine — and this is maybe again retrospectively imbuing meaning — but I just think about all of the friends I had as a kid and as a teenager, and they were of multiple assigned genders, but when I think about my dynamics with them, we were all just like rowdy little boys with each other. Yeah, and I mean, that was the space of intercorporeality that we produced, and how we navigated and inhabited our bodies in those spaces. So it happens there too, right? Just in this whole economy of gesture and relation, where there can be real intimate kinds of knowingness that exceed questions of gender norms or gender categories that become phenomenologically really fundamental, even if they’re not done justice by language, right? There’s a complexity that exceeds languages in those interactions that I find really important to think about, which is part of why I think trans phenomenology is a subspecialization, is so interesting.

S: And that’s sort of what I was talking about when I was saying there’s that retroactive aspect of transness. But like when I use that word to understand myself, I could go back and be like, “all these things fall in place in a certain way that like I couldn’t put together before, but now I can,” and then you can start saying, “this was the logic underlying that I was unconsciously seeking out something and other people could see it without also having to say it, because there wasn’t a space for it”. Yeah, I love that way that you were talking about that.

But okay, also thinking about the T4T kind of community among trans people: one thing that I think is super important that you talk about is not idealizing our understanding of trans people, but when we talk about this, insisting on complexity. You say trans people can and do trigger each other frequently, like our trauma’s kind of play out among ourselves beyond our control often. There’s also the “horizontal hostility” that we see in trans communities, that’s a phrase that you use, just thinking about how people kind of go after each other. I want to hear you talk about why we need to deidealize and wade into this sort of mess of transcollectivity and what that brings us. You mentioned a kind of “non-utopian” from the Torrey Peters work, so maybe you could talk about that, too, because you’re saying that transness isn’t redemptive in itself?

HM: Absolutely not. No, no. I think the best shot we have at building communities of resistance, that are resilient and effective, lies in getting to know one another deeply. Part of getting to know one another deeply is really leaning into and learning about the ways that we are fundamentally different from one another, and the kinds of antagonisms that crosscut and compromise our ability to really be present and supportive with one another. I think the only way to do that is by granting that there are these antagonisms that circulate within trans communities. There’s no reason why I am necessarily going to be friends with somebody by virtue of the fact that they are trans and I happen to be trans, right. But we do have maybe something shared in the form of a political horizon we’re working towards.

So I think it’s real important to grant that solidarity can happen in the context of antagonism, and also that working through those forms of antagonism and horizontal hostility and mutually resonant triggering is, in a way, a kind of imperative political work, because it’s what deepens coalitions, it’s what deepens affinities. I mean, that’s part of why I talk about T4T in that way. But I also think that it’s just really important to think about how folks are positioned very differently structurally, and that shapes the kinds of resources that people do or don’t have to marshal, in the context of mutual aid work, in the context of building trans-affirming cultural spaces. I just think it’s important to pay attention to that. Which is related, to go back to an earlier conversation, to why I think it’s important to talk about transnormativity. Not trying to demonize anybody who understands their transition, and their gender and their embodiment, along more normative lines, but I just think it’s important to point to the fact that there are like, I don’t know, deep structural considerations that inform that psychic, emotional, effective and libidinal economy and understanding of selfhood.

S: In the context of care in particular, and burnout, in your books, you look at the way that we can get seduced by the romance of community — and this is something we’ve been invoking throughout this conversation, like there’s a transcollectivity and trans community, but when you talk about it, you’re like, actually, it’s complicated it’s messy. You take this term from Rupert Raj, of “gender labor” and how trans people are always doing this kind of gender labor for each other, whether it’s in an official position, like Rupert Raj had at certain points, or unofficially like in our friendships. So I wonder maybe transitioning a little bit to the idea of care and this “gender labor” and the experience of trans burnout, can you talk a little bit about how you understand that and the kind of promise of community.

HM: I was talking recently with an NPR affiliate interview that I did with a show that’s based in Dallas, Texas. It was a good conversation, but it was maybe the first time I’ve done an in depth interview with somebody who wasn’t trans. [both laughing] So that was very new to me. Not only that, but somebody who was like a very, I don’t know, normative white woman who was, you know, a radio show person? I don’t know. I think you get what I’m saying.

S: Yeah.

HM: Like, it was a weird situation for me, because I was like, “these are not the people I’m normally in dialogue with, this is odd.” But she had this kind of epiphany in the middle of the conversation, where she was like, “it just occurs to me how much mental and emotional space is freed up by not having to think about gender all the time. Like, I never realized that that was a privilege I had.” I just laughed bitterly. I was like, “oh, yeah, no, that’s for sure”. Like, imagine. When I think about what else would be possible in my life if I hadn’t had to fucking think about this shit all the time and work on this, and engage in voluntary gender labor or gender work, what else I would have done? I don’t know, because that’s not what I did. That’s not what I felt called to do or had to do.

But there’s a truth to that, and that means that I think sometimes you just hit peak gender exhaustion [cracking up] and maybe the last thing some of us want to do in those moments is be around people who remind us of that, or be around people who are similarly sort of suffering from that peak gender exhaustion. Or maybe you want to be around those folks, but just not talk about it. And part of why you want to be around those folks is because you can be with them and not talk about, just have it tacitly understood that it is exhausting.

I think that horizontal hostility within trans communities is in large part, underwritten by or maybe directly shaped by, the exhaustion that comes along with having to do this kind of work all the time. The emotional labor of managing people’s reactions to your gender, as you present it in the world, the work of attempting to carve out spaces that are affirming in the context of your work life, or your domestic life, or the social spaces that you inhabit. So I think that folks are really exhausted, folks are really burnout, and it does mitigate, or ameliorate, possibilities for political resistance when folks are at capacity all the time. I think, it seems to me like that’s a reality for trans folks in the US at this moment.

S: That made me think about a potential parallel I see in anarchist spaces. Where the older, maybe not in the years, but the people who’ve been doing it longer, trying to figure out how to get people in. So I see the parallel with anarchism and transness because in the last number of years, moments of radicalization has brought people into anarchist organizing, like the George Floyd Uprisings, going back to Trump, etc. And then also more trans access to knowledge about transness that’s brought more people into transitioning, and you can see how new people undertake this. You can look back and be like “they’re on this stage of the journey”. So there could be sort of frustration. And it’s another form of gatekeeping when you look back and try to narrativize someone else’s incoming. But this is also this place where there’s a lot of people coming in, you want to welcome that and you might not have the capacity for it. I don’t know. Yeah, I don’t know if I have a question. It just made me think about that parallel a little bit for radical organizing, or anarchists organizing and transitioning. Maybe it’s just because of my age, too. I’m just like, “oh, the young people are in this place” and like, you get to the place where you can think about it in a different way, maybe after you get knocked down a few times.

HM: Totally. I think there’s also a growing preoccupation with making these forms of work sustainable over the long term, and I mean for transness, forms of trans living, sustainable over the long term. And I think that’s where intergenerational connection and dialogue and communities of support become really imperative. So folks aren’t having to reinvent the wheel either in terms of tactics, like organizing tactics, or in terms of just understanding how to access resources and build collective resilience. And wealth is not the word I want to use, but structures of sustainability that enable life to go on. I think I was not concerned with that when I was in my my teens and 20s, particularly, but now that I’m approaching 40, I’m like, “oh, yeah, if we’re in it for the long haul, we need to figure out how to build the long haul, together without intensifying the forms of burnout and exhaustion that are already so rife.”

S: Right. I mean, for the people on the older side of that spectrum — also, there’s that desire to be sort of stable and maybe have some comfort or rest, whatever comfort you can from a horrible space and moment that disinclined you to continue the processes of organizing, or even just like helping shepherd younger people through their experiences. Yeah, it’s another one of the kind of seductions I guess of normativity too, right? Though, I think with that being less and less available to people we’ll see a shift. It’s weird in this moment to be like, “everything is really under attack and yet I, currently, right now, am safe, and not personally under attack.” Like, that kind of weird dissonance.

HM: Yeah. And then the divide between youth and adults in terms of what will happen legislatively, legally, in terms of access to technologies of transition. I have big question marks about how that’s going to transform the transpolitical landscape in the coming years. I’m thinking specifically about there’s like a feature on Chase Strangio that came out a few weeks ago, where — you know Chase Strangio is known for being like the trans lawyer, doing all these like high profile civil litigation cases, or civil liberties cases — and he says in this interview, you know, “extra legal networks of care are going to become increasingly imperative for trans people, because of the way that legal networks that provide trans affirming care are going to just be consistently chipped away at given the structure of the court system in the US.” I don’t know, ever since I read that profile — which is a great profile — but ever since I read it I’ve had that just sort of spinning around in my head, and thinking about how to build for that now. What can we do now to make sure that those networks of care and mutual aid are as robust as they can be when we really are going to need to access them?

S: That’s interesting to hear that coming from him too, because of the work that he does. This is something I’ve been thinking about, and maybe if you have more thoughts on it, the fact of these policy measures, and just legislative attacks, or executive orders, or whatever, that are specifically targeting trans people, trans youth…my fear is that that narrows a radical trans politics into just countering the state on the state’s playing field. Which the abortion situation shows us doesn’t work, right? Because whatever gains Roe v Wade made for abortion, were just reversible whenever, at the whim of the state. And there’s nothing this political system is going to do to protect that. So that’s my fear, like if we just go to counter the state and be like, “we assert our rights as trans people,” then we narrow those radical horizons. I wonder if you have thoughts about sort of, I don’t know, maybe this is where your idea of the infrapolitics of care comes in too, and thinking of care as a form of self defense. Yeah, I don’t know, I’ll just turn it to you. If you have ideas about how to respond to this moment.

HM: There’s a real southern specificity to my thinking about this. Having grown up in Florida, and then lived in Georgia, in Tennessee, and then Indiana, which is not the South, but is just north of Kentucky, right, and now living in Pennsylvania, which is not the South, but just north of West Virginia, and still in Appalachia, I think a lot about — both in relationship to questions of abortion access and reproductive justice more broadly, and also in relationship to questions of accessing transformative care — how for folks in these spaces that are not sort of coastal cities, coastal megalopolises there have had to be long standing networks of care and mutual aid, that facilitated access to reproductive care, and that facilitated access to transition for folks. So if you live in a state where if you work for either a private company that is not trans affirming, or public institution that is explicitly trans exclusionary, like is the case for so many people in the southeastern US, although not exclusively there, then your access to medical care has always relied on things like crowdfunding, or marshaling broader community resources or the resources of friends and loved ones who are willing to help you pay for specific surgeries or for access to hormones that you might be paying entirely out of pocket for.

I’m also thinking about things like abortion doulas in the southeast and the necessity of doing abortion doula work. Those networks already exist in spaces that have not had easy access to transition, to reproductive technologies historically, and I think that that’s where we need to look for lessons about how to organize in the future. I feel like I have a lot more to say about this, but I’m just gonna let it stay there for right now. I think it’s really imperative right now to look at the people who have been doing this extra legal organizing for a very long time, because their work has served multiply marginalized and structurally disenfranchised communities, and think like, “Okay, well, how do we replicate this? How do we learn from this? How do we not reinvent the wheel?” And actually tap the wisdom that I don’t know is already there?

S: Yeah, I think that’s a really important point and it points to the sort of risks of the legalization avenue, which then is sort of one of the main logics of the state. They incorporate things so then you become dependent on them for access to them, and then we lose the sort of those traditions of, you know, community care that were there before and the memory of them too.

HM: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s why the South is so interesting. because those are spaces where it’s unnecessary to maintain those networks. Because even though Roe v. Wade happened 50 years ago, the ability to determine one’s, how do I want to put it, basically the ability to decide how and when one has kids, has never been easy to access for folks in the South. The gains of Roe v. Wade have been chipped away at from the moment that it passed in the 70s in southeastern states. Rhose networks already exist there. And now’s the time, I think, to invest in them more heavily. Also for folks who are not in spaces where these networks have had to, of necessity exist, to think about how they can be replicated in spaces where they might be newly necessary or necessary again, in a way they haven’t been for decades.

S: So I was really taken with your discussion of envy in Side Affects. You’re really careful to say that we need to think of it not necessarily as a moral or personal failing, which is how it’s often presented, but that it’s an index of injustice that frames our political relationship to our own desires. And I really like this quote that you say, that “envy might be an incipient revolutionary consciousness”. And then the other thing that’s really compelling to me is this idea that envy could be an alternative to dysphoria as grounding, the affect and experience of tranness. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about, just giving us a taste of your discussion of bad affects, like your understanding of envy, and what role it plays in our daily lives, but also the political horizons?

HM: Yeah, I mean, with envy, I think that chapter started just because I became really preoccupied with: why was it that I’d been told, and I think a lot of people are told, that it’s bad to want? Just bad to want, full stop. But also for trans folks, it’s bad to want the things we want in terms of our embodiment, and in terms of the way that we’re known in the world. And that has been the sort of motor of such intense guilt and shame for me personally, and I think probably for other folks, that it became really important to think about why I might want to reject it. And why it might be important to actually say, “No, I don’t need to feel bad for the forms of envy and the forms of desire that are tied to that envy, that have informed the way that I live in what I desire. Maybe it’s okay to embrace them, and what would happen if I did embrace them?” That’s related to dysphoria, because dysphoria — and the way that I understand it, and there are probably other ways to understand dysphoria, I’m not saying mine is the only way or the exclusively right way — but the way that I have understood dysphoria is a term that indexes feeling really particularly not great about the gender you’ve got, and then wanting, wanting desperately to change it. But the emphasis lies on, I don’t know, this individual experience of just being like, “I don’t want the body that I’m in, I don’t want to be in this body any longer.” Envy to me seems more promising because it’s like, actually about what we desire, what we want, not about the feeling of just being dysphoric and feeling terrible about that. Conversations about desire are way more compelling to me than conversations about dysphoria [laughs]. So I felt like if we embraced envy, and then thought, why is it that we’ve been told that we need to feel bad for wanting the things that we want? What would it mean to reject that, and instead, say, “it’s fine to desire the things that we desire, and actually, the problem is that they’re structurally foreclosed. Not that we desire them.”

S: You use the example from Lou Sullivan, in the journals, writing about, I think, Paul and Ringo from the Beatles — that’s such a sort of formative trans experience of being like, “am…do I want…am I attracted to this person? Do I want to be this person? Is it both of those things?” Which I think is really a way more expansive understanding of what gets labeled as “dysphoria” that feels like, when you talk about that way, it feels horrible, but then you’re like, “oh, it’s this question of desire that I can’t fully understand.” That’s like, to me, like, I don’t know, more joyous in some way.

HM: Yeah. I mean, to insist on the ability to explore and experiment with that desire seems really, really promising in a way that embracing dysphoria conceptually just doesn’t. I think I’ve been very mad about the ways in which the ability to experiment with certain kinds of desires has been structurally foreclosed. Talking about envy as an indicator of structural injustice opens up a space to think about how the struggle might be…how do I want to put it? This is tricky for me to sort of wrap my brain around, this is just a sign that I’m still thinking about envy, and I don’t have it all figured out, but if we understand certain forms of envy to be indicators of structural injustice, then the emphasis is on what needs to transform structurally, what we can do to transform structures that make the experimentation with certain kinds of desires impractical or impossible.

S: I mean, I think this is why I really like your use of transition as this unending process of becoming. Because with envy, it can be this mobile desire, where dysphoria is like, “oh, there’s a cure to that and cure to that is to become this other gender that’s stable,” but the envy maybe keeps shifting. Which is true for a lot of trans people I know, their experience of how they inhabit their body and gender changes over time. It’s not like they’ve landed there. Then in terms of the way you frame it “the index of an injustice,” I try to think a lot about like luxury from a sort of radical or anticapitalist perspective. It’s like, we deserve it and we want it. We want what we want, and we deserve what we want. So the way you frame it just gels with that kind of idea for me.

Maybe to use this as transition to an ending question from my anarchist perspective, too, because I think transition is an unending process, to me, also parallels my understanding of anarchism, which is not a goal but a sort of way of relating to relationships in the world. I hold on to this horizon of gender abolition, which maybe seems like an endpoint, because thinking of the current gender regime that we live under, as a production of, as we’ve discussed, from the beginning, racial capitalism and colonialism, settler colonialism. There’s a way that you talk about it in the book that I feel like we can see this idea of gender abolition, running the risk of a kind of idealization of some “genderless utopia”, and also maybe losing the sort of daily life experience of what it means to be trans in this current regime. So I just wonder what your thoughts are on gender abolition and how it might fit into radical trans politics.

HM: Yeah, this has become complicated in recent days, because I found out that some TERF’s are using the phrase “gender abolition” in ways that, like anarchist trans people have not understood. So using it to just mean the abolition of the concept of gender in favor of this defensive, dimorphic biological sex. I want to be very clear from the outset that the TERF uptake of the phrase “gender abolition” is very, very real to me and that has me wondering about whether it’s a phrase I still want to utilize, like to wrest it back from them, or not. I just want to mention that, I haven’t come out one way or the other on that. I will say that, you know, gender abolition has always been — I think this is a horizon that I share with you — it’s always been something that I’ve thought about, that I’ve maybe wanted, that I’ve maybe lusted after, politically and otherwise. How I understand it, it’s not that folks would cease to have gender, or that there wouldn’t be a multiplicity of genders that were were recognized socially and were legible in terms of the way that we interacted with one another, but really, rather that binary gender at the level of institutions, at the level of social structures was abolished. So we wouldn’t have gendered forms of ID, we wouldn’t have gender segregated spaces that make circulating socially very impracticable for gender nonconforming folks and trans folks. So these sorts of things, right, like abolishing gender at the structural and institutional level, no longer using it as a litmus in the context of surveillance and monitoring populations. What would that open up? I think what it would open up is probably a much greater ease of moving through the world for many people.

Anecdotally, and you probably have been aware of this too, every time there is an architectural shift to make bathrooms, single stall and non gendered/gender neutral, everybody wants to use those bathrooms because they’re just fucking better spaces [both laugh]. So to me, that’s one small instance of a gender abolitionist project that actually ends up being much better for everyone regardless of how they identify. I think on a broader scale, forms of gender abolition structurally and institutionally will just produce more and more of those kinds of spaces.

The other thing I want to say just sort of maybe jokingly, I would be really, really happy to never use a men’s room again in my life [Hil cracks up]. Yeah, I mean, it’s terrible [Scott laughs] I don’t know, like, what are cis men doing? It’s awful [they both crack up]. For that reason, too, I would love to see gender abolished structurally institutionally.

S: No. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I mean, you’re talking structurally and institutionally, but it also is refracted in — I don’t know, I think about just watching kids and the sort of policing of gender that kids are sort of deputized to do. I don’t even think they know what they’re doing and they’re suffering at the same time. That’s a place where gender abolition, I could see it really having a clear material effect, where that work doesn’t have to be done. Like anyone can play any way that they want in whatever moment without having to be like, “you shouldn’t be doing that, because you’re a boy or a girl.”

HM: I mean, again, it’s like just opening up these spaces of experimentation and spaces where desires are possible, and can be manifested. I think that’s where I would like to see us go. And that’s what gender abolition has always kind of named for me. And maybe we want to use another term now, or in the future. But I still think that project is absolutely imperative.

S: Well, yeah, thank you so much. I think that’s a good place to sort of leave it. I’m really grateful for your time and the work that you’re doing. And thanks for sharing your ideas. Is there any place that you want to direct listeners to get access to your work or your ideas?

HM: Yeah, so Trans Care was published open access so that’s available online through Manifold for anybody who wants to read it. As for the books, so I’ve got three books out, my first book, Queer Eembodiment: Monstrosity, Medical violence and Intersex Experience; then Trans Care; and now Side Affects: On Being Trans and Feeling Bad. So buy them at your local radical bookstore and if you don’t have a radical one, just an independent one [chuckles].

S: Yeah. Well, thank you so much for talking with me today.

HM: Yeah, no it was so great. It was so great to connect to and we should totally keep in touch in the future.

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis

Sophie Lewis and text "Abortion, Family, Queerness and Private Property with Sophie Lewis | TFSR 07-10-22"
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This week, Scott and William talk to Sophie Lewis, author of Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family and the soon-to-be-released Abolish The Family A Manifest for Care and Liberation (out in October, 2022) about the current political moment that is characterized by attacks on trans people and peoples reproductive abilities. They also talk through what creates this moment, where trans people come into the target of State power being weaponized by the far right, as well as the connections among these attacks against LGBT education, access to transition, access to abortion and critical race theory. Also discussed are some limitations of a legalization framework around abortion, as opposed to a decriminalization, the limits of liberalism (particularly liberal feminism), and also the ways that certain strains of feminism contribute to an anti-trans discourse. Finally, there is chat about how to approach people needing support people who need access to healthcare, whether it be transition or abortion, outside of the hands of the state.

You can find Sophie on twitter at @ReproUtopoia and support her on Patreon at Patreon.com/ReproUtopia. You can find a children’s book Sophie co-translated called Communism For Kids or a compilation she contributed to on the ecological crisis called Hope Against Hope.

Opposing Torture

[01:11:19 – 01:17:44]

In Sean’s segment, he mentions his new book, Opposing Torture, available from LittleBlackCart.Com

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Featuerd Tracks:

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Transcription

Amar: Thank you so much, Sophie, for coming onto the show. I’m super excited that you’re here. Would you, just to get us started, introduce yourself with your name, correct gender pronouns, if you wish, and speak a bit about what you do and what your interests are?

Sophie Lewis: Thanks so much for having me on. My name is Sophie Lewis, I’m a they/she pronouns person. I am a writer living in Philadelphia since 2017. I also teach courses on critical theory online at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research. And I’m also a recovering or ex-academic. I’ve got British and German dual nationality, but I grew up in France. I’m very placeless in my background, and I’m trying to make Philly home in a meaningful way. I recently heard someone say that “small C communists” are just anarchists that went to Grad School. I felt read to filth by that, I’m not gonna lie. I am interested in anti-work theory, unorthodox Marxisms, and critical utopianism. I’m interested in trans, disability, and health liberation frameworks. I’m interested in reproductive justice. And I’m interested in the destruction of properterian kinship. And I share with my beautiful partner Vicky Osterweil – who I believe is a friend of your show – a strong interest in film and literature. I’ve never seen a dumb heteronormative reality TV show I don’t want to wax theoretical about.

Amar: That’s beautiful.

Scott: Thank you so much for coming on. I’m so excited to talk to you. Your views and analysis on things are always super insightful and helpful to me. So I’m really glad that you’re willing to come to talk to us.

Amar: I know that we are going to ask for another interview with you about your work on abolishing the nuclear family unit, as we know about, but would you speak a little bit about some of your past work, as well as some influences that you have or inspirations you had when writing or conceptualizing those works?

Sophie: Yes, great. My work in the past is varied. It’s funny, the thing that some people nowadays associate with me the most, i.e. more so than my book that you mentioned, is my essay “My Octopus Girlfriend”, which is to say, I got in trouble on social media a couple of years ago for my feelings concerning the queerness of octopuses. And we can talk about that another time if you want. But I do think it’s interesting to bring this up, partly because my more-than-human commitments and my commitments to the erotic do seem to be one of the reasons why there are plenty of people in the so-called normie left, at least online, who consider me in this moment of red-brown triangulation in so many words a degenerate.

But anyhow, in 2019– I guess… Full Surrogacy Now was published by Verso Books in 2019, and that book loosely represented my Ph.D., which was in geography, and what the hell is geography anyway? At the University of Manchester in England, I think geography is a place for all the odds and ends and ragtag misfits of academia and humanities disciplines to end up if they want to be abolitionists or anarchists or Marxists. Anyway, it’s called Full Surrogacy Now: Feminism Against Family, and to be honest, I don’t think Verso Books or I expected anyone to read it. And things did turn out differently. It’s not a book, as they finally understood around the time that the paperback came out two years later, about the service or arrangement commonly known as surrogacy, so much as it is a family abolitionist manifesto for gestators. But that part about family abolition was a cause of much interest and so in October, I have a clarifying follow-up about that part of the politics, coming out. It’s very short. It’s called Abolish the Family: A Manifesto for Care and Liberation, also with Verso or Salvage editions. I clarify this family abolition component. And especially, I extend its anti-racist dimensions a lot more. So I’m excited to talk to you about that in a future episode.

In general, I write a lot about reproduction and critical utopianism, which is why my handle is reproutopia. Although I guess once upon a time, I thought that that would be some professional handle. Whereas my rabble-rousing one would remain @lasofa or whatever, but I just can’t I can’t split myself that way. I just can’t do it, which is probably one of the reasons why I don’t have a job. Sometimes, I think I’m not even sure I believe in reproduction. Because maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe there’s only cogenerative coproduction, but you get the idea. I write against private property, I write against biogenetic property, I write against eugenics, I hope, and against patriarchal motherhood, the private nuclear household, and the privatization of care.

You might be interested to hear that I cut my teeth politically doing climate justice, direct action, and anti-austerity student stuff while I was an undergrad between 2007 and 2011, I was hanging out with anarchists and anarcha-feminists in the UK. And after that point, I was quite traumatized by getting beaten up by riot cops in Copenhagen where we were mobilizing for climate justice at COP 15. And I became really unable to think about climate individually or write about it. Instead, I’m part of a collective called Out of the Woods – which is not very active right now – but which published a book called Hope Against Hope: Writings on Ecological Crisis with Common Notions Press. And basically, it’s only when I’m being with them that I can bear to think about ecocide head-on.

You also asked about my influences. I’d say my big theoretic influences include decolonial and ecological sex radicals like Kim TallBear and Angela Willey. And then obviously family abolitionists, like the inventor of the word feminism Charles Fourier, the 19th century French Socialist Utopian and the left Bolshevik Alexandra Kollontai, and then sex worker liberationists femi babylon and Amber Hollibaugh, and anti-work philosophers like Kathi Weeks and Tiffany Lethabo King, problematic faves like Shulamith Firestone, and the early Donna Haraway, I’m just listing all my favorites. So the insurgent social reproduction theorists, basically, I’m thinking Francis Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance, or the Black women of Wages for Housework, Wages Due Lesbians in the 70’s. I do visit the 70’s quite a lot. And at this point, I’ve written a ton of essays for magazines and journals, since I’m trying to earn my living as a freelancer. Albeit I wouldn’t be making ends meet if I didn’t also teach. And I wouldn’t be making ends meet if 250 people didn’t kindly patronize me. I get $1,000 a month on Patreon. That’s my only dependable source of income. Thank you to people who do that.

Amar: That’s lovely. And will probably ask you how people can support you on Patreon at the end of the show, or if you want to say it now.

Sophie: Oh, bless you. Yeah, it’s patreon.com/reproutopia. I appreciate it.

Amar: Hell yeah! You said you draw a lot from the 70s. And I think the 70s just gave us so much emergent thought crafting. I listened to an interview that you gave on This is Hell, that podcast in which you mentioned a friend of the show, the novel Woman on the Edge of Time, which I was really sparked by and very interested to– Maybe we’ll save that as a teaser for our discussion on Abolishing the Family and such topics.

Scott: I’m really excited about the way that you’re picking up on some of those legacies from the radical movements then, and one of the things that you just said that maybe could roll into the discussion and something that we can talk about is your intervention seems to be within what is called, in feminism, social reproduction theory. But I like how you were backing away from that term and talking about cogenerative. When we talk about social reproduction, we get caught in reproducing the same over and over again. And I really think about how the things that we do right now maybe can stop that endless repetition. But it does seem to be what is on the hook right now – what kind of world is being reproduced? Can we end that? And is it going to be ended in a good way or a really scary way?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. Pretty much agree.

Scott: Maybe you can transition to the point of our current discussion, though, I’m excited for the future one. It is thinking about what’s happening at this moment socially, and legislatively, with ramping up attacks on trans people and reproductive self-determination. Why do you think this is happening right now? What created the conditions for trans people to be under the target, youth, in particular, is weaponized by the far right, and why is this the moment that finally we’re seeing the culmination of decades of work against abortion?

Sophie: Really great opening question, albeit quite difficult, I’ll do my best. And thinking about the process of hollowing out of the political center that we’ve been seeing, I think, for some time. And the hollowing out of the center creates conditions in which marginalized groups can be flung sacrificially under the bus. This is complicated, but it seems to me that because of the extraordinary success of Black Lives Matter the establishment wants to– it’s not that they ever had to choose one or the other or their white supremacy isn’t still part of the DNA of every political maneuver by the ruling class in this country… But I think there is a pivot towards the sex panic specifically. And again, just to be clear, it’s always racialized at the same time, but I think the marginalized group to be scapegoated and panicked morally about is– You can think about Hillary Clinton’s “Black thugs.”

I think currently, the same people are worried very much about these two figures, the predatory trans woman and the mutilated child. And there are other reasons: the crisis of care throws up these specters. The end-of-empire panic about futurity expresses itself via demographic anxieties, right? On the far-right, it’s replacement theory and white genocide. That same anxiety is across the political spectrum. And that demographic anxiety about the survival of America as a settler colony enacts itself on the bodies of children whose fertility becomes fetishized.

What else? Capitalism needs to discipline the non-reproductive and the inadequately or incorrectly reproductive. I’m not doing a great job and just throwing out phenomena that I think are relevant. We are living inside the legacies of the pedophile industrial complex of the 80’s. The really significant reconstruction of the political landscape in the US around the carceralist figure of the innocent child, the figure to be protected at all costs on the basis of a-sexuality and, weirdly, fertility. This is the part that I think people don’t get enough about the figure of the cisgender or cissexual child that everybody wants to save right now. It’s creepy. It’s an avatar of fertility, that child, it is an avatar of the future.

In your notes to me before we began this talk, you mentioned Lee Edelman’s book, which is justly criticized for its slightly nuanced opposition to the maternal or the reproductive or whatever. But Lee Edelman’s book, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive talks about the “fascism of the baby’s face”, or the way in which all Politics requires this figure of the child to transmit and defer and displace any possible transformation into the future. I’ve been trying to think about whether that’s all that’s going on. Very specifically, in a time of demographic crisis and weird replacement-theory type panic, weirdly, it’s literally the genitals and the reproductive organs of literal cisgender children that become spectral-ly present at the front and center of so much political discourse. How’s that? What do you think?

Amar: It is just deeply creepy. As you said, when it’s broken down that way, when we’re fixating so heavily on the reproductive capability of, in some cases, literal babies, infants, and it just reminds me of the very profound extent to which cisheteronormative society just really thinks about children as property, which is codified into law too. It’s just very disturbing and creepy.

Scott: I was just thinking, it’s interesting, in my studies of gay Liberation stuff from the 70’s, reading Guy Hocquenghem, he’s saying that the price for a certain gay man to get some rights and acceptance in society would basically necessitate the casting out of figures of the trans woman and the pedophile. And he had this prescient view of it in the very beginning of gay liberation, and I feel we’re seeing the combination of it. But the way that as people, the three of us raised in this pedophile industrial complex, it’s always very strange to me… How it creates this weird situation, where children are unnecessarily sexualized, and all these moments where things don’t need to be fraught or weird at all. And people are worried about this stuff. And it’s actually, to me, always ends up pointing to the family as this really creepy scenario where there are parents obsessing over their children?

Sophie: Yes, absolutely. There’s so much to say, I’m just worried that if I jump on your points about parental rights, we’ll rhizomatically follow who knows what kinds of paths. The very fundamentally racial character of the institution of parenthood should probably be noted, at least in passing. This goes back to elemental Black feminist theorizing around how Black gestators under chattel slavery in the United States were cast out from the domain of dyadic cisgender, precisely because they could not be inscribed in the social order as mothers. They were not the mothers in the sense of motherhood, the institution of property, really, of parental ownership over the product of their gestational labor. And that casting out from parentality also meant an ungendering of enslaved racialized Black “flesh.” To quote Hortense Spillers who actually uses that language of “ungendered flesh”. And this is still deeply relevant, the eugenic entanglements of all mainstream discourse about who should and should not reproduce in the United States today. It’s interesting to think about the intersections between that almost racializing definition of proper and improper parents. And there’s a contradiction that we’re seeing right now, the very same politicians who advocate parental rights, when it comes to things white parents on school boards banning “critical race theory” or anti-racist materials, they then willingly embrace separating trans kids from their parents. Anyway, I’ll pause there.

Scott: That’s a great transition. And this is something we wanted to talk about. It was really important that you brought up that racialized history of the property and also of the gendering and ungendering according to your racial positionality of parenthood. This is one of the things – that’s linking the current fascist agenda. You brought up critical race theory, we’re seeing all attacks against any education around queerness in whatever form, the access to transition, or care around transition, for youth in particular, but it’s also extending to adults, and then abortion more recently. And this idea of parental rights seems to be one of the organizing ideas. So if there’s more that you wanted to say around that, I’d be interested just because it feels like such a strange invocation. Also, drag shows as a particular focus. The youth drag shows is something that people are getting really worked up about right now.

Sophie: Yeah, as you say, these links are among the prongs of attack. It is a successful and well-organized banning of anti-racism and queerness appearing in school spaces. Who is the congressman who was brandishing just a couple of days ago Anti-racist Baby, the infants’ book? There’s a real obsession with the idea of the infant, even not the child, but literally the neonate learning about America’s history in school. And there’s a criminalization, as you say, at the same time, of trans-affirming childcare and abortion, of gestational labor stoppages – as I would also encourage us to reframe them, or at least also think of them as. All of these, as you say, can be linked directly to the project of parental rights. And they reflect specifically a vision of patriarchal familist authority that cannot be disentangled from whiteness and from a totally triumphalist flattened ahistoricism – a version of history that is entirely made up.

