This week on the Final Straw, we’re featuring two main events, both themed around the Prison Strike ongoing across Turtle Island until at least September 9th.
First, an interview we conducted with Kevin “Rashid” Johnson. Rashid is a co-founder of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party and is the Minister of Defense from within it’s Prison Chapter. He is the author of two books available from Kersplebedeb, Defying the Tomb & Panther Vision, both collections of Rashid’s art and essays on capitalism, racism, imperialism and his view of a road towards liberation. Rashid is a Maoist and presents some interesting arguments in his writings. In this interview, Rashid talks briefly about his own case, his politicization behind bars, organizing the NABPP-PC, it’s split from the New Black Panther Party, cross-racial class organizing, the #PrisonStrike and more. We hope to be able to bring more of Rashid’s voice in the future. To check out his writing and and his quite literally iconic art, check out rashidmod.com. And at the moment you can write to Rashid at the following address:
Kevin Johnson #1007485 Sussex 1 State Prison 24414 Musselwhite Dr. Waverly, VA 23891
A transcription of this first interview will be found at the bottom of the page and an imposed zine for printing imposed zine for printing can be found here soon.
Next, we’ll hear an audio post-card that some friends put together, interspersing words of encouragement and audio from a noise demonstration outside Hyde prison in Eastern North Carolina on August 20th. Prisoners at Hyde CI met the outside supporters in the yard and from across lines of razor wire they unfurled three banners with simple statements: “parole”; “better food”; & “In Solidarity”. To read an article about the noise demo, see some pictures and hear about NC specific demands, check out the article, “Community Shows Support as NC Prisoners Rally With Banners“ on ItsGoingDown. Make some noise!
To close out the hour, we will hear some words of encouragement to striking prisoners in #Amerikkka from comrades incarcerated in #Klanada!
If you’re in Asheville today (Sunday September 9th), consider dropping by Firestorm at 610 Haywood Rd at 5pm to join #BlueRidgeABC for the monthly political prisoner letter writing night. Supplies will be free as well as info on writing prisoners, names and addresses, and comradery.
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Show playlist here. . … . ..
Q: Could you please introduce yourself for the listening audience?
A: Alright, this is Kevin Rashid Johnson, I am a prisoner, incarcerated in Virginia at Sussex 1 State Prison.
Q: How has the prison tried to silence your organizing and writing over the years, and is this a consequence of the prison strike or other efforts?
A: I think I’ve gone through the entire range of reprisals. I’ve been subjected to physical attacks. I’ve been denied meals. I’ve been attempted to be subjected to dehydration, I’ve been subjected to destruction of property. Most recently I was transferred out of state, sent first to Oregon, then transferred from Oregon as a result of writing and exposing abuses in that prison system, to Texas. Same process resulted — I was transferred from Texas to Florida. Florida just got rid of me in June and sent me back to Virginia. I was then transferred — when I returned to Virginia, to Red Onion State Prison, and moved from Red Onion State prison and transferred on the 12th of July, and sent here to Sussex 1 State Prison, and I’m now being house on death row, although I have no death sentence, and that being with the obvious purpose of isolating me from other prisoners, as there are only three prisoners left on Virginia’s Death Row, and they’re spread out in a 44 cell pod, which I’m housed in separated and all the inmates have been instructed not to talk to me. So, the major effort has been to isolate me and to remove me from areas and places where they felt I would be able to talk to prisoners, to be able to gain info about abusive conditions and to, I guess, influence prisoners to challenge abuses and to stand up to conditions that are pretty inhumane and abusive. As far as responses to the prison work strike, I have not as of yet seen any reprisals or any response that I could call reprisals. And they expect that there would be exposure of anything they did, which may be the only deterrent at this point for any type of retaliation. But I’ve been involved in a commissary strike, not spending any money, as my contribution to the strike, because I’m confined in solitary and don’t have the ability to work. I have never participated in prison work. I’ve refused through my incarceration because I have recognized it is slave labor, and I refuse to allow them to exploit me in that fashion.
Q: For the listeners in the wider public, can you talk about the purpose of prisons under white supremacist capitalism in the US, and why it’s in all of our interest to not only struggle against these institutions, but to support prisoners’’ organizing efforts?
A: Well, from the outset, I think it’s rather obvious that there is a racial component to who is targeted with mass imprisonment within America, from the New Afrikan, that is Black, prisoners, Black social population being 12 to 13% in mainstream society but being some 50% of the prison pop nationwide. In Virginia, where I’m incarcerated, they have been something like 13% of the state population but 58% of the prison population. So, race clearly is a determinative factor in who is targeted within imprisonment and who receives their sentences and the extent of incarceration and where they are housed. In that context, within the prison system, it’s usually at the low security, the low level institutions where predominately white prisoners are housed, and the most extreme and harsh prisons, in each prison system I’ve been to and I know of, this is where the predominately Black and Brown prisoners are housed at. Within the prison structure, prisoners tend to polarize into racial groups, based on their shared cultural and social experiences, and guards and administration are typically inclined to try to manipulate prisoners against each other along racial grounds, racial lines, you know. The guards in my experience, especially where I just came from — Florida — are particularly orientated to acting out racist policies and politics. In fact, where I was confined, two of the institutions I was confined to, the Reception and Medical Center in Florida, in the Florida State Prison, those institutions have been exposed as employing card-carrying Ku Klux Klan members, in fact — three guards who were exposed as having plotted to kill an ex-prisoner who was Black, at the Reception and Medical Center, and revealed their plans to an FBI informant were recently prosecuted, and it came out during the prosecution that all three of them were card carrying Klansman, and that they work at the institution. And not long ago one of the legislatures on the Florida Congress had done a tour of the Reception and Medical Center, she being a Black woman, she pretty much expressed in the media that she feared for her life, the attitude of the white guards there were just openly racist. She acknowledged that she knew that the Klan played a prominent role in the staff and the administration of that institution and in that region, which is the same are the Florida State Prison is located. And she expressed her knowledge of a portion of the institution’s guards kicking Black prisoners’ teeth out who had gold teeth, and that in general, she knew that these institutions were run by the Ku Klux Klan. And this is from an elected member of the Congress of Florida, a Black woman who had done a tour and said that she literally was in fear of her life as she did this tour within the institution, because of the treatment and attitudes of white guards of the institution when she did her tour. So, the racial politics are pretty out in the open, and they’re able to exist in such at such a level because prisons not only hold people on the inside and keep us isolated from the general public, they also keep the general public locked out. So there is no scrutiny, there is no supervision, and there is generally no public accountability for and by those who work within the institution, so it’s just a closed culture, where all sorts of corruption and abuse is allowed to fester and just to be carried out with pretty much impunity. The support that is needed on the outside is tremendous. The support that the prisoners have been able to gain over the past several years in response to the work strikes and various attempts to publicize and challenge abusive conditions in the prisons have pretty much got word in to the institutions where prison officials had blocked prisoners from becoming aware of what was going on as far as protests going on and attempts to challenge and expose abuses. And it bolstered and motivated prisoners who otherwise were afraid to challenge abusive conditions and didn’t feel that there was anything that could be accomplished by trying to stand up and oppose conditions. It kind of motivated a lot of prisoners who weren’t otherwise involved to get involved. So the support that can be garnered on the outside and has been garnered is very important to this type of work and this type of struggle. It’s essential that those who are aware of these struggles and aware of these conditions give what support they can, not only as allies, but also as comrades.
Q: to anyone behind bars out there who might hear this interview, and is sitting on the fence about participation, what can you say about the nation-wide prison strike?
A: That they should not be deterred, they should not be discouraged, they should not just sit on their hands and refuse to get involved. The more of us who get involved, the stronger the outside support and awareness that we’re serious about the conditions that we’re challenging and the need for change — that they should not allow officials to continue to manipulate us against each other, whether along racial lines whether you’re talking about along the lines of street organizing. That’s what supporters… They should also not allow loved ones to discourage them from participating in the work strike. I know a lot of the loved ones who may hear about the strike, they may advise them to not get involved because of fear of them being transferred, a long way away from their loved ones, or they don’t want to see them subject to relation or being placed on lock down, but their loved ones should understand that this is a condition, that these are conditions that we live, that they’re not living them and that its important that we take a stand to change these abuses, and not play in to officials trying to isolate and play us one against the other, and cause people to refuse or fear coming involved, and keep us divided amongst ourselves. We need all possible participants; we need the greatest level of unity possible. And one of the things I always emphasize to my peers is, we outnumber the prison guards, the prison officers around us some 30 to one at very least. But they have total power and total control, because they always keep us divided, fearful, envious, and not trusting or believing in our own potential, where as they exercise complete and absolute unity in their actions. If they want to abuse you, the rest of them are gonna fall in line and support that abuse. If one them lies on us and mistreats us, the rest of them are going to conform to that lie and they’re gonna carry out that abuse. And that’s why they have the control and power that they have, because no matter what, no matter what the situation no matter the condition, they always work and stick together. And we need to take that same example and apply it to how we exercise our unity and our level of power amongst ourselves.
Q: Rashid, can you talk about your incarceration, political development, and a bit about the New Afrikan Black Panther Party that you helped to co-found? Also, how does it differ from the New Black Panther Party, formerly of the nation of Islam?
A: Ok, my imprisonment initially began in 1990. I was incarcerated for a murder that I had no involvement in, and large part, it was conspiratorial on the part of a police officer who I had a history of conflicts with. They subjected me to deliberate misidentification and a number of procedural violations during the prosecution of the case that was imputed against me, that went the actual jurisdiction, the actual power of the court to try to convict and sentence me for the charges that they were attempting to impute against me. Ok, throughout my imprisonment, particularly the first decade and a half, I spent a large part of my time struggling directly against guard abuses. Their physical abuses, I responded to with physical responses. They would abuse physically myself or others around me, and I would respond with physical reactions to their abuses. I went through the struggle pretty much back and forth, one to one head up conflicts with guards and their teams, riot guards and cell extraction teams, for about the first decade and a half. I became exposed to political thought put, particularly the writings of George Jackson, around 2002, when I was housed in an area with another prisoner, another political prisoner, Hanif Shabazz Bey, from the Virgin Islands. He turned me on to a lot of different political writings, and different political organizations that were involved in the system in America, the various revolutionary nationalist struggles that had taken place through the world through the 40s and 50s. I began to do extensive studies into various aspects and levels of progressive as well as revolutionary history and politics. Various theories, etc. And as I studied more, I came to understand the inherent dysfunctional nature of the capitalist, imperialist system that America is at the center of, and I understood or came to understand that the oppression that I was struggling against was much bigger than head to head clashes with individual guards, that it was largely an invalid system that pitted a small group of powerful wealthy people against the masses of working class people and poor people through out the world, and that they lived at the expense of these people. And to change conditions requires a struggle that mobilized the oppressed to bring about fundamental change at various levels of society. And I grew from a person inclined to react on a more individual level to one who recognized or saw the bigger picture and was more inclined to organize people and to contribute what I could with my resources, and the understanding that I was developed to build into something bigger, that was more, addressed more to the fundamental problems of the overall system. So in that, my clashes with individual guards lessened. I was also involved in mitigation and studying and understanding the political system and legal system. I became less inclined to, as I said, individualize my struggle against the system. Though, in doing that, I began to reach out more to people on the outside who were involved in political organizations, trying to pull people who were in positions of influence, politically people who were willing to mobilize groups of people in support of prisoners and conditions that we lived under, to challenge those conditions, to educate prisoners, and to try to consolidate a base of support on the outside to the inside. In doing this, I was able to understand some of the weaker points of the system. I understood where it was most effective to attack the power structure, and I understood, or came to understand that one of the most vulnerable places that you can direct your attack at the system is by exposing its corruption to the masses, because the masses are the sources of their power, that those people can’t be ruled over by an oppressor, or any power, unless they give their consent at some level to that ruling. And once they become aware of the illegitimacies and the corruption of the system, and they refuse to acknowledge or concede the legitimacy of the system, then they can typically overnight overthrow that system. And this is why the power structure expends such a massive amount of resources and propaganda to try to influence and keep the masses brainwashed and believing that they’re moralistic and they’re honest and they’re well-meaning and their intentions are oriented to the best interests of the masses, because they realize without some level of acknowledgment and consent, the masses of the people could not be ruled over and would not accept their authority, and as you observed during the Arab Spring in, what, 2011? — once the mass of the people refused to accept the power that rules over them, they can send that power into exile and flight over night, and the powers that be understand this. So I understood that by exposing the corruption and illegitimacy of those in power and the lies that the sustain themselves with, this is one means of undermining the false power and the false credibility and sense of legitimacy that these people try to portray themselves, as the basis of them exercising their authority over others. And it has proven most effective, particularly my writings about abuses going on inside of the prisons. My writings exposing the corruptions and illegitimacy of the power structure and the economic system to the extent that people have been receptive to my writings, I have seen a corresponding reaction by those in power, which, as I pointed out earlier, is a result of me facing a much higher level of reprisal and attempts to isolate me now, a very different response from when I was just in my head to head clashes with, you know, guards at a very low ranking lever. When I started to expose the system, they started tryna isolate me, to try and stop me from communicating with people on the outside, to shutting down my lines of communication, transferring me from state to state and deliberately sending me to states where conditions were known to be the most abusive in the country, particularly Texas and Florida, and trying to put me in positions where I would end up in violent clashes with other prisoners, and that sort of thing.
But anyway, as I became more politically I aware, I saw the need for political organizations to represent those who do not have political representations and to operate to educate and organizing the masses on a more revolutionary and fundamental level of understanding the political economic system on how to challenge and ultimately over throw that oppressive system in the interest of the working class and in support of the people. So, we co-founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party Prison Chapter initially as an autonomous of the New Black Panther Party, being aware the New Black Panther Party started in 2000 was not practicing the politics and they were not living up to principles in the program of the original Black Panther Party, but had pretty much wrapped up these politics, the racial politics of the Nation of Islam, in an artificial garb of Black Pantherism. And our agenda was to try to take that organization in to the politics and the revolutionary ideology of the original Black Panther Party and to change their reverse racism, and to put them more on to the path of revolutionary politics of the original party. Ultimately, we realized that it was futile trying to do this, in that they were not interested in changing their political orientation, or to maintaining or carrying forward the agenda of the original Panther Party, so we ultimately split from the New Black Panther Party.
We changed our name to the National Black Panther Party Prison Chapter, and from there we have maintained the political line of the original Black Panther Party, but we have been very focused on not repeating the mistakes of the original party, but building on the correct contributions that the party made to the struggle of the 60s and 70s. And trying to carry forward what they were able to accomplish during their more revolutionary stages, which was from 1966 to 1971, and to, again, not repeat the errors that they made, and to learn from the mistakes that they made and from the what we understand now to be a very vicious campaign carried out against them by the US government, and the inclination of the government to attack any organization that seeks to open the eyes of the masses of the people. And we ourselves have been subjected to the same sort attacks and attempts to undermine. We’ve been stigmatized as Black Separatists and domestic terrorists, and all when we have done nothing and we have not been fighting for doing anything except publicizing the corruption of the law enforcement establishment and the abuses inside the US prisons, and they have identified this as being the behavior that they dislike, that they feel qualified us as threats to the security of the country. And I was personally profiled in a 2009 threat assessment report as a domestic terrorist because of my involvement in publicizing abuses in, you know, American prisons. And they’re saying that I prove to have exercised a good level of influence over people and society, in turning them against the law enforcement system because of my writings, which is pretty absurd. But this has been the thrust of what we are trying to organize, and some of the work that we’ve done, and the response has been, as I said, repression, isolation, attempts to attack us, subjecting the various members, leading members of our org to various levels of reprisal. Being placed in, thrown in solitary, subjected to all sorts of physical abuses, and you know, other attempts to try and dissuade and deter us from the work that we’re trying to do.
Q: The New Afrikan Black Panther Party has a focus of org with folks of African descent. In your view, how can folks in other groups, like white folks, act as comrades as you say in struggle against white supremacy?
A: Alright, within our party, we founded in 2006 in what’s called the White Panther Organization and subsequent to that, the Brown Panther Organizational Committee, as arms of our party. We are the first Panther organization that has actually brought white comrades and brown comrades in to our party. So we have brown and white Panthers in our party, and the function of them is to take the line of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party in to the white communities to struggle against the racism in the white communities, the Brown Panthers take the same line in to the brown communities, and the thing is to bring all these different sectors of society, both domestic and abroad, into a consolidated, united front that will unify us in the single struggle against the imperialist system, particularly focused on the marginalized people that are called criminalized or the Lumpen. Our work is specifically again to take the struggle to the power structure at the most fundamental level, and to build the sort of unity that has been probably the Achilles heel of revolutionary struggles, and undermining their effectiveness, and that has been polarizing factor of race. And as I see it, this is our approach in it has proven quite effective. Initially when they sent me out of state, they sent me to Oregon, which is one of the few prison systems in America where there is a predominately white prisoner population — it’s probably like 5 or 10% Black. And they sent me there after they had profiled me as a Black Separatist, and when I got to Oregon, they spread amongst the large number of Aryan gangs up there that I was Black Panther, which they portrayed as some sort of Black variation of the Ku Klux Klan, portraying us as anti-white and wanted to make race war against white people and this sort of thing, and they were trying to create a violent conflict between me and the white groups up there, which was obviously the point of them sending me to that state. But in effect, because of the politics of our party, and the orientation of the line of our white panther organization, I was able to politicize the white groups up there to various — they had like 13 different Aryan gangs up there in the prison system. I ended up politicking with them. They immediately released me into the population, which was another indication what they intended to try to see happen. But instead of me ending up in a war with them, I ended up politicking with them, exposing them to the history of racism, how racism was manipulated and created in the late 1600’s, and how it had been used and has been used as the most effective polarizing factor in society to manipulate oppressed people against each other. And I won a large sector of them over, and when I started to prove effective as not engaging them in violence, but winning them over to more revolutionary political and understanding of racial politics, they immediately threw me into solitary, got me out of population, and started to impose a different regiment of abuse and oppression against me, and ultimately kicked me out of the state and sent me to Texas, and when I was able to influence white Aryan gangs there to get involved in the national prison hunger strike that was taking place in 2013, where 30,00 prisoners got involved in Oregon joined them in hunger strike, so the line of our party, with respect to racial politics is specifically to organize white comrades to take the politics of our party, unifying politics in to the white community to struggle against the polarizing culture in, you know, white culture and white society in America, and to try to bring us all together in a common, united front.
Q: Can you talk about your views on feminism in the revolutionary struggle for a new society?
A: Alright, I should make a distinction between our line on the gender issue and the question of the struggle against paternalism and male domination. We are not feminist. We are, we are about revolutionary women’s liberation. Feminism seems to be the equal opposite of chauvinism, no– male chauvinism. The line in feminism largely has been represented by the bourgeois sector of the women’s movement, the upper middle class to upper class has always dominated the voice of the feminist movement, so we find it to be largely not a movement that really is about advancing the cause of women, at all levels of oppression, but at the interest of bourgeois and upwardly middle class women to gain an equal foothold with the bourgeois males in dominating society in general. So our struggle is for gender equality, not to raise the interest of upper class women at the exclusion of the lower class and oppressed women. Our struggle is to see working class women, poor women have all their rights respected and to be given an equal stage of power and an equal stage of respect throughout society at all stages, though I would make the distinction between what is known or generally represented as feminism with what we call revolutionary women’s liberation. But we are allied, of course, to the women’s movement, those women who identify as and those other people who may reject the concept of gender etc, who identify with the feminist struggle, but from the standpoint of working class women and working class non gender people or working class lgbtq people, and we stand on an equal footing with them and seek to have all forms of repression of women or all forms of repression of non gendered people, all forms of repression of LGBTQ people overthrown, and all people to have an equal share in power, and an equal interest in having their rights, and their desires, so long as they aren’t opposing and oppressing other people.