We need to pay more attention to the way that this Republican-allied Christo-fascist series of maneuvers going on all these fronts that you mentioned are part of a project to reinstall the supremacy of the family. I was reading a dialogue between Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah in Jewish Currents today. They were right to highlight together the Christo-fascist series of associations, which in a way– I almost want to say they’re right, it’s annoying to have to constantly almost want to say that our very worst enemies understand the material stakes of the private nuclear households’ links to all of these historical forms of domination: from enslavement and colonialism to patriarchy and so on. They understand that better than the liberal establishment, they understand the stakes. Andrea Long Chu and Paisley Currah we’re talking about the line of connection in their minds, the Christo-fascists’ minds, between abortion which disrupts the family and things like marriage equality or whatever, and the specter of trans freaks molesting YOUR kids in public bathrooms. They are linked in our enemies’ minds. They are all assaults on the– Angela Metropulos is another theorist I’m thinking of, who I am, unfortunately, not as acquainted with as I would like. But I think her theorization of this is probably more and more needed right now, as Christo-fascism spirals into more and more power in a way on this territory. She talks about the oikos and how capital and settler colonialism discipline this sphere by very violent attacks. On improper bodily pleasures that fall with outside of the domain of productivity and reproductivity. That’s why all of these different fronts at the same time, although they are insufficiently linked in the mainstream conversation.

Amar: Absolutely. When you were talking and using the very correct framework of Cristo-fascism to politically frame the dominant shift that’s going on right now, I couldn’t really help but think about how The Handmaid’s Tale is used to describe this and the shortcomings of that analysis. Do you have any ideas about that?

Sophie: It’s actually interesting because you probably know that I had for several years a real bee in my bonnet about The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s fertility apocalypse, or sterility apocalypse rather. But I want to actually say but, I’m beginning to think that I might have almost gone a tiny bit too far, there might have been an element of overreach in my annoyance, because Angela Metropulos pulled me up a little bit on this, because I’m broadly speaking, and I’m also not the first to say it, but beginning in about 2017, I began to lose my temper. The Handmaid mania of liberal feminism. And so I actually wrote several pieces, and there’s a bit in the very beginning of Full Surrogacy Now where I expressed this distemper about the bizarre psychic under tow of handmaid mania. I say provocatively that it’s a utopia, not a dystopia in a sense because what all the people cosplaying as handmaids in Gilead are unconsciously acting out is a desire for this world where women herd has been flattened back into pure gestationality. And wouldn’t that be nice because then you wouldn’t have class-conscious or decolonial or trans or Black feminists critiquing you all the time? Because as the op-eds kept saying, “We are literally living in Gilead.” If that were true, then you would be, as a cis pregnant white woman like Elizabeth Moss in the Hulu adaptation, the very most oppressed subject of America, right?

And it’s like “Okay, that actually happened. It happened to enslaved Black women, forced surrogacy is not made up.” And to some extent, Margaret Atwood was constantly saying that everything in her dystopias has happened before, but that’s very much not how it’s taken up. It’s not taken up as an anti-racist consciousness. It’s not taken up in a way that connects to reproductive justice struggles or centers the reproductive justice concerns of organizers from the South. But the thing that really is still number one, as enemy in women’s lives, is capitalism. It’s not theocratic fascists with guns. I feel now that Angela might have been right that there’s no need to downplay the danger of the Christo-fascists in order to criticize the de-racialized slave narrative that is The Handmaid’s Tale.

Scott: I love the way that you analyze that, but I see what you’re saying. Going back to the family, we’re in the last however many decades in a place where people are living perhaps less and less – and what I mean by people is people typically within the dominant form, in the more represented white suburban situations are living less than less – in that typical nuclear family. And yet, the idea of the family hasn’t really been knocked down as a controlling image, especially within TV, sitcoms, even if it’s a work show, it’s a family structure, right? It’s everywhere, but we’re not living in those things. And likewise, with the issues around abortion, there’s this idea that we’re progressing away from these really oppressive things. And I feel even for leftists and anarchists, there’s a blind spot or an unwillingness to let go of the roots of our society that we live in, that is structuring all this oppression that we’re living in now, because of this faith in a progress, that we’ve made some strides away from the thing.

The Christian fascist thing really points out to me, that what we’re seeing right now is a minority group taking power. The system that is in place that ostensibly holds checks against them, the people who are inhabiting those positions are completely unwilling to check them. They’re letting it happen. All the people, the president, they’re not doing anything. So on one level, Christian fascism seems ridiculous, but we’re literally seeing these peoples seize power, and no one is really doing anything about it. I can see also why that’s utopian to be “Oh, we finally understand what woman is, it’s reproduction” or whatever. Maybe you have some thoughts about the progress narrative and the way that facts are negating that.

Sophie: I think you’re absolutely right. The liberal mainstream is almost capable of noticing or saying that there’s a civil war right around the corner, but they literally do not intend to fight in it. It is so cognitively maddening. It’s almost as though that liberal establishment doesn’t intend to do a single thing, just as it didn’t in order to defend abortion because it imagined that its Republican dancing partners would play fair against all evidence to the contrary. Progressive narratives are an epistemic canker, it’s so difficult to completely get rid of, even when one knows better. We’re just swimming in this idea of “history as progress,” and you can never overstate the importance of unthinking it, unpicking it.

It almost gives me hope that there is so much rage right now against the Democrats and their non-response to the striking down of Roe. What could be done is to frame the fight back in terms of very much politics, not ethics – mass gestational labor power, prole power, not individual personal freedom, in a sense, and not individual tragedies, and also, not these terrible spectacular rising tactics that some pro-choicers are using right now, where they’re brandishing blood-stained white pants and coat hangers, and talking about “we won’t go back” and insisting that “thousands will die and backstreet abortions”. Why is that the imaginary, it’s not actually helpful? We are actually in a historically different era. They can surveil and police and incarcerate, and we need to get really good at organizing against that and de-arresting people and blocking their ability to charge people. We need to get really good at evading and operating undercover.

But it’s also really important to think about the time we are in and the future we could build, rather than– I feel we won’t go back imagining that the reproductive status quo ante was okay. Abortions are overwhelmingly safe today. Regardless of whether or not they’re legal. I feel that there’s this bizarre attachment to a Margaret Atwood-flavored catastrophe. We’re literally going to all die because of the abortions themselves. But no, actually, that’s not what’s primarily going to happen. It’s much worse in a sense. I’m not saying incarceration is worse than death. But the real story that this is is a prison abolition story. Yet again, this is an abolitionist lesson. The problem of abortion being criminalized, is an over-criminalization problem, it’s a prison industrial complex problem. It’s a police abolition problem. I’m not sure that really links to your progress narrative point, but it links it to one of the big movements that have swept the “national conversation” in recent years, which is “one thing has to change, which is everything”. It’s not a question of making little meliorative steps towards a better world.

Scott: That’s really important what you said, I just wanted to pick up on it. The way that these laws are being crafted, that is increasing surveillance, increasing criminalization, increasing the possibilities of incarceration, so there’s increased state power there, which is maybe also why the liberals and Democrats in power are not so against it because it’s a boon for the State. But then the other thing that I’m thinking about is how all these laws are deputizing citizens to be informants. That also, to me, speaks to the nascent fascism, which leads to vigilante groups or paramilitary formations of people seeking out who’s doing this, or crossing state lines to track people down? So, I just thought that was really important that you brought up the way that the criminalization aspect of it works. And it shifts the focus around the liberal reaction of performing grief around something that’s not actually live for them at the moment, too. I just wanted to pull that out.

On the other side of the progress narrative, there’s the long-running anarchist or anarchistic critiques of legalizing abortion because of the way that incorporated the grassroots formations of caring for gestators and childbirth and ending childbirth outside of professionalization, or outside of institutionalization dominated by men, in particular, patriarchal power structures. So I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about any of that. Or what we can learn from that perspective now in response to this, which feels so upsetting, but maybe there’s other avenues of response?

Sophie: You’re absolutely right. The fact is so much of Turtle Island has been operating in a post-Roe reality for so long. I don’t know how much that is really real to people. We’ve been post-Roe in a combined and uneven way for some time. This is the zombie lag of it becoming law. People understand, in the places where it’s been de facto post-Roe for years and years, that abortion care happens outside of professional structures and independently of experts. And there is also quite a wide understanding that Roe absolutely sucked in the first place, even before the Hyde Amendment gutted it, and even before the Casey ruling gutted it still further, Roe vs Wade absolutely sucked. And to the extent that it even legalized abortion, which we have to say isn’t even really clear that it did that, it legalized a woman’s or a family’s right to have a private conversation with a health care provider or whatever.

But we have to ask ourselves, “What good is legalization and why do we want that?” You call it an anarchist critique of the legalizing of abortion. It absolutely is that. It is also actually a critique that used to be quite common across the board in the 70’s and the 60’s. They achieved this pyrrhic victory of Roe in 1973. What if we want laws off our bodies, and indeed an end to all laws, rather than laws that legalized anything we might do without laboring uteri, and what if we want the repeal of all abortion laws, not just the bad ones? In terms of the mainstream conversation, for sure, this perspective has been pretty widely lost over the last four decades. But it’s not really just a post-Roe critique, it was actually primarily a pre-Roe critique. I like to call it “gestational decrim”? They used to say, “Off our backs.” The idea is that we get the state completely off and out of our flesh, not just its punitive functions, but also its supposedly benign regulatory functions. And the term gestational decrim is basically something I floated. I don’t know if it’s gonna take off. But it’s an analogy to the sex work liberation movements call for decrim, as you well know. Comrades have tirelessly made the distinction between partial legalization and regulation, the so-called Nordic model, which is terrible for workers, and full decriminalization.

Amar: On the topic of operating sublegally, there, as many listeners probably know, is a group called Jane’s Revenge that is seemingly attempting to destabilize pro-life or forced birth infrastructures. Could you talk about that a little bit? Just talk about what’s been in the news, and also some of your thoughts on how it’s been received and how we might think about it in a more productive way.

Sophie: I wish I had every single fact about Jane’s Revenge at my fingertips. I’m just gonna talk in generalities in the aftermath of the Supreme Court leak striking down Roe, a shadowy anarchist network calling itself Jane’s Revenge was reported on a lot, striking via graffiti actions, and allegedly, also a Molotov cocktail, some windows smashing. The graffiti tag that was used in various locales, and as you mentioned, the targets, Jane’s Revenge was targeting Crisis Pregnancy Centers, which are fake abortion clinics that are funded by the far-right to psychologically guilt and dissuade people from getting abortion care. There was reporting on Jane’s Revenge that their tag was “If Abortions Aren’t Safe, Then Neither Are You.” I have to say I love it. It makes a huge difference if you have a cervix. The terrain of symbolic solidarity is actually quite significant.

There is this extreme minority capture of this issue that makes out, this thing that really everyone supports, actually, the majority of people in America totally like abortion. If you’re into electoral politics, which I’m not, but when you campaign about abortion, it’s quite cheering, it’s actually one of the few things that are fun and uplifting to go knocking on people’s doors about because everyone likes abortion. And that is not present in the symbolic sphere. So when someone breaks a CPC window, or– I live in Philadelphia, I was driving around and saw a big billboard in the aftermath of the leak that just said “Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania”, which might seem a small thing, but when you have a cervix and you’re walking around in the aftermath of a ruling like that, something has shifted. Even if you know that concretely, not that much has shifted for many people, it’s symbolic violence that renders you less than a person. And it is a great act of love to let people know that the violence they are meting out against gestators is hated and will not be tolerated.

My opinion is not really the point so much, I would just say that anyone calling themselves a feminist or leftist could maybe, at the very minimum, not do the right-wing’s job for them and go out of their way to write op-eds condemning Jane’s Revenge, as Judith Levine did in The Intercept. And I was extremely, extremely angry about that. I couldn’t understand why it was necessary of all things at this moment. I don’t know if she’s noticed. I don’t mean to single out Judith Levine. Of course, she’s not the only one. She’s a leftist feminist. A lot of feminists have been condemning Jane’s Revenge for some reason. And it makes me despair a little bit.

Yeah. Facebook, or Meta ruled that Jane’s Revenge was a tier-one terrorist organization. And so any posts expressing neutral or positive sentiments about the actions of Jane’s Revenge will be deleted from Facebook? Apparently, there’s no one on that list of tier-one terrorist organizations other than al Qaeda. It’s actually absurd. And earlier this month, Axios reported that assaults directed at abortion clinic staff and patients increased 128% compared with 2020. There are 4,000 names on the dangerous individuals and organizations list and only 2 are associated with anti-abortion terrorism. But as we know, it’s the supposed pro-life camp that has bombed and murdered people for 40 years. It just seems extremely strange to back up the casting of Jane’s Revenge as terrorists when they are some of the few brave, symbolic actors in solidarity with all the people who have had their bodily autonomy stripped from them by the Supreme Court.

Scott: Yeah, it’s so interesting, because the liberal or even leftists, like the Judith Levine piece are like, “Militancy is great. Violence isn’t good.” But you read the pieces that the people who are calling themselves Jane’s Revenge put out, they are very explicit and clear in their definitions of violence, and what they’re responding to, which you mentioned, is this campaign of literal physical violence against people? Not! They’re targeting empty buildings. It’s property again, right? It’s how it comes back into it. They’re not doing the same thing. Other than the people who are continuing to do abortion care, as they had been doing in, as you also rightly mentioned, that places where Roe didn’t really matter, those people who can’t be very public about the work that they’re doing, Jane’s Revenge is maybe the only visible effective, perhaps, action that’s being taken. Besides the futile protests against buildings or whatever that people do. Also, it’s really exciting because it’s reproducible and anonymous, right? It’s a meme or whatever.

Amar: I love it. To approach all of this with an eye to hypocrisy is to maybe participate in an exercise of driving yourself up the wall. But the hypocrisy of somebody approaching these actions with hand-wringing about violence is pretty backward and very establishment and harmful and also boring.

There’s so much to say about abortion and there’s so much to talk about with how people’s rights are being war-of-attritioned away and how much of those rights actually truly didn’t exist. It was no walk in the park to get an abortion before, a month ago, it was actually quite difficult and more so for folk who live in trigger states and folk who live in chronically unresourced or deresourced places. I would actually really love to hear about your take on the whole groomer discourse that is being levied at trans people specifically, but gay people more generally. Do you have any thoughts about that? And how does that tie into these moments that we’re collectively experiencing?

Sophie: I suppose I already covered some of my thoughts about the weaponized innocence of the figure of the Child. And I suppose this links to the way that– None of this can actually adequately be tackled, including in progressive or socialist, or whatever liberal frames of trans solidarity or allyship, without actually going as far, getting as deep as the principle of youth or child liberation, or youth or child sovereignty. Which is totally lost, it was totally successfully destroyed by the 80’s and by the pedophile industrial complex being built. It’s just off the map more or less, apart from on the fringes of radical movements and, of course, there are wonderful things that are going on. There’s the Purple Thistle, a youth-led community center in Vancouver, carla bergman is an anarchist, reproductive justice militant, and zine archivist who has a book coming out with AK Press called Listen To Kids. There exists consciousness about the importance of actually countering the property logic around kids and including or better than including children in the political process, but it’s just completely fringe. I don’t think that we can actually successfully counter the entire narrative about groomers without actually advocating for something like children and youth liberation. Because groomers are just an outgrowth of the properterian fantasy that, as you mentioned, really weirdly sexualizes the children within the tiny little bubble of the private nuclear household based on eodipal kinship, which is a very strange sexual structure between parents and children, which pretends that it is asexual and projects all of its strange hyper fixated sexuality onto this predatory other.

And it requires children to be literally art canvases, pieces of inheritance, who do not have desires, who do not have sexualities above all, who cannot make friends across generations, and who cannot dictate or negotiate their own boundaries visa vie each other or elders or whatever, and who will be irrevocably harmed by the company of a drag queen. It’s just so boring and so endless, there’s an endless well of this in our culture right now. And I’ve obviously been called a groomer because anyone who talks about queer theory in the public sphere will be called a groomer and a pedophile by TERFs and Gender-Criticals and fascists, etc. And it’s terrifying, right? It’s really terrifying. The left has not got a great strategy worked out about how to be effective in defense against that and how to actually do solidarity with people being targeted by the pedophile industrial complex. I’d love to see more conversations about that.

Scott: Going back to the 70’s, which keeps coming up for us, we’re rehashing on the left the same splintering moments of those radical movements of the women’s movement and gay liberation. They came together in certain areas around abortion and around cisgayness and then splintered around transness. And then the way that it’s reformulating now where supposed radical feminists are taking sides with fascists and right-wingers is a really weird echo or return to that moment. But I wonder what you think about– With groomer, going back to the reproduction of the same and trying to reproduce something else, the threat of the trans child seems to me to be this idea that a kid has some autonomy to refuse the discipline and wages of gender that are forced upon them. And so in a way the groomers are pointing back at– Noah Zazanis wrote about this, too, that cis people are the most effectively groomed people. They’re the ones who do the thing that they’re made to do, and trans people are actually refusing grooming. But I wonder what you think about this, the threat that gay and trans people play is that wherever reproduction we have to do of our community is not sexual reproduction. It’s a different way of forming ourselves and our community. What do you think about the threat of transition and also the strange posthistory of anti-trans feminism?

Sophie: There are different things there. But perhaps, I don’t know what the listenership tends to know and not know. So if you don’t mind, I’ll just state the obvious – or not for some people – about the strange interrelation. I do think it’s important to disambiguate TERFs and Gender-Criticals and simple garden transphobes because sometimes when people hear these conversations from a position of relative unfamiliarity, there can be a real reaction against the seeming conflation of these things. It’s important to state that the State is waging war on trans people, both adult and children, and it’s polarized around the racialized, sex working figure of the trans woman of color, and then the figure of the potentially transed, seduced, groomed, potentially infertile trans child. And this war is being waged primarily in the United Kingdom, but increasingly in the United States and elsewhere. And many actors in this mobilization, which brings together secular right-wingers, Christo-fascists, and sadly, some people who are nominally on the left claim no connection with feminism. That’s maybe obvious, right? However, there is also this presence in their ranks, and even sometimes at their home, especially in the UK. There’s a significant number of self-identified radical feminists. That’s what TERF means – trans-exclusionary radical feminist. This was a terminology brought about by someone who was cis rather than trans. The TERFs don’t like being called TERFs, although it’s very obviously a neutral descriptor. They pitch trans people’s existence itself against the interests of womanhood, and they sometimes link this to a global patriarchal pharma capitalist conspiracy, which supposedly drives the phenomenon of transness. And this links up very beautifully with anti-semitic understandings of the world.

I sometimes think the only real difference between a gender-critical, which is another word for the general anti-trans component within feminism – not all of whom would call themselves radical feminists, so TERF is a specific subset of Gender-Critical – but sometimes the difference between a feminist transphobe, and a Christo-fascist woman, a Trad Wife who hates trans people, is the particular flavor vibe or orientation of their wounded attachment to a suffering-based definition of femaleness. So it’s like do they relate psychically to their own femaleness in a tragic way, which is the feminist transphobes way – we will be females, bleeding and dying in childbirth forever, it’s what makes us sisters – or in a triumphal way, which is the Trad Wife belief, which is really, really inherent, you can hear it, sometimes they say out loud, but the most beautiful thing a woman can do for America is die in childbirth.

And in practice, the links between the feminist transphobes and the anti-feminist transphobes are very well-documented, I can definitely recommend the podcast Blood and TERF, which monitors these relationships. That’s a podcast from the UK, the Heritage Foundation and funding bodies that are even to the right of them have sponsored British radical feminists traveling, advocating, and lecturing for over a decade at this point. I wrote in, of all places, the New York Times who asked me to write about this and explain TERFism’s ideological roots. Why is TERFism so big in the UK? Alas, it was in 2019. Now, it seems it’s a globally known phenomenon because of JK Rowling’s uptake of it. In my opinion, its ideological roots are in eugenic feminism, including specifically colonial English women’s feminist efforts to impose a certain hygiene in India and Africa about a century ago.

But you asked me also about the good news of this confrontation today. There is a real need on the part of capitalist order today to de-fang that disruptive potential that you named in trans kids and to contain the possibilities of trans insurrection within what Nat Raha callsTtrans Liberalism. And it’s really working. There is a spilling over, there is a recognition that there’s refusals of reproductive and productivity type training of that cis heteronormative grooming that Noah Zazanis talks about. The links between that active refusal and all the other issues that we’ve been talking about in terms of work carcerality, the private character of care, the foreclosure of the future in white national reproduction, and so on. When I’m feeling optimistic, there is an insurgency of feminism against cisness taking place. Emma Heaney talks about feminism against cisness. And she turns the history of feminism on its head and historicizes the moment when it became cis, which it was not, to begin with. And the long-standing and currently very potentially powerful insurgency of feminists of all genders against cisness threatens the social order by potentially decommodifying, deprivatizing, and reorienting away from production and reproduction all of the means of collective life-making.

And the question we can ask ourselves, this is from Kay Gabriel, what would it mean for gender to function as a source of disalienated pleasure rather than as an accumulation strategy? And the proliferation of the means of transition doesn’t necessarily but potentially contains a whispered invitation towards exploring that question.

Scott: I love what you just said. That, in my mind, could be a really good last thing to say.

Sophie: We’ve been talking for ages. I’ve taken up so much of your evening. Actually, sometimes it’s good to just quit while you’re ahead. I feel you’re right. Maybe that’s a nice note to end on. We can always think about everything we wish we said and note it down so that our next podcast can potentially– It’s lovely!

Amar: I love it.

Sophie: It’s a real pleasure speaking to you two. It really is.

Amar: The feeling is super, super mutual. I might just ask in closing, is there anything, a notion that you would leave listeners with or parting words that you would say to them?

Sophie: That’s a lovely question. I feel everyone has seen this quote, but it makes me happy when it circulates in times of despair. And it’s that quote from Ursula Le Guin about how the power of capitalism seems immutable, but so did the power of kings under feudalism. When I’m feeling up optimistic right now, I’m realizing that the center cannot hold, there is no center anymore. There is a very real sense in which – and this is very scary – masses of our siblings and neighbors are coming to grips for the first time with the fact that we take care of ourselves, the state does not take care of us, and maybe that provides an opening.

Amar: Indeed, I love that so much. Thank you so much for those words and that provocation that’s really important to keep in mind always, but perhaps especially now.

Stop Cop City + Intl Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners

Stop Cop City + David Campbell on Antifascist Prisoners

This week’s episode features two interviews.

Stop Cop City / Defend the Atlanta Forest

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

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

David Campbell on Supporting Antifascist Prisoners

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

David’s former celly who could use some love:

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

David’s links:

Antifascist Political Prisoner Support Sites:

Specific Antifa Prisoners Mentioned:

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

Announcements

Jason Walker Transferred, Needs Support

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

Comrade Z Transferred

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

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

Hunger Strike at Granville Correctional in NC

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

Contact:

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

Demands include:

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

A few tips for calls:

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

. … . ..

Featured Tracks:

. … . ..

Stop Cop City Transcription

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Yeah!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony: Yeah, thanks for saying that.

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

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

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

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

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

Tony: Yeah, thanks so much.

. … . ..

David Campbell Transcription

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

TFSR: Yeah, totally.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC: ‘Law and order Democratic politics.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DC: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Yeah. Better than the alternative.

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

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

TFSR: Who’s out!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Please do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: His Grand Theft Auto fantasy?

DC: Yeah just over a few days!

TFSR: It’s a very big bridge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Xinachtli is still in at least.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Williams #21R0721

Orleans Correctional Facility

3531 Gaines Basin Rd

Albion, NY 14411

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Mutual.

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

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

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

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

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

Rojava Again Under Threat of Turkish Invasion

[00:10:35 – 01:45:30]

Mostly women carrying "Stand Up For Rojava" banner with a small girl and a sign picturing world leaders leaning in on a small Kurdish child
Download This Episode

Emre, Rimac, Xero and Anya, members of the Emergency Committee for Rojava join us on the show this week to talk about the escalation of violence and threats of invasion by Turkey into northeast Syria, updates from the region and their thoughts on how people in the West can help folks living under the Autonomous Administration of North East Syria. You can learn more about their work at DefendRojava.Org and find related interviews covering some of the subject matter discussed and past events on our website by searching for Rojava.

You can keep find Xero’s upcoming podcast, a member of the Channel Zero Network, at ManyWorldsPod.Github.io and you can find the latest of Anya’s co-authored pieces at The Nation (though it’s paywalled).

Greg Curry Hunger Strike

[00:01:07 – 00:10:35]

Justice for Greg Curry Update on Greg: He has currently been moved to a hospital due to the weight loss he has sustained during the hunger strike. It also seems Greg's mail is being withheld or stalled coming in and going out. Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email (stephen.gray@odrc.state.oh.us) or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at annette.chambers-smith@odrc.state.oh.us Suggested script: "Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg's RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O'Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg's appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike."First up, we’ll be sharing a message recorded a week ago by PAPS Texas of incarcerated activist and survivor of the Lucasville Uprising in 1993, Greg Curry, about his hunger strike for the ODRC’s retaliation to his organizing behind bars at Toledo Correctional. Greg’s support is asking folks to contact ODRC officials as he’s entered over a month on hunger strike, had his communication meddled with and has been hospitalized.

Greg has asked folks to contact Chief Legal Counsel Stephen Gray by email (stephen.gray@odrc.state.oh.us) or by phone (614-752-1765) or Annette Chambers-Smith via email at annette.chambers-smith@odrc.state.oh.us
Suggested script:
“Hello, I am contacting you as a concerned friend of Greg Curry A213159. During Greg’s RIB hearing, Officer Sgt O’Brien, who witnessed and investigated Greg was also on the RIB committee which is against your policy RIB/5120-9-08. We are asking you to act on Greg’s appeal which has been formally submitted to the Chief Legal Counsel and return Greg to population so he can come off this hunger strike.”

You can find a recent interview with a member of Prison Abolition Prisoner Support on Greg’s case at 1 hour 2 minutes into the episode (mislabeled as September 3rd 2020) at NewDream.US. You can hear our 2016 interview with Greg Curry.

. … . ..

Featured Tracks

    • Beritan from Jîyan Beats (dedicated to fallen PKK fighter, Gülnaz Karataş aka Beritan, who threw herself from a cliff after a fierce battle in Xakurke rather than surrender to Turkey on October 25, 1992)
    • Instant Hit (instrumental) by The Slits from Cut

. … . ..

Transcription

TFSR: So I’m speaking with folks from the emergency committee for Rojava. Would you all care to introduce yourselves with whatever names gender pronouns, where you’re based, and any other info? And any other info about yourself, and it’d be cool to hear about how you became a member of ECR and an advocate for the Rojava revolution.

Anya: I could go first. Hi, everyone, thank you so much for hosting us. My name is Anya, and I’m originally from Ukraine but I have been living in the United States for the last 11 years. And I discovered Rojava and the Kurdish movement around 2017. And I found their project of direct democracy, you know, social ecology, women’s liberation, quite appealing in that they managed to, you know, theoretically, but also in practice to put together all these different struggles on different fronts. So once I discovered it, I started looking for ways to get involved and support the revolution from the United States and have been a member of the Emergency Committee for Rojava almost from its very founding, which was in 2018. And so, you know, the struggle in the United States goes on. Thank you so much again.

Emre: I’ll go next. Hello, everyone. I’m Emre Şahin, I’m a Kurdish scholar from Bakur, Northern Kurdistan. Was based in the US, I’m a PhD student of sociology at Binghamton University. And I’m working on Rojava revolution, particularly woman’s autonomous organizing in Rojava. I did some fieldwork there three years ago, for two months, and I’m excited to be here.

Xero: So I’m Xero I use I use he/they pronouns. I’m based in the US, I’m based in Northwest Pennsylvania, kind of on the southern edge of unseated Erie territory, just south of Lake Erie. I guess what brought me to this revolution was I, you know, kind of have always been, I guess more of a libertarian leftist without really knowing what that meant, or even having a coherent idea of what it involved. I’ve never had much of a patience for reading theory or anything like that. And so when I first learned about the Rojava revolution, it was, god it was in 2020. It was right after the Coronavirus pandemic, and right before the George Floyd uprisings. It was in that kind of a really weird moment where anything kind of felt possible, and this really made a lot of things come into sharp focus for me. It was this example of something that could work at scale. And that was really compelling to me. And so I just didn’t really have much of a choice after that, I kind of went full hog into studying this revolution and kind of similar revolutions around the world. Including the Zapatistas in southeast Mexico, in the state of Chiapas.

And so that, as you’re probably aware Bursts, we’re working on another show that is in conversation with those revolutions, and also talking about land back and other other Indigenous issues here on Turtle Island in a North American context. That show is called Where Many Worlds Fit. And we’re getting very close to being able to start publishing there.

Rimac: Hi, my name is Rimac, I use they/she pronouns. I’m from the Netherlands, I live in a town between Amsterdam and The Hague. And I started supporting the revolution when I started hearing about it in 2015-2016, I was going through a really rough time, personally. I was struggling a lot with my mental health and with taking care of myself, like being able to keep a job and keep an incom because I was struggling with traumas from my youth. I was sexually abused, or sexually attacked, by a close family member as a child and that really kept me in an isolated place where nobody could really stand with me and take care of me. So, I was left really alone. And that’s also when I found out about the women’s revolution, and about the defense against Daesh.

And I also got introduced a little bit to the politics of Mr. Abdullah Öcalan And the revolution gave me so much spirit to persevere through my traumas, and to not give up and to understand that what I experienced was not a single event happening to one person, but a lot of people experience things like this, and that it’s partly because of the patriarchy. So for me, it was really a medicine to learn about a revolution. And then I started looking for people in the Netherlands, for the Kurdish movement, but after the pandemic came and lockdown came it was really hard to maintain contacts. So that’s when ECR came on my path. First, I joined as a member of the study group, which I really enjoyed, because I feel at home at ECR and I feel comfortable sharing my thoughts and learning from others. And then I was also invited to start organizing with them. And I have done this for a year now.

TFSR: Thank you all so much for sharing and it’s really nice to meet you. And as kind of a side note, Emre, I was lucky enough to get to hear an interview that you did with Xero for Where Many Worlds Fit and I’m very excited for the content to start flowing.

E: Oh, great to hear that. I’m excited as well.

TFSR: So, in the January chat with a member of Tekoşîna Anarşîst that we conducted, our guests talked about ongoing rocket and drone attacks across the border into Syria since the Serê Kaniyê invasion of 2019. Could you all, are one of you, please speak about the threat of Turkish invasion looming over the autonomous administration of Northeast Syria, aka Rojava and what’s being expected right now?

E: As an introduction, my comrades and I collectively decided that I would initially begin responding first, and we would follow each other. So I’ll start with some of the questions and others will, hope I won’t be taking too much space.

But in response to the attack, the Turkish threats of invasions have intensified in 2019 but they have actually, we can date them back to the collapse of the peace negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish state near the end of 2015. Between 2009-2010 and 2015, the Turkish state and the PKK had began negotiations to work on the current issue. But that came to an end in 2015 when Tayyip Erdoğan power holding party, AKP, lost the elections in June 2015. And to continue its power it decided to team out with the Nationalist Party in Turkey and ended the peace process. After this Turkey’s relationship with the Autonomous Administration in Rojava became extremely hostile.

There were voice recordings from secret top level Turkish state meetings where the Chief of Intelligence was recorded saying, “Oh, don’t worry, we can start a war with Rojava anytime, we’ll just have a few of our agents throw some rockets over the border to the Turkish side and use that as a excuse.” And from there on the Turkish state began to increase its hostility. Before that Turkey had hosted Saleh Muslim, the former co-president of the Autonomous Administration twice in Ankara for diplomatic talks. This was back when the peace negotiations were still on the table. But after that threat of lost power, and, you know, regional political re-alliances, when the peace process ended the Turkish state initially increased its hostility and then proceeded to invade Afrîn‎. And soon after Afrîn‎, invaded Serê Kaniyê in 2019 and it continues its hostile approach to this day.

A: I can add a little bit to that, in particular, what’s happening right now. So Turkish President Erdoğan just announced that Turkey is preparing to launch, and now the invasion, which will be the third invasion, as Emre mentioned the first two. And to basically complete the so called “Safe Zone” that Turkey was negotiating to create with the United States in 2018, before it invaded and occupied more parts of northern Syria. And now, Erdoğan stated that Turkey wants to complete that project and occupy more territory along its southern border with Syria. And at this point, I think we’re quite anxious and, you know, there have been a lot of threats coming from Erdoğan because he and his party AKP, they are using the threats of invasion and actual invasions of different parts of Kurdistan and attacks against Kurdish population within Turkey, but also in Syria and Iraq, as a way to prop up their authoritarian regime and rally support of a broader chunk of Turkish population.

But right now there is this conjuncture of international and domestic factors that makes it quite possible that Turkey, you know, that Erdoğan will actually realize his threats and invade once again. So internationally what’s happening is, of course, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Turkey’s role as a NATO member in stalling the process of NATO accession of Sweden and Finland who just applied to join NATO. Turkey stalls their entry through its demands of lifting a ban on an embargo on arms sales to Turkey and demanding extradition and the crackdown on Kurdish movement and Sweden, and Finland, and termination of any diplomatic relationship that Sweden in particular has with the autonomous administration of Syria. So, you know, Turkey is demanding what’s in its own a geopolitical interest, and it’s quite likely that it will get, at least partially, its demands met.

We have already seen some concessions coming from the United States, the Biden administration has recently requested Congress to approve the sale of F-16, jets and modernization kits for warplanes of Turkey, as well as missile upgrades, you know, various military equipment, despite the existing US sanctions against Turkey, and despite the opposition to it within the Congress. So we are seeing that the United States is granting certain concessions to Turkey and, you know, green lighting another invasion, as the United States did in 2018, you know, could be a likely scenario.