Q: Are there any other final statements you’d like to make, before we get cut off:
A: Well, I would like to state that I appreciate this opportunity to speak to the listen au of this program, and I really hope that much can be achieved through the struggles that are gaining ground and momentum now, and that there will be a growing link between those on the outside and the prison movement, and that this will help advance the cause of the oppressed against this oppressive system.
Q: Thank you so much for making this conversation happen, and solidarity
As of May 2019, Rashid has been transferred out of state yet again to
Virginia. He can be written at:
D.O.C. No. 264847
Pendleton Correctional Facility
4490 W. Reformatory Road
Pendleton, IN 46064
You can read his essays and updates on his case, plus get ahold of his two books, learn about the NABPP-PC and see his revolutionary artwork up at:
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This week William got the chance to speak to Bruno Renero-Hannan, who is an anarchist historical anthropologist from Mexico City, about their solidarity work around two of the original 250 Loxicha Prisoners in the state of Oaxaca. This rebellion and imprisonment occurred almost simultaneously to the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas in the mid-late 90s with very different results. We talk about the long and complex history of this case, the similarities and differences between this uprising and that of the Zapatistas, the ongoing political repression of Alvaro Ramirez and Abraham Ramirez, and the economic solidarity push being orgainized by our guest, as well as some stark parallels between this case and that of the remaining 59 J20 defendants. If you would like to see the 45 minute broadcast edit of this interview, you can go to The Final Straw Radio Collection on archive.org.
For a transcript of this interview, you can find an imposed zine for printing here
Or follow this link to the transcribed text at the bottom of this post.
As per the very reasonable request on the part of the folks doing support for Alvaro and Abraham, we have omitted the Sean Swain segment for this episode. The You Are the Resistance topic did not pair well with the main interview content nor were Keep Loxicha Free supporters aware of the segment. We regret any confusion or discomfort that this caused.
We would like to take a bit of space here to explain to new listeners that many of the Sean Swain segments are meant in the spirit of satire; Swain himself has been a political prisoner for over 25 years at this point, and his humor is sometimes abrasive, but he is a committed believer in the dismantling of all forms of oppression.
He and we are open to feedback on this segment, and any content we present!
Sean Swain #243-205 Warren CI P.O. Box 120 Lebanon, Ohio 45036
Resist Nazis in Tennessee
On Saturday, Feb 17, Matthew Heinbach of the Traditionalist Workers Party will be speaking at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville from 1-4pm. If you don’t like this, you can contact the University by calling 8659749265 and demand that they disinvite this open neo-nazi organizer from their campus!
Some Benefits in Asheville
For the drinkers in Asheville, this week features two libation-centric benefits for books to prisoners projects.
On Wednesday, February 14, Valentines Day, three bars in Asheville will be participating in a drink special that will raise money for Tranzmission Prison Project, our local LGBT books to prisoners project with a national scope. You can visit the Crow & Quill on Lexington, the Lazy Diamond around the corner in Downtown or the Double Crown on Haywood in West Asheville on Wednesday for more details.
On Thursday, February 15th at the Catawba’s South Slope Tasting Room & Brewery (32 Banks Avenue #105) for their first New Beer Thursday fundraiser of 2018!! Starting with the release on the 15th and running through March, a portion of the cost of every glass of their pomegranate sour sold will be donated to the Asheville Prison Books Program!
More events coming up this week include: Thursday the 15th at 7pm Blue Ridge ABC is holding a benefit show at Static Age for a local activists with a sliding scale cost. Bands featured are Kreamy Lectric Santa, Cloudgayzer, Secret Shame, Falcon Mitts & Chris Head
Later that night in Asheville, the monthly benefit dance party called HEX will be holding an event at the Mothlight to raise money and materials for A-Hope, which provides services locally to houseless and poor folks. Bring socks, footwear and camping gear to donate!
On Tuesday, April 20th at 6pm at The Shell Studio, 474 Haywood Rd on the second floor, there will be a showing of the locally produced documentary entitled Hebron about human rights struggles in Palestine.
On Friday the 23rd at 6:30pm, the Steady Collective will be participating in a Harm Reduction forum at the Haywood Street Congregation at 297 Haywood St. in downtown.
Also that night, BRABC will be showing the latest TROUBLE documentary by sub.media at 7:30pm at firestorm books and coffee. This will be a second on Student Organizing around the world.
Finally, on Saturday the 24th 9am to 3pm at Rainbow School, 60 State Street in Asheville there’ll be a Really Really Free Market organized by the Blue Ridge General Defense Committee or GDC. Bring stuff that’s still good to share and come back with other stuff that’s still good for free! Perfect for spring cleaning or dealing with inclement weather on a budget.
A Call for Art Submissions for ACAB2018…
A reminder that if you are the sensitive, artistic type, the ACAB2018, or Asheville Carolina Anarchist Bookfair is soliciting art for fundraising and advertising purposes. If you have image ideas that you can put into action and want to share them, that’d be dope. We’re looking for things we can put onto postcards, t-shirts, posters and other swag to spread word about the event and help us cover the costs of operation. Contact us at email@example.com
…and for Yours Truly at TFS
Likewise, if you are feeling artsy fartsy and want to help out this show, we’re looking for swag imagery, either as a logo or a standalone piece of art we can feature for fundraising purposes. If you like the show and want to help, post your files on share.riseup.net and send us a link at firstname.lastname@example.org or share it with one of our social media identities. If we choose to use your art, we’ll send you a mix tape with one side produced by each of our regular contributing editors.
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This is the transcript of an hour and a half long interviewconducted by The Final Straw radio show, which is a weekly anarchist radio show that hosts interviews about a wide range of topics, including Black liberation, anti racism, anti sexism, LGBTQ solidarity, struggles against extraction industry and pipelines, prisoner solidarity,and solidarity with refugees and migrants, among many other topics. While we do some informal fundraising, this show is a volunteer effort and can be accessed free of charge.
The Final Straw RadioP.O. Box 6004Asheville, NC28816
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The Final Straw Radio: (Introduction) This week, I got the chance to speak with Bruno Renero Hanan, who is an anarchist historical anthropologist from Mexico City about their solidarity work around two of the original 250 Loxicha prisoners in the state of Oaxaca. This rebellion and imprisonment occurred almost simultaneously with the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas in the mid to late 90’s with very different results. We talk about the long and complex history of this case, the similarities and differences between this uprising and that of the Zapatistas, the ongoing political repression of Alvaro Ramirez and Abram Ramirez and the economic solidarity push being organized by our guest. As well as some stark parallels between this case and the case of the J20 defendants.
TFSR: Thank you so much for taking the time to come onto the show. Would you tell listeners a little about yourself and talk about what projects you do?
Bruno: Yeah, sure, I’d be happy to. And first of all, thank you for having me on the show. It’s an honor, a pleasure and I really appreciate the space.
My name is Brune Renero Hanan. I am originally from Mexico City where I grew up, although I’ve lived in the United States for quite a while now. And I am from a kind of bi-cultural, bi-national family. So, currently I live in south east Michigan where I am a PHD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Michigan. And the main work I’ve been working on the last 3 years has been, partly through political solidarity and party through my academic research with political prisoners in Oaxaca Mexico. In particular over the last several years I’ve been writing about and working in different capacities to support a group of political prisoners known as the Loxicha prisoners who were all Zapotec men incarcerated for several decades since the 1990’s up until just last year. And that’s mostly what we’ll be talking about today. But, other projects that I’ve been involved in, I’ve also done other forms of politically engaged research in the state of Guerrero around guerrilla movements there in the 1970’s and state terror and the so-called Dirty War of state violence there.
I’ve also done stuff around anarchist organizing in Mexico City, other left political stuff around the Cult of Santa Muerte in Mexico City. I’ve been involved in political organizing to support the families of the families of the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa. For instance we, here comrades and I in 2014, organized a welcome for the caravan of family members when they came through. I’ve also been involved in anarchistic and antifascist organizing in Ann Arbor and in Michigan, working with Huron Valley. Right now, I’ve kind of brought some of that solidarity with political prisoners in Oaxaca into conversation with folks here in Michigan and that’s sort of become a joint project between folks in Oaxaca and here Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
As far as resources, the one thing I’d like to plug is our Patreon website. It’s a sort of gofundme sort of thing where people can sign up to make monthly donations which can be anything (as little as $1 each month up to as much as they’d like to. And we’re trying to build up to covering the impossible and unjust court fees being called “damage reparations” which our comrades Abram and Alvaro have to pay each month. So that’s the one thing I would ask people to remember and if they’re able to get on there and donate. So, that website is https://www.patreon.com/keeploxichafree . That Patreon website is what we’re trying to build right now.
And it’s challenging, trying to build it up through folks we know and without having to really go through any questionable or unethical ways of getting money or would compromise this project in any way. It’s sort of going peer to peer, our friends, friend networks, or reaching out in a space like this where people who might also feel solidarity, could join on.
TFSR: And let’s talk about the situation. So, like you mentioned, we’re here to talk about an ongoing situation of political repression against two indigenous, Zapotec men, community members Alvaro Sebastian Ramirez and Abraham Garcia Ramirez who are from the Loxicha region in Oaxaca. They were incarcerated for 20 years, also like you mentioned, for resisting the Mexican state and were just given what is ridiculously called early release. And we’ll talk about that more later. But could you talk about the original struggle in which Alvaro and Abraham got arrested?
Bruno: Definitely. So, this is a slightly complicated story and it’s a long history now. So, we’re talking about the situation of political repression against these two political prisoners, Alvaro & Abraham (no relation between the two of them) and they are both Zapotec community organizers from San Augustin de Loxicha, which is a town in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, very close to the state of Chiapas which is very well known as being the site of the rebellion of the Zapatistas as you mentioned. Yes, Alvaro and Abraham were longterm political prisoners known as the Loxicha prisoners. They were the last 3 to be released but originally this was a group of upwards of 200 prisoners, all of them Zapotec men, a few women later, but from the original group almost entirely men, arrested between 1996 and the late 90’s.
All of them were accused of being complicit in a guerrilla armed uprising that took place on August 28, 1996, when a guerrilla group called The Popular Revolutionary Army, or EPR, attacked soldiers, police and marines, naval installations in various part of Mexico simultaneously that night, but the most forceful of those simultaneous attacks took place on the coast of Oaxaca near a very fancy tourist resort town in a place called La Cruzecita Juatulco. And there, close to 20 police and soldiers died and several guerrillas died as well in this confrontation. And according to the state and federal authorities, they discovered amongst these dead guerrillas that one of the members was a municipal authority from this town San Augustin de Loxicha, where there happened to be this very strong indigenous movement which had emerged in the early 1980’s and was at this point very strong, fairly radical.
Alvaro and Abram were both members of this movement that was largely organized around this indigenous organization called The Organization of Indigenous Zapotec Pueblos, or Communities, formed in 1984.
So, in 1986 when the guerrillas of the EPR attacked soldiers and police, the state ended up basically pointing their fingers at this entire region, this entire region of Zapotec communities within the fairly large municipality of San Augustin de Loxicha. It basically uses this guerrilla uprising as an alibi to crush this strong indigenous movement that had been growing for the previous ten years in this area. So, there’s various ways to answer this question of why are Alvaro and Abraham in prison, what was this original struggle? Part of that original struggle that landed them in prison was their many years of activism and organizing in the OPIC, the Organization of Indigenous Zapotec Pueblos in and around Loxicha.
Alvaro had also been involved in the democratic teachers struggle of Oaxaca since the early 1980’s. Abraham had also been involved in other leftist organizing prior to that as well. So, that’s one answer: they were political prisoners because they were political subjects who were very active in their communities, forming assemblies, organizing marches, enormous marches, taking over the central plaza of Oaxaca City, in the Zocalo, taking over the airport. That’s part of what makes them political prisoners from 1986 onwards.
The other is that they’re accused of being Guerrilleros, members of a revolutionary, clandestine organization which has often been the classic definition of being political prisoners. However, Alvaro and Abraham weren’t the only ones arrested, as I mentioned. They were 2 out of upwards of over 200 people from this cluster of communities that share the Loxicha Zapotec langauge who were all arrested under these charges of being guerrilla’s, but many of them were not even involved in even the region social movement. Many of them were completely a-political or perhaps might have had a contrary politics.
The point being that in the kind of witch-hunt that took place there in the aftermath of the EPR attacks, people were just rounded up randomly at times. It was really a situation of state terror that happened there in San Augustin de Loxicha from late 1996 with the militarization of that region, with the beginning of the mass arrests that led them to this sort of locally well-known story of the Loxicha prisoners. So, militarization, mass arrest, kind of explosion of paramilitarism, a return of violent executions. In addition to the prisoners, there’s also the situation of executions, disappearances, rape… You know, it’s really a horrific situation that took place that didn’t end up getting a lot of attention for many reasons at the time. It got a little attention, but nothing in comparison for instance to the attention that the Zapatistas got in Chiapas at the time. And partly, that had to do with the complicatied reputation of the EPR, this guerrilla movement that has it’s origins in the late 1960’s and 1970’s in other parts of Mexico, Central Mexico, also kind of through coalitions and alliances through, it’s roots in the state of Guerrero.
Going back to the original question of what was the original conflict then that got Alvaro and Abraham to be long-term political prisoners and at that having just gotten down to 2017, that they were in fact the longest ongoing cases of political imprisonment in Mexico that I know of. I don’t know of any political prisoner in Mexico in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s that was in for 20 years or even close.
TFSR: Thank you so much for that incredibly detailed answer. Can you talk about just what they were officially charged with by the state? I just remember seeing Alvaro’s statement, his recorded statement on ItsGoingDown.org about “I was charged with this and this and this and this” and it was just this amazing long list of charges.
Bruno: Yeah, definitely I recommend that folks check out that video, it’s like 3 minutes. Especially if you speak Spanish, even though Alvaro’s just reading from his letter, he’s a very charming person. It’s cool to be able to hear his voice. And for me it was special to produce that video and to be able to see it because, having known him for upwards of 6 years now, it was the first that I was able to film him or take a picture of him or use an audio recorder while talking to him. Even though we’ve had this kind of relationship of interviewer, interviewee for half of a decade.
So, in that video he lists all of those charges and it’s kind of ridiculous, this laundry list of every imaginable crime that you could throw at someone, including terrorism, conspiracy, homicide… Basically, every conceivable high-caliber political and violent crime thrown at somebody. To the extent that in the early days when he was first charged, he had a sentence of 190 years. He was a well-known and respected teacher where he was from, kind of a well-respected and radical organizer. And this is why he ended up with those charges. Partly the fact that he was who he was, as someone who was really working to build autonomy in San Augustin de Loxicha, in a model that was similar to what the Zapatistas were doing, not identical, but something similar.
The combination that Alvaro and his comrades were doing that work and the fact that the Mexican state urgently needed scapegoats and the infliction of actual terror in order to clamp down on the uprising of the Popular Revolutionary Army or anything that smelled like it in order to not be dealing with that front as well as the Zapatista front which at this point the state could not simply annihilate or ignore… So, they had to kind of deal and negotiate with it.
The combination of these two situations are what led them to someone like Alvaro having a 190 year sentence. What exactly these were… The most important of these is Omicidio Calificado, which can be translated sort of like 1st Degree Murder. It’s not exactly the same as 1st degree, it can also be translated as Aggravated Murder. That’s the one that ended up adding the most number of years to the sentence as well as attempted homicide. They were kind of pinning the murder of soldiers and police to them, as well as several of the other long-term Loxicha prisoners. In addition to the charges of aggravated homicide and intended homicide, there was also as I mentioned terrorism, conspiracy, stockpiling of weapons, theft, illicit use of foreign property, damage of former property, illegally detaining someone else or impinging on their freedoms… it’s a long mouthful of things which in the end some of those were dropped through appeals, through different legal actions over the 20 years in prison.
Several of them such as terrorism, stockpiling of weapons, were honest symbolic ornaments placed there by the state to make clear what this was about. On the one hand, dismissing these charges as being about criminals and not authentic, political entities that the State should have to negotiate or deal with such as they were with the Zapatistas, but rather to deny that they were political prisoners while placing these very strongly politically tinted and stigmatizing charges onto their sentences such as terrorism, conspiracy, so on. Which were later dropped. So, terrorism, that kind of very particularly stigmatizing and dangerous charge… Being called a terrorist gives states basically a free hand to do whatever they want to people. And that was even before the so-called War On Terror had begun. This was in the 1990’s, sort of the run-up to the logic of this War On Terror, as well as in this sense developing and practicing some of the methods that the State would later use in the so-called War On Drugs. Both as Narcos and as the State.
Yeah, so the charges, I was saying, in the end that Terrorism, an especially flashy one, got dropped I think around 2009 during an appeal, 2010. But, it was notable to me as I was living in Oaxaca, visiting the prisoners regularly, at which point they were transferred from this low-security state prison where some of them had lived/been held captive, this group of the last 7 of them were transferred to a new high security Federal semi-privatized prison 2 hours south of Oaxaca city. I remember that in a statement from the State government explaining why these prisoners were transferred, they would invoke this charge of terrorism even though it had been dropped already. They said something like “The secretary of Internal State Security announced yesterday in a statement that all of the Federal prisoners in the state of Oaxaca being accused of being Narcos as well as the 7 Loxicha prisoners accused of being armed guerrillas and terrorism were all transferred yesterday to the new Federal Prison in Miahuatlan etc etc”.
So, constantly invoking this terrorism charge even though it was dropped years ago and was always useless, but symbolically those things ring out and give the State a lot of power in being able to manipulate people and coerce people or throw them in prison or use violence against them when you accuse them of being a terrorist. Especially when there’s a lot of silence and un-memory, I would call it, around the issue such as there were around Loxicha, where there’s always been a committed solidarity movement around the prisoners since 1996, but it has waxed and waned, kind of in and out of public perception, submerged and then emerging again into awareness locally, sometimes nationally. At times, gotten international attention. Certainly there has been committed International solidarity from anarchists in France, from the CGT in Spain, folks locally in Oaxaca City, in Mexico City. From, sometimes, fairweather solidarity and sometimes really long-term. I think it’s particularly different anarchist groups or anarchist leaning groups in Mexico and Europe who really stuck with Alvaro in particular. On account of his kind of adopting the 6th Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle of the Zapatistas in the last 7 years. That’s something we can talk about…
TFSR: As you were talking I was thinking about this aspect that the state has which is a kind of toxically manipulative… especially with the stigmatizing charges that you were talking about like terrorism, which… I was interviewing somebody some time ago and they said something like “The war on terror is a war on emotion”, which issomething that is very very difficult to contain and very difficult to define. And it’s something that, even though the charges were dropped, it’s something that follows folks around forever. Which I think is the nature of the carceral state and will sound very familiar to people who have been keeping even half an eye on political repression cases around the world. And you did answer the question that I had, to some degree, I was going to ask “What have solidarity endeavors been like throughout their incarceration and what kind of media attention have they gotten?” And I was wondering if you had any other words about the fair-weather nature of support for the Loxicha prisoners…
Bruno: You’re absolutely right in seeing that one aspect of what the state does is manipulating and coercing. Particularly in some of it’s most egregious ways through methods or strategy such as War on Terror or War on Drugs. You’d mentioned that someone you had interviewed before had called it a sort of War of Emotion against Ghosts, not that one metaphor has to exclude the other.