X: I can add a little bit more to that, too, at the risk of making this a little bit more complicated than maybe you were wanting [laughs], because it’s a very messy situation, and there’s a lot of very muddled history here, even in the last 10 years, because the Syrian Civil War is, you know, devastatingly complex. But there’s also two other factors to consider which, one is that there’s the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, the AANES — which is kind of the recognized term for Rojava, this is the administration that kind of runs things. It’s like the decentralized thing that’s based on democratic and federalism. And we’ll get into this later when we talk about the carceral situation as it exists in the region — but one of the things that they have is a set of ISIS prison camps where a lot of former ISIS fighters have been kept. And there’s a there’s a number of danger points there, including recently there have been a lot of mass escapes from these camps. And that’s going to also be a factor when it comes to stability in the region that I’m sure Erdoğan is going to want to exploit somehow.

And then over on the Iraqi side of the border, there’s also a number of things that have been escalating in violence, which is even involving Turkish forces in some sense. Which is that the political situation in Iraq, especially in north Northwestern Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, remains a little bit unstable — or not a little bit, that’s putting it mildly — but it remains pretty unstable. And there’s the local ruling Barzani family, which is a Kurdish family that’s much more sort of hyper-capitalistic, and you know, they just have very different political goals.

And there’s been a second route of genocide, genocidal action taken against the Yazidis, and the Yazidis are a local — I personally am not knowledgeable enough to get into whether the Yazidis are Kurds, I’ve heard very firm yeses on that question — but however you classify them, the Yazidis are one of the oldest religious groups in the world and they’re definitely part of this broader Kurdish diaspora. And so they’ve been targeted for genocide by ISIS over the last, you know, 5-10 years. And they’re coming under the threat of genocidal actions, again, by Turkey, and, you know, by these coalition forces in the region. And it’s really devastating to be thinking about things like this, because it’s a very dark situation. But there is some light, you know, kind of buried beneath that, which is that the Yazidis are also taking on Democratic Confederalism, and they’re, they’re realizing their own revolution, which is pretty inspiring.

TFSR: So that was a very complex answer [laughs] it covered a lot of things that I’d like to unpack it in further questions, but very, very informative, and I really appreciate it.

Yeah, and for listeners who maybe don’t recognize the name Yazidi, they may recognize the harrowing situation a number of years ago where ISIS had trapped a number of people in Mount Sinjar, and we’re approaching and genocided them and this is one of the instances where SDF forces were able to come in and help get those folks to safety as as I understand and correct me if I’m wrong, but those were Yazidi minority being attacked by Daesh, specifically.

So, Turkey is the second largest military in NATO, thus a United States ally. And as was pointed to by Anya, there’s ongoing arm sales that are being proposed and engaged right now between the US and Turkey. I wonder if you all could talk about what you understand to be the motivations of the Turkish state under Erdoğan’s AKP and now aligned with the Nationalist Party? What is Neo-Ottoman ism? And can you say some words on transformations of life in Turkey over the last 20 years of AKP rule, and how this relates to the war on Kurdish people within and outside of Turkish borders? Yeah, if you can make mention also of, during this time support for groups like the so called Free Syrian Army, and as well as ISIS or Daesh.

E: Absolutely. Turkey, since the foundation of the Turkish Republic, has had a different sort of political dynamic and diplomatic presence in the globe throughout the 20th century, with the, you know, Republican Party in power for most of the 20th century, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It didn’t have this Neo-Ottoman strategy and the Turkish state, for the most part, spent the 20th century trying to modernize the population, modernize the country, so-called “separation of church and state”. And turning its face towards the west, you know, aspiring to be modeling itself after European countries. And this was quite unique in Muslim majority countries, because in Turkey too, majority of the population being conservative, Turkey had had that sort of identity crisis with Western-facing, but Eastern-being [chuckles] population and geography.

However, Erdoğan’s AKP, when it came to power in 2002, adopted a different approach. It’s a populist Islamist party, neoliberal Islamist party, which said, “I’m not going to just face towards the West I’m gonna face towards the East too, I’m gonna reconnect with the East, with the Middle East” you know. But this is only a part of Neo-Ottoman policy. Another part is trying to resurrect the Ottoman Empire’s sort of legacy. Turkey had this trauma of shrinkage, you know, after centuries of ruling over the eastern Europe, Middle East, Northern Africa, after shrinkage to the Turkish Republic. Now with Erdoğan’s AKP in power and cementing stuff further and further into the turkey state, it tried to increase its influence in the Middle East. And many of Turkey’s diplomatic maneuvers over the past 20 years can be read from this lens, you know, from Turkey’s presence in Rojava, in Syria, to actions in Libya and Qatar, there’s this diplomatic shift.

But of course, Erdoğan’s coming into power had political implications and impacts inside the country too. Life has become more and more conservative, public life has been shaped more and mor. The Turkish state has been investing in religious schools, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which, by the way, even though it’s not a ministry, it’s annual income is higher than the sum of 7-8 different ministries in Turkey. That’s why I said the so called “separation of church and state” even though Turkey is a secular country, the state has tight control over religious affairs. So life has become more and more conservative in Turkey. And these developments at home and abroad, Islamification, went hand in hand of course, as we saw from Turkish involvement in Syria, Turkey has been cozying up to lots of Islamist groups. Like you mentioned, the Free Syrian Army and many factions, which are basically run from offices in Istanbul or have ties in different Turkish cities. Free Syrian Army, you know, their political wing’s representatives residing in Turkey.

However, this is only acknowledged, openly available information. Turkey also had deep connections with extremist Islamist organizations in the past 10-20 years. From al-Qaeda in Syria and Iraq, to ISIS which it later transformed into, Turkey has had close ties. There have been many cases where Turkish journalists have uncovered hundreds of hundreds of trucks of ammunition and guns sent to al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria, by the Turkish state, from Turkey, sent off to Syria. And Turkey still has significant presence in Italy, which is part of a Northwestern Syria, which is not under the control of TFSA, Free Syrian Army actually, it’s under the control of al-Qaeda in Syria, and Turkey works closely with al-Qaeda in Syria.

Also ISIS, there are many reports from the past 5-10 years where ISIS leaders freely reside in Turkey, recruite Turkey, when they’re caught, they’re only caught for show and immediately released. There were reports that even Putin back in 2015 hinted that, when they were not so close with Erdoğan, of oil trade between ISIS and Turkey. And Turkey has maintained close relations with all these Islamist groups from the most, you know, lightweight version such as Free Syrian Army to the most extremist versions such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. And, you know, Turkey’s tried to instrumentalize these Islamic groups in its project to expand, you know restore, Ottoman glory. You know, establish more and more direct influence over the Middle East and North Africa.

Turkey used mercenaries that it recruited from these Islamist factions and sent them to Libya, in its presence and fight in Libya. The same goes for Nagorno Karabakh, as you remember, a year ago, there was a two month war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Turkey was actively participating in the war on the side of Azerbaijan and hundreds of Islamist recruits were transported from Syria to Azerbaijan via and by Turkey. So Erdoğan has been Islamitising both life at home and, you know, Turkish diplomatic approach to the Middle East, and instrumentalizing these Islamist factions and groups.

Anya: I actually don’t think there’s much to add to Emre’s comprehensive response, I would just want to reiterate that Syria, as Emre mentioned, is a blatant example of Erdoğan’s pursuit of Neo-Ottoman Imperial agenda. Because what they’re doing in Northeastern Syria, you know, Turkey, is not just trying to prevent any existence of an autonomous Kurdish polity, but basically preparing a basis for annexation of those territories that are currently occupied by Turkey and its proxies, described by Emre. Usually referred to as Syrian National Army, because there is a process of ethnic cleansing and demographic engineering going on, there is a process of establishing direct Turkey’s administrative and political control of those territories. And I’m referring to the territories that were occupied in three steps in 2016, in 2018, and 2019, with the last two occupations, those were of the territory that used to be under control of the Autonomous Administration. So, you know, they are basically creating a reality that this part of Syria will become Turkified and Turkey will have, you know, an excuse, a pretext to, perhaps not officially, but basically annex, in practice annex that territory.

TFSR: I was wondering, as a follow up, Anya had mentioned the Turkification, if that’s a word, of the so called “Buffer Zone” area, and the area that is Rojava and that part of the world is Kurdistan, is not just made up of Kurds. It’s made up of lots of different languages, ethnicities, religions, that have lived there for centuries and centuries and centuries alongside with each other under various regimes. But, it’s a very complex and diverse area and my understanding is that the Turkish state is moving out Kurds from that so called “Buffer Zone” between Bakur and that part of Syria in Rojava, so as to create discontiguity between different Kurdish majority populated areas that fallt within the borders of these different nation states. I’m wondering if that’s sort of what you’re pointing to, and also if anyone has any knowledge of how the Syrian state is dealing with the destabilization of its borders by Turkey.

E: Turkey has been forcing Kurds to move out through torture, through, you know, pressure from these parts of Rojava that have been under its occupation over the past 10 years. And this is actually an old policy that the Turkish Republic had used in the 1920s and 30s after the transition from Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic, in parts of Bakur, that are at the sort of borderlands between Kurdish majority and Turkish majority regions. The Turkish state would force Kurdish populations and bring in Turks from Anatolia, western Turkey. And Bashar al-Assad, current Syrian president’s father in the 60s took from the Turkish playbook and created this Arab Belt policy. Over a decade, Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father, would force Kurdish communities in today’s Serê Kaniyê, Girê Spî‎ and others parts of Rojava. Kurds were forced to move out, their citizenships stripped, unable to, you know, have their lands, are unable to hold any property, unable to even have official documentation, and forced to move to the Syrian urban centers such as Damascus and Aleppo. Hence, we have Kurdish ghettos in Damascus and Aleppo. And Assad moved Arab families from majority parts of Syria under this Arab Belt project, which was inspired by Turkish Republic policies of the 20s and 30s. So Erdoğan is playing from that playbook, and continuing this demographic engineering. And there’s numerous evidences from Efrîn all the way to Serê Kaniyê of this happening, unfortunately. Which is a direct contrast with the pluralist and harmonious, direct democratic model that’s implemented by the Autonomous Administration in Rojava.

A: I think you also asked about the Syrian government’s attitude, visa vie, Turkeys occupation, and the process of demographic engineering. And I would say that the Syrian government is not an independent, autonomous actor. It has survived all these years of civil war, just because of Russia’s support. So whatever its interests are, it has to balance them off, and ultimately follow Russia’s lead what whatever is in Russia’s geopolitical interest. Whatever Russia is gonna see is profitable for itself in terms of Syrian future. So while in it’s discourse, right, the Syrian government opposed the Turkish invasions and ongoing occupation and its ongoing presence on the Syrian territory, what happened in 2019 was that after Turkey invaded there was a deal made, actually two deals. First, a ceasefire between Turkey and the United States, and then a deal between Russia and Turkey. And according to that deal, Turkey was allowed, by Russia, to basically keep control of whatever territory it had occupied by the time, and that’s the territory that’s currently occupied between Serê Kaniyê and Tell Abyad.

So basically, at that moment, for Russia, it was convenient to make the deal with Turkey and let it, you know, keep its presence and continue establishing all the political, administrative, economic structures and bringing in families of the Syrian National Army fighters to change the demographic, all the processes. And at the moment, it looks like that Russia may greenlight another invasion by Turkey, again, because of the situation in Ukraine. So, Turkey all this time, has managed to sort of play off both the West, you know the United States, NATO bloc, and the Russian bloc, right? Like Emre mentioned that it’s sort of in between the West and the East in its policies. And same when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine happened Turkey didn’t really support any of these two blocs.

So, it’s sort of managed to carve out a position in between, not breaking off completely from Russia but at the same time it’s, I think people know, supporting Ukraine militarily, you know, by providing drones, right? They have been key in Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. And, you know, at this point, some of the latest statements made by Russia’s high officials sort of indicate another potential deal in which Russia could greenlight another invasion, in return of Turkey’s of certain concessions, visa vie the situation in Ukraine.

E: Thank you for that reminder, Anya, and I’d like to quickly add to the question about the Syrian states responses to Turkish threats and practices of invasion, both during the invasion of Afrîn by Turkey, and during the invasion of Serê Kaniyê, all the official statements coming from the Syrian government were along the lines of, you know, “this is a breech of our national sovereignty, and we will fight for each square meter of our land, etc.” But in Afrîn there was no Syrian Army resistance to the Turkish invasion, because in practice, you know, torn with the civil war, Syrian state did not have any sort of capacity to wage some sort of resistance to Turkish invasion. With the invasion of Serê Kaniyê things began to change because the Autonomous Administration — still unrecognized and fighting for its survival — unable to resist Turkish invasion by itself and unable to garner American support, enough American support. Because Trump basically sold out Rojava in 2019, over the phone conversation with Erdoğan and he ordered his troops to leave and allow the Turkish states to send in his army.

So, Rojava caught in between this situation, unable to garner enough US support, agreed to open up the border areas of Rojava where the northern area was, you know, along the border with Turkey, the majority of those border areas for all the way from Minbic / Serê Kaniyê in the West, to Dirik in the most eastern part of Rojava. Syrian Army troops came back in a smaller presence but still, there wasn’t any resistance or any fight against Turkish invasion, Al-Assad’s strategy is basically this. Al-Assad views Rojava, Autonomous Administration, as traitors who are working with the main enemy, the US, you know, using US support to carve out some sort of autonomy, and unable to finish off Rojava attack and finish off Rojava by itself, unable to do that. Al-Assad has been using this strategy of showing that so that Kurds, or peoples of Rojava, accept some sort of slightly worse result.

So Al-Assad is basically saying, “I will only come and work with you against the Turkish State, if you give up on this project of autonomy, and come back into the control of the Syrian State. So Assad’s strategy has been pretty much this, and this hasn’t been really working, because, you know, the Autonomous Administration and the peoples of Rojava do not want to give up their autonomy and the model of direct democracy and Democratic Confederalism that they’ve been establishing there.

TFSR: So we’ve mentioned both conflicts in northern Syria in terms of actors like the United States, Turkey, Russia, Syrian government, and the Autonomous Administration, and also the conflict in Ukraine has been mentioned. And the US shares membership in NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with Turkey, so therefore armed allies to each other. Which I mean, for anyone listening right now, unless you’ve already heard some of this before your heads probably going to be spinning about all the different proxy situations that are going on right here…

But so in terms of the amplification of the war between Russia and Ukraine since March of this year — the war that’s been going on since 2014 — there’s been a lot of coverage and we’ve we’ve talked to folks both from Russia, and folks in Ukraine about the experience of the war there and the US has been providing weapons to the Ukrainian government to fend off the invasion from Russia.

So as an anarchist personally, I have to say I condemn the existence of NATO, as I do with all states, but I also support the right of communities to to defend themselves from violence, including from invasions, particularly when they’re attempting to grow a feminist, anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian and ecological revolution is one season Rojava. I wonder if y’all could talk about these two situations and correlation between them? The use by Ukraine of Turkish drones, for instance in this circumstance, is, you know, just kind of mind boggling, but you know, you do what you can to fend off invasion. But do you feel like the invasion of Ukraine by Russia has kind of overshadowed conflict points in other parts of the world? And how do we do a better job of spreading out and expanding our solidarity into places like Tigray in Ethiopia or other conflict zones that are ongoing?

A: I’ll start off since I’m actually from Ukraine, as I mentioned, so this is a topic close to my heart, even though I haven’t been living there for last 11 years, I still have family in the East in the Donbas region, so I’ve been quite emotional and personally affected by this situation.

But more generally, I just want to point out, and I think it has been quite obvious, that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has once more revealed the hypocrisy and double standards on part of the United States and other international actors, you know, the so called “West”, because we have seen huge outpouring of support, of military support, of discursive support, you know, incredible coverage in the mainstream media for the resistance of Ukrainians, right? I mean, we’ve seen pictures of grandmas with molotov cocktails and all this cheering for that resistance.

However, many people have pointed out that you know, that unconditional support is not usually granted to other instances of armed resistance going on in other parts of the world. I mean, you name it, can we can Palestine or Tigray that you just mentioned, or even the PKK, right, which is sort of an armed insurgency against oppression by the Turkish State kind of justified, right? But the PKK has been on the US terrorist list for more than two decades now, as well as on the terrorist list of other countries. And even though the United States have been supporting the Autonomous Administration of Northeast Syria, it has not, you know, as far as we can see, it’s not planning to take off the PKK off that list, right? While at the same time supporting unconditionally, the resistance of Ukrainians. So you know, this situation is just another example that, you know, when it comes to resistance, it’s only supported when someone’s geopolitical interests are on the line, right? That’s what matters and not resistance itself.

And, you know, another parallel that we can draw is between the invasion of Ukraine as a sovereign state, and then Turkey’s several invasions of Syria, which is a sovereign state. And Turkey’s committing egregious war crimes and human rights violations, which are right now covered in the mainstream media, that are committed by Russia in Ukraine. I don’t think we have seen that much coverage when Turkey invaded Syria, Northeast Syria, repeatedly, right. Again, in terms of kind of material response to the invasion by Turkey, in particular, the last one in 2019, as I already mentioned Turkey was basically allowed to occupy the territory that it invaded. And yes, there was discursive opposition by some parts of the United States government, there were some sanctions implemented in response to that invasion in 2019, but those sanctions were removed almost immediately once the ceasefire was signed and Turkey basically remains in the occupied territories. Again, I mean, I think we see a drastic difference, kind of whose invasions are permitted to take place and who’s opposed?

And just one last thing, I think, you know, the invasion has definitely overshadowed other conflicts, at least during the mainstream media. And I think Turkey has been taking advantage of that. I think later on that we were going to discuss more in detail the military operation that Turkey launched into northern Iraq, which is the Kurdish region of Iraq earlier this year, in April, which recently mentioned, and right now, Turkey is trying to capitalize on the invasion and launch its own invasion, another invasion into northeast Syria. And I’m sure that the Turkish government has taken into consideration the fact that right now kind of the media coverage and sort of the government actions are focused on the situation in Ukraine and may get away with another invasion with less coverage.

X: Anya, that answer was beautiful and I really, really appreciate it. I think that there’s some things that I feel like I can add to that answer. Which is, I think that a lot of what I’m going to have to say, like this entire conversation has been, is going to be really complicated and people’s eyes are probably already glazing over. And so I do apologize for that.

And so I feel a responsibility to start with this, which is that: if you’re somebody in the US, and you’re feeling kind of powerless, the really important thing to remember is that our fates are tied. There is no freedom for us without freedom for them. There’s a number of different ways to express this idea and there’s a number of different ways that it manifests — like we in the Imperial Core and people on the periphery or in the Global South, or whatever euphemism you want to use to describe it — I definitely do mean that we’re in the same struggle together. But I also mean something a little bit more specific than that.

So a lot of hay has been made in the media, and in a lot of so called Western sources about the wheat harvest in Ukraine. Because it is definitely true that Ukraine is the world’s breadbasket, basically, even more so than the American Midwest, which is where I live and we have, you know, wheat crops everywhere. And these global supply chain issues that we’ve already been dealing with during the Coronavirus pandemic, again, are extremely complicated, and there’s a lot of fuckery that’s going on everywhere. But a really, I think, underreported aspect of this, is that Turkey as a polity, as a political entity, the Erdoğan regime in particular, has been fucking with the water supply going down into Rojava. And so before this year even, Rojava was already well under what it needed to be for its wheat supply. A lot of its supplemental wheat supply does come from Ukraine, and there’s a lot of different issues that go along with that, too. You mentioned Ethiopia and the Tigray people, they also are pretty affected by the war in Ukraine and the the kind of serious shortage in the in the wheat harvest. But in Rojava, the way that this, you know, is kind of looking on the ground right now is that they don’t have as much water as they need, they definitely cannot produce all of the crops that they need to produce in order to feed all of the mounds that are there. But things are so bad in the region I think that talking about the Coronavirus pandemic, and the way that that looks on the ground in Rojava, kind of is an afterthought almost, as fucked up as that is.

But one of the things that happens there is because the the AANES, the Autonomous Administration, because they don’t have international recognition, that means that the doses of the vaccine that are meant to go to the people who live there, don’t. They go to the Al-Assad regime, right. And so if you’re looking for something that you can do, and you’re in the US, or you live somewhere in the Imperial Core, one of the things that you can do, as frustrating as it is, is lobby your representatives. As fucking frustrating as that is, believe me I understand, but that is something concrete that you can do is, is contact your representatives, and try to lobby for recognition of the Autonomous Administration as a separate polity. I think that it might be a long shot but it’s definitely something that would help the people there more than any other direct action that you can take from the Imperial Core.

If you want to take a personal step — maybe this is oversharing and maybe you can cut it — but there’s ways to make friends online with people who are in pretty desperate situations. And there’s ways that you can, I don’t want to say leverage, but there’s ways that you can take those personal friendships and make those into a kind of mutual aid. So an example of what this might look, is right now on Onlyfans, there’s a ton of sex workers who are based out of Ukraine or from Ukraine or are fleeing, you know, persecution or, you know, fleeing violent conflict. And the only way that they have to really make money very quickly is to turn to sex work. And so this is an example of an area where there’s a ton of things that overlap with a lot of the struggles that people are familiar with in the US, and it’s even on a platform that’s pretty common and popular in the US. And so if you’re looking for direct ways to directly support people, and you’re not, you know, there’s definitely mutual aid funds and all kinds of other stuff that you can get involved with, but if you’re looking to make friends and kind of have a personal bond of solidarity with somebody, you could do a lot worse than something like that. I think I’m talking a little bit too much. But that’s that’s basically what I wanted to add.

TFSR: So in an interview last year that Duran Kalkan of the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, which was conducted by the group Peace in Kurdistan, Mr. Kalkan spoke about his view that while Western governments like the US may strategically partner with the Syrian Democratic Forces under Rojavan control, in the fight against Daesh, or ISIS, they’re not committed to the project of democratic confederalism, but only destabilizing Turkey and opposing Russia and Iranian influence in the region. So as someone who’s based in the US, such as myself, I find this to be a really poignant point of interaction with what’s going on in AANES and within Kurdistan more widely and with the Rojava project. Could you all speak a little bit about the the US relationship with Rojava, the ilegalization of the Kurdish Workers Party or the PKK, as well as the KCK, which I just mentioned, the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, and what impact that has on the ground in areas controlled by the Autonomous Administration?

E: The US has had quite contradictory approach towards the PKK and Rojava revolution. Since 1998 the PKK has been on the terrorist list of the US, and the US has actively been supporting Turkey in its war on the PKK. However, when the time came around 2014, around the time of Kobanî resistance, where ISIS had encircle the city, the US’s relationship with the Kurds began to change slightly. And this was mainly due to the fact that the US has plans to fund the Islamist factions and Free Syrian Army, actively supported by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, had backfired. The Free Syrian Army was losing ground to ISIS, the US didn’t see it as an effective partner, but it wanted to continue its presence in Syria, you know, due to several reasons, serious geopolitical position, the proximity to Israel, the US’s closest ally in the Middle East… The US wanted to stay on the ground, but it was finding itself less and less able to do so only through the use of Free Syrian Army. It needed another partner on the ground, and the only option that was available was the Autonomous Administration. And with lots of international outrage, with solidarity from comrades all over the world, public opinion was shifting, you know, people were becoming more and more aware about ISIS atrocities. And, you know, combination of this urgency and the ineffectiveness of the FSA resulted in Obama sending military equipment initially to the Autonomous Administration, and then the US establishing ties with the Autonomous Administration.

I would agree with the analysis and the statement to Duran Kalkan; we have many examples from recent past that support is hypothesis that the US is not committed to the project of democratic confederalism. And it’s only approaching AANES, the Autonomous Administration, as somewhat of a proxy without really supporting it, without acknowledging it fully, without, you know, limiting its support only to military so that it keeps holding that area and ISIS doesn’t come back. We know that Democratic Confederalism is a sort of antithesis of American hegemonic policies and practices. It’s completely reverse of the US states approach, you know, from neoliberalism to questions about women’s rights, and you know, gender equality, to ethnopluralist understandings of life and politics, to decentralized community control over everyday life and decision making in different areas. These are, of course, very threatening for the US, the US has always been hostile to left wing movements. But this has been highlighted during the Cold War era, and even up to this day, its political approach to left wing, any left wing resistance across the world, is destabilizing and destructive.

This has had a tremendous and terrible effect for the peoples of Rojava because of this lack of recognition, this lack of understanding of Rojava’s political, economical, social organization, and only focusing on the military and geopolitics of what’s going on in the region. The support has been shakey and as we saw in 2019, I mean, this invasion of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light given by Russia because Russia and the US have this unspoken deal where they have shared areas of influence in Syria. In areas that fall to the west of the Euphrates River, Russia has military control, Russian warplanes roam the skies in the areas to the east of the Euphrates and Syria, most of which, all of which are under the control of Rojava and the Autonomous Administration, the skies are controlled by the US. And because of the dynamic the occupation of Afrîn‎ was made possible with the green light of Russia.

However, the occupation of silicon in 2019 was made possible with the green light of Trump and the US government. And with that invasion alone, 400,000 people were displaced in the region. And that’s close to 10% of the entire Rojava population, Serê Kaniyê and Girê Spî‎ were instrumental in the storage and processing of agricultural products. So there’s been a major hit in that sense to people’s education was disrupted, schools were closed. So this sort of contradictory, shaky approach of the US towards the political project in Rojava manifests in hundreds of lives killed, hundreds of thousands of people being displaced, three or four towns being semi destroyed, and people access to water and food being extremely limited. And it’s been devastating to the region, which is why we need not just military support from all around the world, but also political support and a deeper understanding about the political project that’s going on in the ground.

TFSR: As was mentioned already, I think Xero mentioned it in January, there was massive breakout attempts by members of ISIS, or Daesh, fighters and families from the prison and refugee camps at Hassakeh and al-Hawl, where the SDF had been holding them and international condemnation was broadcast about the conditions there all over the media. I think there was a lot that was lacking from the discussion about the fact that a huge number of those Daesh prisoners, captured after the destruction of the attempted creation of a theocratic state, or caliphate by ISIS, are foreigners whose home countries won’t relocate them. Can you all talk a bit about what happened to Syrians that were held as Daesh, and sort of break open this topic a little bit more about the difficulties of not being recognized as an official state formation and yet being in some ways held to the same humanitarian requirements as state structures that don’t have an interface with you? Like how has international scrutiny caused differences in treatment between people internally displaced by the conflicts in Syria (sometimes you can shorten IDP – internally displaced people) versus those internationals who traveled to Syria to join Daesh?

E: This has been a sore spot. In July of 2019 while I was doing my fieldwork, I attended a three day conference which was held by the Autonomous Administration on this particular issue, on how to deal with ISIS prisoners. Guests from all over the world were present there, along with a couple of people from the US too. And there is this discrepancy. So currently, there is a little over 2,000 former ISIS members imprisoned in the Hassakeh and the whole camps that you mentioned, and a little over 10,000 relatives, you know, family and children of these people, held in these camps. A little over a third of these prisoners are foreigners. Interestingly, Central Asian countries have a much, much more constructive approach and have been repatriating their citizens who went and joined ISIS and were captured by Rojavan forces. For example, Uzbekistan has has taken back more than 300 former ISIS members that are Uzbek nationals. However, many of the Western countries refrain from doing so. And part of part of the reason is that they are working closely with Turkey, but another part of the reason is this instrumentalisation of Rojava’s lack of recognition in the international arena.

However, close to two thirds of the ISIS prisoners and their family members are either Syrian or Iraqi, a majority of the people held in Rojavan ISIS camps are either Syrian and Iraqi. And the Autonomous Administration has different policies when it comes to the nationalities. If the former ISIS member is from a country anything other than Syria and Iraq, they are able to repatriate only if the country is willing to do so and very few Western countries do this. And if the former ISIS member, is Iraqi, the Iraqi government has direct communication channels with the Autonomous Administration of Rojava and takes back, you know, takes back the Iraqi citizens and places them in the camps that they have inside Iraq for former ISIS members.

For the Syrians, the situation is complicated. The majority of the former ISIS people in Rojava camps are of Syrian nationality. And on the one hand, ISIS prisoners are treated differently in the semi carceral system that they have their. You know, all other prisoners are held in general prisons, where if you’re trying to relate it to something that is tied to ISIS, you go to ISIS related courts and prisons that are reserved for ISIS members only. And former ISIS prisoners lose their properties, you know, the only type of people that get their stuff confiscated by the Autonomous Administration are former ISIS members. So there is this sort of harsh approach towards former ISIS members that are from the parts of Syria that have control by the Rojavan Administration.

However, there’s also this attempt to not have this solely carceral approach to crime and punishment. And there is some sort of community arrangement. Over the past 10 years, a few hundred former ISIS linked people have actually been set free but through these processes of alternative justice models — that I know my comrade will go into more detail in a minute. If let’s say you’re from Raqqa, and you were involved with ISIS, somehow, if you and your community can prove that you weren’t a gun wielding member that participated in the killing — you know, many people, when ISIS took over and ruled over a large swath of land for a few years, many people worked with ISIS, but not zealously, you know, driving stuff, because they’re told to or doing nonviolent acts. So, if you can prove that you weren’t violent in ISIS, and if your community, your neighborhood from Raqqa, your relatives and community vouch for you, and [would] go through this alternative justice process, then there is when you would get released. Or, like I said, this depends on, this is a complex matter that depends on sort of the communal vouching and the ability for the Administration to arrange with the community so that this person’s released won’t risk life in the region but will ease the burden on the camps and the maintenance of these camps, because that has been a difficult issue. ISIS, former ISIS members, and their relatives still are trying to resurrect the caliphate inside these camps. One of the main reasons for these breakouts that happened periodically, and they can kill one another when if someone held in these camps is willing to talk to administrative officials, or is willing to somewhat cooperate or show regret, you know, these imprisoned other ISIS people come and kill them. So, it’s very complicated. And my comrades go into more detail.

X: Yeah, thank you, Emre, that was a really good answer. That was pretty comprehensive answer. And I think the only thing that I can add to it is to kind of reframe it a little bit for a US audience who might be used to the way that prisons and the carceral state work here, and just kind of compare and contrast a little bit in order to make it a little bit easier to understand. Because that’s, that’s generally the way I think of it. And so, I think that that might be a good communication strategy. And so the thing I think that is the first thing to say about that, is that the the, the Autonomous Administration isn’t really a state in the conventional sense. And I think that fact alone is low key one of the biggest barriers in in terms of getting international recognition. Because obviously, we have NATO countries and stuff, these are all nation states. And so if you admit somebody who’s not a nation state, it’s kind of a threat to your control over the worldview of the planet. And so this I think is one thing that people, perhaps rightfully, see as kind of threatening.

And so that’s the first thing, is that is that the Autonomous Administration isn’t really run like a state. And so the way that things are enshrined here, where there’s endless bureaucracy, and there’s kind of this cultural attitude that we have laws, and you have to do exactly what it says, by the letter of the law, and you can’t stray a single millimeter outside of that, or else you’ll be put in jail and that’s the right thing to do. The kind of cultural attitudes that you would find in Kurdistan are very different from that. And this isn’t just Kurdish culture, but Kurdish culture is what I know the most about so that’s what I’m going to go into.

There’s a different attitude that comes out of centuries of Kurdish tradition, and Kurdish attitudes about law, which is that if you’re resorting to a law you’re kind of already lost, it’s kind of already too late. And so before they do that, what they prefer to do instead, kind of as a culture, is to look around and just kind of see what are the problems that we’re facing and what can we do about those problems? And so it’s kind of, it’s not prescriptive in that way. It’s much more for example: in Rojava there’s a lot of issues with retribution killings. It’s similar to the mafia, the way that the mafia works but it’s definitely not the same. Where it’s like “someone from my family killed your family and so someone from your family has to do a retribution and kill someone from my family”, and the cycle of violence just will continue. And so the way that they would approach that is to say, “Okay, well, instead of that, how about we just have this neighborhood council of people who live on the same street, or people who live in the same area” and often it’s the grandmas, it’s the neighborhood grandmothers, who would be the first responders to some kind of event, to some kind of, what we would think of as a crime.

If there’s one of these revenge killings, the first person who comes in response to that is a grandma from the neighborhood. And then what happens after that is they wouldn’t consider the crime to be solved when the perpetrator is found and then tried and executed or whatever; they consider the crime to be solved when there’s a truth and reconciliation consensus. Like there’s a truth and reconciliation process, and then that process will reach some kind of conclusion, and the surviving parties will usually agree to some kind of public show of okayness with this. Like there’ll be some kind of neighborhood feast, or there’ll be something. And it doesn’t necessarily make things, okay, between those families but it does make it so that the people who you live around, you’re held accountable to them. If somebody breaks the kind of conditions of this truce, everyone in the neighborhood is going to know who did it and how, and so there’ll be consequences in that way. So it’s much more about social reinforcement than it is about any kind of rigid agent of the state coming after you the hand of God or whatever.

That being said, there are definitely prisons in Rojava. And like Emre was talking about, those prisons are usually reserved for people who are a real, direct safety threat to the people who live in a community. And the name of the game is not really to punish those people, it’s to remove them as a safety threat. So you take them to prison, not to punish them, but because they’re their presence creates some kind of unsafe condition. The goal of taking somebody to prison is much more focused on rehabilitation than it is retribution.