But I think that you kind of need the emotion in order to animate the war, to allow it to happen. And in order to have the emotions, you need to have the ghosts and they can be ghosts on illusions of things that are there or things that are made up. And I think that toxicity is also really an important concept when thinking about State violence, especially the most directed State of Exception-y violence really depends on ideological toxicity. It strikes me as relevant to the Loxicha story..
The Loxicha story is, as I’ve come to know it, there’s the pre-96 Loxicha story, which is politically the story of a growth of the Inidgenous Movement. And the second half is the story of a community or cluster of communities dealing with State violence and political stigma that particularly took its most direct form in the formation of this group of people that became known as the Loxicha prisoners. As I mentioned, some of them were highly politicized (even radical) political subjects, organizers, militants. Some of them, who became part of this group of hundreds of political prisoners, were completely non-political or political in ways that you wouldn’t think would get them in prison for being Leftist Insurgents. But many of them, almost all of them were Inidgenous, many of them spoke very little Spanish. That’s partly a manifestation of structural racism and classism in the Mexican political/legal/carceral system. Mexican prisons are full of poor people, indigenous people, innocent people… Not that I think that innocent or non-innocent is a formula that works to put people into cages, I don’t think that you can put people into cages. But this is one of those lines that people in cages, the prisoners themselves would say to me “Prisons are full of poor, full of Indigenous, full of Innocent people.” So, that’s sort of some of their thinking.
So, in any case, you get hundreds of people thrown in there and part of what this focused mass-incarceration of Indigenous people from this one area accomplished was to fracture this political Indigenous movement that had emerged there in the previous ten years. Kind of fractured, and stopped it in its tracks. The State is always good, the Mexican State in particular, at causing infighting, infiltrating social movements and here it really showed its talent at undoing and fracturing a social movement, pitting it’s leaders and members against each other. While at the same time, they were being attacked on all sides. They were confronting militarization, the rise of paramilitarism, the return of caciquismo and pistolerismo, the rule of old political bosses and gunmen which that organization had emerged partly in order to oppose.
What the State needed at this point in 1996 when it was dealing with the Zapatista Uprising in Chiapas, really taking the State by surprise… There was certainly a lot of fear on the part of the State of other Indigenous rebellions or other rebellions of the poor, of other Zapatista movements and uprisings happening in other parts of the country. The State, quite frankly, was terrified of this. So in ‘96 when you get yet another surprising attack, but at this point the Mexican State, the Federal government, had no other choice but to engage with the Zapatistas because they were very successful in what they did. In forming their communities and their rebellions, a revolutionary army. Throughout the 1980’s and early 90’s, the Zapatistas… it wasn’t all victories.
Now in the decades that they’ve been around, they’ve suffered many losses and confronted great struggles, but it’s been a successful revolution. I guess that’s just one of the important things that has to be noted in this discussion. The Zapatista uprising has been success, and that’s why in 2018 you can visit Chiapas and visit the Caracoles and actually witness a successful living, breathing and walking Revolutinoary society, small and embattled as it may be. And this other story that we’re talking about here, this kind of other Revolutionary movement that emerged in Oaxaca in the early 80’s and 90’s, is the story, sadly, of a failed revolution on the other hand.
It’s a story of a rose that failed for many reasons. Part of them might have been internal contradictions, but part of it was unrelenting and effective State violence. And it’s really hard to talk about what happened in Oaxaca and with the Loxicha prisoners and not refer it to what happened and was happening in Chiapas at the same time. It was about surviving. The Mexican state certainly tried to annihilate it, using military force against it, and could not. They couldn’t use military force and they were not effective with the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party / Partido Revolucionario Institucional), the long-term ruling party in Mexico. None of it’s large and well-tried arsenal of political, social-economic tools of co-optation was effective at undoing the Zapatista movement, either. It was somewhat effective, they lost some of their Caracoles/autonomous regions, but 5 of them, there they are!
But this is the reality that the Mexican State had to deal with in 1994, 95, 96. And with the emergence, then, of this other Guerrilla uprising with the face of the EPR, the Mexican State effectively made it’s project to take a different course of action then to basically annihilate them. Because of how well the Zapatistas grounded themselves, the state was negotiating with them and refused to do this on two fronts. They said “we’re going to recognize the Zapatistas as a political entity, we’re not going to say that specifically, but we’re at the negotiating table.” By 1996 you had the State negotiating with the Zapatistas over potential Constitutional reforms that would recognize Indigenous autonomy. As the EPR makes itself known, it’s strongest in parts of Oaxaca and Guerrero and parts of central Mexico, but the state at all levels organized itself to focus on the military solution to dealing with the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and with other Indigenous communities that may or may not have been involved, may or may not have sympathized but where there was a risk of that… That was the Loxicha story. Yes, there was some presence of this revolutionary movement, the EPR, but in throwing so many people (including “innocent people” into prison) part of what you get is this sort of social punishment. It doesn’t matter if you were in or you weren’t, whether you knew or you didn’t. It was here, it was around you, so you were all going to pay for some kind of a random act.
Some of the high profile prisoners among the Loxicha prisoners, were the Municipal Authorities. So, essentially the entire democratically elected, local government of the municipality in Oaxaca, the majority of local government municipalities. More than 400 of the 500 of these entities, like counties, are ruled by Usos y Costumbres. It means that indigenous communities at the municipal level can determine their own way of electing local authorities and it also means that they do this to the exclusion of political parties. So, this is how the authorities in Loxicha are elected, that this has practically been happening pretty much always in indigenous communities in Oaxaca but had only become Constitutionally recognized one year earlier in 1995 as part of efforts of the Oaxacan State level (Mexico’s most indigenous state). It was their way of trying to placate the indigenous communities in the way of throwing them a bone in the form of recognizing autonomy to a limited extent. So obviously it’s not coincidental that it’s one year after the Zapatista Uprising.
TFSR: I was really curious about the relationship between the Loxicha uprising to the Zapatista revolution, and you spoke to that really really eloquently and I thank you for that because you know, the Zapatistas are world wide such a revolutionary example and are very very looked to, and the examples that they bring into revolutionary discourse are very cherished I think. And I think that it’s a really poignant situation to me when I’m hearing you talk about it cause these two things were going on so concurrently and one of them is way more lower profile and the one that’s way more lower profile somebody you know, was in prison for 20 years, you know? It’s very poignant to me that these two things were happening simultaneously. But yeah I thank you for talking about that, that wasn’t really a question it was just a reflection.
Bruno: I can actually say one or two things more about it, so I wouldn’t want to make it sound like the Zapatista’s fault that the Loxichas and the indigenous movement in Loxicha kind of was dealt a harder hand, you know I wouldn’t want to kind of say “oh well because the Zapatistas were getting all this attention people in Loxicha were screwed over”.
A way of understanding the different forms of attention they got but it’s very much to its credit that the Zapatista movement is still there today, and I think it’s partially due to the fact that they really knew how to organize. It’s why they’re there now. But I do want to say something more about the more substantial versus fair weather forms of solidarity.
So, one of the facets or one of the realities of the Loxicha story in its second phase as a story of many many political prisoners and their many families, tons of fractured families and fractured communities who then, while faced with a lot of violence, have to organize themselves in order to out of nowhere create this prisoner solidarity freedom movement, one important aspect of that Loxicha story as a prisoner liberation story is that the struggle was made particularly difficult by its association with this particular armed group, the EPR. So, while in the mid ’90s a lot of people wanted to be on board with supporting the Zapatistas because really they did have a very novel, very moving, very inspiring political message, which is why they really changed political discourse at the time. And a lot of people wanted to be involved with them, whereas the Popular Revolutionary Army, the EPR, at least kind of at its leadership level – this was a national, IS still a national organization, it’s still around – their discourse was fairly stuck in the past, it was still a very old fashioned stodgy Marxist-Leninism with a Maoist streak that really wasn’t speaking to people. To be honest, I’ve been studying this cluster of movements for years, and I find it really hard to get through a statement by the EPR through to the end, it’s just really hard to read.
Whereas with the Zapatistas stuff, it’s impossible to put down! So there’s partly this: the EPR’s political discourse, its rhetoric, its public statements, don’t really inspire. Also the EPR comes out of the longer lineage of armed clandestine movements in Mexico, and some of these such as the PROCOUP-PDLP, which is the Partido Revolucionario Obrero Campesino Union del Pueblo – Partido de los Pobres. So this predecessor of the EPR, one of its predecessors, has a lot of dark associations; in the 1970s and ’80s that group was involved with a lot of violent infighting within its own ranks, there are these stories of so called “revolutionary trials” against its own former comrades, very foul treatment of its own political prisoners and then disavowing them, and in some cases killing its own former prisoners who had abandoned rank.
So there were these dark associations, some of which are on the level of legend some of which are actual, around this organization. And the fact that also then in 1996 when the EPR rises up, the Zapatistas who really are holding a lot of the world’s political imagination, or at least in Mexico and many other places, they’d already put down their weapons. The actual armed confrontation between the Zapatistas and the Mexican state lasted for twelve days. Then because the Zapatistas have always been really good at listening – the practice of listening has always been really integral to a lot of their political praxis on many levels – they heard this public outcry calling for an end to the war, and they put down their weapons and have since then, while there is still a revolutionary army that is a part of its movement and it’s not going away. But it has managed to successfully implement and develop its revolutionary society and communities without having to ever go on the military offensive since 1994.
Anyway at that point, it had been two years since then when in 1996 the EPR rises up, shooting up police and soldiers, and for several of these reasons then a lot of people weren’t that sympathetic when you then get this story of indigenous political prisoners who are all accused of being members of this particular revolutionary organization. And, you know it really doesn’t matter, clearly for most of them the Loxicha movement wasn’t the EPR. The Loxicha prisoners were really the product of a witch hunt, and you had a very diverse group of individuals in there. So because these many associations around the EPR, the state was very good at stigmatizing that movement. And so then as you arrest people who you accuse of being members of the EPR, you call them “terrorists”, and then it’s very easy to throw them away and to make people think twice before getting associated.
So as I began saying, a lot of people wanted to get on board with the Zapatistas in terms of NGOs, human rights organizations, legal aid, translators, all sorts of solidarity. But with the Loxichas, people were very hesitant. It was a very very limited kind of people, of organizations, essentially it was one of each category: one human rights organization, one team of solidarity lawyers, one NGO, that got on board with the legal and political defense of the Loxichas in the aftermath of ’96. And you know, this was making a full loop back to one of your questions, I think this is really one of the manifestations of the state being effective at using toxicity and stigma as it needs to. So here because of its political needs it was essentially effective at stigmatizing an entire community, a racialized stigma, such that for years young men or adult men from Loxicha would never say they were from Loxicha to this day. People will say they’re from the coast, or any other town, but people just won’t identify with being from Loxicha because it’s very dangerous. And nobody wants to get involved in anything that smells of Loxicha much less the EPR, because as late as 2007, whatever you say about the EPR the truth is that its own militants are still being disappeared by the Mexican state. So effectively being branded as EPR is to be branded as someone that the state might very well disappear or at the very least thrown into prison for years.
It became a very very toxic accusation, and that’s one of the byproducts of this whole conflict, of the Loxicha crisis.
TFSR: (Break audio) You’re listening to our conversation with Brunero Rennero-Hanan about the situation regarding Alvaro and Abraham Ramirez – no relation between the two – who are two out of the two hundred fifty original indigenous people arrested in the Loxicha region of Oaxaca in the mid ’90s. If you’d like to hear a 45 minute edit of this interview you can visit archive.org and search for The Final Straw Radio Collection. We’ll be back with the rest of the interview after a short musical break, what you’re hearing right now is Gabylonia with her 2012 release Abuso de Poder. Shoutout to subMedia’s hip hop podcast Burning Cop Car which is where I first heard this track.
TFSR: I’m wondering if you wouldn’t mid talking about who are Alvaro and Abraham personally, you mentioned at several points that you had a personal relationship with Alvaro, but will you talk about who they are and the projects that they do, and what is important to them politically these days?
Bruno: Yeah, definitely. So first how I got to know them -and I have a personal relationship with both of them, Alvaro and Abraham – because both of them were among the last 7 of the Loxicha prisoners. So of that group of prisoners that was upwards of of 200, maybe as many as 250 in the late ’90s, all those that were originally associated with this case there were still seven of them in prison in 2012. I started visiting them and interviewing them to record their oral histories. So, I started visiting Oaxaca regularly around 2008 because I was beginning my doctoral research around questions of social movements and historical memory, and originally I was interested in students around the popular assembly of the peoples of Oaxaca, and around then is when I became aware of the Loxicha prisoners who were definitely an old story, it’s kind of one of these long still breathing stories of state violence and grassroots solidarity that I didn’t quite understand too well but it was something that was because of the effervescence of the 2006 urban uprising of the Iapo, there was this rising to the surface of other forgotten or dormant political struggles.
I got to know Abraham and Alvaro in 2012 when I shifted my research from the popular assembly of the peoples of Oaxaca in that 2006 movement to the Loxicha story. And so I moved for a while to their community, to San Agustin Loxicha, where I lived for a bit over a year conducting interviews there and doing historical research, ethnography. At the same time that I started visiting them in two state prisons close to Oaxaca City, in Iscotel and Etla, I would visit these last seven of the Loxicha prisoners. I ended up getting to know five of them, or interviewing and recording the oral histories of five of them, and I got to know particularly well a few of them. In particular, Alvaro and Abraham as well as a couple of others.
So my relationship with them was from the beginning one of political solidarity and accompaniment as well as being centered around this project of recording their oral histories. It’s partly for my academic research in order to try and get this piece of paper, but I’ve often seen my role in politically engaged research as being someone who can amplify the voices of others, or share stories. That really became the basis of our relationship, the beginning was I would go and visit them, and six of them were in Iscotel Prison. This being kind of a low security prison, I would be able to spend several hours hanging out with them just listening and writing down stories in my notebook.
Low security prisons in Mexico might be kind of surprising to what Americans imagine prisons being like. The fact is that it’s still a prison, and a place that is locked up and constrained, but a place like Iscotel Prison, the prisoners didn’t have to wear uniforms. They could walk around in the periphery inside the gates, and around the building. And the Loxicha prisoners having been there so long, when I got to know them they had already been there for like fifteen years, they’d kind of accrued some seniority, some respect from both the guards, authorities, other prisoners. One of them was on his own in a different prison in Etla, Zacharias who became a master carpenter there, but the other six were in Iscotel. They were all in one single cell, cell 22, where several had been since 1996. Originally there were maybe 50 or 60 of them in two cells, but as they ended up slowly getting out and just those with the longest sentences remained in, the first six of them lived in cell 22 there in Iscotel Prison. And it was always striking to me that a prison, its main purpose is kinda to isolate humans, to de-socialize them, to try to extract them from society, and I was always struck by how limited the state could be for just how great humans are at subverting that. How the Loxicha prisoners had over these 15 years been able to carve out a little habitable space, a little human corner, within this dehumanizing place.
So Alvaro had also become a carpenter in prison, he’d picked up the trade there, and for instance built a second story inside the cell, what’s called a tapanco, kind of a little loft so that they wouldn’t be so cramped and that way two of them had their beds upstairs and the other four were down below. He also ended up building a little altar to the Virgin and their other patron saints, in Mexico it’s not uncommon at all to be leftist, even radical, perhaps even revolutionary, and still be devout, they’d organize events.
So anyway that was their life in there, and I got to know them through this relationship of interviews and recording their stories. The first time I got to know Alvaro actually was in the context of a forum that was organized by a collective known as La Voz de Loxiches Zapotecos en Prision, which is a collective that Alvaro is part of, along with some of his relatives and other supporters. And so they in conjunction with La Rev Contra la Revolucion, the network against repression which is part of the Zapatista network. So they collaborated to make this forum about Alvaro or for him, in solidarity with him, as well as other political prisoners in Oaxaca, in Chiapas. And the second day of this forum involved making a visit to Iscotel, so that’s kind of how I first went in. I was hesitant at first to just go in to try to visit them and say like “Hey I just want to hear about your stories.”
I thought it was important to first go in on the side of political solidarity rather than the side of oral history. And so my first encounter with Alvaro was in the context of the second day of this forum when about a dozen of us, including some members of his collective and relatives and then a few other anarchist-anarchist leaning comrades from Mexico City and Chiapas, Zapatista supporters who ended up going in and to my surprise ended up having a seminar – you know, sitting in a circle and discussing politics and prison with Alvaro himself – inside the prison. I never really expected that something like that could happen, so that to me was one of my early lessons in what effective prisoner accompaniment and solidarity looks like.
Let me tell you about them as well, and my impressions of them. So, of those last seven Loxicha prisoners who were in when I got to know them in 2012 and started working with a few of them, the first one I got to know was Alvaro. He’s the one I’ve gotten to know best so far, and this is partly because his political project and his views align the most with mine, and I’ve just found him to be a very inspiring and inspired political collaborator and interlocutor, he’s someone I’ve learned a lot from. But anyway so, Alvaro has been a political organizer and radical pretty much his whole life. He grew up in a small community called Iganoma Guay, which is a little village in the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha, as a Zapotec speaker in a peasant family. I think he didn’t have a pair of shoes until he was 12 years old, he grew up farming but ended up working in the country side and then as a young man went to become a teacher.
In Oaxaca since the 1980s, which is when he started the teacher’s union, there has been a fairly powerful and at times radical movement. He was part of that original radical emergence of that kind of the Democratic Teacher’s Movement in the early ’80s, and then some of his early political struggles back in Loxicha, back near his home, were the establishment of schools for communities. Then in 1984 he was one of the co founders of the organization of indigenous Zapotec communities or pueblos, the OPIZ, and he also became a member of the local municipal government. So from the mid ’80s to the mid ’90s, Alvaro basically dedicated himself full time to becoming an organizer, and so this meant organizing the communities of Loxicha politically, internally, often in order to really try to break the power of casicas and pistoleros, political bosses and gun men in the region.
Loxicha was a place where political violence was really rampant, there was a lot of land theft, peasants were really badly exploited by middle men purchasers – coyotes – who would buy their coffee, this was a coffee growing region. And so some of Alvaro’s early struggles with the OPIZ were to try and combat some of the biggest problems of the communities which were poverty and that political violence and marginalization. He ended up being an important figure within the OPIZ through the ’90s and up until he had to go into hiding once the persecution of the movement began particularly in earnest, although he’d been in hiding and kind of living a partly clandestine life in the past before. And then he was arrested in 1998, as he mentions in that video that’s on the publication on It’s Going Down, he mentioned that he was detained in mid December in 1998 but then it wasn’t until 11 days later that he was actually presented at a prison and this was because for 11 days he was disappeared and tortured by the authorities who were trying to force him into making false confessions, to denounce his comrades, and this was something that happened frequently with many of the arrests and detentions of people from Loxicha. Many cases of torture and forced confessions, signing hundreds of blank pages.
So then Alvaro is later sent to state prison in Etla where he stayed for many years. He was a victim of an assassination attempt there several years later and then he was transferred to Iscotel Prison where most of the other Loxicha prisoners were. That’s where I got to know him. At the point when I got to know him he had gotten kind of a new political faith and he was by then the most politically active and most radical of them. I think several of the others were perhaps experiencing political burnout after so many years of struggle, of different failed options. And I think Alvaro also suffered from burnout, that’s something that I’m sure is common for prisoners in general. But at this point Alvaro was going through a kind of political re-animation that had been brought about probably a few years before when he became really invested in the project of the Zapatistas and particularly that which is explained in the 6th Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle. That has really become one of the most important parts of his political project since then, he kind of found a new political energy at that point sharing it with other prisoners, trying to enact it. I think the Zapatista discourse really served for him to re think a lot of his current political practice; inside the prison he started thinking about how to think about new forms of organization, how to talk to other people about horizontal organizing and autonomous work, how to get that message through in a successful way.
He also began corresponding and engaging with other prisoners who were adherents of the 6th Declaration of the Lacondon Jungle. And I think it also served partly to reinterpret his own political trajectory and his past.
Some of the most insightful and exciting political discussions I’ve had were with Alvaro, and his daughter and her partner who were some of the members of the collective that has supported Alvaro for many years, at least since 2009, built around this Zapatista model. Not that it’s trying to replicate, but to just use some of those basic principles. And some of that work has been around re-thinking as people in solidarity with him, cause his relatives are his allies but also for himself, kind of re-thinking what it is to be a political prisoner as a political subject. To re-think what solidarity looks like, that solidarity isn’t charity, or a favor, that it’s not done for someone but with someone. Really trying to place a political prisoner at the very center of his, her, their struggle for liberation. So in sum, Alvaro is someone who has inspired and taught me a lot about prison, about freedom, about solidarity, about autonomy. His Zapatismo has become a really influential thing for him, and so as soon as he got out of prison in 2017 one of the first things he did was, instead of now just corresponding with that Zapatista network and that network organized by adherents of the 6th, he went and started meeting people.
He got involved immediately with the campaign to support Marichuy, the potential candidate for the National Indigenous Congress, was kind of a recent Zapatista project to try to subvert the national elections in Mexico. He joined the campaign to support her and get signatures, and joined their tour through southern Mexico and followed them to the Zapatista communities. He ended up visiting all 5 caracoles, which I know a lot of people who claim to be Zapatista supporters who haven’t visited even one, certainly not 5!
He had just gotten out of prison, been inside for 20 years, that’s a scary moment for a lot of people getting out of long term incarceration. People are often very flustered, maybe kind of scared, suffering from some trauma. He certainly had no money but he somehow just made it work.
And then I can tell you about Abraham. Abraham was one of the next prisoners that I got to know by recording their oral histories. Abraham Garcia Ramirez is like Alvaro someone who grew up very poor in a rural community in the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha, he’s from Santa Cruz. He tells a story about not being able to get past the 5th grade at the closest school because he suffered an accident when his teacher’s donkey had a rope attached to it that accidentally caught on his leg and ended up dragging him several meters and messing up his leg really badly to the extent that he couldn’t walk. And his parents were afraid to take him to a doctor because they were afraid that they would amputate his leg, which may sound silly but it’s not a story about these ignorant parents, those stories are expressions of what structural racism and poverty look and feel like where indigenous people, speakers of Zapotec like Abraham’s parents, were generally treated so poorly with so much derision, discrimination, by authorities, by doctors, judges, police, people who held power, it was so common that they were afraid that if they took their son in that they would sooner amputate his leg than fix it.
So Abraham tells a story about not being able to back to school because he basically sat at home on a little stool for a year and would just read by himself. He sat on his own, he continued working as a coffee cultivator from a very early age. Then in his youth he ended up getting involved first through a kind of leftist political party, the PRD, on the coast of Oaxaca, and then I think being disappointed with party politics, he ended up then hearing about the indigenous movement of the OPIZ that was forming back in his hometown and around Loxicha. And when he went back there in the early ’90s he ended up getting involved.
And so I would say that Abraham like Zacharias, another of the last prisoners to get out, were part of kind of like a second generation of all these militants and community organizers. So Abraham was very charismatic, he was very charming and effective political organizer, so at this point the OPIZ in the early ’90s really had a lot of political presence throughout most of the 70 odd towns and villages that make up the municipality of San Agustin de Loxicha. So Abraham was someone who was organizing people to organizing assemblies, getting people to come out. Things he would do would be to organize in communities internally to counter an absence of the state in many places, to be able to deal with problems on their own whether it was questions of, say, domestic violence: Abraham would say “ok we’ve got this problem, how do we get to the root of it?” This led to women organizing themselves and saying that alcohol was one of the biggest problems behind domestic violence in the communities, and so many communities ended up banning alcohol. Enacting that kind of local change was part of what these organizers including Abraham were doing as well as in some cases organizing to make demands of the State, whether through negotiating with the State itself at points or organizing enormous marches of hundreds or in some cases thousands of people to take the highway and march to Oaxaca City, four hours to the north, or to occupy the central plaza in Oaxaca, to take the airport.
So then by 1996 when the EPR uprisings happened, Abraham was a well known organizer. And certainly the State had its eye on him, because he’d been one of the important organizers in taking the plaza in Oaxaca City, the airport. So it was very easy to pin the guerilla accusation on him, as well as many others who were well known activists or organizers with this organization of the OPIZ. By the time I got to know Abraham as another of the long term prisoners who’d been in for decades, he always struck me for being extremely humble. I’m not sure if that’s the most flattering thing..
TFSR: It’s not necessarily like a quality you would find in – you mentioned that he’s very charismatic and very charming, and humility is a really interesting character trait to go along with those two things. I don’t often find that.
Bruno: One of the striking things about Abraham is that he is humble, and you’re right that is sometimes an unusual feature in charming or charasmatic figures. But that’s I think one of the things that’s notable about indigenous and peasant movements in a place like Mexico, I was always struck by the motto or the principles of the organization that Abraham and Alvaro were militants in back in the ’80s and ’90s, the OPIZ, their 3 core principles were discipline, honesty, and humility. And you say ok, discipline and honesty are pretty standard fare for the values of activists, maybe even revolutionaries, but humility is not something you often find in the espoused values of revolutionary movements. But I think it’s certainly an expression of this being a peasant and indigenous movement rooted in the country side, and humility is something that’s really highly valued in the communities.
And it’s something like someone like Abraham certainly really lives by. By the time that I got to know him better and was recording his stories, he was not as politically involved. At that point he was a bit more focused on his legal case, plus he had a baby daughter; he’d separated from his previous partner in prison and met another partner there. This was at that time a co-ed prison, and they had a baby daughter who was born there in prison, and in fact grew up there for the first couple years of her life, and that was really the main focus of his attention at that point. Now currently, since he got out in 2017, he’s returned to some of his organizing but at a very local level. I think he’s been re adjusting to life on the outside slowly, but he’s been living in a shelter that was one of the material gains you could say of the Loxicha Prisoners Movement. They eventually managed to extract this shelter from the State in a concession in the early 2000s where now several families who were victims of state violence in Loxicha now live. It used to be mostly for families of prisoners to be able to stay in Oaxaca while they visited from Loxicha.
But anyway, now people who were victims of violence in different forms now live there, and Abraham and Zacharias are both living there. Abraham is kind of taken upon himself to reorganize the space where you’ve got dozens of people living in order to make it a little more comfortable and clean and pleasant for the people living there. And on that, he’s also working to try and support himself and his family, his wife who’s still in prison and his smallest daughter who’s 5 in school. He’s weaving baskets to support himself like that, to try and help his comrade Zacharias to set up a carpentry workshop. And that’s what he’s up to these days.
TFSR: One of the reasons that we both are talking right now is that they are out of prison, but they are being forced to pay some pretty exorbitant fees to the Mexican State for so called “damage reparations”. Could you talk a little bit about what they are being forced to pay per month and is this a common tactic on the part of the Mexican State for extracting funds from former political prisoners?
Bruno: Yeah, so Alvaro and Abraham got out finally after 20 years in prison, on July 7th of 2017. And so for 20 years the demands for them and for the other prisoners has always been immediate and unconditional freedom. And finally they were able to get their freedom after being robbed of 20 years of their life, but in order to accept it they basically had to sign onto a really sordid deal where in order to be recognized as being accepting of a quote unquote “early release”, because at this point their sentences were around 30 years, and having gone through 2/3rds of their sentence and proven that they are well behaved or something like that, then they were granted this so called benefit of being given an early release. In order to do that they said ‘we’ll give you the early release but you have to accept a whole list of conditions’ some of them just kind of being symbolic nonesense, like “I promise not to do drugs or commit crimes”, but also they had to promise to pay these so called damage reparations to the court. Which allegedly are a way of monetizing the deaths that they accuse them of causing. But really this is just ransom money that goes to the courts.
So each of them are being charged slightly different figures, but close to around 125,000 pesos, which is sort of like 7,000 dollars depending on the exchange rate, over the course of 2 years. Which translates basically to paying in the case of Abraham 250 dollars more or less to the courts each month and for Alvaro, about 280 dollars each month. Which is a ludicrous amount! I mean I would find it hard to be paying that each month on top of my rent, and frankly the kind of money that you can come by even as a relatively modestly living person in the US is impossible compared to Mexico. So to assume that ordinary people, not to mention poor people, could pay this in Oaxaca is unrealistic. Not to mention people from rural communities who happened to have spent the last 20 years in prison and just got out. It’s just another slap in the face right, this added injustice heaped on top of a mountain of injustices, the core of which is 20 years of prison built of course on top of all the injustices that led these people to rising up against the State in various forms, or confronting the State, and then being made political prisoners. So anyway, this is just yet one more injustice. And part of why we’ve taken it up here.
Through my connections with the Loxicha prisoners to help out however I could, and we’ve taken it up here in the US, even though there’s a network of support for Alvaro and Abraham in Mexico, it’s just doing something in the vein of economic solidarity is much easier here in the US. Even just a few dollars that might not be a lot to people here, even ordinary people who might have low-paying jobs, just a couple of bucks a month is something that we can afford. If we hit up some wealthier Liberals, maybe they can throw in some more. That’d be great! But even with some very small donations built up from a pool of friends and comrades, I think we can hopefully get to covering that $530 a month that would cover both of their damage reparation fees. Thus, helping them to not be forced to go back to prison. That’s really the punchline behind this. They’re being charged these damage reparations, essentially ransom by the courts, under the threat of being forced back into prison for another 10 years.
They both realize that this is a threat that they face and they’re both very philosophical about it, but it’s impossible to fathom (for them, their families, friends) that they’d go back in for another 10 years for this completely unjust and counter-insurgent political imprisonment.
TFSR: In a recent statement by Alvaro that’s posted on ItsGoingDown, he makes a declaration of solidarity with the J20 defendants and he calls the process “an attack against the youth who resist, reveal themselves and rebel.” Will you talk about the parallels between this case and those of the J20 defendants, 59 of whom are still facing decades in prison?
BR: Gladly. To be forced to think of the parallels between the Loxicha case and the J20 defendants amongst the friends and comrades here in South East Michigan who have worked with us to start this economic solidarity project with the Loxicha Prisoners, Abraham and Alvaro, that includes a couple of the J20 defendants who live here in Michigan. As we started up this economic solidarity project, I was really pleased, I thought it was really cool, that these comrades in the J20 defense, were keen to help out. And then it struck me that it made perfect sense, that you would get really heart-felt solidarity without having to really think about it much from folks who are facing the prospect of political imprisonment with people who are just emerging from it. The conditions and situations of the two movements are different in many ways: one in the United States during the Trump Era; the other we’re talking about in the mid-90’s in Mexico. And yet, the parallels are looking at violence and political imprisonment from opposite sides of a prism.
It’s sort of like in the case of the J20 defendants, you’ve got this original group of around 250 (coincidentally 250 people arrested and accused of ludicrous crimes, these really symbolically charged & trumped up charges aimed by the state at putting dissidents behind bars and at dissuading people from dissenting against the state; politically motivated use of the courts and of prisons to scare people, to inflict a bit of terror against dissidents or possible dissidents… Even among the J20 defendants, it was very clearly targeted against people who were marching under the banner of anti-capitalism, anti-fascism. But you’ve also got people who were thrown in there who were journalists, photographers, who weren’t directly involved in protesting but it doesn’t matter, it’s a part of the message. Similarly in Loxicha, in the mid-90’s, again you’ve got different conditions, but a group of around 250 people who were arrested, detained, sent to prison, under these symbolically loaded political charges. Again, some of them were resisting, protesting, organizing against capitalism and the State. Some of them just got caught up in the violence, swept up in the witch-hunt. And yet, I think that what caught the imagination of these comrades who are J20 defendants in Michigan who want to support Alvaro and Abraham is to think… Here the J20 defendants are looking down the barrel, looking at the prospect of decades of political imprisonment for resisting the state, for protesting it. And they’re looking at these comrades in Mexico, from very different worlds, but one which also for resisting capitalism and organizing these hundred of people. Instead of looking at the prospect of it, they’re emerging from decades of political imprisonment.
This led to conversations here about how there must be a lot to learn from one site to the other. What can folks who are young organizers such as the J20 defendants, what can they learn, what can we all learn from listening tot he story of people who did suffer through decades of political imprisonment. And the other way around, what can folks like Alvaro and Abraham learn from new forms of resistance and solidarity that are emerging from and being expressed by something like the J20 defense. So, it was this cool surprise here to get J20 defendants in on the project and to have these discussions and to compare the two phenomenon. And then, when some of us visited Alvaro this past December, we had a visit with him now the first time in freedom, recorded this video, did some interviews. We were talking about J20 and the J20 defendants so, on one had he hadn’t heard about the J20 (which shows that we need more communication across Leftist networks internationally) but then we had a really great conversation where we explained what had happened on J20 and the situation of the defendants were.
It took so little explanation, he was immediately captivated, perceptive, clapping his hands “Of course, that makes perfect sense. Obviously these are the repercussions, this is what the State did in reaction to those who are marching under the banner of anti-capitalism and anti-fascism.” And we had one of those classical, great discussions that Alvaro is fantastic at, discussing some of these comparisons. One fo the great things to come out of it was that we kind of proposed that this could be the beginning of some exchanges. We thought it’d be really great to organize some form of dialogue, exchanges, encounters somehow between Alvaro, his comrades, the former prisoners in Mexico and J20 defendants and their allies in the US to give this conversation some actual substance. And there, Alvaro and comrades offered then that they could disseminate that and share it in a newspaper like Unios (a newspaper of the network of adherents of the 6th Declaration [of the Lacondon Jungle, the Other Campaign of the Zapatistas]).
TFSR: That’s so wonderful that it was such a productive conversation. That makes me really happy to hear that and congratulations for being a part of that and for setting that up and drawing those parallels. I think that’s really really awesome.
BR: Thanks. And out of that conversation is where Alvaro wanted to send a shoutout to the J20 Defendants that we recorded that’s on the video on Its Going Down. So, I have to confess that last line in the video which you quoted where he says “we recognize this as an attack against the youth that organizes and rebels and reveals itself”… I was the one who wrote the subtitles on that video. I was translating this letter which he was reading from. The word “to rebel” in Spanish, which is “que se rebela” he spelled it “revela” which means “reveals itself”. I knew he meant “rebels” and I wondered if whether that had been purposeful, so I translated it as both: it both rebels and reveals itself. You never know, was it a slip of the pen or that might have just been Alvaro’s message itself. In one word, you both rebel and reveal yourself.
TFSR: I liked it very much, especially in the context of J20, which was a Black Bloc, which is supposed to be an anonymous thing, that was then revealed by police, it was then also… people were doxxed by fascists and members of the alt-right. I found it to be a very great, linguistic insertion. Like, you revealed yourself, that’s courageous, you rebelled and that was courageous. I thought that was brilliant.
BR: I love that. And you know, you’re totally right. You mention, it was the Black Bloc where people concealed their identities, their faces, and that they do so in order to reveal themselves., in order to rebel. It’s kind of like what the Zapatistas did in covering their faces. “In order to be noticed, in order to have a face, we had to cover our faces.” I’ve always loved that through this kind of anonymizing yourself, you become someone.
I kind of imagine that in rebelling and revealing themselves, Alvaro might be saying that in that act of rebellion that you reveal yourself, not only to the State, to others, but even to yourself. People discover themselves in that moment of action, as Frantz Fanon said, “Consciousness is born in action, not the other way around.”
TFSR: Could you remind us of the Patreon link and talk a little bit about the economic solidarity project / endeavor being organized under the banner “Keep Loxicha Free”?
BR: That’s kind of the main focus of what we’re tryihng to organize with this economic solidarity, so I really appreciate the change to broadcast it a bit. For most of us who are working on this, this is our first time doing this kind of economic solidarity. I, personally at least, find that economic solidarity can feel kind of tricky or off-putting. Economic Solidarity is one tiny fragment, one tiny instance of what solidarity can look like. And I think for those of us who are further left, with anarchistic leanings, Zapatista sympathizers, dealing with money is something that’s really uncomfortable. We don’t like doing it and it’s partly why Alvaro and Abraham themselves have not been able to raise that money.
A couple of the other last Loxicha prisoners who got out last year had the same conditions but were able to raise that money through connections to Unions or through asking the State. Alvaro and Abraham had not wanted to do that. A part of the way that these ransoms work in Mexico is that you have to ask someone powerful to help you out and you end up indebted. So, what we’re trying to do by bringing that economic solidarity pitch here to the US (and
internationally, if people want to donate) is to try to take that weight off of having to ask for the money over there. Instead, we said “let us ask for you, it’ll probably be easier.” But several of us have never done fundraising, so it’s figuring it out as we do it. We thought that one of these go-fund-me type pages would work and that Patreon with it’s monthly donation system would work for this.
So, we’re trying to work up to $530 per month, we’re currently at $201, almost halfway there. In recent months we’ve been making this work also by presenting this story at events, going to events organized by comrades and friends, and making little 5-10 minute pitches and passing the bucket. Through that along with the Patreon we’ve been able to cover their payments so far. But you can only present so many times in your community and pass the bucket, so we’re really hoping this Patreon website will be a self-sustaining effort so that for the next 2 years Alvaro and Abraham will be covered and don’t have to live every day with this hanging threat the moment you wake of “if I don’t pay this money, I go back to prison.” So, that’s what we’re trying to do with the Patreon site. https://ww.patreon.com/keeploxichafree
TFSR: Bruno, thank you so much for taking the time. I got a lot out of talking with you about this topic. Many thanks and solidarity from here!
BR: Thank you so much, I really really appreciate the space. I really appreciate the attention. There are a lot of things that you all could be covering, so I appreciate that you also thought this was important and were willing to open your space, your time for this story. Also, thank you to all of the listeners.
Again, hopefully, what we’re trying to do is to plug that Patreon website, but we also think it’s really important just to be having these conversations. A part of this is that we want to raise this money to help our comrades, but we also think that sharing their story, their testimony, their experience and also our own experiences. Making that a conversation is really an important part of building grassroots solidarity, awareness and political education. I’m really glad to be a part of the conversation!
This week William and Disembodied Voice had the chance to interview Walidah Imarisha, who is an Oregon based writer, educator, public scholar and spoken word artist about her book Angels With Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption, her 2016 book out from AK Press and IAS, which highlights three distinct experiences that are all in different degrees tangential to the realities inherent to the prison industrial complex.
This book just won the Creative Non-Fiction Award in the state of Oregon earlier in 2017. In this interview we got to touch on a wide array of topics, mostly centered on Angels With Dirty Faces but also on accountability processes and what might have to change in order for them to feel more effective, her relationship to anarchism, and some upcoming projects and appearances.
We also get to touch on the book Octavia’s Brood, a compilation of speculative fiction that Imarisha co edited with Adrienne Maree Brown, who also wrote the book Emergent Strategy.
Resist Package Restrictions for Those Incarcerated in New York State!
The thugs who run the NYS prison system (NYS DOCCS) has issued a new directive (4911A) that describes new, draconian package rules that they are testing in 3 facilities as a ‘pilot program’.
Currently, at most facilities, family and friends can drop off packages at the front desk when visiting- packages that include fresh fruit and vegetables that supplement the high carb/sugar, meager diet provided by DOCCS.
These new rules are problematic in a lot of ways including:
1) Packages can be ordered only from approved vendors.
2) Fresh fruit and vegetables are not allowed.