I think there’s a global cap of 10 years that somebody can be in one of these prisons and often it’s much less than that. And so the incarceration rate among the general population is much lower. And in fact, during, I think it was early on in the pandemic — this might have been at the end of 2020, I might need to fact check this — but there was definitely, I’m blanking on the word, but there were people who were released from prison, and they were just forgiven and said, “Okay, you can go home, because we can’t keep you here because there’s an active fucking of plague and that that creates an unsafe condition for you.” “Amnesty” is the word that I was looking for.

Carceration is not the only piece of this, there’s also, for example, there’s the whole women’s revolution and one of the aspects of the women’s revolution in Rojava is that there are women’s communities where anyone, any woman can come with her children or with her immediate relatives or whatever, her friends, what have you, and they can come and they can escape from a battered household situation. And just come and stay and live for however long they need to live there, and learn a skill learn something that can then be used to economically sustain yourself. And that’s also a really important piece of this. And so that’s civil society. That’s kind of how things work in normal circumstances, where you just have a neighborhood and there’s a, for lack of a better word, a crime rate in that neighborhood.

That is very different from the ISIS problem. And so, the reason that very different, and the reason that they don’t resort to laws in order to solve this problem, is because it’s a systemic problem. And it’s the Syrian civil war, and so there’s everything is really complicated and everything is really dark and bleak and depressing. But one of the things that made ISIS possible is that civil wars create these really unstable conditions where you’re not really sure where your security is going to come from. And so if this armed group shows up, and they say “you have to abide by whatever we’re doing, or else” that doesn’t excuse what you then do as a result of that, but it does change the way that you treat the problem. Because many of the people who were, what you might call “Syrian civilians” who came under the control of ISIS, or who was part of ISIS or whatever. A lot of those people weren’t really true believers, they didn’t join ISIS because they wanted to, they joined ISIS because they were forced to under nightmarish circumstances. And again, that doesn’t make it okay. But it does change the way that you treat the problem.

And so there’s a population of people who do stuff that. And then there’s a separate population of people who are generally true believers who come by choice from abroad, and Emre was saying, that accounts for about a third of the of the population in these in these ISIS prison camps in al-Hawl, particularly. And so what you do with these people, the third of the people who are who are coming from abroad, that’s a really thorny problem, because the Autonomous Administration isn’t recognized, and nobody wants to take these people back. And so again, I’m not making excuses for the conditions or anything that, I’m just saying that there’s there’s a context here, and that context is really important.

TFSR: Cool, I found that very helpful. Between the two of you.

As was mentioned earlier, the Barzani governing Kurdish Democratic Party in Iraq has a contentious relationship with the Autonomous Administration and the democratic movement. Turkey has also been leading attacks into Iraq since last year, at least, including allegedly using chemical weapons in the northern regions against what they are calling “PKK militants”. But that hasn’t really been making the news from within the US. Does anyone want to address these activities?

R: I want to share a little bit about my own experience. I don’t know the details about the allegations of the chemical weapons but I was at a demonstration in The Hague in mid-May, where a British delegation, and among them Steve Sweeney, a journalist who has been in the region himself for one year to investigate. He has collected samples of soil, hair and clothes that contain evidence that banned chemical weapons have been used by Turkey. And on May 17, he and others would join the local Kurdish movement to go to the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, to hand over this samples, and to urge for a fact finding team to go to the region to start their own investigations. But very unfortunately, the flight got canceled, so they could not make it to the Netherlands in time, which was very disappointing and frustrating. And then some other people from the demonstration, they took their place. Of course, they didn’t have the samples but they did have the letters and the files, so they went to the building. The police was escorting them and it was so painful to see that they weren’t even let inside the gates. They could not even enter the building into the reception [area] to hand over these documents, but they were just left outside the gate. And I think they handed it over to somebody who would take it inside. And that was so painful to see that it’s not taken seriously, that even with such a big demonstration and action and a call out for supports, that they are just not responding at all.

E: To add on to Rimac’s point, Turkey has been using chemical weapons such as phosphorus bonds and cluster bombs, not only in northern Iraq, not only in partial southern Kurdistan against PKK militants in the Qandil Mountains area, but also in Rojava during its invasion of Serê Kaniyê. Many families were affected by phosphorus bombs that were used by Turkish warplanes. And there was this iconic image of a 6-7 year old boy with all sorts of chemical burns on his body, and samples collected in Rojava, too. And the so-called “international community” that result has been silence in the face of these attacks. And I think this is primarily due to the hostile approach that many countries have towards the Kurdish movement, you know, both in Rojava and in other parts of Kurdistan. Like we said several times today, the recognition of PKK as a terrorist organization, and the criminalization of ALL Kurdish people basically, not just the PKK through this logic, and the PKK is the biggest, is the strongest Kurdish party with the biggest base in Kurdish society. We’re talking about 30-35 million Kurds in Kurdistan, and more than half of Kurds in Kurdistan make up the base of the PKK.

So the West’s contradictory political approach towards the PKK and the Kurdish movement, I believe, is one of the main reasons for this turning a blind eye towards the use of active use of chemical weapons by a NATO member country. And this only serves to illustrate the hypocrisy is about all the Western officials preaching about human rights and sort of democratic measures to be employed in warfare, including the banning of chemical weapons. I guess, as long as you’re a NATO member or a NATO ally and you’re dropping chemical bombs on marginalized, criminalized communities such as the Kurdish movement and the Kurdish people, you get a free pass in chemical warfare.

TFSR: Over the last 10 years of the Rojava revolution, radicals, anarchists and feminists in the US and abroad have attempted to raise awareness about the project in order to grow solidarity, but the only times, at least in the US that I’m aware of, that the topic seems to come up are in the context of emergencies, invasions and war. How have we in the US, in particular, failed at engaging lessons taking inspiration from and building solidarity with the revolution in Rojava? And what has that lost us and our comrades over there and abroad?

R: I would like to answer this question by really zooming in on my own journey, how I became involved, not because my journey is special, but I think that it explains a lot about how difficult it can be to navigate. As I said, in my introduction, that I experienced sexual violence as a child from a family member and I was actually invited by another family member to join them for a vacation in Turkey, in 2015. And I wasn’t aware of the strike of the Kurdish struggle yet, then. And I remember that, at the time, there were some alerts about Turkey that you should not travel too close to the border with Syria, because there was unrest.

And at that time, I only read about Syria in the headlines. I only saw headlines and I didn’t know personally what exactly was going on. But because I was traveling there, I wanted to read up and research what’s going on, what’s happening in this part of the world that I’m very ignorant about. So of course, one of the first things I learned was about the Civil War. And then I learned about the PKK, and about the women’s revolution, about SDF and the YPG fighting against ISIS and also being successful and pushing back against them. But I was I was researching this alone, I was not connected with with organizers or anarchists at that moment yet. So it was very confusing for me to find out who is who and who is fighting for what, in the beginning, I could not even distinguish between like the PKK and the YPG and the Free Syrian Army. I was not aware of it. So I had to research that even further.

And then, as soon as I started leaning more towards understanding that the PKK and the YPG that they were struggling for values that I hold dear as well, I started wondering, but if they are fighting this good fights, for human rights and for liberation and against oppression, and if they are actually like the heroes of this moment in the sense that there are so many parts of the world where the governments and the people are so terrified of ISIS, that they are paralyzed by fear and not doing anything and people on the streets being afraid of each other. And then I thought “if they are so successful in fighting against ISIS, then why are they not celebrated? Why is this not shared?” Especially in the country where I’m from in the Netherlands there’s a really big ISIS scare. And I didn’t understand why there there wouldn’t be more attention to this.

So I came in the struggle of like, “it’s everybody’s word against everybody’s word.” And I stuck with it because I really wanted to find out what was going on. And then I also went at some point to a Kurdish culture event in my area and that’s when I really started to embrace the Kurds and the revolution in Rojava. So, by that time, it was more clear to me who is playing what role, and also that Turkey’s role was not dubious, but just evil. That Turkey is really betraying all the values and out to commit genocide, that they’d have no excuse for their attacks.

But then when I started joining the Kurdish community here in the Netherlands, that was also a bit of a culture shock. Because even though I was aware that we were living in a capitalist society and patriarchal society, and that this was causing a lot of injustice, and unheard voices, even though I was aware of it, and already, like fighting the status quo as much as I could, in my way, it was a culture shock to become accepted by the Kurdish community. Because then I felt that I became a part of the struggle and after revolution. And it’s also because the message of the revolution is what I hold really dear, I think that’s a really important message. And that’s why I am also really glad to participate today in the podcast, because the message is that it’s not only a revolution in Rojava, and in Kurdistan region, it’s not their revolution, it’s from all of us.

Because the way how the PKK decided, at some point, that they are not after their own State anymore but they are instead going after a Stateless world. When I really find out about it, and I started sitting with this, that’s when I felt that this is really also my revolution, and that I have a job to play here in the Netherlands. But it was a big step to start getting to know the Kurdish movement here and understanding what role I can play here. Because I even though I fight against it, I do have a European and a Dutch background, I’m not a Kurdish person. So I have a lot of work to do to change my mindset.

And that is also where, because of the pandemic, we could not organize anymore. And I lost contact with my Kurdish friends. So that’s where I started looking on the internet, to find a community and to find resources and to keep on developing myself, and to really become a student of the revolution to understand what can I do here in the Netherlands. That is how I found out about ECR, I joined a reading session of them. And this is also my message to listeners who feel like they want to do something, but they are looking for ways to get involved and to make an impact: the ECR we have reading sessions, one of the topics we discussed was — and that was over like five or six sessions — we discussed similarities and differences between the Zapatista revolution and the Rojava revolution. And for the 8th of March, the International Women’s Day, we had a session, of course, about women struggle and achievements. And before that, we had really interesting sessions about political economy and the cooperative economy in Rojava.

And these are sessions where we exchange equally, where we get to know each other. And then we also have once a month, the organizing meetings where we try to practice what we are learning, try to inspire each other, we have updates from the region. And for me, it helped a lot to be connected with people who are very aware of what’s going on, because that helps seeing the forest through the trees again. Because if you’re insecure about what is going on, that also makes you insecure to act and to speak out and to take action. So ECR has really helped me to stand stronger, and form my own opinion, and choose a strategy for myself to be a part of the revolution. And so I would like to invite listeners to join us for organizing meetings. You’re welcome to join. However, whatever your background is, or how much you know or don’t know about it, you’re always welcome to join us. You can get an update from the region. We also share news about what’s going on in the United States, revolving Rojava and Kurdistan. We share actions that we are taking to build a broader solidarity, because this is, as I said, it’s not only a Kurdish revolution, it’s not only Rojava, it is a struggle and a resistance at this worldwide. That we are connected in our struggle against capitalism and patriarchy. And then at the end of the meetings, we also have the phone banking, where friends of ours from ECR they always do a really great job of putting together a message of concern. And they have all the phones numbers from relevant people of the government in the United States, and we make the calls and as Xero said it might be a bit boring or even like, doesn’t feel good for people, but it is a really important part, especially as European or American people to really raise the noise in our own countries, and to bring our message because they need to hear our story. And you can find us at DefendRojava.Org. There, you can also sign up to get notifications about events and news.

E: I’ll follow Rimac’s example and begin with explaining how I started to become involved with ECR. Soon after its establishment in 2019, I was already in touch with one of co-founders such as Anya and a couple other comrades. And I’m working on women’s autonomous organizing in Rojava in my dissertation, and particularly in the economic arena, you know, cooperatives, collectives, communes. And, you know, in addition to all the wonderful things we do at ECR, we’ve been doing over the past three years that Rimac mentioned just now, I’ve been involved with Anya and a couple comrades with trying to establish connections and increase solidarity with different cooperatives across the US. We’ve been meeting with representatives from cooperatives in and around New York City, but also from different parts of the US. We’ve been in communication with Equal Exchange, Fair World Project, Colab Cooperative, and USFWC Peer Tech Network, among other cooperatives. We’ve been trying to build connections with cooperatives and collectives in Rojava. As an anarchist, myself, I value this growth of international solidarity among different cooperatives in different parts of the world.

However, you don’t have to be an anarchist, you know, whatever excites you in life, whatever you’ve been working on more, there are options to build solidarity with your comrades in Rojava. I know, for example, if you’re an active feminist, in the US, or in Europe, an organized active feminist and you want to build solidarity that’s also much valued and possible, both through the ECR, which, you know, tries to contribute to this growth of solidarity, but also Kurdish Women’s Movement, which is very well established, internationally, particularly in Europe. And I know, there have been meetings with, you know, different women’s organizing from North and South America. So whatever you’re working on, whatever moves you in life, there is possibility of growing solidarity and connections with corresponding similar organizations and people in Rojava. And the Rojava Revolution’s Democratic Confederalism is an anti-nation-state, internationalist vision that does not only limit itself to the Kurdistan or the Middle East, but for the entire world. So any collaboration, in that sense will be much valued and appreciated.

X: Yeah, I would echo what I heard both of Rimac and Emre say, which I thought they were really beautiful responses. So one of the things that I personally have learned — this is gonna sound really contradictory — one of the things that I personally have learned over the course of my organizing as I get closer and closer to Indigenous movements here on Turtle Island, is the importance of not centering yourself, but also, the utility of centering yourself and when it’s appropriate to and when it’s not appropriate to. Things have to be balanced and I think that’s something that’s really important that I take away from all of this. So I had the good fortune to sit down with a Kurdish journalist Khabat Abbas — who you’ll hear the interview that I did with her, we’ll be dropping an episode after we start dropping episodes — but that was a really wide ranging conversation. And one of the things that I really took away from that was this notion of trying to sit with all of the many, many contradictions in life and not just contradictions of ideas or whatever, but contradictions of feeling and thought.

You know, the way that really intense genocides tend to all also happened at the same time as incredible social movements towards progressive ideas of feminism and liberation and stuff. And the way that you can’t really separate the two. That was a really powerful idea. I think that some cultures might call that, if I’m, again, forgetting the name, non-dualism, I think that Buddhists would have a lot to say about this idea of the yin and the yang, and how good and evil aren’t really opposites. They’re two sides of the same coin and stuff like that. I’ve come around to the idea that these are all things that are too important to carry just one name and we have versions of them in our own culture. And so trying to see these things as a gift, and the gift comes in the form of a seed, and you can choose to plant that seed and you can even tend it like a garden. Because the way that culture works, a lot of the time, is a lot soil. You have to look at the nutrients that are in the soil and you can maintain the soil, and you can change what the nutrients are over time, but it’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to happen with a lot of work and a lot of really hard, dedicated effort over the course of generations even.

And that’s what the Kurds and other people who live in the region have achieved. Because the Rojava project as a polity didn’t come about because somebody woke up one day and said, “Hey, let’s let’s fundamentally revolutionize everything that we’re doing in civil society”. It came about because these cultures, or these traditions, have been practiced for centuries. And there was a lot of dedicated organizing that happened in the years before the Syrian civil war. The PKK is definitely a factor, the early stage of the YPG, and YPJ, which are the People’s Defense Units, and the Women’s Defense Units, these self defense militias in the region. Those also didn’t come out of nowhere, they were trained with the help of the PKK. And in many instances, they have, you know, overlapping membership.

But these things don’t just happen in a vacuum, they come about because there’s a need for them, even when there’s not a civil war going on. And so I look around at the situation in the context where I live and I see that there’s a dire need for that. And I’m not the first person to notice that, this is not an original observation in any way. But things in the US right now are getting to a dire point where I really worry a lot about, you know, the possibility of genocidal violence in the near future. And the violence that is going to be perpetrated against queer people and trans people over the summer, and how that’s actually about racism, when you boil it down, and how nothing is new under the sun. Everything that happened before will happen again, you know, whatever you want to bring out to say that.

But all of that is to say: that you have these dark things that are happening at the same time as you have incredibly positive things. And the incredibly positive things that I take from Rojava, the things that really stood out to me and the things that I really connected with immediately, were the Women’s Revolution, and the structure of civil society, those are the things that made me realize that I’m an anarchist, I just didn’t put the word to it for a long time. And realizing those things, it was a very non-linear process where I just kind of made all these realizations in my own life and started realizing that I fit into that context, too, and I can be part of those organizing efforts. And that’s a new commitment that I have in my life that I feel more myself than I have in a very long time. Because I’ve was introduced to these ideas.

And so I think there’s a lot there that’s on the personal level, on the societal level, the structural level. And a lot of it goes off in very different directions. But that’s kind of the beauty of it, is that all of that is part of it, all of that has to be part of the whole. That the opposition has to be part of the system. Yeah, and so when I think about what can be done, and how the US has failed, I think those are important questions to grapple with. And there’s a lot of very serious critiques to be made. I think that what it distills down to, for me, is a reaction of an interaction that I had with somebody on Twitter recently, somebody that’s based in the UK, but that does a lot of anarchist organizing and stuff. And they kept complaining about “what the fuck is in the water over there in the US? What the fuck are you people talking about all the time?” And that got me to thinking very seriously about, you know, the context that I grew up in. Which was small towns in the Rust Belt, and just kind of what it is like emotionally to grow up that way, in that area, in that context, and how that plays differently from people who grew up in different contexts, in different geographies and stuff. Yeah, I’m rambling now, but I just, it’s all of this. It’s really complex, and it’s really nuanced, and I just love every minute of it. That’s basically my answer.

TFSR: That’s awesome. All those answers were really, really enlightening. I really appreciate them. And so Rimac already mentioned the website and how to get in touch, and invited listeners into the project. I wonder if any of you individually have projects. I mean, Xero mentioned the podcast, but if any of you have places where listeners can reach out to you personally over social media, or if you have collections of writings that you’ve done, anything like that you want to share? It’s okay, if you don’t.

X: I guess I can start. So the podcast that I mentioned is called Where Many Worlds Fit. You can find, I guess, me on Twitter and on Instagram, the handle is Many_Worlds_Pod spelled just it sounds. I think the there’s also an email, which is Many.Worlds.Pod@protonmail.com. And so if anybody wants to get in touch or if you want to, you know, follow along there. There’s a couple of articles that have been posted on the website, which is ManyWorldsPod.github.io. It’s hosted on GitHub, because I don’t paying for software, and I’m a software developer by trade, and so I just did all of that myself. Yeah, that’s where to find me.

TFSR: Well, thank you. Thank you all for having this conversation and for taking all this time out of out of your busy lives to not only do this work, but to share with the audience and with myself. Yeah. And thanks again.

R: Can I share one thing?

TFSR: Yeah yeah yeah!

R: Well, the examples I gave earlier, that people can do on an individual level and get involved, speak for themselves. But what I also love about being involved with ECR is that they are really taken the steps necessary, and really big steps in the United States, to bring the message of the Rojava Revolution forward. And to also approach Congress, because they’ve now drafted a resolution with legislation that they want to see changed so that people in the area can be protected, because they would, they have to have political recognition. But also because Turkey has built dams, causing whole areas to be without water, so daily life is obstructed in a pandemic, that was really a catastrophe on catastrophe. Not to mention the effects on food supplies. So even though ECR is a relatively small organization, they are really owing up to the revolution and to making the change and impact they can do. So that’s why I also love to organize with them, because you can learn so much from them. And I want to thank you for taking the time because we’ve spoken over two hours. I don’t know how long your podcast usually is. But thanks for taking the time and listen to us and not feeling any rush.

X: Yeah, thanks a lot for having us, Bursts, it’s been a great conversation.

TFSR: Yeah, I’ve appreciate you getting to getting to chat with all of y’all. And I’m glad there’s some promotion here for your podcast, which I’m pretty excited about [laughs].

X: Yeah, me too [laughs]. I think we just need to knuckle down and do it [laughs].

TFSR: Take care, Hevals!

R: Serkeftin!

Support Jessica Reznicek and Navigating Conflict in Movement

Support Jessica Reznicek and Navigating Conflict in Movement

This week on the show, we’re airing two portions.

Support Jessica Reznicek

[00:02:06 – 00:36:33]

Photo by Cristina Yurena Zerr of Jessica Reznicek sitting among green plants and purple flowers next to a banner reading “We Are Here To Protect | Water Is Life”, other text reading “Support Jessica Reznicek & Navigating Conflict In Movement | TFSR 22-06-11”
Download This Episode

First up, Charlotte speaks about their friend, political prisoner and water defender Jessica Reznicek who just had an appeal denied of an 8 year sentence and terrorism enhancement for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline with another Catholic Worker prior to DAPL. carrying oil. It’s estimated that the two cost $6 million in lost profits to Energy Transfer Partners and stopped the flow of 30 million barrels of oil. For the hour we talk about #NoDAPL, the movements that Jessica was involved in, including Occupy and the Catholic Workers, the increased criminalization of dissent as the climate heats up and how to support Jessica and spread the good work. You can learn more about Jess and her case at SupportJessicaReznicek.com and you can purchase benefit t-shirts here: https://www.eaglescreenprint.com/shop/p/free-jessica-reznicek-tee

Navigating Conflict In Movement

[00:37:52 – end]

Then, we do something a little experimental. We present a conversation with a member of an anti-authoritarian movement in Europe. We don’t say what movement. We talk about conflict internal to their movement, but we don’t name the parties involved. The conversation was conducted from an anti-authoritarian perspective, in the interest of creating heterogeneous communities of struggle. The purpose of this recording is to promote a mental exercise on the part of the listener to plug in their own experiences in movements with many different trajectories inside of it. The anonymous nature of the conversation was in part to not contribute to internal conflict to the movement, conflict is better addressed between parties involved than with an outside party (our radio show) who’s interest may not be the same as the movement. I hope that this conversation is helpful, for all of it’s purposeful vagueness. This originally aired in 2017.

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Learn about our radio broadcasts and how to get us on your local station at TFSR.WTF/Radio

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Jess Reznicek Transcription

TFSR: Could you please introduce yourself with any name, preferred pronouns, affiliations, or anything that you want to share?

Charlotte: Sure, I’m Charlotte, I use she/they pronouns and I am a member of the Free Jess team.

TFSR: We’re gonna be talking about Jessica Reznicek Catholic Worker, and land and water defender facing eight years in prison for sabotaging the Dakota Access Pipeline without causing a drop of spillage and succeeding in losing Energy Transfer Partners a good amount of money, which is pretty awesome. In the first step, I wanted to ask if you’d mind sharing how you became a supporter of Jessica, if you come from the prisoner support world or eco-defense support, how you came to this?

C: I met Jess in Iowa, I had spent time at Standing Rock, and then things were getting so militarized and crazy, and I heard that they needed extra hands, there’s a small scrappy group in Iowa, so I went down there. That’s where I met her. We were part of the same direct-action caravan called Mississippi Stand. Jess had really started the resistance movement to the Dakota Access Pipeline DAPL. In Iowa, most people think of DAPL with Standing Rock, but the pipeline also went through North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and then there is the end in Illinois. She really galvanized the Iowa base to care about this pipeline and its pollution into the waters there. Personally, I’ve been doing climate justice work pretty much since Standing Rock. That was a big moment for me personally, I do direct action, do prison support of different kinds. I’m an abolitionist. So for me with Jess, there’s a lot of things that intersect and at the end of the day, just being her friend and not wanting her to be locked up and wanting to support her and share the pieces of this fight and legal situation that we’re all really terrified about.

TFSR: Can you tell us a bit about Jessica’s story, who she is, and how she approaches political engagement? Just a quick aside. Before we talked, one of the things that I just very basically did was to look at the Wikipedia about Jessica, and there’s just so much stuff in there. She has been so active, I’m sure she keeps it up even from behind bars. Could you tell us a bit about your friend?

C: Jess grew up in Iowa, and has a really deep connection to the waters there. And I think her actions were definitely motivated from that place of just holding those waters really sacred to her. The very formative political moment for her was being involved in Occupy about 10 years ago, she was really involved with that, she’s really involved with the anti-nuclear movement and doing a lot of actions against the proliferation of nuclear missiles. She is an active member of the Catholic Workers Movement, which is a really big part of who she is. And within that, the Plowshares Movement, and that flavor of direct action. She is also really place-based. I was really struck by her connection of place to Iowa and connection to the rivers and really forming these relationships with everyday farmers and residents and people on the street. This was very much not an echo-chamber vibe. I think different political movements like Occupy, a lot of people there were already radicalized, or we’re talking within circles, but what I saw was always her reaching across and finding ways to bring people in and educate them on these really oppressive systems.

TFSR: So we featured the voice of folks involved in Catholic Worker struggles in the past on the show a few times, actually had Martha Hennessy of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, comrade [4:36] had passed us audio of an interview with Martha before Martha went inside. But I must admit the movement is marginal, a lot of people have not heard of them. I grew up Roman Catholic and had Catholic parents, but I only learned about the Catholic Worker Movement because of things the SF Bay Area Book Fair having its pre-Book Fair Cafe funded either at a Catholic Worker space in San Francisco in the late 90s, or early 2000s, or from stories from Utah Phillips, the musician, the storyteller of his teacher, Ammon Hennacy. Now I know the Plowshares Movement has had a long direct action history connected to the Catholic Workers. Would it be possible for you to give a little intro to the milieu that Jessica came out of and would you say some words about the Catholic Worker Movement?

C: Sure. The Catholic Worker Movement was created in the 1930s. Dorothy Day and Peter Martin are the two – I don’t know if officially – founders but those are really big figures in the early days. And a lot of their tactics and approaches to injustice are focused on non-violence service, and redistributing wealth and resources. This was started with people feeling really disenfranchised from the industrialization of Europe, and especially a lot of young workers seeing those inequalities rise really drastically during that time and serving those on the margins of society. They’re also very anti-war. A lot of their actions are focused around service, I don’t know if they use the words mutual aid, but it’s very mutual aid in orientation, about just supplying basic needs to people and making sure those resources get to folks. So in a lot of the different regional houses, they have kitchens, which was definitely a part of Jesse’s life for years in Iowa, in Des Moines in the Catholic Workers house there, they feed a lot of houseless folks and whoever just wants some free food. A lot of distribution of wealth, a lot of service, sacrifice, and worship are also pretty big parts of that.

I guess that sort of strain connects to the Plowshare Movement, and that’s a little bit more specific. That’s part of the Christian pacifist movement. They’re very anti-nukes, and they really came about in the 80s. There was, as you mentioned, the Plowshare 7, there’s the Berrigan Brothers and some other folks that they got their name, they beat swords into plowshares, and trespass, allegedly, into this place where missiles were made, and they poured blood on the documents and offered prayers for peace – those kinds of actions of sacrificing themselves to highlight this injustice in this issue is very much what they’re known for. A lot of times, it’s also oriented around prayer. That is also something that Jessica really related to, and she joined the Dakota Access Pipeline struggle and Standing Rock, I think, the overlap was prayer. She was really standing in solidarity with a lot of indigenous communities where their resistance was rooted in prayer and this deep connection to the earth and integrity and a sense of what’s right and being on the right side of history. So I think, for Jess, the indigenous sovereignty and Catholic Worker Movement had that overlap. And then obviously, the direct action piece is a really big part of the Plowshare and Catholic Workers Movement as well.

TFSR: As a reminder for folks, especially younger folks, the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline was huge. It was a moment of bringing together indigenous sovereignty, climate justice, direct action, and land and water defense, as well as an anti-capitalist activity against a lot of the banks investing in this mega project. And it was eventually completed. And oil is flowing through it. But I’m wondering if you, as someone who was involved in that struggle, could give listeners a sense of what was going on at that time and your experience of it a bit.

C: That Dakota Access Pipeline is about a 1200 mile-pipeline from North Dakota that ends in Illinois. It has the name Standing Rock because it was next to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation but it also went through a lot of other lands. It just became an enormous movement and big flashpoint, as you mentioned, for climate justice, anti-fossil fuel work, indigenous rights, sovereignty, decolonization, the land back movement – a lot of seeds were really planted for that there. It’s hard to predict when these moments will happen. But a lot of people really resonated with the injustices that were happening. And one of the main things was that the pipeline was originally supposed to go through a more populous white town, and it was rerouted in the permitting process because they realized it was so dangerous to go through the reservation, and then it ended up going through very sacred burial grounds. And that very clear environmental racism really struck a chord with a lot of people. And then a few people showed up, and it grew to about 15,000 people. Lots of direct action, there was a ton of skill-sharing, there were a lot of different camps there and, of course, politics and different vibes with different camps, but there’s definitely a strain of self-sufficiency and autonomy and skill-sharing in a lot of ways that I don’t think a lot of people had experienced before, that was really empowering. It was this incredible moment for movement building and relationship building. And really having a firm indigenous-led decolonize really rare resistance movement. Then you add the climate change piece on top of that. And it really became this lightning-in-a-bottle moment for land defense and people banding together and doing these really enormous direct actions of hundreds of people occupying sites, where different construction equipment was doing at different stages of constructing a pipeline, welding equipment together, boring under rivers, stringing pipe along, digging underground – people were interrupting that process.

There was a range of how that was happening and sometimes people were occupying it and planting native seeds, and there was song and prayer. Other times, people were locking down to equipment to physically stop the construction from happening. From that, it led to enormous costs for Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline company that owns the Dakota Access Pipeline. They had to increase their private security costs. We saw this huge increase in surveillance of resistance. I would encourage folks to read the Intercept’s articles on Tiger Swan, their whole oil and water series covers this super in-depth. So it was this brilliant moment of coming together and movement building. And then it also led to this whole private security surveillance apparatus being exposed. And the increase in the expenses for Energy Transfer Partners led to a lot of banks divesting. So it also sparked the divestment movement. And investors realized that these are actually really risky financial operations or investments at this point. We also saw, in terms of suppression of protests, these critical infrastructure bills that came out of Standing Rock, so the oil and gas industry was really scared. And that’s evidenced by the fact that they lobbied and put together a whole series of critical infrastructure bills after this that is now active in 15 states. That was a direct response to Standing Rock. It really elevates a lot of the charges associated with tampering with fossil fuel infrastructure. And so simple trespassing, which would otherwise be a misdemeanor, is now a felony in a lot of states and really upped the ante on those charges. A lot of things came out of that movement – a lot of power and a lot of suppression as well. And I think what we’re seeing with Jessica is a result of that fear from the oil and gas industry and this real desire to deter people from trying to stop them.

TFSR: I think another set of laws that came out of the state’s reaction to Standing Rock, were these ones that decriminalized driving into crowds of people because there were such large marches or blockades of streets, that they basically wanted to make sure that pipeline workers weren’t going to get any charges for just forcing their way violently through a crowd of people in this huge metal object. Really scary.

C: Yeah, totally. You think of the Charlottesville attack of Heather Heyer, and it’s not out of the question to think of someone plowing through a crowd with a car and killing someone. It happens, and exactly what you’re saying, bills like that that decriminalize that activity are directly connected to this apparatus to deter people from any resistance and fighting these systems of power.

TFSR: Could you say a bit about what Jessica pled to, how she ended up getting caught, what she was convicted of, and just nuts and bolts of the case that the US government brought against her, and how she came to be labeled as a terrorist?

C: Jessica acted in 2016 with another woman to disable pipeline equipment. Nobody was harmed. In 2017, they publicly admitted to this. Three months later, Jess’s home was raided by the FBI. There was this waiting period of two years before she was indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple charges and placed on house arrest. So there’s this spooky two-year period, that was really stressful, of course. This led to her sentencing hearing in June of 2021. And that’s when she received the domestic terrorism enhancement. She pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to damage an energy facility. That was the only charge without a mandatory minimum. She also has to pay 3.2 million to Energy Transfer Partners in restitution. She will also be on supervised probation for three years.

TFSR: You talked about the increased penalties for things that would be considered necessary infrastructure or attacks on that, which, when I hear that at first, that makes me think of foreign powers or a terrorist organization that might try to take down the electrical grid that could harm a lot of people. But how did terrorism charges come into this? I guess it wouldn’t be a byproduct of those enhancements that you were talking about after the last question because that was a state decision to talk about the infrastructure. But it seems to be directly in the lineage of stuff that happened during the Green Scare from the mid-90s up through the early 2000s, where terrorism enhancements for Marius Mason were applied to nonviolent sabotage actions, for instance, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act put in an enhancement at a federal level, if anyone were to interfere or call for a boycott even of animal-related industries, this feels it’s in that vein, is that a fair way to look at it? Can you go into a little detail about that?

C: Yeah, definitely. We know exactly where the label of domestic terrorists for something like this started in 2017, 80 Republicans and four Democratic members of Congress pressed the Justice Department, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to treat all people who tampered with fossil fuel infrastructure to label them as domestic terrorists. And they wrote this letter. That’s exactly where this started. This is a direct answer to that call. And that was in 2017. That was in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline and the fear that the fossil fuel industry was failing. And those Congress members together received a total combined 36 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. So this is being led by the oil and gas industry as a way to protect their assets. That’s one of the reasons why we’re really scared about this we’re seeing this collapse of the government and an oil and gas company. And then specifically the domestic terrorist label is really a sentencing guideline and so it has to do with harming an individual, harming human life, like people like Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people. He’s charged as a domestic terrorist. And then the specific clause that Jesse’s label rests on is whether or not she influenced the government. And it was the prosecutor back in her sentencing hearing that suggested that she was labeled as a terrorist. Her guideline for the charge that she admitted to, originally the sentencing guidelines range from 37 to 46 months, and then when Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger responded to the prosecutor and applied this domestic terrorism label to Jess, that automatically increased her sentencing guidelines from the range of 37 to 46 months to 210 to 240 months. That five-fold increase obviously has led to Jess being in jail now for eight years. Judge Ebinger claimed that the lengthy sentence that she gave to Jessica was necessary to deter others. That is all on the record.

TFSR: Well, that leads me to this question. So Jessica just lost a recent challenge in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to the terrorism enhancement. Can you talk about this and what the next legal steps are for her?

C: We were arguing in the appeal that the terrorism enhancement should be dropped. That would lead to a re-sentencing of her. That definition of being a domestic terrorist, that legal language hinges on whether the actions must be “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of a government by intimidation, or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.” So we were arguing that her actions targeted a private company, not the government, and therefore this label was misapplied. In the appeal decision that came out a few days ago on Monday, they basically didn’t go into the merits of whether the domestic terrorism label was accurate or not. They said it’s irrelevant and any error was harmless. This harmless error is something that’s used in courts a lot. They’re basically saying that being labeled a domestic terrorist is irrelevant, she would have received the same sentencing either way, which isn’t true, her sentencing guidelines went from 37 to 46 months to 210 to 240, when she received that label. We’re really worried about this for a lot of reasons. Number one is that those who critique the government in a regulatory process can be labeled domestic terrorists for critiquing the regulatory process. That is the prosecutor’s justification, that Jess read her statement in front of the Iowa Utilities Board. And in critiquing the regulatory process – which later was found by a federal judge to be illegal – it’s an illegally operated pipeline at this point. So Jess was right. Number one, the fact that people who critique the regulatory process can be found as domestic terrorists is terrifying.

Number two is that judges can label a land defender a domestic terrorist and then go back and say it was a harmless error, that it was irrelevant to apply that label. So it’s a pretty terrifying precedent that’s being set. We’re being supported and talking a lot to different civil liberties groups who are really worried that this is not random. This is part of a much broader, politically orchestrated set of decisions and bills – the critical infrastructure bills, the letter to Jeff Sessions, the funding of these Congress members, and then even the judges or Trump appointees. They have a lot of ties to different big industries, pharmaceuticals, and Big Ag. We’re just really worried about this precedent this sets for a lot of activists, and this is part of a much broader movement to suppress protests, not just in the US, but internationally as well.

TFSR: To the question of what the next legal steps are, you said that Jess’s support has been talking to various civil liberties groups. But is there a next legal step? Maybe I missed that in the answer?

C: No, you didn’t. The next legal step would be asking for a rehearing by the entire Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, appealing to the US Supreme Court, and/or seeking presidential clemency. So we’re figuring out what is next.

TFSR: How can listeners help Jessica out at this point? And do you have any suggestions on how they can support the movements and activities that she put herself on the line for in moving forward? How can people continue to support indigenous sovereignty land back, stopping the destruction of the earth, and water defense?

C: Great question. In the big picture, I would urge people to examine their privilege, and how high the stakes are. In part, why just did such a bold action like this was her connection to the waters, but it was also trying to highlight how high do the stakes have to be where we act outside of the sanctioned forms of protests or resistance to the state, to capitalism, to the fossil fuel industry. The appeal came out the same day that NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that carbon dioxide levels are now 50% higher than during the pre-industrial era, and carbon dioxide has not been this high in 4 million years, and it’s not dropping fast enough to avert catastrophe. We all see wildfires, sea-level rise, and all kinds of stuff from climate change. We know, at this point, it’s real. This state wants us to submit our comments to an environmental impact statement and then go back to our lives. And that’s our only avenue, or maybe stand with the sign outside. Now we can’t even trespass, according to their rules. I would encourage people to act outside of what the state allows us to do. And the stakes are really high right now. The climate is burning. I would encourage people to take bold action, whatever that means for you, to get engaged, to examine your privilege, to get to know where you are and what native land you’re on, and get involved in different solidarity with Native communities where you are. Also, learn skills and don’t be afraid to ask questions, if you want to do something more than holding a protest sign. Connect with groups, there’s lots of direct action trainings all the time, and people can find ways to plug in and skillshare. There’s no stupid question, show up as a student.

More specifically, to plug into the campaign, people can follow us on social media. Our website is SupportJessicaReznicek.Com. It’s a pretty simple website run by a few volunteers but it has all the details there. There’s all the legal details, there’s tabs to get involved, and there is also information to contact Jess and write her a letter. You can also sign the petition. There’s over 100 organizations that have signed on the organization petition and there’s also individuals, over 15,000 people have signed on. Especially now after the appeal was denied, we’re definitely in a new stage of the campaign, we’re going to be leveling up. So we definitely need the support of folks. You can sign up for our email lists. You can also follow us on the socials, we’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook @FreeJessRez. We definitely don’t want anyone to do an action outside of the facility that she’s in, but I’d really encourage people to take whatever actions they feel inspired to, if that’s a banner drop, or a kitchen or getting together to write letters to her, that is great. We’re going to be doing an international day of action at some point coming up. We also had a webinar about a month ago, and we had some really bad-ass speakers – Cherri Foytlin, and Cindy Spoon from the L’eau Est La Vie resistance camp from the Bayou Bridge pipeline. We had folks from the Water Protectors Legal Collective, who were awesome folks from the Climate Defense Project. That was a really comprehensive look at Jesse’s case with some friends who are on the support team just speaking more personally about Jess’s personality. There’s a lot of material with Jess’s words that we have on this site. So I would encourage people to watch them and become more familiar with the case because what happens to Jess could happen to all of us. Protecting the water should never be terrorism.

TFSR: I was just looking at the really neat T-shirts by Kat Eng that are on the website for sale, which is pretty cool.

C: Yeah! Buy a T-shirt. Kat has been awesome. They’re really cool T-shirts, it’s Eagle and the Condor myth. Buy a t-shirt and support Jess, the money will go to her and her education in prison.

TFSR: Are people invited to send books or write letters to Jessica? If so, what are some things that Jess likes receiving or talking about?

C: I love that question. On our website, you can click on the Contact tab, which has the details to write to Jessica. Prisons are horrible. You can’t have any stickers, there’s just a lot of details about what is allowed and what’s not. So those details are there. Definitely make sure to follow those details. Talk about whatever you want. But I think her feeling solidarity, not feeling this was for nothing, hearing about dogs, she’s taking care of a puppy in there. Any puppy training techniques or tips. Just hearing about people’s connection to place and maybe how they inspired her, or she inspired them. I think all of that would be super welcome. Just telling her she’s not alone and people are really thinking about her and keeping her in their hearts.

TFSR: Cool. That’s super helpful. Charlotte, was there anything that I didn’t ask about that you wanted to touch on?

C: I think I would just encourage people to get involved in some way. There’s so many ways to get involved. If direct action feels too much for you, show up to a support camp and help in the kitchen doing dishes, provide research or legal support to folks, or organize a letter-writing party. I’m a firm believer in a diversity of tactics. We need it all, we need everyone, I think the worst thing people can do is just sit back as the world burns. So I would just encourage folks to push their comfort zone and find a new group, find a new friend if they’re not in the circles already. And just find some ways to plug in in a way that feels exciting and nourishing for you, too, because we need to sustain ourselves, sustain others, and stand together in this fight against the fossil fuel industry and the state.

TFSR: That’s really awesomely put, thank you for that. Thanks a lot for having this chat and for supporting Jess. Share our love with Jess.

C: Thanks for having me, I am really glad that you all are interested in her case.

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Conflict In Movement Transcript

TFSR: And now an uncomplicated conversation about conflict in movement.

So I was hoping that you could speak a bit about experiences that you have inside the movement that you’re involved in, or in a political space, difficulties coming up or stoppages in communication between yourself and others or in processes, whether it be individuals or groups that you think make working together difficult.

Anonymous: One thing that pops in my mind is the question of time. Here, I see a big difference between people in terms of efficiency and the time we take to make a decision or make a project. Often people use the excuse of emergency to go quick, to take a decision only by a few people. And then other people that were not involved in the decision-making process are asked to be part of the project, but after everything has been decided. And I feel people always reproduce the same thing because of an emergency.

TFSR: So is that like making a decision before people get together sometimes, and just go into the meeting with a conclusion, rather than a proposal?

Anon: They see the big assembly not as a place where you discuss, but a place where some groups arrive with a decision or project they discuss only among them. And you as an individual don’t have the time to think about it, about other ideas. So at the end of the meeting, they ask if there is any idea at this moment to make something different, but you didn’t have the time to think about it or to feel confident enough to expose your own idea. So in the end it’s the project of the people that talked about it before in their groups that gets implemented.

TFSR: Is that the dynamic that could be changed if someone wanted to come up with a general agenda beforehand, give space and time, a few days before and say, “Hey, we’re going to formulate things to talk about proposals, the meeting, we’re gonna give 15 minutes to talk about this, bring your proposals, 15 minutes to talk about this problem or this project, bring your proposals.” Does that sort of thing happen in the assembly? Or is it less organized than that?

Anon: It’s less organized than this. You know that there’s gonna be an assembly every two weeks or every month, but the subject of the assembly is sometimes set in advance, sometimes not. If you know the subject in advance, maybe you can organize to think about what you want to do. But it’s not that easy to put people together and find what you want to do.

TFSR: Do you think that when you experience that that’s because people are trying to push something through the process, or because they literally just thought about it beforehand, so it’s a weakness in their communication strategy? Maybe a mix?

Anon: Sure, it’s a mix. But I often see people who want to push something. They have an idea or a common view of what should be the trigger here and what is strategic or not, what is good or not for this trigger. On a bigger scale, it often responds to the way of imagining what is strategic and what is good.

TFSR: Do you imagine that the people that push through things don’t trust the thinking of the other people in the assembly or just view themselves as having a different political perspective and so in competition, and that’s why they push it through, or is it simply may be for, in terms of efficiency, we have a really good idea, no one’s going to disagree with this, so we just need to make a quick decision?

Anon:I feel it’s a bit paternalistic. Here, it’s really difficult to have a common decision because of so many different ways of thinking. So at some point, if we want to do things here, we assume that some people need to take the power, it’s too complicated here to do with everyone involved. We agree on the same strategy as a group and we push for our decisions. If you want to do the same, you can do it. Actually, it’s not really the case. If you want to do it as they do and if you are anti-authoritarian, you can’t compete, because you don’t want to make a closed group that nobody knows about, a closed group with many people with lots of privileges, like class privilege, people that went to a prestigious school, people that have no problem was money, no problem was alcohol. So actually, if you want to do the same in a more horizontal, anti-authoritarian way, it’s not possible.

TFSR: Can you talk about other dynamics that make it easier for people to take advantage of a stage or a platform during discussion/debate? Like education and access to money or things. Coming from a different society, but also a patriarchal society, I understand, that gender often has to do- Being male-assigned, being cis-gendered, you identifying as you were assigned at birth. Is that something that you experience like a level of comfort with taking space because of that?

Anon: Yeah, in the group I’m thinking of, the majority of people are male-assigned people, able-bodied people, people with the capacity to go to many meetings, write texts. Sometimes it’s one person writing text and then saying this is collective, while it’s not. It is not the same when this person is quite confident, and we are used to listening to them, because of their gender and their role in the community. Their voice is much more heard or taken into account than someone who is not in this category. If you want to be here the same way, as a woman, you have to speak loudly, and people think you’re aggressive or stuff like this. It’s much more difficult to give your voice the same importance.

TFSR: Does ethnicity or nation of origin have any play in the dynamics too? Or language access? Ease of speaking a language?

Anon: For sure. The question of ethnicity plays a role here. The majority of people are white European people. And I think it’s not that easy for people seen as not white. But in the groups that are having much power in their hands, no, I don’t know. It’s complicated. And the question of language is really important. The words you can use. Sometimes texts are written by this group of people. The vocabulary is a really high-level language. And if you don’t understand, you don’t feel that this text is for you, it makes a barrier between people who are concerned by this text or proposal and who are not part of this.

TFSR: Have these criticisms been brought up to the group of people you’re talking about? Have they been willing to hear feminist critiques, for instance, or class critiques of how they take space, or how they engage with the rest?

Anon: About feminism, there has been criticism and an important moment where this group of people wrote a text about women saying that women just have to take the power as well. And they just have to be as strong as men. There was a big event and after this, people realized how authoritarian this group can be. I think they’re able to hear the criticism and change before it’s too big. But often, if you criticize this organization, they would say that you are against everything, this is only in your imagination. And you want to just be critical for the sake of it. As radicals and anarchists in the real world, we have to fight and be strong, and we don’t have the choice. Sometimes we have to be strategic and go quick. So at the moment, there has been a lot of criticism. Some people try to make visible this organization and the power they have in their hands. There is more and more discussion about it. And maybe there will be a change. But until now, they would deny, the people are taking power and domination, people try not to see it or don’t see it really.

TFSR: Do you think that group is being strategic? Is approaching these critiques methodically, looking at them and saying, “Okay, somebody has proposed this critique, how do I step around it?” I know that, for instance, for me to hear feminist critiques has taken time because society teaches me to think in a certain way. And so I need to have conversations to be like, “Oh, I see. I didn’t realize I was doing that.” That takes a lot of patience from people. But do you think that this is a part of a strategy?

Anon: In this group, I see that people are quite different. It’s not a heterogeneous group. Some people really think they want to do things here and this is the way, but they don’t see how this means that many people are out of the way, it’s not so easy for other people to join this group. If they are not able-bodied, if they’re not middle class, if they don’t have to do something in this in this group, if they slow the process, things like this. And other people – not the majority – really think in terms of strategy, of party style of politics, and sometimes I see that they come and just listen to our critiques. If you talk with some people for one or two hours, they will not change their way of thinking at all. But they will listen to have all the information they need to see what the opposition to their way of doing is.

TFSR: Do you see any options moving forward to address this dynamic and change it or block them from doing this sort of thing?

Anon: I think to make it visible, visible that this group exists, what it means in terms of poor concentration, and to talk with people that are close to this group or inside this group, person to person, as you said before about feminists, talk about anti-authoritarianism and think together. This is possible, too. I don’t want to talk with some people, I don’t feel confident enough. I don’t know what else to do. But I think if more and more people are aware, we can change something in the structure of the community so that few people may not have so much power in their hands about communication, relation with media, and money. So it’s something we need to discuss with many people, but the first step is to make it visible and talk with people about this.

TFSR: Are there other points that I didn’t ask about that you’d to get out or that have been on your mind?

Anon: Something special here is that we all live in the same place, maybe 200-300 people, and there is a big focus on the relationship between people. This is what makes us really strong. Because we do many things together, even if I don’t agree with you during the meeting, the day after, we will make some agriculture together. But the other thing is that the conflict is something we are afraid of, we are afraid that we’re not gonna get along if we talk about conflict. And it’s like social peace when you need to keep a good relationship. We are afraid to go too far into the conflict and prefer to look aside and go on like this. I don’t know if it’s special here, but I see it as a barrier to talking about conflict.

TFSR: Someone else that I talked to had brought up that same point, that it’s difficult. It’s difficult conflicting with people who you share space and struggle with. Because you don’t want it to become war, because then it’s easy to escalate. And then not only because of the toll that it has on the individuals involved, but also because if factions go to war with each other within a movement, the movement collapses. And then people are damaged for the rest of their life. Do you see that there’s a non-lethal way of engaging, just the one-on-one conversations about “When you do this, it makes me feel this way. And here’s what I think about how you’re doing this”? Would that be the solution?

Anon: People here are really egocentric, not thinking collectively and not being self-conscious about their privilege and what place they take in the violence they cause for other people. We need a lot of capacity to listen to people and take as much time as they need. The conflict can be something really interesting, and we see it as something terrible. This is imagination around conflict, that it is terrible and this is war. Well, people don’t agree, and this is political and interesting.

TFSR: That seems really important, too. If things are going to move forward because the project, the struggle that you’re in right now isn’t in a state of war immediately, like it has been in the past. It’s not that the idea of peace at all costs internally is a good idea. People are going to disagree, like you said, because it’s heterogeneous and people need space for that, for conversations, and for disagreement. But if the state comes in and tries to evict again or if something big happens since elections are coming up, for instance, and people that are conflicted internally, it seems it’s easier for everyone to be broken.

Anon: Yeah.

TFSR: Thank you very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Music for this episode is an edited version of:

  • Eyeliner by American Hairlines off of the Free Music

Archive on archive.org, editing by Amar.

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Transcription

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Hell yeah, thank you all so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Sorry, that is within 2021.

TFSR: Oh okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N: [giggles with appreciation]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

N: [giggles in agreeance]

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

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

TFSR: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Prisoner Solidarity, COVID, and Carcerality with IWOC

Download Episode Here

This week we are pleased to present an interview that Bursts did with two members of IWOC (the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee), Caroline works with Millions for Prisoners New Mexico (@iwocnm and @millionsforprisonersnm on the Fedbook), Incarceratedworkers.org and Xeno is with IWOC Sacramento (@sacramento_iwoc on Instagram).

For the little-over-an-hour they speak on what it’s like to be working with incarcerated folks during the coronavirus pandemic, how prisons and the carceral mentality impacts everyone to varying degrees, the varying conditions in the prisons they are most tangential to, ways to connect with and support IWOC and many other topics!

Announcements

Eric King Call-In Continues

Anarchist, antifascist and vegan prisoner Eric King who you heard from in our April 3rd, 2022 episode has been sitting at the federal prison in Atlanta since his transfer from Grady County Jail. Our comrade shouldn’t be behind bars, especially after all he’s faced at the hands of federal prison staff, but he’s stable for the time being but the fear remains that the Bureau of Prisons is trying to wait out Eric’s supporters so we’ll drop vigilance and he can be quietly shipped off to the high security facility, USP Lee where he could be isolated in a Secure Housing Unit and be in danger of further attacks. Eric’s support team suggests that folks check out the latest post at SupportEricKing.Org to find contacts for people and continue to press officials to not move Eric to a facility above his medium security classification.

Transcripts & Zines

This is just a quick reminder that you can find a printable zine of that chat and many, many more at tfsr.wtf/zines, alongside transcripts and unimposed pdfs for easy printing of all of our interviews dating back to at least January 2021. If you write a prisoner or run a zine distro or literature to prisoners project, check out the collection for new material. And if you can read and write in another language and want to translate any of the texts, you are welcome to with no permission needed, but please send us a copy and we’ll promote it as well. If you care to support our transcription process you can make a one-time or recurring donation or merchandise purchase, more information at tfsr.wtf/support

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Featured Track:

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Transcription

TFSR: So could you please introduce yourself to the audience with any names, preferred gender pronouns, or affiliations that you’d like to share?

Courtney: Yeah, my name is Courtney. I use she/her pronouns, and I am with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, as well as the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee.

Xeno: Hey, I am Xeno, I use he/him pronouns and I am similarly with the Incarcerated Organizing Committee here in Sacramento.

TFSR: Well, Courtney, could you talk a little bit about Millions For Prisoners? Could you talk about that organizations, like what that group does?

C: Yeah, for sure. So, Millions For Prisoners in New Mexico/New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee is… we’re all impacted by incarceration in some way, shape, or form from folks who are family members of people who were formerly incarcerated or are currently incarcerated. We have jailhouse lawyers on our crew. Of course, myself who has formerly incarcerated family members, as well as I worked in a State Penitentiary at the penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe as the head librarian back in about 2014 to 2015. I have some experience in terms of seeing the way the prison was run, and a lot of the human rights abuses that took place there. And yeah, we’re an abolitionist formation of folks who have been dealing with the impacts of state violence in one way or another through our entire lives, whether it be by police coming into our communities and terrorizing our community members, to folks dealing with incarceration, to folks experiencing different states of poverty including being un-sheltered. So, yeah, our people are all impacted by the system in some way. So it helps to drive us to continue to do what we do and stand grounded in our values. That’s who we are.

TFSR: Cool, and Xeno? Did you want to say anything about the work that you all do?

X: Yeah, I’ll say that, like, we’re Sacramento IWOC on social media. But we actually have members across California that are not just on the inside, but also on the outside. We help facilitate the existence of the Union for prisoners in every state prison in California. At some point we’d like to expand beyond that to additional facilities in California and help people do that across the country and the world, as well. I will say that we are a very wide ranging group of more than 20 people just dedicated to IWOC, not including more worker organizing focused stuff. The way in which we are least diverse is age in that were almost all under 30, but not entirely. I can also add that I have experienced a form of like mental health incarceration in my life, that was brief but truly terrifying.

TFSR: Yeah, who would one of y’all want to speak a little bit about what IWOC is and it’s relationship with the IWW? I know that it sprang out of the Industrial Workers of the World, which historically it’s a syndicalist labor union. Well, you can tell more about it than I could for sure, being affiliated with it.

But yeah, if you could speak a little bit about the history of IWOC and its relationship to the IWW. I seem to recall that during the Trump administration era there was tension between national leadership and other formations such as GDC, or General Defense Committee and IWOC.

C: Yeah, what I wanted to say about the matter is that we are definitely part of the IWW. We do have an active relationship with the IWW. They not only fund our work through a built-in dues model which is aligned with anti capitalist values, but we also continue to make gains with people who aren’t necessarily impacted by systems of oppression and violence, the way marginalized folks who have constant ordeals with the prison system or with police are. The working class solidarity in being in solidarity with folks who are behind the walls, who often may not have the choice to not work, which is often the case throughout the United States from coast to coast, that is leading to people in the IWW very much being in community with us and wanting to contribute labor administratively to what we need to have done for people on the inside since they can’t really do the same kinds of things that we can in terms of administrative work with computers.

TFSR: Courtney, how did you end up becoming employed as the head librarian at a prison? Did you just get your MLS and that was one of the options that was open to you? Or did they even require that? Can you talk a little bit about that experience of working in that facility?

C: Of course. Yeah. So, I actually got a bachelor’s in biology and worked in libraries. I worked in one in the community college for a number of years, I worked at one at the university out here for a number of years. And I was just putting my application out to everywhere, kind of broadcasting all over the place to get a job. I came across the State office and applied, I saw librarian positions and I kind of applied for those. But I didn’t really realize that I had applied for a prison until I got a phone call from who became my boss who was in the Department of Recidivism Reduction Division. I went in, because I was just interested because I was told you’re going to be giving books to people who are in solitary confinement.

What I had expected was about maybe 2, 3, 4 prison cells would be solitary confinement and it would be a punishment, or whatever the case may be. Although I did have very close family members who were locked up, I didn’t really know a whole lot about the experiences that they had, truly, until I actually went into the facility. But to my surprise, the facility was the supermax prison with about 600 people in various stages of solitary confinement. Of course, 300 being in the supermax facility. It’s all one great big compound is what it is.

The people in the supermax were at the time on 23 hour lockdown with one hour that they’d get in a cage with a two man escort that would take them out to the cage to have their exercise for an hour a day. Then at the level 5, which was on the other side of the facility complex, I’ll call it, it was a little less restrictive but still kind of the same content context. They have got to have what was called ‘tier time,’ where they would be in a certain pod and get to kind of be among each other, but were classified in different states and placed in different pods depending on whatever the case may be. If they were Seurity Threat Group classified or whatever. Then of course, there was a level two unit which was in the front. People could move and have access to the library and so forth.

When I went in to interview for the position. I wanted to see what the facility looked like because I had actually watched a documentary and a subsequent really disgusting thing that they did, which was a haunted house that they had at the Old Main. The facility I worked with was the site of what is called “the worst prison riot in US history” at the Penitentiary of New Mexico Old Main Building, where there were conditions of overcrowding, and physical and psychological abuse and terror that were employed on people that were incarcerated there. It basically blew up into a prison riot in 1980, where 33 people were killed and the National Guard was called in. As a result New Mexico had made that facility into a supermax where they put everyone there in solitary confinement with the exception of the level 2 that’s in the front that I was mentioning.

But I went in I found this little library that was in a chapel at the level six and it was this completely sterile environment. No wildlife, no trees, you’d see a bird on the barbed wire once in a while. It was almost like a religious experience seeing life in something positive and beautiful in such the horrible conditions. The human rights abuses, the torture, seeing people hurting themselves. Every moment being on your feet, it changed my life completely. It breaks my heart that I’m not there anymore, because through books and this is the thing about literature in prisons, books were the only escape that people had.

It was heartbreaking because a lot of that was taken away. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, people were allowed to have three books. We had to carry them out in an ATV to the different parts of the facilities, handing people their three books a week. People would get punished and their books will get thrown away. I would just buy more books to supplement. Right when I walked in, I just felt like I needed to be there. The connections that I made with prisoners…

Of course, the administration pummeled me into probably what could have been the worst experience of my life. As a woman, just the sexual objectification of me by corrections officers, and just the afterwards terror that I had resulted in me literally being afraid for my life, questioning whether I should move out of the state and change my name, and everything. I mean, it was the worst thing that I’ve ever really experienced in a workplace. I didn’t know who to tell who to talk to. But I had just randomly and with a lot of fear in my heart gone to, I was forced into resignation by the way, but I had gone to a Million’s For Prisoners park event that was commemorating Black August. I went to this big event and I heard a person who had just released from prison, but had a large sentence, I believe, an 18 year sentence on his head, named Justin Allen, who does a lot of incredible legislative advocacy work across the board with Right To Vote and stuff like that among so many other things. He was speaking about his experience in prison at this event. The courage that he had and that other people had, who were speaking that day in the park, helped me to go to another event and another event.

Then eventually I was approached, and I told my story to who became more than comrades, my family, with Millions For Prisoners New Mexico/IWOC and helped me to ground myself and have courage to even speak at all about anything. I just didn’t feel like there would be anyone that would believe anything beyond that a person who is in prison deserves what they get. That concept of vengeance on every level. People don’t really know what that looks like until they step into that situation and see the way humans are treated. You see people pacing back and forth, you see people harming themselves, you see blood, you see fights, the things that people confide in you. It’s heartbreaking whenever I think about it because I do want to be there to support people. I felt like when I was there I was providing a good heart in this ultimate darkness. People that rely on violence, when violence is how you operate as your baseline, it changes a person. Everyone that is involved in oppressing people as a career, police and prison CEOs, or whatever the case may be, they adopt that. That becomes the every day and they become addicted to that.

So just to answer your question, it was a fluke. I ended up just wanting to see what it was about, because I had heard about all that stuff that happened during the riot. They actually, the prison itself had a haunted house at the time where they were having people come on tours. They were paying like 30 bucks or more to go on tour so that you can experience someone talking about everything that happened during the prison riot. I don’t think they’ve resumed that as of now. I thought it was really disgusting that they were doing that when I first heard about it. A friend of the family son had died during the riot as well. So I was just curious and it led me into a rabbit hole and here I am today. Someone I never would have thought I would have become. I’m very introverted. I have really blossomed with the help of people who are behind the walls and people who are organizing who have experienced State violence. They’ve helped me to blossom into somebody that I feel like maybe I was meant to become as weird and kooky as that sounds.

TFSR: Courtney, can you talk about how access to literature has changed since COVID?

C: Yeah, for sure. Since COVID, one thing that’s happened is the distribution of literature. It used to be mandated by the ACA, or American Corrections Association, that people will be delivered books at least once a week and the limit was three books per person that they could have in their cell. Regular deliveries of three books per week if people request them. That of course, due to the pandemic, due to the excuse of staffing shortages, but really was, “we don’t want to do this labor because it’s hard labor to physically take books and physically sort books and get them out to people.” But under the guise of, “it’s the pandemic,” people haven’t been getting access to books.

Another thing that we’ve seen that is just outrageous in New Mexico is that the mailing system had changed. Of course, we were sending literature into our folks in New Mexico and really all over the Southwest, This is kind of a hub for the Southwest here in New Mexico. Just as of recently, New Mexico is sending mail to a third party that scans it and then sends it back depending on if it’s considered to be appropriate. That not only impacts the ability to send newsletters or literature from orgs or friends or family, but it also impacts folks who want to get drawings from their children, cards from their children, things from their family. It takes the personalization of a handwritten letter from one human being to another and it’s just another form of dehumanization and oppression.

They want to find any way that they can stamp the human being into ultimate hopelessness. The reality is that we’re going to continue to keep fighting against these forms of oppression by the state and these forms of hate. It’s just that they have so much hate pent up at every level. You can’t meet someone that works within these systems that’s going to be wanting to help people. That’s not what it’s about. It’s sick. There’s there’s nothing about it that is helpful in any way.

TFSR: Xeno, you mentioned that a lot of the work that Sacramento IWOC does is helping to distribute literature and getting it on the inside. But I wonder if you could talk about that and talk a little bit more about the Wobblies and about the idea of organizing. It has not the first time it’s happened in the US, we played a recording of Lorenzo Komb’oa Ervin talking about in the 1970s organizing union of prisoners in North Carolina when he was being incarcerated there, but I wonder if you could speak a bit about the idea of addressing incarcerated folks as workers? I think that Courtney mentioned that people oftentimes don’t have a choice to not work and that varies state by state.

X: Yeah. So it definitely varies a lot in California. For starters, only a select few people get to work in California. Even if your work is firefighting for like pennies an hour, that’s considered a very enviable position to be in as a prisoner. As an incarcerated human being people want to be out of their cells doing something. And if that thing is almost completely uncompensated and life threatening, at least it’s an adrenaline rush. It’s better than just like sitting around doing nothing and talking to the same group of people day after day after day for decades.

I think that as far as revolutionary unionism, I don’t generally prefer the vernacular of syndicalism, snd officially the IWW doesn’t either. We are revolutionary unionist. Do I think that a labor strike in prison is going to cripple the state of California? Fuck no dude, they have so much money and one of their main taxes is just on capital gains. So that means that whenever the stock market’s going up, they’re flush. And whenever it’s not going up, they’re not, basically. We know that that’s not what we’re expecting to happen in California. Like, “oh, yeah. Let’s just talk to the union rep of the yard.” That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not trying to be like SEIU for prisoners. We are revolutionary unionists.

I think some people might enter union spaces not really understanding the key differences between a revolutionary union versus not. And that’s something that the IWW consistently struggles with. But aside from that, basically we don’t hire staff, we don’t hire lawyers. This is something that sometimes people inside are not happy to hear either. That we’re not here to do like their criminal case or their civil case for them. But we’re here to organize, which is about collective power. Whereas the legal system is about atomization and addressing individual problems, or “addressing them.”

So we seek to facilitate collective power in lots of different ways around the nexus of incarceration and that means doing lots of different things. We have a formal structure. I think this is what makes us different from an “informal group” or whatever. We recognize that the power dynamics inherent in our existing society are going to splash up on the shores of our group whether we like it or not and that the best way to actually ensure non hierarchical dynamics prevail is to have structure. I encourage folks to think differently from that, that having less structure and also means less hierarchy. I have deeply considered that point of view and come away thinking otherwise. I would just refer folks to the 1970 essay by Jo Freeman, The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Jo Freeman, awesome person, clearly knew what she was talking about. She’s still around. Shout out to Jo Freeman if she’s listening… I liked your essay.

We have structure, we have people who are in charge of specific things. What we do to combat the horrendous system that I’ve been describing is that we keep people sane and by talking to them, writing them, building relationships inside and out. We do that however, in a systemic way where we also already know people on essentially, almost every yard in the California State Prison system. Yards are kind of separate facilities, really. So people don’t tend to necessarily see people on other yards in the same facility. but like I said, we have people on almost every yard. And we try coordinate putting those people in touch with each other. And then also coordinate whatever people on the inside are interested in that we’re about and that is not budget busting, we work with them to do.

So, we’re working to do a program where instead of hiring lawyers, which we can’t do, we help jailhouse lawyers build a structure to oversee and advise other jailhouse lawyer to help people build institutional knowledge and less time learning to do prison legal work, and make sure that we’re not duplicating efforts across different facilities, and so forth. Then also, when there’s a struggle that breaks out that’s collective, we would help amplify whatever kind of public message that the people involved with that want to put forth. As we’re building relationships with folks on the inside, we try and like help them get in touch with one another and decide what kind of group activities they want to do. Which sometimes revolves around either political education or more legal work, or it might be something different from that. But those are the kinds of things that we got going on. We’re looking to do like more on different things all the time.

But fundamentally, we’re happy to be a part of the IWW and we see this very much as a part of the historical tradition and historical mission of IWW, including the literature aspect. Back in the day with the IWW there were always people who were writing about what they were doing whether it’s Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, writing the first half of her autobiography, and then writing about going to prison, she wrote a whole book about going to prison. And then other people doing these struggles and also writing about them. Writing is a key essential part of real serious working class struggle, because everyone’s constantly reinventing the wheel. In the modern circumstance, people are also getting fucked up and fucked over by these business unions. If we’re not learning what we’re doing as a revolutionary union, and we don’t have an intergenerational knowledge base. We’re no match for SEIU. I’m picking on SEIU a lot but it all applies to all the major unions essentially.

Also I’m not speaking as the IWW when I talk shit on other unions. But if they were that real they’d be unionizing prisoners, not us. Not meaning to start any fights with other unions, but I think that what they do is pretty real on the ground, but maybe their president’s salaries shouldn’t be exactly what they are and maybe they shouldn’t be so subservient to the Democratic Party, frankly. I think that’s kind of known to be the IWW position. So I won’t go off a whole lot beyond that. But we know that just a strike isn’t going to stop the machine of incarceration, at least in California. It maybe a different story and someplace like Louisiana or Alabama, I don’t know, I’m not from there. I could be wrong. But we seek to facilitate making prisoners collectively powerful in all the ways that we can, and literature is completely 100% central to that. It’s not just like a pastime. Although a lot of people have different tastes. People like to read stuff to feel a sense of escape, or live vicariously in a cell, but there’s also political books and political zines and stuff like that, including the one of your guys’s interviews that we like to send all the time and also including stuff from other past movements, whether it’s Emma Goldman’s essay about prison, or whether it like stuff written by the Black Panthers, or Lorenzo Ervin’s writings or other stuff like that.

All of that stuff is really essential to the movement that we’re building. This isn’t all that we do. One of the things that we do, is we help guys in prison. I mean, we help everyone with this, but we kind of have a focus on radical feminism and radical feminism has like a specific meaning for some people. I don’t mean that specific meaning.

TFSR: Not the TERFy stuff.