3) Family and friends cannot drop off packages while visiting. All packages must be shipped through the vendor.
4) Each person is limited to ordering three packages a month for him or herself and receiving three packages a month from others. Each package cannot be more than 30 pounds. Of the 30 pounds per package, only 8 pounds can be food.
5) Allowable items will be the same in all facilities. (No more local permits.)
6) There are far fewer items allowed than before and of the items that are allowed, far less variety. This includes additional restrictions on clothing.
7) The pilot rules are not clear about how books, media, religious items and literature, or other items subject to First Amendment protection will be treated. This could mean that groups like NYC Books through Bars will not be able to send free books to the 52,000 people in the prison system.
The pilot program implements an “approved venders only” package system. This means that only packages from approved vendors will be accepted. The vendors appear to be companies that specialize in shipping into prisons and jails. There are currently five approved vendors identified on the DOCCS website. This amounts to a cash grab for these companies.
The pilot program is starting at three facilities: Taconic, Greene, and Green Haven. Those facilities will stop accepting packages from non-approved vendors on
January 2, 2018.
We have to make this package directive unworkable. These new rules are cruel- eliminating fresh fruit and vegetables and creating massive profits for the vampire companies that will fill the niche.
2-Get in touch with your people in NYS Prisons and let them know about this. Inform them, send them the info. Massive non-cooperation on the part of NYS prisoners will play a huge role in this.
3- Flood the electeds with postcards. Send one to Governor Cuomo and one to Anthony Annucci, the acting commissioner of DOCCS. It costs 34 cents.
Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci
Building 2, State Campus
Albany, NY 12226
Some sample text:
Dear Governor Cuomo,
This holiday season is about giving, not taking away. I object to the new DOCCS package rules.
(Your relationship to people in prison, if applicable)
Dear Acting Commissioner Annucci,
The new DOCCS package pilot punishes innocent families. Having a loved one in prison is already expensive and difficult—the new rules make it worse. Rescind the package pilot!
(Your relationship to people in prison, if applicable)
4) Write a letter to both of these people (address above)
5)Call Cuomo’s office and leave a message about it. You won’t have to talk to anyone. Just leave your message. 518-474-8390
From the studios of 103.3 FM in Asheville, NC, this is the Final Straw and I’m William Goodenuff. This show will later be archived at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org and you can email us with questions or suggestions at email@example.com. Also, if you’re interested in rebroadcasting any episode or segment of the show, you’re free to do so. If you do so, just send us an email. You can send us letters at the Final Straw, c/o Asheville FM 864 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806.
This week, I and sometimes contributor & commentator Disembodied Voice had the chance to interview Walidah Imarisha, who is an Oregon-based writer, educator, public scholar and spoken word artist, about her book Angels With Dirty Faces, which came out in 2016 `out From AI and AK Press, [and] which highlights three distinct experiences that are, in different degrees, tangential to the realities inherent to the prison-industrial complex. This book just won the creative nonfiction award in the state of Oregon earlier in 2017. In this interview, we got to touch on a wide array of topics, mostly centered on Angels With Dirty Faces but also on accountability processes, and on what might have to change in order for them to feel more effective her relationship to anarchism, and some up-coming projects and appearances. We also get to touch on the book Octavia’s Brood, a compilation of speculative fiction that Imarisha co-edited with Adriene Marie Brown, who also wrote Emergent Strategy. More about Imarisha, her work, and up coming event can be found www.walidah.com. [spells out].
B: And here’s an update for those with loved ones behind the bars in New York that promises to further isolate and erode the health of inmates while squeezing more profits from friends and families and into the pockets of prison profiteers. Quote, “The thugs who run the NY State DOCCS have issued a new directive, 4911A, that describes new draconian package rules that they are testing in three facilities as a pilot program. Currently, at most facilities, families and friends can drop off packages at the front desk when visiting, packages that include fresh fruit and vegetables that supplement [the] high carb-and-sugar, meager diet provided by DOCCS. The new rules are problematic in a lot of new ways, including:
1. Packages could be ordered only from approved vendors.
2. Fresh fruit and vegetables are not allowed.
3. Family & friends cannot drop off packages while visiting. All packages must be shipped through the vendor.
4. Each person is limited to ordering 3 packages a month for him or herself and receiving three packages a month from others.
5. Each package cannot be more than 30 pounds. Of the 30 pounds per package, only 8 pounds can be food.
Allowable items will be the same in all facilities. No more local permits.
6. There are fewer items allowed than before, and of the items that are allowed, far less variety. This includes additional restrictions on clothing.
7. Pilot rules are not clear about how books, media, religious items and literature, or other items subject to First Amendment protection will be treated. This could mean that groups like NYC Books Through bars will not be able to send free books to the 52,000 people in the prison system.
The pilot program implements a, quote, ‘Approved vendors only’ end quote package system. This mens that only packages from approved vendors will be accepted. The vendors appear to be companies that specialize in shipping into prisons and jails. There are currently only five approved vendors, identified on the DOCCS website. This amounts to a cash grab for these companies. The pilot program is starting at 3 facilities: Teconic, Greene, and Greenhaven. These facilities will stop accepting packages from nonapproved vendors on January 2nd, 2018. We have to make this package directive unworkable. These news rules are cruel, eliminating fresh fruits and vegetables, ad creating massive profits for the vampire companies that will fill the niche.
We can organize the roll back of these rules. Here’s some ideas how.
1. You can sign a petition. You could share it with your address book, share it on Twitter, share it on FB. It takes two seconds. You can find it in our show notes.
2. Get in touch with your people in the NY state prisons and let them know about this. Inform them, send them the info. Massive noncooperation on the part of NY state prisoners will play a huge role in this.
3. You can flood the electives with post cards. One could be sent to Cuomo and one to Anthony Annucci, the acting commissionaire of DOCCS. It costs 34 cents. Andrew Cuomo can be reached at:
Andrew M . Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NY State Capital Building
Albany, NY 12224
Acting Commissioner Anthony Annucci can be found at
New York State DOCCS Building 2
Albany, NY 12226.
Some sample text can be found in the show notes at thefinalstrawradio.noblogs.org
But first, here are some words from Anarchist prisoner, Sean Swain.
Q1: So, we are here with Walidah Imarisha, author of Angels with Dirty Faces, and co-editor of Octavia’s Brood. Thank you so much for coming on to this show. Would you introduce yourself a little bit more and talk a little about what you do?
A: Sure! Thanks for having me. My name’s Walidah Imarisha and I’m an educator, and a writer, and I work in a number of different areas. I see my work all tying together as trying to claim a right to the future and trying to be able to move folks toward imagining and then creating better and more just futures.
Q1: Will you talk more about your experience as an educator who is also involved in movement work, and also maybe more broadly about the role of the academy in movement?
A: Sure. I think I’ve been very lucky to teach in places and positions that have allowed me to shape and to have as much autonomy as possible around the content of my classes and the subject material. I think that intellectualism is incredibly important in movements for change. I think its important to have spaces where we are thinking about theory, and we’re thinking about larger frame works and questions. To me all intellectualism should be public intellectualism, which is, in my definition, intellectualism not in service of the powers that be, but in service of the people, and in service of creating new just worlds. And, to me, the distinction that is very important is about, “Who are you accountable to, and who is your work accountable to?” And I’m very proud to call myself a public scholar, because, to me, that means I am accountable to those communities who are marginalized, who are oppressed. I’m accountable to making sure my work reflects them, making sure my work is centered in their leadership and their resistance, and that my work inherently attempts to support changing the structures that created that oppression in the first place.
Q1: That’s really cool. Sometimes I find in far left, at least the strains of the far left that I find myself in, that there’s this kind of anti-intellectualism that happens. Do you find that that has been the case for you, or do you have a different experience with that?
A: I think I’ve seen, you know, both sides of the extremes, and I think that’s part of the problem — is that it’s extreme. So I’ve definitely seen folks who are anti-intellectualism and focused only on practice. I’ve also seen folks who have only immersed themselves in theory and are not engaged with or thinking about how that moves on the ground. And I think that both of those extremes ultimately keep us from being able to create the kind of change that we want, so there has to be a balance. And I also think it’s important, again, that intellectualism and the engagement with thinking about the future is really not only rooted in oppressed communities, but includes the imaginings of oppressed communities. So I think it’s important that we’re not just looking to public scholars to just articulate these ideas, but we’re looking to public scholars to help and hold space for communities to articulate these ideas and these imaginings for themselves.
Q1: Yeah, definitely. I couldn’t agree more. Yeah, the acknowledgment that intellectual theory comes from so many different places and not just out of academies or whatever — though there is a lot of super useful stuff coming out of academies too. So, you’ve done a lot of lectures, and you say you’re an educator and a writer, and you wrote this book Angels with Dirty Faces a couple of years ago. Would you describe this book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet?
A: Sure. It’ Angels With Dirty Faces: Three Stories of Crime, Prison, and Redemption. It’s a creative nonfiction book that looks at the criminal legal system, at prisons, and at the idea of harm and accountability through the narrative and the stories of three people. My goal in putting the book out was to create spaces here we can have conversations about the idea of what happens when harm is done. So when there’s been harm done in communities, when folks have hurt each other, then what happens? And the book doesn’t answer that question, but what I realized in doing my work as an a prison abolitionist is that we needed to humanize those folks who are incarcerated, and also folks who have done harm, and they actually aren’t necessarily the same people, because those folks have been dehumanized. And we can’t begin to have conversations about how to heal communities when we’re imagining folks in the communities not as human beings who have, in some cases, made incredibly atrocious mistakes, but as monsters.
Q1: Yeah, that resonates a lot with me, and one of the questions that we were really interested about, is kind of this disposability mindset that the world at large seems to have for so many people, and that that’s certainly conditioned on forces of classism and racism and anti-Blackness.
A: Absolutely. I think that when you live in a capitalist society, everything becomes a commodity, including human beings, and I think that, you know, it’s very clear that, you know — and I think there`s been a lot of amazing scholarship work done about this, the connections between system of racial oppression, like slavery, and the prison system. And recognizing that the prison system is not about safety, it’s not about reducing crime – it’s about exploitation and control of potentially rebellious communities. You know, folks like Angela Davis, Ruthie Gilmore, and Michelle Alexander have moved these conversations in the public. And so I think it’s important to have a historical and larger frame work around it, so that we can see its not just that people are being thrown away – it’s that certain folks especially are being thrown away, because they were never wanted in the first place.
Q2: Absolutely, yes. What you just said about that there are particular folks who tend to become dehumanized and disposed of in our society is very much true, but what I appreciated about your book and the stories that you tell in it, is that you’re really approaching it from a space where you’re talking about people…who we actually care deeply for who create harm and hurt us, and that is something that has often been an conversation in the community that I’m in, and that we’re in, with things like accountability processes and different ways of trying to address harm at the community level, that – where we don’t want to throw people away, right? And we’ll talk more about that question a little later on in the interview, but I’m curious because you mentioned prison abolitionism. What do you feel, when we talk about the end of prisons, what would need to be true of our society, in order for us to stop throwing people away?
A: Yeah. I think, you know, it’s important to talk bout what abolition is, and I think that Angela Davis has a great short book that she wrote called Abolition Democracy that’s based on the ideas of W.E.B. Du Bois, and him talking about the fact that, you know, calling ourselves “prison abolitionists” is specifically and directly linking back to abolitionists who are fighting against slavery. and Du Bois was writing about slavery and said that, you know, abolition is not just the end of slavery – it is the presence of justice for those who were enslaved. It is the ability to participate fully in society, so it’s not just the tearing down; it’s actually a replacement and a building up of those folks who had for so long been exploited and brutalized and terrorized. And I think that that’s a very important and useful framing when we’re talking about prison , because when we talk about prison abolition, often folks think only of tearing down the walls. They think of an absence. And the question becomes, well then, you know, if you wanna tear down the prisons, then what? And I think that for many prison abolitionists, we believe that abolition as a mind set is about ending this carceral mentality, this idea that punishment and retribution that prisons are founded on, but it’s also about creating systems that actually focus on keeping communities whole and safe, and when harm is done, to healing those communities. And so I think it’s important to recognize that abolition is not just about destruction. It’s also about creation. And Alexis Pauline Gumbs, who is an amazing Black Feminist visionary thinker, wrote “What if abolition is a growing thing?” and I think that that idea, as abolition as growing, as a garden, as a plant, rather than as a wrecking ball, is a really powerful one.
Q1: Yeah, definitely. It seems like yeah, I – it’s hard for me to grapple with this question, super, like — what might need to be true of our society in order for us to stop throwing people away is a really huge question that I sometimes don’t really have great foot holds in — the carceral state, and capitalism, and all of these things like patriarchy, anti-blackness, misogynoir – all these things build walls between people, and you know, take the element of caring out of the human equation, which is a super huge shame. So I think approaching it like that makes a lot of sense to me.
Just to get back to the book, I was really taken with the style that the book was written in, the narrative or creative nonfiction, and I’m really interested in about the evolution of this book. Would you talk a little bit about how it changed stylistically throughout the writing process?
A: Sure. So, Angels With Dirty Faces focuses on three people stories: myself, my adopted brother Kakamia, who is currently incarcerated in CA, and James McElroy, also known as Jimmy Mac, who was a member of the Westies, which was the Irish Mob that ran Hell’s Kitchen in NewYork from the 1960s to the 1980s, and also served as hit men for the Gambino family, for John Gotti, for the (???). And the book actually began because Jimmy Mac and my brother were incarcerated in the same place and got to know each other, and Jimmy Mac had never done an interview with any journalist, but, because of my brother, he agreed to do an interview with me. And through doing that process, he, you know, was like, do you want to write my biography? And I was like yes, this would be fascinating. But as I began to write the biography, I realized that it was something that was growing. I had been doing work around prisons and justice within prisons for, you know, 20 years or more then. I couldn’t help but want to bring that into talking about Jimmy Mac to give it a framework and to be able to give a full picture of these ideas of crime, of violence, of prisons, of justice, that are so racialized, that are so much about class and gender and sexual identity, and are so much used as a method of social control. And so the book just grew from there to include my brother, to include myself, and then to include the work that I’ve done that has been a lot around Black Liberation political prisoners. And so, I really began to realize that i think the best way to change folks’ minds is through stories. And I think that what really causes a deep shift within a person is being able to emotionally connect with someone else’s experiences, and I think that is p of the reason that this system works so hard to dehumanize those who it is scared of, because if we are not people, if we are things, then there is less of a possibility of other folks in society empathizing, connecting, and then seeing the ways that the system functions. And so I felt like sharing those stories would be an important way to create a shift. So, the creative nonfiction genre is kind of a giant snatch bag with a lot of things in it. But, you know, my book definitely — it includes statistics, it includes history, it includes analysis. It also includes personal narrative. I’m a poet, so some of the writing incorporates the aesthetic of poetics. So, it definitely is a hybrid creature. But I think that actually how we live our lives is seeing everything as connected rather than in these neat boxes.
Q2: Yea, and that is one of the most remarkable aspects of the book. I can imagine that this is something that people comment on to you frequently about it — the way you just charted that evolution of kind of talking about Jimmy Mac and then realizing that more stories needed to be included sounds very natural and organic, and yet the stories that you chose to include about yourself and your brother were highly personal, and I was wondering because, I suppose, you could have chosen to talk about some other folks who are incarcerated who you had learned about or corresponded with, but you chose to speak about yourself and your relationship with your brother and your family. I wonder if you could reflect a little bit on the choice not just to widen the scope of the book from one story to multiple stories, but specifically to those stories.
A: Sure. Well, as I was working on what I thought would by the biography for Jimmy Mac, I came to feel that I was really connected with Jimmy and with this process. I mean, the reason Jimmy spoke to me was because of my brother and, you know, Jimmy was calling me his niece, and said I was an “ Westie,” which I was like, “I don’t know that I want to do that, but thank you,” um, [laughter] and I felt like I was very much a part of the story. I think that any idea of objectivity is a fallacy in human beings. I don’t think that you can be objective. And I think that folks who say they’re being objective in their writing, in their creation, in their education, teaching — they are either lying to you or to themselves. I think that the most principled things is to be clear about your subjectivity, and to be clear about how your subjectivity affects the information you’re presenting, and then to allow the reader to engage with it on that level. And so that’s what I began doing. And as I was doing that, I was realizing that these conversations around harm, around crime, around violence, were things that I was also grappling with personally. And so, you know, my brother was arrested and tried — at the age of 16 tried as an adult and has served almost 30 years in prison at this point. And then, you know, I had actually gone through a failed accountability – a community accountability process with my partner at the time who had sexually assaulted me. And really recognizing that these stories are not stories that are easy to discuss, these are not stories that there is a neat simple ending that can be created, but these complicated, messy, difficult, painful stories are the ones we have to talk about, because if we don’t talk about them, then any conception of justice we’re creating will eventually derail when we get to places like that. And so I think that, for me, we have to go into those places that make us uncomfortable, that make us scared, that are painful, to be able to sit with the complexities and contradictions of humanity. And I think that’s the only way that we can build new systems of justice, new processes to address harm, new ways to keep communities safe, that will actually both be effective and will embody the values and principles that we have and that we want for this new world.
Q1: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, and I think that that point just can not be overstated. There’s no amount of times when, you know, having that information will ever be too much.
Q2: I wanted to say that one of the things that really challenged me in the book, when you talk about sitting with that complexity, you speak about how — I’m sorry, can you pronounce your brother’s name for me again?
Q: Kakamia. That you talk about how Kakamia really resisted becoming an informant, and really didn’t want to play that role, but eventually did, and that was really painful for him, it was difficult for you, and it really made me sit with the complexity of that because I think in the circles that I run in there’s like this anti-snitch kind of thing, and it’s this very knee jerk, kind of all of nothing kind of approach that can just be so harsh toward people who do that. And on the one hand, yes, it’s a decision that we can condemn, but on the other hand, it’s also — you capture the horrible choice of that so well in the book. So I just wanted to say that, just for me, that was a moment where the story really forced me to sit with that complexity, so… thank you [laughs].
A: Yeah…thanks. I think that I just wanna be, I mean, Kakamia is anti-snitch, and, you know, hates himself for debriefing. And also probably wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t debriefed. And that both of those things that are in seeming contradiction with each other is absolutely true. I think it is important to take in to account context. I think that one of the things, one of the many things that is so flawed with the criminal legal system is the idea that people fit neatly in to categories, and human interactions fit neatly into categories, and so we can predict what needs to happen when a situation occurs. And I think one of the things that’s really powerful about the idea of transformative justice, which is you know, prison abolition is a part of that, is the idea of saying, as we are living the values we have for this new world, how are we respecting that every human interaction is different, is unique, and how are we responding to that and creating situations that address that moment? I think that’s on e of the things that is so both challenging and powerful about transformative justice — is that it accepts that each situation is unique.
Q1: I’m wondering about what the reception of the book has been, either critically or, if you’ve done book events, how have people received the book?
A: Well, the reception has been really good for the book. I think I definitely was very nervous about putting out the book for many reasons. Because the book is so deeply personally for myself, and for Kakamia and for Jimmy Mac, as well as other folks who’s stories are partially told in the book, I wanted it to be as honest as possible, and I tried to be honest and accountable to those folks– Jimmy & Kakamia read different versions of the book, they got to see the book and give feed back on it. I felt that was very important, especially writing about folks who are incarcerated, where so much has been taken from them. I did not want tot take their stories and their experiences from them as well, and use it to my own end. So, even though I worked to try and make the book as honest and as real as possible, that also meant that all of us are kind of laid open for the world, which was you know a very scary idea, I think. And the response to the book has been really incredible and powerful. It’s – I think what has honored me the most is when folks who’s family members are incarcerated, people who have been incarcerated, and folks who are survivors of sexual assault all say they felt like they saw themselves and their experiences reflected accurately in the book, and that the complexities of that which they live with every day, was something that was in the book. And that to me was the highest honor that I could receive in relationship to the book. But the response has been powerful from all sectors and I won the creative nonfiction award for the Oregon Book Awards in 2017, and that has kind of given a new round of interest in the book, so it’s been really powerful to use the book as a way to have conversations in communities, and as a way for communities to begin having that dialogue of saying, “Well than, what do we do? And what can we create now that can be ready when harm happens in our community?”