X: Yeah, no, definitely not that. I just mean men being in touch with their emotions. Bell Hooks and stuff like that. You know, the reality is that people put in prison are there for all kinds of different reasons and some of them are like, “whatever, I didn’t do anything wrong.” The whole society is telling you you did something wrong, most of them end up feeling that they did do something wrong, even if maybe some of it really wasn’t. And a lot of it frankly, is stuff that is regrettable, and it’s stuff that people genuinely really regret and would even if they weren’t in prison. Moments of their lives that they really, truly wish they could take back. But a lot of times, it’s because people acted in anger. I think teaching guys on the inside and outside to be more in touch with their emotions and less quick to anger is really, really essential and revolutionary work, even if it’s not as fetishized by the very macho impulses that it seeks to undermine.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s really well said. I’m super stoked personally that if you listen to our episodes, every episode I’m just like, “hey, hey, hey, we do zines. Send them into prisons. Please, please, please!” I’m really glad to hear that y’all have found good use of those.

X: Yes, we most certainly have. Keep it up.

TFSR: Hell yeah, I will do my best.

Initially, I thought Courtney and I were just going to be talking. So I’m really glad that you’re here, Xeno. Maybe the two of you can compare and contrast in this next question. I feel like there are a lot of through lines between prison systems from state to state in the US. The political, historical, and economic flavor of a specific state is often reflected in the Department of Corrections in that state, and how the prisons look. For instance, states in the former US South have lots of chain gangs, guards tend to be on unionized often on horseback with shotguns and have low pay, creating more wild and baldly corrupt places where the majority Black prisoner population have been able to organize and use some of that corruption to an advantage of accessing forbidden tech like cell phones for the organizing process. That’s clear with things like the Free Mississippi Movement, the Free Alabama Movement with prison organizing in Georgia, with folks affiliated with Jails House Lawyers Speak, and voices coming out of South Carolina at times, like it’s all super amazing.

In California, as I understand, having spoken with some folks inside there, which is one of the largest economies in the world, prison guards have a very strong union, the facilities seem to be more updated and more locked down. The struggle against long term solidarity and arbitrary gang designations of shaped a lot of notable struggles inside of the prison over the last couple of decades. I was wondering Courtney and Xeno, but in particular, because I don’t know very much of prisons in New Mexico, that was really enlightening to hear about the prison riot in 1980. But can you talk about the prison systems that you most interact with and some of the characteristics?

C: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So New Mexico employs a system of human warehousing. So prisons are scattered about the landscape in remote areas that are often really difficult to access for folk’s loved ones. In fact, one of my comrades and mentors, Solinda Guerrero, before I had ever joined Millions For Prisoners used to have a transport van to have families access to these facilities by driving them out to go see their loved ones, because a lot of them are out in places that are hard to get to. That’s kind of what we’re looking at as a system of human warehousing, a lot like what I was mentioning with the penitentiary of New Mexico being a warehouse for human beings who are in confinement conditions.

Now, in terms of refusing labor, on that front I did find a handbook from corrections industries, which is also called Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility, but it’s run by a private corporation. They can actually issue disciplinary action for folks failing to report for their assigned work. We also see in interstate run prisons that people are punished by being removed from Gen Pop [general population] and then moved into restrictive housing units, aka ‘solitary confinement.’ We also see that from coast to coast prisoners reporting being punished if they refuse to work.

Now, also from a person that I was speaking to about this issue before coming on, my friend Justin, who also spent 17 years incarcerated and also did some firefighting work, etc. He was mentioning that you can get written up, lose good time, go to seg if you refuse to work. Now in the facility that I was at jobs, well, they were kind of considered as a ‘privilege’ by the administration. So they were often taken away. Like if someone had a work duty, let’s say, one of the porters in library, for example, at the level 2, they could get punished by having their work assignment taken away. They kind of do it a little bit differently in places that have group labor, like farms and so forth. I guess they also had something where people were raising cattle, but yeah, for that kind of thing you will get punished if you don’t report to it. But then they can also turn around and take the job away if it’s something that’s considered to be a privilege.

But yeah, we we had a porter at the level 6 facility, the supermax facility, whose job it was to clean blood that had spilled from people fighting or getting stabbed or hurting themselves, or whatever the case may be. In New Mexico workers make about anywhere from 10 cents to $1 an hour. So it kind of varies from place to place. But people that are in prison are also not considered as employees of the penitentiary for purpose of filing Occupational Health and Safety complaints with the Environmental Improvement Division. I took that from a corrections industries handbook. So we also see that in other states where people aren’t considered as employees who are working for the prison. It’s a very mucky situation, when your workplace is also serving as the place that you live and the place that you get your food from, and the place that you get your punishment from. When it’s all kind of merged into this soup of punishment, people don’t have the same inherent rights that workers do. Not to say that workers across the US are having that great of a time, of course, which is why that solidarity between the working class and people who are literally under the exception clause of 13th Amendment considered to be slaves [is important].

X: Yeah. So this is just like, what I think from having done this for a few years now. So when I’m talking to prisoners, the most effective thing that they remember happening against the prison system was the 2011 and 2013 hunger strike. Which are kind of known as hunger strikes, but also included labor strikes. That also is heavily intertwined with the power of shot callers of various groups on various yards. And the state uses certain terms that I think people can probably guess for these groups, but I just want to say they’re all different. They ranged from literal Nazis to people I’m proud to call comrade. But I would say that the dominant formations that are like that in California prison are…

First of all women’s prisons completely different and separate, nothing I say right now applies to that. For the men’s prison, which is 98% of the prisoners, right? Something like that. There are these groups where there are shock collars. If anyone makes trouble, their life could be in danger. Making trouble could be something as simple as filing a grievance when the shot caller has said, “Hey, you’re filing these grievances frivolously don’t do that.” So basically, the way things work is shit rolls downhill. So the administration will have a DL but everyone knows what’s happening kind of relationship with the shot callers on the yard. And they’ll be like, “if anything happens on this yard that we really don’t like, it’s your fucking fault and we’re gonna punish you like it’s your fault.” So then that person enforces the State’s discipline through extra-state means.

People who “investigate gangs” for the State of California inside prison, which is basically the state’s little FBI, but just for its prison system, or you can say they’re kind of like Stasi almost, if we’re gonna think of prison as like a police state society within Republic. These people are like the Stasi of that little micro society. There they have a lucid understanding that they are not actually out to suppress these groups outright. They are here to facilitate their usefulness to the state. They don’t say that out loud, obviously, but they do actually say it perhaps in setting with prisoners, they will let onto that. I’ve talked to people who are aware of all of this and have served long sentences for our survey.

So we have a pretty lucid understanding that the people at the top of most of these larger para-State criminal organizations. They are not the friend of the State and they’re not really the lapdogs of the state. But they nonetheless operate a little bit like the leaders of a business union might operate. They want things to improve for themselves, and for their folks inside, but they do not want revolution. Even if they sometimes strategically embrace revolutionary rhetoric, to further their end, those ends are to exploit people to make money, except that when a corporation does that, they’re supposed to abide by certain rules, which of course, sometimes they break anyway. But these people have absolutely no rule. For these organizations that are more or less explicitly about patriarchy first of all, and second of all, making money, there’s very little that they won’t do to you if they decide that you’re in the way of their goals.

They’re not a unified whatever. They’re not obviously as centralized as like the State is. But we’ve had people who are doing stuff as simple as trying to get people clean needles who are using on the yard and that has been deemed a sufficiently non business friendly activity to get that person rolled up on and stabbed by multiple people on the yard and nearly killed. That was a real thing that happened. Because someone was doing something that the shot callers didn’t want.

Then you also have this other system of yards in California called the ‘SNY.’

TFSR: Is it SNY?

X: yeah, it stands for Special Needs Yard, like GP is ‘general population.’ Sorry if that was unclear.

TFSR: Oh, no, no, that’s good clarification, though.

X: In SNY there are people who are not able to get along with the rest of the prisoners, but that has become larger and larger and larger over time and is now essentially 50% of the system at least. If you ask a person in general pop, “what is SNY?” They will say to you, “Oh, yes. The snitches and child molesters yard.” That category ‘snitch’ can include a lot of shit. If you roll up onto a yard but say you’re a white antifascist. Well, guess what? The white group that you’re going to inherently be scrunched into in a men’s prison in California is the Aryan fucking Brotherhood. If you’re Anti-Fascist you can do that, but you better do it really quietly and not in a way that’s actually practicing those values on the yard or they will kill you. If you’re lucky, what they’ll do is they’ll kind of just like push you towards the guard at yard time and say “this guy’s no good.” Then that means you go to SYN.

It’s different for different groups. Like I said, that’s just the dominant group for white men on GP yards. But the other groups are varying degrees of more cool than that. I’ll also add that unlike the other group, the Aryan Brotherhood is officially suppressed by the State of California and they do very much at least make a convincing show of trying to outright suppress that organization, and yet are unable to do so. But they don’t really do that with other groups. Except for Black Guerrilla Fam, which is like not a real group. That’s just something they accuse random Black radical people as being affiliated with. So that’s kind of an exceptional thing.

TFSR: What do you mean that it’s not a real group? Just that it’s a thing that gets hung on people, but most of them aren’t affiliated.

X: It’s something that George Jackson called for in his writing, but as far as I could… and I don’t know. I don’t have a complete unbroken history of what’s always happened on every yard of every prison in California. But I do not know of any yard where Black Guerrilla Fam, I’ve never heard of that. But there are there are radical Black groups, but they don’t call themselves that.

TFSR: This is a little bit off topic, but kind of not. But there’s a book that I read last year that I really want to get ahold of the author of. I should just reach out. It’s called ‘Chronicles of a Prison Dirty War: California Prison Politics.’ It was published last year, but it was a lot of experiences from like the 70’s 80’s and 90’s about the creation of some of the racial dynamics and organizations in the California system.

X: Yeah, I really, really want to read that, by the way. I’m gonna get around to it.

TFSR: So IWOC New Mexico is is a group that I became aware of from some of the writings of Julio A. Zuniga AKA, ‘Comrade Z,’ who’s being held by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at the Memorial Unit, formerly known as ‘Dirty Darrington.’ We featured an interview a few years ago with Z. But I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the circumstances currently at the Memorial Unit. There’s a cool interview that Z conducted with another person behind bars, that’s up on Mongoose Distro’s website, and talk about the work that incarcerated workers there such as Z are doing to organize

C: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I wanted to start, since you did mention Mongoose Distro that please check out MongooseDistro.com There is so much awesome material from Comrade Z, other comrades behind the walls, as well as zines that you can print out. Definitely a good resource for information and really awesome folks there.

So, right now it looks like the conditions in Darrington have continued to get worse, with folks not having access to air conditioning, which is a big issue in Texas, there’s water quality issues, workers have been getting sick with H. pylori infections and being forced to work regardless of being sick. Folks are suffering from retaliation with bogus write ups being written up on them. Also, there was a death of a member under suspicious circumstances which were labeled as a suicide. Currently working on trying to talk to folks to try to get more information about that specifically.

Now, currently IWOC members in Texas have filed a civil lawsuit with the United States District Court Galveston division and it has close to 20 IWOC members on it. I was also going to share some words that Comrade Z had provided to us. It’s on Mongoose Distro and he also sent me a letter. So yeah, folks dealing with retaliation, bogus write ups, mail room items being tampered with issues with getting folks on to the prison phone list to talk to folks.

So yeah, I was going to share a few words from Comrade Z in a letter that is posted as I mentioned on MongooseDistro.com he states:

“I have to suggest as a militant anarchist, for the brothers and sisters listening to us, the real problem is the policy makers. All comrades and jailhouse lawyers need to file U.S. §1983 on every single TBCJ member, as I have already begun to do. Bobby Lumpkin, Bryan Collier, Guistina Persich, Tammy Shelby are on my lawsuit, including the chairman of TBCJ Patrick O’Daniel. I am filing a motion for leave to supplement defendants and add the remaining eight members of the TBCJ into our class action suit. If you are with IWOC-Texas, file your lawsuit in the same fashion. We have been distracted by their psychological games far too long, and the culprits have been sitting pretty playing God for far too long. The Wizard of Oz has been discovered in Texas. Corruption is being exposed by me, X386969, and it is going to take the solidarity of all of your resources in the free world to help us bring the changes we all need, by any means necessary.

The more lawsuits filed on the policy makers will not only bring us into the political arena as activists for an overdue overhaul of the Texas government and it’s institutions. I do not believe in authority, nor do I believe in prisons. However, this cannot be said about everyone I come in contact with, therefore I am rolling with what I have, because progress is made by stepping forward, not back.”

So yeah, just you know, an example of using different strategies to fight against the oppressor and Comrade Z and the continuously growing group of members in the Texas branch are filing a civil lawsuit, class action lawsuit right now. Just due to the conditions that they’ve been undergoing.

Comrade Z has been reaching out to me and I’ve been in communication with Z for at least the past year to year and a half. Definitely I know that, as we were mentioning earlier, in the discussion about getting transcripts of y’all’s radio program, I know that Comrade Z was mentioning not on our last phone call about appreciating getting transcripts from y’all’s radio interviews, and hopefully he will also hear this one or be able to read this one rather.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome.

I was wondering also Courtney, in terms of you had mentioned that New Mexico IWOC and Millions For Prisoners kind of acts as a hub for a lot in the Southwest. There have been ABC chapters, I know in various parts of Texas, at least, and I also know it is an absolutely huge place. But I guess in the Southwest, I want to ask about specifically how it looks like in Albuquerque and in New Mexico, the inside outside part of it. But is there much of an inside outside organizing framework in other parts of the Southwest? Or is it kind of just a few spots where people have coalesced?

C: Yeah, that’s kind of a good question. It is kind of a few spots where folks have coalesced. I’ve noticed a lot of activity. Specifically with Arizona, we have still a budding relationship with folks in Arizona. It started with some comrades who were building relationships with the people behind the walls with the Anarchist Black Cross. During the pandemic, a lot of dynamics have changed. But yeah, right now as it stands, we are a hub for folks in the Southwest, in Texas, I have some folks in Nevada. In Nevada, I don’t really know of a lot of outside orgs who are supporting, but I do know that in Texas, we collaborate a lot with folks in Fight Toxic Prisons, as well as people with Anarchist Black Cross. There is actually an IWW chapter in Texas that is working on kind of building relationships with Comrade Z and other comrades. And we have other folks that are popping up along the way.

It’s kind of interesting, too, because the pandemic led to a lot of people working remotely in terms of organizing. So that’s kind of what happened when there were just a lot of correspondence from people in the southwest. There weren’t IWOC chapters per se that were as active or maybe not active at all that New Mexico started adopting on more regional requests from people that are experiencing issues and trying to figure out how similar are the systems that people are facing. We also organize with folks in Louisiana and have a partnership with folks that are in the Save the Kids From Incarceration and the 10 to 2 Unanimous Jury Campaign. I haven’t heard from those folks in a little bit. But definitely have some relationships with folks in the South who are experiencing the conditions that they’re experiencing.

So yeah, we get reached out to from people from other places too. I just kind of get letters in the mail and folks have heard about us. A lot of stuff is spread through word of mouth. So as you notice with Comrade Z, he passed along my information through word of mouth, and that’s kind of how things operate. I think it’s a successful way to kind of work the administration by doing it that way.

TFSR: Yeah, that’s awesome. On the topic of ‘Inside Outside,’ I’ve noticed that on the Facebook account for New Mexico Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, there’s mentions of being involved in not only supporting people on the inside, but also in relation to supporting people on the outside resisting police brutality. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that link is right there. People hate the pigs, and a lot of people on the outside when they make that connection that it’s the same repressive institution on the inside the outside. It may look different and the level of boot on the throat is different between living in an overly-policed neighborhood or what have you. But yeah, I’m wondering if you can talk about how you’ve seen those two things tied together?

C: Oh, yeah, yeah. And we absolutely amplify and are always anti-police in every fiber of our being in all the work we do because it it all goes together. In the neighborhood that I grew up in, for example, a lot of people were swept up by the police and put into prisons. Structurally, it all has to do with structural racism, and oppression, pulling entire segments of our society and of our culture and of our people out of our communities and putting them into prisons. Also, we were a part of some federal sting operations, including Operation Legend that was enacted by Bill Barr back in the Trump administration, where so much funding and so many federal police officers were put into the streets of New Mexico. Basically, we had police on horseback in our International District where our communities are struggling. In the place where I live, in the South Valley, we were doing block by block events where we were going to different neighborhoods as part of our strategy and just building was community who have been impacted by police.

When you go into any community that’s heavily impacted by a heavy police presence, with tanks in the streets, doing stop and frisks, harassing community members, harassing our youth, detaining people, you’re going to see that solidarity and you’re going to see a lot of people that have experienced the system, who have family members who are in prison. It’s all connected. We go out into our communities and we all understand the violence that we face every day, whether it be out on our streets or in the prison system.

In the prison system. It’s very much this extreme concentration of violence. But yeah, on the streets, it’s it’s very much the same. We have so many police killings that are happening here in New Mexico. It’s part of who we are. We’re always going to be fighting against the police and the prisons, because it’s all one and the same system. It’s all based on patriarchy, systemic racism, violence, and it’s rooted in slavery. These are all issues that we have to face when we’re living in our communities every day. Some of us more than others, of course. Yeah, we’re just gonna keep up the fight.

TFSR: Xeno, do you have anything to add?

X: Yeah. So the way that these kinds of shot caller led groups, which again, I’m not trying to make any universal statements here. Not every person who might call shots is that bad necessarily. It’s hard to kind of speak in universal terms about this kind of stuff, because it’s, it’s always moving around and always changing. There’s very few formal rules. But basically, the way that some of these structures tend to operate in times of struggle in a similar way to a business union. It’s that it’s very common during a really militant strike. I heard someone talk about this. About the Teachers Association in Arizona, where after a week of teachers being on strike in Arizona, some staff from this, not even a union, actually… it’s an organization that associations are allowed to have that’s not a union. They went to the press, and were like, “yeah, the strike is going to be over on Monday, everyone’s going back to work.” They did not consult the teachers in that at all. There was no vote or anything because they’re not a union. So they can’t do that.

I just want to say that first of all, not every non IWW union is definitively a business union. IWW itself isn’t immune to that temptation of like business unionism, either. But that being said, a lot of these like hierarchical organizations in prisons will make strong attempts to shut down struggle, at the point that it gets too hot to handle, even if they also play a role in initiating it on the front end. That in the makes them very reminiscent of a businessman, which will channel workers righteous outrage and then cut it off at the knees when it gets too radical or revolutionary, or threatening for the system. Unions are a lot more bureaucratic about the way that they do that. But these other structures do a very similar thing, in my view.

About the SNY, if you are a person that the State determines is male enough to go to a male prison in California, I’m sorry that that happened to you. Second of all, they will put you on GP normally by default, unless you say otherwise, I suppose. If you get to GP, and you’re just not cool with some stuff that you see going on. Or you see, “Oh, this group is clearly deeply invested in making profit off people’s heroin addiction, and I’m not cool with that. And I’m not cool with them. And I don’t want to be part of this group that I ‘have to be a part of’ because of my race.” And you don’t want to peacefully coexist with people involved with that. You need to go to SNY. You can make that explicit and tap a guard on the shoulder and say, “I want to go to SNY.”

I’m not saying that SNY is that great. It’s legit where they put sex offenders. So you’re going to hang out with them. SNY is where people would have to go if they’re not going to get along with the group that they’re shunted into when they get onto a men GP yard in California prison. Any interaction that you have with a guard without another prisoner present could be considered snitching, full stop. So whether that’s seeing a counselor that’s part of the staff that could be considered snitching. And so if you are ‘not good’ before, you’re definitely ‘no good’ now.

So with that category, those two shunted together categories, snitches and child molesters. Those two things are not the same at all. It’s very easy to be considered a snitch. The state is very much involved in like pitting SNY and GP against each other. If you read the agreements and hostilities, it’s explicitly like solidarity between GP prisoners only, and it talks all this shit about SNY prisoners. Because the state will send people from SNY undercover into GP, and try and spy on people they want to spy on and do all kinds of shenanigans like that. There’s a lot of distrust between GP and SNY.

Now the state’s trying to reformulate those designations, and create a new structure within the prison system that involves mixing people from GP and people from SNY who’s agreed to get along. But that doesn’t always work. Then sometimes you end up with groups of people defending each other who are just kind of like SNY solidarity in response to GP solidarity aggression. So it’s all very messy, and very different from other places. I was talking to some folks who are saying that in the Chicago-land area, any person of any race can be a member of any group on the street or in prison. That’s certainly not the case in California prisons.

TFSR: I know that in the strikes in 2011 and 2013, one of the main demands was an end to requiring debriefing for people who were stuck in solitary. I don’t know if that sort of is a continued issue with this issue that you’re bringing up with it. I don’t know if that relates to what you’re talking about, exactly. Or if it’s like another iteration of it or if it’s a different issue.

X: It is a related issue. Briefing… If you know anything, if you were legitimately part of one of these groups in a participatory sense, and you are now going to SNY they will absolutely try and get you to debrief. Ie, spill your guts about everything you know about that group. Like I said, a lot of people don’t think that the State is really out to dismantle a lot of these groups. They’re out to make sure that these groups are malleable to the State’s intentions, and goals. They’re very successful in that, in my opinion.

Briefing, is the thing that they probably try and have people do all all sorts of times. The State, when it decides it’s going to do something, never really gives up on it. So unless there’s like some kind of world historical disruption to cause that to happen. I’m sure they’re still trying to brief people coming out of solitary. I know for a fact that they brief people as they move from GP to SNY particularly people who they know would know stuff.

I didn’t talk a lot about what it’s like on SNY. So I will say that it’s absolutely hellish there, too. Like I said, you’re hanging out with all the people that people are afraid that they’re going to have to hang out with and they go to prison. And on top of that, some of those yards, if they determine that you have ‘mental health problems,’ or whatever that means. In our society, I think everyone has mental health problems, pretty much. It’s kind of interesting to just go on a side note, the people who created the DSM-5… I think one of them was very vocally regretting that and said, “oh, everyone’s in the DSM-5 and I’ve created a monster.” I don’t know a lot about it, I’ve heard of it.

So basically, if the State determines you have mental health problems, which assuredly if they say you do, they will make sure to find evidence that you do. They will place you on one of those types of yards. This is largely in the SNY. They might also just involuntarily give you drugs. One of our members describes how they can give you drugs involuntarily, that will ‘separate your soul from your body.’ He doesn’t mean killing you. It means just completely spacing you out so much that you’re not yourself. You’re basically like a person with dementia, but at any age. That’s like a level of control. I don’t know a lot about health in general, to be honest, but that’s how it was described to me.

That’s just a level of control that’s unimaginable anywhere but prison or like a dystopian future TV show or novel. It’s really terrifying that the State submits people to that, and then also has the gall to be like, “we’re helping them and this is all for their own good.” Everything is always framed in terms of progressivism in California politics in general. That also applies to the prison system. I also would say that beyond that, a lot of people in prison who are in touch with us also very much want us to be involved in the political process and stuff like that, and pushing for various different reforms.

I think that just within that atmosphere there’s reforms that would really help a lot of people. Then there’s the ‘reforms’ that the state and the bourgeoisie want. The reforms would probably help with that kind of people in California, for example, would be retro actively abolishing Three Strikes. I know someone who is a Black woman who picked up a $20 bill off the ground and was convicted of robbery, and it was her third strike. She’s a grandmother. So those are the kinds of things that are bureaucratic so called democracy facilitated, and makes it almost impossible to fix. There are some interesting attempts that radical reform coming from the legislature but the CDCR is just a monster that the legislature doesn’t truly control. So when they pass well intentioned laws, the entire bureaucracy goes into overtime trying to twist the intentions, and keep milking the system for themselves.

Part of what’s going on with that also has to do with SEIU, which represents non-militarized prison staff, and how they don’t want prisons closed, basically. Those people who are a large constituency for SEIU elected this dude Richard Lewis Brown is basically the Donald Trump of SEIU 1000, which is the State Workers Union. He had a huge series of scandals, and was in court to determine if he got righteously kicked off of being President of SEIU 1000 or not. Basically, his huge base of support is the civilian workers from CDCR facilities. That’s the California version of the DOC. The R stands for ‘rehabilitation.’ A lot of times you might see people just call it CDC and disregard the R.

TFSR: But that’s the Center for Disease Control.

X: Yeah, yeah. Well, California Department of Corrections would also be the thing that people might call CDCR or CDC. The difference is that it implicates the fact that they’re not really rehabilitating people. Then they might also say CDC and capital letters and then a lowercase ‘r’ to indicate that same thing.

TFSR: Could you all, tell us a bit about where we can find out more about the work that you’re doing and the organizing that you’re involved in?

C: You could check us out on IncarceratedWorkers.org or check out our Instagram @incarceratedworkers for more about Millions For Prisoners New Mexico, you can visit @IWOCNM and @millionsforprisonersNM on Facebook. Also, please check out Mongoose Distro at MongooseDistro.com

X: For Sacramento IWOC, which again is not really just Sacramento, but it was when we started the page, you can check out our Instagram @Sacramento_IWOC. For the website, we’re part of the national organization. So the national website is also ours.

TFSR: Awesome. It was really a pleasure to meet you both Courtney and Xeno, and thanks a lot for taking the time to have this chat. I really appreciate it.

C: Thank you so much.

X: Yeah, thanks for doing this

Earthbound Farmers Almanac and Food Autonomy in Bulbancha

Earthbound Farmers Almanac and Food Autonomy in Bulbancha

Earthbound Farmers Almanac
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We’re joined this week by some of the folks behind the Earthbound Farmer’s Almanac, a self-published annual collection of art, comics, facts, articles and incitements to challenge us to thicken our relationship to the land and grow autonomy against state, colonialism and capitalism. You are welcome to  read the almanac for free in portions on the Lobelia Commons social media (fedbook or instascam). We also talk about spreading food forests and building neighborly food resilience with Lobelia Commons and a little about Ndn Bayou Food Forest (formerly the L’eau Et La Vie anti-pipeline camp) which can be found on fedbook or instascam.

A few acronyms come up in the chat, and here’s a breakdown: MADR is the Mutual Aid Disaster Relief network; Zeta & Ida were hurricanes that damaged the south east of Turtle Island, landfalling near to so-called New Orleans; NOMAG is the New Orleans Mutual Aid Group.

You can hear a 2018 interview from L’eau Et La Vie against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline: https://thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org/post/2018/01/14/no-bayou-bridge-pipeline-an-interview-from-leu-est-la-vie-camp/

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Featured Track:

  • Instrumental #2 (waltz) by Elliott Smith from Grand Mal: Studio Rarities disc 8

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Transcription

TFSR: Could you all please introduce yourselves with any relevant information that you’d like to share: who you are or where you are, preferred pronouns, etc.?

M: I am M., I use he/him, and I am in southwestern Mississippi at the moment, but I bounced between southwest Mississippi and New Orleans, aka Bulbancha.

B: I am B., they/them are my pronouns. I’m also bouncing back and forth between Mississippi and New Orleans.

Hadley: And I’m Hadley and I use they/them pronouns. I’m also bouncing in and out of New Orleans. But I’m located west of New Orleans, I live in a project called the Ndn Bayou Food Forest. That is a propagation and free plant nursery.

TFSR: Cool. Do you mind if I ask a couple of clarifying questions? Can you talk about that food propagation project a little bit, Hadley, anything you’d want to share, any way that people can learn more about that? Sounds pretty cool.

H: Yeah, totally. It actually grew out of the campaign against the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. And folks may be familiar with its earlier incarnation, the L’eau Est La Vie camp. In that same location, basically, after the pipeline was finished, which was rerouted around the camp to avoid the conflict, but currently runs next door to the Food Forest. This is the fourth year of it as a farm project, basically, and the goal was to take this land that had started as a point of conflict against petrochemical infrastructure in the Gulf South and then pivot from that point to looking towards some regenerative future. We found that the strategy that we could do with this place was to just use it as a little base to propagate as many fruit trees to give away as possible. So a lot of the trees that Lobelia Commons, which we’ll also be talking about, plants in New Orleans, are propagated here, or another rural space that we’ll probably talk about also.

TFSR: There’s obviously, depending on how close you are, blowouts from pipelines are a danger that’s one of the things that has brought people into the streets or into the swamps, in this case, to block the construction of these large pipelines. And also, they tend to leak. Are there any fears of that? Or have you been trying to work around that in terms of propagating food plants in that area?

H: Oh, yeah, it’s definitely a concern. Thankfully, we aren’t particularly near to a valve station, or a pump station, which is where the majority of smaller pipeline leaks happen. If there were to be a major blowout all we can do is hope that it’s not in the little section of the 165-mile pipeline that we’re at. But we do also understand that we’re surrounded by a lot of other pipelines too that definitely are a lot older, and probably are leaking a little bit in different places. But that’s the nice thing about having a propagation nursery, too, is we’re sending out trees, and then hopefully, I think we do have good soil, but even if we sent out a tree that had grown up with a little bit of oil on its soil, it’s gonna get hopefully put into a healthier habitat later.

TFSR: Cool. And for listeners who maybe aren’t familiar with the geography of the Gulf Southeast, can you all who are traveling back and forth between Mississippi and New Orleans say a little bit about— Is there much distance between those two places? Are they pretty similar biomes?

M: Part of the reason why we’re there is the geographic proximity, but the difference in terms of drainage and elevation. And especially just generally in the Gulf South, any amount of elevation really matters in terms of the type of storms that you experience, what flooding looks like, just the general potential inclement scenarios you could find yourself in.

Where we are is about an hour and a half north of New Orleans, and New Orleans is between 10 feet above sea level and 10 feet below sea level, and where we are is around 300 to 400 depending on where you are. So it’s a pretty, pretty dramatic shift even though 300 feet about sea level is not really obvious that much, but ecologically, it’s quite different. And that’s largely because of that elevation. So the forest types is, like, pine, oak, hickory/piney woods area. We’re in the very southern and what’s called the Pineville, historically was like long-leaf, pine forests, pitch pine. So harvesting turpentine and growing pine for lumber and that continues on today. So historically, it is quite poor soil, very acidic, as opposed to New Orleans being a lot more flat, not having a ton of agricultural space in the area immediately surrounding it. And largely because of the logistics that go into literally just reclaiming that space for development.

TFSR: Yeah, we’re here, among other things, to talk about the Earthbound Farmers Almanac. Can you talk a bit about the project, and how it got started? And what people can find in it?

M: The Farmers Almanac started a little over two years ago, I think, this is our second printing. And we finally started as a little bit of a haha joke, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we type thing”, but then we liked the idea. A lot of the projects that we’d come up with in Lobelia Commons have been experimental “what if” ideas that then we took seriously and saw what we could do with them. That’s the story of the almanac at least for me. What I’ve been inspired by is just how it’s grown and other people have taken to it and it’s an open-ended thing that people can obviously submit to, but also has been a way of meeting people through— We put out on social media that if people want to distribute it, they can and just basically pay at cost, sometimes we just give them away, and they pay shipping. Then they can use it as a fundraiser if they have some food sovereignty project or local neighborhood initiative like that. Sometimes there’s a rural garden center, book club thing, or just giving out to a bunch of rural friends or what have you. So we’ve made a lot of connections, and I think other people have made connections through distributing it, which is definitely something— I think that we thought there was potential for that but I don’t think that we expected to have the impact that it has.

TFSR: How has it grown from issue to issue? You can only see that scale, I guess, because you said it’s a second issue. How has it changed? And can you talk a bit about the content of it?

M: I would say it’s more robust this time around, I think there are so many things that you can put into an almanac. If you look at the ones you would find at a grocery store, there’s everything from like horoscope to recipes to the moon calendar, maybe growing tips, and some weird Christian stuff, and some weird funny stuff. It’s all over the board. So, as a project, the possibility sometimes can be very overwhelming. I think the first issue, we did a good job of trying a bunch of stuff and trying to be like “Oh, we should do this, we should do this, we should do this.” But we’re all doing this as volunteers and definitely not making any money off this. So we were stretched pretty thin. But what’s nice about this most recent issue, the second issue is that I think other people took to that and started submitting things that are elaborating on that idea of what reference material can you include, what’s like a comic that can be done for it, different ways of writing for it. I think it’s more filled out. It’s maybe even a little bit longer, maybe 15-20 pages longer than the last one, but less in terms of that — It feels denser or richer. And we also printed a lot more of them and are hoping to distribute them more widely, both regionally — regionally, we distribute in garden centers and some friendly nurseries, various local businesses throughout the Gulf South, — and to friends around the country and actually even outside of the country.

H: Just to add on to that a little bit. I think one of the things that are really clearly grown in to the second issue and I’m excited to see how it develops into later issues is that the reference section is just getting more and more filled out. And we’re reprinting things from the previous year, there was a really nice comic strip from last year that explains fruit tree propagation with nice little diagrams of how to cut the branches and everything like that. And we reprinted that and a comic on banana propagation and also have a lot of just new resources like maps that show some of the shifting hardiness zones are growing zones throughout the US of where the coldest minimum temperature is and how climate changes change that and things like that. For me, doing stuff around the garden, I’m actually starting to have the Almanac around to reach for it because it’s like “Oh, the seed germination temperature chart is going to be really useful for this, the soil chart is going to be really useful for that.” Another thing that we filled out a lot more this year was historic dates and things like that, and the calendar section to add more reference points of a global radical history of struggle around food and land and stuff, which is obviously an incredibly huge topic that covers struggles literally all over the world, but we tried to at least have more little entry points or just citations of things for people to get excited about and then do more research.