Q1: Definitely. And congratulations for the award, and speaking for my own self, one of the most powerful aspects of the book, which seemingly I’m not alone in this, the fact that you name all these really difficult complexities that are just inherent to human interactions, and you know, the question of snitching and the question of the accountability process — those were really, really powerful, powerful moments, and like very, very real. And I’d love to hear, has — so the reception has been good, but I’d love to hear, has Kakamia or Mac’s or even your situation, has have there been any material changes to any of y’all’s lives or situations because of Angels With Dirty Faces?
A:Well, unfortunately, Jimmy Mac passed away before the book came out so, it is one of my biggest regrets that he didn’t get to see the book out in the world. And I worked hard with Kakamia – because he is still trying to make parole and get out of prison – to, you know, protect his identity as much as possible around that. But he has shared the book with folks who are also incarcerated with him and that has meant a lot to me because the book is very personal about him as well, and he has felt comfortable enough to hare that with folks who have all given positive feedback to him about it.
Q1: That’s awesome. You touched on accountability processes several times and I – they are kind of the thorn in, you know, kind of a thorn in the side of the far left in a way, and they probably don’t work as well as we like to believe that they work. I was wondering if you cold reflect on accountability processes a little bit and kind of talk a little bit about – can we boil down the failure of these processes to individual flaws or is there some sort of structural component, structural aspect to their consistently lukewarm results?
A: I think one of the biggest things, and I talk about this in Angels, I think a lot of the problem is what we consider to be failure and success, and how we are judging community accountability process, especially when it has been serious harm that’s been done around, especially intimate violence and sexual violence. And I think that we have the idea that has been, is very much a product of this capitalist society that we can find a quick fix for these things. And that we can create something that ,at the end of the day, everyone will feel healed and will feel whole and will move on from. And I think that those are fairly unrealistic expectations. I think that there is no quick fix to healing, and there is no quick fix in the process of transformation. And so, for me, what I have really come to think about is, are the individuals and is the community, at the “end” of the accountability process, healed enough that they are able to continue their healing and growth and accountability in a less formal structure afterwards? And I think that if that was one of the criteria we may see accountability processes very different. But I think that we have to begin shifting the ways we talk about harm that is done, the ways we talk about who is doing this harm, because I think that, you know, and I think that things like the #MeToo campaign, and this response to individual men who have committed sexual assault and sexual harassment, is you know, we have to see that it is pervasive, that it is something that happens. We often talk about how many women and gender nonconforming folks have experienced sexual assault, but we don’t talk about how many folks are assaulting, right? And I think that we have to talk about that, because that is where it is most awful and uncomfortable, to think about people in our lives, people we care about, people we respect, who are committing this harm. And yet, that is the case. And if we don’t talk about that, we cant begin to actually transform our communities. And then we just rely on these individual instances and our response to them, which will continue to feel inadequate, unless we really begin to shift how we’re thinking about it, and have these larger conversations about the culture, and the pervasiveness of intimate violence and sexual violence.
Q1: You touched on #MeToo and other initiatives which highlight survivors of sexual assault. I was wondering if you had any more reflections on how much they break from normative narratives, or alternatively do they uphold narratives, or is that not really a helpful framework for thinking about that?
A: I mean, I’m of the mind — my co-editor for Octavia’s Brood, Adrienne Maree Brown, talks a lot about growing possibilities, and so I think that there is no one right way to do things. I think that there are actually, – we live in a quantum universe so there infinite possibilities, and to me, infinite ways to create justice. And so for me, as long as folks are holding on to their values and principles, I think that the work can and should move in many different ways. So when we do Octavia’s Brood, we do workshops, and we ask folks to say practicing “yes, and” rather than “no, but.” I think that we live in a ‘no, but…” society. There is one right answer, so all the rest must be wrong, right? This dichotomy which creates hierarchy. Rather than saying yes and all these things can be true and therefore there is no hierarchy, it’s all decentralized, its all here and accessible. So, you know, I am thankful for the campaign, I am thankful to the Black woman visionary who created and held that campaign for 10 years before it’s — this kind of mainstream resurrection . I’ve seen many positive things come out of the campaign and I think there are great conversations that are happening, and I think that to me, it is about capturing moments. And so I think that this is a moment that we can be using to ask these bigger questions so that it becomes about, “How do we fundamentally change a rape culture. how do we fundamentally shift the ways that institutionalized oppression have been ingrained in us, and how do we envision and begin to build something different?”
Q2: Absolutely, and I’m not surprised that in speaking with you, that I hear you asking all these questions, and really posing kind of how you think about the world in question form, because that really came across in book, in a way, that it really feels like the whole book is about posing questions. And certainly for folks who are familiar with your other work, that also questions is very much a through-line in the way that you do your work. And to us, we felt that questioning and kind of like seeking out more conversation and not seeking closure is very much like an intrinsically anarchist thing, and we wondering if you would talk a little bit about your relationship to anarchism.
A: Sure. Yeah, I definitely think that asking questions is incredibly important for may reasons. And you know — a number of folks have been disappointed by the book, because they are like, “You just asked questions, you didn’t give us the answers.” [Laughs] Like, boo, if I had the answers, I would have done something along time ago. But I also think even more importantly than that is the understanding and importance, and the value of collectively, and recognize that no one person is going to have the answers, and anyone who says they have all the answers is lying to themselves or to you. And I think that the recognition that is part of that collective process that will ultimately help us build different futures, and come up with new questions. Because this movement for change, there’s no end point. It’s a continual revolution in the fundamental sense of that word, in continual movement. And you know, I think some folks could feel depressed about that. I choose to feel incredibly hopeful, because it means that we continually have the opportunity to ask ourselves is this the world we want to live in? And we continually have the opportunity to re-envision the part, as we grow, that we also want to grow. And so, to me, those are a lot of my principles and values, and I do believe that the idea of anarchism can be useful and helpful. I identify politically closest as an anarchist. I also think that to me, if a label is useful in encapsulating ideas in a way that helps move work forward, then use them, and if it doesn’t, then keep the values and principles and move on. And also, as a Black woman, I want to recognize that a lot of what we call anarchism, which we think of as being created by these old european white dudes, are actually principles and values and ways of being and ways of knowing that communities of color have practiced for eternity. And so, I also think it important to acknowledge and recognize that this information is not something that is separate from oppressed peoples, it is something that actually comes from oppressed peoples and that, in may, ways it’s about time traveling and having those values and principles help us to inform and envision different futures.
Q2: I love what you said about the label being useful only if it moves the work forward, and that actually reminds me a lot of things that I’ve heard people, particularly who do prisoner support, say, because it is a space where you’re offering solidarity and you’re offering support, and sometimes you’re offering it to people who aren’t ideologically on the exact same page as you, and it becomes an evolution of your relationship to that person and the reasons that you’re in relationship to them. So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about, beyond just about yr brother, and how you write about, your experience with supporting incarcerated people, and maybe, like, your best practices around that.
A: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know that I have a checklist, but I think for me I have been incredibly lucky and honored to learn and be mentored by many different folks who have been and are incarcerated, and to work in solidarity and as compañeros with those folks. I would not be the person I am as a human, as someone involved in change or as an artist without the mentorship and guidance and leadership of folks who are incarcerated. So for me, I think it’s important to see folks who are incarcerated who you are engaging with as, A. Part of the community, because they absolutely are; and B. As folks you are working with rather than helping or working for. I think that a lot of folks who get involved come in and are often white folks. They come in with a savior mentality, and folks who are incarcerated and more, broadly, POC don’t need saviors, they need allies. Because some of the most courageous, innovative, incredible organizing work is happening in prisons, behind these walls, in some of the worst conditions possible. And we on the outside have so much to learn, and we need the wisdom – we need that leadership, we need that ingenuity and creativity, and bravery. And so, I think it’s important to come from that perspective, rather than coming from the perspective of, “I’m doing this to help this person,” rather than coming from the perspective of saying, “I’m doing this because we are both in shared struggle, and this person has a lot to share with me about that, and I want to be in communion and in conversation with this person to be able to make our communities and make our world better.”
Q2: Absolutely, thank you for that.
Q1: Yeah, definitely. Perhaps to veer off topic just for a moment, you’ve mentioned Octvia’s Brood throughout this interview, and this is an anthology of speculative fiction that you co-edited. Will you talk little bit about how this project compared to Angels With Dirty Faces? Like similarities, differences..?
A: So Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements is an anthology of fantastical writing by activists, organizers, and change-makers. So it’s science fiction created by people doing work on the ground to envision different futures. My co-editor, Adrienne, and I created the anthology with the premise that all organizing is science fiction, and therefore all organizers are creators and visionaries of science fiction, because these worlds — they are trying to imagine a world without borders, without prisons, a world without sexual violence — that is science fiction, because we haven’t seen that world. But also recognize we need imaginative spaces like science fiction, where we can explore beyond the boundaries of what we’re told is possible, because we cant build what we can’t imagine. Imagination is the first step to new worlds. So we have to have spaces where we can throw out what we’ve been told is realistic and possible, and instead start with the question, “What do we want? What is a world we want to live in? “ And I’ve – yeah. This project has been incredible. It’s something – we spent five yeas putting the book out, and it is something that has helped me be more visionary in my life and in my work, and I very much see Angels With Dirty Faces as connected with that. It was funny because I worked on Angels With Dirty Faces for ten years. So I started it well before we even had the idea of Octavia’s Brood, but it came out after Octavia’s Brood. And so, when I would tell people, “I have a book coming out,” and they would be like, “Oh, is it science fiction?” and I would be like, “No, it’s a creative nonfiction book about prisons and harm,” and they’re like, “Whoa, that’s really different.” I’m like, “Is it?” [laughter]. Because in my mind, again, they’re intimately connected because the reason I think it’s important to put Angels With Dirty Faces is to create the space so that we can imagine diff futures. And to me, you know, Angels With Dirty Faces is about helping to cultivate the values that will allow us to build a different world. And so for me, all of my work is connected. And I understand why other folks are like “You just jump around a lot,” but I feel strongly that, I’ve hoped that my work is able to embody sort of a visionary ethos and aesthetic that allows to create space for more possibilities, as my co-editor Adrienne says.
Q1: That’s so excellent. You mentioned you write poetry. do you write speculative fiction as well?
A: I do, yes. And I write science fiction poetry as well.
Q1: Excellent. How can people get their hands on that?
A: I’m still working on it. So I’m working on a book of science fiction poetry that is called Tubman’s Uncertainty Principle and looks at Black women’s liberation movements through the lens of quantum physics. [laughter] So nerdy. I do love the project because when I tell people, I find my folks real quick. Cause most people’s reaction is “Um, what now?” But the folks like you who are like [audible gasp] [laughter] — there my people are. [inaudible due to laughter] So I’m working on that, and I’ve been working on some science fiction short stories and projects as well, so I have some sci-fi stories that have been put out in various places, but I’m still sort of working on putting out more work on that. But right now, my main project is actually a nonfiction historical book on Oregon Black history, because I live in Oregon. So yet again, you’re jumping to something new and I’m like, I don’t really see it a being different, but I feel you.
Q1: Yeah, for sure. That all sounds super super exciting. I remember seeing just a YouTube talk that you did, or a talk on YouTube that you did about the racist history of Oregon and I definitely learned a lot. I think you did it anywhere between 3 and 5 years ago, or something like that, and I got a lot out of it.
Those are all of the questions that we had. Is there anything else you wanted to add a a part of this interview?
A: I don’t think so.
Q1: Well, Walidah Imarisha, thank you so much for coming on to this show for an extremely thought-provoking and incisive interview. Yeah, thank you so much for your time, and your energy, and for this book you’ve written. It’s been great to have you on.
A: Well, thanks so much for having me, and for creating spaces to have these conversations. There aren’t enough, so I’m thankful for the space that y’all are holding.
Q1: Yeah, absolutely.
Q2: It’s been wonderful.
A: Thank you.
Q1: Thanks for listening to our interview with Walidah Imarisha. Again, more can be found from er at www.walidah.com
In the first segment we talk to Noelle about the case of Janye Waller. Janye is a young Black revolutionary from Oakland, California, who was the only person convicted of property destruction after the 2014 demonstrations in the Bay following the non-acquittal of pigs the murders of Michael Brown & Freddie Gray. Noelle is a supporter of Janye Waller and believes that Janye’s conviction was a clear case of railroading and racial profiling against a community activist. Janye is now finishing up a 2 year sentence with one year off for good behavior. The interview was held in February of 2017, and Janye is set to be released in coming months, then he’s out on parole. You can find out more about his case and donate to his post-release fund at https://rally.org/supportjanye and updates can be found on his support fedbook page and to find out more about some projects Janye was involved with in Oakland, check out the site for El Qilombo
You can write to Janye in the near future by addressing letters to:
Janye Waller #ba2719
P.O. Box 2500,
Susanville, CA 96127-2500
Anarchist Observations of the Struggle at Standing Rock
In the second segment William speaks with Noah, who is a well established movement medic, anarchist, and participant in #NoDAPL at Standing Rock, about his experiences there and analyses of how this resistance was organized and how it developed. This interview was recorded days before media saw the images of the Sacred Stone Camp burning and having been disbanded, so many of the modes and tenses that we employ are not what we might given the current position of the camps. We talk about a wide ranging set of topics, from what worked in the camps to what the failings were, and how resistance to extraction industries could look moving forward.
A transcription of this second conversation is available down this post.
Shortly there’ll be a posted end to a call for submissions for presenters, workshops and bands at the first annual Asheville Another Carolina Anarchist Bookfaire up on the website, but we announce it here. Submission deadline is April 1st, 2017. Spots are filling up fast. Check out the website for updates and we hope to see you there!
TROUBLE showing at Firestorm, March 24th @ 7pm
That about says it. First episode of TROUBLE, which was chatted about in our last episode as the new video series by subMedia will be showing at Firestorm Books & Coffee at 7pm on Friday the 24th of March!
TFSR: So we’re here to talk about Standing Rock and I’m sure that folks have heard about it if they have been keeping at least half an eye on the news, but for those who haven’t, would you mind giving a brief overview of what the struggle is and what has been happening there?
NOAH: So the Dakota Access Pipeline is a large pipeline that would carry heavy crude oil to refineries in Illinois before getting sent out of the country for foreign consumption. The pipeline is routed to pass just upstream from the Standing Rock Reservation’s water intake, which is part of their concern, as well as the pipeline route
as gone through a number of sacred sites causing the desecration of burial sites and other old religious sites. Back in August (2016) when construction got close to the Missouri River crossing by the Standing Rock reservation, the Sacred Stone Camp, which had been in existence since April, had made a bigger call for support in which many folks responded and that’s when the first arrests took place, lead largely by women and youth from Standing Rock and other Indigenous women and youth. Here you saw some very strong images of women running out onto the Cannon Ball Ranch to block construction equipment which was some of the first real civil disobedience, as well as the Horse Nations coming to just be presented to the law enforcement that was there, but the law enforcement ended up being scared by the presentation of the Horse Nations and so they kinda backed off and fled. That was some very strong imaging right off the bat there.
I arrived not long after that and helped provide medical support for some of the non-violent civil disobedience and just in camp at large, based out of the Red Warrior Camp. Red Warrior Camp was one of the few organizations that really took a strong lead in actual civil disobedience that stopped pipeline construction and were it not for the Red Warrior Camp, Indigenous People’s Power Project, some of the crews, some of the other bands of the Lakota Nations
really stepping up and taking that direct action to the pipeline construction, that pipeline would be said and done by now. And we certainly wouldn’t have cost Dakota Access the millions upon 2millions of dollars we’ve cost them in lost time, delayed contracts and stock price as well as the divestments from the banks which with Seattle and some Native reservations have totaled well over $3billion
worth of money withdrawn from Wells Fargo and punitive response from people. So the divestment is going to leave a lasting mark on these banks’ psyches and their shareholders’ psyches when they think about funding more of these projects.
TFSR: Absolutely, and it seems like along with the actions that have been taken at the various camps, the relationships between the various camps has been also very important to have outreach via social media and awareness being spread in a grassroots way, because mainstream media was very slow seemingly to pick up on
struggles going on at Standing Rock. Do you have anything to say about media blackouts there or anything like that? What has the process been for getting word out?
N: Well certainly it’s been led by some grassroots media projects that have been around since the start of the Sacred Stone Camp. Folks with Unicorn Riot have been there throughout the course of much of this which certainly is where I first started getting my media from
as they did intermittent updates on the Sacred Stone Camp from it’s start and through several stages of it well before Standing Rock or NoDAPL became a more common phrase. I think it was also very important for the largest camp at the Oceti Sakowin camp, the Seven Fire Council Camp, which was kind of just an overflow camp.
TFSR: Was that the youth camp?
N: The International Youth Council had a tipi in that camp for a while, but they were also holding space at Sacred Stone Camp and the Rose Bud Camp. The camps can be confusing when you’re there, and have been confusing. I’m sure it’s particularly hard to keep track of when you’re watching from afar. Sacred Stone Camp is Ladonna Bravebull Allard and her family’s land, which was started
by Ladonna and some other matriarchs from the area and the youth runners back in the start of April. And it was the Dakota Youth Runners who started getting a lot of attention from the long-distance runs they did.
It also needs to be pressed that there have been folks in that region who have been organizing in anticipation of the Keystone XL pipeline coming through Lakota territory that allowed for some of the groups within this larger mass to come together quickly and in an organized manner and show greater levels of discipline and training because we had been training together. We were under the leadership
of Lakota matriarchs and other Lakota elders who understood from the get-go that as these pipelines were coming through, we needed to be able to have a common language around how we fight and how we resist with non-violent civil disobedience. And so folks are familiar, folks understand that there are different roles. If your role is
media for the day, or medic, or police liason, that’s your role for that day and you need to stick to it and if that’s not your role, then you need to not try and make that your role.
So that’s why when the camp was significantly smaller than when it was 12,000 people between the camps, when there were only a few hundred folks in camp there was more effective direct action to stop the pipeline than when there were all these folks who came to stand with Standing Rock but there were no plans to use that mass of people effectively or an unwillingness to utilize any of those plans
on the parts of some.
TFSR: Is that just because the camp got so unruly with the size, or do you feel that people were kind of not respecting any directives that were being told to them?
N: No, as I’ve seen it put on the internet, that there was a problem with “peace-chiefs” trying to lead during a war situation. And so there were folks who, in the language I would use, didn’t respect others’ diversity of tactics. And so there were folks who would interfere with Warriors and Water Protectors on the frontline and cause division and even go so far as to utilize spiritual abuse and manipulation to interrupt actions that were happening, or not allow actions to happen or prevent them from happening in very vague ways, like getting outside folks to try and scream at people that “Elders said no!” And what they meant was Dave Archambault and the tribal council might not be happy with what’s going on. But there are a number of different elders in the camp because there
are many different tribes and nations in the camp, but not everyone listens to the same elders. Folks are taught to listen to their elders. The Lakota are not a monolithic group, they disagree with each other. Sometimes the grandmas and aunties would be there telling folks to hold the line while others would be telling them to go back to
camp and pray. To some extent because the camp grew so fast and there wasn’t space made for an all-nations council of any sort, these rifts and problems became rather challenging at times because there was so much to do just in camp life and preparing for the change of the seasons and to try and train and utilize huge numbers of people
who were rolling over every few days as well as deal with mountains of supplies coming in.
It all became very challenging, and then you have a real separation of leadership of folks who are contracted by the tribe to help, or were from larger non-profits who largely operated out of the casino rather than the camp. So you have that disconnect of folks who weren’t involved in the camps but were considered leadership for one reason
or another, which made things very challenging all in all. When the information about what’s happening in camp gets through games of telephone, you end up with a lot of rumor and heresy added in, or misinformation, and that can be seen by how often facebook says the camp is being raided when we’re not.
TFSR: As an anarchist, I feel almost single-mindedly fixated on this idea of what you were talking about in regards to a non-respect of a diversity of tactics and trying to parse out where a rhetoric of non- violence is coming from. We talk a lot about how liberals have sort of co-opted the idea of non-violence to weaponize it against radical struggle basically, or to weaponize it as a way to take the wind out of sails of radical struggle. I would imagine that this rhetoric of non-violence is a bit different given the layers of colonization and disenfranchisement that people are experiencing. Do you have any words about that?
N: There’s certainly a real challenge for anyone who’s not Lakota or Native to understand the nuance and the history between the Indian Re-Organization Act, Tribal Councils versus the Traditional Treaty Councils. It’s important especially for outsiders to err on the side of listening to the folks who are directly hosting them in these situations and not be overtly disrespectful to local communities. Now that doesn’t mean that local communities are unified in their
response, and that’s not really our place as outsiders to really dive right into the middle of it and stir it up. I have been working with some folks who were out there for several years so those were the folks I took my lead from because they are traditional Lakota and Dakota Matriarchs. So with that, there was a division of folks who believed in the courts and believed in that being the primary route
and would at times spread disinformation about how the action of folks locking down to equipment or shutting down work sites was going to negatively impact these civil court proceedings. If anything they gave these civil court proceedings the time they needed to get denied, but there hasn’t been a win from the courts in this battle that I’m aware of. So if we were relying solely on those means, the
pipeline would have been built by now.
The spark of inspiration that that has come out of Standing Rock would not have been if it weren’t for folks who understand that prayers have to be met half-way. We can’t just pray and expect things to stop, and similarly we have to understand robust histories. You hear this ongoing colonized myth that First Nations Peoples were completely passive or pacifistic when that’s simply not true. It’s well known that many Nations and many people were almost
always armed and prepared to defend their homelands and their territory and their way of life from settler-colonial populations. Part of this myth comes from those boarding schools; it comes from this western narrative that says “It was the white folks that freed the slaves!” and “It was the white folks who were benevolent enough to give these Natives the reservations!” rather than things like, the
6Lakota slaughtered a whole division of the cavalry at the battle of Greasy Grass and killed Custer and took that flag, and that was part of writing the treaty. Red Cloud’s wars and the Big Powder Bluff were the reasons for those treaties, the Northern Cheyenne; the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota’s fierce resistance to the U.S. incursions
and these settler/colonial incursions are what created these treaties. It’s also what provoked the U.S. into using genocidal tactics such as slaughtering all the buffalo and stripping Natives from their culture to send them to boarding school, so they could re-write those narratives
and send those kids back to those cultures with this wrong narrative.
And so with that you have this Christian idea of forgiveness that is pressed, or of understanding, and I personally hope that those cops and law enforcement come to some dawning of understanding that their ways are bad. But until that happens I have no sympathy for them or no forgiveness for their behaviors until they seek it. And so
it’s something that personally baffles me, especially coming from a medic’s perspective and seeing the grievous injuries that we’ve seen out there. That folks want to negotiate with these people or work with them to get into that system. It’s one of those things, some folks who don’t want the (Water) Protectors to continue resisting are
legitimately scared that those cops are going to kill one of us. And that’s a very real possibility but it also disrespects a lot of those folks’ agency, who understand that they may die in this struggle. And that if the state is going to go through such measures and allow their law enforcement to utilize these munitions, these so-called less-than-lethal munitions in reckless ways, then yeah they may end up killing someone but you know if they kill a Water Protector whose got their hands up and are in prayer, isn’t that that non-violent Ghandian King-esque nonviolence that they’re talking about? Let them harm us to the point that the moral imperative becomes so overwhelmingly against them that they have to give up? That they don’t have the will to beat you any longer?
TFSR: Also in a time when we have this new president now who is actively seeking to criminalize so-called peaceful protesters? Seeking any kind of legitimacy from the state doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but what also makes a lot of sense is taking leadership from people who are most effected and also keeping in mind that that’s a non-homogenous group of people. It’s a very complicated
situation, it seems like it’s very difficult to know where to draw the line while also maintaining your own political integrity in all of this as well, to be a whole human being.
You mention that you are a movement medic, and you have spoken about your experiences at Standing Rock, but I was wondering if there was anything that you wanted to add about your involvement at the camp?
N: My involvement at the camp has largely been as a medic in support of the Water Protectors, so I’ve both worked to help increase the medic capacity and continue to work to try and help us stay coordinated and functioning in a way that allows us to provide the best level of care that we can. I have also gone out on a number of the direct actions to support Water Protectors and have dealt with some injuries and elements and the volumes, which were pretty staggering at times. November 20th when they just kept using water cannons on folks, both speaks to the heart and willingness of the water protectors but from the medic’s perspective we saw over 300 patients that night.
Several folks were severely injured; Sophia Wilansky nearly lost her arm that night, and other folks have lost permanent vision from that night, and the level of PTSD that has been inflicted on folks in these situations or the potential for it.
Similarly when the Sacred Ground Camp on the Easement was raided on October 27th, they literally just lined up and whooped on folks all day. We’re seeing the Miami Model play out in rural settings. Sheriff Laney from Cass County and Sheriff Meyer from Morton County I’m sure will retire real soon and go on the law enforcement and security speaking tour, to pop up at every pipeline and give advice
on how to deal with these “damn eco-terrorist protestor types.”
TFSR: And there has been a whole lot of law enforcement there from day one it seems, right?
N: Not from day one, I mean Morton County I think employs 33 or 39 sheriffs total. (*laughter*) And the North Dakota State Police and Highway Patrol could only muster so many folks, but now law enforcement from nine other states, federal agencies like the ATF and Border Patrol have been deployed out there. There is I believe just more than 500 North Dakota National Guardsmen who are activated presently. There is now quite the policing apparatus as was on display when the Last Child Camp was raided and shut down. They had over six armored vehicles out that day.
TFSR: It feels important to analyze police responses to struggles like this in order to get a psychological hold on to what the hell is going on, and we’ve been seeing a lot of media recently about the struggle, and many different approaches from total erasure to pretty heartfelt support. I’m wondering what your opinions are about how you see
this struggle informing future struggles and how you see this one particularly continuing, or if it’s too early to say?
N: I think at the very least what has happened out there in the treaty territories has brought a new level of what it looks like to be brave in the face of the state for folks. And it’s behaviors it can be pointed to as strong definitive attempts at non-violent action that we’ve already seen. At the Piñon Pipeline, there was one action out there and they
cancelled it. At the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, there have been a couple of actions already and they’ve shut down work. Mississippi Stand went after other sections of the Dakota Access Pipeline down in Iowa, we’re seeing folks starting to really resist the Sabal Pipeline, Spectra Pipeline, Lancaster PA is starting to openly build camps and openly express how we aren’t paid outside agitators, here’s the local teacher. These are local folks who are stepping up and saying “Oh heck no, can we do this here?” I think it’s important as we do this that we need to understand that there is a space for specifically prayerful things, and there is a space specifically for the prayer war, and there is a space for the more confrontational direct action tactics, but these are not the same space.
And I think it needs to be stressed that the Water Protectors and Warriors never went back to the camp and were like “Ya’ll are praying wrong! Ya’ll need to go pray over there! Ya’ll need to pray like this!” That is what some of the folks who use spirituality like Christians do, they use it as a manipulation tactic. They use spirituality much like
Christians say “You have to pray like we pray here.” Even to otherLakota, who were taught differently. That caused some real tensions, and there’s some real beef that I can’t claim to fully understand that I know. There’s family members who don’t like each other over that stuff, because folks called and asked for Warriors to come and those same folks, when they saw what Warriors did and what Water Protectors do to actually stop pipelines, they got scared. Either pressure got put on them through back-channels, or they realized that they would not be able to
control the narrative. So they pass a number of rules or any number of authorities on folks to say “You can’t do that this way!” Which certainly rubbed a number of folks the wrong way, when no one could really say where these decisions were coming from.
TFSR: Before I ask the next question I want to be really explicit about what you mean by prayer. This is non-Christian explicitly?
N: Yeah, this is explicitly Lakota spirituality, whose homelands we were on, Lakota treaty territory, Lakota and Dakota lands, and there were some basic modicums that were asked of folks to respect, things like don’t take pictures of the sacred fires, or put stuff in the sacred fires unless you’ve gotten permission. If you have a uterus and you’re on your moon, then to stay away from ceremony, stay out of the kitchen, just some cultural norms there. Up at big camp, there were folks from many nations operating in many different ways. There was some kind of manipulation of that that happened that was used as a point of leverage to dishearten and disrupt some of the youth and some of the frontline folks. Part of that is intergenerational difference, part of that is that older folks were raised in a time when native youth were being snatched and taken to boarding camps. A certain amount of hiding was the safest way to do things, which some of the folks with the International Youth Council and some of the other youth that have been leading this understand. They love and respect their elders but they also recognize that it is a different day and that these adults who are coming in to leadership roles who have listened to their elders and gone and gotten those educations and have been getting told for years that they need to step up and lead. When this happened in camp, there were folks that came up and criticized them. There were other elders that wouldn’t chastise folks in public, would openly support folks for not trying to take a lead role but were there as an elder to both support and be a resource.
There was a lot of issues around white folks telling Lakotas to stay in a prayerful way. There are Warriors that I know who are Pipe-Carriers, they don’t carry their pipes to the frontline, they are very spiritual and prayerful people, and for people to accuse them of not being in a prayerful way while they’re going to risk their freedom and personal wellbeing for the future generations, for the water, for the air, for the commons like that, for all of us, to challenge those folks’ spiritual intentions and spiritual actions, especially if you don’t even understand their spiritual practice, is both disrespectful and the added attitude of an agent-moderator. That’s some stuff that could be portrayed by folks intentionally trying to upset affective action.
TFSR: Do you feel like this is an analysis that is spreading? I have seen a little bit of analysis of what you’re talking about right now being disseminated over news channels and social media and whatnot, but do you see this spread of, for the lack of a better word on my part, this discussion of a diversity of tactics being disseminated to other anti-extraction struggles?
N: You know it’s hard to say, I’ve largely stayed put in North Dakota for the past several months. But a lot of folks from different struggles came through and I can’t speak for them because they saw what they saw with their own eyes, depending on when and where they were in those camps they could have seen drastically different things and been told drastically different stories as to what was happening at that moment, what had happened up until that moment and where things were going to go. But I do think folks are waking up and I think the intersectionality of struggles that is becoming more present is what will allow this discussion of diversity of tactics to really come more to the forefront. I don’t think it needs to be a discussion, I
think it just needs to be a respect that happens. And with different groups that aren’t in a position to lose privilege from where they’re at, have that freedom of nothing left to lose, whereas privileged folks, largely a lot of white folks, but settler-colonialist folks who have more access to stuff, pull their punches. They have a real tendency to pull their punches in these situations, or paid-organizers pull their punches because finishing off a campaign definitively leaves them without work or without the control of an organization that they had. Whereas, folks whose hearts are true, who really are committed to that land, that water and that future, and getting everyone free as soon as we can now, they’re gonna be more willing to not view a broken window or some damaged bulldozers as violence when they see people starving, people going hungry, people being incarcerated, unarmed protestors, etc. We have people who are facing decades (in prison time) for a lockdown. We have this aggressive set of policing tactics that are being deployed against us that, like it or not, folks
need to create that big crowd for some more direct action to happen out of so that it can be done safely and non-violently, or the options that will be left will be groups that don’t come out in public and only see violence as an option and not getting caught, if non-violently praying and getting arrested can get someone 10-20 years (in prison). It’s going to push folks in that hardcore direction, and it’s more a question of if we can do the outreach and the education that the bulk of the dissidents of society come with us, rather than cling to law and order as the main goal of society rather than evolution or something like that.
TFSR: You mentioned the intersectionality of struggle a little while ago, and one of the last questions that I have is that is struggle an inappropriate word? Just to go off script for a moment…
N: It definitely is a struggle. We’re all tired and hurt and sore. It’s a damn struggle, convincing folks to support, folks having to win that support through footage of them standing in prayer getting the crap beat out of them by multi-state law enforcement, that’s a struggle, that’s a fight.
TFSR: For real! Then this struggle has generated a lot of momentum it seems, at least within anarchism, around anti-extraction industries and there was a lot of momentum prior to this, but this feels somewhat different. Also one thing that I find really exciting is that it has generated a lot of discussion about meshing these two discussions of anti-extraction struggle with an explicit anti-colonialist discussion as well. Would you talk about whether you see this as being something new, and a bit about the importance of intertwining these two analyses?
N: I think the intersectionality starts becoming to be real obvious when you look at things like the current immigration raids versus the fact that Flint still isn’t a priority of our federal government, to get them clean drinking water. The fact that the state of North
Dakota has spent $23 million and counting on policing costs to get a pipeline put in that’s not going to create much revenue or jobs or anything for that state. There’s a need to kind of recognize the continual looting of this land by financial interests of various sorts, that is the base injustice. Folks who want to tweak or modify the system, I feel are failing to appreciate the toxicity of what this American system was built on, that it is built on stolen land, that it is built with stolen hands, and much of this profit. I’ve done a lot of work in labor and class stuff, and there’s a temptation to say “Oh this is a class thing” and “the value of our labor is being taken from us” but even the labor that we’re taking on is being stolen from the land
of folks who were the first inhabitants here. None of that is possible, a lot of the anarchist and revolutionaries will fight for everyone and forget the Native people, and so I think that it is crucial that how we start thinking about these struggles brings into the anti-colonial decolonizing mindset and the support and leadership of folks who are still strong in their indigeneity, to avoid tokenizing folks because “Hey you’re Native, we’re gonna put you in charge” even if someone was raised Christian and they don’t know much about where they come from. The importance of that indigeneity, those are the folks that have that understanding of living with the land and living as
part of an eco-system, and they have that appreciation of the land and the creatures that all vie for us.
And so when we talk about the pollution and damage done by these extreme industries, we need to look at that damage done and that cultural genocide that’s been done against folks who just want, like many Indigenous cultures around the world who lived as part of the land they were on, and were thankful for that land, for providing for them, as opposed to the Christian concept of dominion over the
land, which is an interesting interpretation of being good stewards. I think that the need for those intersections, the need for Black Lives Matter and how powerful it was to have folks like Chairman Fred Hampton Jr come out with folks and all the 300+ Nations that came out and showed their solidarity and numerous white folks from different organizations that came and showed solidarity, saw in a lot
of ways how that camp was operating in a good humble way, and there was no need for money for most things. If you’re doing work, there’s kitchens that will feed you, and a lot of folks took that shit like it was Burning Man and just came and took and were culture-vultures on the whole thing and were fetishizing Natives in resistance and were just working on their photo or art project or wanting to
come up and tell the tale. Are you Native? You probably shouldn’t be telling that tale, you should help and empower these Native youth who are trying to tell their tales right now.
And I think that’s some of the importance of intersectionality is these recognitions that there are going to be folks who just know how to do it better because they were raised that way. It’s like the damn tipis that didn’t budge in the windstorms, and everyone’s tents that gotten flattened out. There’s some stuff that local folks will just know, and when we’re talking about these rural places and when we’re talking about taking Indigenous leadership or local leadership in place, is we have to recognize that just because you may be educated, or a permaculture demi-god to folks out there, that doesn’t actually translate to that bio-region, and if that doesn’t translate to pragmatic
things that folks can do, if you’re just gonna come and say you should do it all in this way, it’s that same problem. It’s not looking at the intersections, it’s presenting “this is the way it should be done. This is the model we have, this is how we’ve been doing. We fail most of the time, but this is the model of how we do this.”
TFSR: That also calls into question really challenging people to actually fully examine why they’re doing something. Are you going to Standing Rock because you want to work on your photo project? Are you going to be updating your instagram about it? or are you going to actually have as real solidarity with people and struggle as
you can have?
N: And there’s the question there about a lot of conditional allies out there. I’ve seen their facebook comments about how getting beat up or saying mean things to law enforcement doesn’t keep with our message and loses support for us. And I challenge anyone that if your support is so easily lost, did you ever really give it in an earnest
and heartfelt way? There are some grandmas out there who just about make me cry with the support they show their youth, and how proud they are of these young folks. I’ve seen these young folks get to the top of the hill, where there’s footage of folks getting brutalized at the bottom, they’ll touch a cop, not in a harmful way, just touch ‘em.
Showing their bravery, demystifying and showing that they could do more but not having to. Seeing these different ways of doing things, seeing these powerful moments of praise that folks get, knowing that these young folks are earning real prestige in their culture by doing these things while others are both trying to shame them while other
grandmas are holding them up. It’s a lot.
TFSR: That’s incredible, and for me such an amazing concept and very inspiring thing to hear about. Those are all the questions that I had, do you have anything else that you wanna add?
N: Just that there isn’t a region in this country that’s free from pipeline expansions right now. Get trained, get rowdy, let’s kill this stuff. Let’s kill some black snakes.
This week we are airing two short interviews, the first is with an anarchist legal worker who has been participating in resistance at Standing Rock in so called North Dakota. This interview is specifically about the grand jury summons which was recently served to someone who was struggling at Standing Rock, we speak about what a grand jury is and how people might resist them, also a bit about what it means for this movement to have a grand jury subpoena occur at this moment.
Scott Campbell on upcoming tour of Mexico with It’s Going Down
The next interview we will present is a conversation with Scott Campbell who writes the Insumisión column for itsgoingdown.org. Insumisión is a semi regular publication which aims to highlight anarchistic and anarchist struggles and news all around Mexico. Scott and members of IGD are in the process of launching an information gathering and affinity building tour around Mexico in early next year. In this interview we talk about Insumisión and what inspired it, as well as some of the strategies and influences both North American and Mexican struggle can take from one another, among other topics. To read Insumisión and for a write up about the upcoming tour, you can visit https://itsgoingdown.org/insumision/. To donate to the tour and to see a write up about it, you can visit the rally dot org website https://rally.org/igd-mexico
“[This project] is an international watchdog against state sponsored repression. It is the project of a small collective of volunteers in the U.S. and Mexico. We publish and translate communiqués, articles, and other media by, about, and for social movements. Our primary focus is on indigenous peoples, women, and youth, in both urban and rural communities in Oaxaca, but we also publish about other struggles against neoliberalism throughout Mexico”.
A quick shoutout of thanks to KFED for the lovely new image for the series podcast. Much appreciated!
Since the time that this episode of the Final Straw podcast was recorded, Steve Martinez, a Water Protector and grand jury resistor appeared at the U.S. District Court in Bismarck, North Dakota. On January 4th, 2017 Steve gave a statement outside the courthouse amidst dozens of other Water Protectors who braved the single digit temperatures to stand in solidarity.
My name is Steve Martinez. I have been subpoenaed to this federal grand jury. I refuse to cooperate with these proceedings on the grounds of not helping opposition towards water protectors. I will in no way condone or cooperate with this attempt to repress the movement here at Standing Rock. I know that by refusing to cooperate I will most likely be incarcerated. The loss of my own freedom is a small price to pay for keeping my dignity and standing up for what is right- the defense of the earth and all that is sacred. Mni Wiconi!