TFSR: It says in the editorial statement that not all the contributors and editors are a part of Lobelia Commons. But for those who are involved with that project, can you tell us a bit about that collective and its relationship to the so-called New Orleans? And could you repeat the indigenous name for the territory that somebody referenced, I think it was M.?

M: Bulbancha. Lobelia started pretty much right when the pandemic hit. It came out of the swelling of interest and mutual aid. A number of us had started in the New Orleans mutual aid group. And that grew out of this pre-existing food share. Basically, there wasn’t food coming in from the port that was providing the excess with which that food share existed. Then the project basically was buying bulk from Costco as many mutual aid projects around the country were doing. NOMAG, as it became known, really just got a ton of volunteers, so many people lined up for that. A number of us who were involved in starting also, we’re gardening and doing weird stuff with mushrooms and whatever, just nerding out about plants and the logistics of what allows New Orleans to exist in its contemporary state. So we just started like “Oh, let’s just do our own thing about focusing on food autonomy.” Because we’re clearly missing something,

if a pandemic hits or if some severe crisis hits, the experience of New Orleans tells us a lot about FEMA and that the state is really not coming. If the state does come it looks like huge lines, like a food bank like that, or just these poultry things. So how can we start to chip away? What does experimentation look like in terms of really fundamentally relating to food and place differently than we are raised or taught to? We’ve done a number of projects, and a lot of things have just not stayed the test of time’s had failed. But we started with a plant delivery service, basically. So, when people were delivering groceries, we were delivering plant starts, then when we no longer felt as necessary to do the delivery thing — also, that was a ton of labor for no real reason — we basically just started promoting what we call the decentralized nursery, which is a newfangled name for something that people already do throughout the world. Basically, if you’re starting some plants for your garden, just start a few extra and put them out in front of your house and give them out for free to your neighbors. So we tried to encourage people to do that a lot. A lot of people started meeting their neighbors and maybe a punk house, living in a Black neighborhood, some white punks who had never had good relationships with their neighbors for a number of reasons suddenly are talking to their neighbors. And there’s starting to be this breaking down of a colonial line over this meeting point of plants.

And we went on to start a number of other projects, maybe one of which that’s still going on is this mycology club which started as we call it the Mushroom Collaborative, but upcoming this week we’re doing an inoculation. But the idea is basically just to learn with each other about how to produce mushrooms, learn how to identify mushrooms, and just do foraging walks. We meet every now and then and we’re open to people joining. It’s a very caring space, people bring coffee and doughnuts. Usually, someone brings some critical reading about mushrooms, or fungi generally. It’s been a great space and the project I’m most excited about within that group is to form what we’re calling a mushroom commons and to basically inoculate logs with shiitake, or lion’s mane or reishi, and basically hide them around some of the parks in the city, and that people could then start to forage in the urban setting. Hadley, maybe you want to take it on?

H: Yeah. There are definitely a bunch of other little projects or initiatives that I could speak to that are more of the things I’ve been involved in. Because one of the things that are really nice about Lobelia is we always intended it to be a very decentralized thing that doesn’t feel tied to one particular space within the city, it’s not tied to one particular activity or even gardening, specifically. We want to imagine it being a much larger range of whatever people are excited about doing. For example, I haven’t participated in as much as I’d because I’m out of the city. I missed their public days sometimes, the Herb Commons group has been really cool, where it’s a bunch of people with a lot of skills around herbalism, who gather different things, or they’ll put the call to the larger group, and those of us who are growing herbs can contribute some of what we have or some of what we’re harvesting wild and send it to the folks working on the Herb Commons stuff. And then they go and do a pop-up tent in a public park or along a walking path, and have informational materials and lots of different herbs for people to try and take home and learn about, including fun activities. I went one day, and they were teaching people how to dye clothes with mulberry dye, and also just giving away all these herbs and everything. And that one’s really cool, because it’s also a nice way, if people don’t want to go do the public herb commons thing, they can engage with it more on the level of being a gardener who grows many herbs and sends it to the Herb Commons. Or they can have that more active communal interaction with them.

The one that I put a lot of my time into maybe, as I already mentioned, is called the Front Yard Orchard Initiative. That is basically just the goal to propagate and, if we can fundraise, to buy cheaply as many fruit trees as possible and give them away to people, and help people plant them if they want that help. Ideally in the front yard, but we aren’t actually strict about that, if people have a better spot for the tree in their backyard and we know that they’re going to share it with their family and their neighbors. It’s still a contribution to the overall food commons that we’re trying to create. Through that, we’ve been propagating and giving away and planting well over 100 fig and mulberry trees. And then lots and lots of other trees that are a little easier to come by — banana, moringa, things like that. And also trees that we have to fundraise and buy, we’ve also been giving away a bunch of citrus and pecans. What’s been also really nice about that has been just getting connected with other young farmers in the city who were excited to also help give stuff away. Because it’s one thing to grow 200 trees, but then try to go out and find spots for them all— We’ve just been handing them off to people and they’ve planted well over 50 in neutral grounds. For folks who aren’t familiar with New Orleans, the neutral ground is what you refer to as the green, grassy strip between two one-way streets, which are really common, they’re all over the city. People are walking along them and a lot of time it’s where you park your car if the water is going to be high. We’ve just been planting a lot of fruit trees through that project.

The last one I’ll mention right now is just a little informal, harvest crew or a harvest group where we just let each other know and keep track of different things that are just already growing in the city that don’t get utilized. There are just so many fruit trees that are sometimes in wild and cramped spaces, or sometimes they are in front of businesses and they don’t get utilized. So we just go out and pick a lot of figs and loquats, and mulberries and try to have some collective processing of those things, to save them or give them away in some way. That one has also just been really great to get people noticing the place that they’re living in a little bit more and developing a relationship with the place.

There’s this one particular park near the place I stay at in New Orleans that they just recently clear-cut all these beautiful elderberries and mulberries that we used to go harvest from. Now we’re starting to think whether or not we need to start paying a little bit more attention to the local neighborhood association politics over other terrible stuff that is happening in that realm.

B: I wanted to bring up a project that we’ve been involved in, which is working with our friend who is a neighbor and a Black elder community member, she’s a Black mama, her name’s Miss Althea. Her roof and her house got very damaged in [Hurricane] Zeta and then continued to get pretty severely damaged during [Hurricane] Ida. We’ve just been working with her and MADR and NOMAG to get a roof on her house and to try to eventually get solar panels and just see how far we can go with getting her set up so that she continues to be able to support her community in the ways that she has been for many, many years. We’ve just been talking about the cyclical nature of disaster relief, and how short-term it can be and spring up immediately after a disaster, but the longevity of that is just pretty short-lived. We are trying to sustain that because we’re living in a disaster, and we’re going to be constantly coming up against these things. So, creating situations and supporting people who are already doing the thing to be able to continue that so that we’re not constantly one foot in one foot out, we’re firmly facing each thing as it comes along. And we’re prepared for it.

TFSR: Concerning that work that you’re mentioning and also the example earlier that was given of the white punk house that started relating better to Black neighbors by sharing plants and having a thing in common and literally sharing the means of survival in a lot of ways… New Orleans, like a lot of other places around the country that particularly have large populations of color, have a lot of history of gentrification. And I’ve heard lots of stories of white punks, for instance, moving into— I grew up in the outer Bay Area, a lot of my friends decided to move to Oakland because housing costs were inexpensive. While they were not personally responsible, they definitely contributed to the displacement of Black and brown populations that have been living there generationally. Building those sorts of connections sounds really important. It’s awesome that you all are working with that elder. And I guess another part of that, too. These are thoughts that will lead into a question…

I’ve seen and talked to people who have done mutual aid projects. And I don’t know the ethnic and racial makeup of your group. But in a lot of instances, it’s a lot of white folks who have some extra time and maybe a few resources and can do mutual aid, often distributing stuff into Black and brown communities and poor communities. And while it’s a cool project that sustains people and takes off some of the pressure of racialized capitalism from folks, it isn’t necessarily able to bridge the gap between charity and mutual aid. It doesn’t bring folks in and also allows itself to be shaped by the people who these folks are living beside, and who are taking advantage of the project.

You’ve already given one good example right now with your neighbor who you’re helping with her roof, which is great. But I wonder how Lobelia deal with, for instance… Is it mostly white people that are coming and picking up the plants, are they putting them in their yards and increasing the property value of their neighborhood? And I don’t know if y’all are from New Orleans, even. Have you had any insights or experience of making that branch between moving from charity into a mutual aid project that can not only help sustain people but also contribute to an oppositional force, strengthening the communities against capitalism and gentrification?

M: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of obviously really good stuff there. Lobelia itself was definitely started by people who fit that description, largely white, younger, mostly transplant and have a little bit of extra time because almost all the projects were funded basically with unemployment and stuff. So that definitely fits that bill. And I think that where we’ve put our focus is moving away from that charity thing. A lot of people say this and don’t actually mean it. Probably everyone who’s been in Lobelia, it’s a “funny thing” because people come and go all the time, so there’s not really a membership per se. But the people who do stuff that gets called Lobelia, we’ve all probably done mutual aid that is effectively charity. And we all know that that feels terrible. It’s super draining. Honestly, most people that are involved with doing Lobelia activities are pretty generally over activism, or at least critical of activism in some way.

So most of our energy is localized, it’s where we are pretty much. The decentralized nursery is an example, that’s something that just relates to your neighbors, we’re not meeting up and being like “Okay, where’s the most marginalized group that we can go support?”. If there’s a group that reaches out to us that’s maybe doing that work and wants a bunch of plants for whatever reason, wants a garden — that has happened in the past, and the Louisiana Seafood Worker Alliance, the past two years, we’ve given them between 50 and 200 Roselle hibiscus plants, but we’re not like organizing in that way. We need to eat and our neighbors need to eat. And we want to talk to our neighbors and have strong connections with our neighbors. That comes from not this idealistic or selfless thing. In some ways, it’s “I want to have fun when I’m doing this.” And oftentimes, it’s very joyless to just seek out how we can do the most good. That’s largely why we’ve been rooted in specifically where we are. The relationship with Althea is probably the greatest articulation. Some of us have known Althea for seven or eight years. Some of us were eventually pushed out of that neighborhood. But they still keep up very strong relationships with a lot of people that continue to live there, or were forced out of that neighborhood as well.

TFSR: This isn’t so much meaning to be directed at you all individually. Because I know there’s a decolonial lens that shows up frequently in the book. And I think that it’s important to talk about that and the difficulty of navigating being a part of a settler-colonial society and that settler colonialism is an ongoing project and not one that’s passed, which is the thing that the book points to. So I am wondering when people talk about infrastructure projects, if you have thoughts about how that relates to settler-colonial society?

H: Yeah, I might have a rambly answer to it.

TFSR: It’ll match my rambly questions.

H: I think there are a lot of different aspects to how to approach it. A big part of it just has to do with history and getting acquainted with the history of the places that we’re in and making sure we keep those things present in a way. Here at Ndn Bayou, we grow some sugarcane. And I feel like there’s no way to grow sugarcane and have people here and give them the tour here and talk to them about the sugar cane that we grow, we have it as a visual barrier. But you can’t grow sugarcane without talking about the history of slavery and the way that plant was so integral to the whole colonial project in so many ways in this region, and sometimes people talk about New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city. We’re very close to all of that history. So when I talk about growing sugarcane, I try to teach people, if they don’t know about it already, people who are visiting the farm, talk about the Haitian Revolution and talk about CLR James’ The Black Jacobins, which I try to recommend to people, we have it in the library here. And I tried to get people to read from it or talk about the history of the way James describes the enslaved people in the northern plains of Haiti at that time, who were, in some sense, one of the earliest industrial proletariats in the world, because they lived in these huge camps with hundreds of people working these huge body-destroying mills. As soon as they had the opportunity, they chased all the slave owners into the cane fields and lit the cane fields alight, and burned them alive there. I think we need to come at it from a sense of we are coming from a settler-colonial society, some of us, but we just need to be clear about which side we’re on to some extent, and in this space, in particular, because of our having been rooted in this struggle against this pipeline that was led by indigenous people, we have a bunch of very direct relationships. So we can actually very easily be sending stuff here to our friends on the rez in the southwest, not to be specific about that place.

There are various forms of support that we can give having this place, and just as a refuge for people to come through lots of different things like that. It’s definitely not that easy for people who are just trying to have a relationship to land and a land project or inside a city like that. They don’t already have those connections. It can feel weird to be “Okay, well, I don’t want to be a settler here doing my garden project. So I need to go out and find the most public-facing, Indigenous organization to go meet those people.” It just has a top-down looking at the world, like a map colonial viewpoint almost even to just approaching things from that way sometimes. So I don’t have clear answers for people in other contexts.

M: I think that’s why our focus on the connection between these rural farms in the city is so important, because, aside from obviously just doing an isolated thing, having that connection is what literally makes, say, a farm in the rural south or anywhere, for that matter. That’s what makes it having that connection is what makes it actually become counter-infrastructure, something that can be used more widely and for partisan ends. So, having those places and the connections and having it be social is what allows for establishing these flows. I think it’s important to encourage familiarity with the place as people come and visit these various farm or rural spaces from the city and vice versa, to encourage familiarity while maintaining an openness to potential discomfort that could come there.

And there’s actually a piece in the Almanac called “Beyond the Levee”. It talks a lot about this historical counter infrastructure or maybe infrastructure against the state in the colony. That obviously took place in the form of maroons most famously, but also in other forms of desertion and fugitive city and at times insurrection. The piece ends with this imagining of a not-so-distant future where state infrastructure has collapsed to a further degree than we already currently experience and how those histories can be honored and lived as a means of survival and preserving dignity. I think it’s important to consider the potentials that developing these types of counter-infrastructure and the social world that they create and are a part of can aid and abet some future fugitivity and other types of movement that might become necessary as the state infrastructure continues to literally collapse, especially in the form of levees and floodgates. So, I think with respect to food autonomy and its relationship with those infrastructural projects, it’s just completely necessary. It’s absolutely critical to the functioning of those projects, to the point that it’s no longer an activisty activity. It’s the lifeblood and provides many avenues for imagination and experimentation inside those projects.

B: I feel like, in some ways, it relates to your question about “mutual aid” or what is often charity in certain capacities, but I guess, for someone who’s a white settler to know the answer to that question, I feel like is problematic. For myself, in these projects, there needs to be an acknowledgment of not knowing and not decide that this is like the way it needs to be. Or in this position where we’re isolated and we’re going out into these areas, and we know what’s best, and this is how we’re going to plug in, but being in community, I think, is one of the best ways to dissolve that, or to challenge that and to challenge oneself. Because you’re opening yourself up to asking people “What is it? What is it the community needs? Are the ways that we’re able to plug in?” Based on, for example, asking Miss Althea what she needs or what she wants, rather than deciding for her. That extends itself to like indigenous communities where it’s like “okay, there’s no way that I could know if I’m not in a community with indigenous comrades.” I think the first step is to be connected and also to be receptive to criticism and change. Being open to that, I think, is the biggest part of that.

M: Yeah. I’d add a little bit that being guided by humbleness and willingness to learn is critical, because a lot of the stuff that we’re doing, say, here in southwestern Mississippi, we’re largely producing mushrooms, raising tree crops, and have a prep plant nursery. And these aren’t novel ideas by any means. We’re just doing the means of both subsistence and survival for countless people for basically since humanity has been around, in all sorts of different forms. To pretend like we have some excellent idea that you see in some more permaculture circles, for example, that we need to proselytize or bring to the poor people who can’t figure it out. It’s just a totally backward way of thinking. Just being innocuous in a way, or doing your thing quietly. And then when it’s time to show up and support, if you’re a settler, Indigenous comrades, or Black comrades or worker comrades, or just your neighbors or your friends, show up with the capacities that you’ve built. Because there’s nothing that you can do that will make you not a settler, but your relationship with the land can change based on how you choose to live in relation to it.

H: Also, just while we’re on this topic, I wanted to clarify that our collective at Indian Bayou includes several Indigenous people, it’s a combination of Black and Indigenous and white folks here.

TFSR: Cool. Those are all really good answers. I appreciate you responding.

Living in Asheville, as I do, over the years I’ve seen a lot of like little shops pop up that are homestead-themed, they play with this settler concept of going back to the land— I am wondering if you have any ideas about how projects like yours can contribute to a countering to things like cottage core, or another niche, capitalist re-visioning of what it means to live in relation to the land?

H: We are definitely very anti-cottagecore. There’s a lot there. I’m not sure quite where to start.

M: We were just laughing about it a second ago, because I feel like we go back into the city and we’re constantly labeled cottagecore.

B: Like bringing baskets of mushrooms into the city people are like “Yeah, that’s what you are.”

M: I guess we can address the question with respect to some back-to-the-land thing. I actually also don’t exactly know what #cottagecore is.

B: Yeah.

TFSR: Me neither. I was hoping that someone else could describe it… [laughs]

Do you think that your project or that it’s an interesting thing for your project to engage with the idea of going back to the land in the American imaginary of homesteading and independence and individuality, that gets reproduced in things that I’ve experienced as being part of cottagecore? If I look at the hashtag on twitter.com, mostly, there are a lot of images there, and there’s a lot of focus on aesthetics. And, again, aesthetics are not bad. But when people prioritize aesthetics over actual engagement and the relationship between themselves and the land, or their health, or their autonomy, or their neighbors, that falls into a trap that capitalism provides. How do you think food autonomy projects can sharpen their teeth? Because I think that food autonomy is a really important challenge to capitalism, as well as to the individualized alienation of capitalist existence.

H: Well, I do think that the aesthetic of cottagecore is definitely something that needs to be attacked. I have been thinking about it a lot recently, about the ways that this really polished, “everything must look beautiful,” everything is presented for Instagram? It does tie into this weird obsession with purity and cleanliness, and this traditional whatever the fuck. I feel like there has always been this undercurrent and a lot of hippie counter-culture. But since the pandemic, I feel like its potentially fascist qualities of that obsession with purity are really becoming clear or clarified to me in a way.

I don’t want to veer too much into talking about the pandemic instead of talking about food. But I’m hearing the same sorts of people talk about how they’re not going to get the vaccine, not that I would tell anybody to trust the vaccine or the pharmaceutical companies in particular, but saying they’re not going to get the vaccine because it’s going to make them sterile, and it’s going to make their body impure. You hear that from a lot of the same hippie types, who would also say things like “Oh, we can’t grow a garden in the city, the city is dirty, the city is contaminated. There’s lead and all these toxins everywhere.” It’s true, there are a lot of toxins in the city. There are also a lot of toxins in rural areas, and people end up turning it into this moralizing thing, which is also obviously coming from a completely inaccurate place, whether you’re talking about the vaccine, the soil, or anything, everything is contaminated. We are contaminated. Contamination is a good part of our lives, we’re full of bacteria that are not ourselves, or they are ourselves.

So obviously, the purity thing is a fantasy, but it is just scary, honestly, the way it’s coming up to the surface in some ways now. I don’t have a clear answer of how to address it but I do think that in some ways, the Almanac is intended as something that somebody who’s in that mindset can pick up and not be immediately turned off to, but that can start to complicate and challenge some of those views.

M: I think being on the mushroom farm, I think we probably have lots of thoughts about contamination. And a lot of the gourmet and medicinal mushrooms that you would buy at a grocery store or farmers’ market are produced in these super sterile environments indoors. And definitely not going to knock them that since some people were involved in our project who grow like that, but there’s this constant policing of the space and disciplining of the space that is absolutely related to aesthetic. Any disturbance is really noticed, there’s a conflict anytime anything is entering that space, and our attitude here is quite a bit different because we produce mushrooms outdoors on logs. There are molds everywhere, sometimes there are molds on our mushroom logs that we want in the soil, and the trees are growing. It’s always contradictory. And the way out of that is through it, you need to promote diversity from the perspective of someone who is a fungal partisan is to, in some ways, increase contamination, different kinds of contamination, and create more fungal competition and more fungal communion. Again, not to come at these indoor mushroom facilities, we hope to one day also be able to have those kinds of facilities, because they definitely have their place. But there’s a definite distinction between the laboratory and the home space, and the laboratory and the school and any other public space, and a lot of that policing have been gendered labor. That comes through with a lot of stuff that Hadley was talking about, in respect to that being very appealing towards a politics of purity or white supremacy, fascism, hetero-misogyny, and, on forth.

B: Yeah, I used to go back to some of what you’re saying about the commodification of the image of nature. As it relates to back-to-the-land mentality, or cottagecore, whatever, homesteading aesthetic, and I guess something I’m noticing in this conversation is just the constant thread of connection and trying to break down the severing that happens when a commodity is created or is maintained in the public eye, through social media, as a representation of what it’s supposed to be based on what is the most marketable.

It’s difficult, right? Because if you’re trying to run a mushroom farm as a way to sustain yourself, there isn’t a certain element of having to play into that, where you still have to sell the mushrooms at the end of the day. So I think that we all have to still participate in these systems that exist. I’m new to Lobelia as a project, but I feel like part of what I’m seeing in Lobelia, and part of what I want to continue to see is a continued connection between the city and rural areas. That’s what Lobelia seeks to do in a lot of ways, I guess, maybe that’s one of the main pitfalls of the idea of back to the land is that it feels very isolating, and it also feels in line with prepping or individualistic or the new version of having a nuclear family and moving to the suburbs where it’s severed. So trying to reverse that severing, to continue those connections.

H: Yeah. Just to piggyback on that idea is that a distinction between food autonomy and isolated food production. And I think food autonomy is inherently a very social thing and something that’s directed towards a communing or commenting or sharing that a lot of the back-to-the-land thing or this macho “I’m going to move to this cabin and produce everything that I need to sustain”, which is just totally ahistorical, sounds extremely lonely and not at all what should be considered food autonomy. That’s as a solo project.

TFSR: Yeah. And I think it would probably have less inherent adherents, or followers online if it looked a little less like Tom of Finland a little more like Ted Kaczynski because that’s probably what you’d look like if you were sitting in a cabin by yourself for 20 years.

M: Exactly.

H: When we’re talking about the pitfalls of the homesteader mentality or the back-to-the-land movement, I think what M said about self-sufficiency being this ahistorical myth that never existed on the household or family level, in any agrarian land-based society, I think that’s a good place to start. And obviously, also, there are a lot of things that need to be addressed with settler nostalgia or the nostalgia for American settler culture that seems to be a part of the homesteading that some people are trying to do. Those things are very present and are a huge problem that needs to be addressed in the larger movement or the larger wave of new interest in growing food and getting more connected to the land.

But at the same time, I don’t think that they’re really new or surprising concerns for anarchists or people who listen to this show. We aren’t trying to have just a bunch of self-sufficient nuclear families. We don’t have any reverence for settler culture. In fact, for those of us who are white, if we find any inspiration or affinity with white people in early colonial history, it is only those people who were fully defecting from settler society and were welcomed into Native society or who were otherwise complicit in the struggle of Native people against colonization and were assisting that in really material ways.

And similarly, I don’t think that we really suffer from the same strategic delusions or missteps of the back-to-the-land movement in the 60’s and 70’s, in which case, a lot of people were trying to just drop out, and their projects became isolated and weird in different ways. There is a general understanding now, certainly, among anarchists that our projects need to be conflictual, they need to be part of these larger struggles, we can’t escape climate change, it’s coming for us wherever we are.

So there’s like a lot of really material things I think people should be thinking about to try to avoid that isolation. Because it can happen even with the best of intentions if you get just too involved in projects that keep you facing inward and you’re just biting off more than you can chew with the land itself, or what you’re trying to do with it. Distance and gas prices and the jobs being nearby or not — all of these things are factors that matter when we’re trying to figure out and cultivate the flows in and out of these spaces. The flows of people and resources that are needed to sustain a project and the people involved emotionally, physically, financially, socially, etc.

That’s going to look really different in every context. But just a general framework or an idea that I found useful is this concept of the “captured garden.” The standard example of a captured garden is from the height of the coal era in Appalachia when people are living in company towns, where the coal company controls everything. In a lot of cases, people were actually required to have a garden so that the mine owners didn’t have to pay people as much because they knew they were growing their own food. This stands in sharp contrast to just a generation or two before that, when growing food was something that gave people more freedom and autonomy and bargaining power when it came to dealing with the coal companies. If the wages were too low, you could just go back to the holler and grow food on your little plot of land and also have this large ecological base to draw from around, this forest and hills that everyone was using as a commons to graze their animals and hunt and things like that. And by the time of the company towns and the captured garden, a lot of that had been destroyed and taken from people. And so the captured garden is this example in which growing our own food has become this thing that is no longer contributing to our autonomy, but it’s contributing to our subjugation.

I find that to be a really useful framework, if we try to transpose it a little bit onto the modern era, just ask ourselves: “Is my community garden contributing to autonomy and giving people more ability to live their lives and have successful struggles against their bosses and the state? Or is it a captured garden?” With a rural land project, if an uprising comes along, and you’re too tied down, taking care of the chickens every day to be able to go into the city, maybe in some ways that is functioning as a captured garden for you. Obviously, there are lots of other ways that a well-positioned project could have really useful interactions with those conflicts.

TFSR: Thank you. Those are really insightful answers to a totally convoluted question, but you got what I was trying to communicate.

How can people get a hold of the Earthbound Farmers Almanac? How can they learn more about Lobelia Commons and maybe get involved or contribute to either the projects?

M: The 2022 Almanac is finally out, it was late three months because of a paper shortage. People can get it, if they’re trying to buy an individual copy, or a couple of copies, they can support the project. All the money goes back into the printing of the Almanac, which we’re still very far in the red, it all just gets paid out of pocket and we owe a bunch of people a bunch of money. So they can buy that at emergentgoods.com. They can also find us at @LobeliaCommons, on both Twitter and Instagram. There we have more information about stuff we’re up to. We’re also posting the Almanac, pretty much the entire thing, in like social media posts over the course of the year. And if anyone is interested in distributing it, or starting a book club, or maybe selling it at wholesale, or sticking it in the free little libraries, coming up with some way to use it or use it as a fundraiser, they can contact us on social media or lobeliacommons@protonmail.com. And we’re definitely looking for folks to contribute to next year’s issue, we are going to have the deadline for that is July 31 of this year. Feel free to reach out, and send us pitches, you don’t need to come up with a whole piece, you can send us an idea, and we will answer as soon as we get it. You can just put the “2023 Almanac” in the subject.

TFSR: Thanks again for having this chat. I look forward to putting in an order myself for a physical copy of it. I’m sure that Firestorm will carry it. So I will just grab one from over there.

M: Yeah, we actually had to send some, I don’t know if we did last year,

B: To FireStorm.

M: Oh, wait, you probably dropped it off.

B: No, I just put it in the Tranzmission Prison Project book stack. So it went out to folks at TPP but not Firestorm.

TFSR: I bet people’d really appreciate receiving some of that stuff on the inside. That’s awesome.

B: It was so cute. Because immediately after I dropped them off, someone texted me and was like “I was just reading a letter that had a request for an Almanac.” It was like perfect timing. Super cute.

M: Yeah. I have many pen pals in Angola in Louisiana. And we sent them to a few buddies in there. There’s this crew of guys who meet now and then and they talk about gardening and stuff and apparently, they’re super hype on it. That made my year last year.

B: That’s the best.

Eric King Speaks | 2 Radical Ukrainian Voices

Eric King Speaks | 2 Radical Ukrainian Voices

This week, we’re sharing 3 audio segments on this episode.

Eric King Transferred To High Security Prison in VA

[00:04:08 – 00:23:50]

Info on Eric King + an image of Operation Solidarity in Ukraine
Download This Episode

First up, you’ll hear Eric King, anarchist prisoner whose recent legal victory against the Federal Bureau of Prisons in the US was featured on our episodes from the week of March 27th, 2022. Last week, Eric was suddenly transferred out of Colorado toward United States Penitentiary Lee in the southwest portion of Virginia near Johnson City, TN. This is in spite of the fact that Eric should be held at a medium security facility according to BOP standards, unlike the high security and max prisoners at USP Lee. We caught up with him mid-transfer while at Grady County Jail in Oklahoma where many Federal prisoners stop during cross-country transfers. Eric and his supporters are afraid that he’ll be facing time in the SHU, or Secure Housing Unit at USP Lee for no reason other than punishment for his legal case and his supporters are putting together a call-in campaign to raise Eric’s visibility to keep him safe. There is information about this in our show notes at TheFinalStrawRadio.NoBlogs.Org and hopefully soon at https://SupportEricKing.Org .

This is followed by Sean Swain’s segment [00:23:53 – 00:32:42]

Maria of Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv

[00:33:06 – 01:07:52]

Then, you’ll hear Maria, a member of Anarchist Black Cross Kyiv, just returned from Ukraine and currently in Warsaw, Poland. We talk about ABC Kyiv, mutual aid and refugee support, border crossing, some information about anarchists participating in the territorial defense, NATO, non-violent as well as armed resistance to the Russian invasion, Russian forcibly moving Ukrainians from Mariupol into territories they control and other recent news stories. You can find more on how to support Operation Solidarity at linktr.ee/OperationSolidarity and the Resistance Committee of anarchists participating in armed resistance to the invasion at linktr.ee/TheBlackHeadquarter. You can also find a benefit for ABC resistance to the invasion at ABCMusicalSolidarity.Bandcamp.Com, written up at North Shore Counter-Info.

Mira, leftist punk from Kharkiv

[01:09:06 – 01:41:14]

Finally, you’ll hear a conversation recorded on Sunday, April 3rd with Mira, a member of the street punk band Bezlad and a show booker in the hardcore scene of Kharkiv near the Russian Border. Mira talks about his leaving of Kharkiv to L’viv to aid leftist and punk territorial defense fighters getting protective gear, his experience of the devastation of war on the city he loves and the breakdown of solidarity with antifascist and punk communities across the border between Russia & Ukraine since the war in the Donbass and intensifying today. We’ll play a song by Bezlad after this interview and will link them in the shownotes.

Announcements

Libre Flot’s Hunger Strike Continues

As a continuation of our recent announcement of the former YPG volunteer on hunger strike against unending detention by the French government, there is a call for a day of solidarity for Libre Flot for what is both his 36th day of hunger strike and his birthday. Libre Flot was hospitalized in relation to the hunger strike on March 24th but has continued due to his more than 15 months of pre-trail detention. On April 4th, 2022, the supporters are asked to make some noise at French embassies, consulates and other institutions to raise awareness of his plight. More info at SolidarityToDecember8.wordpress.com

Eric King Call-In

Alongside a recent post showing photos of the scene of Eric’s assault in the broom closet, there will be a post with phone numbers and talking points  up at SupportEricKing.Org by Monday. Below are some contacts you are suggested to reach out to to check in on Eric’s condition and talking points to help ask why he’s being treated this way despite his noted security level leading into the embarrassing trial loss by BOP:

  1. Why is Eric King, who is at a medium level according to the BOP, being moved to a high security facility across the country?;         
  1. Why is this move coming so quickly after Eric successfully won a lawsuit showing that the BOP was closing ranks to set Eric up for 20 years of additional prison as he approaches his out time?;         
  1. What will you, as a public official, do to challenge the impunity of the federal prisons to persecute prisoners and violate their human rights?;
DRAFT MESSAGES / TEMPLATES

 

Hello Senator _____,

I am writing about my friend who is a prisoner in the Federal Bureau of Prisons. His name is Eric King, inmate number 27090-045. He was recently found not guilty on all counts at a trial in the U.S. District of Colorado. Eric was moved from FCI Englewood and is currently being held in a private facility, Grady County Jail in Oklahoma. He has been told he is en route to USP Lee, a maximum security prison in Virginia.

I am writing because I believe Eric should not be sent to USP Lee, and would be in danger if he were sent there. He is scheduled to be released from prison in December 2023, and wants to avoid anything that would infringe on this release date.

There is an active threat against his life. A few years ago, before being sent to Colorado, Eric was held in the Segregation Unit at USP Lee for approximately two weeks. Before that, at USP Atlanta, a white supremacist gang member told him he would be killed at USP Lee if he was released into general population. This was documented at USP Lee.

It is imperative that Eric not be put in harm’s way. I am asking that you not send him into a situation that is so dangerous. The Bureau of Prisons knows this and there is established case law regarding the BOP sending someone into dangerous and life threatening scenarios. See Fitzharris v. Wolf, 702 F.2d 836, 839 (9th Cir. 1983); Gullatte v. Potts, 654 F.2d 1007, 1012-13 (5th Cir. 1981); Roba v. U.S., 604 F.2d 215, 218-19 (2d Cir. 1979).

Additionally, Eric is in this situation because of a bogus maximum management variable on his security profile. This has him erroneously being sent to a facility beyond his actual security level. He has no pending charges and no incident reports. He intends to be released to Colorado to live with his wife and his two children in just over a year. I ask that this management variable be removed so that he can be sent to a medium- or low-custody prison close to home and begin preparing for release.

I am afraid for my friend Eric’s life if he is sent to USP Lee and I am asking that you intervene with the Bureau of Prisons and ask them not to send Eric King into harm’s way by sending him to USP Lee.

His lawyer is Lauren Regan and can be reached at 541-687-9180 or lregan@cldc.org. Please help my friend.

Sincerely,

_____

CONTACT INFORMATION
DSCC Office Designation & Sentence Computation Center U.S. Armed Forces Reserve Complex

346 Marine Forces Dr.
Grand Prairie, TX 75051

Mid-Atlantic BOP Regional Office

302 Sentinel Dr,
Annapolis Junction, MD  20701

BOP National Office

320 First Street, NW
Washington, DC  20534

Virginia Senators to Contact

231 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

703 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

. … . ..

Featured tracks:

. … . ..

Transcription (Maria)

TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time and the space to have this conversation with me. First off, would you please introduce yourself to the audience with a name, even if it’s a pseudonym, any gender pronouns, where you’re from, or where you’re at now?