The motion to quash the subpoena was denied by the federal judge and a new subpoena was issued by the U.S. Attorney demanding that Steve appear on February 1st, 2017 in Bismarck.
What we know about grand juries is that they have a long history of being used to target those in resistance to the state and engaged in political or revolutionary movements. The purpose of this grand jury and all grand juries that target revolutionary people and communities is to cause division, manufacture prisoners of war, and create paranoia or suspicion amongst comrades. We will not be intimidated and resistance to this is only strengthening our resolve to kill this black snake and all the others.
Water protectors stand in resistance to this grand jury and all tools of state repression, be it on the ground through Morton County’s violent tactics or in the shrouded secrecy of a grand jury courtroom. We will continue to build on the vibrancy of our resistance movement here at Standing Rock in order to destroy the pipeline, the grand jury and their world.
– Water Protector Anti-Repression Committee
TFSR: So we are here talking with an anarchist legal worker who has been participating in the Standing Rock resistance, and we’re here to talk about the grand jury subpoena, which recently came to a Water Protector at
Standing Rock. Would you briefly explain what a grand jury is for those listeners who don’t know and how they have historically been used to divide and subdue radical movements?
Standing Rock: So what a grand jury is is a federal proceeding and it’s intended to produce a federal felony indictment. So in order for a felony indictment to happen, there has to be some process, and it’s typically a grand jury process, that determines whether there’s enough evidence to proceed with a federal indictment and formal charges. And while grand juries are used as a way for U.S. attorneys to produce indictments for a wide array of things, they are especially used as a tool of repression towards political movements, resistance movements, and have a long history of that, going back to the origins of grand juries, which are a holdover from British legal proceedings. So it goes back a really long way, but most recently people have memories of their use around political resistance movements, like the Black Panther Party, American Indian Movement, even more recently
earth and animal liberation movements.
TFSR: Gotcha. And I think that we can remember people like Jerry Koch who got sent to prison for nine months for doing grand jury resistance in response to a bombing that happened in Times Square in New York City. I was wondering if you would talk a little bit about what the specifics of grand juries tend to look like on the ground, or how participants of grand juries, what people have to go through if they are subpoenaed for a grand jury.
So the first step that typically happens when somebody’s called to be a witness at a grand jury, or provide testimony or physical evidence, is that you would be served a subpoena by a federal agent. So in the case of Water Protectors at Standing Rock, a federal agent could be an agent from B.I.A. (or Bureau of Indian Affairs), which is a federal policing force, but often times it would be an F.B.I. agent or even a U.S. Marshall who might serve you the subpoena. And then what that means is that you’re required to attend the grand jury and provide information to them. So at a grand jury, they’re unlike any other court proceeding, where normally there’s a judge in the courtroom and you’re allowed to have your own legal council present with you at a legal proceeding. But at a grand jury, there’s no judge in the courtroom, the courtroom really belongs to the U.S. attorney and the
prosecutor. And you are the person who’s been called to the grand jury, you don’t know for sure why you’ve been called because they operate in almost total secrecy. You don’t know if you’ve been called just as a witness, you don’t know if you’re the target, or the person that they are
potentially trying to indict. And so you’re also not allowed to have your legal council in the room with you. You can, and you really should, obtain legal council if you’ve been subpoenaed to a grand jury, because they can provide you support in the process of resisting a grand jury.
So once you’ve been served and you’re required to go to the grand jury, you have a few options as a person who is working to resist the grand jury. Your first option is that you can just ghost. That’s a really hard option for most people because it means you can’t talk to your friends, your loved ones, your family, your comrades, it means you can’t go to the normal places that you go to. It means that you probably need to leave your hometown, or maybe even the country as a whole. And some people have done that, andthe people have done that have had very difficult experiences. It also puts you at risk still of being in contempt of court and my understanding is that if you just ghost after you’ve received a subpoena, that the contempt can turn into a criminal contempt versus a civil contempt, which I’ll explain a little bit as well.
And so your other option would be, well basically some people have never walked into a grand jury room. They would just show up, hold a press conference with all their friends, loved ones, comrades, and legal council and read a statement in front of the courthouse, or in front of the grand jury room, and that says “We’re never gonna talk to you. I stand in solidarity with my community and this is a tool of repression, and I’m part of a impenetrable wall of silence.” And people have certainly taken that tactic.
Another tactic that people used to resist a grand jury, if they’ve been called to testify, would be to enter the grand jury room and provide only their name. And then any question that they’re asked after giving their name to the U.S. attorney, they would invoke their 5th amendment right, which is their right to not say anything that would incriminate yourself. What happens typically though, is that a prosecutor then says, “Okay we get it, you’re using your 5th amendment right.” And then they might let you go for the day, or they might right on the spot go have a hearing with a judge in another room, and at that hearing the judge would almost certainly impose on you immunity. And I say impose because a lot of people have the idea that immunity would be a good thing, right? That they can’t say
the things that you’re saying in the testimony against yourself, but the thing is they can still use it against your friends, they can still use it against the movement as a whole, they can still use it against all kinds of people,
you might not be aware of how they would use it.
And so then once you’ve had immunity imposed on you, you’re no longer allowed to invoke your 5th amendment right against self-incrimination. And so when you refuse to answer questions, then the U.S. attorney is going to say, “Okay I get it, you’re not going to answer any of my questions.” They’re going to have another hearing with a judge. And that hearing is a civil contempt hearing. Which is not a criminal proceeding, it’s a civil proceeding. And what grand juries do is if you refuse to cooperate, they
try to coerce your cooperation out of you. And if you’re charged with civil contempt in that hearing, then they can incarcerate you for up to the length of the grand jury.
Like you mentioned before with Jerry out in New York, he was incarcerated for around nine months. People in the Pacific Northwest who were resisting a grand jury in 2012 were incarcerated for around four-to-six months, and that’s a coercive incarceration that’s meant to pull testimony out of you. But they’re not allowed to punitively incarcerate you, which is like all semantics right? We all know that all incarceration is punitive. It’s all meant to punish us for something. But they’re using tricky legal language, so that it’s not punitive, “It’s just coercive, we’re just trying to torture all of your testimony out of you by incarcerating you and removing you from your community and your loved ones.”
But, because people have used this tactic of being really public and saying that not only are they not personally going to cooperate, and they personally have put up a wall of silence, but also that they’re whole community is in a silent resistance to this grand jury. Then that can be used as evidence further that you’re not ever going to cooperate, and something then that can happen is called a grumbles motion, which is a fantastic name and it’s actually named for people who were a married couple who resisted a grand jury, it has a really beautiful history of it’s own.
A grumbles motion can be filed by your council, by your attorney, and it’s basically saying “This person has made it evident and clear that they’re not going to cooperate with this grand jury, and this incarceration has gone from coercive to punitive.” Which is illegal for a civil proceeding, which is what that is, it’s a civil contempt charge. And so that’s how Jerry was able to get out of coercive incarceration, and that’s how many other people have been able to do that. But I think it also really ties into this public display, community-wide, nationally, even internationally, that people have taken up around grand jury resistance, especially in this last decade, of being really firm and open from the onset, from the moment they receive a subpoena, instead of being quiet as a community which is what the feds hope will happen. That you get scared and that you self-isolate. But instead, build your own vibrancy in our communities of resistance and that same loving solidarity that we have, we continue that as a way of resisting.
TFSR: Yeah, like you said it seems like so many things in the legal system, this just seems like a pretty diabolical framework for doing this sort of thing and I think that like so many things, the success of it just rides on isolation,it rides on personal despair or being worn down. And it seems really interesting to me, and really telling, this grand jury subpoena has come pretty hot on the heels of the supposed easement of the Dakota Access Pipeline. I was wondering if you would speak about the timing of this
grand jury subpoena.
SR: I think it’s smart for us to be looking at the whole picture like that. You know on November 20th there was a battle, a kind of stand off, at the backwater bridge, which is just on the North end of the Oceti Sakowin Camp, there
at Standing Rock, which is the Northern camp, which originally had been an overflow camp for Sacred Stone and Rosebud on the reservation side. And that battle that happened on November 20th, which a lot of people have now burned into their memory, not just across the so-called U.S. but really across the world because of the use of water cannons in sub-freezing temperatures by Morton County Sheriffs. There was also a young woman, Sophia Wilansky, whose arm was horrifically injured, and another woman named Vanessa who might lose her eye due to the insane force that was used by Morton County. So just a little more than a week, a week and a half later, is when this grand jury was convened. And what we know from
on the ground is that those things that happened on November 20th on that bridge, what happened to Sophia Wilansky, we know that Morton County Sheriffs were already trying to victim blame her, saying that somehow she had blown her own arm off. I personally was on that bridge and I can tell you that no one was blowing their own arms off there. What I saw was people who were not, it wasn’t even street fighting in that setting, it was really just people who are so incredibly frustrated and incredibly broken at the continued horrific use of colonial forces in their territories and in their homelands. And I saw a lot of young indigenous people who were just trying to turn that knob on the pressure valve and let some pressure off of them. It’s not just been building for the last month at Standing Rock, but really people are letting the pressure off of ancestral trauma that goes back more than five hundred years. And I think all of that context is really
important when we’re looking at this grand jury situation as well. What we know about this grand jury is that it has something to do with, at least in part, with what happened on the bridge on November 20th. And we know so far that they are looking at potentially eco-terrorism that’s taking
place at Standing Rock, which isn’t taking place. The only terrorism that’s taking place is the terrorism of the state.
The person who received this first subpoena, we believe has been targeted because of their close proximity to Sophia Wilansky. This is a person who helped to transport Sophia when her arm was injured and get her to medical care. And so there’s very little information that any body has right now about what exactly this grand jury is trying to put together information-wise. But at the end of the day, we don’t need to know for sure. We know it’s being used as a tool to repress the work that’s happening with water
protectors at Standing Rock, and potentially to connect it to other resistance movements to extraction and environmental terrorism that’s happening at the hands of capital and the state.
And that first subpoena was received a day before that announcement from the Army Corps (of Engineers) about the easement. And I don’t think that the timing is coincidental. I think the timing is probably pretty intentional. You had a lot of people distracted feeling like they won, and I don’t want to say that that was an entirely false victory, but it’s not a permanent victory. In the camp, when the announcement of the denial happened, and there were cheers, you know rippling throughout the camp for the entire day and night, people celebrating and feeling excited. And I do want to recognize that that only happened because of people’s collective power. The Army Corps didn’t deny the easement, the people who’ve been
fighting this pipeline denied the easement and will continue to deny it, and will continue to deny Dakota Access Pipeline and their ability to do what they’re doing.
I want to recognize that while that is a victory, it’s a victory of one battle in a long-game war. What’s happening is that the state, while people are distracted by the victory of that particular battle, are doing the backdoor dealing with the grand jury and that they’re trying to prey on people who
are in resistance to extraction and to the Dakota Access Pipeline, and really to colonialism in general, and imperialism in general. This is a movement about indigenous sovereignty, and not just about one pipeline. But I think that the timing is really purposeful, and this is also a movement where a lot of people are really new to being in resistance. A lot of people are really new to political and social organizing, and so what is important and the work that’s happening amongst legal workers and supporters at the camp right now is that because there’s so many new, fresh people, it’s also a ripe environment for the feds to prey on people who might not understand that
what feels like innocuous testimony they might give to a federal agent, in or out of a grand jury room, that information is never innocuous to the state. While it might seem like not a big deal to say that you ate dinner with so-and-so or yes once you had coffee with so-and-so, the state can then use that to socially map an entire movement of resistance, and that’s why people have really taken on this work, running full speed ahead, and moving as quickly and strategically as possible to disseminate the
information and make sure that people aren’t just distracted by the victory of one battle, because there’s a whole war that we’re trying to fight right now.
TFSR: I think that’s a fantastic point because I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion about “Yay we won! We can go home now!” But I was wondering, maybe you’ve already answered this as much as you want to, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how real the easement is, or how permanent you think it is. Do you think that people will just come back and start building once the regime has flipped, or what are your thoughts on that?
SR: Things up there (at Standing Rock) are in a pretty delicate situation. The tribal government of Standing Rock and their chairman Dave Archambault, you know in the beginning he said that a re-route would never be a victory
of Standing Rock and for Sioux Nation, and the only victory would be a complete block of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Well now you have Dave Archambault, who came to the camp and drove around in his personal pick-up truck, announcing to people that they have won, and that people could return to their homes. And what is suspected to be happening with this denial of the easement by the Army Corps, they’re denying the easement in that spot at the Oahe Lake, which is actually just a lake that’s resulted
by the damming of the Missouri River, which is a whole other history that I encourage people to look into, the way that the Missouri River has been a point of struggle for the people at Standing Rock and the Sioux Nation for many, many years.
And so denying the easement in this one tiny spot on Lake Oahe on the Missouri River is not a victory, because we all, tens of millions of people, rely on the water from the Missouri River, the largest water basin in this region of the country. And putting the pipeline crossing of the Missouri
River twenty miles north or, forty miles north, is still going to result in the same risks for everybody who drinks that water and for all the people of Standing Rock, and for all the people of Sioux Nation. And so I think it’s important for people to be examining. You know, I’m an anarchist, I’malways examining the people who hold power, and I think my indigenous comrades who are up there, or who have been up there at Standing Rock, they also come from a perspective that somebody who is in tribal government, these are governments that mirror colonial government and colonial power. And so there’s something to question there. This isn’t the ways in which traditionally indigenous people of Sioux Nation would have governed themselves. And if we’re going to be talking about being in solidarity with indigenous sovereignty, then we as non-native people,
allies and accomplices to them, need to be following their lead, but we also need to be critical of whose lead we’re following and what kind of power those people are wielding.
But I think that there’s a lot of people who are not going home, and I think that’s really important to remind people right now, that there are hundreds and hundreds of people who will not be returning home. Over on the reservation side at Sacred Stone and Rosebud camp, there’s still around six hundred or more people on that side, at Oceti Sakowin which I believe has actually been renamed to Oceti Oyate, which that rename has come from the indigenous youth council and from this person Chase
Ironeyes who actually had run for U.S. Congress, he did not win, which I think is a good thing, so that he can stay in the community as opposed to ascending to actual power, but Chase Ironeyes is actually from Standing Rock. Him and his wife have been fighting this pipeline really along with the people, and he’s stepped into a real role of leadership that I think is a positive role of leadership. And he is encouraging people along with Ladonna Allard whose land Sacred Stone is on, is one of the founders of Sacred Stone Camp, are telling people to not go home, that people who are already there need to continue holding space, to continue to fight this pipeline, but also to continue to assert their indigenous sovereignty over
these lands that don’t belong to North Dakota and were never ceded by the people of Standing Rock and Sioux Nation.
TFSR: So earlier in the interview you spoke a lot about ways to resist grand juries; ghosting, press conferences and invoking the fifth amendment. Are there any other ways that you would recommend people fighting a grand jury scrutiny?
SR: Yeah, so the first thing, I said a little bit earlier, but I think it bears repeating, it’s scary when you are the person who receives a subpoena, and it’s meant to be scary, that’s the tool that the state is using, is to be the big scary,
secretive entity that intends to isolate you. So number one, reaching out to people and not staying silent I think is one of our strongest tools. And also, I think the grand jury that happened in the Pacific Northwest, the grand jury that happened with Jerry out in New York, I think those are really great recent examples, the grand jury with Carrie Feldman in Minnesota a few years ago as well, are really great examples of building not just localized community resistance, but really started reaching out through the
very vibrant national networks of anarchist, anti authoritarian and radical people. And so I think doing that as well, reaching out in through all the networks that we have, whether they’re political or personal networks, and
building these ways of resisting together.
Also the Water Protector Legal Collective and the National Lawyer’s Guild have a really strong presence up there at Standing Rock and they’re doing a lot of work in the camp and out of the camp to help mount resistance to this grand jury and offer the support necessary. So just as a heads’ up to any person who, because people who are possible targets for subpoenas for this grand jury, so many people have come and gone from Standing Rock, that you could be back home in Ohio and receive a subpoena. You don’t have to be at Standing Rock or in North Dakota or that region of the country to be subject to this risk, and I don’t say that to stoke any fear but just to be really honest with people, that you may have come and gone but this is still a possibility. So reaching out to the Water Protector Legal Collective as quickly as possible is really important because they’re able to offer legal council that could represent you through the grand jury process, they’re able to connect you to those networks of resistance that are already existing if you yourself aren’t already plugged into them.
Water Protector Legal Collective has a website which is waterprotectorlegal.org, but if you received a subpoena, you should call them immediately. Twenty-four hours a day they have a hotline, and the number is 605-519-8180.
And also, right now people who want to help support grand jury resistance, donating to the legal collective fund is especially helpful. Not only does that legal fund that exists through the Water Protector Legal Collective going towards supporting people’s criminal cases, it’s also going towards supporting the people who are up there doing legal work who’ve left their homes and their families back in their own communities and are up there doing that work. The amount of resource that’s necessary to help 571 people, and that number of people with criminal cases is growing, to help those people with their criminal cases, also fighting a grand jury, also trying to support the people who have given up their lives at home to be engaged in full-time legal support. So donations are vital and that is
a way that people at home and outside of Standing Rock can continue to support not just grand jury resistance but also all the people that are facing criminal charges as well.
TFSR: I was wondering, you mentioned looking into the cases of recent grand jury resistance as a way to be more informed, but are there any other resources for grand jury resistance that you would recommend to listeners?
SR: Yeah, so I would say one of my number one favorite spots for grand jury resistance information is there’s a lot of really great detailed information that’s available through the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, OR, and their website is cldc.org, and they have a number of resources that are available on there, both for a person or people in a community that are thinking about grand juries but also resources available for legal workers or attorneys about grand juries and how to fight them when they are being used against people of political or social resistance. Other good stuff that’s out there; crimethInc has some information, also the Midnight Special Law Collective has a grand jury training available on their website which is midnightspecial.net, and there’s also some really good history and information that’s available through the Freedom Archives. On the Freedom Archives, if you just search on there, which is freedomarchives.org; you can search “grand jury” or “grand jury repression” or things like that. There’s a lot of really good information on there, and there’s a lot of really good historical context about how grand juries have been used against people in social and political movements. People like the Puerto Rican Independinistas, people from the American Indian Movement, and the long history of grand jury use and FBI repression.
TFSR: Do you have anything else that you’d like to add?
SR: I think the only thing I would want to add is I think that there’s a lot of really exciting and beautiful and hopeful things that are coming out of this movement at Standing Rock. We’re seeing that spirit of resistance spread from Standing Rock Reservation, which probably most people had never heard of until a few months ago, but that’s spreading out not just across this country and continent but really globally, there’s global solidarity for this. And I think, I really want to drive home to people who are non-native people who are allies and accomplices to Indigenous people who are in this struggle, that part of what I feel like our responsibility is, we’re in solidarity
with Indigenous people who are fighting for sovereignty, that we not only be in solidarity with them on the frontlines, we not only be in solidarity with them in those kind of glamorous moments of resistance, but that we
be in continued solidarity with them when the repression, the inevitable repression comes raining down on those movements of resistance. And that we really take it very seriously that the grand jury, the feds, and local law enforcement, more importantly County law enforcement, that this isn’t something that’s just going to be happening in this next couple of months, that the repression that’s going to be coming against people who are in struggle for indigenous sovereignty over their lands, their water,
their communities, their spiritual practices, that this repression is going to last for a long time. I hope that non-native allies and accomplices are in it for the long haul as well.