Maria: I’m Maria, from ABC Kyiv, and I’m staying in Warsaw right now, just coming from Lviv where I visited comrades and had some meetings.

TFSR: Can you tell a little bit about ABC Kyiv and the history of the group? What work you’ve done before? What does it look like now? How the invasion has changed it?

Maria: We are a relatively old collective, 10+ years old. We used to mostly help political refugees from neighboring countries who escaped from Russia and Belarus. It’s not that many of them were in jail, but we were helping them with the refugee-seeking procedure and getting into politics in Ukraine. Now we changed because I expected they will go to Warsaw or whatever. But they mostly joined the territorial defense units in Kyiv. So we don’t have clients anymore, you know?

TFSR: Yeah. The history of the Anarchist Red Cross at one point included militant support of combatants too during the Russian revolutions. Right?

Maria: Actually, in the Makhno army, I think it appeared first.

For now, we are trying to do several types of work. First of all, we work with another collective that provides the same kind of help to people who decided to join the resistance, take up arms, and to fight for people and freedom at home. It’s different kinds of support. One is that we need to collect money, we need to buy things, humanitarian aid, medical aid, and different stuff that people who fight need. Another part is taking care of comrades who are relocating or choose not to because not a lot of people lost their jobs in Ukraine. And help with relocating people to other countries, they also may need help with a place to stay, money to live, possibilities to find a job. That’s a lot of work. For sure, we are taking part in it. We are not doing it as a separate collective, but rather with other ABC collectives, and with the group called Operation Solidarity from Ukraine.

TFSR:Awesome. I know that ABC Dresden in Germany has been one group that’s been able to funnel money towards mutual aid and defense funds, which is pretty cool. It’s amazing to see ABC groups – just from the outside, I’m involved with an ABC group here, but we’re still pretty focused on prisoners in the United States – to see the work that groups are doing in Europe is pretty impressive.

What’s the situation getting back and forth with Poland if you can talk about it? Has it been difficult because there is a long wait at the border? How have you been received in Poland at least with the government?

Maria: Surprisingly, with Poland, I crossed already twice, it was no problem at all, both times. In Ukraine, it was much more problematic months ago, but at the moment, it’s quite slow. Transport is late, but it’s not super difficult. I think it is difficult only for male assigned people. In Lviv, it’s also relatively calm, which is the new calm – they have 3-4 air raid alerts per day, which means that they expect air attacks. Sometimes there are air attacks but the air defense systems work well. I’m actually not an expert in weapons because I hate it. But the situation is like it is.

TFSR: Some of the questions that I’m going to be asking are related to either the war or the armed groups because that’s an area I think that a lot of anarchists elsewhere are interested in. But if you can’t answer them and don’t have an answer, I understand totally.

One thing that I’ve been seeing in the news here is that Russia may be pulling back, withdrawing troops, at least in the areas near Kyiv, back across the border to Belarus. Is that a thing that you’ve heard about or do you have an understanding of what’s happening with that?

Maria: I also read today that pulled back some troops, but not all of them. Actually, they say on the news that we expect more intense fights in the next few days. I hope that’s not true. But it can be. Also, they still attack Kyiv and other cities from the sky. With the army, they at least stay somewhere. But with these air attacks, it’s not clear where it will hit next time. Withdrawing troops doesn’t mean that they will stop bombing us.

TFSR: Sure, pulling back the army could actually mean more bombing, hypothetically.

What’s your impression, having been back to Lviv, of what it’s like to try to organize there or to be an anti-authoritarian, anti-nationalist group that’s trying to do organizing in the midst of an invasion and a time that almost necessarily leads to heightened levels of nationalism?

Maria: I didn’t see that much nationalism. I was there just for a couple of days meeting with comrades. I was not really in the streets. I know that the Operation Solidarity group there is very well-organized.

There was one stupid small attack by young Nazis on our comrades near a shop, where they were waiting in line to buy stuff for guys from the territorial defense. It was shocking, but they were some small idiots. It’s not that they really hunt there or whatever. I think Nazis are busy, the same as leftist people. We are not very much interested in each other, at this point, at least.

TFSR: What I’m seeing from the Telegram channel from Operation solidarity is that the attacker was from Misanthropic Division, and the comrade had a broken finger out of it.

Maria: He had a broken finger on his hand was wish he was packing medical supplies and other things for the army. It seems very unpatriotic to do it. It’s sabotage, in my opinion. I’m very surprised. I already started thinking about some conspiracy. Maybe they’re paid by Putin because it seems stupid to do it.

TFSR: Well, Nazis are stupid.

In your experience, how is the support from abroad into Operation Solidarity been going? There’s still a need, but they’ve been listing on their social media that they’ve been receiving– They went out and bought helmets, they went out and bought various forms of armor. Is the fundraising still going on? Has that been successful so far?

Maria: I would say it’s quite successful. But it always can be that if we have more money, we will buy better stuff for people, if we have more people, will still need to buy new things for them. Also, most people cannot work, renting rooms in Western Ukraine is very difficult, it is crazy expensive. Because so many people came there. Prices went high. There are still people there, their families and in the worst situation, you can expect that most of the people will lose their jobs. We also help with this part.

With medical things, you need to buy new ones from time to time, and we hope to have much more people. We have more people now compared to two months ago. I hope it will be much more, that is why for sure they still do fundraising and we still do fundraising for them. Other groups also do fundraising. I’m very satisfied with working together with them.

TFSR: I want to talk again about the armed organizing that people are doing, but there have been stories of lots of examples in this conflict of people taking unarmed actions against the war effort, for instance, the mutual aid and the medical support that you’re talking about, or blockades to slow the advance of tanks outside of major cities, massive street protests, including those that have been fired upon by Russian troops, the Belarusian anti-war sabotage on train infrastructure that’s been supplying Russian troops. Are there other examples or any that stand out to you of the unarmed mutual aid that you’ve been impressed with, that people should know about?

Maria: I’m not sure I understood all the points you mentioned. Because if your English is too perfect for me.

With the sabotage in Belarus, it is not militant, but for Belarus, it’s already a lot. For us, I think that we are not concentrated on these points. For me, it’s literally like fascists in the 30’s and 40’s are coming. People want to have arms and to fight back. I would not say that we are working on any anti-militant or whatever actions. We have a consensus that we need to fight with arms.

I know that there are protests in occupied cities. I don’t think that they decided to be very anti-militant, they just don’t have a choice. But the Russian army may actually shoot this protest. It’s only peaceful from one side.

TFSR: One of the groups, to my understanding, that’s been organizing in Ukraine for the armed self-defense is Black Flag (Chernyi Prapor)? Can you talk a little bit about the organizing and training that they’ve been doing that you know of, and as an anarchist grouping, how they’ve been relating to the territorial defense of the Ukrainian military?

Maria: I’m not that much in contact with them, it is a group from Lviv, as far as I know, a relatively small one. I’m not in personal contact with these people. That’s why I don’t really know how they do it.

I think one of the biggest collectives is the Resistance Committee. They’re also groups of people here and there in different territorial defense units trying to organize together, like three-five people. I know this better.

I also know about people from Kharkiv, I knew them before, but I’m not in contact at the moment. I know that there is a group in Kharkiv that is fighting in the territorial defense unit in Kharkiv, which is a hot spot. I also know anarchists who individually went to the army, for example, my friend, who is actually also one of these refugees, a non-Ukrainian citizen, went to fight the first morning, and he is stationed separately from us, but we still support him.

TFSR: Do you have a sense of how it is for them to relate to the fact that the territorial defense has a relationship with the Ukrainian military? How much autonomy they’re able to keep in that or any lessons that you’ve heard about how they’ve been able to try to keep that autonomy?

Maria: From talking to people, it seems it works quite well. They are not pressuring much and it feels like for other people there is a possibility for some autonomy. They are much less hierarchically structured. The army might pay less attention to this. But officially, they are part of the army. But there is actually no other way to organize because if you just take a gun and go to the street, they will think you are a subversive and kill you. Even historically, with the partisan movement, they’re actually always connected to the army to some extent. I don’t think it’s possible to really do it in parallel without any agreements.

TFSR: A few weeks ago, I was seeing stories online about foreigners coming to Ukraine to try to fight and defend it, getting shuffled into the military, or being pressured to sign contracts of service similar to conscription. Have you heard about this being the case for folks that have tried to join anarchist formations? Are they able to get in? Or do they just get funneled into the general military or territorial defense of Ukraine?

Maria: I think the problem you’re talking about is more about people who are going to the International Legion. I heard that people went to join a Belarusian unit, but I was not following the topic. Because I’m trying to concentrate on people I know, comrades, and things I can influence. I came across something like this in the media, but I haven’t heard any people I know who complained about it. But for people from the International Legion, which I think is separate, maybe it’s a problem for them.

TFSR: Another thing that I wanted to ask about, and it’s okay if you don’t have a comment on it or an understanding, but there was a video released recently that appeared to show the Ukrainian military shooting Russian prisoners in the legs extra-judicially. Have you heard about this or heard sentiments from other Ukrainians or people in the region about captured soldiers getting shot in that way?

Maria: I even didn’t hear about it, to be honest. I can imagine it can happen. For example, a friend of mine was telling me that when he was taking part in the evacuation of the occupied and besieged cities around Kyiv. It was the third week of war already and before he was rather in a better mood. But at that moment, he was really like “They are murdering kids. They’re raping women.” He saw the bodies of women on the streets. They [Russian troops] don’t want to fight with the army, they want to fight civilians. My friend was angry and didn’t feel mercy for them anymore. But then you just go out from there thinking and feel that you are a human and you should follow the humane way of thinking and acting. But I can imagine that after everything people saw. But I didn’t hear about what you mentioned.

I’m sad, I don’t want that to happen. But it’s very complicated. When you talk about these things theoretically from somewhere abroad, it’s one thing, but when the war is coming to your place, it’s totally another thing.

TFSR: That makes sense.

You mentioned children being killed. Some stories were circulating, I think they were sourced from the Ukrainian government about Russia importing thousands of civilians and children from occupied territories within Ukraine into Russia. Have you heard of this?

Maria: Yes. Many people from Kherson, which is the biggest occupied city, and Mariupol which is besieged. My friend’s parents were sent from Mariupol to Donetsk or Russia, she lost contact with them. It’s been five days now. They just put them on the bus. The besieged Mariupol and people couldn’t have access to drinking water and food. I think they demoralize them, but the people still didn’t want to go. They just take them to the bus, some of them could call and say, “Your parents were forcefully put on this bus, they will get in touch when they can.” But no one is reaching out these days. Then they’re sending a message that they’re in Russia. Today at the train station, I talked to people from Kherson, they’re telling the same, the few people who managed to escape.

TFSR: You can’t really guess about the strategy or the reasoning behind that, whether it’s to just depopulate areas, to make them easier to occupy, or if it’s about trying to forcibly settle people to new areas.

Maria: They’re not deporting all the people. For me, making the city empty is not the reason. As for Bucha and Hostomel, I heard the opposite – they don’t let people out. They make them too afraid to try to go out by bombing the humanitarian corridor, for example, because they actually want them to stay. Then it is difficult for the Ukrainian army to shoot because they’re inside together with civilians. Maybe there are other reasons, but they also try to use them for propaganda. They are filming people, they’re giving them a text to read. A woman was complaining about Azov and Medusa published several videos, and you see that she’s actually telling the story they forced her to tell because they didn’t do it in one shot.

TFSR: Forcing some of the people that they’re holding to act in front of the camera to say, “Oh, yes, I’m so happy that the Russians are here”, something that the Russian government can show back in the media.

Maria: Mostly they want their people to see that look, here are refugees from bad Ukraine coming to good Russia. Today I heard several stories from people who were going to stay with families in Belarus. If they did it the same day, I think it was something on the media in Belarus, that you should care about your Ukrainian relatives. Relatives from Belarus are calling to say that they should come over. “Here you at least will speak your language, blah, blah, blah.” And people are coming because it’s their families, not because they want to move to Belarus.

Today I met a woman, she said, “My daughter and grandchildren are there. It’s my chance to see my two-year-old grandson.” On the one hand, she is going to this place from which we are bombed, on the other hand, we all mixed, for the older people, it looks fine. And then in the media, they create 100 people from 10 people saying that thousands of refugees from Ukraine are coming from Ukraine to Russia and Belarus.

TFSR: A lot of people in the last six weeks have left Ukraine, and have withdrawn to find other safer places to go to. But I’ve also heard reports that people are coming back to Ukraine for defending it from the invasion or fighting back or trying to collect what they left behind. Is this a thing that you’ve heard about too?

Maria: I know several people who went back because, when they came here, they put them to live in a stadium, and then you leave with 500 people after being shocked and bombed. I think your psychological condition is not very stable. There is already a lack of places. I know that Germany and Poland and today I asked a person who stayed in the Netherlands, she said the same that they actually stayed in barracks or whatever. Volunteers do care about them and give them food, but they cannot live there forever. And they read the same news as me and you.

I know a person who wants to go back to Kyiv to my district and I know that it’s been very loud there the last few weeks. But she has animals, she cannot let them out and she lives in a barrack. She has them in transporter cages. I think it’s very different for different people. But some people just cannot live like this. For some people, it’s better to go with the risk to die rather than stay in a camp.

TFSR: Switching topics a bit, they’re far-right elements, since the Maidan, have been coalescing and doing arm training and participating on both sides in the war in the Donbas. As we’ve talked about, there are armed formations that are anti-fascist and anarchist, and that have been trying to hold that space separate from the far right, and I guess push back against that being normalized and also make safer spaces. But one thing that was happening at the start of the war that I read about was that supporters of the Arsenal Kyiv football club, the Hoods Hoods Clan were starting to support armed resistance. They were known by some as being a more anti-fascist football club. But as I understand, they’ve begun working more with right-wing nationalist formations. I’ve seen pictures of members throwing up the Svoboda three-finger salute. Are you aware of this? Can you talk about what your understanding is among the folks that are staying back and doing armed defense? How difficult it is to hold your ethics in this situation when you’re being shot at?

Maria: I’m not in direct contact with those people, because my comrades are mostly anarchists. There are some anarchists among them, but it’s not an anarchist group. I hope that it is some individuals who are doing it, I don’t think it can be the whole group, but I should check. The group is quite big, and from time to time, new people join. I don’t think they can control people that much. I would ask today, that’s interesting. As I was on the way, and I was in the Lviv without Internet, I don’t know all the news. But it sounds problematic for me is if it’s true, I would not be happy.

TFSR: It’s pretty clear to me that the aggressive invasion of territory and bombing of cities by the Russian military is a terrible thing that should be fought against. I totally respect people defending their territory and defending the spaces they live in, their families, the people around them, and their communities. In the West, it’s difficult for people in countries that are NATO countries to figure out how to relate to this in a way that puts us aside from supporting NATO intervention. I know the weapons that are getting sent in are helping territorial defense fight back the invasion. But do you have any thoughts about how people in countries that are NATO nation-states, besides sending funding, should be helping to resist the invasion without simultaneously working in a way that justifies imperialist Western militaries?

Maria: Sending money is nice. People can go to fight against fascists themselves. It’s an individual decision, but it’s always possible. With this NATO question, I’m very surprised how often I hear it because do you really think that all these leftists have an influence on these decisions?

TFSR: As far as influencing the way that NATO operates? No, but also, in the United States, the position that the US takes is that the Ukrainian government should be supported. It’s not about creating space for an anarchistic society there but those two things overlap in terms of stopping people from dying. The US for instance, where I’m living, and where I’m from uses humanitarian intervention regularly to justify the continued growth of the US military. It’s not just about necessarily helping people defend themselves from an invasion or from a terrorist group or from whatever. But it becomes a part of a larger plan that fuels the big industries of war in this country. That’s what I’m getting at in wondering if you have any views about it.

Maria: Russia openly says on the propagandist TV that they should bomb Washington. I’m not sure that the US TV says something like this, that they should throw somewhere a nuclear bomb. I think was these two, one went much more aggressive, at least with the rhetoric. I think that thinking about geopolitical is just practically totally not useful. Because that’s actually the context they’re given to people to distract their attention. For example, I hear the question about NATO much more often than the question if all the comrades are alive. Maybe it’s because I’m not that good with the theories. But for me, it’s a very strange situation, when people want to talk about this NATO thing that much in a situation where they can actually not really influence it. I think that as anti-authoritarian leftists and anarchists, we should be much more focused on the things we can influence in our lives, and less on the topics given to us from the top, on TV. It is just my opinion, but I feel like this.

TFSR: Super helpful. Do you think it’s useful for people who can take off and maybe a train or whatever to come to join territorial defense and try to support anarchist groups?

Maria: Yes. You can contact all the groups we discussed online, they have websites, Telegram channels, etc. You should ask them, not me. But I think there is a possibility, people who are looking for it can find it without my help.

TFSR: Maria, also would it be helpful to share any information further about how to contact ABC Kyiv, or you’ve mentioned operation solidarity, I can put more information in the show notes and announce that.

Maria: The Operation Solidarity has a chatbot if you need to contact them.

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

Maria: I think we all start to think about how this happened. With Russia, with what is going on? How we have new fascism, because all my life I was asking questions about what happened to Germans in the previous century? I’m asking myself what happened, and how we didn’t see it before they attacked so many countries. Now they also attacked my city, because the country was attacked already eight years ago. I think we should really work somehow that it will never happen a third time, or whatever time is next time?

I hope we will win. I hope my comrades in Russia and Belarus will be released from jails. I do hope we will find a way to stop these things from happening. Because for me, one of the most problematic parts is that actually, the Russian society supports what is going on.

TFSR: I hope for those things, too. Again, thank you very much for taking the time to have this conversation.

Maria: Thank you for asking.

. … . ..

Transcription (Mira)

Mira: Some people know me by the name Mira. I’m from Kharkiv city, which is in the east of Ukraine. Right now, I’m in Lviv.

TFSR: You’ve been in Lviv for a little bit now, like a month or so, right?

Mira: Yes. For the first 11 days of the war, we stayed in Kharkiv. Then we moved to Dnipro using suburban trains with transfers and spent some time in Dnipro and then went to Lviv using an evacuation train. It took like 21 hours to get here. Some of our friends were just staying in the vestibule of the train without a seat because was all crowded. It was a long, long way. We made it to Lviv. Lviv is a much better place to stay because we could do something here. It feels more like a regular peaceful place. We have some air raid alerts from time to time, and sometimes missiles get here too. But for the most part, it feels like a regular peaceful time. From here, it’s easier to coordinate the different types of work, volunteer work, and mutual aid work. It’s more productive and successful to be here, to get stuff, to meet people, and to send all the stuff further to other parts of Ukraine.

TFSR: Kharkiv, where you’re from and where you left is just right across the border from Russia. I know it’s been the center of a lot of really intense battles between the Ukrainian military and lots of shelling and cluster munitions from the Russian military. Is that right?

Mira: Absolutely. Honestly, when a few years ago, in Kharkiv, I and my friends did lots of punk and hardcore shows, including one of the biggest events in our country, Kharkiv Hardcore Fest, which is a few days event, and some bands from abroad that would come to play in Kharkiv were asking, “Aren’t you afraid that you are really close to Russia?” While we already had the military invasion in the eastern part of Ukraine, part of Donbas, it was already occupied, but we still were sure that it won’t go deeper into the country. When people from Finland, and Poland asked us that, we said, “Yes, we are okay.” We didn’t believe that Putin and the Russian military government would really be so crazy to start a full-scale war. Actually, we were surprised to witness what started on February 24.

TFSR: I’m glad that you and your friends were able to make it out. That sounds really, really scary.

Mira: Actually, I just want to add a few words, that since the beginning of the war, the police and army were trying to keep some order at the railway station, because so many people come in, they panic, and the place is too crowded and too many people stayed at the railway station. There were a lot of police and army to make things go smooth and try to keep some order.

That’s why we tried to use suburban train stations because we didn’t want to spend and unbelievable amount of time in the line. Because children, women, and elderly people, go first. If you are military age between 18 and 60, you are the last one to get on the train. We decided not to even try to go to the main station. We preferred to walk with our backpacks and stuff to the nearest suburban train station and get on the suburban trains. One day, we just went to see how it goes, if the trains actually pass by. Just to check it without backpacks, how it goes. When you’re staying on the platform and it’s a pretty open space and you can hear the air raid alerts and the sounds of explosions. It’s not comfortable to stay there, because you never know where the next missiles going to drop.

We made it there, we took one train, we made it to Krasnohrad and spent four or five hours there waiting for another train, and then go to Dnipro right before the curfew time. My friend from Dnipro met us with the car and brought us to the apartments just five minutes before the curfew time. That’s how we made it to Dnipro. Then we took the evacuation train from there for Lviv, 10 days later.

TFSR: You were there after the war started in Kharkiv. And you’ve been to some of these cities before, I would imagine, as a traveling musician, among other things. Can you talk about what it’s been like to see places that you’re familiar with suddenly devastated in these ways?

Mira: That’s really hard to express the feelings, which you get when you see the city you love, the city that you have lots of stuff in common, which you associate with yourself, and you see that everything around is being ruined by the air raids, by multiple launcher systems. To see the historical city center being ruined, and to see regular residential neighborhoods being ruined. You can’t look at it without tears. That’s really tough. Every day, we hoped this will be the last day when they do the bombing and shelling and dropping air bombs. But the following day, it was just getting worse and worse. When we were thinking about how long it could take to rebuild everything which was destroyed, hoping that will end soon, the next day is coming and we see even more destruction. That’s really painful and tearful to see.

Honestly, the first two days we were scared, then the fear changed for hate and anger toward the people who are doing this. We tried to find the ingredients to do Molotov cocktails and stuff like that because we thought they would be in the city soon and we might need that stuff. But actually, the armed forces you’re doing a pretty good job defending the city on the ground. Even those groups of Russian troops who managed to get into the city were eliminated. The main threat was coming not from the troops on the ground, but from the launchers that launched rockets and from the air bombing. The Molotov cocktails wouldn’t really help. We were sitting without any possibility of resistance, because in my group, we have five people, and none of us has military experience. The territorial defense was accepting volunteers only with military experience, so you’d be more useful for the defense. Since none of us had that, we were not accepted. Actually, the territorial defense was pretty full of people, and they didn’t even need more, because a lot of people were willing to defend their city, their land, and their country against the aggressor. That’s why the territorial defense pretty much all over Ukraine is packed with volunteers. They’re not really accepting new applicants for that.

So we were just sitting without really any use. Since every day it was getting tougher and tougher, we decided to go somewhere else, to leave the city until it gets a bit better because the missiles started getting all around the city, not just the suburbs, not just the neighborhoods closer to Russia, to the ring road, but also in the center, all the neighborhoods, including mine, which is close to the city center. There was already some destruction in my neighborhood as well. That’s why we decided to move to be useful in something else, not just sitting in the basement and listening to the sounds of the explosions.

TFSR: What activities have you been up to since you’ve been in Lviv? Is that at all connected to the work that you were doing before the war started in your community? I know some people start off doing, before the pandemic, for instance, were doing mutual aid work of one sort, like feeding people. Then after, in the US at least, have changed. They’ve just modified what they’re doing. Was there any connection between what you’re doing now and what was going on before?

Mira: We are doing totally different things now, because being a booker for shows is not something we would do here, and I had some small business rental for live events, I had my equipment in several clubs, and that is what I was doing besides booking my shows. Definitely, that’s absolutely not timely, nobody needs that. We just do what people actually need. While organizing the shows and the festival in Kharkiv, we have pretty much a big following on our facebook page and Instagram. I know that some people we met in shows, now are in territorial defense or in the armed forces, and I know that some people are lacking protective gear and lots of other items, not just knee/elbow protectors and bulletproof vests, but a lot of other stuff needed to be alive and to be productive in their defensive activity. Right now, the only thing that we are doing is trying to find the stuff our friends need and buy it and send it to them. It is just volunteer work, and it’s definitely not anything close to what we did before the war started.

TFSR: Especially in a war zone, I’m sure it’s really difficult. Here, it’s difficult to find some of that stuff at reasonable and affordable prices. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to source night vision gear or thermal imaging stuff in the middle of a war. From what you can talk about with it, is it just the prices that are really difficult? Or is it getting it off of captured or fallen Russian troops? What does it look like?

Mira: Most all the Russian troops that I’ve seen online don’t have that stuff, either. Since I toured with my bands a lot, I met people in Europe, with whom we stayed in touch till now. After the war started, some people started sending me messages, asking what was going on, and offering some help. That really saves lives now. With these contacts, we managed to work on the logistics of buying stuff, collecting money, and sending that to people who can buy that. Some of the volunteers are coming from Germany, and Poland to Lviv where we meet and get the stuff and send it further. The personal contacts, which I got in peaceful life before the war now really help to get what we need.

TFSR: So you’re mentioning booking gigs and shows and playing shows in the punk and hardcore scene in Kharkiv. Touring. Just looking back to what that scene in that community has been like for you – it’d be interesting to hear what the music scene was like?

Mira: Well, it’s pretty much a copy of a Western scene just on a smaller scale. Since the scene was born here much later than in the US or Europe, it’s younger but it shares the same ideals. I know that in the United States, some micro scenes just don’t care about anything. Some are really political, pay attention to political issues, and some are there just for music. When in Ukraine, they started to develop, it was very political starting in 2005 to 2015. Now, it was getting less, but we always were paying attention to who is in our shows, because we were always against any discrimination practices. We were not happy to see anyone with any Nazi symbols, in 90% of our shows, we specifically mentioned that Nazis are not welcome. Such people even don’t come because in most cases, they understand what views we have, so to avoid conflict, they just don’t come to our shows. There was a lot of physical confrontation in Kharkiv as well, years before, after the Maidan in 2014, actually, the number of confrontations got smaller and since 2014, it’s just calmed down. We didn’t really have big problems. There were some people wearing Nazi streetwear brands and stuff like that, trying to come to shows. They were just turned off at the entrance and didn’t get in. Years before, we had big fights in 2009-12. Sometimes we had fights with 40 people on one side and 50 people on the other side. But it’s calmed down with time.

Actually, at this moment, Nazis have their own hardcore scene developing. The fun fact is that they listen to a lot of good bands, but they do shows and they play and they support ideas, which those bands actually absolutely don’t support. I know some Nazis from Dnipro were traveling to Poland to see the band Backtrack and Agnostic Front, Madball, and stuff like that. When they go to Europe to see these bands, they shut the fuck up and don’t even show that they are right-wing sympathizers. But when they are back in Ukraine, in Dnipro, they have such symbols and T-shirts at their shows. But that’s an absolutely different scene and we don’t cross our paths. They don’t come to our shows. We don’t come to their shows.

TFSR: I saw Stiff Little Fingers once perform. They stopped the performance partway through and just started railing against Nazis and saying that “If any racists are here, you need to understand that you don’t understand the lyrics that we’re singing. Because we hate you. You need to go. You’re not welcome here.” I’ve seen like recordings a few times of Dropkick Murphys in the US also making that statement or going down and beating up Nazis that are in the crowd. I think it’s really important and really impressive when people use that platform to be very clear that that is not what they’re about.

Mira: At our shows frontmen of some bands clearly talk about that. Even if there is some person in the audience who also goes to some Nazi shows. That happens, we don’t know everyone. They just stay in there listening and don’t show who they are. But maybe that will help them realize someday what real punk and hardcore are about and what it is against. Maybe when some people accidentally get to the show with some friends, big shows where you can’t recognize everyone. Maybe these people see how hardcore punk bands play and what they are saying, and what are their views on racism, homophobia, and stuff like that. Maybe they change their minds. The time will show, you never know.

TFSR: Do people at your shows or at the shows in the Kharkiv hardcore scene table literature and stickers and stuff like that?

Mira: We don’t have sticker culture, we don’t have our clubs or something. It could be five shows in five different locations. It’s not really popular to put a lot of stickers around, because people in the clubs don’t like any political stickers, just to avoid losing clients. There is one club that we boycott, and we don’t do shows there. We don’t come there, because they allow right-wing bands to play there. It’s conveniently located. It’s a pretty good sound. But the owner is weird and we had conversations before. He was saying that he’s against any politics and that fascists will never have an event at his club. Then later, we have videos of people doing Nazi salutes there. It is just one instance, he says it is just business, he is doing business and doesn’t care about anything else.

TFSR: That sounds like stuff here.

Mira: I believe that happens, often, everywhere.

TFSR: If people here want to support– In the other segment that we’re airing from Maria, who’s currently in Warsaw, we mentioned Operation Solidarity, and also the Resistance Committee. A lot of their work is based out of Kyiv. Are there any other groups that you would suggest people send money to distribute, to get defensive implements, like helmets and vests out to the Lviv? Or do those groups work with you all in Lviv?

Mira: Yes, Operation Solidarity works in Kyiv and Lviv. We cooperate on some issues. We know each other, but they have a bigger following and more people. They are concentrated mainly on helping left-wing people in the scene whom they know. At Kharkiv Hardcore, we don’t check how left you are, if you call yourself an anarchist, or just if we know the person and if you know this person was at our shows, and you know the person is fighting or is going to fight soon, we help this person. That’s the difference. But we share the same values, we share the same views. We cooperate also on some issues. I think we’ll just develop this cooperation further.

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

Mira: Maybe just the thing that I need to mention is that 10 years ago, I would say before the Maidan 2014, before the Russian invasion, the first Russian invasion started in 2014 when they occupied the Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk Region. Before that, we considered our scene – of Ukraine and Russia – as one scene. I mean the scene in music and ideological terms, the antifascist scene, and the music punk hardcore scene. But after that, our paths started to go in different directions. We have fewer connections and less and less understanding of what’s going on in Ukraine. I had lots of contacts in Russia. After this full-scale war started, I got messages just from a few people from Russia. I understand that they now have a dictatorship, and they’re not allowed to say anything publicly and to voice their opinion if it’s against the official line of the government. But anyway, still, some people have a really weird position. Some people don’t say anything, some people say something that demonstrates they don’t understand at all what is going on in Ukraine, but they still keep trying to hold some position.

I don’t want to name the bands we have some questions to. But the main thing is that, unfortunately, after this conflict, the relations, and the attitudes to the Russian people would not be the same, because officially, 70% of the population of Russia supports their president. I understand they eat a lot of propaganda and are pretty fooled by it. But anyway, the result of it is the real war which we have right now. Unfortunately, all big bands, even in the punk and hardcore scene of Russia, didn’t show any position. They don’t call the aggressor aggressor. That’s really disappointing. I don’t know if we are able to communicate after this war is over.

TFSR: That makes a lot of sense. I guess it’ll take a lot of work on the Russian side, the Russian hardcore and anti-fascist scene to try to– It seems really complicated over there. But that’s not to make any apologies. As you said, they live under a dictator. That’s hard, but I hope that they do the work to recognize and listen to your voices.

Mira: I just want to add that there are bands in Russia, that tour in Europe, and they try to sit on two stools at the same time. They don’t want to call the aggressor the aggressor. They also try to show that they are for peace, but they’re not saying who is ruining the peace. That’s a problem.

When these bands announced European tours, I am afraid that the agenda wouldn’t be correct. Because some people in Europe hate the United States so much that they refuse the right of Ukraine to subjectivity. They call it the concept of the United States and Russia, two empires, and they don’t care about Ukraine. They hate the United States so much that they don’t give a fuck about Ukraine at all. That’s why some people in Europe are supporting and eating it and spreading Kremlin’s propaganda. They’re so anti-imperialist, that they are okay with Ukraine being destroyed.

TFSR: Yeah, it’s a funny way to identify an empire, not as someone going in and invading another place because they say that they have a historical relationship and that that other place actually belongs to them, which Putin has done by saying, “Lenin was wrong. The Tsar was right. Stalin was right. Ukraine is a place for us to make decisions about.”

Mira: Yes.

TFSR: Mira, thank you so much for this conversation and I am excited to share it. Are there any other links, do you want to mention your band name? It’s okay if you don’t. Or anything that listeners might follow.

Mira: Well, if you’re into punk rock, if you like street punk and oi, you should check out the band I am in right now. It’s called the Bezlad. While in Lviv, three of us are here out of five people, and we’ll try to make some new songs about current events. With the help of local folks who will fill in, we will try to record something. Also, we have a plan to play at a bomb shelter. That’s something new that we never experienced. Hope that will work. If you’re interested in punk, check it out, and stay in touch if you feel like it.

TFSR: We’ll be featuring a song at the end of this interview so folks can listen in to one track by that band. All right. Well, thanks a lot. I hope you keep safe and good luck to you and yours. I hope the war ends soon.

Mira: Thank you so much. Thank you for your attention. Thank you for speaking out about this. For spending your time to let people know what’s going on and let them hear Ukrainian voices on what’s going on here.

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

Merced Prisoner Hunger Strikes | Eric King Trial Ends

This week’s episode has two audio segments…

Download Episode Here!

Merced County Prisoner Hunger Strikes

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

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

Eric King Trial Ends

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

Eric King links:

CLDC links:

Certain Days interviews:

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Featured Tracks:

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Transcription (Merced County Hunger Strike)

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

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

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

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

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

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

VS: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcription (Eric King Trial)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh: Yeah, believe so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Josh: Absolutely.

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

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

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

Josh: Thank you Bursts, it was a pleasure.

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

Josh: Yes, thank you.

Transcription (Eric King Transfer)

TFSR: Eric, where are you at right now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: Yeah, that’s real.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EK: Do they have to word it that way?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFSR: For sure. That’s true.

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

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

TFSR: I will.

EK: Please give yourself a big hug for me.

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

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

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

EK: Oh, IPA is gross.

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

EK: Oh my gosh, don’t…